Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The children of William and Florence Millington

Geoff and Joan's wedding at St Peter's, Ladywood in 1958
L-R Iris Millington, Nance Bourne, Kath Robinson, Florence & Bill Millington, Brian Lawlor (boy at front), Pat Lawlor (bridesmaid), Bill Millington, Geoff Millington, Joan nee. Lawlor (bride), Betty Lawlor (bridesmaid), James Lawlor, Dennis Lawlor (boy at front), Elizabeth Lawlor  

Children of William and Florence

William and Florence Millington had four children in total. Following the birth of Annie (Nance) in 1917, William was posted to the city of Ahmedabad in Northern India and a few months after he left he was followed by his wife Florence. Sadly, she was forced to leave her baby girl behind in England at the last moment after Annie became too ill to travel. The local doctor told Florence “if you take the child on the voyage to India, you can expect to bury her at sea”. She was left behind to be brought up by her grandparents, in the extended Clayton family home in Garbett Street.

Their second child Kathleen Mary was born on 3rd January 1922. Four years later their third child, William Frederick was born in Birmingham on 21st April 1928 and their fourth child, my father Geoffrey Ernest was born on 5th May 1937. My father is twenty years younger than his oldest sister Annie (Nance).

Nance married Edward (Ted) Bourne in the autumn of 1946, they had one child in their long marriage, David born on 31st October 1948. He married Carol Mason and they have one child named Ian. David and Carol live near Alvechurch. Nance died in 2005.

Kath married Harry Robinson, whose family ran the Vesper Bell pub in Ladywood, on 27th June 1942. The couple lived for many years in Bartley Green and both died in 2000. They did not have children.

Bill (also known as Fred) married Iris Butcher on 21st August 1955 at St John’s church in Ladywood. Bill and Iris had four children, Paul W born on 28th March 1963, Lynda Ann born on 29th April 1967, Karen Lesley born on 9th December 1969 and Antony William born on 28th April 1972. Their first child Paul died at two weeks old on 11th April 1963. Bill's widow Iris stills live in Weoley Castle, where the couple resided for close to forty years.

Geoff married Joan Lawlor of 26 Sherborne Street on 10th May 1958 (see below for more details of their children).

Ancestors of the in-laws: Robinson, Lee and Townley

Albert Lee on right, outside Vesper Bell, the two other men are likely to be his sons or possibly his son-in-law Edward Robinson

Harry Robinson was born Henry James Robinson at the Vesper Bell public house at 1 Blythe Street in Ladywood on 31st March 1920. The Vesper Bell was an old Victorian pub which stood on the corner of Blythe Street and Ledsam Street. Harry's grandfather Albert John Lee was landlord of the pub from 1905 until he died in 1961. Harry was one of three children, he had a brother named Edward and a sister named Emily. His parents were also named Edward and Emily and they also adopted Harry's cousin Trudy.

As a child Harry attended Piggot Street School in Lee Bank. Much of his early life was spent helping out in his grandfather's pub and playing around the streets of Ladywood. The Lee and Robinson family worked tirelessly in the Vesper Bell which had a local reputation of being a well-run pub which discouraged drunken behaviour. The family had a reasonable quality of life compared to other families in the neighbourhood, though purely through their own graft. Harry's brother Edward worked at Kunzell's cake and chocolate factory at Five Ways, whilst Harry worked for many years at Joseph Lucas's.

The Lee family are to be found in the 1911 census living at the Vesper Bell at 1 Blythe Street, Ladywood:

Albert John Lee, aged 43 (born 1868), Licensed Victualler born in Birmingham

Emily Lee, aged 41, born 1870 in Birmingham

Albert George Lee, son, aged 18, a postman, born in 1893 in Birmingham

Henry Herbert Lee, son, aged 16, a prentice fitter cutter and dir binton, born in 1895 in Birmingham

Walter Frederick Lee, son, aged 5, born in Birmingham in 1906

Emmie Elizabeth Lee, daughter aged 13, born in Birmingham in 1898

Henry Townley, Father in law, a widower and army pensioner, born in Treadworth, Gloucestershire in 1838

Rhoda Broadhurst, domestic servant, single woman aged 22, born in Walsall in 1889

The same family are to be discovered again in the 1901 Census, though at this time Albert Lee is not yet a pub landlord but a barman and the address is given as 21, 270-2, Coventry Road, Bowling Green Terrace:

Albert J Lee, aged 33, barman, born Hockley in 1868

Emily Lee, wife, aged 31, born Birmingham 1870

Albert G Lee, son, aged 8, born Bordesley 1893

Henry H Lee, son, aged 6, born Bordesley 1895

Emma E Lee, daughter, aged 3, born Small Heath 1898

Henry Townwley, father-in-law, widower, aged 61, timber yard labourer, born Treadworth, Gloucestershire 1840

In these records we can note the presence of Albert Lee's father-in-law Henry Townley living with the Lee household at the Vesper Bell for several years. Uncle Harry had a memory of his great grandfather as being a very tall man whose coffin had to be lifted through a window of the pub because they couldn't get it down stairs at the removal. We also know he served in the navy which is recognised by him being in receipt of a war pension. It seems that Henry Townley was a widower for a few decades as there is a record of him with his family, including Emily (Harry's grandmother) in the 1891 census living at 9 Bertha Buildings, Bradford Road, Birmingham:

Henry Townley, head, widower, timber merchant labourer, aged 51, born Treadworth, Gloucestershire 1840

Mary J Townley, daughter, single, aged 16, domestic servant, born 1865 Birmingham

Harry H Townley, son, single, sawyer aged 23, born Birmingham in 1868

Emily Townley, daughter, single, aged 21, domestic servant, born Birmingham 1870

Ada L Townley, daughter, single, aged 19, pin machine minder, born Birmingham 1872

This is a fascinating photo given to me by Harry Robinson. One of the old salts in this photo was Harry's grandfather, Henry Townley. Unfortunately I don't know which one. Born in 1840 in Gloucestershire, if Henry saw active service in the Royal Navy it might have been in the Crimean War of 1853-1856  

Also in the 1891 census there appears to be a possible reference to Albert John Lee himself as a single man working as a barman and living at 114 Great Barr Street in Aston with the publican's household:

Thomas Leckie, head, married aged 31, publican licensed victualler born Kirkmichael, Scotland

Sarah Leckie, wife, aged 32, born Winforton in 1859

Albert J Lee, aged 23, barman born in Birmingham 1868

William Butler, aged 20, Barman born in Liverpool 1871

Henry Towley's family can be traced back further in census records to 1881 and 1871 and this time Henry's wife is still alive:

1881 census living at 1, back 33 Springfield Street, Ladywood

Henry Townley, aged 41, labourer in timber yard, born in Gloucestershire 1840

Elizabeth Townley, aged 50, born Gloucestershire 1831

Mary Jane Townley, daughter, single, aged 16, warehouse girl (J), born Birmingham 1865

Harry Herbert Townley, son aged 14, warehouse boy (flab), born Birmingham 1867

Emily Townley, daughter, single, aged 11, scholar born Birmingham 1870

In the 1871 census, the same family are living at Edward Street, Court House, Birmingham but with the addition of two older siblings who were both born in Gloucestershire which suggests the move to Birmingham being between 1856 (Julia's birth) and 1864 (Mary's birth):

