Following the recent Bloxwich Telegraph/BNN news service poll, and the low response to that poll, I have decided that, moving forward, the website will now become more of a feature-based magazine, with much less emphasis on time-sensitive news content and more articles on local topics, especially heritage.
This means that over the coming weeks and months there will be a number of changes in site design and content, notably more new local history related articles, plus upgrades to current content, and there will also be more links to other locally and regionally-relevant sites. All these features will be added as time permits.
It may also be possible, I hope, to do more to feature local organisations and institutions, so if this sounds like you, please do get in touch via the Contact page!
No news is good news
Old-style news will now take a back seat here on the website, though we will continue to maintain the site’s news archive and put out site announcements through it. The social media-based news relay service through the Bloxwich News NetworkTwitter feed and Facebook page will also continue to operate as long as there is a need for it.
More as it happens – and meanwhile, watch for the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!
We’re looking to tailor The Bloxwich Telegraph and the BNN social media more to meet the needs of our readers and followers, so we’d be grateful for some feedback about what you’d like to see (or not) on the website and via Twitter or Facebook. This first poll is to find out how you like to receive your local news.
Please be honest with your answers – it’s particularly important to us to find out whether you need this service from us or not – after all, there are many local news services and there’s no point in us duplicating these unless you actually use ours. Please tick only those options you really prefer to use, then click on Vote.
The amount of feedback we get will also prove a useful indicator of the actual level of interest in these facilities. Can you please fill in this first LOCAL NEWS poll accordingly, and many thanks for your help!
The story of the Bloxwich Lion is something that has passed into legend amongst local folk, told and re-told down the generations, with bits and pieces remembered, sometimes mistakenly, until it has at times become twisted and tangled. Strangely, the tale of the lion which escaped from Pat Collins’ Wakes Ground has never been recorded as such in the town archives.
But now, the legend is a legend no more. The Bloxwich Telegraph is able to finally set the story straight and place it properly on record, thanks to international (yes, international!) research by Stuart Williams. It’s timely, because there is a good chance that the Bloxwich Lion will now be recognised in a new public artwork, of which we hope to say more once details are confirmed. Watch this space.
It may well seem peculiar that the legend of the Bloxwich Lion has never found a place in the archives, but that’s really just because the computer era has not yet reached our local historic newspapers, and there are no detailed indexes of such things locally. Moreover, the whole story has never been properly researched until Stuart Williams got his teeth into the lion’s tale. Astonishingly, the necessary evidence to shed light on the whole kitty and caboodle has been easier to discover on the other side of the world, in the online newspaper archives of the National Library of Australia. And that was where Stuart found the first documented story of the lion that upped sticks and went for a walk in Church Street, one dark night in 1932.
In digitised news-cuttings from The World’s News and The DelegateArgus of February and March of that year respectively, Bloxwich found world fame on the opposite side of the globe, thanks to the wanderings of an errant big cat and his adventures amongst Bloxwich folk. The press trail of those big furry footprints led back from the antipodes to The Times newspaper of London, where the international story originates, and by narrowing the date down, the best and most detailed reports of all have now been discovered in the Walsall Observer and WalsallTimes newspapers of February 1932. In addition, another local investigator, with online access to the Express and Star of the day, Mr Chris Selby, also kindly came up with the picture shown below.
Here, then, compiled from the available newspaper sources, is the best summary of the Legend of the Bloxwich Lion which can be found, unless you, dear reader, have any further evidence. And the best of it is, it’s all true…
The mane event
As the Walsall Times pointed out not long after the event, many conflicting stories of the visit of an escaped lion to not one (as was previously rumoured), but two houses in Church Street, Bloxwich, were being circulated even back in the day, and there is some slight confusion between the details in the the national, international and local reports. If in doubt, we have therefore tended to give most credence to the detailed report in the Walsall Observer, which was the town’s top local paper for almost 150 years.
However, the facts of the matter are basically that, on the evening of Saturday 6th February, 1932, Pluto, as the lion’s name was subsequently revealed in the Walsall Observer, managed to escape from his travelling cage on Pat Collins’ showground (also known traditionally as the Wakes Ground), which then was situated where the Asda car park now resides. He managed to climb over the wall between the ground and Church Street, somewhere at the back of the Grosvenor (later Odeon) Cinema (now The Bloxwich Showman pub), of which more later. But this is just the beginning of what is a convoluted and rather entertaining tale.
