This is the second part of George Wilfred Corbett's memories of growing up in Hayseech as ayoung boy:
“The next house was the stables, next to the bottom end of the Gun Barrel and close to the bottom of the park, where Gran Tibbetts’ son Joe and his wife lived with six sons, Joe, Arthur, Jim, Tom, John and Alf.
“Then there was Mr and Mrs Harris; Mrs Thompson with sons Wesley and John and daughter Nellie; Mr and Mrs Wakeman with May, Lily, Fred, Ida and Cecil; Mr and Mrs Holloway; Mr and Mrs Willetts and their two daughters; and Mr and Mrs Young and son Eric.” George continues his memories of his childhood days and growing up in Hayseech.
“The village shop was next to the chapel and run by Mrs Edgington and her daughter Lucy.
Her son Tom and grandson Jim also lived there. It was the shop where we spent our earnings from our Saturday jobs, pennies that were like gold nuggets to us kids, pennies that would buy you two ounces of sweets for each copper piece. We also used to pay into a Christmas club from September onwards for a half-crown Cadbury’s selection box, a real treat. This was usually paid for with money we earned taking dinner to Coombs Wood works. In those days they didn’t have works canteens, so the midday meal was cooked at home. When we came out of school at 12 o’clock we sometimes collected as many as four meals from home to take to the works for uncles, fathers, neighbours and the like. Big sister Eva used to take them first, but when I was old enough I assumed the task.
“My school was Macefields in Old Hill and we had two hours for lunch; half an hour walking home from school; half an hour taking dinner to the works; half hour back home and just enough time to eat something; then half an hour back to school, and woe betide any of us if we were late back at school, for we’d end up with the stick.
“The anniversary services at Hayseech Chapel were held on the first Sunday in April. The afternoon and evening services were always packed out and chairs had to be borrowed from the houses near the chapel for extra seats, and still there were people who had to stand in the porch. Every Sunday was devoted to Sunday School and Chapel, the day when there was no time to play, only time to read. We attended Sunday School twice and Chapel twice.
When I was too big to go on the Anniversary I had the job of pumping the organ. We did not have any electricity at Hayseech, so the organ was manually pumped. The organ was installed about 1928 and bought from a firm in Stratford-on- Avon, and once a year a chap from the firm who built it used to visit and retune it to the organist Tom Harris’ satisfaction.
Mr Harris would play the notes while the man crouched inside the organ tuning it. My job was to pump the air in which would take from 10 o’clock until about 2 o’clock and for which I was paid the princely sum of one shilling.
“The names of every road and pathway that led in and out of Hayseech were distinctly local in character. From the bottom by the bridge up past the Chapel to the top of the hill was always the ‘Common’; from the bridge to the New Hawne pit was ‘Up the Lane’; the road from the Gunbarrel into Haden Hill was ‘Across the Fields’; the road between the New Hawne pit and Old Hawne pit was known as ‘The Trolley’; and there was a path along the brook side from the bridge to Belle Vale known as ‘Low Fields’.
“There was only one gas lamp in Hayseech and the lamplighter came round on his bike to light it at night. This was the meeting place for us boys before going to school and was located on the footpath opposite Burford’s house at No. 1. It was also here where we played during the winter nights, under the light of the lamp, ‘kick-can’, ‘Jack upon the mopstick’, football, only the ball got lost in the dark, ‘knockpeg’ and marbles. The great thing was all our games came free and didn’t cost us a penny.
In later years the lamp was still the meeting place, when we went to the pictures, or skating, swimming or tennis; whatever the occasion we always met at the lamp.
“We had a vast playground, a boy’s paradise along the brook side from Belle Vale to Furnace Hill and from the Floggin to the top of the park. From the stables we could walk through two woods and a number of fields to Barrs Road, the woods a carpet of bluebells in late spring and ideal for birds nesting. We could walk along the brook from Hayseech Bridge to Furnace Hill, where there was a button works, the last of the water-powered works.
If we had a sudden storm and the flood gates were opened it used to flood the main Dudley Road. This was known as ‘Giddy Bridge’. Floodgates and sluices were built into the brook to hold the water in dry weather so there was enough water to drive the water wheel. In wet weather they were opened to prevent flooding, and at the Hayseech floodgates the water held back formed a large pool.
“The Price family had a boat, and swimming was quite the thing in the summer. This was when I was very young, around 1920. When the Gunbarrel Mill changed its power supply from water to gas, the floodgates were blown up and the pool was lost forever, much to our dismay.
But after it had dried out we used the area of the old pool as another playground which was always known as ‘The Island’. It was a terrific place for butterflies and birds’ nests; we played over the fields, pit bonks, woods and of course Haden Hill Park. After the mill changed to gas power they used a gas engine to drive the shafts in the works. Gas engines were also used to drive generators; all of this before electricity came to the village.
“The natural progression of power in factories was from water to gas, then electricity. Of course water was still used in some cases, more so in the pits for the winding gear. Some of the pits were quite isolated and water difficult to come by, so this was overcome by making pools. A large hole was dug out and the bottom puddled with clay. When it rained the pool filled with water and there was a permanent supply for the boilers to create the steam and plenty of drinking water for the pit ponies. The pool at Old Hawne pit was always known as the round pool and was our fishing pool. It also had frogs, tadpoles and newts. This was where I learnt to fish with a stick, a length of black cotton, a matchstick for a float and a worm for bait.
“From the round pool you could walk over two stiles on to the Floggin where we used to fly our kites. There was an abundance of wild flowers and grasses, and many times I have laid in the tall grass watching and listening to the soaring skylarks.
“The disused pit bonks were ideal for attracting rabbits and partridges (I once found a partridge nest with ten eggs), and the brook before it became polluted had small fish which in turn fed the local kingfishers.” The Bugle tried to follow in the same footsteps that George made all those years ago and take contemporary photographs that could relate to his wonderful descriptions of living in Hayseech as a youngster. But the intervening years have brought many changes to this small corner.
The River Stour may still be flowing freely underneath Hayseech Bridge, and there are one or two buildings left standing near the site of the Gunbarrel Mill. But as for the black and white timber and wattle buildings described by George as the oldest in the village, Laburnam Cottages where he was born, and the millpool where he played both on the water and when it was dried out, they have now all gone.
All that is left are the memories he recorded, a few old photographs, and details on a map that help us to imagine what it was like in this part of the Black Country all those years ago.