A Pat Collins Bloxwich Trail

If you’re a fairground or local history enthusiast and happen to be in Bloxwich, you might like to while away an hour or so discovering a few interesting places which were once important to the life and business of Pat Collins and his Amusement Empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These days, as well, everything is within a short walking distance since his Memorial Clock was moved into the town centre!  So if you’re planning a pilgrimage, or just at a loss for something to do on a Saturday afternoon in dear old Bloxwich, this trail will hopefully interest you.

Start Here

THE PAT COLLINS MEMORIAL CLOCK

Corner of Park Road, High Street and Lichfield Road

Pat Collins Memorial Clock, 2002 (Stuart Williams)

We begin our trail at the end of the story in some ways, here at Pat Collins’ Memorial Clock in the northern section of the Promenade Gardens.  When Pat died at Bloxwich in 1943, the Carnival Committee decided to put up a memorial to him, but the war prevented this and it took until 1955 to fulfill this ambition.

This Memorial Clock was built using money raised by public subscription, including £100 from the Showmen’s Guild that Pat helped to found.  A member of the carnival committee designed it and originally it was set up in the King George V Playing Fields, the committee thinking that was the most logical place.  It was moved here to the gardens in 1991, overlooking the area where Pat had attended his first Wake (now Bloxwich Park) and facing King George V Playing Fields, which seems fitting.

A small dedication plaque is mounted at the top of the circular stepped flower bed which surrounds the base of the clock.  The benches in this part of the gardens were dedicated by Pat Collins, John Collins, and Anthony Harris.  Parking is possible nearby, being careful to avoid obstructing traffic, in Park Road.  Buses on the 302 service (Walsall – Lower Farm) also stop a short distance walk away in Park Road.

Exit the Promenade Gardens and keep turning right, into Park Road, and walk along the pavement towards the town centre, stopping next to the ATS Euromaster tyre sales forecourt.

THE CENTRAL PICTURE PALACE

Park Road

Old Wesleyan Chapel, Park Road (Stuart Williams)

Originally built in 1832 as the second Bloxwich Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, the Central Picture Palace, sometimes known as “Woods Palace” after its lessee the prominent Bilston cinema proprietor Thomas Wood, was used by Pat Collins to show films for a year from 5 December 1921.  This was while his new cinema, The Grosvenor, was being built (of which more later).

The “Central” was converted into a cinema around 1914 by the Wilkes family, who owned the adjacent foundry and factory (the site of Parklands Court Nursing Home today). If you look at the brickwork of the sides of the building, it is obvious where the building was extended when it was made into a cinema.  This extension covered the site of the first chapel, a converted 18th century flax oven, at the rear.   Once the Grosvenor opened in 1922, the Central was used by Pat as a workshop and storage facility for repairing his rides, and later (from 1937) by Bert Brittain as a garage.  During the late 20th century it became an aircraft parts factory and the building is currently a furniture store.

Retrace your path back along Park Road a little way and turn left between the two sections of the Promenade Gardens, enter High Street and cross the road to the entrance of Bloxwich Park when it is safe to do so – remember this is the busy A34 main road.

BLOXWICH PARK

High Street

Bloxwich Park, showing the Bandstand, c1916 (WLHC)

Before this green and leafy area became a park, when it was the village green it was used for a number of activities, some of which were illegal – surprisingly In 1629 Edward Leigh of Rushall was imprisoned by the mayor for playing bowls on “an open green” at Bloxwich.

The main event has to have been the Wakes, and a wake has been held in Bloxwich from at least 1769, when the inhabitants fixed the date as the Sunday nearest to the 16th of august. They were not as some of us remember, they were more medieval in content with such activities as Bull Baiting, which continued until 1835 when it was banned in law.

In 1888 the local newspaper reported that “The annual revel of Bloxwich Wakes was this year more largely attended than usual by shows, roundabouts etc. As the Green is likely soon to be enclosed as a recreation ground, this is perhaps the last occasion on which it will be used for holding this carnival on.”  But in fact this continued to be the site of the original Bloxwich Wakes until 1897.

