Things I remember from my childhood
by Alan Beach

I started at Hurt Hill Infants School (Hollywell Street, Coppice) in 1927, the Headmaster was Sam Smout, a friend of my Dad's. The male teachers were Mr S. Parkes and Mr W. Nicholls who was very well liked by all the children. The female teachers Mrs Holmes, Mrs Wilkes and Mrs Howse. At playtime my Mother used to come through our "top yard" to the School railings and bring me toast.

Player's packet In 1933 I went to Manor Senior School, the Headmaster was Mr. Greensill, the teachers I remember are Messrs. Stephenson, Williams, Clark, Millinson, Jackson and Davies who took us for Chemistry as well. I remember Mr. Davies very well, he also ran the Camera Club. He used to pass a Player's cigarette round the class and tell us to have a good look at the Sailor's face and notice how old he looked and to remember the face would appear to us to get younger, when I look now he was correct.

Another thing that he told us was that if you pick a large stone up you would usually see lots of little insects etc. that began to scatter around underneath, he said that this was their little world, he then said to us "What would happen if someone lifted the stone from your world?" Makes you think!

When I was at Hurst Hill School there was a boy named Tommy Hall, we called him "Bubbles", he used to walk up and down the playground on his hands, he used to do about 100 yards. He became a very good footballer later on, but didn't take it up as a profession.

Whilst still at school my Dad took my older brother, Harold and myself to the little Baptist Chapel in Fir Street, Gospel End twice every Sunday.

I remember all the games Harold has written (see BEACH, Thomas Harold - Things I remember from my childhood) along with Jump on Backs and where two houses had their doors next to each other we used to tie the door knobs together, then knock both doors and run off! Also there was a little shop in the 'Coppice' called Emma-Jane's and she used to put little bottles of Olive Oil, Camphorated Oil etc along the window ledge, we used to go along, tap the window and they used to fall off, she used to chase us.

My Grandma Addiss used to bake bread every Thursday, she had her own baking oven, she supplied some of the neighbours with bread as well. I can still remember the smell and the taste of the homemade bread and it was still fresh the next Thursday, not like the bread today which is stale in a couple of days.

I remember the holidays at Blackpool and Rhyl and watching Billy Parkin's Show at the open air theatre. From a very early age I remember going round Rhyl on my own and always ending up at Billy Parkin's Show. You could stand round the outside rail, you didn't have to pay only if you went inside the rail and sat in a deckchair. The only act I remember was a girl named Dot Stevens, she was an acrobat from the Isle of Man, she used to perform her act on the roof of the theatre, I used to think she was smashing, mind you I was only about eight years old.

When I was about ten I remember my Mother taking me to Billy Parkin's Show at the Theatre Royal in Bilston. During the show I said to my Mom that the lady sitting next to her was in the ticket office at the show in Rhyl, my Mom asked her and I was right.

Next to the Manor Schools there was a scrapyard owned by a man named Smith, we used to buy "Tettenhall Dicks" from him, they are very hard small pears, they were very nice to eat but gave you stomach ache if you ate too many.

There was a fellow who lived in Rifle Street who was a bit "simple", we called him Billy Popposh, we used to shout "Who killed the cuckoo" to him, he used to get very angry and throw stones at us and his aim was very accurate. I was still at infant's schools then.

I remember the slaughterhouse being used in our "top yard" of 43a Horace Street, where I was born, the slaughterman was Dick Salter. I used to go and watch him do the killing, I must have been a bit blood thirsty in those days.

The cows were put into a building within the slaughterhose, when it was ready for them to be killed a rope was put around their necks, the rope was then passed through a ring on the opposite wall and the animal pulled out into position for it to be killed. The cows were killed with a pole-axe which was like two pieces of tube about 1/2" diameter welded to the centre tube which was then attached to wooden handle. The cow was struck just above and central of the eyes, the tube penetrated the skull. I remember one time they couldn't kill one cow, after being hit about three or four times it sat down on its hind legs, it was then hit a further two or three times before it eventually fell over.

After the cows had fallen it was usual to push a cane similar to the ones used at school to cane you for misbehaving, pushing it in and out. I presume this was to penetrate the brain to make sure it was dead. Sheep were killed by pushing a knife into them just behind the ears, pigs were killed by cutting their throats and letting them bleed to death. Looking back now, it was a terrible way to kill animals, thank goodness they are all electrocuted these days.

My Dad used to keep pigs in the pigsty in the "top yard", I used to give them coal to eat, they loved it, but my Mother used to shout at me for doing it.

At the front of our shop (43a Horace Street) it was all fields, one was owned by Grannie Beach, she wouldn't let you play on it, not even me, she used to chase us.