Henry Townley, head aged 38, born Gloucestershire 1833

Elizabeth Townley, wife, aged 38, born Gloucestershire 1833

Charles Townley, son, aged 17 born in Gloucestershire 1854

Julia Townley, daughter, aged 15 born in Gloucestershire 1856

Mary Townley, daughter aged 7, born in Warwickshire 1864

Herbert Townley, son aged 4, born Warwickshire 1867

Emily Townley, daughter aged 1, born Warwickshire 1870

More in-law ancestors - Butcher, Nash, Baker

My father's brother Bill married Iris Butcher from Guildford Street in Lozells. Iris's mother was named May Nash and she was born in 1891 in Aston Manor. The Nash family are recorded in the 1911 census living at 11 Guildford Terrace, Guildford Street, Aston Manor:

William Nash, head, aged 64, edge tool worker, born Birmingham 1847

Caroline Nash, wife, married 35 years, aged 56, born 1855 Birmingham

Lily Nash, daughter, single, aged 25, machinist bestead, born Aston 1886

May Nash, daughter, single, aged 20, press worker shin, born Aston 1891

Arthur Nash, son, single aged 14, milk trade, born Aston 1897

The Nash family can also be found living at 12, 21, Guildford Street, Lozells in the 1901census:

William Nash, head, aged 50, Labourer bricklayer, born Birmingham 1851

Caroline Nash, wife, aged 46, born Birmingham 1855

Sylvia Nash, daughter, single, aged 22, knob making machinist, born Birmingham 1879

Annie Nash, daughter, single aged 17, press worker knob making, born Aston Manor 1884

Lily Nash, daughter, single aged 14, press worker knob making, born Aston Manor 1887

May Nash, daughter, aged 10, born Aston Manor 1891

William Nash, aged 7 born Aston Manor 1894

Arthur Nash, aged 4, born 1897 Aston Manor

Iris had always believed that her father had come to Birmingham from his home town of Salford in Lancashire. Possibly that he had come to Birmingham as a young adult to find work. Census records appear to back-up the theory that he came from Salford but tell a slightly different story connected to his own father's death whilst working in Salford for a very short period. Iris also told me that there is a family story that the said gentleman (her grandfather) died tragically in a railway related accident - I have not found records appertaining to the tragedy yet but the census records and a death index reference appear to back this story up.

Working backwards to this apparent tragedy, we find a record of William Butcher in the 1911 census, though at this stage he is still a single man:

208 Park Lane, Aston Manor

William Hill, 68 year old horse keeper born in Norfolk Elmham Old Heath in 1843

Eliza Hill, wife, aged 57, born in Abergavenny, Monmouth in 1854

Eliza Hill, daughter, single, aged 21, button worker, born Birmingham 1890

Albert Hill, son, single, aged 19, premulator painter, born 1892 Birmingham

Thomas Evans, boarder, single, aged 32, stoke, born Birmingham 1879

William Butcher, boarder, single, aged 21, rubber worker born Salford, Manchester 1890

Iris confirms that her father William Butcher worked in the rubber industry for many years at Dunlop in Birmingham.

Going back 20 years to the 1891 census, William Butcher is just a small child living with his widowed mother and her parents at 8 Walsall Street, Willenhall. At this point the story of his father's death unfolds alittle further as we note that he is the only child who was not born in Willenhall but in Salford the previous year. The father must therefore have died sometime in the 18 months before the census:

Henry Baker, head, aged 59, hair dresser, born in Bilston in 1832

Emma Baker, wife, aged 60, born in Uttoxeter in 1831

Emma Butcher, daughter, aged 35, born Willenhall in 1856

Annie Butcher, granddaughter, aged 13, born Willenhall in 1878

Emma Butcher, grandaughter, aged 10, born Willenhall 1881

William Henry Butcher, grandson aged 1, born 1890 in Salford

If we turn to the death inexes at this point, the death of a Henry John Butcher was registered in Salford in the January-March quarter of 1890, aged at death 36. Death Index Ref: Volume 8d page 76. The death certifcate will no doubt prove whether this is Iris's grandfather and also the cause of death will confirm whether he did die tragically in an accident on the railway. However, the leads so far are strongly in favour of this story.

The 1881 census records the Baker family of Willenhall once again, also at 8 Walsall Street, this time comprising:

Hnery Baker, head, married, aged 49, born in Bilston in 1832, a Hairdresser
Emma A Baker, wife, married, aged 50, born in 1831 in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

Mary Ann Baker, daughter, single, aged 20, born 1861 Willenhall

Eliza Baker, daughter, single, aged 19, born 1862 Willenhall

Martha J Baker, daughter, single, aged 17, born 1864 Willenhall

Henry Baker, son, single, aged 15, born 1866 in Willenhall, Assistant Hair Dresser
William Baker, son, single, aged 11, born 1870 in Willenhall, scholar

We should note that Emma (Irsis's grandmother) is not in the household in 1881, suggesting that she has left home and married Henry Butcher (her oldest child Annie was born in 1878). Sure enough, Henry and Emma Butcher can be found living in Willenhall in the same census records of 1881 at 4 St Anns Road:

Henry John Butcher, Head, Married, aged 27 born 1854 in Bewdley, Letter Carrier
Emma Butcher, Wife, Married aged 25, born 1856 Willenhall

Annie Butcher, Daughter, Single, aged 3, born 1878 Willenhall

Emmie Butcher, Daughter, Single aged 0, born 1881 Willenhall
Eliza Butcher, Mother, Widow, aged 66, born 1815 in Bewdley

As so often happens with census records, the presence of an older relative, in this instance Henry Butchers widowed mother Eliza gives us a brand new clue into family origins. This census record tells us that both Henry and his mother originated from Bewdley in Worcestershire.

Geoff and Joan Millington's six children:

Returning to the fourth child of William and Florence Millington, Geoff Millington is my own father. He married my mother, Joan Lawlor of 26 Sherborne Street on 10th May 1958 at St Peter’s RC church near Broad Street. They had six children: Denis Geoffrey born on 21.02.1959, Susan Patricia born on 03.03.1960, Peter John born on 25.12.1961, Kathryn Ann born on 10.03.1964, Alison Margaret born on 05.02.1968 and Fiona Joan born on 09.08.1970. Geoff and Joan lived most of their married lives in Station Road in Harborne, but retired recently to Saxmundham in Suffolk.

Denis married Carol Robey on 7th June 1986 at Melbourne in Derbyshire. They have two daughters, Victoria aged 4 in 2003 (born March 5th 1999) and Melissa aged 2 (born July 23rd 2001). Denis and Carol live in Florida in the USA.

Sue married Barry Brinkley of Suffolk on 14th April 1984 at St Mary’s in Harborne. Sue and Barry live in Saxmundham in Suffolk and have two children, Lara aged 18 in 2003 (born August 22nd 1985) and Liam aged 10 (born November 4th 1992).

Peter married Theresa Dwyer at the Oratory on Hagley Road on 17th February 1996. They have three children, Patrick aged 6 in 2003 (born 24th March 1997), Joseph aged 4 (born March 25th 1999), and Alice aged 1 (born May 28th 2002). They live in Quinton in Birmingham.

Kate married Simon Cooke at St Mary’s church in Harborne on 6th June 1993. They live in Studley and have three children, Christopher aged 7 in 2003 (born March 23rd 1996), Matthew aged 5 in 2003 (born February 6th 1998) and George who was born on April 10th 2003.

Alison married Ewan MacDonald on July 28th 2000 at the Oratory church on Hagley Road. They live in Littleworth, West Sussex.

Fiona married Andrew Smyllie on August 13th 1994. They live in Halesowen and have three children, Elizabeth aged 5 in 2003 (born on January 13th 1998), Aimee aged 3 (born on July 7th 2000) and Daniel born February 24th 2003.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

About Emily Millington

Emily Stokes (nee. Millington) with Jane Guy (right), who was the second wife of Terence and the mother of Violet.

