We are always hearing that times were tough in the old days. Well, they clearly were – as the words of Alice Hall of Darlaston testify. She was born in 1904 and her stories of real hardship - and of a childhood without the care of a mother - bring to life a bygone era.

Official documents tell us the key dates in the lives of our forebears. As such certificates of births, deaths and marriages are vital to all historians - and the information they give us can be strengthened by census entries. And yet, important as such evidence is, it lacks much. It can give us pointers towards the lives led by our people, but it cannot pass on their thoughts and emotions, their trials and tribulations, their hopes and achievements - the very warp and weft of their being. For such we need to hear them, either through their memoirs or their recordings.

One of those fortunate to have the words of someone from the past is Pauline Poole. The words are those of her mother, who died in 1994. Pauline wrote them down because "I was listening to her opinions one day, which was in 1989, of life at that time, when she began to compare then with how it was in her early life and I decided to make a note of what she was saying. I was a secretary and could still capture her words very easily in shorthand. I came across my original typed copy, which was done on a small portable typewriter, when I was looking for something else the other day and having re-read it. It struck me that maybe you would find it interesting to read too."

Pauline stresses that she is "very interested in anyone's personal stories but more so the further back we go, and she believes that it is vital to keep the past alive for the generations to come.

The Bradford Arms, known as 'The Frying Pan' stood on the corner of Bilston Street and Eldon Street. From the collection of the late Howard Madeley.


She says: "To me now, my own childhood and early life is like looking back to a black and white film and I feel that socially, life is moving on a pace never known before. After all, when we wake up each morning, the previous day is our personal history."

Alice Hall, as she was born, knew real hardship. Her memories bring to the fore the harsh effects of personal loss and the misfortunes of a childhood without the care of a mother who died too young. Alice grew up in a hard era, one in which the poor only got by with the help of kith and kin. When that extended family was missing then the travails of a youngster could be heart wrenching. Yet for all the adversities she faced, Alice was never embittered.

Here then are the moving words of Alice Hall, the beloved mother of Pauline Poole. Through her words she lives on:

“Quite often, when I hear someone complaining that the state benefits they are getting aren't enough to live on, it makes me think back to my own young life and reflect on how very different things were then. I was born on August 8th, 1904, in No. 2 Court, Bilston Street, Darlaston, very close to the house where John Wesley stayed and which it was said, he used as a Meeting House.

My family later moved to No. 4, Eldon Street. My brother, sister and I and a tiny baby were left without a mother in 1907, when I was three years old. I clearly remember my mother being ill in bed downstairs and one day hearing my brother cry out in pain in the street. There was a pub on the corner at the top of the street called the 'Bradford Arms' (nicknamed 'The Fryin' Pon') and like most pubs at that time, they made soup which people would fetch in a jug for a few pence.

My brother had been running up the street with a friend named Shaler (surname) and he bumped into a lady coming out of the pub with a jug of steaming leek soup in her hands. The leeks stuck to his neck and he carried the scar for the rest of his life. Mother struggled out of bed and I can see her now, standing on the doorstep with long black wavy hair, shouting, 'Oh! My lad!' Shortly afterwards, back in bed, I remember her words, 'Let me back' - and she died. Rose's Bull was blowing 9am at the time. This was a factory in nearby Stafford Road.

Eldon Street in the 1960s when most of the buildings in the area had been demolished. From the collection of the late Howard Madeley.


For the funeral I wore a little black dress with puffed sleeves and white cuffs and collar and I remember it was a horse-drawn hearse. The horses had black plumes and the men wore black high hats and black tail-style jackets. The funeral firm was S. Webb & Son of Wednesbury. An aunt came to help for a while and she lay on the baby, who shared the same bed, and the child was suffocated.

From then on, the family was split up. My brother, Ted, was fostered with a family in Slater Street, Darlaston. He was about seven at the time. His friend's family, the Shalers, had a shop in Cross Street, at the bottom of Eldon Street. Our sister Irene, who was only a toddler, was looked after by relatives in Dudley, where our mother's family came from and we lost touch with her until I was fourteen and needed my birth certificate when it was time to leave school and get a job.

My brother, Ted, was kicked on the shin about this time and it was ulcerated. He was looked after by Dr. Fox at the Workhouse, 100 Pleck Road, Walsall, now a part of the Manor Hospital. I was in the Workhouse for a time. I had been offered to several people to live with them and I was turned away. In the Workhouse, I can remember a man with a disfigured mouth through cancer.

We used to be given cod liver oil, with an arrowroot biscuit to take the taste away. I slept in a tall cot. My brother used to do jobs for Dr. Fox when he was growing up which included going with him to take care of the horse and governess's cart, while Dr. Fox was at the Workhouse.

I used to go to the Old Church School in School Street, Darlaston for a short time and I can remember walking in file to St Lawrence's Rectory garden for a party on the occasion of Queen Mary and King George V's Coronation. The Rectory garden's big entrance gates faced onto Church Street (opposite what is now a chemist). The garden gates have only recently been removed and the entrance bricked up in the wall, but the brick gate posts are still there, on either side. (This was early in 1989.) We were given a small metal box of chocolates with the King 'and Queen's heads on the lid. I shared a desk with Percy Hickman, whose family shop was a grocer's, where the Darlaston Carpet shop is now, by the 'White Lion' pub in The Fode.

