Wednesday, 20 February 2013

My Dad's Broseley Boyhood - Sentimental Sunday

Blogging has taken a back seat recently, as I have been working on a narrative about my Dad's early years.


My father John Percy Weston was born in Bilston, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire  on 15th April 1912 -  a momentous date in many ways  as that was the night the "Titanic" sank on its  maiden voyage.    

 
A year earlier at the time of the 1911 census, the Weston family was living at 33 Lunt Lane, Lunt Gardens, Bilston, Staffordshire.   Despite its rural sounding name, Lunt Gardens was the site of the sewerage works as depicted in images obtained from Wolverhampton Archives.  

The family seemed to move around the Midlands a lot, presumably with my grandfather Albert Weston's work, living in Leamington Spa,  Stockton, near Rugby, Warwick and Broseley, Shropshire.    I recall Nana Weston claiming she had lived in 17 houses. 

Apart from being a lifelong supporter of the Wolves football team, Dad always regarded his home town, not as Wolverhampton which he left when he was about 3 years old, but Broseley, near Ironbridge, Shropshire. He was proud to belong to this historic centre of England's Industrial Revolution.

Dad always had an interest in journalism and it was a familiar sight to see him seated at the typewriter.  In later life he was a regular contributor of  letters to local newspapers and prepared talks on a variety of topics  to present  to local societies.  I persuaded him to write down his memories and Dad's own words form the basis of this family history narrative which concentrates on his Broseley boyhood and then his war experiences.  He would have loved the world of blogging!

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The famous bridge opened in 1779.
linking Broseley and Ironbridge, 
Broseley was a thriving settlement on the banks of the River Severn near the coalfields of Coalbrookdale. In the 18th and 19th centuries it developed into a major centre  for coal mining, iron manufacture, distinctive roof and wall bricks, decorative tiles, earthenware manufacture including clay pipes. In the early 19th century ironstone replaced coal as the main product of the parish's mines. Many of the developments celebrated by the world heritage sites of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums started in Broseley or were connected to the town.

Dad wrote: "We lived in a a house that was unique since it had an indoor flush toilet.....   Dad worked at Coalbrookdale, in the power house. It was 35 minutes walk, no buses.  On a Sunday if Dad was working on what he called “grinding the vales in”, I came home from church at noon and had to set off to the works with his dinner, come back for mine and the go to Sunday school and church at night."
 
In compiling  this tribute, I was very grateful for the contribution of both  Shropshire Archives and Broseley Local History Society whose website featured transcriptions from the local newspaper at the time the Weston family lived  in the town.   Dad sung in the local choir from the age of seven, and the frequent reports on church activities present a picture of what Dad could have well been involved in.




All Saints Parish Church, Broseley
 
Dad's Prayer Book (left) pressnted by the
Rev. Jackson (above)




On his school life, Dad recalled " The deputy head was very good (he had been gassed in the war).  He was keen on poetry and I enjoyed it, he had us do the Merchant of Venice.  I was Bassanio.  I was very fond of him which, of course, made me listen to what he had to say".  In later life, Dad could still recite his favourite poems, often in dramatic tones.  Shropshire Archives provided me with entries from the School Log book relevant to Dad's time at school, including his role as vice-captain of the school football team.
 

Football was Dad's key interest and I have told his story in A Pigeon Sent the News  and  also in My Dad's Football Photo Discovered,  how a member of Broseley Local History Society provided me with my earliest picture of Dad  in 1926 (left).   

Dad remained an ardent football supporter all his life, following matches regularly on television; his favoured teams Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) and Aston Villa.  He was very proud of footballer William Ambrose "Billy" Wright, who was born in Ironbridge and   known as "The Ironbridge Rocket".  Billy Wright was never cautioned or sent off by a referee and was the first football player in the world to earn 100 caps. 

For a bank holiday outing Dad wrote  "When I was about ten [c. 1922],  Charles, myself, Dad and Mum went by train to Bridgenorth.  We  had a boat trip on the River Severn and later walked the 6 miles back home".
 

The local newspaper transcriptions online  again  give  a fascinating insight into the lives  of ordinary people  and included    district council and county council reports, court cases, concerts, dances, whist drives, activities of local clubs, church services and social events, fulsome details of marriages and funerals. etc. I used some   typical entries to illustrate what life was like in Broseley  in the 1920's when the Weston family was  living there,  such as letters of complaint regarding the "disgracful state of the public cesspits, cleansing of the streets and state of the roads" and  a report on a Charleston dance competition to a jazz band accompaniment. 

 

Dad left school at the age of 14  "I went to work at the grocers, where still at school I had been an errand boy and also worked on Saturdays with time off for soccer.  The main assistant was 19 and one morning as I passed the shop,  he asked me if would help him move some bags of corn, I did and he gave me a bag of biscuits,  so that was my introduction.  I then went out with him delivering orders (we sold bags of corn 80 plus pounds).  The pony, a Welsh cob named Tommy, was inclined to be lazy.  After time,  I did the deliveries with Tommy and the trap.  At night time I rode him bareback to a field!     This was  a surprising memory as Dad never gave any indication later in life of having the slightest interest or affinity with horses!    Kelly' Directory of Broseley for 1926 listed the shop at 84 High Street  where Dad worked until the family left the town in 1929. 

Dad gave a full account of his working life in Leicester, Liverpool and then Blackpool as a commercial traveller and the "digs" he stayed in.   For a laugh,  take a look at A Hair Raising Drive  where he desribes  his first 90 mile journey behind the wheel. 


Dad (left) with his brother Charles


In Blackpool, A Dance Floor Meeting tells in Dad's own words how he met my mother. 

And the rest is another story!

Dad and Mum (left) at their wedding in 1938.

 Watch this space for the second part of this narrative which looks at Dad's account of   "My War 1940-1946." 

This has been a very enjoyable, and at times moving experience to read Dad's own words and create a story of his "Broseley Boyhood - Before  and After".  I am proud to have at long last made this tribute for myself and my brother and our own children.



 

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations Susan! It's great that you have ticked off this "job" from your wish list and know that it was actually such a pleasure for you. It's interesting that it may well be where we grew up, rather than where we're born (if they differ) that shape what we call "home".

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Pauleen. I always knew this was a posting, less of general appeal, but more for my own satisfaction, so I very much appreciate you took the time to read and respond.

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