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The changing characteristics of a Black Country town over one hundred years

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 02, 2014

  • Above, part of Bilston's shopping precinct and (right) the same view 100 years ago

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THE late Reg Aston was a local historian who could narrate a good story from the past, illuminating the characters that plied their trade in the streets and around the markets, describing the industries that kept families in work over several generations, and above all putting on some wonderful exhibitions that included both photographs and artefacts to tell their own story of the history his home town of Bilston.

In the year 2000 Reg decided to photograph familiar scenes around Bilston with the same view that had been taken up to 100 years ago, a project he wanted to complete to mark the new millennium and we are grateful to Reg's family for allowing us to feature the past and present photographs.

Last month we featured a handful of Reg's comparative views, some of which were baffling after the changes that have taken place, corners of Bilston that even the locals may have found difficult to recognise. But it doesn't really matter if the exact location remains a mystery, just the undisputed evidence that the world around us never stays the same, even in our own back yard.

It may be a romanticised notion to take, but the old views doe arf look better than the new! Take the two pictures at the top of the page. The one on the right shows the centre of Bilston about one hundred years ago, a thoroughfare that allowed the passage of trams, had gas lamps hanging from the shop premises, and elaborate shop windows designed to be as appealing as possible, compared with Bilston's pedestrianised precinct of the 21st century with its bland shop fronts and rudimentary architecture.

The bottom two photographs show the corner of Oxford Street and Gozzard Street, the more recent picture accounting for a book end of trees. St Mary's Church can be seen in both pictures, but at the beginning of the 20th century the book end was a coal yard hidden by high walls and a splendid array of advertising bills.

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