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Queen’s Silver Jubilee Walsall Visit – 40th Anniversary Exclusive

A friendly Walsall police sergeant shows his radio to curious children in Lichfield Street as the crowds wait
A friendly Walsall police sergeant shows his radio to curious children in Lichfield Street as the crowds wait

Today marks forty years to the day since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honoured the borough of Walsall with a very special Royal Visit to mark twenty-five years of her reign – her Silver Jubilee. Many of our readers may well remember that day. We certainly do – and we have exclusive pictures to prove it!

The day of the visit, Wednesday 27th July 1977,  had dawned grey and chilly, but there was to be nothing chilly about the reception which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would receive; indeed their route into town was lined with people up to twelve deep, despite hours of waiting.

Waiting for the Queen to arrive, Walsall Police enjoyed the occasion as much as the people
Waiting for the Queen to arrive, Walsall Police enjoyed the occasion as much as the people

The Royal motorcade arrived some twenty-five minutes behind schedule, and the crowds, made up of all ages from throughout the borough, had been there for up to seven hours. Despite this, there was an air of excited anticipation; even the local police on duty in Lichfield Street seemed to be enjoying the sense of occasion.

Walsall policemen on duty for the occasion proudly show off their medals.
Walsall policemen on duty for the occasion proudly show off their medals.

Press photographers had not been wasting the waiting time, and both they and reporters from local newspapers had been doing the rounds of the crowds, taking likely pictures for publication and gathering quotes and comments to take back to their editors. Many members of the public had their own cameras at the ready, unsurprisingly. Notably one Stuart Williams, then aged 16, now editor of The Bloxwich Telegraph.  Stuart had placed himself carefully on the Council House side of Lichfield Street, hoping to get some interesting pictures with his new Russian Zenith E camera. The professional pressmen had the best gear and the best access, but Stuart and his rather slower and clunkier camera were ready for action nonetheless. He took a few pictures of the crowds and police, and even targeted one of the pros who was busy snapping away at an excited group of young royalists nearby. Then waited patiently. Continue reading Queen’s Silver Jubilee Walsall Visit – 40th Anniversary Exclusive

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Remembering Harold Parry – 100 years on

Parry with Poppies

I was reminded this past week of the centenary of the passing of a man who I usually think of in November, the month of remembrance, poppies, services and parades. A man who is probably not as well known as he should be, but of whom I have written several times in the past. Harold Parry, Bloxwich’s own War Poet, who like so many others, made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country in the Great War of 1914-18. And that centenary is this Saturday, 6 May 2017.

Harold Parry (‘Hal’ to his friends), son of Alderman, mine engineer, colliery proprietor and landowner David Ebenezer Parry and Sarah Parry, of ‘Croxdene’, Bloxwich, was born on 13 December, 1896, one of twins.

Croxdene in the late 1960s.
Croxdene in the late 1960s.

After studying at a junior school in Bloxwich (probably the National School, High Street), Hal won a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, where he became an outstanding pupil, head of his House and captain of the school’s football and cricket teams, as well as a cadet officer.  While studying there, he won the Queen’s Prize for History and in 1915 won an Open History Scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford.

Exeter College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons).
Exeter College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons).

Hal volunteered for army service in January 1916, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and after training at Rugeley he transferred to the 17th Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, on the front line in France.

Badge of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (Wikimedia Commons).

Before the war, Parry had been a prolific writer of poetry.  The bitter experiences of the trenches, at the Somme and in Belgium, soon made him turn again, this time for relief, to poetry, both reading and writing, and letters home to family and friends.  He could express himself clearly in both prose and verse, and his writings are important in that they reveal what the young men who died in “the war to end all wars” thought about their experiences in that terrible conflict.

A trench on The Somme, 1916.
A British trench on The Somme, 1916.

One of his shortest poems, ‘Tommy’s Dwelling’, written in the field, tells of the ever-present water and mud which was the curse of the trenches:

Tommy’s Dwelling

I come from trenches deep in slime,

Soft slime so sweet and yellow,

And rumble down the steps in time

To souse “some shivering fellow”.

I trickle in and trickle out

Of every nook and corner,

And, rushing like some waterspout,

Make many a rat a mourner.

I gather in from near and far

A thousand brooklets swelling,

And laugh aloud a great “Ha, ha!”

To flood poor Tommy’s dwelling.

