What was school like?
My school days were quite happy despite the teasing that I got from some kids who called me “Gippo”. I used to wallop them. The teachers didn’t do anything about the teasing. I doubt that they knew. I was never caned for walloping my tormentors. I did get the stick for cheek and for getting work wrong. The teachers all used the cane. I remember Mr. Wright. He was a chubby fellow and I can vaguely recall Miss Snow. One teacher I do recall was Mr. Hollin Upcutt. He used the stick a lot. School hours were nine o’clock to midday and two to four in the infants and four thirty in the senior school. There were no school-dinners so we went home for lunch. If Mum was away I had my dinner at granny William’s daughter, another Mrs. Williams. Sometimes Mum left sandwiches and Dad cooked the dinner in the evening. He was a good cook. The only thing he didn’t make well was pastry.
There was a teacher called Miss Parker. She got very annoyed with mum because she was always taking me out of school. Mum was away a lot. She even asked mum if I could go to live with her to avoid missing school.
The classes were quite big and many children had a long walk to school. I can remember some kids came from Bilston. I don’t remember all that many children in Ladymoor. Some of the kids came from very poor homes. They had shoes on their feet but they were worn out or just plimsolls. t was these kids that used to call me “Gippo”. I suppose they were jealous as Mum and Dad always made sure I was well dressed and clean. Dad also mended my shoes. I can see him now with a shoetree and a hammer. You had to mend your shoes. There wasn’t a shop to go to and we couldn’t really afford the shoe repair shop in Bilston.
I learned to embroider at school and I was entered in a competition by the school and won a recommendation. I must have been good at embroidery as my teacher got me to embroider some of her linen that she was keeping in her “bottom drawer”. I embarrassed her one-day when I met her on the beach at Ramsgate. She was with her new husband. I went round telling people that I had embroidered her knickers!
We used to have cookery lessons too. The kitchen was at a centre some way off from the school. I can’t remember where it was all I know is it was a long walk. We had to take our own ingredients to prepare a meal and clean the kitchen. The teacher used to say that the floor had to be “as red as a cherry as dry as a bone, ready for daddy when he comes home.”
We used to sing a chant as we made our way back to Broad Lanes School. It went something like
Do you remember going to the cinema?
I used to go to the cinema in Bilston on a Saturday afternoon. I recall three cinemas in the town. The Alhambra, the Savoy and Wood’s. I don’t know if Wood’s was its real name but that’s what we kids called it. I think that the Savoy was built during my time in Bilston. It was opposite the Alhambra. I didn’t go to the Alhambra very much as it was dearer than the other two. I recall that the price at the Savoy was a penny downstairs and tuppence upstairs. I didn’t go up very often. I think Wood’s was tuppence downstairs and nine-pence up. I didn’t go upstairs there. Dad used to take me to the children’s matinee and collect me afterwards. I don’t know what he did whilst I was in the show. Perhaps he went back home. After the show he would take me to a sweet shop across the road for a hot fruit drink.
At Christmas I went to the pantomime at the theatre in Bilston. It was down a side street. I thought that the actors were famous names, but they probably weren’t. I used to go to the Children’s Saturday morning matinee. It cost nine-pence to go in. I remember sitting in the dress circle and in the stalls. I recall that the seats were red. I saw the usual repertoire of shows, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Babes in the Wood. They were good fun.
How did you get there?
We would walk in to the town to save the penny bus fare. The bus ran hourly. It was a Midland Red service. All the buses were single-deckers. They had a driver and a conductor. I can’t recall where you got on the bus. I recall getting on at the front and in the middle. I think that the bus started at Bilston and went through Ladymoor and on to Sedgley and perhaps finished at Dudley.
Ladymoor Road was quiet. There was not much traffic. We played out in the summer with hardly any interruption from cars or lorries. We played all sorts of games, like marbles and skipping, and chase and two balls against the wall.
There was a wasteland at the edge of the village. It was full of bumps and hollows. We used to use it as a playground.