William’s sister Emily married Johnny Stokes and the couple are said to have had one daughter named Doris. Aunty Kath recalled that Doris married a police man. There are two photos of Emily in this family record, both taken around the same period of time, one shows Emily in the company of Jane Guy (second wife of Terence) and the other is a family day out at the seaside, showing my father Geoffrey as a little boy.

Taking in the sea air during the late 1930s. (L-R): my grandmother Florence Millington, her daughter Kathleen, my granddad Millington’s sister Emily and the child in the centre is my father Geoffrey.


Photo of George and Terence Millington


Seated is my grandfather's brother, George Millington (1904-1990). Standing behind is their father Terence who died in 1959.

The Children and Grandchildren of George Millington


George Millington married Alice Irene Parry on July 23rd 1931 at the Parish Church of St Immanuel.

George Millington married Alice Irene Parry on July 23rd 1931 at the Parish Church of St Immanuel. George was a 27 year old milk salesman of 75 Bishopsgate Street and Irene was a 19 year old domestic of 41 Sandon Road, Edgbaston. George's father was registered as Terence Millington, a caster and Irene’s father was Alfred Wright Parry, a packer.

George and Alice lived most of their lives in Brent Road, Stirchley. They had five children; George, Brian, Dorothy, Patricia and Terence.

George Millington was born on 2nd June 1932. He married Kay and they have two sons, John and Paul, and a daughter Susan. They all have young families and all live in the Kings Heath area. George died in 1991.

Brian Millington was born on 28th February 1935. He married Gillian (Gill) and they have two daughters and four grandchildren, who all live in the Shirley area.

Dorothy – born 07/01/37 – married to Keith, live near the Lickey Hills, have a daughter Lynn in Devon and a son Paul living in Stirchley with two grandsons.

Patricia (Pat) – born 14/05/39 – married to Pete and have a daughter Angela who lives with them in Kings Heath.

Terence (Terry) – born 20/10/42, married to Pat, have a son Lewis, and three grandchildren. Terry is an artist who lives in Devon. He has his own website which is

George Millington died at Joseph Sheldon Hospital in Rubery on 9th January 1990, he was one month away from his 86th birthday and he died of bronchopneumonia. George’s address was given as 59 Brent Road, Birmingham 30 and his occupation as plastic mixer (retired). George’s death was recorded by his oldest son George Alfred Millington of Kings Heath.

Alice Millington died on September 23rd 1993 aged 82 years old.


John Millington

John Millington (1909—1968) was the fourth child of Terence and Phoebe Millington. A rare photo of John (also remembered as Uncle Jack) at work in the foundry.

About John (Jack) Millington

My dad’s older sister Kathleen recalled her father’s younger brother John with great fondness as Uncle Jack. She once told me:

“Poor Jack was pushed from pillar to post. He had a very sad life and he ended up living with an Irish family. He fell deeply in love with their daughter Theresa but she did not return his love”.

“Jack died of cancer at a young age through working in the foundries, the same as dad”.

There is one additional piece of interesting evidence in regard to Jack. My aunts believe he may have fathered a child, perhaps by Theresa, I do not know. Was suggested that the baby may have been brought up partly by his sister Emily and her husband Johnny Stokes. I have no further information about this child or what became of them.

John Henry Millington died on 28th June 1968 at Dudley Road Hospital, Winson Green. He was 59 years old, a brass caster and his address was given as 1 back of 158 Tennant Street. John Henry died of (1) broncho pneumonia and (2) carcinoma of the rectum. His death was registered by his sister in law A.I.Millington of 59 Brent Road, Birmingham 30. This was his brother George’s wife Alice.


The Children and Grandchildren of Violet Campbell

Violet Millington was the daughter of Terence Millington from his second marriage to Jane Guy. There is an birth index recording for a Violet J Millington born in the final quarter of 1921. On the basis that Violet attended Pigot Street school with my uncle, Harry Robinson, there is a good chance that this record appertains to the birth of our own Violet (Harry was born in 1920). Harry remembered to me being in the same class as Violet and described her as a “pretty child”.

My aunty Kath told me that Violet married a gentleman from Belfast named Eddie Campbell and that the couple had one daughter, also named Violet. The daughter, Violet, by coincidence attended school at St Peter’s RC near Broad Street with my father Geoff. I am told that she married a gentleman named George.

I have a copy of an obituary from the Birmingham Evening Mail appertaining to the death of Violet Jane Campbell on 14th April 1984. This was the same day on which my older sister Sue got married to Barry Brinkley. Violet’s address was given as Kendrick House, Edgbaston. The obituary was placed by her daughter Violet, son-in-law George and grand-daughters Jackie and Karen. Violet was interred at Witton Cemetery.

In 2003 my father’s cousin Brian told me that Violet’s daughter was living in Quinton. Maybe a mile away from my own home. I was looking forward to sending Violet a copy of this family history document when Brian contacted me again to pass on the sad news that Violet died after a sudden Illness in July 2003.

Not quite the end of the story:

Thank you very much for reading this history record of the Millington family. I hope that you have found it as enjoyable and interesting to read as I found it to research and compile. There remains much research to be done and many stories to be written up.

I still have many pages of family anecdote in note form, particularly relating to my fathers’ family, the Millingtons of Monument Road and their life in Ladywood throughout the early and mid-1900s. I hope to either update this record at some point in the future, or possibly to write a more ‘narrative’ account of the lives of my father’s generation in a separate document. Having just made contact recently with my dad’s cousins, the children of George and Alice Millington, I believe there may also be scope for new information to be added from their side of the family. I have also yet to make contact with descendants from other branches of the Millington family.

Useful websites

Terence Millington

1901 Census - Public Record Office

Aston - Website on history and genealogy in Aston area  

Carl Chinn's Birmingham Lives website

Old Ladywood site

Old Winson Green site

Millington Archive  

Mormons Family Search website

Warwickshire Ancestors Project

Cyndi’s List—of Genealogy sites on the internet


Sunday, 27 December 2009

Joan's Journey - My mother's memoirs


Let me explain that had it not been for the encouragement of my husband Geoff, I might not have committed these few lines to paper. In recent times I have learned to use the word processor, which has helped a great deal and is much easier to use than my old typewriter.

We all start out on a journey and along the way our lives are touched and influenced by so many people. Each one of us has his or her own tale to tell, a very important tale to us as individuals; we all have our hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

As the years pass these happenings and experiences fade into our memory and are eventually lost forever. The events may be simple things, only to be recalled years later, with a smile or a tear, by those most dear to us. I have written these few jottings, in the hope the journey I have made, may be of interest to my own family, their children, and anyone who has the patience to read these few simple notes.

I have taken nearly two years to recall the events of the past 70 years of my life. To the best of my memory, I have tried very hard to remember exact dates, times and places.

I would wish to dedicate these writings to my ever-patient husband Geoff, who has spent many hours type reading, and for making lots of helpful suggestions. I would also like to thank our son Peter for the many hours spent editing the text and selecting all the art work and family photographs, which have added pleasure to my recollection of times gone by.

Joan Millington

(nee. Lawlor)

23rd February 2009

Joan's Journey Chapter I. From Dublin to Birmingham


Pop Lawlor, Granny Whelan, Elizabeth Lawlor and baby Joan Lawlor

My mother and father were immigrants from Dublin, the Irish Free State as it was then known. They eloped to be married, I say they eloped, but in fact the ceremony took place in a church just a mile away from their own parish and they had two friends as witnesses. Immediately after the wedding, they left Ireland and sailed to England on the first boat that left from Dun Laoghaire. They then informed their families back in Dublin. The Lawlors received the news very well, but the Whelans, my mother’s family, were very unhappy about the match—believing she had married beneath her.