German dead at the sunken road in Guillemont during the battle of The Somme.
German dead at the sunken road in Guillemont during the battle of The Somme.

Just two days after a battle, on 14 October 1916 Hal wrote to his sister’s friend Isabel “The average Fritz is as sick at heart over all this destruction as we are. We are preached a doctrine of frightfulness, and yet is it not sufficiently sad to think when you come across an unburied dead German, perhaps this day his wife and children mourn for him, and in the future can know neither peace nor comfort? I must confess it distresses me beyond measure, for I am not a soldier at heart.”

“The real evil in this conflict is not of the individual so much as of the powers that be.  If these dignitaries could only be sat in the trenches for a wee short space, and made to carry heavy coils of wire for long distances up long communication trenches – blasted by the incessant force of the guns, I could guarantee that their war would not last longer than the time to fix up provisional peace terms.  Let Dot read this letter, but not my mother or father, it would make them grieve and I don’t want that.”

Band of the 5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment in the ruins at Ypres.
Band of the 5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment in the ruins at Ypres.

Sadly, like so many soldiers Hal was fated to die young, killed in action on 6 May, 1917 by a German shell at Ypres, in Flanders, while moving from his billet to safer quarters in the cellars nearby.  He was just twenty years old.  Writing to Hal’s father, his commanding officer said “He was a splendid youngster, and a most capable and keen officer, much loved by all.  Had he been spared I am sure he would have made a great name for himself as a soldier.”

Second Lieutenant Harold Parry, Walsall Pioneer, 19 May 1917.
Second Lieutenant Harold Parry, Walsall Pioneer, 19 May 1917.

Instead of making his name as a soldier, in the decades following his death Harold Parry instead become known to posterity as a war poet.  A posthumous volume of letters and poems compiled by G.P. Dennis ‘In Memoriam: Harold Parry’ was published, showing he was exceptionally gifted for such a young man.  The letters show above all his extreme cheerfulness and loyalty, even in the face of danger and death.  Some of his poems are also published in ‘Songs from the Heart of England’, an anthology of Walsall poetry edited by Alfred Moss with a foreword by Jerome K. Jerome.

G.P. Dennis wrote of him “Harold Parry was no saint, he had with the rest of us his faults and failings and annoyingnesses; but that the evil in him was less than most, and that he fought it harder,  that the good in him was greater, and that he used it better – of these things his friends are certain.  He always tried to do what he believed was right: what more can a good man do?”

Such is the measure of the man.  His good name and his words live after him, and he is not forgotten.

Harold Parry is buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium.  His headstone bears the inscription “Death is the Gate To the High Road of Life And Love is the Way (Harold Parry).”

Its twin, rather more careworn after a century, honours his name in Field Road Cemetery, Bloxwich.

I usually go there to ponder on the life of a Bloxwich man and the folly of war in cold November. This time around, in the sunlit spring, I have visited that small, forgotten shrine of remembrance and placed flowers for the centenary of his passing. I placed them today. Perhaps others may do the same tomorrow, and think on the apt words of another poet, Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Monument to Harold Parry at Field Rd Cemetery, Bloxwich.
Monument to Harold Parry at Field Rd Cemetery, Bloxwich.

Ironically, although Harold Parry has a monument at Bloxwich, and there are a number of similar stones there, he is not listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s list for Bloxwich Cemetery, he is listed at  Vlamertinghe. But there are also many men who are listed as buried here, via this link, and they are all worthy of remembrance.

Lest we forget

Bloxwich Telegraph links up with Rediscover Bloxwich

Local rock legend Noddy Holder meets the project group at Walsall Academy, Bloxwich (Pic Stuart Williams)
Local rock legend Noddy Holder meets the project group at Walsall Academy, Bloxwich (Pic Stuart Williams)

In 2016, young people and staff from the Walsall Academy in Lichfield Road, Bloxwich (site of the former T.P. Riley Comprehensive School) joined forces with Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team, video producers and digital media specialists Catcher Media, local writer and Bloxwich Telegraph editor Stuart Williams, Walsall Local History Centre, Walsall Council Regeneration and other local people on a very special Heritage Lottery-funded project to literally focus on the history and heritage of Bloxwich through the eyes, ears and voices of the school’s students, local people and other contributors and through the camera eye of Catcher Media.

What’s it all about?

The basic idea of the project, known as Rediscover Bloxwich, was:

What if each Bloxwich building or street has a story to tell? And what if some of these stories are fascinating? Or scary? Or funny? And what if they make you think about Bloxwich in a new way? Re-discover it.

