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'I want a few words with you' said my father, as he called me into his study

By rob taylor  |  Posted: September 27, 2012

A young Hartley Shaw.

A young Hartley Shaw.

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THE LATE Hartley Shaw of Quarry Bank, son of pop-maker Albert Shaw, committed to paper his memories of growing up in the early years of the twentieth century, and in recent editions we have been able to share with you some of what he w r o t e , thanks to his grandson Robin Shaw.

The success of the f a m i l y b u s i n e s s meant that H a r t l e y lived in the archetypal w o r k i n g class Black C o u n t r y v i l l a g e , w h i l e e n j o y i n g more comforts than the average resident, giving him a unique perspective on the Quarry Bank of those times. We join him here in 1910, excited at the new car his father has just bought ...

"In 1910 my father changed his car for a Talbot Darracq touring model, a much more substantial and powerful car.

Moreover, it had seats for five, so could take the family.

It was in keeping with his ever-improving position socially, in that section of the Black Country. To me it was the ultimate in cars. The two large brass head lamps lit up the whole of Merry Hill. A large brass horn stood on the o f f s i d e mudguard and was linked to the horn bulb with a b r a s s ringed tube in a graceful curve.

The canvas collapsible h o o d r e q u i r e d two to erect when rain threatened.

" T h e r e were very f e w garages in those days.

M a n y repairs to the chassis and springs were done by blacksmiths. At the pop factory Tom had a portable 'hearth' in which he produced white-hot gleads by the bellows attached to it, often operated by me. In this manner he could bend and shape iron bars, rods or plates for wagon repairs. He had acquired his skill as a boy pumping for his Uncle Joe, my maternal grandfather. On one occasion Tom hammered out the twisted H-bar front axle of a Model T Ford by jacking up the vehicle over the hearth with the battered axle in the gleads.

"A puncture caused a major operation. Wheels were fixtures and the tyre had to be opened up in situ, the tube drawn out so that the puncture could be patched. After using the repair outfit, the reverse operation ensued and a hand pump used to restore pressure. The car enthusiasts comprised two groups – the engineering fanatics and the owner seeking a status symbol.

My father belonged to the latter. As a County Councillor he attended meetings at the county town, and I often accompanied him in the Darracq, sometimes with Dot.

When we crossed Watling Street we were thrilled when the AA scout saluted and we vigorously waved to him after our passing.

"A relative who occasionally visited our house, The Quarry, was an aunt of my mother's; to me she was very old and always had a severe expression. She was a widow who kept a draper's shop in Quarry Bank High Street, and her own apparel was always black or dark brown.

Apart from the shop, she had other interests, mainly cottage property. Many folk appeared to value her opinions, which were dispensed in slow measured words; even my father showed respect for her when she came to The Quarry on family occasions.

"In later years I learnt that the wise old aunt had provided financial help when my father began making pop. She must have had confidence in his abilities and integrity, so there was high esteem both ways.

Uncle Ned "Uncle Ned was a prime favourite of mine; he was my mother's only brother and was chief clerk in a fast-developing enamelware factory. In appearance he was dapper and he had a jolly manner that surprised me, knowing how severe his upbringing had been with Grandpa Grosvenor. Ned had one child, a daughter a few years younger than me. They lived near the factory where Ned worked at Cradley.

"At this stage in my life events were polarised between The Quarry and the chapel. My parents' friends were drawn mainly from the trading classes, shop-keepers to small factory owners; most of them were Primitive Methodists and Liberals. It was in the political field that I saw beyond this restricted circle.

On one occasion I accompanied my father to the County Town's offices, he was then a County Councillor.

Waiting in the entrance hall I saw my father approaching with a tall dignified man, and as I stood up, my father said 'This is my son, sir'. The distinguished looking gentleman held out his hand, bending from his height. 'And what is your name?' "With a stammer I spoke my name. On our way out, I asked who that was. My father's reply was casual.

'Lord Dudley'.

