Brian F. Amos J.P. now lives in Paignton, Devon, but his roots in the Black Country strike deep and his memories of his younger days remain strong. He has written to me with a thoughtful account that gently stimulates memories of the past.

"I was born in 1930 in Willenhall Street, on the local council estate in Darlaston. There are many happy memories of living there and other parts of "Darlo" in subsequent years. All the residents were friendly. No locked doors, children playing in the street without fear and dread, and each helping any others in need.

At the age of five I became a member of the Darlaston gang who plagued the Willenhall gang if they ventured onto our territory over the canal. Plagued and ran away. During the summer months we used to swim in the canal without our parents' knowledge. We moved to Cramp Hill opposite St. Lawrence Church, a terraced house with the front door onto the road. The house was next door to my Grandad and Gran Foster, who between them ran the coal yard and removal business.

A view of Willenhall Street from Great Croft House in 1965.


The large yard behind us housed the cart, removal van, stable for the horse, Dolly, outside toilet and brewhouse (brewus) facilities. Gran shovelled and weighed the coal, Grandad did his removals. Monday was always wash day with the boiler full to capacity and then "maiding" the washed clothes. Fireplaces were open grates, meat hanging from chains to cook with the fat running onto a pan on the hearth.

I started my education at St. Lawrence Church of England School, just around the corner with the headmaster Mr. Nicholls, and teachers Miss Beddall and Miss Betty Lowe. We were marched in a crocodile line a couple of times a year to visit the health clinic behind Slater Street Boys School and down the gulley - once for teeth examination and once for nits.

I joined the church Wolf Cub group run by a Miss Ball with meetings held in the church hall. Later I joined the choir with Billy Whitehouse as choir master and organist. Mr. Ben Delay was verger to the church. The Rector, Dr. Lavelle, was assisted by his curate the Rev. C. A. Harris, who later became scoutmaster to the church group.

Cramp Hill was a series of small terraced houses where lived Ben Delay, next door to two sisters and their brother (all unmarried). They were Little Emma (as we knew her), sister Sarah and brother Tom. The Conservative Club bowling green was next door. The Burns family had a gentlemen's hairdresser's shop and opposite were the Babbs family whose father went to war in 1939. The corner shop was run by a Mrs Webb and was where we spent our weekly princely sum of 3 old pence. The Labour Club just down the road stood opposite the Civic Restaurant.

Saturdays were spent at the "penny pictures" held in the Methodist Church Hall in Slater Street. Films such as "The Clutching Hand" frightened us all. The "Lymp" and the "Drome" were the alternative cinema venues. The foyer at the "Lymp" was quite spacious and people were met by the dapper manager, Mr Mould. Inside, after the news, the usherettes would spray a scented air freshener called "June" which was quite pleasant when landing on you. Mr. Mould lived in King Edward Street, near to a friend of mine. With ration coupons issued for almost everything, he had an allocation of sweets (which were hard to come by in those days). When he attempted to place these on display, he was besieged by the customers, so he took them home with him. The cinema was always warm, this was perhaps due to the dormant coal seam lying underneath which needed attention every so often.

Old Church School.


Cub meeting were held on Tuesdays, with Scouts on Thursdays. Wednesdays were for choir practise and since the church hall was just some 20 yards from our front door, it wasn't very far to go. For attending weddings we were paid three old pence, funerals one penny. The war years saw a few changes such as the railings removed from around the church, and the placing of an Anderson bomb shelter in our next door neighbour's yard (Mrs Titley) where we all adjourned when the siren sounded. It was a damp and dark experience. Grandad refused to get out of bed to join us.

Progressing from the Cubs to the Scouts gave a more expansive help in life. Weekend camping at Gay Hills in Claverley, taking part in the International Camp at Beaudesert, Cannock, attending Windsor Castle for Kings Scouts, and the International Jubilee Camp at Moisson near Paris. The 3rd Darlaston Scout troop were accompanied at Beaudesert by its twin group the 5th Paris troop which, unknown to us, included six "chieftens" (cub mistresses) and we were placed away from the main camp.

At the close, the Parisian Scouts were accommodated in our homes in Darlaston. We had Michelle Bousch, sister of the leader. She was rather thin but wore heavy boots. Nicknamed "The Bug with clogs on", she followed us everywhere. She would be aged about 20 while we were 14 and 15 years. We later discovered that her parents had two chateaux and a sumptuous town house in Paris. Our efforts for the war were to collect waste paper which we weekly stored in an empty property just off the High Street, down the gulley into Blakemores Lane. At the end of the war it was bulging with waste which no one seemed to remove even when the war ended.

