Hobbies, Entertainment, Sports, and Pastimes

Entertainment in the long evenings was very basic. The lady of the house would often spend her time sitting in front of the fire, sewing or kitting. Her husband might read the local newspaper, but this could be very tiring because the rooms were dimly lit by gas or oil lamps. Children often amused themselves with simple home-made toys. They played marbles, or jacks; a game where 5 small stones were placed on the back of the hand and thrown into the air. The hand would quickly be turned over to see how many could be caught. Outside games included skipping, football, and rolling a wooden hoop.

Sometimes the family played cards or draughts, and if they were very lucky they might even possess a piano so that tunes could be played and sung. Wind-up gramophones were becoming common place. A good stock of gramophone needles and a few records enabled many families to enjoy even the longest winter evening. Reading was another form of relaxation, mainly for the lighter evenings. Books could be borrowed from the library, in the Town Hall in Victoria Road.

Radio, or wireless as it was called, didn’t become a practicality in the Black Country until the BBC started broadcasting in Birmingham in November 1922.

A crystal set from the 1920s that sold for 7 shillings and 6 pence.

At the time there were several regional radio stations that could be received locally with varying degrees of success.

In 1925 things improved when the BBC opened a high power transmitter at Daventry that reached 55% of the population. Radios, particularly those with loudspeakers were too expensive for most ordinary people. Valves had a short life and each one cost around an ordinary working man’s weekly wage. The batteries were expensive and accumulators had to be charged.

As a result most people were introduced to radio by the crystal set, which could be purchased for as little as 7s.6d.

A long length of wire would be hung outside as an aerial, and the family would huddle around the receiver, listening to the faint sounds on headphones, or even use a circular dish to reflect the sound from a single pair of headphones, so that several people could listen at once. The difficulty of adjusting the crystal each time it was used, made it feel like a great achievement to get anything worthwhile, and so listeners were delighted with whatever programme they could find.

Within a few years it all changed as receivers improved and costs fell, so that even the poorer families could afford a decent radio with a loudspeaker.

Occasionally the family might visit the music hall, or the local cinema and watch the silent films, or be amazed at “the talkies” which appeared in the late 1920s. Men folk would sometimes visit the local pub, which in those days tended to be men only. Women might get involved with activities at the local church hall. Another popular form of entertainment was Pat Collins’ fair, which came several times a year. Older children would get extra pocket money by helping to set-up the stalls etc. when the fair arrived. There were all kinds attractions; rides, sideshows, fortune tellers, fairground organs, candy floss, sweets and ice cream. Something for everyone in the family.

Bonfire night was also a big occasion when families got together and enjoyed themselves.

There would be a fire, around which potatoes, grey peas, and chestnuts were cooked, and the inevitable “Guy Fawkes” was burned.

The children played conkers and everyone looked forward to the fireworks.

Christmas was also an important time and everyone joined in the festivities.

A fair on the Wake Field in the early 1970s.

Christmas trees were hard to come by in Darlaston and the families had what they called a “bush” consisting of two concentric wooden hoops, at right angles. They were hung from the ceiling and decorated with coloured tissue paper and tinsel. Sweets and presents were then attached.

A second prize certificate for a pigeon race.

A favourite activity for men was pigeon racing. They would join one of the many homing pigeon clubs, each based at one of the local pubs. They had a pigeon loft (often home made) in the back garden and acquired a number of suitable birds. There were locally and nationally organised competitions in which the birds would be transported by lorry or train to a distant location in a pigeon basket.

The birds were then released and their eager owners would await their return. Before the race, each bird was fitted with a rubber ring around one of its legs. On its return to the loft the ring would be removed, and inserted into a special pigeon clock that recorded the time on a paper disk.

Another male activity was gardening in the allotment. This not only provided the family with a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables, but also allowed the grower to compete in local gardening competitions, which were taken very seriously.

In the early 1920s there were a number of local sports clubs. Darlaston Football Club competed in the Birmingham and District League and matches were well attended.

There was also the Darlaston Thursday Football Club who were affiliated to the Birmingham County F.A. and held matches on a Thursday evening.

Many of the local factories had their own sports teams which also competed in local competitions, against works teams throughout the Black Country. Rubery Owen & Company ran the Victoria Sports Club and had extensive facilities at Darlaston Green. There were tennis courts, three bowling greens and a football ground. The activities were very popular and many spectators came along.

The company also helped local musicians. They founded the Victoria Orchestra, a full orchestra with 25 players, the Victoria Male Voice Choir with up to 40 members, and the Victoria Brass Band with 24 performers. Concerts were occasionally given which benefited the whole community. Young girls could join the 1st or 2nd Darlaston Girl Guides, and boys joined the Junior Scouts, or Cubs as it was known. There were also the local church scouts consisting of the 1st Darlaston Wesleyan Boy Scouts, the 2nd Darlaston Independent Boy Scouts, the 3rd Darlaston St. George’s Boy Scouts, and the 4th Darlaston Wesleyan Boy Scouts. Men with an interest in the army could join the Darlaston Territorial Force, based at the Drill Hall in Church Street.

Local clubs included the Conservative and Unionist Club which at the time had 250 members. They had card tables, billiards tables, a bowling green, and ran whist drives. There were also branches of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, the International Order of Good Templars, the National Order of Free Gardeners, and the Sheffield Equalised Independent Order of Druids. So there was much to see and do.     

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