My grandparents and parents in Birmingham

After my grandparents left Wolverhampton they lived in several different parts of Staffordshire. My father was born at Hednesford at a time when the only work my grandfather could find was working in the mine at Valley Colliery. This employment was taken, I think, in desperation. In about 1910 he came to Birmingham and obtained employment managing the shop of W.H.Heaton & Co in Great Hampton Street, Hockley, Birmingham. They were saddlers and it will be recalled that this was my grandfather's trade. The family lived over the company's shop in Farm Street, just off Hockley Brook.

The family now seem to have been very settled, with their father in good, regular employment. Then that awful day in 1912 came when Henry died quite suddenly, leaving my grandmother and the boys more or less penniless. As we discovered previously, Lilly was determined to keep the family all together. During this difficult time she went to work in service for the Poole family who lived in Hampstead Road, Handsworth. In those days Hampstead Road was a very upmarket area. 

Poole's shop in Hockley in later times.

The Poole's had department stores in Villa Cross and Hockley Brook. I think they must have been very good to my grandmother.

As mentioned previously, no help was forthcoming from the family in Wolverhampton. I feel sure that had my great grandfather lived a little longer some help would have been forthcoming. This was confirmed by the contents of his will.

My grandmother had a Sister Jessie, who I know came to see her at that time. Jessie and her husband, Jack, lived at Newark. They Managed the grocers shop in the town square. Jack gave my father a Victorian five shilling piece and said "Keep this and you will never go broke". Many years later, when I was in my teens, we visited Jack and Jessie. At this meeting the old man gave me a Georgian five shilling piece in the same way as my father was given his coin. When our boys, Steven and Adrian, reached the ages of 21 they were each given one of the coins.
My father, Harry, was educated at Farm Street School in Birmingham. 

He also attended St Saviour's church in Farm Street. He was a member of the choir and ultimately became Head Boy. The photo (left) is of him as a choir boy.

In those days he had a girl friend named Lillian Marion Olerenshaw. Lillian is still alive and now living on Walsall Road at Great Barr. Sylvia and I went to see her. She remembered my father well. In those days she would meet him at the Youth Club in Hockley Hall opposite St Saviour's Church in Farm Street.

When Lilly's boys started work they all went into a trade with the exception of George William. He was a problem child and I cannot establish details about him. Benjamin became a cycle builder, as did Jack, and my father served an apprenticeship as a press toolmaker.

My father Harry.

We could not find the registration of Jack's birth. It would appear that he started work at the age of about 12 years in order to help with the family finances. Not having a birth certificate must have helped this situation to be achieved. Benjamin, the eldest son, served in the trenches in France during the 1914-8 War. He was wounded and had a silver plate fitted in his one hand.

When my father, Harry, left school he obtained a job with a small engineering company as an apprentice toolmaker. His boss was a Mr R.T.Webb, who was the owner of the company. It is interesting to note that when I started work in 1951 the same Bob Webb was working in the Tool Design Office as a Planner at Nuffield Metal Products, the company at which I served my apprenticeship as an Engineering Technician.

When my father had finished his apprenticeship he worked for several companies to enable him to obtain more experience in the tool making trade. Part of this time was spent working in the jewellery trade. This was very intricate, small work. In those days the mounting for diamond rings etc. were pressed; nowadays they are all cast. He also spent an amount of time in bakelite moulding, which is now known as plastic moulding. This work required a very high standard of finish on the tools and he found this rather boring due to the many hours that had to be spent polishing the work. After obtaining this experience he then worked in the tool room at Joseph Lucas Ltd, Great King Street, Birmingham. He was employed by Lucas's for a number of years. My father was a very capable toolmaker but found that when chances of promotion came along he was passed over and less capable people received advancement. It was generally thought in the Lucas tool room that if you were good on the bench that is where you remained, due to the difficulties in replacing people with such a high standard of skill.

It is interesting to note that many small engineering companies that were started in the middle to late 1930s and that many the founders of these companies originated from the Joseph Lucas tool room in Great King Street. Examples of these are:

Lenches Toolmakers Ltd, in Barr Street (the Lench brothers).
Press Tools Ltd in Berner Street (Mr Srayson).
Seal & Butler Ltd in Augusta Street (Dick Seal & Harry Butler).
Wilton & Co (Stampings) Ltd (Bernard Shewell, John Shewell, and Harry Rollings, my father).

The only one of these companies that is still in business with its original registration number is Wilton & Co. (Stampings) Ltd. though through the passage of time it has had two changes of name. In the late 1950s the name was changed to Wilton & Co (Pressings) Ltd, the reason being that our principal activity was making pressings, not stampings. In 1989, due to part of the organisation being sold to A.J. Williams (Tamworth) Ltd, the name was changed to Rollings Holdings Ltd. That remains its name up to the present day and it is still the original company and in the hands of the Rollings family. It is now run by our eldest son, Steven.

Before proceeding further with the business side of things, I will return to the family.

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