Each year there were anniversaries. St. Lawrence's Church, the Methodist and Catholic Churches, all joined together to parade around the town. Most residents came out to see us led by the Salvation Army Band, the Police, Fire Brigade, the choirs and Sunday school members. There would be up to 100 attending. The same applied to Armistice Day when we gathered round the Cenotaph in the park by Rectory Avenue. The bandstand in the adjacent park was regularly used on Sundays with people sitting round enjoying the sunshine and music.

My father joined the Darlaston (Staffordshire Force) Police before the war. Inspector Plumley was superintendent at the station in Crescent Road. It was a rather imposing building. Police were out walking the streets in full view of all - never much trouble those days.

The Town Hall was used for various functions such as the annual Police Ball, the (Council) Chairman's Ball, weekly dances and more importantly possibly, the annual week for the Darlaston St. Lawrence Operatic Society performances.

The Scouts and Cubs at St. Lawrence's Church. Brian Amos is standing in the middle of the back row.


These productions were generated by stalwarts such as Edith Walford, Reg Nicholls (Musical Director), leading actors such as Billy Ford, Sam Cooper, Betty Baker, Sabra Wilkes and many more who attended the rehearsals in the Church Hall in Pinfold Street twice weekly. The Town Hall would be full every night. Characters such as Bob Smith and Billy Muggins were well known in our community. Bob for his toys and Billy for his cart. He would go round the various pubs doing his various sayings (like the Lord's Prayer backwards) and pass his hat round. Many times he was heard to say "and they think I'm saft!"

The Salvation Army band played outside their premises each Sunday. At this time our family had moved from Cramp Hill to just around the corner in New Street, living in the flat above the Lloyds Bank premises. Arriving home from school we would need (sometimes) to help clean the bank premises, coming across packets of ten shilling notes (£100) lying under the desks, and occasionally finding the door to the safe left unlocked. This took a telephone call to Wolverhampton to recall the bank manager who appeared none too happy.

Groups of us would cycle to Villa Park to get tickets for the various internationals and cup matches held there. This would be six or seven miles from Darlaston. Leaving our bikes on the verges we would queue for some hours, getting the tickets and then coming back to where the bikes were left. No damage, no theft. Just picked them up and cycled back. An alleyway at the rear of the premises led to the White Lion pub kept by Mr. and Mrs Nicholls. Their son (Harmar) later became Chairman of the Council and was knighted. His daughter, Sue Nicholls, became a leading character in Coronation Street.

The back room of the White Lion was used by the Darlaston FC committee to make their deliberations as to the content of the team for the following Saturday. The bowling green at the rear wasn't used all that much those days. This pub became my watering hole (plus the Swan Pub opposite) for many, many years after, including my stag night. Excellent company.

The White Lion in King Street. Taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John and Christine Ashmore.

In later years, the 50s and 60s would see a fairly successful Darlaston Football Club playing in the Birmingham Combination. Ken Bayley (ex Wrexham FC) was in goal and I was at centre half. At this time the Darlaston Ladies FC was formed and they played local ladies' teams, Dudley, Bilston, etc. I remember Brenda Bytheway playing in goal and being winded while playing Dudley ladies. Some of our team were acting as trainer to the team and four of them ran with a sponge to help her.

I also recall Ken Bayley playing in goal against Cradley Heath away. We were winning one nil till they were awarded a penalty, which he saved in the last minute. Walking back to the dressing room we were subjected to some abuse, particularly Ken. In stepped Kath (his wife) who promptly set about them with her umbrella. All good fun!

While playing for the town, a successful response by the electorate in All Saints Ward saw me sitting with five other Conservative members of Darlaston Council, made up with fourteen Labour members. Sir A. G. B. Owen, Tom Croft and Mrs Purcell were three of the Conservatives and Mrs Ellen Wilkinson and her husband, Frank Baker, among the Labour team. Ellen, Frank and A. G. B. Owen all were past chairmen of the council. Some with Ellen and Frank were shop stewards of one or other of the many firms in Darlaston and others were members of the Labour Club.

This was at a time when Darlaston was a thriving community with hundreds of people thronging from the trolley buses and buses arriving at the Bull Stake, walking down towards the Green where the main factories were housed. All Councillors gave their time and efforts without pay or expenses. Meetings were held in the evenings in the Council Chamber so that our working day was never interfered with. Mr. Rowlands, the Town Clerk took notes. Certain members were chairmen of various committees, such as the allotments, the library, housing etc. All Councillors, regardless of politics, worked hard and well together for the good of all the community we served.