Then a family called Owen eventually took me in for a weekly payment of 3/- (three shillings) from my Dad.

The Barley Mow pub in Cross Street, awaiting demolition. From the collection of the late Howard Madeley.


They lived at No. 4 Bush Street, The Green, Darlaston. I had been passed from pillar to post, unwanted by one or another but I was to stay here until I married in 1932. When the Old Church School was closed in 1980, they had an open week for all the old pupils to look up their own old school records, and the comment written in the margin at the side of mine was 'Left the District'. I had moved about a mile away, to Darlaston Green! I went to the Central Schools in Slater Street from then on and I think I was about nine by this time.

No. 4 Bush Street had two bedrooms and the family were Granddad Owen (also known as Captain Owen), Granny Owen, their daughter, her husband, their granddaughter Florence (known as Floss) and me, plus two men lodgers. There was one room downstairs with a back kitchen which flooded every time it rained. Upstairs there was a four poster where Granny Owen and her granddaughter Floss slept at the top and I slept at the bottom. Floss's mother and father slept in the other bedroom and Granddad Owen and the two lodgers slept on chairs downstairs.

They cooked on the fire and washed in bucket or bowl of cold water which was fetched from the one outside tap, shared by the other two houses in the yard. St George's Church, with its very overgrown church yard, was opposite. There was a family called Jones who lived in the Dairy, two doors down from us. This house is still there now, no longer a dairy but called 'The Dairy's Still'. Mr Jones, an old gentleman, used to come into the street with a big ear-trumpet. He would put the trumpet to his ear, listen and say "Them's over" (meaning the German planes!) I remember sitting on the gutter very late at night and listening for the zeppelins.

Air raids

During the air raids we would go down the cellar of the house next door, where a family called Kimberly lived. (This house is still there now, next to Bowling Green Close, on the left as you look at the Close). Mrs Kimberly would say "bring some bread" she was always afraid we would be blocked in! The cellar was cleaned and whitewashed and there was a stone sill all around the walls where we would sit. Bowling Green Close is actually cut through the site of our house and the other two houses in our yard.

I remember during the summer, we children would sit on the gutter in the early morning light, doing corking with four nails knocked into an empty wooden cotton reel. My Dad worked for Darlaston Council for a time but then his main job was as a maltster for Pritchard's Brewery. Mr. S. Canlett was in charge and his name can still be seen in a glass window at the town hall side of The Swan pub in Victoria Road.

The house on the left-hand corner of Bowling Green Close, once occupied by the Kimberly family.

When I was taken in by the Owen family, I had only ‘ill-assorted leaves-off’ for clothes, which people would give me and this included shoes of sorts. I was once given a white pinafore by the family who lived at and kept the old Darlaston Post Office. I was so naive in those days, I believed that the rails around the top of the Town Hall, on the right-hand side roof, looking at the building from the front, was where the devil lived!

I also remember a teacher, Miss Nixon, taking me to Beecham's Chemist in Darlaston to have a wart removed from my finger. The treatment cost 1 shilling and was paid for by the teacher. This was on a Friday and the wart was gone by school time on the Monday. In Bush Street, towards the top end where the Old Bush pub stood (the present one is a new building and has now been made into a rest home (1988/89).

There was a family who had a daughter called Serran (Sarah Ann?) and she was a very bad cripple. She used to play on the footpath and pitifully drag herself around on her bottom. This was just accepted as it was, nothing was ever done about it. There was no-one to care in those days. You just got through life as best you could.

Most Saturday nights, after the pubs closed, there would be rows and fights and the lamp would go flying across the room, still alight and lamp oil would spill everywhere. That was at our house. Sometimes, rows would be so bad elsewhere in the street that the furniture would be thrown out on to the street - to be recovered next day, when they'd sobered up.

The families in the other two houses in our yard were the Stanfields next to us, in the middle house, and the Finches on the other end, next to a gullet which led down the side of the big house which is still there now, on the right-hand side of Bowling Green Close as you stand facing it. At night, sometimes, Floss and I would walk down The Green, down Heath Road, to the Forge called Tolleson's and Bostock. We would watch the puddlers at work and the big furnaces open up. The men would be sweating and would wear big handkerchiefs around their necks. This would be on the left-hand side, at the end of Charles Richards & Sons works, before the extension to Charles Richards factory was built on the site in the 1930s.

When it was growing late, one of the men would say, "Come on girls, it's time you went home", and he would take us home. There was never the slightest thought of danger or mistrust, they were staunch, honest men. Men you could trust. There was a large chimney breast in the downstairs room, where the table and squab were and I used to sit on a stool under the mantelshelf, in what is now called an 'inglenook' for hours, nursing the cat. I often got shouted at for putting my dinner down for the cat!


One dinnertime, Grandad Owen came in from the pub and saw me doing this and I pulled over a chair which caused him to fall over. I ran for my life all the way to Moxley, to the home of some relatives of the Owens. They were Grandad Owen's brother and his wife and three daughters, and they lived in Queen Street, Moxley. The husband was a kind man and let me sleep on the squab for the night.

Two of the three daughters found me in 1988, after about sixty years. I had forgotten them, but I had been in their minds all those years, even though they were so much younger than me. They had tried several times to find me. It was lovely to know that I had had a link with a family all down the years, after feeling that I had been unwanted all my young life. It is like looking back to another world. What a great pity the people of today don't realise just how lucky they are, whatever help they get."

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