So Walsall Academy students set out to find out about Bloxwich’s heritage, and to tell that story back to Bloxwich residents. They talked to celebrities, their own families, older people and historians.

The Rediscover website and the film they made pools all of the information, photos, interviews and stories that came to light throughout the project.

The project is also being followed up by the production and installation of a range of related public heritage art pieces set to be installed in Bloxwich centre later this year.

Rediscover Bloxwich logo

What’s on the site?

Apart from information about the project and the main video content itself, there are also a number of pages which offer links to more resources, several video clips of extra interviews of local people and Bloxwich rock legend Noddy Holder of Slade fame, and several pages themed on local Bloxwich heritage topics, with historical information, covering everything from Bloxwich pubs and local myths to industry, churches, fairs – and the Bloxwich lion! Information is also provided about the planned heritage artworks, and credits and acknowledgements.

Linking up for Bloxwich

The Bloxwich Telegraph, whose editor Stuart Williams was commissioned to act as Historical Advisor to the project, is proud to announce its formal – and now digital – links with the project, the film and the resulting website.

From time to time we will highlight aspects of the project from this site and and on our social media. To this end we have now installed a permanent direct link to Rediscover Bloxwich on our main site menu, and via clicking on the Rediscover logo in the right-hand column of every page.

We hope you enjoy finding out about Bloxwich’s past, through Rediscover Bloxwich and via the pages of The Bloxwich Telegraph.

For further information, please click on the following link or any of the others highlighted in this news item.

Rediscover Bloxwich

Bloxwich Library saved amid drastic Council cuts

Walsall Council House (pic: Stuart Williams)
Walsall Council House (pic: Stuart Williams)

Walsall Council has announced that Bloxwich Library is one of six libraries to have been saved from possible closure in a dramatic press briefing reported on by local news media today.

But the news is by no means all good, as hundreds of jobs are still set to be axed and nine libraries (at Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pelsall, Pleck, Pheasey, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood) will shut under budget proposals announced by the local authority.

Council tax will also rise by 4.99%, as the local Labour-Lib Dem coalition is pressured by massive budget cuts enforced by national government.

The New Art Gallery at Walsall, which was potentially under the threat of eventual closure, also seems set to be secured as the council looks to develop a new business model for it, and according to various reports Wolverhampton University has shown an interest in partnership working.

According to the BBC, a £3.5m funding bid to Arts Council England and other stakeholders has been submitted to develop a new business model for the New Art Gallery. The council has apparently mooted selling off naming rights to the gallery, but Council leader Sean Coughlan has insisted it would not be “the McDonald’s Art Gallery”.

Walsall Leather Museum is also expected to remain where it is, but Walsall Local History Centre will be moved from Essex Street into the Walsall Central Library building, requiring external document storage elsewhere. Detailed plans have not yet been announced.

Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) Pic Stuart WIlliams
Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) Pic Stuart WIlliams

Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall libraries have all been saved, while Streetly library will be community run.

Walsall Council, which late last year engaged in a public consultation about the drastic “savings’ it had identified must be made, has said it must save £86m by 2020.

281 jobs are set to go, either through voluntary or compulsory redundancy, another 139 vacant posts will be not be filled. Meanwhile, remaining Walsall Council staff will face another year-long pay freeze.

Cllr Coughlan is reported by the BBC website to have said that libraries faced “one of the most profound and stark cuts”.

“Every political side knew we had to do something about libraries and that’s what we have had to do,” he said.

“We have faced the biggest cuts this council’s ever had before.”

Council tax for Band D properties will rise to £1,744.04, including precepts – subject to confirmation of final precepts – up from £1663.29. Originally the rise was to be 3.99 per cent but now central government, which had massively cut the grant to Walsall Council in the first place,  has allowed the council to raise their tax by an extra one per cent provided it is ring fenced for social care.

According to the Express & Star, the Forest Arts Centre will not be cut in 2017/18 and the council will also to continue to maintain cricket pitches and bowling greens in the borough – something it originally proposed to scrap.  Plans to stop cleaning markets after they have closed has also been scrapped, while seven front line posts connected to street cleaning are being reinstated.

All these proposals and many more will have to be approved at a full council meeting in February.

READ MORE from the Express & Star via this link and also on the BBC website here.