What was the caravan like?
The caravan was very compact and well maintained. Dad kept it very clean. He did most of the housework. Mum didn’t like cleaning. He did the cooking too. Dad was a very tidy man. He had been in the army in the Boer war and took a pride in his appearance. He always cleaned his shoes every day and was meticulous. He cleaned the part of the sole that doesn’t touch the ground so that you could always see that “ my shoes had been cleaned”, he used to say. He used to do the washing too as Mum was often away. He did some in a bowl in the caravan; some he took to the pub boiler and some was taken in by another Mrs. Williams. She only did ours I think. Her place was opposite the school.
Can you describe the caravan?
We had three, but the one I remember best was the last one. The caravan from the travelling fair days is the one I can remember least. The first one that we had at Ladymoor was small and I can only recall the inside a little. There was a bed area at the back of the caravan that was screened off by doors that you opened to get to it. The bed was like a bunk bed with a space underneath for a mattress and that’s where I slept. It was a bit cramped but I was used to it.
The last caravan was much bigger. It was shaped like a long shoebox. It was made from timber. It had six wheels I think and you entered it by climbing some steps. As you went in there was a double-doored cupboard on the right and a chest of drawers on the left. You could put things on top of it. Beyond the chest was a fireplace and beyond that a chair. This was right next to the door into the bedroom at the back. There was a window behind the chair.
The bedroom had a similar arrangement to the other van with a large double bed over another bed. I slept there on a mattress.
The bedroom was separated from the living area by a wall. There was room at either side of the bed for a wardrobe and a dressing table, with a chair on which to put your clothes.
In the living room opposite the fireplace was a table and on either side of it there were chairs. There was a window on this side too by the chair nearest the bedroom wall.
We didn’t keep anything under the van. There
was shed next to the van where Dad developed his films and where we
kids could play if the weather was wet. We also played in the old
We used the pub toilets. We didn’t call them loos. There were two we could use. The one in the pub yard was a single chemical canister that had to be emptied each week, and the one in the garden of the pub was a three seater, where you sat next to one another on the toilet at the same time!
Towards the end of my time in Ladymoor I am sure that the council brought sewers to the village to make it modern. I can recall playing on the pipe that crossed the field opposite the pub that was the sewer. The pub didn’t have any inside toilets.
Where did you go shopping?
There were two shops in Ladymoor. Both were general stores where you could buy tinned goods, milk, bread and eggs. The bread was delivered to the shop from a bakery. Early closing day was Thursday but it didn’t matter because if you ran out you could always go round the back and knock on the door. They’d open up for you. I think that the shops ran a slate that you could pay off each weekend when the wages were paid, but we always paid cash. This was a habit that always stayed with me.
How did you get fuel?
Our van used paraffin to provide the lamplight and coal for the fire and cooking. Dad used to get the oil from Mrs. Williams. She had a tank in her yard. The coal was delivered by a merchant who came round regularly. He brought coal from a wharf on the canal at Deepfields.
What other shops can you recall?
There were other shops in Broad Lanes that connected Ladymoor Road with Coseley Street in Bilston. I know there was greengrocer, a butcher and a pub or two. A man from down that way used to come to cut my hair but I don’t remember if he had a shop.
Were there visiting shops that came round?
There was a fish van that called each week and there was a butcher’s van that came regularly. I think there was a butcher’s shop in Broad Lanes but I don’t remember if they were connected.
There was a small farm in the village that kept cows and sold the milk. You could either get it from the farm or they delivered it into your jug with a door-to-door service. It wasn’t pasteurized. I can remember the cows in the field across the road from the Spreadeagle. There was a big pond in that field. We were told to keep away from it. Nobody went in it. We didn’t get fresh milk very often. We used Libby’s evaporated milk as it kept in the tin until you opened it. Keeping food fresh was a problem, as we had not got a refrigerator or a regular supply of ice.
Did you go to church?