"Shortly after this, my father called me to his study: 'I want a few words with you.' From this period, I began to feel that my father had no warm feelings for me. I trembled as I entered the room. Standing by my father's chair I was relieved to hear him say, 'Your mother and I think it time you went away to boarding school to learn polite behaviour and study higher education. I never had such advantages; my parents could not afford it.' "For a few moments I was unable to absorb the implications of my father's words.

Then I thought of my playmates, especially Tom Williams; my intimates at the Day School; Rupert Healey, Tommy Foreman, not to mention my secret idol, Doris Bannister. Breaking into my thoughts, my father said, 'I’ve seen the Headmaster of Bourne College. It's about ten miles away, near to Birmingham so you’ll be able to come home for weekends.' This softened the suddenness of the plans my father had made.

"The next few weeks were occupied with the preparations for my departure. My mother was concerned that I should have adequate underwear, as I was starting my college life in mid-January 1914.

In those days, ten miles was quite a distance from home.

"A trunk was brought to contain the required outfit prescribed by the college authorities and the day came when I bade my mother goodbye. There were tears in her eyes and my throat was rather tight. After the journey in my father's Darracq and I had been shown my bed in the junior dormitory, I stole away into a lavatory and had a little weep. Then, feeling more composed, thought, ‘how silly – I shall be home at the weekends'. That year contributed more than many that followed to a change in my outlook. My contact with boys from completely different environments expanded my mental

horizons so that dimensions in and around Quarry Bank shrank.

"I naturally looked forward to my weekends at home. In that period the first bus route was in operation from Birmingham to Stourbridge. It passed through Quinton village and before reaching its destination I alighted and walked up Thornton Road, soon reaching The Quarry.

"After one term at Bourne College I decided to become a full boarder, as I was aware that a week-ender had less status in the minds of full boarders. My involvement in sport and non-academic activities grew and enabled me to become integrated completely into college life.

“My scholastic progress was not spectacular; I was a plodder.

One fact I discovered at this time was that some boys of my age were growing taller and that lack of height was a handicap. My parents were both short so I realised that to 'make up' I had to excel in physical fitness and exceed my contemporaries in learning.

So I held my own with others of the same age.

"During my first holidays my mother fussed me up, sometimes in the presence of other people. In chapel she occasionally turned to look at me; by now I was taller than her. It made me very embarrassed.

She was surprised when I pleaded. 'Momma, don't keep looking at me in chapel.' 'Why ever not?' she replied.

'You are my son.' "Looking away from her eyes I explained, 'It makes the other boys snigger and even the grown-ups smile.' "Dot became less patronizing; I could almost face her eye-to-eye in a level gaze. By now Dot was attending a girl's High School at Dudley.

My younger brother, Vic, was a sturdy boy with a head of curly auburn hair, much favoured by my father as, with his hair and complexion, he followed the paternal side of the family. In contrast, I had black hair with features similar to my Mother. I was not happy about this likeness, although my mother was a pretty woman; I resented having what I considered to be effeminate features.

"In 1914, my father, as vicepresident of the Primitive Methodists – the highest position a layman could hold – was invited with the President, the Rev AJ Taylor, to inspect their missions in Africa. This caused much excitement at The Quarry.

They sailed on the 'Armadale Castle' for Cape Town, a long journey which took them to the Kafue region situated on a tributary of the Zambezi.

Whilst they were there, war broke out; my mother was worried until my father's safe return. Eventually I saw the trophies he had brought back – assegais, knobkerries, long bows and arrows and wooden spoons and gourds. In addition there were many photographs of the tour.

Missionary "After the long train journey a trek was made with many porters, for many miles, to reach the missions. The Rev Taylor was a tall man, heavily moustached, lean with severe features. I was thrilled to see them in breeches and shirt, wearing topees. One small snap portrayed my father in a hammock being borne by natives.

'How far did they carry you, Daddy?' I asked. I knew my father was no lightweight. He spoke of an incident when they put him down and refused to go any further.