The Lion went down to Church Street – the Roar heard round the World

 

From The World's News, Australia, 30th March 1932
From The World’s News, Australia, 30th March 1932

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 Delegate Argus 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 Walsall Times 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.

The Bloxwich Lion which escaped into Church St, Express & Star 8th February 1932
The Bloxwich Lion which escaped into Church St, Express & Star 8th February 1932

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.

Pat Collins' Wakes Ground, now the Asda site, 1949.
Pat Collins’ Wakes Ground, now the Asda site, 1949.
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

The Lion went down to Church Street 2

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

 

From The Delegate Argus (Australia) 31 Mar 1932
From The Delegate Argus (Australia) 31 Mar 1932

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…

The Lion went down to Church Street 3

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.

Captain Clarke the Leamore Lion Tamer at Bingley Hall just a few years later
Captain Clarke the Leamore Lion Tamer at Bingley Hall just a few years later

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!

Paw Print

The Old Bull’s Head & The Bloxwich Wishing Tree

The old Bull's Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)
The old Bull’s Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

Bloxwich was once particularly rich in old public houses, many dating to the Georgian era and before.

By the time local historian Billy Meikle (1858-1943), who spent most of his life in Walsall, wrote about the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road, Bloxwich, few such early inns remained, and today many surviving Bloxwich pubs are sadly closed, converted or under threat for economic reasons.

Arms of the Skeffington family
Arms of the Skeffington family

The original Bull’s Head inn had been in what was later named Park Road, Bloxwich, since Tudor times.  The name of the pub is traditionally said to be inspired by the bull’s head which was part of the coat of arms of John Skeffington, a Bloxwich landowner of the 1500s.  However there was once a long tradition of bull-baiting in Britain, and pubs of this name often refer to this now-extinct blood sport, so there may also be an element of this in the origins of the name.

The Bull’s Head was for centuries a thriving social centre and a popular meeting place for local workmen.  Indeed the ‘Amicable Society’ – the town’s largest friendly society – met there from 1785.  They had seventy-two male members and by 1811 there were forty women on the register.  A Catholic Society also met there in the early 1800s, with Titus Somerfield as secretary and a membership of 260.

Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull's Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)
Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull’s Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

William Colbourne owned the Bull’s Head in 1813.  By 1818 Thomas Taylor had taken over, and was still there in 1834.  In 1851, Samuel Taylor was the licensee but by 1880 it had changed hands again.  William Fryer was the landlord in 1908, by which time the weekly takings were £11 and four shillings.

Though latterly having a plastered Victorian façade added, by the time Billy Meikle came on the scene in the early 1900s the pub still retained its ancient oak beams, an ingle nook and an 18th century fireplace, giving it a cosy atmosphere.  In 1938, Meikle wrote that forty years ago the Tudor fire grate had been removed.

Kitchen of the old Bull's Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)
Kitchen of the old Bull’s Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

The old Bull’s Head was much-loved, both by locals and by Meikle, who photographed the pub, together with its last landlord Arthur Banks and his wife, on 10 June 1927, not long before it was demolished by Walsall council.

Later, he painted watercolours of the interior to complement his fine photography, leaving a unique record of a wonderful old ‘watering hole’ now sadly lost to us.  Continue reading The Old Bull’s Head & The Bloxwich Wishing Tree

Bloxwich versus Walsall: A Foreign Feud

Plan of Walsall, 1679
Plan of Walsall, 1679

The modern Walsall Metropolitan Borough is a substantial area housing around a quarter of a million people. But it was not always so extensive, or so populous!

In 1831, the old Parish of Walsall,  at that time divided into the townships of the ‘Borough’ and the ‘Foreign’ for the purpose of collecting the Poor Rate, included just 15,066 people.

But what were the Borough and Foreign?  Simply put, the Borough was the old town itself, the rough equivalent in size of modern Walsall’s town centre. Today, it would not take you long to cross it on foot – if you got off the bus outside The Prince pub in Stafford Street and walked south to the Wheatsheaf pub in Birmingham Road, you will have travelled across the town of Walsall: the old Borough.

The Foreign was every place within the old Parish of Walsall but outside the Borough. In those days, when Bloxwich had a chapel of ease but no parish of its own, the Foreign primarily included such places as Bloxwich (the effective centre of the Foreign), Little Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore, Birchills, Shelfield and (albeit semi-detached) Walsall Wood. It also included such smaller locations as Pleck, Caldmore, Chuckery and Palfrey.