The Field Road female with the furry friend
We now know that the first fortunate (!) recipient of a house-call from the fierce feline that night was in fact Mrs Amy O’Connor of 120, Field Road, who, it seems, had been intending to visit her father-in-law’s house in Church Street. Just as she arrived in the back yard, she saw a shadowy figure which she took to be a man coming towards her. Taking hold of the figure’s head, she then had the shock of her life as she found she was handing a lion!
Mrs O’Connor, understandably startled, managed to pull herself together and got into the house. The lion followed her in briefly, but thankfully went out again, whereupon Mrs O’Connor slammed the door to keep it outside. As soon as she had recovered from the initial shock, she had the presence of mind to run straightaway out of the front of the house and thence to Bloxwich Police Station, in the Public Buildings on Elmore Green Road, where she reported the matter to the police. She also went round to the showground and, finding the owner of the lion, reported it to him. The young German lion tamer returned with her, but by then the lion, Pluto, had moved on.
Pluto, who obviously had strong hunting instincts despite being kept in captivity since being brought over the sea from Africa, had decided to try his chances elsewhere, and had padded softly around the back of the O’Connor house and ended up behind number 36, the home of Mr and Mrs James W. Parsons.
Have a break, have a kitty kat
So it was that, as Mrs Parsons was emptying a teapot at the back of the house around six o’clock, she received the evening’s second close encounter of the kitty kind. She had been expecting a visit from a young girl, and called out “Come on Milly!” when she saw movement in the shadows, but instead she was more than a little surprised to suddenly see a big, hairy-maned lion strolling confidently up to her and into the light. It uttered a terrifying growl. Screaming, she promptly dropped the teapot and ran into her home, followed swiftly into the scullery by the big beast.
Mrs Parsons did the most sensible thing and ran through into the sitting room, where her husband was sitting at the table enjoying a cup of tea. He wondered what was going on and went to the door leading to the kitchen, looking out and getting his first glimpse of the mighty moggy. For a moment, he braced his back against the door, but realising the futility of this mode of defence, he followed the example of his wife and made a hasty exit into Church Street by way of the front door, which he shut after him.
At this point, Pluto had the house to himself, with the front door closed and the other doors open, and if he had thought to take it an escape route was available back through the scullery and the yard door.
When Pluto popped into the parlour
The plucky Mr Parsons wasted no time, swiftly obtaining the assistance of his neighbours Messrs Sam Heeley, J. Rowe and especially, a young Mr Jack Russell, with whose assistance the back door was shut. They could then see Pluto walking to and fro between the sitting room and the furniture-filled parlour, and resting awhile on the hearth rug in front of the fire while they were shut out in the cold. Finally, when he disappeared one last time into the parlour he inadvertently partly closed the door after him with his tail, and the men, watching for their chance, ran in and shut the parlour door.
The heroic Jack Russell, acting much like the fearless and feisty dog of the same name, meanwhile secured the parlour door with a rope and hung onto it to ensure the beast stayed put, to avoid its roaming elsewhere in the house. That is more than most would have done, for an ordinary door as the only barrier between one and a lion is not the thing to inspire a feeling of freedom from danger. The men went on to barricade the front window with a door removed from the coalhouse, to avoid the lion breaking out that way. However, while the humans had been running around like meerkats, and hundreds of locals had gathered in the street outside, the majestic lion had already had some fun in the parlour, breaking a picture and a small glass vase and savaging Mrs Parsons’ fur necklet and the fur on her coats, which had been left hanging on the back of the door. In getting at these, he tore the coat hook off the door (on the other side of which was Jack Russell hanging onto the rope for grim death). Pluto also left a huge paw print on the sideboard mirror, and a few deep scratches to accompany it, perhaps having seen the reflection of what he thought was a competitor! Apart from this, and a little damage to the stair carpet, Pluto offered no violence during the incident, which was just as well for both sides.