The Whelans were a very well to do and influential family, in fact Granny Whelan was sometimes referred to as ‘Lady Whelan’ by locals in Dublin as she was often seen being carried around in a pony and trap, collecting rents from her properties. The family also owned a clothes store in a suburb of Dublin, known as Ringsend, which catered for both ladies and gentlemen. I believe my mother must have had some experience in the Whelan’s retail business, as years later she retained the ability to fold and pack garments properly. I do know that her brothers and sisters spent time working in that shop. It was obviously a family owned business, but from which my mother never gained any financial legacy.

At that time, the Lawlor family on the other hand, was comparatively poor. So when the news of the marriage reached Dublin, the Whelans for a time disowned my mother. However as the saying goes “time is a great healer”.
Elizabeth Lawlor's travel permit

I was born 12 months later in Birmingham; my Granny Whelan came over to look after my mother and myself. I believe they were living in ‘rooms’, as accommodation was called in those days, and also, so I understand, the Irish were not welcome in England. This prejudice was displayed in boarding house windows with signs of “No Irish”. So I am sure it must have been a very worrying time for them, living in a country where they did not always feel welcome.

With a new baby, my mother would have found life very difficult. Her family had servants back in Dublin and she had no idea regarding domestic matters, let alone taking care of a new baby’s needs. My parents found rooms with a family who owned a house on Soho Hill. Mother told me that on one occasion they asked her to look after their children, while they were out. One of the children asked my mother for “a piece”, and she just could not understand what was meant by a piece ...a piece of what? Eventually the child got my dear mother to understand what was required. In fact the child was asking for a slice of bread and butter. So my mother’s education and knowledge of the local dialect, and her catering skills began.

I was born on the 23rd February 1939, the Second World War started in August 1939, I must emphasize though that I claim no responsibility for this at all! I was baptized at the church of St Francis, Handsworth where my parents had been attending mass. Years later, I recall my mother telling me of an unpleasant experience she had, while attending mass. She was most upset when the priest interrupted the service and asked for the child (myself), to be removed from the church. Apparently I had been making child-like noises, as babies do. My mother seldom visited a church again and only then on special family occasions. From what I understand, I was an evacuee at an early age; my parents thought it safer to send me to Dublin. In fact, they left me with the Lawlors in Walsh Road; who were thrilled to take care of me. My stay could only have been for a few months, as I am told I was back in England in time for the birth of my brother Kevin in May 1940.

Once again Granny Whelan had come to the rescue, and she came over to England to take care of us. In a short while, after Granny had performed her valued services, she was more than happy to return to Dublin. A short time later our family moved to other accommodation in the Hockley area, on Icknield Street, opposite the cemetery. It soon became apparent that we had chosen the wrong area in which to live, because the night time bombing of Birmingham by the Luftwaffe had just begun. I was later told that a bomb had fallen very near our house and blew out all the windows. After this, my mother thought it best to move while the bombing was still at it’s height.

Mother, Kevin and I went back to live in Dublin. We found accommodation somewhere along the Drumcondra Road by the Royal Canal. The Mount Joy Prison was not too far away. I don’t have any memories of our short life in Dublin. I do know that both the Whelan and Lawlor families welcomed us and enjoyed having us back in Dublin. After a short while it was decided to re-unite the family. My mother always regretted having to return to England, to the hard life and poverty she then had to endure.

My earliest memories of my life start from this time. I suppose Kevin and I were about three and four years old respectively, when the three of us arrived back at the railway station in Birmingham. I can not remember if the station was New Street or Snow Hill, I honestly could not say, but my father was there to meet us. He took us into the café on the station, where we had a cup of tea and a piece of fruitcake. I can remember that very well and yet do not have any memories of that return journey or the life we had just left behind. We were very well dressed; my Mother was a smartly dressed lady. She wore a hat, and a fox fur around her shoulders. This I imagine was later sold or went into the pawnshop and never redeemed.

The only special items of clothing I can ever remember Kevin and I wearing were very luxurious dark blue velvet cloaks. I cannot remember how we reacted to seeing our father again, or recall how long it had been since we had last seen him. Our return must have been a period approaching the end of the war, as I do not remember hearing bombing on our return to Birmingham. The family were however still being issued with gas masks, black ones for the parents and red Mickey Mouse pattern for the children.

Joan, Kevin and Elizabeth Lawlor

My father had found us a house in Small Heath with a very distinguished address, number 1 Berkley Square on Coventry Road. Unfortunately from the day my poor mother walked over the doorstep she detested it and, as time went by, she had every reason to hate it. Quality of life had deteriorated, things became difficult for mother and our family became more impoverished.

Dad, his father Dennis Lawlor and me (baby Joan)


The Lawlor family expands

.On a very snowy Sunday, on January 16th 1944, the twins were born. My new sisters Patricia and Elizabeth or as they were always called, Pat and Betty. At the age of 5 years, I remember I had to guide my father to a friend of my mother who, in case of an emergency, had promised to be with her at the birth. My mother’s friend would assist the midwife. This lady’s name was Myra Thomas and yes she was a Welsh lady. Myra lived about a mile away and my father had no idea how to reach her. Looking back now, I feel this was the start of my growing up quickly. Even from such an early age my mother relied on me heavily. We collected Aunty Myra, as she was known. In passing, and just to digress, she would always use Evening of Paris perfume and, being conscious of her appearance, visited the hairdresser every week. Whenever the perfume bottles were almost empty she would pass them on to me. She was a very good friend to my mother, but for matters which I will relate later, not always a very good influence.

The twins were born sometime on the Sunday morning; it was a normal delivery. I can remember an ambulance arriving at the house and one little bundle in a big red blanket being carried down the stairs and driven off to the hospital. It was Betty; she had swallowed some mucus, which happens quite regularly at births. I think it was Selly Oak Hospital to which she was taken, she was given a stomach wash and was home within 24 hours, none the worse for the emergency. My parents would have had to pay for the treatment as there was no National Health Service in those days.

Moving on to the birth of my other siblings, in April 1945 the next addition to the family was Brian and in December 1947 along came Dennis. I was so looking forward to the Christmas of that year because I had a longing for a toy baby-doll, just after Dennis was born he was placed in my arms and that was the nearest I ever came to receiving the baby-doll.

So now the family had increased to six children and two adults. The house we were in comprised one room downstairs, which contained a range, a gas stove and a sink. Our furniture included a table, chairs and a big sofa stuffed with horsehair. I can remember the sofa being very itchy to sit on. The only other piece of furniture was a very high sideboard or, as my mother would call it, ‘a press’. The twins were placed side by side for a while in a basket on the top of the press, as later were the other siblings. I presume as they got older, during the day they would be tucked into the twin pram. I do not remember any nursery furniture, such as high chairs or any other baby equipment. Remembering the house, the upstairs was very big, why we did not make more use of it as living accommodation I do not know, other than the cost of heating or furnishings and of course at the time it was necessary to have coupons even to buy furniture. The house had three double bedrooms and a fourth bedroom, which had been converted into a bathroom. Now, when I say converted into a bathroom, I mean a bath was plumbed in at the far end of this enormous room. In what had previously been a cupboard or closet, a toilet had been fitted; there was nothing else in that large room.