The old village green (sometimes known as the Short Heath) was enclosed and laid out as a public park in 1889, being opened in August 1890 as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887).  On entering the park you will see to the right a monument made from old glacial boulders which were once used to anchor the anvils of the ‘bitties and tackies’, light metalworkers who lived and worked nearby at Sand Bank.  A band stand and a fountain were once in this park, also installed as part of the Victorian celebration, but the fountain was moved to the south section of the Promenade Gardens in 1928, and the band stand was scrapped due to the demand for iron during World War II.

Walk through the park along the path to your left (adjacent to the fence of the old ‘National’ school), and exit the park opposite the Spotted Cow pub.  Turn left and walk to the corner with High Street.

THE OLD MUSIC HALL

High Street/Wolverhampton Road

 

The Old Music Hall, 2007 (Stuart Williams)

The Old Music Hall, built in 1857 as a private venture, and very popular as a venue in its time, has since been used as a Drill Hall and a Labour Exchange, but is now used by the Bloxwich C.E. Primary School (known affectionately as ‘The National’) as a sports hall.

Attached to the rear is a small house-like building, now also used by the school, which was once Bloxwich’s first Police Station (about 1861).  There have been alterations to the windows of the Hall but it’s not otherwise much different to what it would have looked like in Pat Collins’ day.  Bloxwich historian E.J. Homeshaw alludes to Pat Collins’ ownership of a Music Hall, “the Old Park Hall at Bloxwich” and others elsewhere - was this hall here yet another facet of his legendary Amusement Empire?

Turn right, and cross Wolverhampton Road – carefully, it is a busy bus route – and staying on this side of the High Street proceed southward towards Walsall until you pass the Bright House store (formerly Woolworths).  Pause here and look across High Street to St. Peter’s R.C. Church.


ST. PETER’S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

High Street

 

St. Peter’s Church interior, 1938, exterior c1955

St. Peter’s Church, in High Street, was Pat Collins’ local church and he was well-known here and is well-remembered in the Catholic community, especially for his generosity to the church.  It is said that he ‘paid’ for the bells to be rung.

St. Peter’s was opened in 1869 on land given by Charles Beech. Of brick and Bath stone, it was designed by Bucknall & Donnelly of Birmingham in a Gothic style with apsidal sanctuary and aisled and clerestoried nave. It was extended and renovated between 1952 and 1954, with Jennings, Homer & Lynch of Brierley Hill as architects; the main addition was a westward extension to High Street with a façade of two towers.

When Pat Collins attended St. Peter’s, the building was physically smaller than it is today, as noted above.  Despite being a faithful Catholic, Pat’s famous Sunday ‘sacred music’ concerts on the fairground organ in the Wakes Ground (of which more later) were decidedly inter-denominational, and very popular.

Continue southward along High Street, crossing Elmore Row, until you reach the ‘moat’ and the iron gate to All Saints Church.  Pause just a little way past here and look across the road to what is now ‘The Electric Palace’.


THE GROSVENOR CINEMA

High Street

 

Pat and his cinema manager at The Grosvenor, 1924

Pat’s first cinema on this site was indeed ‘The Electric Palace’ – also known as ‘The Electric Theatre’.  The Electric Palace was opened by Alhambra Picture Palaces Ltd., a company established by Thomas Jackson to open the Alhambra, Bilston, and this one in Bloxwich, following his first steps into the cinema business at the Strand in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton. It was a small hall, holding four hundred patrons, and it is not clear whether it was a conversion of an existing building or was purpose-built. The earliest known show there was on Monday 30th December 1912, when “Romance of the Coast” was being screened.

Thomas Jackson formed a new company in 1913 called Wolverhampton, Walsall and District Cinemas and the Bloxwich Electric Palace became part of the empire of the new company.  The “Palace” was a rickety affair, basically a big shed with a facade, and was considered to be a fire hazard by its projectionist, especially when a balcony was added!

