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A trip down a Smethwick Memory Lane with Eva

By john workman  |  Posted: December 16, 2010

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REGULAR contributor to our columns, Mrs Eva Warr, takes us on a journey down Memory Lane — to her Smethwick back in the 20s, 30s and 40s...

In 7th October issue (No 945), I read the story from Olive Bedworth regarding West Bromwich's Golden Mile. I remember that stretch of West Bromwich, when I lived at Sydenham Road, Smethwick, with my husband and sons, we used to catch the 450 bus from Halfords Lane.

I used to go to the King's Cinema and Imperial, on afternoons when my husband was on shifts at GKN.

I am now telling my story about Cape Hill. I was born in Dibble Road, (No. 5 Tiverton Grove), thereafter, moving to Gilbert Road, Smethwick, and starting school at Waterloo Road Infants. I then moved to Hamilton Road, Warley, and went to Abbey Road School, because my mom and dad had a council house there, but when I was about 9 years old I went to live with my gran and granddad in Gilbert Road, because she suffered ill health. The doctor who treated her from Cape Hill Dispensary was the first international doctor in the district, Dr Samara Weera who lived with his family in Regent Street, Smethwick, and was a lovely man.

I went to Cape Hill School, and was tutored by Miss Wilshaw and Miss Simcox who taught geography. I loved spelling, writing, composition and cookery. Then the last years I spent back at Waterloo Road School, till I left at 14 in 1935.

Right opposite Gilbert Road was Tintern House, double fronted windows and you could walk through and round to see all fashions in both windows. I had a lovely blue swagger coat and black velour off the face hat, which I wore on Saturday to go to the Gaumont Cinema in Windmill Lane. I was film mad, I went to nearly all the local cinemas, and the Birmingham ones with my friend from the jewellery quarter.

We both worked in Vyse Street, badge enamelling.

Next door to Tintern House was Mr Culwick's chemist, Shepherds bread and cake shop(we used to buy stale cakes for one-and-a-half pence old money), then Williams paper shop, Baker's taxi yard and Parfitt's paper shop on the corner of Sycamore Road.

I went for a while to Waterloo Road Methodist Church, which is still now a church.

British Relay Wireless took the corner shop in Waterloo Road and Gilbert Road; we had first a wireless from there which we hung on the wall. It had two stations and was I think about 9 pence a week.

The shop before was owned by Tyler’s sweets.

I remember when Cadbury's sold rounded blocks of chocolate and Mrs Tyler had a pointed tool that broke pieces of nut chocolate off, I loved watching her doing that and also all pieces of broken sweets and toffee were stuck together, and we called it 'under the counter toffee.' We had Mrs Tilley, who kept the old fish shop, her hair in a bun and black apron on (everybody seemed to wear black). Her son kept the faggot and peas shop next door.

Every Friday we took a jug or bowl and waited in a queue, also the very first meat pies.

Regarding the Waterloo Hotel, which was owned by Mr and Mrs Varley with son Dennis, the head barman (Ernie) used to come out on Sunday mornings and hose all the marble walls outside.

On the corner of Shireland Road was Marsh and Baxters, that had two entrances, the other entrance was in Cape Hill. I always remember going to get pork chops for my gran and had to take them back because they had too much fat on them.

Braces and socks Another time I was sent for some belly draft of pork, I didn't like saying belly draft, I thought it was rude. Next inside was Paxfords who sold almost anything, cottons, elastic, clothes brushes, ribbons.

Then going down Cape Hill was Foster Brothers. My granddad bought braces and cashmere socks (very posh) for half-a-crown. Then Goodyears, lovely donuts, Adams chemist, Sanders grocery who had a stand outside with a large metal bowl in, selling shelled peas a few pence a pint. You couldn't do that now.

I remember there was a basket on the counter inside which I thought were pieces of straw, it turned out they were the first Shredded Wheat I had seen.

Next was Cooper’s warehouse that sold all linen and curtains and carpets. The man who worked there, I think his name was Harry, had a cart that he used to deliver the orders for customers, and he always wore a cowgown and a cap.

Next was Dalloway’s fruit and veg market, it was massive.

The back part of the shop was devoted to potatoes and all kinds of vegetables, the front area and always an open front was all kinds of fruit. I think the side stall was fish, but I'm not sure.

Next door was Walker’s butchers, and on the walls hung large metal round dishes with beef and pork dripping, oh what a lovely taste that was on toast. Where has all that dripping gone? Too much lean meat and no Sunday dip.

Then next to Walker’s, Freeman, Hardy and Willis shoe shop, next Preedys tobacconists.

