The cricket season is well underway, that quintessentially English summer sport, and on tha theme we have this picture that takes us back around sixty years, sent in by Joyce Gough of Cheslyn Hay. She is the little girl at the front of the group of cricketers representing the works team of Union Locks, Willenhall.
Joyce writes with her memories of Black Country summers in the 1950s: “I am enclosing a photo from my family collection. It is of Union Locks cricket team, taken approximately in 1951. At the back, standing left to right, are Mr Bickley, umpire, Frank Hancox, John Silvester, George Hancox, unknown, Peter Walker and Enoch Davies. Squatting at the front are Alan Drury, Ron Walker and Ray Tilly. The children sitting are Joyce Hancox, Jimmy Bickley and Peter Hancox.
“I was born in the heart of the Black Country in a place called Portobello, Willenhall. My family home was opposite Grosvenor’s Farm, near to the railway line, Hadley’s brickworks, and many other local factories, the nearest being Josiah Parkes’ Union Locks which was on the other side of the Wolverhampton-to-Walsall road, at the top of our street.
“I would awake each morning to the various sounds of trains whistling, cocks crowing and the stamp, stamp, stamp of the machinery of another nearby factory just over Portobello bridge, called Vaughans.
“Every morning, noon and evening a siren, which we called the ‘bull’, would sound out and many of the workforce would hurry past our house, chattering as they went on their way to work. What a happy crowd they always appeared to be. My father worked for Union Locks and my mother eventually for Yale Locks, even though they both met while working for Union Locks.
“When I reached the age of three I went with my father George Hancox and my elder brother Peter to the Union Locks cricket matches every Saturday and Sunday in the summer. My father and his brother Frank both played in the team and some of my happiest memories are running around, playing in the sun, listening to the crack of the ball and the shouts and cheers of the spectators as someone got another run. We children had strict orders not to run in front of the big white screens behind the wicket while the game was in play.
“We would all ride to the away matches in the back of the works lorry, sitting on makeshift benches, our feet resting on the long cricket bags squashed in under our feet, watching the long ribbon of road falling away behind us out of the half open back of the lorry.
“When I got older I was allowed to help my Auntie Betty Hancox and her sister-in-law Kath Walker, and some of the other cricketers’ wives or girlfriends, to make the sandwiches for the cricketers’ tea. There was bread and butter, strawberry and apricot jam, which came out of great big tins, followed by tinned fruit and cream, all to be finished off with a lovely assortment of cream cakes and jam tarts. When all that had been devoured, among much laughing and joking, the ladies came round with great big teapots, dishing out the welcome cups of tea.
“Other memories I hold dear are the smell of the linseed oil as my father oiled his bat before the match and also the whitening which he applied to his boots.
“Before the match I liked to watch Ted, the groundsman, organising the young cricketers to pull the enormous roller across the wicket until it was fine and smooth. Ted worked very hard at keeping all the grounds neat and tidy. I loved the smell of the lavender which grew all around the putting green; I would collect the lavender and soak it in a cup of water to try to make perfume. The bowling green was kept super smooth, the hedges very tidy and neat; no wonder Ted would get annoyed with us children at times, if we ran on the grass or picked the flowers.
“When children live in a town with smoky chimneys and lots of busy traffic it is surprising how a small child notices green spaces. I will always appreciate Ted’s dedication to his job.
“It is such a pity that the sports club at Portobello doesn’t exist anymore and that life is such these days that all that seems important is the money which can be made from selling off all the green spaces for building houses; my old school, Willenhall Comprehensive, is now a housing estate too.
“The playing fields around the school were another place that made me feel happy and lucky to be surrounded by such greenery. I enjoyed many a game of hockey playing for the school on those playing fields. I watched rugby, cricket, netball, and then we had sports days. I also have happy memories of lying out on the grass in the sunshine at lunch time with my friends.
“In past times, employers realised the importance of leisure time and camaraderie. Those were happy times when everyone seemed to enjoy being together and went off to work with a smile.”