18.  Life in Montrose Street and St Patrick's Church

The 1920s were undoubtedly a tough era and the people who lived in it were a tough breed of people.  Many of the company workforce were in the immediate locality, living in the crowded conditions of all members of a family being on top of one another in small cottages in Montrose Street and St Mary’s Street and around a small compact neighbourhood.  

Montrose Street with the approximate area of the original works outlined in red.  They later greatly expanded into adjoining premises. St Patrick's Church is shown on Little's Lane.

They were predominantly Roman Catholic and worshipped at St Patrick’s Church at the top of the street.  At some time during the mid-twenties a fight broke out between two families who were usually at loggerheads but this was late at night and after a heavy drinking session. As the fight escalated two burly policemen came from the direction of Broad Street to restore law and order, at which point both of the families attacked the policemen, one of whom had his helmet knocked off and was hit on the head so hard with a jerry pot that his skull was fractured and he died.  The other was knocked unconscious but later recovered.

The outcome of the murdered policeman was that the police never ventured down that street again for ten years and, whenever there was serious trouble, they sent for the Catholic Priest.  Father Woolf was a big strong man and, apart from his physique and fearless attitude, he also had that aura or mystique of a “Man of God” to his local flock.  He moved in fearlessly, restoring law, order and the peace by wielding a huge weighted walking stick, which was used with considerable power and effect on all and sundry. 

Meynell's works in Montrose Street, seen from St. Mary's Street.  The photo was probably taken shortly before the area was razed.  This was a typical mixed industrial and residential area. Mrs. Hill's corner shop is on the right hand corner. 

Photo Wolverhampton City Archives, C1/STMAR/0/1.

In an age full of characters a later priest at St Patrick’s should not be excluded.  Father Rooney was Parish Priest of a lovely old church in which, incidentally, the Meynells were all christened, as I had been and subsequently both of my children in 1957 and 1959.  He had taken over the job of law-keeper in the vicinity around the factory after Father Woolf had retired and I never saw a policeman on the street in over 20 years until we moved in 1969.  Father Rooney was a big man with a deep voice and was deeply committed to the well being of his community.  He used to walk up and down the centre aisle during prayers when the congregation joined in and admonished various children saying “Our Father who are in Heaven - stop picking your nose, Johnny - Hallowed by Thy name - sit up, child, you are in the House of God” and so on.   The congregation held him in the highest possible esteem and he was a good friend to many of them.

The Meynell Family used to attend the 10.00 am Mass on Holidays of Obligation and as the junior member of the family it was my job to take the collection plate up one aisle whilst the other aisle had the plate taken by the District Secretary of our Trade Union, Mr Riley, who was known almost affectionately to everyone as “Old Mother Riley” probably after the Music Hall character of that time.  Mr Riley came to the Company once a year and had a cup of tea and a pleasant chat with the Directors and any problems or disputes were settled within the factory by the Shop Steward Convenor, Albert Maxfield.  Albert was a just man, not afraid of being outspoken and it wasn’t until he retired at the age of 75 that we all realised the debt that was owed to a decent and fair minded British workman who dispensed justice, as he saw it, and was not afraid of arguing a case against the management until agreement could be reached.

Westbury Street, shortly before it was demolished.  Note the corner shop.

Photo by courtesy of David Clare.

The era of characters was never better illustrated than by Mrs Hill, who kept the small corner shop opposite the factory and only just literally across the road from the main entrance. She was a middle-aged chatty lady whose daughter, Hilda, worked in the factory. She was always chatting and gossiping in a kindly and humorous fashion usually to three or four people who had gone in, more for a chat than to buy something.

When I went into the shop a shriek of “My God, Mr Meynell’s ‘ere!” and she would dash back to the living room to find her teeth, which she popped in and then returned.  She was so kind to me that it was embarrassing and used to give me chocolate and make me sandwiches - always brown bread: “Much better for you, Love. Everyone needs building up at your age” and then another shriek of laughter.  Her kindness spilled over into giving “Tick” quite freely to anyone from the factory. “You can see me right on Friday, Love, when you get paid”.  It is a tragedy that our so-called civilized community has now moved to an era of vast supermarkets with their impersonal manner, which have squeezed out the corner shops and the lovely ladies who kept them.

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