1800s, the brown line is the old Foreign boundary - click to enlarge
Map of Walsall boundaries in the mid-1800s, the brown line is the old Foreign boundary – click to enlarge

Rushall, Pelsall, Brownhills, Aldridge, Streetly, Bentley, Darlaston and Willenhall, which were not part of the old Borough and Foreign, did not come under the administration of Walsall until the mid 1960s-70s, which changes caused some controversy within those towns and villages. The present Metropolitan Borough itself (preceded by the County Borough) came into being on 1 April, 1974.

The rivalries between these later additions and Walsall itself were foreshadowed by the long-standing feuding between Bloxwich and Walsall, which despite their distinctness and one-time geographical separation before the surrounding areas were filled in with houses, shops and industrial development, are thought to have been historically associated for almost 1000 years.

In practice, the separate identity of the Foreign or ‘forren’ goes back at least as far as the 13th century, when the Ruffus Charter of c1225 mentions the ‘forin woods’, and a lease of 1485 refers to ‘the Manor of the Forren of Walsall’.

St Matthew's Church in an engraving of 1795
St Matthew’s Church in an engraving of 1795

Continue reading Bloxwich versus Walsall: A Foreign Feud

Bloxwich – Then and Now

A short potted history of Bloxwich

Bloxwich High Street, showing the georgian 'George' pub, shops and Bloxwich Carnival procession, 1920s
Bloxwich High Street, showing the georgian ‘George’ pub, shops and Bloxwich Carnival procession, 1920s

Bloxwich (Blocheswic in Domesday Book, 1086) or ‘Bloc’s Village’, existed before the Norman Conquest, as part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, when the Mercian family of Bloc settled there.

Bloxwich High Street, 2013 - the 'George' is now Bloxwich Hardware and the old banks have been replaced
Bloxwich High Street, 2013 – the ‘George’ is now Bloxwich Hardware and the old banks have been replaced

In 1162, the Manor of Walsall was granted to Herbert Ruffus by King Henry II, Bloxwich being included as part of the Foreign of Walsall.  Medieval Bloxwich, a small agricultural village, population c600, expanded in the 1700s with coal mining and cottage industries.

All Saints' Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s
All Saints’ Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s

From the 1400s, Bloxwich had a chapel of ease within the parish of Walsall, but no separate parish until 1842.  Originally dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, All Saints Church dates mostly from c1872-5 when it was rebuilt. A 13th century preaching cross stands in the churchyard.  A workhouse on ‘Chapel Green’ (now Elmore Green) was open by 1752.  It was on the site of the present car park.

All Saints' Church, war memorial and High Street, 2013
All Saints’ Church, war memorial and High Street, 2013

From the mid-1600s, a rivalry built up between Bloxwich and Walsall, when during the English Civil War Bloxwich was Royalist and Walsall Parliamentarian in sympathy. This traditional rivalry, now (usually!) more friendly, has continued down the centuries.

By the early 1800s Bloxwich was surrounded by canals, allowing goods to be transported more easily, encouraging expansion. The village became justly famed for its light metalwork and especially ‘awl blades of Bloxwich repute’.  A monument to the ‘bitties and tackies’ of Bloxwich, a mound of anvil stones, is in Bloxwich Park (the village green) and a Victorian fountain is in the Promenade Gardens.

Bloxwich High Street and Victoria Avenue looking south, early 1900s
Bloxwich High Street and Victoria Avenue looking south, early 1900s

Interesting buildings, apart from the largely Victorian High Street, include amongst others Bloxwich Hall, built 1830, restored as offices in the 1980s and Bloxwich Hospital, formerly ‘Manor House’, built c1850 and made a maternity hospital in 1928, now offering mental health services for older people.  Eden Florists (the ‘Cottage Shop’) has 1400s foundations.

The 1832 Methodist Chapel in Park Road has since the early 1900s been a cinema, garage, factory and retail unit.  Its 1864 successor was replaced in the 1960s by St John’s Church.  A splendid Victorian villa, ‘Bellfield’, is situated in Stafford Road.  And, close to the Bloxwich boundary on the A34, is Yieldfields Hall, a haven for Roman Catholic recusants from the mid-1600s onwards.

Bloxwich High Street in 2013. Bloxwich Wesleyan Church was demolished in 1963 for a TESCO store which later had other uses, and is now a furniture store.
Bloxwich High Street in 2013. Bloxwich Wesleyan Church was demolished in 1963 for a TESCO store which later had other uses, and is now a furniture store.

