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Memories of growing up as a Romany gypsy

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 14, 2014

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I STARTED to read The Bugle about 12 months ago and find it really interesting and educational.

Having lived in the Black Country all my life (I'm now 63 years old) I have seen many changes and I would like to ask the Bugle readers for any information or preferably photos of the areas I will mention.

My family are Romany gypsies and we lived in the cottage that was part of Moorcroft Farm on Great Bridge Road, Moxley.

The cottage was rented off the then owner Mr Hampton. We always knew it as Hampton's Field. There were, including mom and dad, 11 of us, 6 sisters and 3 brothers. We all have very fond memories of living there with Moxley Hospital with its woods surrounding it, canals and fields a short walk away.

The hospital was originally a fever hospital or isolation hospital. There was a 7ft concrete fence with barbed wire across the top and we were told, it had security dogs patrolling the inside. I never actually saw these dogs when I and my friends often went exploring inside. Perhaps we were told this just to keep us out. Very often when we were in, one of us would shout "Dogs" and then it was a mad dash to get out of there and whoever did the shout fell about laughing once we were safely outside the fence.

As soon as we got home from school we would be out playing safely on the field till it got dark. If I was a bit slow going back in the house my mom would shout: "If you stay out any longer the black bats will get you." The 'Black Bat' was a big black beetle.

There were cousins living on the site in their caravans so there was always someone to play with. Me and my cousin Margaret were about five or six at the time and would have a picnic in the summer (those beautiful summers). We would sit on an old blanket under a tree just behind the cottage, we might have half a bottle of lemonade or dandelion and burdock pop and a piece of bread and jam.

We moved from there into a brand new four-bedroom council house in Lower Bradley near the Rocket Pool area. Mom and dad never really liked it there but for me it was another great place to spend the rest of my childhood up till I was 21 when I got married.

Sycamore Place had eight houses and four flats and everybody knew each other. Not many cars about in the 1960s so it was a great place to play (football, cricket, kiss chase – Sheila Pritchard did you ever catch me? – hide and seek etc).

Before the Rocket Pool estate was built, that area was fields and pools (seven if I remember right). The fishing in these pools in the 1960s was fantastic.

In the field at the back of John Thompson's works were two old army structures, thick concrete bunkers with steps leading into them. I never found out what they were for. Any information and photos would be appreciated.

Then there was the local canal. Bradley to Darlaston was our most popular stretch. This ran under the bridge that separated Great Bridge Road, the 'John Thompson' side, from the 'Gospel Oak' side.

The canal ran behind and down the side of the Moxley Hospital, locally known as the 'Sanna' (Sanatorium). The Moxley side of the bridge is sadly gone now and the Bradley side has been filled in altogether. Swimming in the canal meant water as clear as tap water at times.

On the Bradley side of the bridge was the lock-keeper's cottage and he would charge '2 bob' to fish that stretch of the canal. It wasn't very often I had 2 bob because we didn't have a lot of money then, so I would look for anybody who had had enough fishing for the day and they would usually give you their ticket and hope the lock-keeper didn't realise when he came up the canal.

If you were really lucky the fisherman who gave you his ticket would also give you what was left of his bait, usually maggots, and if you were really lucky he might give you his hook. Any photos of these areas would be appreciated.

There's loads more I could write about these areas (ghosts, murder etc), but maybe another time.

John Stokes,

3 Yew Tree Lane,


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