Just after the First World War the cinema was sold to Pat, who started making Bloxwich the headquarters of his fairground organisation at about the same time. It was also a time when he was acquiring various cinemas. The last film shown in the Electric Palace was “The Tatters”, screened on Saturday 3rd December 1921.  It was then demolished to make way for Pat Collins’s brand new luxury cinema.

Collins obviously wished to build a cinema of which he could feel proud in his adopted home of Bloxwich. His new cinema was to be called The Grosvenor, and was designed by Hickton and Farmer of Walsall, and built by J. & F. Wootton, at a cost of £12,000. While it was being built, Pat Collins showed films at the Central, as mentioned earlier.

The new cinema was opened on 11th December 1922 and Lady Arthur Grosvenor, of Chester, came along to perform the ceremony. Ironically Pat, who had become Walsall’s M.P., could not be present. Lady Grosvenor praised her absent friend and admired the hall. The Mayor of Walsall and Rev. Father H. McDonnell also spoke, and the latter expressed the hope that Pat would make his way to the House of Lords, to become Lord Bloxwich! The film that followed was “The Three Musketeers” and the proceeds enabled £26.00 to be sent to Walsall Y.M.C.A.

In 1935 the Grosvenor was renamed as an Odeon when Pat sold it to Oscar Deutsch.  The Odeon closed on 2 May 1959, less than two weeks before the centenary of Pat’s birth.  It has since been a 1980s night club, has suffered the ravages of fire, and is now a lively youth centre, run by Bloxwich Community Partnership.  The building’s latest name ‘The Electric Palace’ commemorates the first cinema on the site and brings its story full circle.

High Street, Bloxwich, showing the original Electric Palace/Theatre Cinema (right), c1913 (WLHC)

Continue a little way southward until you reach the War Memorial at the junction of High Street and Elmore Green Road.  Stand with your back to the memorial and you will see just across the High Street by the traffic lights a derelict pub, the old King’s Arms.

The King’s Arms

High Street

 

The King’s Arms, 2009 (Stuart Williams)

The King’s Arms, derelict since the 1990s, was once Pat Collins’ ‘local’, being conveniently adjacent as it was to the Wakes Ground and his house.  On his eightieth birthday, after his customary day’s work, Pat celebrated with a drink in the parlour here.

This pub dates back to 1783, but more recently, in 1908, Mr. G.R. Homeshaw was the licensee; by an odd coincidence his son, E.J. Homeshaw, later became a local historian.  In 1955 he published ‘The Story of Bloxwich’, the definitive history of the village and town.  He went on to write a concise biography of Pat Collins which was transcribed by a local calligrapher for presentation to Pat’s second wife Clara on the occasion of his 100th birthday in May 1959.  That biography is published in full for the first time on this website.  The original book presented to Clara Collins is now in the possession of Councillor Anthony Harris, proprietor of the modern Pat Collins funfair.

Cross the High Street here using the traffic lights, but be very careful of the traffic at this busy junction.  If you feel unsure, return back along High Street and cross at the Pelican Crossing near The George pub, returning along the other side and passing Church Street (known in Pat Collins legend for its escaped lion).  Bear left around the corner and pause at the bus stop adjacent to the entrance to the ASDA car park.  Enter the car park up a short flight of steps here, being careful of cars.


Bloxwich Wakes Ground

Off High Street

Pat Collins’ “Fete & Gala” at Bloxwich Wakes Ground, 13 August 1949 (Courtesy Kevin Scrivens)

The ASDA superstore car park, the store itself, and part of the adjacent Pinfold Health Centre, which we see here today, were once the site of Bloxwich Wakes Ground.  Originally a field known as ‘Tenter’s Croft’, it was used to present Pat Collins’ Fete & Gala, which replaced the old Bloxwich Wakes, between 1899 – 1970.  Pat purchased the field in 1911.

The Fete & Gala became popularly known as ‘Bloxwich Wakes’ even though it was technically not, from about 1920.  The sign was still in use above the entrance to the ground as seen in photographs as late as 1965, possibly later.

