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Memories of Birmingham Road — Part two

By dan shaw  |  Posted: March 25, 2013

1950s advert for J.T. Harris

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LAST week we took a stroll down memory lane, via Birmingham Road, Blackheath, with Ray Holmes of Hurst Green, Halesowen.

Ray’s parents owned a newsagents on the wellknown thoroughfare and he took us back to his childhood days in the 1940s and early ’50s, recalling the shops and houses along the road. Ray’s mother used to say that there was nothing you could not get for every day needs in Birmingham Road and there were once many shops and businesses on this road that has changed almost beyond recognition today.

In Bugle 1072 Ray took us along the left hand side of Birmingham Road, looking towards Dudley. This week he takes us across the road to remember what was on the other side.

Ray writes, “On the right side of the road, looking towards Rowley, the first building was the Handel Hotel. It had a front door that was really on the corner of Birmingham Road and Oldbury Road. Underneath the pub car park and running down Oldbury Road was an air raid shelter with a door leading directly from the pavement. I never saw it used. It is said that on a Friday night they used to have rat fights in the pub car park and bet on which rat would be killed first.

“The next premises belonged to Bill Rose, senior, who was a cobbler. If you took your tennis racket there for repair it was actually Bill Rose, junior, who did it. Umbrellas were also repaired there, even though there was a man who had a shop around the market place who also mended them – Mr Shakespeare.

“The double fronted shop next door was an electrical goods shop run by Mr Willetts. In those days everyone had a wireless, run off an accumulator, very similar to what a car battery is today. The accumulator had a very thick glass container, in it were battery acid and some plates joined together with screw-down terminals on top. Everyone had at least three of these, one on the wireless, one being charged and one in reserve. In our house I was the one to take ours for charging. Mr Willetts was also reputed to have had the first working television in the area.

“Annie Williams’ shop came next. She sold household goods and hardware, including paraffin. This was a double-fronted shop with the doorway in the middle of the two big windows, with two more big windows down the side of the property. Galvanized buckets and tin baths hung on the walls and oil lamps from the ceiling. When you went into the shop you were bombarded by the combined smells of polishes, wax, scrubbing soap, soapflakes, paraffin, etc. A smell you can’t find anywhere now!

“Next came a row of houses which fronted directly onto the pavement. The first of these was occupied by Mrs Dyas, she had a daughter who married Jeremy Westwood’s son and they had a TV shop in Quinton. She also had a son named Alfred.

“Next was a family called Harcourt.

“Next were premises where a furniture/upholstery business was run by J.T. Harris. The business is now J.T. Harris and Sons and occupied the old Sunday school premises in Causeway Road.

“The next premises were occupied by Mary Woodhall, hairdresser and next door Mary Woodhall’s mother had a shop called Tuc In, selling fancy goods and gifts.

“Further along was a house with a small bay window. The rear premises were occupied by a family called Crumpton. I remember that the son kept rabbits and a huge white animal called a chinchilla – my mother said I couldn’t have one! The name of the family who occupied the front of the house escapes me“At that time the next was a cobbler called Charlie Wellings. He always kept the tacks for the shoe he was repairing in his mouth and seemed to spit them out, one at a time, into his left hand, put it where he wanted it and then gave it a good whack with a flat piece of metal. When I was on leave once my father took my service boots over to him to see if he could smooth out the toe cap. Sorry, he said, only good old fashioned spit and polish would do it!

“A fruiterer and greengrocer came next, run by Vera Harrold. Being just over the road from number 80, during the war, we could be amongst the first in the queue when a fresh supply of oranges or bananas arrived.

“In the early 1940s the next shop was owned by a man we called Jonah Willetts. He tragically hanged himself. After that it became a fishing tackle shop but I don’t know who ran it. Next it was owned by a Mr Bonner who sold toys, prams and baby clothes.

“Next came George Avenue, commonly called Mott Street – perhaps someone knows why. Remnants of the street are still visible. They used to say that the pig sat on the wall at the bottom of the street to watch the band go by!

“At the top of George Avenue lived Dick Tolley, well known grass track motorbike rider.

“Then came a row of flat fronted houses. The Taylors lived in the first, Bill and Emma Chamberlain in the next house, until they moved to Avenue Road, then Mrs Evans came to live there and Mrs Groves lived in the next house. Then Mrs Cutler lived in the next; her eldest daughter Anne married Neil Harris from the furniture shop.

“Next came an older house with four steps up to the front door, a passageway ran round the side and a family named Adams lived there.

“Modern houses came next and they are still there today. The local midwife, Nurse Rose, lived in the first, with Bram Bryant and his family in the second. Nowadays it is a hairdresser’s.

“Two council houses came next and are still there. The name of the family living in the first escapes me. We used to take our shoes to be mended there, which the man did in a shed in the back garden.

“Joe Hewitt and family lived in the next house, which was on the corner. Joe was the organist at Birmingham Road Methodist Church and other churches in the district for many years.

“Next came the cul-de-sac. There were two families living there. The name of one was Saunders and the other was Evans. On the corner of the cul-de-sac lived the local policeman Mr Balmer. His son Michael also became a policeman, but in the RAF. I met up with him once when I was also in the RAF doing National Service. This was at a radar station called Trimley in Suffolk. I was on picket duty at the time. Oneday we were told to stand to as the GOC was about to lane in his Auster light aircraft. There was just enough room between the radar aerials to do this. As the aircraft came to a standstill we had to rush out and grab the wings and tie them down, to stop the wind blowing the plane over! Out stepped the GOC and strode away to see the station commander. Next this RAF policemen stepped out, reached into the luggage compartment and retrieved a set of golf clubs. Imagine our surprise when we came face to face. He said that it was his turn to protect the GOC and act as his assistant. He had been all over the place on this tour of duty.

“After a few houses, we came to Carlyle Road, with the clinic on the next corner.”

Has Ray’s story rekindled your own memories of Birmingham Road? Do you have photographs of the shops that once lined this bustling Black Country thoroughfare?

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