The Roar heard round the World
The Bloxwich police, by now having arrived after Mrs O’Connor’s earlier alert, were probably a little out of their depth, to be fair, as they were far more likely to encounter a Staffordshire Bull Terrier (or indeed, a Jack Russell) with a drunken owner in the course of their daily duties in the village than a top predator from the South African veldt, but they proceeded to render every assistance they could to control the crowd of hundreds of locals and to help get Pluto back in his own ‘parlour’.
The Express & Star says that Mr Parsons told their reporter afterwards “…people had assembled in the street, and, probably frightened by their noise, the beast roared, and I could hear the sound of breaking glass in the room. It took the police all their time to hold the huge crowd back.” Thanks to the gentlemen of the press, and the London Times, who thought to report the event, that roar was eventually ‘heard’ round the world.
Pluto’s owner and trainer, a young German lion tamer named Herr Robert Lier, who was working with Pat Collins and wintering at his Bloxwich showground, joined forces with the police and locals and together they began making efforts to recapture the lion. Pluto’s travelling cage was fetched from the Wakes Ground on a lorry, and backed right up to the front door of number 36, whereupon the trap door grille at the end of the cage was raised and the front door of the house forced open, presumably using a pole of some kind. As soon as the lion saw his full-grown lioness looking disdainfully at him from within the cage, he walked quietly, and perhaps somewhat ruefully, back into captivity and the trap door was immediately closed. His short-lived freedom was at an end.
A cat can look…
Pluto then turned round and stared at the assembled crowd of Bloxwich folk, regarding them with utter amazement. It must have seemed to him like a Saturday night at the Pat Collins Lion Show, with all those curious and perhaps a little fearful faces peering in at him and his missus. No doubt he wondered what all the fuss was about!
‘Stroller’, writing in the Walsall Times, speculated tongue in cheek that it might have been profitable if a show could have been given just at that time, for all the people who had come from far and wide to get a glimpse of the truant animal! He was also at pains to point out that the lion “…did not belong to Alderman P. Collins, and the worthy Bloxwich Alderman is in no way liable or responsible for this most unfortunate happening…”
Epilogue (or should that be Catalogue?)
There are a few strange coincidences relating to this case. Just a few days earlier, it seems, Mr and Mrs Parsons had been joking with relatives about the chances of them becoming famous in the national newspapers. Also remarkable, under the circumstances, was that, also a few days earlier, a visiting relative, hearing the roaring of the animals in their cages on the Wakes Ground on the other side of the wall, had suggested they better be careful lest one of the lions escape and find their way into the back yard!
Mr Parsons, talking to a Walsall Observer reporter after the event, laughed heartily with hindsight at the coincidence, but it had probably not been quite so funny at the time! Oddly enough, it further turns out that he was a member of the Cheslyn Hay Male Voice Choir, and they had only just started learning a new piece the week before, entitled ‘Martyrs of the Arena’, when the conductor, Mr Ernest Amphlett of Wednesbury, had suggested that they wanted to get the ‘…right atmosphere and colour for the fearsome passages…’!
Little did Mr Parsons think that he was going to get the atmosphere right quite so soon, but when he went to choir practice on the Sunday he was sought after by other choir members seeking his views as to the proper feeling to express when confronted by a lion… Perhaps as a result of Pluto’s unexpected visit, the choir went on to win first prize for their rendering of the piece at Shrewsbury the following Thursday!
But how had Pluto gotten free in the first place? Well, it turns out that whilst the cage door was open for feeding time, Pluto had taken his chance and leapt out and over the wall at the Church Street side of the Wakes Ground. This is the stuff of which legends are made.
Unfazed by all the attention in Bloxwich, Pluto and his mate later went on to wow the crowds of Birmingham at the Bingley Hall, where they were put inside a large ball-shaped metal enclosure, around the inside of which their owner, Herr Robert Lier, rode a motorcycle. Herr Lier, speaking only broken English, gave his account of the Bloxwich incident to the Walsall Observer, and revealed that in the nine months he had been in England he had had very bad luck, but he was now, however, hoping for better times!