Then there were two more fields owned by Uncle Charlie Beach, one you were not allowed to go in but the other one had two pathways, one leading down to Upper Ettingshall (Sodom) and the other going down through Mobberley's Brickworks to the White Horse Pub (Joe Large's) at the bottom of Cann Lane Bank. In front of the shop there was a small bit of ground that was part of Grannie Beach's field which Dad used at one time as a bit of a garden, there was also three stumps which my Mother used to use to hang the washing from.

We also at one time had four geese which spent most of their time in the fields, they also used to go chasing down the fields cackling to meet Dad coming home from work.

I remember Dad's motorbike, it was an AJS with a square petrol tank, the gear lever was on the right side of the tank, the sidecar was made of plywood.

AJS Motorcycle combo The accident took place a Four Lane's End which is the cross roads at the Wolverhampton/Stourbridge Road and the Sedgley to Wombourne Road just past the Wodehouse. Dad was turning from the Wolverhampton Road to come up towards Sedgley, the roads were very wet and the bike went across the road and hit the wall. I remember hitting my head and also that Uncle Charlie came and picked us up. I was five years old at the time.

The motorbike was repaired (1927) and then put into the slaughterhouse, Mom wouldn't let Dad use it anymore. It was left there, I used to play on it for hours and I believe eventually Mom gave it to the scrapman. I have often wondered whether it was completely scrapped or someone bought it and did it up.

The carbide powder that dad used in the lamps for the motorbike was kept in a sealed container. I used to get a cocoa tin, make a very small hole in the lid, put a few stones in the bottom, put in some of the carbide powder, put on the lid then seal it. We would then take it down to the Coseley Canal Tunnel, which is about a mile long, then throw it into the canal. The weight of the stones would take the tin to the bottom of the canal. The water would get in through the small hole, the gas would then build up in the tin and would eventually blow up like a grenade. The water would come up like a mushroom and the noise exaggerated by being in the tunnel.

When I as young I remember going down to Grandma Addiss' every night with Mom, nearly all her sisters used to meet there as well. In the summer they used to go down to the Brampits, this is where the Bramford Estate is now. They used to sit on the banks of the openworks pools, they were originally mine holes which had filled with water. They used to take bread and cheese which they broke into, small pieces, put into a handkerchief. The four corners of the handkerchief were held and the rest with the bread and cheese in was then twisted until it made the mixture into a firm ball, this was done at the house before going out. Then sitting on the banks of the pool we used to eat it. Thinking back it tasted lovely but I have tried it two or three times since but it didn't taste the same.

When it was cold nights my Mom used to put me under her shawl to keep me warm. When we got back to our house I used to like taking her hairpins out. She had long hair which she used to wear as a bun.

I remember one of the bantam hens sitting on some eggs and I went and got one of the eggs from the shop and put it under the hen. Eventually when the eggs hatched, the shop egg as well, this chicken grew much faster than the rest of the chickens and soon it was as big as the mother hen. I believe the species was a "Black Menorca". It was accepted by the hen and the cockerel wouldn't let anyone go near it.

We used to gather fossils from the Brampits and also the Wren's Nest as well, which as you may know is very famous for fossils, universities also visit to collect them even though now most of it is fenced off because of the dangerous caves. We used to play in the caves when we were children and also the ones in White's Wood. In one of the caves on the Wren's Nest, "The Bottle", an young woman committed suicide by throwing herself down, I believe she was married to a fellow named Nicholls who lived in Clifton Street, Hurst Hill.

I don't' remember Mother doing much housework, she looked after the shop with my younger sisiter Hazel and the housework was done by somebody else, eventually it was either Aunt Mary or Aunt Sarah, that did it.

Every Thursday Mom used to go to the warehouse in Birmingham and on Saturday she went to Wolverhampton to do her shopping.

I remember serving in the shop sometimes when I came back from school and after I had done my piano practice. The prices I remember were - a block of Cadbury's chocolate was 2d (old pence), sweets were two ounces for a penny and five Woodbine cigarettes also were two pence. They also sold packets of two cigarettes and two matches for one penny.

I also remember whilst I was still at school cycling into Wolverhampton to bank for my Dad with hundreds of pounds in my pocket to pay into his account.

Whilst at Manor School I took four dinners to the Cannon Works in Deepfields, Coseley, my Dad's, Aunt Alma's, Aunt Fanny's and Uncle Edgar's. I was allowed to leave school at five to twelve, then I had to walk from school, collect the dinners and still be at the Works for twelve thirty and got told off if I was late.

I remember being taken my Mom to see the Prince of Wales open the Birmingham - Wolverhampton New Road in 1927, we watched from someone's bedroom window. He used to spend a lot of time with the Earl of Dudley at Himley Hall. I also remember seeing the German Graf Zeppelin fly over in 1932, he followed the canal from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, later during the war it was supposed that they had been taking photographs of the Industries.

I remember Ken Millard (the Builder) crashing his Tiger Moth into the wall behind Billy Mobberley's house on Woodsetton Hill.

Alan Beach
December 1992

Search the whole Sedgley site