Brian, Joan, Betty, Pat & Kevin

Unfortunately we could not afford the cost of hot water to heat our baths, so the bathroom was just used as a walk-through to reach the small room, which contained the toilet. I can remember using the bath just to play in the cold water. Our recreation included paddling in the bath. As my mother had no other means of washing, she would place the soiled clothes in the bath and give them a good dousing. She would always say “well at least they are water sweet”. As can be imagined, they were not the cleanest of clothes. Of course some of the clothing was heavy and hard to wash by hand. The room also had a clothes line stretched between the walls, as there was no other means of drying. As I have said, the upstairs was very big, there was a very long landing along which we would run. There was a deep step at the end of the landing and a further deep step into the bathroom. We would run and jump over the space from one step to the other. It must be remembered we did not have many toys and of course TV was years away, so we resorted to using our imaginations.

At times we did have our uncles visiting from Dublin, they would be looking for work and would come to stay with us. The one spare bedroom would be set-aside for them. Due to the bedrooms being so large, we had all the children’s beds and cots accommodated in one room. Regrettably we could not afford bed sheets or blankets, so we made do with army coats and various odd covers. When we did not have our uncles staying with us, for some unknown reason the vacant room became known as the empty room. Even though it was devoid of uncles, it became quickly filled with junk. Also it became our playroom but without toys. We used it as a meeting-room, and would pretend we were the Secret Seven, characters from the Enid Blyton books. Often it served as a theatre; we would put make-do curtains up and would perform concerts with other children invited in from the neighbourhood.

A cuddle from my father’s sister Kathleen in Dublin

Mother was always tolerant with the children, so this room was used as a communal playroom, there was nothing to damage and of course our house contained nothing of value. The only beautiful piece of furniture I can remember was my parent’s bed; it was definitely a king size, made from walnut and was beautifully carved, it had a wooden post at each corner. The house must have been let as partially furnished as the bed was in place when we moved in, as was the rest of the furniture. That is unless my father had furnished it before we arrived, which I would doubt. All the rooms upstairs were located over a shop; the single living room / kitchen was situated downstairs at the back of the shop. I remember two framed pictures hanging on the wall of the kitchen, one of a blacksmith shoeing a horse, the other a print of a famous work by Millets, ‘The Gleaners’. Thinking back over the years, I must have had an eye for artwork even at such an early age, I still remember them hanging on those drab dreary walls.

The attached shop was a wallpapering / paint business called “Decorwalls” and I would think it was a forerunner of the big DIY stores. We were allowed to go into the shop, as my mother made friends with the manageress and would spend many hours in there chatting. I suppose to us, at least to me, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of colours, with all the charts and books of wallpaper, which we were allowed to look through and touch. Often I would imagine lovely coloured paper pasted onto our walls. This same lady, whose name was Mrs O’Keefe, became a lifeline to my mother, as did other friends.


Pride knows no pain

Dennis (aged 3) 1951

Just after Dennis was born, my mother developed a hernia and became very ill. She needed an immediate operation but for a long period of time kept going on as normal, no doubt she was thinking and worrying about the welfare of the six children. She carried on until it became an emergency; then the family were separated and taken in by various friends who took pity on us. Kevin and I stayed together, as we were the only ones of school age. Mrs. O’Keefe took us on; she lived in a beautiful house in Ward End, which at the time seemed like a palace to us. With fitted curtains up to the windows, fresh sheets and blankets on the beds. The house had many different rooms with furniture appropriate to the room. It had a most picturesque garden with a little brook at the bottom. Can you imagine the luxury of a hot bath every night? The only disadvantage was the location of the house and the distance we had to travel to school; the journey required catching three buses each way.
Our school was The Holy Family in Small Heath, which is nearer Hay Mills. I really cannot remember how long the journey took us. I remember I was not and am still not very good at travelling on buses. Before we reached our destination, I would persuade Kevin to get off with me and we would finish the journey on foot. It is little wonder that I knew the streets of Birmingham so keenly. The rest of the family were all taken in and looked after very well. Those who helped us tended to choose their favourite child. Pat, on the many occasions she was away from home, was at this time at a convalescence home in Macclesfield.

During the time mother was in hospital, the convalescence home decided to discharge Pat and send her home. They just would not listen regarding our family situation, it seems they had an epidemic of one of the childhood illnesses, and required the home to be vacated. So in order to take care of Pat, Kevin and myself returned from Mrs O’Keefe’s house. As may be imagined my mother discharged herself prematurely and of course immediately she was home, all our other children were returned promptly.

Pat in convalescence 1942 (Aged 2)

In discussing Pat for a while, she was continually coming down with illness and was constantly in an emergency ambulance to Selly Oak Hospital and later to the Children’s Hospital where she would spend a lot of time in an oxygen tent. She was finally diagnosed with valve trouble to her heart, but it would be many years before they were able to operate. So she spent most of her young life away from home, either in hospital, convalescence or at open-air school.

I was about 10 years and I can remember Pat being in a convalescence home in Malvern. While she was there, I would make the return bus journey on a weekly basis. I would travel on what was known as the Midland Red Bus and would carry some little treats for her. I know she looked forward to seeing me because she would be standing at the window waiting for me to step off the bus. It was not possible for my Mother to make the journey because it would have taken a full day and of course the bus fare was cheaper for me. She would make the journey every now and again, even though it was necessary to take all of us with her. In time Pat was transferred to Cropwood open-air school, which is near Bromsgrove. I remember the permitted visiting times were once every month. A local train took us there, so that was a day we all looked forward to.

Lickey Incline

The grounds and area of the home were so lovely, and of course the train journey was exciting. Because of these circumstances with Pat’s health, a lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders and I became the second mother to the rest of the family. Mother would be away for hours either at outpatients or sitting by Pat’s bedside. Local police were regularly coming to the door, informing our parents that they were needed immediately at the hospital, in the belief that Pat was drawing her last breath. So of course I was left in charge of the family, this arrangement would certainly not be tolerated today, family emergency or not. In 1953 Pat was eventually called in to The Children’s Hospital as she had gained enough strength to have her heart operation.
Our next-door neighbour in Berkley Square was a Mrs Rowley, who ran a boardinghouse for Irish workers. One of which, a Mr Sweeney, she eventually went on to marry. She already had a family, including a daughter who was the same age as myself; the daughters name was Barbara.

Barbara was a very pretty girl with lovely curly hair, which I envied greatly. My mother resorted to curling irons in order to give my hair a curl. The irons resembled a pair of scissors, but with round section blades. She would heat the irons on the stove until they were burning hot, and would wrap lengths of my hair around them, until the hair began to singe. Often this achieved the desired effect of producing curled hair. Sometimes the hot irons would touch the scalp and I would let out a loud yelp. At this point my mother would quote one of her well-known sayings, “pride knows no pain”. Only one photo was ever taken with my artificially induced curls and that is my Holy Communion photograph.

Mother was often attending to the needs of Pat at the hospital and at those times it was my responsibility to take my younger siblings out for the day.

My Holy Communion photo

I would tuck the babies in the pram then take with us whatever refreshments I could muster, which might have been bread and sugar sandwiches and a bottle of water. I would take this picnic and go off for the day or for whatever time I was instructed to be away from the house. We would just walk to all the parks around the locale, some being near to home, but others were further away. We would walk miles, pushing a pram around the streets of Birmingham. The little ones, who could walk a short distance, would take turns in having a ride in the pram. When I first started doing this, I suppose I would have been around the age of 8 years, but taking on the responsibility and of someone much older. When now I look at our own grandchildren, of a similar age, I cannot believe the responsibility that was placed on such young shoulders. An unexpected calamity did arise one time, when taking Kevin, Brian, Dennis and our Betty to Victoria Park, Small Heath. While Brian and Dennis were seated in our very large twin pram, I was occupied pushing Kevin on the swings. Suddenly we heard a piercing scream; it came from poor Betty, who had caught her finger in the mechanism of the pram hood, while working the steel ratchet up and down. In her panic Betty had trapped her finger and was pushing the hood in the wrong direction.