Apart from Alfred Owen, all members were born and bred in Darlaston. Alfred, being one of the main employers in the town, had a very great affection and more than shared equally towards the well being of the town.


A couple or so reminiscences of those six years. The Regal Cinema had been built and Leslie Taff played the organ and was later owner. The film Rock Around The Clock was renowned for exciting the audiences but a local cinema in West Bromwich had shown it without any undue problems.

The Regal in the late 1930s.

Leslie Taff made a request to the Council to screen it. We were all invited to a special showing on a Sunday afternoon with tea and coffee and cakes and other beverages a big stronger.

We all agreed it was nothing out of the ordinary, and that it could be shown.

The first night it was screened, the audience went mad with excitement and caused a few problems. Mr. Taff immediately withdrew the film.

Chairman Frank Baker was invited by the builders to officially open the 1,000th house on the Bentley Estate. We were all invited with husbands and wives in attendance. Chairs were made available on the front lawn and we all sat and heard the chairman's speech, which unfortunately went on a little too long and it started snowing. We all sat there with little piles of snow on our heads before we were invited inside.

An important document was received by Mr. Rowlands from London - the Local Government Re-organisation proposal. Local councils (Bilston, Wednesbury, Willenhall etc.) were invited to discuss the future of each town or amalgamation with the various surrounding County Boroughs. Many meetings were held with other

councils and eventually we were all of the opinion that a new county borough should be formed incorporating us all with a name to be agreed later. The Town Clerk, the Chairman, Frank Baker, Tom Croft and I travelled down to London to put the Darlaston Council views and decisions to the appropriate committee dealing with local government. They listened politely to our presentation, at the end of which they declared that the three members had resided in our local community for the past two months and had agreed between themselves that the appropriate action should (and would) be for each urban district council to be absorbed into the nearest County Borough - Darlaston into Walsall, Wednesbury into West Bromwich, Willenhall into Wolverhampton and so on. That then, I feel, is the reason that Darlaston no longer exists as an entity and the web site "Ugly Walsall, my home town" says it all.

William Amos and Son (File and Rasp Manufacturers) St. George's Street, Darlaston.

The firm started as Amos and Hampton, a partnership between my grandfather, William Amos and Reuben Hampton on July 21st, 1916, in a single storey building in St. George's Street, next door to St. George's Church Hall. This association was dissolved on October 12th, 1936, and Grandfather Amos continued in the business with my father, William Randolph, of the hand and machine cutting of engineers' files.

Rubery Owen and Co. Ltd. together with GKN Wiley, Nuts and Bolts Ltd. and many others in and around Darlaston, were good customers of the firm. Precision files were also hand cut by my father for the lock trade in Willenhall.

The business expanded and the start of the Second World War saw a surge in trade. The government made approaches to William Amos to relocate but he refused, deciding to stay where he was.

New machinery was installed to cater for the increase, being driven by belts from one of two large motors. At most there were some ten employees, among whom would be two uncles and aunts, plus for some three or four years, my mother.

Used and worn files would be collected from the various factory stores, sorted into shapes and sizes, and placed in rows with coal between, to a height of three feet. This was done in a specially built fire place. The front would be bricked up and the fire lit.

After two days when cool, the files would be softened (annealed) and ready for grinding. New teeth were then machined into the files, followed by hardening in the sodium cyanide furnace until red hot and then plunged into cold salted water. The files would then be brushed individually with slurry oil, placed by the stove to dry and then packed into bundles of six or twelve depending on the size and shape.

Brian Amos at work. The files had been hardened by his dad and Brian was brushing out the teeth to get rid of sodium cyanide.

In 1950 my grandfather retired and I joined the firm following my return home from National Service, generally doing jobs that no one else wanted. The firm was awarded an overseas contract from the Nigerian Railway to recut some seven tons of files which arrived in ten large drums and needed manhandling from the lorry into the  factory for sorting. 


Two houses on the main road had been acquired and were used for the sorting and storage of files. The two cellars below were utilised for storing the old, used grindstones. It is noticeable that the area where these were put has been grassed over. There would perhaps be some hundred or so stones below.

Prior to 1960, a firm called Comley and Pitt Ltd. of Pensnett expanded their business (leasing factories on their trading estate) in the chemical resharpening of files. This was a much cheaper method with a much faster turnaround. Many of our customers were lost and three other small manufacturing family firms accepted offers to relocate to Pensnett. The erosion of our trade finally forced my father to accept an offer and he, together with three other employees, were transferred. Some few years later, all the machinery was scrapped and manufacturing stopped. My father was the last survivor of hand cutting files."

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