'I got to my feet and in solemn tones slowly repeated the alphabet with appropriate arm movements. They must have thought I was invoking vengeance as they promptly picked up the poles again, and we continued.' "The outbreak of war caused excitement to us children.

We had a carefree existence with cares and responsibilities borne by our elders, but one event stayed with me for many years. Playing on the big lawn at The Quarry, I heard a rat-a-tat-tat in the distance. It came from over the 'knob', towards Saltwells Coppice. Running up the slope of Merry Hill I saw a company of khaki clad men approaching with kettle drums swinging. Suddenly, up came the bugles, flashing in the sun as their strident notes cut the air. I was thrilled as I looked at the young officer at the head of the troop. After the march up and over the Knob came further excitement when the detachment came to a halt outside the garden of The Quarry. Running up to my mother, who, with all the neighbours, had come outside, I asked if I could get some pop for the thirsty soldiers as it was a warm summer day. Having her approval, I dashed up to the factory and loaded a trolley with cases of lemonade.

Meanwhile the soldiers had stood down and with broken ranks were mopping their perspiring faces. My mother spoke to the sergeant and he nodded approval, so the gates were opened to admit the men onto the big lawn. They welcomed a lie down on the grass whilst quenching their thirst.

"During 1915 it became apparent to me that the previous year's enthusiasm had been tempered by the stalemate of trench warfare involving heavy losses of lives. However, this was not yet noticeable to any great extent in Quarry Bank or Quinton. In fact, the very young saw events in terms of gallantry and glory. The son of one of our neighbours was a second lieutenant in a northern regiment; he was very popular with the girls, including my sister.

'He's a fop', I declared.

'You're jealous', countered Dot. 'He looks topping.' "I snorted. I had the laugh a few days later when Dickie, the young officer, was preening himself in the drawing room of The Quarry before a bevy of admirers, when one of his puttees began slowly to unwind, causing the girls to giggle. Happily, he survived the war with a medal pinned upon his chest by George V at Buckingham Palace.

"In this year food began to be less plentiful due to Uboat sinkings of ships bringing in consumable products.

State rationing had not yet been introduced so the retailers did their best to satisfy regular customers. A few, however, took advantage of the situation and diverted more supplies to those who could afford to pay more, so prices rose.

"At first the poorer folk grumbled and then, when the increases caused them to go without, they became hostile.

Rioting broke out in many places. One such happened in Quarry Bank where a grocer attracted much wrath. One night his shop was broken into by a crowd, and they smashed in the window, grabbing much of the stock from the shelves. Falling over each other, much was spilled onto the pavement outside. I was on holiday at the time and saw the next morning the evidence of the riot. Jam and other soft food were strewn on the pavement. When the crowd dispersed, the terrified grocer phoned Brierley Hill who ordered the members of the force who resided in Quarry Bank to investigate.

They consisted of a sergeant and one constable, the former a huge man with a hard face, whereas the constable was a pleasant man and was quite popular.

"When they arrived on the scene in the early hours, astonishment showed on their faces. There was not a soul in sight apart from a few spectators from bedroom windows. When interrogated, these witnesses failed to recognise anyone in the crowd. Recounting the event some days later with me, the constable chuckled; he had a soft spot for the poor and no time for the profiteers, although he did not say so.

On his night patrol, my father sometimes left a small cigar and a bottle of vino in the summer house at The Quarry to ensure he had special protection, and Father being a Justice of the Peace, the policeman obliged. He found it quite a haven on cold, wet nights.

Zeppelins "Early in the year, 1916, the war came nearer, with Zeppelin raids in the Midlands.

The thuds of bombs dropped in the Tipton area rattled the windows at Quinton, they occurred at 8pm and 1am.

During a weekend at home I saw the ruined buildings at Tipton. Heavy snowfalls in February brought traffic to a stand-still, and a ten foot drift blocked the road in Quinton village by the church.

"In that year my mother's father died of cancer. Joe Grosvenor's death created a void in many places, especially with Tom who always spoke well of his Uncle Joe.