All in all, it had taken nearly two hours to recapture the Bloxwich Lion, and as a result of all the hoo-hah and subsequent gossip, not to mention local, national and international press coverage, Pluto, whose name was sadly forgotten until now, has long since passed into local legend. While he was enjoying his adventures in Church Street he gave, indeed, a roar which was undeniably heard round the world, from Bloxwich to Australia, and probably beyond!
Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team and Regeneration and Development Service are currently working on a heritage project in Bloxwich to design, fabricate and install 4 new public art pieces in different locations, to promote and celebrate the history and heritage of Bloxwich. This has been made possible from Council and Section106 funding.
Nationally recognised public artist Luke Perry, who is also an award-winning director of Industrial Heritage Stronghold, is noted for his monumental sculptures, most especially those celebrating the heritage of the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the Black Country. He has been working on the Bloxwich commission and has over the last two months been carrying out community consultation to gather local people’s thoughts and ideas for the themes of the sculptures.
The top Bloxwich themes identified for the project have included: Pat Collins Fairs, Industry, Musical icons (Rob Halford and Noddy Holder) and an anecdotal tale of ‘The escaped Bloxwich Lion’. Stuart Williams of Walsall Local History Centre and The Bloxwich Telegraph has acted as an historical advisor to the project.
Council staff welcome people’s feedback on the exciting new sculptures, and the proposed designs will be on display for the public to see on Bloxwich Market today, Friday 12th August 2016, between 10am-2pm.
The year’s top event for Bloxwich and district, Bloxwich Carnival, took place last Saturday, and with perfect weather on order this year, couldn’t fail to be a super success with thousands attending, thanks to the massive amount of hard work from the unpaid and often unsung heroes who run the show every year.
Specifically, thanks to Bloxwich Carnival Committee, now headed by Shaun Fitzpatrick as Chair, and other volunteers, including several members of hard-working past Carnival Royalty who give unstinting support. Not to mention the stalwart Walsall Council workers who always provide invaluable support on the day and in other ways . Which is why this year’s carnival feature header is a picture of the committee and volunteers!
Members of other local groups like the tireless Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix and the energetic young people of 196 (Walsall) Squadron of the Air Training Corps also contribute hugely to the work of the carnival throughout the year, including the Carnival Royalty choosing event and one of the main reasons for the carnival, the annual Senior Citizens’ Party (now at the excellent Stan Ball Centre, but for many years at the now-demolished Bloxwich Baths).
This year’s carnival was also a very special occasion for The Bloxwich Telegraph, marking as it did the 10th birthday of The Bloxidge Tallygraph and the Telegraph, which it evolved into. One of the main purposes of this website has always been to support Bloxwich Carnival (and the local community) with publicity and by taking the official photographs, all free of charge, and our editor and publisher Stuart Williams has always been delighted to do so, this year as every year. Paying it back and paying it forward is what we do.
Gates opened on 6th August at 12 noon. After an introduction by Chair Shaun Fitzpatrick, in which he thanked 2015 Bloxwich Carnival Queen Charlotte Locke for all her work in the past year, the Carnival was formally opened by our own Bloxwich East councillor and Mayor of Walsall Kath Phillips, who was there throughout the day with her consort Mr Maurice Phillips. MP for Walsall North, Mr David Winnick, also attended in support of the event as usual.
Shortly afterwards, the 2016 Bloxwich Carnival Queen Amber Rolls, Princess Libby Robbins and Rosebud Tayla Parker were crowned at around 12.20pm, looking radiant as the Mayor presented them with their ceremonial tiaras and flowers. They then went on to tour the many stalls on the field before enjoying a well-deserved break and their own fun-in-the-sun on the Pat Collins Fun Fair!
Saturday’s Carnival was free to public admission, which is great, and it’s wonderful that the event is now so well supported locally that this was possible. As usual, the event not only included a huge number of stalls (almost fifty!) and displays by local groups, charities and businesses, but also a range of entertainments including new arena events, and the ever-popular Pat Collins Fun Fair, which really is an essential partner to Bloxwich Carnival, going back to the days of Pat Collins himself.
Fun in the sun in Bloxwich
Apart from the fair, which presented a range of thrilling rides and fun for all the family, there was much more to see, do and enjoy all day in and around the arena, including:
Ridgeside Lurchers & Hunting Dogs Falconry and bird of prey display
Alternative Wrestling World’s exciting contests
Satori Freestyle Martial Arts demonstrations
The always amazing birds of the Armitage Bird of Prey Centre
A display of unusual animals including snakes!
