Saturday, 26 December 2009

Joan's Journey Chapter V. Sherborne Street

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Sherborne Street, Ladywood
So it was that we moved to a back-to-back, terraced house in Sherborne Street, Ladywood; we had a home at last and we could close our own front door. We transported all our bits and pieces with the aid of a friendly driver and his horse drawn cart. The house was in a bad state of repair and in poor condition. Livestock in the form of crawling insects was rampant and, in order to kill the fleas and bugs, we immediately had to have the house fumigated. There was no electricity connected, only gas for lighting and cooking. There was a black cast iron range in the living room, which in time would be removed in order to make way for a tiled grate. The house had two entrances, a front and a side door; the front door was never used because we needed the interior wall space. The side door, which we called the entry door, was normally locked when leaving the property. Illogically the key was always left hanging on a hook on the outside of the door; after all, my Mom was Irish. Mother soon set about making a home for us all, Dad did not join us in the house for a few weeks, but remained in his comfy lodgings. With the money from the legacy, besides clearing the rent arrears, Mom was able to buy new furniture and furnishings; a three-piece suite; a dining table and chairs, new curtains and a radio powered by an accumulator. And at last she bought herself a new wedding ring; the original one had long since disappeared by way of the pawnshop. The ring she had been wearing for quite some time was a brass curtain ring, purchased from Woolworth’s.

The neighbours were the best in the world and everyone looked after each other’s interests. The entry at the side of our house led to a courtyard, Joyce and Jack Pierpoint lived in the property at the rear of ours and they had three children. The Flemmings were the other family living on the opposite side of the entry and they were extremely poor; there were seven children in the family. They were Catholics and I was invited to be God Mother to at least four of the children. They could not afford to pay the bills for lighting, cooking, or heating; not even a stick of furniture. I do not know on what they ever slept, other than mattresses on the floor. It seemed that Mr Flemming went to work for the sole purpose of drinking his way through life. The immediate neighbours were all very kind to Mrs Flemming, they could see that her husband drank his way through his earnings and they would provide her with clothes and meals.

Sherborne Street had many young families; they all looked after each other’s needs, and kept a watchful eye on each other’s homes. One side of the road consisted of dwellings and on the other side stood the factories. The factories included the Birmingham Glass Co, Frank Allart Co, Sherborne Rubber Co. and a textile printing business. As one might imagine it was quite a busy little street; people did not have to travel far to their place of work. Located to the rear of our courtyard was the Birmingham canal cutting, which led to a warehouse. From the upper floor of our house one could see the narrow long boats (barges), loading and unloading their goods. In time things started looking up, Mom got herself a job and eventually plucked up courage to tell my father that she was earning money. I believe the ultimatum was given that unless he gave her more housekeeping, she would carry on working. With the prospect of sacrificing some of his beer money, Dad reluctantly accepted the inevitable.

As I have described, the house was a back-to-back, one room down stairs and a tiny scullery, which only held a stove and a stone sink which was located in the corner. In the absence of a window there was no illumination. How it was possible to see what was happening in the sink, I shall never know. We had one bedroom on the first floor landing and then two bedrooms on the second landing. Although I should describe the second floor as an attic room, the boys were allocated one room and the girls the other. We had an outside toilet, which was located across the yard. So without lighting to illuminate the way, it was quite a jaunt to reach it in the middle of the night and this was avoided. The house was not fitted with bath, shower or hot water, which was quite a drawback. We had what was called a brew house in the yard outside. No, not for brewing alcohol, it was a place for doing the weekly wash. It was equipped with a big brick boiler. The boiler would be stoked up early in the morning with solid fuel; on whatever morning the washing was going to be done. By mutual agreement neighbours were each allocated their own washing day. The brew house would serve a dual purpose, our neighbour Joyce Pierpoint, when she had finished her wash, would stoke-up the boiler, so that later the warmth would be retained. Instead of saying our goodnight in the very drafty conditions, my future husband Geoff and I would have our last minute cuddle in the warm brew house. In those times, even the neighbours gave thought to young lovers.


Kevin in the merchant navy 1957


A short time later, our two cousins Denis and Eamonn, both of whom had travelled from Dublin in order to find employment, joined our family. The two young men were accommodated in the attic room, which was also occupied by my two young brothers, Brian and Dennis. Betty and I were the lucky ones, sister Pat was still away, attending open-air school and recovering from her heart operation and so we had the second attic room to ourselves. Denis did not stay long in the UK, but Eamonn became a permanent member of our family and to this day has settled down with his own family in Birmingham. Brother Kevin had by this time joined the merchant navy. I believe that 26 Sherborne Street was very much like 92 Walsh Road; it seemed to have expandable walls and a countless number of beds. I am sure this relates to Irish hospitality, an open house for everyone. Soon we started to attract family visitors from Dublin, Uncle Kevin Lawlor, was always a much loved and welcome visitor. What they thought of the conditions in the house we dared not ask, but undaunted they continued coming back to Sherborne Street; it was the welcome hospitality of the family that counted.


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