I managed to free the injured finger, which by then was bruised and bleeding. Thankfully the local Park Keeper came to our aid, and provided a first aid dressing. I know to this day that our Betty still carries the markings on her finger, resulting from that day in the park.

Patricia 1953

Joan's Journey Chapter II. Life on Coventry Road, Small Heath

Tilton Road, Small Heath

I’ll now try to describe a little detail about our neighbourhood and surroundings, shops, businesses and how our large family managed to survive in that bustling area. This part of Coventry Road was a very busy and vibrant shopping area, with lots of different businesses. Our house was on the front of a courtyard which consisted of three houses each side and two at the rear. Every house in the courtyard had a small garden and the occupants kept these very tidy. That is with the exception of the Lawlor house. Our garden had no grass, but consisted only of a bare patch. Its appearance affirmed that six children regularly played on that spot but the small bare patch provided the children with much recreation and pleasure. I think it was because our garden was situated at the front and in full view of the passers by that it attracted more attention than normal.

Pat and Betty 1952

Because we were on full view to the whole of Small Heath, we attracted a lot of interest and attention, people would comment a lot about the family. With just a small wall around the garden, we had no privacy. We would sit on the wall and just chat to anyone who passed by. Shops on the road included Decorwalls, which I have already mentioned and Payne’s the shoe mender. I might add our shoes never reached Payne’s, as it was normal to wear them out until the sole had disappeared from them. There was a wool shop nearby, which my mother frequented, not to buy wool but to have a chat. Mother could knit very well, now whether she learned her skill from this shop I could not honestly say. I do not know who deserved the credit for teaching her, but what is surprising is that she could knit without a pattern. Being a knitter myself I find that to be incredible. She would knit us girl’s winter hats, to a pattern she called a Dutch hat, and for the boys she would knit balaclava helmets. But she was even more talented, she knitted fair-isle jumpers all to her own patterns. She would knit these jumpers for anyone who asked; they were only required to provide her with thewool. Thinking back, that was probably how we acquired a selection of winter hats, all made from leftover balls of wool donated by various people.

Another shop on the road was a favourite with us, although we could only visit it on a Friday, it was the Sweet Shop. Besides requiring sweet coupons we needed the essential money, which our father provided every Friday. It might only have been a penny, but with 6 children that totalled a whole 6 pence, or as the coinage was then ...a silver 6 penny coin. A garage stood nearby, which sold petrol, but more importantly to us, because tyres were then fitted with inner tubes, the mechanics would save one for us which had come in for repair, but had been discarded. They would blow them up for us and we would go off to the swimming pool and have much fun floating in the water.

In the opposite direction from our house was a shop that was only ever known as the Junk Shop. This shop sold a miscellany of whatever might be required or needed; it was virtually an Aladdin’s cave. A father and his son owned the shop, their names were Mr Dawes and his son Jack Dawes and, literally, it resembled a jackdaw’s nest. Jack had just returned from serving in the war. The shop was not easily accessible by customers; due to the huge amount of stock cluttering the floor, customers waited for service at the shop door. Everything was piled high and more stock was laid out on long trestles on the pavement at the front of the shop. Each night everything was cleared away and brought back out the following morning.

Joan 1950

I became friendly with the owners and was allowed to tidy up the trestles on a regular basis, it was unpaid work but I enjoyed it very much. Although termed the Junk Shop, the owners derived a very good living from the business and both men lived in very big houses. I know this because Jack had a growing family and because of his benevolence I would often go and collect his children’s outgrown clothes and shoes, for which we were more than grateful. I also went to Mr Dawes’ house to collect any excess cooking which Mrs Dawes had prepared. Mrs Dawes was a sweet old lady, and I suspect she often prepared the surplus food with our family in mind. I remember Jack coming to the rescue in our house on many occasions because my mother, while absent from the house, would have left a fire blazing away in the grate. The nightclothes would be left to air in the oven part of the range, everything would be singeing, or perhaps the chimney would catch on fire.

Yet another shop within walking distance from the house was a pork butcher. Again, thankfully we were on their charity list. Each week I would be sent to collect bacon bones, those being the ribs of the pig. They made a very good stew and it was lovely to suck the fragments of meat off the bones. I remember the wife of the owner making a most delicious jam or treacle roly-poly pudding. Once again this kind lady would make an extra one for the poor children up the road. I remember that we always looked very forward to eating these treats. The kind butcher would occasionally give us a pig’s bladder which would serve as a ball and we would derive great pleasure from kicking it about the garden.

Dennis and Brian 1956

Coupons and pawnshops

Every Sunday morning I would be sent to the local newsagent and would buy the News of the World, a packet of Woodbine cigarettes and a box of Swan matches. We were allowed to have two comics every week, my mother encouraged us to read anything and everything, frustratingly I was not permitted to read the comics first because it was said I took too long. I would read them cover to cover, whereas Kevin would follow the story by looking at the pictures. Father would give me a half crown (30 old pennies) to pay the newsagent, from which he would have change. Later I got my first job as papergirl at that same newsagent. Next door to the newsagent stood a shop which sold only biscuits. Mother frequented that shop to have a chat with the owner, that good lady would often provide us with all her broken biscuits. On reflection I think my mother was befriended by some of these people, because she was seen to be doing her very best. We were such a needy family and they provided us with much needed food.

Mother did have an excess of coupons for clothing, furniture and food, which we could never use because we were never able to afford the goods. Yes, you have guessed right, mother was able to barter the coupons on what was known as the black market and at that time the authorities would have frowned upon this. I can remember my schoolteacher at the Holy Family, a young Polish lady, benefiting from this arrangement. I would take the surplus coupons into school and I presume she would give mother something in return. I do not know what was given in exchange or how those arrangements first came about.

There is just one other shop, which was yet another food supplier; In fact, it was the local fish and chip shop. Now as I have said previously, my mother made friends with all the trades people. I can only refer back to the ration coupons as a means of barter, as the local people and my mother had no other common bond. I like to think they respected my mother as ‘a lady’, and I mean a lady who was trying to keep her pride and had fallen on hard times. In those circumstances, who were we to look a gift horse in the mouth? Every Thursday evening I was sent down to the fish and chip shop and collected a big parcel of chips, bits of fish and whatever else had been left over or was sifted from the pans. Thursday was the night for clearing the pans, so it became our regular fish and chip night.

A ration line in a Birmingham store

The opportunity for bartering coupons came to an end in 1954 when rationing was officially ended; it had been in operation since 1940. I was not sorry to see the end of rationing, as I had often been sent to wait in the long queues in order to collect the books of coupons. These were issued from two distribution points on Broad Street, the Civic Centre and on the opposite side of the road, the Masonic Hall. The police were always present to give directions and to keep order in the long queues. The two buildings were very imposing and are still standing today, although in recent times the Civic Centre has been converted into a hotel.

I often reflect on the reason why we had been exposed to this dire poverty. Simply it came down to the sign of the times. Certain working class men of that era considered it was part of their culture to socialize by visiting the pubs and bars and drinking as much beer as they were able to afford. In following this custom they would dispose of a great deal of their weekly wage, leaving little left over to provide food for the family. My father seemed to be oblivious to our basic needs and would still expect a good meal on the table. Unfortunately my father was one of those individuals, at least in our household that was what I grew up to think. No doubt he worked very hard, at that time the working conditions in an iron foundry were very arduous and dirty. To his credit, I cannot remember him ever taking a day off work due to sickness. When he was at home he was always kind to us. He gave us each our Friday penny, which we looked forward to.