I used to go to the Sunday school at the Church of England in the morning and to chapel with my friends in the afternoon. I think it was a Wesleyan chapel but I can’t remember where it was. Mum and dad didn’t go.
Do you recall outings and events in the village life?
In the summer we used to go out for the day to Baggeridge. We would get the bus to Sedgley. There would be a parent to supervise and a gang of us kids. We would stay out all day on the common and play. It was a change from Ladymoor.
I can recall the names of quite a few of my friends. They were mainly girls but a few boys too. There was Lily, Lucy and Doris Tyre, Emily Morris, Lucy Richards, Ethel and Alice Paling, Renee Smith and Lucy Francis. The boys I recall were Bill Turner, Bill Smith, Edgar Paling, Cyril Cooper, Albert and Freddy Sharratt, Eric Morris, Billy Williams.
At Christmas there were some parties but I was away at Christmas so I probably missed any big ones. We were always away at Christmas as Mum worked at the Christmas circus fun fair at the Olympia in London. Dad didn’t come with me to London as he was working at Guy’s. On the last day of term the teachers used to give us a bag to take home. It contained an apple, an orange, some nut and maybe some sweets. I think they made up the bags themselves.
We used to go to the fair at Deepfields each year but not to work. It was quite a big fair with steam driven rides, carousels, cakewalk, and a switchback. I think there was even a dodgem car ride. There was the usual selection of stalls, sweets, roll a penny, coconut and peanuts. There was a coconut shy and a stall selling gingerbread. I am not certain now where the fair was held. I think it was on a piece of open land between the canal and the railway lines but I was only 12 when I left and it was so long ago that it is now all a bit faint.
In September we would start collecting bats. These were large pieces of coal that we uncovered in the waste land behind the pub. I didn’t know what had been in the field but it must have been a spoil heap for the Ladymoor coal mine. I know people used to dig out the bats from the field. It wasn’t good coal as it used to spit when it was burnt. We collected all these together at Granny Williams or Lily Tyre’s house and made a big pile come November the 5th. In the afternoon an adult would light the pile of bats so that by the time school finished the bonfire was burning nicely. A few days before November 5th Dad used to take me into Bilston to buy fireworks. He only bought a few bangers. He used to choose all the pretty ones like fountains, crackerjacks, rockets and sparklers. We would take the fireworks to the field by the bonfire and give them in to a collecting point. They would then be set off by a grownup between 5.30 and 8.00. The grownups would roast potatoes in the embers of the bonfire. We had a guy on the top of the fire too.
The Spanish onion man used to call each year. He had strings of onions on his bicycle.
How did you parents entertain themselves?
They sometimes went to the pub. Dad used to read the “Daily Sketch” and the “News of the World”. Mum used to read “The World’s Fair” that she had ordered from a newsagent in Bilston. It was a trade paper about the travelling fairs and circus world. She used it to keep up with her pals in the business. I don’t know much as I was in bed early in the winter and out playing in the summer. Mum used to knit a lot.
When did you leave Ladymoor?
We left Ladymoor in 1930. Mum took me out of school, sold the caravan and we moved to London to return to the precarious life of seaside and circus entertainment. She ran cafes and had her own Palmist business in various seaside resorts and in the winter worked the Bertram Mills’ Circus Fun Fair at the Olympia. At other times we demonstrated gadgets at exhibitions, always on the move, travelling round the country, a new place every week. I look back to Ladymoor with fond affection for the six settled years of childhood. It’s the time of my life I remember best.
What did you like about Ladymoor?
Ladymoor was a pleasant place, in the country, in the middle of factories, railway lines and the canals. It always seemed special. However childhood memories are often untouched by reality. The reality was the industrial mess of the Black Country and I suppose that the place I recall has long since disappeared. Like everything else, times change and the wonderful spectacle of the tipping the steel against the night sky is a long gone. It was a beautiful sight; one I vividly recall. The orange red reflection in the sky lives with me now, a cherished memory.