Bloxwich is noted for its historic pubs, dating from the 1700s-1930s.  Those currently open include the Royal Exchange, Turf Tavern, Romping Cat, Bell Inn, Wheatsheaf, Spotted Cow, Spring Cottage, Hatherton Arms, Prince of Wales, Lady Diana, Lamp Tavern and Sir Robert Peel. The Georgian ‘George’ is now a hardware store.  Modern pubs include the Queen’s Head, Magic Lantern and One Man and His Dog, and at Little Bloxwich the Beacon Way and Saddler’s Arms.

Fairground and cinema mogul, Liberal councillor, mayor, MP and Freeman of the Borough Pat Collins, ‘King of Showmen’, was based from the early 1900s at his Bloxwich Wakes Ground on the present ASDA site.  He built a cinema, ‘The Grosvenor’ (later becoming an Odeon) on High Street, which is now a Wetherspoon’s pub named after him, ‘The Bloxwich Showman’.  His home, Lime Tree House, remained until c1972.

Bloxwich had an 1857 Music Hall (now used for sports), and three cinemas from c1912. The last, Pat Collins’ 1922 Grosvenor (later Odeon) closed in 1959 and has since had several uses.  Bloxwich’s first (1861) police station was built onto the Music Hall and is now a school reception.  The second police station (and library!) opened in 1874 and is now part of the Bloxwich Memorial Club.  It was followed by Bloxwich Public Buildings in 1882-4, demolished in 2000 for the present Bloxwich Police Station, opened in 2002 by the Princess Royal.

A new Bloxwich Library on the Pinfold was converted from a WWII ARP First Aid Station in 1948, itself being replaced by the present Bloxwich Library & Theatre (Bookmark Bloxwich) in 1960-64.

The Bloxwich area was heavily developed for council housing from around 1925-39.  Such housing expanded further during the 1950s-60s, mainly at Mossley, Beechdale, Lower Farm, Dudley Fields and Chepstow plus the Rivers at Blakenall Heath.  Many private and housing association dwellings have been built in more recent years.

Bloxwich Fountain in Promenade Gardens, the old Music Hall and ‘National’ (Church of England) School are visible in the background. Late 1920s.
Bloxwich Fountain in Promenade Gardens, the old Music Hall and ‘National’ (Church of England) School are visible in the background. Late 1920s.

Bloxwich’s first purpose-built school was ‘The National’, built 1828 and rebuilt 1862 (now Bloxwich C.E. Primary).  The first ‘Board’ school opened at Leamore (1872).  Various others opened in the early-mid 1900s.  Comprehensives arrived in 1958 (T. P. Riley and later Frank F. Harrison and Forest) and more primaries in the 1960s. Elmore Green High School (now Primary) became the T. P. Riley Annexe.  T. P. Riley Comprehensive was replaced by Walsall Academy in 2002.  In recent years there have been more changes.

The Bloxwich Fountain was last restored and repainted, with new railings, in 2009-10.
The Bloxwich Fountain was last restored and repainted, with new railings, in 2009-10.

Today, Bloxwich is a pleasant, leafy place to live, semi-rural in places and with a range of attractive parks, playing fields and green spaces which add to its character, while still being proud to be part of the historic Black Country.

Stuart Williams

This is just a taster article – more will follow, focusing on particular aspects of Bloxwich and district!

Historic pictures courtesy Walsall Local History Centre.

Modern pictures by Stuart Williams.

Interested in local history? Watch this space!

The Bloxwich Tardis on Elmore Green is a steel time machine celebrating the history and heritage of Bloxwich - but what do you know about Bloxwich past?
The Bloxwich Tardis on Elmore Green is a steel time machine celebrating the history and heritage of Bloxwich – but what do you know about Bloxwich past?

The people of Bloxwich and district are well-known for their interest in local history and heritage, whether it be of people and places,  pubs and parks, chapels and churches, or ghosts and goings-on in their own area.

And both The Bloxwich Telegraph and its predecessor The Bloxidge Tallygraph are well-known for supporting that interest.

Now, our readers can look forward to reading a range of local history articles penned by our editor, Stuart WIlliams – all within these pages. Some of these will be new, others will be updates or expansions of past features we have published over the years.

You can even look forward to some spooky fiction around Hallowe’en time…

First up will be a short potted history of Bloxwich, entitled Bloxwich – Then and Now. Watch this space!