Clive Chandler’s Punch & Judy – popular with all the family
The Fizzogs Dancing Grannies – who we sadly missed due to covering the Carnival Royalty and hope to catch up with another time.
Mad Dominic, clown and entertainer. Dom is a regular in Bloxwich and always raises a laugh with his madcap antics.
A big thank you to all involved
With the fantastic weather, great organisation and tons of hard work as well as new and varied attractions in and out of the arena, plus Pat Collins’ Fair, this year’s carnival, the sixteenth since it was revived for the millennium, was a real treat for everyone who attended, and a credit to all concerned. Well done, everyone, and thank you!
The Bloxwich Telegraph is already looking forward to next year’s event – and the next decade of serving Bloxwich folk!
Meanwhile, why not check out our full Flickr album of 170 photos taken on Saturday? Click on the image link below to view and download:
The year’s top event for Bloxwich and district, Bloxwich Carnival, takes place in just a few days!
And admission to the hugely popular event is FREE OF CHARGE!
Gates open at 12 noon at the King George V Playing Fields (recommended entrance off Bell Lane, Bloxwich) this Saturday 6th August, and the event not only includes a huge number of stalls and displays, but also a range of entertainments including arena events, and the ever-popular Pat Collins Fun Fair (rides are payable at the fair)!
The Carnival Queen, Princess and Rosebud will be crowned approx. 12-12.30pm.
Lurchers and Hunting Dogs/Falconry displays
Alternative Wrestling World
Satori Freestyle Martial Arts Demosntration
Armitage Bird of Prey Centre
Clive Chandler Punch & Judy
Fizzogs Dancing Grannies
Mad Dominic, clown and entertainer
Please note that there is no parking on-site.
Bloxwich Carnival is organised by Bloxwich Carnival Committee on a voluntary basis with the help of local groups and the support of Walsall Council.
The Committee also organises the traditional annual Senior Citizens’ Party at the Stan Ball Centre in Bloxwich.
Experts from the Royal Horticultural Society continued their tour of Walsall’s five district centres last Wednesday as part of this year’s ‘Heart of England in Bloom’ competition.
This time, Bloxwich and Brownhills were put under the horticultural spotlight, to see if they will go forward to the next stages of the national event.
Before the official walkabout started, judges Graham Redfern and Trish Willetts were joined in the Promenade Gardens, at the northern end of Bloxwich High Street, Walsall’s Mayor, Councillor Kath Phillips and Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture. Both councillors represent Bloxwich East. Local volunteers also joined them on their inspection tour, as well as the youngest gardener of them all – Councillor Fitzpatrick’s
Local volunteers from groups including the Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix, St Giles Walsall Hospice and the new Bloxwich Carnival Queen plus Council staff also joined them on their inspection tour, as well as the youngest gardener of them all – Councillor Fitzpatrick’s one-year-old grandson.
Ready to rock!
Bloxwich and Brownhills were well prepared though, and with the help of local volunteers, businesses and school children – did their towns proud.
The earlier and dedicated planting, pruning and watering schedule meant that the judges were greeted and treated to a truly groomed and colour splashed landscape, which has been the subject of much comment locally. All five of this year’s entries are competing in the Urban Community Category and were co-ordinated by Walsall Council’s district centre management team.
Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick said “The Mayor and I were very proud to escort the Royal Horticultural Society judges. All the hard work that went into the tour was very much in evidence as Bloxwich and Brownhills were absolutely blooming and brilliant.
“Results like this don’t happen overnight – it takes real community planning, commitment and structure and underlines the importance we place on raising the profile of the five district centres. I’m sure the Royal Horticultural Society was impressed by the large scale planting projects that we have in place and the infectious team spirit that was out yesterday in spades!”
The Heart of England in Bloom competition annually attracts over 1,350 entries from small villages to large cities. If successful the five district centres could go forward into the national Britain in Bloom event.
