WHEN Bugle readers Kathleen and Anthony Page brought a beautifully crafted wooden whistle into Bugle House, it was to send us on a journey of discovery to the Hurst Green of over a century ago when fields stretched far into the distance, the air was filled with the charismatic warbling of the skylark, and instead of a pub on every street corner there stood a farm.
Kathleen gave the wooden whistle a good old blow, a sound that reverberated around the office, and then began to relate the following love story. "We have to go back well into the 19th century when the whistle would have been blown by a certain Mr Toms."
"He was sending a message that was as efficient as a modern day mobile phone, but instead of using a text alert he gave the whistle a short, sharp trill. The person he was trying to contact was his true love who knew Mr Toms would be at a stile in Station Road Fields by the blast from his whistle. The stile wasn't far from where she lived, and the shrill sound would send her scurrying to meet him, presumably without her mother's consent.
"Normally a chaperone would be present when a lass met a chap. But using the whistle to send the secret signal Mr Toms could develop a loving relationship with his girl without anyone else knowing. I might add, this might sound like an unsavoury love affair, but the tale ended happily ever after when Mr Toms made an honest woman of his sweetheart."
Before heading off to Hurst Green to try and locate where the two lovers may have met in secret, a little research was needed to determine roughly how old the whistle was. Whistles of all descriptions have been used for centuries, but it wasn't until 1879 that Joseph Hudson, in tandem with his brother James, invented the pea whistle at his Birmingham manufactory. Mr Toms' wooden whistle would most likely have been copied from this design and therefore could be over 130 years old.
The future Mrs Toms lived in Nimmings Road and we have used an OS Map surveyed in 1885 to try and plot her movements and the whereabouts of the secret stile. In the latter stages of the 19th century the area known as Cakemore was still predominantly an agricultural landscape and Cakemore Farm and Upper Holt Farm were located either end of what is now an extension of Nimmings Rd. We had no illusions about finding the stile where the couple met, a structure that must have disappeared many years ago, but a footpath clearly marked on the Victorian map was more than likely the one used by Mr Toms on his way to the secret rendezvous.
The only roads marked on the 1885 map that still exist today are Nimmings Rd which now includes Station Lane, Narrow Lane (now called Fairfield Rd), and probably the most important, Masters Lane. It was in Masters Lane where the footpath that crossed Station Lane Fields came to an end and probably where the stile may have been located. However a section of the original footpath still exists and runs out into the comparatively new Holt Road.
Using the OS map to try and retrace the steps taken by Mr Toms and his sweetheart and find the location of the stile, revealed an intriguing mind's eye rural image of the Black Country. You could imagine Mr Toms with his whistle leaning on the stile surrounded by fields, waiting for his beloved to appear, her heart skipping a beat as she got ever closer to the spot where their love for each other would be rekindled.