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A tour of Bilston High Street - in the 1950s...

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: April 10, 2003

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A recent addition to my Bilston memorabilia collection is a brown glazed stone beer flagon which dates from around 1900. It is marked The Plough, Bilston and states the landlord as T. Robinson. Research to date has informed me that a landlord by this name kept the pub next door, The Swan, during the 1920s, but further research will no doubt confirm the landlord mentioned is the legendary Tom Robinson also known as “Tarpole”.

Past Bugle articles have revealed he kept the Plough until 1894 when he was made bankrupt. He then went on to keep the Swan which was right next door to his former pub. I believe he died in the 1920’s.

The Swan is still in business to this day and is one of the few remaining old buildings in an area of Bilston town centre that has seen much redevelopment.

At this end of High Street, in the area around its junction with Coseley Road and Wolverhampton Street, you could find public houses, shops, churches and rows of terrace houses, much of which has now disappeared. This part of town is now occupied by the large traffic island along with a large supermarket and car park.

This part of town is probably the area I am most familiar with as during the 1950s I walked through these streets on route to Stonefield School and then later to James Wilkes the printers in Oxford Street. The first building I recall was actually in Wolverhampton Street and this was the Noah’s Ark public house and as you walked along High Street you then passed Fred King’s fish and chip shop. He really did produce chips without equal.

This was followed by Emily Green’s shop and Fellows' seed shop where you could get ammunition for your trusty pea-shooter. This was followed by the High Street Methodist Church and Schools and the place where we had our school leaving service when I left Stonefield in 1961.

Around the corner in Thompson Street was the Miners Arms public house. I associate this pub with Bilston carnival and the flower shop because as a family we would visit this pub (or The Golden Cups) when these popular events took place. We would always go back to Hickman Park for the closing finale and the firework display. They really were marvellous occasions and the entire population of the town seemed to be there. It was a complete days event from the formation of the parade in Wolverhampton Street until its spectacular finale in the evening. It’s hard to believe that community spirit generated will ever return.

The next batch of buildings I remember was F.W. Collins the undertakers, Callears the greengrocers and Pitts the butchers. This was on the corner of Hartshorn Street and just round the corner was the Cross Guns public house. I can’t recall being taken into this pub.

The next pub down was The Greyhound & Punchbowl, and it was sad to read of its recent demise in the Bugle. It fell into a bad state of repair once before in the mid 30s and questions were posed then regarding its future. Fortunately, Butler’s Brewery stepped in to carry out the restoration and the building we know today was duly re-opened in 1936.

Just below the Greyhound was Campbell’s fish and chip shop and the Savoy Cinema. How convenient was that. All I remember about the cinema was the madhouse on a Saturday afternoon for the kids' matinee which was in complete contrast to the more gentile Wolverhampton morning cinema matinees.

A plaque should be placed on the building opposite to commemorate the High Street business of Joey Sutton, a smashing caf which sold great pork sandwiches. Next door but one was Beach’s the tobacconist and then Herbert Beach’s furniture shop. The Royal Exchange public house came next. Now, me being an innocent lad, it was a complete mystery to me why people called this pub “The Trumpet”. It was only much later I learned the true meaning and so providing me with an answer why dad used to go mad whenever I used the name. I will leave it at that except to say it had little to do with jazz.

As you would proceed in the direction of Coseley Road you would enter Oatmeal Square and tucked away in the corner next door to the Golden Cup was Maud Badland’s sweet shop. I think every schoolboy who ever attended Stonefield tormented this poor lady. I later got the opportunity to apologise when I discovered she was a relative and she made a surprise visit. Next door to the Golden Cup was Whitfield’s grocer/provisions, followed by a Young’s the butchers and after this Sammy Dale’s furniture shop (later bought by “the London bloke” off the market - what was his name?). Then came the aforementioned Plough public house, although I only remember the building as a second hand car business. Right next door was The Swan which of course still trades today.

A shop that will be remembered by a lot of Bilston readers came next, Wiltshire’s clothing shop and next door Hubble’s butchers shop.

Next up was a pub that was once two pubs, The White Horse and The Black Horse, although the latter ceased to be a pub many years before and was incorporated into the former.

I am having trouble naming the last batch of shops before Coseley Road, however I recall the final pub in High Street as the Bird in Hand, but only as a lodging house, along with Stallard’s motor cycle shop right on the corner of High Street and Coseley Road.

I hope this short tour round a small part of Bilston will bring back all sorts of happy memories to Bugle readers. I do hope someone out there will provide any shops I have no doubt missed or got wrong.

The photographs enclosed are out of my own collection. The view of the top end of town is from a 1950s postcard.

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