This year’s Judges will be looking at three main categories which are
The Heart of England Regional Awards Ceremony will take place in Aldridge on 15 September 2016 at the Church Rooms Aldridge Green.
The proprietors of a popular Walsall bookshop have been given a very special gift by a group of local authors in thanks for the shop’s enthusiastic support of writing in the town over the past two years.
Scott Southey and Amy Carter, of Southcart Books in Lower Hall Lane, are in the process of moving to larger premises in the same street, and several of their friends in the writing community decided to write and publish a unique multi-genre anthology of short stories dedicated to the shop, to help defray some of the costs of the relocation.
The 136 page paperback book is entitled ‘Southcart Tales’.
The nine stories – which offer the reader everything from literary fiction through science fiction, sword & sorcery and psychological horror – come from the pens of ‘The Southcart Storytellers’, James Josiah, Dan Oram, Neil Sehmbhy, Rob Grimes, Kerry Hadley-Pryce, Bekki Pate, Ken Preston (publishing on behalf of the group), Lucy Onions and A. Stuart Williams. Cover photography is by Craig Beas.
A special foreword by noted fantasy author Stan Nicholls is also included.
Southcart Books, which is the only independent bookshop in the Walsall area, is expected to re-open in August 2016 and it is planned to hold a launch and signing of the new book at the shop, which has already been gifted a number of paperback copies for stock, as soon as convenient.
Southcart Tales is also available now on Amazon at just £4.99 for paperback (plus postage) or £1.99 in Kindle ebook format.
Telephone Southcart Books on 07528 144837 for details of the shop and opening. Further information about the book may be found on the shop’s Facebook page and on Amazon (search for Southcart Tales on Amazon).
The eagerly awaited opening date for both Bloxwich and Oak Park Active Living Centres became reality this week when the keys for both centres were handed over by contractors. This significant moment marked the beginning stages to the run-up of their opening on Tuesday 9 August.
The new multi-million pound centres, which each include a 25 metre swimming pool, teaching pool, six court sports hall, dance studio and cafe will be fitted out over the coming weeks with state of the art station fitness suites in time for their opening to the public. Oak Park is also able to offer two glass backed squash courts, sauna and a steam room. The full size, floodlit artificial grass pitch at Oak Park will be replaced over the autumn.
Bloxwich East Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, Portfolio Holder for Community, Leisure and Culture said: “Opening these doors for the first time is very exciting.
“It is truly wonderful to be able to take possession of these buildings and brings us ever closer to realising the Council’s commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of residents by getting more people, more active, more often.
“Over the coming weeks the two centres will be a hive of activity and the excitement of everyone working to get these centres ready is positively brimming over.
“Our customers are about to be able to access some truly iconic and outstanding facilities that they can be really proud of. Over the coming days we look forward to being able to launch our activity programmes ready to open both centres on Tuesday 9 August.”
Controversially, Bloxwich’s historic 1920s-30s public baths, originally an open air pool and converted into a function hall when the first Bloxwich Leisure Centre was built in 1991, was demolished to make way for the new car park of the new facility now on the site.
The old baths were also once a well-known event and live music venue, presenting famous acts like Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1960s, and are well-remembered by Slade glam rock singing star Noddy Holder in a new film made recently as part of the Bloxwich ReDiscover project by Students of Walsall Academy in Bloxwich. More recently, the building acted as the venue for the annual Bloxwich Carnival Senior Citizens’ Party.
Funded through the Council’s £24.3 million Active Living Centres initiative, the latest project received a £2m grant from Sport England’s “Iconic” facilities award scheme to support Walsall Council’s aspiration to improve Walsall residents’ overall health and well-being.
The newly-formed Bloxwich branch of the Royal British Legion has organised an evening of entertainment next month to raise funds.
Local vocalist Keir Edwards will be singing cabaret songs from the musicals and he will be joined by comedy duo Sean and Roger, aka ‘The Boz’s’, at the Bloxwich Memorial Club in Harrison Street, Bloxwich on Friday 12th August 2016.
Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start.
If anyone would like to buy tickets, which cost £10 each, for this Royal British Legion fundraising concert, or would like further information, they should contact Ann Barnes on 01922 495214 or 07870487504.
Covering Bloxwich, Little Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore and Birchills