Further down, Beeny's Gents Outfitters and selling all workman's aprons, overalls, cowgowns and at the end by the gully leading from Florence Road was a shop that lay back (you reached the door up a step) with a Dutch name - Van something, sold shirts, working and otherwise.

I remember my granddad going to buy Oxford shirts and calico sheets for his trade as a chimney sweep.

Flea Pit Now over the road (still Cape Hill) was the Dudley Arms pub and the Electric Cinema (local flea pit, but I liked it). I would go there for 2d (old money) and stay and watch the films over again.

You could do that then, you had a film, news, cartoon, all for 2d and at Christmas we had a party, funny hat, a bag of goodies and cartoons, Mickey Mouse, Harry Langdon, Popeye, Betty Boop.

Lovely! Carrying on, there was a dressmakers, Madame Coley, who made (1944) my wedding dress in princess satin, pearl buttons on long sleeves, with tapered edges, fitted waist and long train, short veil, two bridesmaids. My late husband's sister, now deceased, and my sister Ivy, wore long flowered dresses, flowered bandeau hats, and bouquets.

Mine was pink carnations, the flowers then were so heavy.

My satin shoes were borrowed, size 5, and I took a 7. I was glad to get those off! The reception was at the Victoria Hotel, High Park Road, Windmill Lane, after the wedding at St Chad's Church, Ada Road, Smethwick.

We had wartime crockery, spam and salad, and a false bottom wedding cake, only one layer was real. There was a sugar shortage, and lack of coupons, even the spam cost £5 (a catering tin).

Over the road, by Salisbury Road, Barclays Bank (it's still there) was dear old Woolworth's.

We were always in there buying 3d and 6d goods.

My gran always wore Woolworth's glasses, 6d a pair, just read the card with the alphabet on and Bob's your uncle, everything's fine.

Next door was England's shoe shop, upstairs by the side door was Jerome's photo studio.

I had my photo taken many a time with my gran.

Coming up, Mayer’s overall and corset shop. I had a boned corset when I started work (at 15) in the jewellery quarter, not afterwards I might say, and there was a double fronted dress shop where all kinds of fashions and coats were sold. Next Rowbottom’s cooked meats, I always had to get 2ozs ham on the bone for granddad.

Lovely smell. I even had to skin the eels for him from a hook in the kitchen.

Empire Butter There was a grocers. I was rationed with them in W.W.II.

I remember when I was small, I had to fetch Empire Butter, in large blocks on the counter with glass panels to protect us. When they patted the butter down to size, the salt used to hit your face, it tingled.

There were rows of different biscuits in tins with glass fronts, so you could pick which you wanted. Peek Freans, Crawfords and others.

Sugar was in blue bags, you could get 2ozs packets of Brooke Bonds and Lyons tea.

All money went along the room to the lady in the desk sitting high up in a cubicle and change came back in a tube down a shute. Just like Foster Bros.

Then there was the Seven Stars pub, rather gaudy and working class then, with a gents smoke room only. Next the pawn shop, up the entry, in a dingy office (like a Dickens film!) Into Windmill Lane. The market, what a market. They sold everything. Crockery (Carters), Mrs Evans on the top stall, sheets and all linen.

On a Saturday night there was an auction "Who will give me £5, no, how about £4, OK then 50 bob, that's your lot."

 Great fun. The sheikh of Araby I called the fortune teller. You could smell the incense, and you told him your birthday and paper came out of a figure (I think) written with brown ink and it told your fortune. Then there was an ice cream maker, it came out of a machine in strips and put in the wafer mould onto the wafer biscuit.

This is going back to the late 20's. Then the man with a piece of lino, one half was dirty and the other he used a special polish that cleaned it (was it a con?) Mr Hailey's book stalls, long trestle tables, all kinds of books and comics was there. I always liked and bought the Magnet comic, with the ghost of Greyfriars story in it.   

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3 comments

  • Black Country Bugle User  |  February 04 2011, 7:58PM

    st.chads was on the corner of edith road and the grocers below dalloways was wrensons ilived in ada road best wishes j.dixon p.s. the cinema in windmill lane wasthe rink

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  January 25 2011, 4:19PM

    Does anyone remember the name of the people that had Beeny's the Gents Outfitters on Cape Hill in Smethwich

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  December 28 2010, 6:51PM

    Hello can you help please. I was born Susan Jones 8/10/50 my mother was Mary Matilda Jones of 20 Hamilton Rd Warley Smethwick. My Father was Luke Dickens of Addenbrooke Rd Warley. I was adopted in Feb51. Did you know of Mary Jones who lived at no.20 Hamilton Rd? Mary was born in 1923 - please can you help - Kind regards Jill Martin

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