Sunday, 27 December 2009

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


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