The “Wakes Ground” became the headquarters of the Pat Collins Amusement Empire after Pat moved his operation, piece by piece, to Bloxwich, at first living there then opening cinemas and repair facilities and then buying the Wakes ground itself.

He finally completed the transfer of all his facilities and equipment from the Gondola Works in Shaw, Street, Walsall, in 1933.  Apart from the fairs held there, the Wakes Ground was also the travelling fair’s ‘winter quarters’ and included a huge yard, the ‘Amusement Depot’, where old rides and equipment gradually ‘faded away’.

 

Part of the Wakes Ground, top left, 1927

Pat’s home in Bloxwich, and his office, was Lime Tree House, which stood on the site of what is now the Sound Academy store which you can see here on the left hand side of the ASDA car park near the back of the King’s Arms.  He lived there from about 1915 until his death in 1943,  leasing the house at first and finally purchasing it at auction on 19 October 1926 when the estate to which it was attached came up for sale.

Lime Tree House abandoned, March 1970. (Courtesy Peter Barker)

The house remained in use as the home of Pat’s widow Clara, and as an office, after Pat’s death and until early 1970 when the ground was sold off to Associated Dairies (ASDA) for the first superstore in the borough.  This was not popular with Bloxwich folk and people still remember to this day.  An attempt was made to hold a fair at Coalpool but it was marred by bad weather and, despite one or two other attempts there, the permanent connection with Bloxwich was effectively broken.  It was the end of an era, but not quite the end of our story.

Exit the ASDA car park the way you came, and continue south, watching out for cars exiting the car park and fire engines from Bloxwich Community Fire Station, which is adjacent to the car park.  Bear left and walking for a couple of hundred yards, stopping at the corner with Field Road.  This is Pinfold.  Turn left into Field Road, where you will find Pinfold Health Centre.


Pinfold Health Centre

Pinfold/Field Road

 

Pinfold Health Centre, July 2009 (Stuart Williams)

Pinfold Health Centre marks the southern boundary of the old Wakes Ground.  It is situated adjacent to the ASDA superstore.

The site has had medical associations since World War II, when it featured an ARP Ambulance Station.  In 1948 this was converted into the town’s third library, which was replaced around 1960 with the fourth, purpose-built, library in Elmore Row.  Around that time the old library was demolished and the health centre which preceded the present complex, itself built in the mid 2000s, took its place.

Pass the health centre and continue walking along Field Road.   After about a quarter mile you will reach the entrance gates to Bloxwich Cemetery.  Enter here, and take the path on the left which passes in front of the Cemetery Lodge.  A short walk will take you to the Catholic section of the cemetery which is on the left – download the cemetery plan linked below to locate the grave of Pat and Flora Collins.


Bloxwich Cemetery

Field Road

 

The grave of Pat and Clara Collins, Bloxwich Cemetery, August 2009 (Stuart Williams)

Pat Collins, the king of showmen, died on 8 December 1943.  He was buried here in leafy Bloxwich Cemetery, his monument a figure of Jesus Christ, in a peaceful spot on the corner of Catholic section P, not far from the central tree, with other showmen nearby.  It is a fine place to contemplate a life well-lived, and a showland legend which shows no signs of fading.  Pat Collins put Bloxwich on the map, and he is a part of his adopted home, even today.

This municipal cemetery is run by Walsall Council, and was opened in 1875, but is now closed to new graves for full coffin burials.  It is accessible to the public but on-site parking may not be available as access to cars is limited.  Vehicles are not allowed in the cemetery on weekends and holidays.  See the Walsall Cemeteries website here for details and here for opening times and contact details.  You can download a plan of the cemetery giving the location of the grave of Pat Collins and his second wife, Clara, here.

This is the end of our Pat Collins Bloxwich Trail.  You can now either retrace your steps back into Bloxwich town centre or if you parked in or near Park Road, take a short cut by walking through the cemetery, leaving by the Park Road gate and exit alongside the old Wesleyan Chapel into Park Road.

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