Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Some more memories of old Ladywood

Uncle Bill in the army 1948 2nd from left

Several years ago I collected a few memories from my dad's older brother Bill Millington and his sisters, Kath and Nance. Sadly all three of them have died in the past decade.

I have already posted up quite a lot of Kath's memories in particular, whose wonderful anecdotes were probably the reason I was inspired to start researching the family tree in the first place. However, I may not have posted up many of the short stories and things that Bill and Nance told me.

Because I need to hunt around a bit for scraps of paper, I'm therefore going to develop this post over the next week or so, so it may not initially seem very complete, but bear with me.

Uncle Bill was born in 1928. His family, the Millingtons, lived in close proximity to their maternal grandparents, the Claytons. Bill confirmed the fact that the Clayton family were a big extended family who lived in a close knit community around Garbett Street in Ladywood. His Aunty May (Emily) lived opposite his own family in Garbett Street. May was married to George Clayton who was my grandmother Florence's brother. George and Emily were the parents of Bernard, Sheila, Dennis, Emily, William and George Clayton.

Bill told me that Aunty Emily's mother also lived on Garbett Street with another of her daughters. The mother was of Jewish origin and was known to be a money lender. The Clayton siblings (named above) told me that their mother's family originated from the West Ham area of London, within view of Upton Park Football Ground.

Like my own father Geoff, Bill recalled Aunty Pem, the sister of great granddad Clayton, who used to come to the house and entertain people by reading tea leaves, something at which she was reputed to be very accurate.

A nice story that Bill told me was about the occassion he developed a bad case of appendicitis and the local doctor said that he needed to be rushed straight to hospital. This was in the days before an ambulance service or the trusty family saloon, so word went quickly around the neighbourhood that there was an emergency which required transport to the Children's Hospital. Almost immediately a gentleman named Mr Mosedale offered to take Bill to hospital on the back of his horse and cart. Even though the Children's Hospital was only a mile up the road from Garbett Street, the journey on the back of a cart along the cobbled and uneven streets of old Ladywood had the rather unexpected affect of healing Bill's appendicitis. By the time Mr Mosedale's horse arrived at the hospital, the child was completely cured and never experienced a murmur from his appendix ever again.

Bill's appendicitis wasn't his only medical trauma as he once dropped a pot of boiling water onto his own foot. A well meaning relative smeared tea leaves over Bill's burnt foot believing it was a remedy for scalds but it only made things worse and once again Bill was hauled off to the local hospital, though apparantly not on the back of Mr Moseley's horse and cart this time.

Bill also recalled a lady named Mrs Cook who ran the local 'outdoor'. She wore black clothes to the floor in the manner of the Victorians. The outdoor was privately owend as Mrs Cook had bought it from M&B. Bill said:

"I would fetch a pint of fives in a bottle for our granddad. A pint of fives was half ale and half beer - the price was divided ale 4d and beer 2d. Mrs Cook would put a sticky label over the cork of the bottle denoting that it was being handed over to an under age person - to stop us kids having a swig! Granddad always washed and shone his empty bottles until they were like cut glass.

"Mrs Cook wanted our Nance to work for her but she wasn't keen. The Cooks had a young couple lodging with them and the husband of this couple had an eye for Nance so she decided not to go and work for Mrs Cook".

Bill recalled the war years in Ladywood and one particular night when a bomb came down opposite their house on Monument Road:

"Geoff was about 5 and when we heard the air raid siren I took him down into our cellar. We heard a bomb come whistling down and it hit a house opposite where we lived at number 2 Monument Road. Two or three nurses lodging in the house were killed. Ma and dad came home from the pub and me and Geoff were still in the cellar. It was a very frightening sound hearing a bomb falling almost right above you, it was like a train coming towards you. Rubbish and rubble flew into our garden".

Bill told me about the old photograph above which shows two of my grandmother's brothers in amongst a group of men outside The Vine public house in Ladywood. 

"One of the other men in the photograph is Harry Bowden who was well known for singing a turn in the pub. He would often go to the Clayton house after the pub had closed and sing a few songs inlcuding his favourite turn "I'm the black sheep of the family". The landlord of The Vine was Jack Farrell.

"There was always something free to eat on the counter in most pubs, usually cheese and pickles. In Harry's pub, the Vesper Bell you would get bread and cheese on the counter. You could go into a pub and get a packet of 5 Woodbine and 2 matches, a pint of beer and still have half a penny change out of 6d". 

"The was a blacksmith around the corner to The Vine, he used to shoe all the big horses. There weren't many motor vehicles around then so everything was carried by horse and cart - bread, milk and coal. I remember down Garbett Street there was Frank Moss the grocer and pawnshop, which was always busiest on Monday morning as people were strapped for money after the weekend. Men worked bloody hard in those days but didn't get a lot.

"Mr Roberts ran the local sweet shop, he was badly wounded in the battle of Jutland and he bought the shop from his pension."

"I went into the Marines on The Syrius which was one of Portsmouth's ships, a cruiser. The ship was a three badger because it had seen action in a bad campaign in Crete. I was put in charge of the barrack room" 

Apparently everytime Bill wrote home from the army he started every letter "Dear All, I'm broke..."

Bill married Iris Butcher of Guildford Street, Lozells on 21st August 1955 at St John's church in Ladywood. He worked for many years at the Longbridge car factory which started as the Austin and finished as MG Rover.


  1. Great work in progress. I'm doing my Clarke family history - My Nan, another Kath lived at 110, 116 and 276 Monument Rd during the war. Its great to get a sense of what life was like, especially being an unwed pregant woman with bombs dropping down and trying to get to work as a Metal Works machinist. Do you know THE HOSTEL on Monument Rd as thats where she must have had some support when mum was born. Cheers!

  2. Hiya Julie! My name is Graham Curley. I see your researching your "Clarke" family tree, my Nans family was Clarke too, she raised 14. The names, Rose, Maud,(Flora, Laura,died soon after birth)Joe, William, George, Sam, Sid, Len, (Winn, my mom) Ruby, Raymond, Iris. All now sadly passed away.My mom passed away only this March. The family lived at 336 Monument Rd & i wondered if you were aware a Clarke family lived so close to the address where your family lived. Enough for now look forward to hear from you. Graham.

  3. My nan and mom lived in shakespear rd the craddock family