The Early Years

Clifton Street. Courtesy of David Clare.

Tommy Deadman was born in 1904 and lived as a youngster in Clifton Street, Wolverhampton (just off Chapel Ash) with his uncle Bill Shakespeare and his aunt.

Clifton Street formed part of the northern boundary of a large area of Victorian housing that extended southwards to Lea Road.

Tommy attended St. Jude’s Mixed School in Riches Street, which still survives today, although its future (when this was written in 2008) is uncertain. In Tommy’s day the school had accommodation for 372 children.

He would have been a regular sight, walking daily along Tettenhall Road on the mile or so from home to school.

Another view of Clifton Street. Courtesy of David Clare.

Tommy's Family

Tommy's grandfather Thomas Deadman had a very successful fruit and vegetable business in Wolverhampton Market Hall, and Tommy's father, also called Thomas Deadman had worked there as a young man. He was a bit of a wanderer and left Wolverhampton to go to North America to follow a close relative who had travelled across the country in a wagon train at the time of the cowboys and Indians, and settled in Moultrie County, Illinois. He soon returned to Wolverhampton after his wanderings, and married and settled down. During the First World war he joined the armed forces and took part in the crossing of the Somme. Unfortunately he suffered from the effects of mustard gas, which made him ill for the rest of his life.

Tommy's Early Career

On leaving school at the age of 14 Tommy joined the sea scouts, and after making his way to Torquay, he ended up in the navy, after lying about his age. For several years he served on the mine sweeper H.M.S. Onyx. On returning to Wolverhampton his uncle Bill Shakespeare, who was a well-known Wolverhampton bookmaker, bought Tommy a half-share in a garage at Queens Ferry, Chester, called Deadman and Williams. After a couple of years Tommy returned home. He was very young at the time and missed Wolverhampton.

He decided to emulate his grandfather and set up a fruit and vegetable business. He rented a small shop and bought a horse and cart to collect and deliver the produce. Unfortunately he soon discovered that this was not the life for him. He was no good at all with horses. One kind gentleman even informed him that he had the horse's harness back to front! He decided to give the business to his mother and father and set out on a new career.

Tommy must always have been interested in mechanical things. At an early age he completely dismantled his mother's sewing machine to find out how it worked. After reassembly it worked first time. He must also have been interested in motorcycles, because in the first years of the 1920s he got a job as a tester at A.J.S. on Graiseley Hill. Life as a tester could be hard in the winter months when he would have been constantly road testing new motorcycles in all kinds of bad weather. The summer months must have been far more enjoyable with runs through the local countryside, which must have given him a thorough grounding in all aspects of motorcycle riding and a good insight into the mechanical problems that sometimes occurred. After each trip he would have filled-in a report card listing any problems that he found with the machine under test. His riding skills must have been recognised at the works because in the mid 1920s he took one of the company’s 500c.c. motorcycles to Brooklands for trial runs, possibly the first A.J.S. overhead cam machine.

In the late 1920s Tommy moved down the Penn Road and joined the competition, in the form of Sunbeam. He became a competition rider, doubling as a tester, which was normal practice in those days. He also became a member of the Wolverhampton Motor Cycle Club.

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