A tram in Digbeth in the 1950s

I am sure he was everyone’s best friend at the Little Bull in Digbeth, which was his adopted pub and second home. Regularly on Sunday morning, with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye, he would say, “ Right I’m off to take the collection and give out the hymn books”. One of my father’s gifts, for which he is not generally remembered, was his lovely singing voice, he sounded very much like Bing Crosby. At the time, I can remember suffering from a constant ear infection. He would cuddle me on his lap and sing me to sleep; a favourite ballad was ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. Another lark he would perform, would be to blow smoke from his cigarette into my ear, he would often do this but I never discovered why, I don’t think it contributed to my earache.

Unfortunately when it came to providing my mother with housekeeping money, that was a different matter. Because of his leisure activities, where money is concerned, he was very mean to my mother. There is no point in me guessing at how much he gave her each week, but it was a lot less than he spent on drink at the Little Bull. In a quiet moment, she would talk to me about it and say, “How does he think I can manage on so little money ”. In order to have food for the table, especially from Monday onwards, we would first pay a visit to the pawnshop. The pledge would be a parcel of my Father’s clothes, since he was the only one with clothing of any value. My poor mother would be praying he would not need his best suit during the week, which thank goodness he never did. He would only dress decently at weekends.

Betty 1956

Break a leg

Mom and Dad 1938

Father enjoyed a flutter on the horses, and would always have a daily bet. He would leave this for my mother to deliver to the bookie. The bookie stood outside his own house with hands in pockets, innocently whistling away. It was illegal in those times to run a betting shop or bet on horses away from the racecourse. To place a bet you just walked passed the bookie and slipped a piece of paper, in which money had been wrapped up, into his hands. On the paper was written the name of your chosen horse, the amount of the wager and of course the personal I/D of the punter. It was usually left for me to deliver the bet into the hands of the runner. That is, if mother was not sufficiently desperate to have diverted the money and spent it on food for the family. The amount of the bet I remember was always 2/6p or a half crown, as it was then called. In those times a half crown would have bought a lot of essentials. It was a risk she was prepared to take and she prayed all day that the horse would lose. She would say “please fall and break a leg”, thankfully the poor horse never broke a leg but someone from above was always watching over her, and made the horse go slower, she got away with it every time.

As previously mentioned, the other deception was of course the clothing in the pawn shop, the items had to be back in the house by Friday afternoon, because that was when they were needed for the weekend.

Now this involved a very complicated strategic manoeuvre, as you can appreciate. I was at school so all these jobs to help my mother were done during my dinner hour, for me it seemed a very short hour. I must have eaten my bread and marg, if we were lucky, on the move. I would hop on a bus from my school in Small Heath and go to Sandy Lane in Bordesley and meet a lady who I called Auntie Myra, she worked in a factory and received her pay at lunchtime. Having collected the loan from Aunty Myra I would then hop on another bus and redeem my father’s clothes from the pawnshop. I would then meet my father outside his factory gates, and collect my mother’s housekeeping allowance for the week, it was important to catch him before he went off to the pub for the evening; this became a weekly routine.

One of the good tasks I can remember was to deliver the loan back to Aunty Myra on Friday evening. She and her husband were always sitting down at the table, eating their Friday meal of Fish and Chips. I must have had an appealing face, as I would always be rewarded with a portion of chips for myself.

Now although Myra was a very good friend to my mother, as I have already said, she tended to be a little naughty and a bad influence. I suppose on looking back, it brought a bit of glamour and adventure, which was absent from my mother’s life. On Friday and Saturday evenings, of course without my father knowing, she would get dressed up and take her curlers out and her turban off and accompany Myra to the local dance hall, my mother had beautiful auburn hair. She would often be described in the neighbourhood as the lady with the lovely red hair who had six children. In case she was ever needed urgently, thankfully I always knew where she could be found. None of our neighbours ever knew she was missing and had left the children in my care. She would go along close to the wall of the house, and step over the little garden wall. She would always be back in the house by 10-o-clock, change her clothes put her hair back in curlers and put her turban back on. Father was never aware of anything that went on in the house and never caught on that his wife was on the town.

As I have mentioned earlier, the shortage of money was always a problem. Often I would be sent to the shops for goods on credit, and be refused, strangely at these times I did not feel any shame. We were continually in debt to all the little shops in the area. Also I can remember being in debt to the coal man. We survived each week by having things ‘on the slate’ as it was called. If they were lucky, on a Friday everyone would be paid off, on Saturday the whole cycle would begin over again. It was the slippery slope of pinching from Peter to pay Paul. I can remember my mother exhausting the shops that would offer credit. Even the rent man and the milkman were given the same excuses over-and-over again. We would tell the callers “our mother is not in”, while she would be standing behind the door.

I remember one embarrassing occasion, we answered the door to someone who wanted his money, and we told him she was not at home. The caller asked us what time she would be back and Kevin put his head around the back of the door and asked, “what time will you be back Mom”.

Later I remember my mother getting a job, father did not know about it, he would certainly have objected, he was a very jealous man and did not like the idea of her being out of the house. Unfortunately she was unable to reveal to him the fact that she now had a little extra money, I believe she worked at the same factory as her friend Myra.

Me, aged 13 with neighbours outside our house in Small Heath


Little brothers and sisters

Dennis was the baby in the house, or at least a toddler, and because mother had now found employment, it was necessary to employ a child minder for him. The child minder lived in Bordesley Green. So before I reached school in the morning, it was my responsibility to take him to the minder. Being a child myself, it was cheaper for me to travel on the buses than it would have been for mother. After school I would catch the bus and collect him. Mother’s job must have been part time, because she had always arrived home complete with curlers and turban, before my father arrived home. I can only assume that if he could see the curlers and turban were in place, he would be satisfied that she had not left the house. I honestly do not remember if life got easier for her, with the little extra money, I’m sure it helped to clear some outstanding debt.

We had a few emergencies occur while we were still very young. My sister Betty broke her leg and for some time afterwards had to sit for most of the day in the pram by the garden wall. She enjoyed all the little treats people gave her when passing by, and I am sure we all benefited indirectly. At about that time, workmen were digging up the Coventry Road, they were in fact digging up the tram rails after the trams had been taken out of service. Brian, who was about 3 years old, decided he wanted a bit of the action, so joined the workmen. I remember he went missing from the crew one day and he could not be found. We immediately went to the Police Station to report it and there we discovered him sitting behind a big typewriter playing with the keys; he had been given a cup of tea and a big currant bun. So here was one little boy who enjoyed his experience as a road digger and a visit to the station.

I have another memory of Brian as a little boy having a fascination with the local Salvation Army band. Every Sunday tea time the Salvation Army band would come down the street and Brian would march with them along the road to where they assembled in a circle to perform hymns for about an hour. Brian would stand in the circle and when they finished they would march back up the road and drop him back at the house. He was about 4 or 5 years old and with his arms swinging and head raised, the Salvation Army members were tickled pink by Brian’s cuteness.

Returning to the subject of the builders digging the Coventry Road, there was an additional benefit to us from this local upheaval—the road surface was made from tar blocks, the size of house bricks. Being out of coal, my mother asked the navvies if the bricks were suitable for burning. She was advised they were, so loads were put over the wall and these kept our fire going for quite some time.

