Anecdotes about Oldbury, Worcestershire (Sandwell) told to me by my Uncles Tom and Frank Wood and father Bernard Wood

Oldbury places and characters c. 1900-1930, recorded in 1974 by Dennis Wood

  1. There  were at least two breweries in Oldbury, Showell’s and Jordan’s. [Also      Oliver’s?] Jordan’s   son became a vicar and then closed the brewery down.
  2. There      were fields and farms all around Oldbury. Tom and Maggie Wood used to walk      from Oldbury to the Queen’s Head through fields and end at the Pheasant,      she would drink a port and lemon, he an ale.
  3. The Padding Can was an Oldbury doss      house for tramps, near the Traveller’s Rest. They would come into the      greengrocer’s at 2 New Street      crawling with fleas and ask for one      of each vegetable, a penny for the lot, or “Have you got any potting      herbs?”
  4. Characters: “Dr Batty” (his name      was James) in a big black cloak, sinister, like Dracula, with mad eyes.
  5. “Batty      Tolley”, who was simple. ‘When he was in the pub drinking, someone would      say “Hey, Batty, see that copper over there, I’ll give you a bob if you go      and knock his hat off”. He was up 68 times in court – and he had a wife      too. They would put pigeons’ eggs in his hat and pat him on the head so      that it all ran down his face.’
  6. “Dicky      Boss-Eye”, real name Richard Beard, who had a large lump over his eye. He      was simple, but he had a relative who was “the finest musician inEngland”.
  7. “Billy      Black-A-Duck”, who painted toys for a living.
  8.  There was a man who played a tune, a      Mozart air, on a tin whistle opposite the shop, at the end ofNew Street.
  9. A      one-eyed beggar who sang “I’m going to run all the way home”.
  10. The Brown Lion pub: there were      rat-catchers who went to all the farms and canals around and caught rats      alive. They would bite [sic]      their teeth out. In the Brown Lion pub they would fetch rats out from all      over their body, take bets and then set terriers on them.
  11. Seen in the Perrott Arms: a man      came in with six rats in a wire cage, released them and set his whippet on      them. The dog killed them all in a minute. The man was turned out by an      angry landlord.
  12. Oldbury      town was alive then at 9pm when work finished. Then the unions put the      clock back for the end of work from 8pm to 6pm, and the town became dead      at night.
  13. Horses: Cyril Holdcroft was a      blacksmith (there were many in      Oldbury) with a forge by the George pub on theBirmingham Road. He would take a      strip of metal, heat it, hammer ot round, put two lips on it and make      holes for nails, cool it, put in the wedge-shaped nails at right angles      (of course he made each shoe to fit, there were no off-the-peg      horseshoes). There was a smell of burnt hoof. When painted round with oil,      the shoes looked lovely. There were shire horses, Cyril’s father held them      by a rope to the nose, he would twist it if the horse got irritable to      call it to order. When the horses were worn out, their legs went wobbly.      The forge was full of horse manure and wet, they swept it clean      constantly. He needed a wheelwright to make wheels, he would hire the      services of one who lived nearby. He made the hub, spokes and hoop, but      then it went back to the smith for the tyre.
  14. There      were ponies for milkmen, but there were also great shire horses for      drawing metal and wood from the railyards to the foundries, for example on     Bromford Lane.      They were mostly LMS railway horses, but there were some GWR. They also      hauled wood for Chambers from the woods and farms around. “I saw as many      as 30 horses once, harnessed in twos, drawing metal over theAnchorBridge”.
  15.  Mines:      there was a “water burst” at Jed Naps [the Titford Colliery], we talked to      some of the survivors, the mine was closed afterwards. The same happened      at the Cakemore claypit, the water just rushed in. “There were collieries      all around Oldbury – the Twin Man, the Ram Rod, the Jolly Collier etc. We      saw them loading large and small coal from the shaker (belt sorter) into barges by theWhimseyBridge.      We saw glassblowers at Chance’s in Churchbridge. Uncle Jack Wood had been      a glass worker and died as a result of the furnace heat etc.”
  16. The Tank Men: the Wood family inNew Street had      a family pony called Pasha for greengrocery deliveries. They had to catch      the pony before they could go out, it was kept in a fold, in fields nearPinfold Street.      The pony was driven hell for leather, especially by young Tom Wood. There      were “tank men” making tanks during the 1914-18 War at the Birmingham      Carriage Works. On one occasion a lot of these “tank men” picked Tom up,      put his knees together like a jockey and sent him off on the cart. It tore      down the street at 60 mph, but the wise horse turned into an alley and      stopped.
  17. Albright and Wilson : the firm gave      a “free pension” to its workers. Very few ever lived to draw it. There was      a man with a hump in his back from struggling with his lungs to breathe      because of the chemicals. Finally he forced out the lump.
  18.  The      Birdcage: a music hall for variety acts opposite Oldbury police      station. Tom and Maggie Wood went there to see Vesta Tilley etc. It was      turned into a cinema where their son Bernard saw Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix      cowboy films, W. C. Fields (“my little chickabiddy”) whom he never liked,      Buster Keaton (whom he liked), Laurel and Hardy (whom he loved) etc. There      was a man with a pole made out of cardboard who tapped children on the      head at the matinees. The children who were on the balcony, which cost      twopence, would throw orange peel etc. down at the one penny kids below.
  19. Oldbury families: Adams, who were      Non-Conformist, Hadley (above all, with a big monument with the single      word “Hadley” in the graveyard), Vickers the pork butchers. The big      families were mostly Non-Conformist and ran Oldbury. Now the families have      died out the town has become impoverished and died [1974], hence the      proposal to build a new shopping precinct.
  20. A      dancing bear came to Oldbury town when Tom was a child, before WWI, there      was also a roundabout worked by hand and drawn about by a horse. You paid      by giving jam jars, not money. “It was amazing the variety of things that      people did for a living back then”.
  21. Trains: there was a train that went      fromLangley      across theOldbury Road,      it took goods to Accles, the “Penny Oldbury Flier”. There were abattoirs,      cattle would be driven fromLangley      [from the station?] downNew        Street andSimpson Street before being      slaughtered. Once a bull got loose near Uncle Ben’s Bridge inLangley, it had to      be locked overnight in Langley Park.
  22. “We      never saw any didicois (gypsies)      in Oldbury town, but once a whale was brought in by lorry. It was put on      show in Batty’s Field and you paid to see it. There had once been      set-piece fights in the same field.”
  23. Poverty before 1914: a man who had      once been well paid for cutting corn used to go down past the Wakes ground      to a farm, would dig up grass and make broth for his family from roots      etc.
  24. Workhouse: for a pauper’s funeral      the body would be carried on a stretcher. The bearers were allowed by      statute to stop for half a pint. A few prayers were said and then the body      was dropped into the grave as it was.
  25. Cakemore Marlhole: the brothers had      rafts in the middle. “The water was ice cold. When you looked into it      there was like a camber, you could see the sides sloping away down 80 feet      and more.” Tom was taught to swim there by a Tommy Lenton.
  26. Shell shock: a Wood cousin had been      shell-shocked in WWI. “He spoke very quickly and was very nervous. When he      was in St Francis’s church in Pinfold        Street, Oldbury, in a confined space, he      would go mad. He shook all over like a man with a devil digger [pneumatic road drill] and had to be held by his      father. It often happened.”
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