Recent articles about the Dudley Gas Works and the area where it stood have provoked a lot of interest, and Bugle reader John Robinson of Bennett's Hill in Dudley has chipped in with a whole gamut of nostalgic memories of living in Red Hill back in the 1950s. In addition his correspondence has given us a comprehensive survey of the people, businesses and streets that existed in the area of Dudley where he spent his formative years ..
"The picture of Dudley Gas Works from the summit of Red Hill, published in Bugle 1042, makes it resemble a scene from a science-fiction movie, but in the cold light of day as I remember it bore a striking resemblance to a nuclear power station. High metal railings protected it from intruders, a watchman patrolled the grounds, but on the odd occasion myself and a few mates would sneak in to play. In the distance, beyond the metal structures high above the skyline, the two massive gasometers looked like giant mushrooms when they were full to capacity. As a youngster I lived directly opposite at No. 17 Red Hill, and was just a few months old when I moved there in 1940 with mom and dad, Jack and Nellie Robinson (nee Skidmore).
“Mom was born and bred in nearby Campbell Street, whereas dad hailed from Cradley Heath, and they met when Dad's parents were running a pub called The Reindeer in nearby Dudley Row. My nan and granddad later went on to manage the Samson & Lion in Halesowen Road, Netherton, where I was born, the site of which these days is marked by the Netherton Health Centre. We finally moved from Red Hill in 1954 when the Flood Street slum clearance began.
“Our street was a little different from others around about in as much as it was impossible for motor vehicles to drive up or down due to the poor road surface. As well as the steep hill there were also ruts in the road, cobbles, and bricks and other embedded debris. Red Hill was divided into two distinct halves. At the top, where it met Prospect Row, stood a dirt plateau where the vehicles that belonged to the hauliers J.J. Fields were parked, and on the corner was a large factory unit occupied by Red Hill Steel Services.
The rear wall of the factory ran the whole length of a grassy bank which was covered to a large extent by nettles and brambles, although there was still sufficient open grass to use as a play area.
“The underwear on the clothes-line shown in the gas light picture would have belonged to No. 19, and just beyond was our house, No.
17. Below the location of the hauliers and a path that led down to a set of brick laden steps, stood a detached house, a large imposing property.
The steps were a good width but very steep, and a hand rail was positioned on the lefthand side, a great help to haul you up when you were ascending the hill, but a much more suitable aid when you made the return journey.
“At the foot of the steps there was a blue brick pavement with five terraced houses, numbers. 20 to 16 leading down to Tetnall Street. Numbers 20 and 19 were two bedroom properties where the Wilkinsons and Bennetts lived. Our house plus 18 and 16 were one up, one down, the Shepherd family lived in No. 16.
“Round the corner into Tetnall Street the first two houses shared the same fode as us, and on reflection it was an eerie place, a small compact area with the brewhouses nestling close to the rear door. The fode was mostly covered by uneven bricks, and a few doddery steps led to a block of three toilets. These three loos were used by seven households, so you can understand why a bucket was kept indoors for emergency purposes.
“At the front of the properties the view was a little more picturesque, with open land to the fore, flanked either side by the Red Hill works and the more imposing gas works. At the side of the gas works, running the length of the railings, there was a dirt roadway wide enough to accommodate vehicles. This ran across Red Hill in a direct line from Tetnall Street, which is where the poor state of the road did us all a favour. When the lorries made coal deliveries they would travel along Tetnall Street and across the width of Red Hill to gain access to the dirt track, and as they negotiated the camber and ruts in the road, the lorries wobbled from side to side. Almost every time the coal lorries were fully laden, and inevitably the wobble created a cascade of fossil fuel which in turn prompted a systematic stampede by the local residents to collect the spilt black gold as quickly as possible by using any receptacle they could lay their hands on, and within seconds every trace of the spillage had gone.
“As stated in Bugle 1041, the pungent smells, acrid smoke and sulphur which the gas works produced on a daily basis did affect people's health to some extent. I recall the residents who lived close to the works signing a petition of complaint about the poor quality of the air, and as a result small test boxes fitted with filters were fixed to many of the homes in the vicinity, but we never did find out what the outcome was.
“At times it may have been an unpleasant environment to live in, but it was of no concern to us kids. If we weren't at school, we'd play in the shadow of the works every day without any apparent ill effects, most days staying out till dusk, but after dark rushing back home to catch the latest instalment of Dick Barton on the wireless. While the girls were content playing hopscotch and a game of skipping that seemed to go on forever, us lads would engage in more manly games like football and cricket. Yes! The beautiful game, leather against willow, or in our case a tennis ball, bat, a piece of orange box-wood and an old tin bin for the wickets. But when it came to football we possessed the real McCoy, a stitched, brown leather bound case-ball, laced and inserted with a bladder. We played like the football legends of our day! “Tetnall Street was about the length of a football pitch, with eight houses and four factories, and the factories were a mixed bunch. On one side stood B.S. & F. Hearth Furniture Manufacturers, then after a distance of about 50 yards there was a foundry works. Opposite was Dudley Tool & Jig Co., then a row of three houses, then A. Rounds & Co., a leather goods factory.
After leaving school I found employment in both of those factories. Next door to Rounds lived the Langford family and their son Arthur was my best mate. We were inseparable and did almost everything together. At the other end of Tetnall Street running from north to south was Constitution Hill, and as the name suggests it was a long, steep climb. Directly opposite Tetnall Street lived the Bates family.
(Follow the rest of the story in Bugle 1046).