The smell given off by the burning bricks was not ideal and the heat produced was quite severe. Although it was possible to douse the heat by putting damp coal-slack on the back of the fire, this was necessary to prevent the chimney catching fire, this it did quite often. The slack was obtained from the cellar of our house, it being the residue left over from the coal. My mother would make her own coal bricks from the slack. I seem to remember she formed this into briquettes and placed them in the oven to set. All these little things kept us warm throughout the winter. Eventually, when all the coal merchants in the district who would deliver to us had become exhausted, I was given the task of making the long journey to the coke yards.

I set off early on Saturday morning, accompanied by my young brother Kevin. We stood in a long queue early in the morning; it was a dirty and heavy job. Mother was not able to do it, father was not happy with her leaving the house and certainly not to belittle herself by standing in a queue and pushing a pram full of coke. The coke yard was many miles away, but it was necessary to keep us warm throughout the winter; this routine was followed every Saturday morning. We did not have the luxury of gloves, as I remember, we made do with a pair of odd socks on our hands. The coke would be weighed and shovelled straight into the pram; by the time we arrived home Kevin and I were very dirty and cold. There were two coke yards which we used and both were about five miles away. One was located in Saltley and the other was in Bordesley, near Digbeth. The journey to both yards involved pushing the coke-laden pram up several hills. On arriving back home the pram was emptied of its contents and in order that the young ones should not take-on a dusky complexion, the pram was thoroughly cleaned out, and made ready for whoever needed transporting next.

We were constantly in need of warm winter clothes. On Saturday afternoons my mother would go to the Rag Market. By that time of the day my father had returned from the pub and it was the only time he made himself available for looking after the children. After he had finished his dinner, he would fall asleep in the chair. Mother would buy whatever cheap clothes she could afford from the stalls in the Rag Market. Our other source of clothing was provided thanks to the benevolence of the Birmingham Mail fund, on a voucher scheme which was administered by the school we attended. We would be required to present these vouchers at Digbeth Police Station, where the distribution was set up; there you would be given items of clothing.

The allocation included a strong pair of shoes and thick grey socks. In addition boys were given a pair of short trousers and a jumper with long sleeves, all were grey in colour. The girls had similar clothing, strong shoes, long grey socks, a gymslip, a jumper and a pair of thick black knickers. I assume the grey colour was chosen so that they could not be sold on by the hard up parents and if they were they would be easily recognisable. I do not remember the clothes being provided on a yearly basis but I do recall being given the shoes every year. There was no embarrassment in receiving this charity, the garments were always welcome and kept us warm and tidy throughout the winter.

Kevin 1953

During these years, Christmas was a very lean period. Although thanks to dear Aunty Lily, we did have a Christmas dinner, in the form of a fat goose and an assortment of sweets which she sent over from Dublin. As for toys, I’m afraid they were very few. I can remember being sent to the rag market, late one Christmas Eve, with instructions to buy toys for the younger ones.

I was to buy cowboy hats with toy guns and holsters for the boys, and funny looking dolls for the two girls; the dolls were made with a cloth body and each had a pointed hat. How I knew how much money I should hand-over for those simple toys, or why I was sent so late in the day, I shall never know. I assume mother must have been hoping the things on the stalls would have been a little cheaper at that late hour in the day. We were all given a book each and an old sock was filled with a tangerine, a chocolate bar, and some nuts. I really have no recollection of a really special Christmas other than the weather seemed always to be cold and snowy.


Leisure time

Elmdon Airport

Our leisure time was spent at any of the local parks, especially Victoria Park, known to the locals as Small Heath Park. We would spend many hours there. Maybe it is my imagination, but the summers always seemed to be long and hot. Another place we visited frequently was Elmdon, where the airport was located close to the present International Airport. We would take our sandwiches, which always consisted of margarine with sugar and a bottle of water. We would go paddling in the streams and fish for minnows with our jam jars, no nets only the jars. Children in those days could go anywhere without the supervision of adults; the world seemed a much safer place.

Kevin (hands on hips - 2nd from right) in the Cubs

Later, Kevin and I joined a youth club known as the Woodcraft Folk; the Birmingham Co-op organisation sponsored it and this gave us a broader outlook on life. The evening meetings we attended were so much fun and also the Co-op gave us a social education. We were taken on outings to various interesting places and they actively encouraged drama and entertainment; so we got to perform at the Town Hall on a yearly basis. I later became a leader and was in the movement for quite a few years. During this time I also attended the Brownies and Kevin joined the Cubs. Looking back over the years, I am so much indebted to those organisations for the confidence they gave me.

At this period I enjoyed visiting the library, another of my leisure activities. I quickly began to read any book I could lay my hands on. So the library staff would see me on a daily basis, in those days you could only take out one fiction and one non-fiction book daily. If time allowed I would read a book while in the library. My mother’s brother, Uncle John, was in the printing business in Dublin. He would send me a storybook every month, which I would look very forward to receiving. The swimming pool provided another leisure activity, although it was not my favourite place to visit, but thinking back it provided another means of keeping fresh. The other facility for keeping spotless was the public washing baths which had a different entrance to the swimming pool. We waited in a queue until our turn came up and a bathroom became available. We would hire a towel and be given a little bar of soap and then take our bath in the privacy of a cubicle. It was also possible to hire a towel for swimming and for young men a swimming costume, which was called a slip.

The Birmingham City Football Club grounds, Saint Andrews, was located very near to where we lived. Whenever possible Kevin and I would go and watch the Blues play, at an affordable cost of 9 old pence. There was at that time what we called the bombsites, derelict land where houses had once stood but had been bombed during the war. In time the land became fallow and over grown with weeds. These sites served as very good playing areas for kicking a ball or playing games. Then of course there were the radio programs; they provided a great deal of entertainment, there were plays, and serials. For example, Dick Barton Special Agent was one not to be missed, if my memory serves me correctly, it was broadcast around teatime. In addition there was great musical and comedy entertainment.

For a bit of nostalgia every Sunday night, mother would tune in to 208 meters Radio Luxembourg and listen to the radio programme ‘If you’re Irish come into the parlour’. To provide escapism and to take a trip into wonderland, there were the cinemas, or as we called them the picture houses. The films rotated twice weekly, with a different film for a Sunday and the children’s own films on a Saturday afternoon. These were very popular and there was always a long queue, but it was worth the wait, it was magical going into the picture house. Outside the cinema, an old man would be selling winkles (a small shellfish) from an open cart. For a few pence, he would fill a small paper bag with the winkles. Using a small pin the edible winkle would be extracted from the shell and the empty shell used to pelt other unfortunate kids in the queue. Inside the building the temperature was always warm, and gave a comfortable feeling. Sometimes the sound track could not be heard, as the noise was so great from the audience joining in the action. How my mother ever found the money for some of these treats, I shall never know.

On one occasion I recall having a day off school to look after Dennis. My mother gave me some money to take him to the picture house, the Coronet on the Coventry Road, where we watched John Wayne in The Quiet Man. We sat and watched the film twice through as the cinemas never emptied in those days. On another occasion we went to the picture house on a Saturday to watch an American comedy trio called The Three Stooges. They were meant to be funny but my sister Pat was terrified of them and I had to go with her to hide in the toilets. Of course I couldn’t resist peeping through the door to watch the film.

After attending Mass on a Sunday, we would be given a few pence, which would be enough to take us all the way around the No 8 Inner Circle bus route. Thank goodness we did not do this every Sunday because, as explained previously, I did not have any love for buses and the journey often left me feeling a little sick. It did get the little ones out for the day and it was a treat, especially as we always went on the upper deck of the bus.