'We shan't see many of his kind now,' he murmured sadly, 'he was a harsh man, but his judgement was fair'.

"I, too, missed my grandfather, for I always saw him in his softer moments, particularly when I stayed to dinner with my grandparents opposite the chapel every other Sunday. For some weeks my sorrowing grandmother lived at The Quarry. It was in this year that I had my first long trousers with turn-ups; I felt on the brink of manhood. Dot and her school friends teased me but I took it in my stride, which was now an inch or two longer. Another milestone was my learning to drive a motor vehicle with Tom as instructor.

"The last three months of 1916 were the end of a period in my life. Naturally, I was not aware of this until many years later. Before returning home for the midsummer holiday, I sat for an outside examination – the Oxford Junior. Previously I had passed the Third College of Preceptors test but this exam entailed visits to Birmingham at the School of Art in Margaret Street and another building in Navigation Street. Designated as 'Oxford Week' in my sketchy diary, the sittings were punctuated with meals at Lyons and the cinema in New Street.

"It was a lovely summer; at the start of the holidays, I spent those carefree days with my boyhood friend Tom Williams, bird-nesting, foraging far and wide around Quarry Bank in hedgerows and dingles. One such trip took us as far as Clent Hills when Tom almost fell into a pond near a farm house, trying to reach a moorhen’s nest.

In those days, fields and small farms separated Black Country towns. To provide feed for the horses at the pop factory, my father rented two pastures from the landowner's agent at Dudley. They were less than half a mile from The Quarry.

"One day us boys found a partridge's nest in the undergrowth near a pit bank known as the Little John, and returning to The Quarry, we met my father in Merry Hill.

'I want you boys to do something useful', he commanded.

Our faces went blank anticipating an unwanted chore. 'Go down to the fields and turn the hay, while the sun shines', he continued.

'Tom will give you forks'.

"I recalled the rides I'd had years before from the stables at Cop Lane on the broad backs of the horses, as we collected our implements. Later in the day Tom arrived with a gallon jar of dandelion and burdock. To us hot and sweaty lads it tasted delicious.

'Let’s go swimming tomorrow', Tom Williams suggested.

Stourbridge Baths was our favourite venue. 'Remember when we used to bathe in the Saltwells Brooks in the coppice?' Tom scratched the back of his neck as he pondered. ‘Must have been when we were kids of about ten or eleven'.

"The hot weather created a great demand for pop and Tom from the factory was busy dashing off to Kinver or Clent Village with replacements in the one small Ford now in use. I enjoyed helping on these occasions. It was frequently an occasion when I took a turn at the wheel on the return trips – so beginning my first lessons in driving.

"'What are you going to do when you leave college?' asked Tom. At this time, many young men a few years older were in uniform. I recalled seeing naval cadets on a train passing Torquay just before the previous Christmas. That brief vision had created an enthusiasm frequently suppressed by my mother and sister. My mother mentioned it to my father, hoping he would discourage the idea.

My father arranged a visit to the public analyst in Birmingham, hoping that my high marks in chemistry might create an interest in such a field.

In the laboratories, I was presented to the august person whose name appeared on bottles of HP Sauce, attesting to its purity. My father endeavoured to arouse some enthusiasm in me. 'What does your son do, Sir?' he asked the man. 'Oh – he's in the Navy,' came the reply. One look between us settled the matter.

"During the half-term holiday of that last term at Bourne College in early November, my father discussed my future and it was decided an application should be made for entry on 'Worcester' at Greenhithe in Kent. A fortnight later I had a letter from my Mother: ‘Your Daddy has had an interview with the Captain of 'Worcester' and you have been accepted, pending a satisfactory medical certificate’.”

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2 comments

  • Black Country Bugle User  |  January 17 2013, 11:41PM

    A great read, I have a small collection of bottles from Albert Shaw, always great to know some local history, would be interested in any more history of the pop factory, pictures etc..

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  November 26 2012, 11:06AM

    Fantastic piece of family history for me. Albert Shaw was my great grandfather.

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