Friday, September 22, 2017

January 2017 Brummagem magazine cover     

Issue Number 190 January 2017

Carl Writes

Do you remember those cowboy films we used to watch on a Saturday at the local picture house? You’d sit there engrossed by the action, but in your mind you weren’t in the flicks; no, you were there in the Wild West, riding your horse as the trusted sidekick of the hero, the man from whom all baddies fled, the man who ensured that good always triumphed and that wrong was always punished. Living the film as you did, you were so wound up that when it was over and you came rushing out into the daylight you couldn’t wait to play cowboys with your mates.

 Can you recall how you quickly shaded your eyes with a salute of your hand and then so soon as you’d got used to the brightness you were off? You’d slap your left thigh with your left hand, because of course the lower half of your body was the horse, and your right hand was your gun. That was made by bringing your thumb down to hold your fourth and little fingers against your palm, whilst your second and index fingers were thrust outwards to make the barrel.

 Then you’d run down the horse road, crying out ‘Giddyup! and making exploding noises with your mouth, as if you really were the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers or Buck Jones or Hopalong Cassidy and it was you riding the range chasing the baddies and saving the day.

 And what a thrill it was when one year Father Christmas brought you a cap gun from Woolies and a cowboy hat and waistcoat! You really were able to dream that you were a famous lawman as you called out ‘Hi Ho Silver!’ and joined in the posse (made up of your mates of course) to track down the villain and bring him to justice.

 The thrill of playing cowboys was enhanced when televisions became more common and westerns were on regularly, like ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Rawhide’, ‘The Virginian’, ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘The High Chaparral’. Set in Arizona, this latter was a latecomer in 1967 and was pioneering in showing Mexicans and Native Americans in a positive light.

 Then in 1970 our incorrect assumptions about goodies and baddies of the Old West were really challenged by Dee Brown’s book ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’, which looked at events through the perspective of Native Americans, and by the revisionist western ‘Soldier Blue’, which showed the horrors of the Sand Creek Massacre.

 Like me, Keith Rowbottom well recalls ‘The Cowboys’ from his 1950s Sheldon Childhood and shares them with us this month. As ever there is much more to stir thoughts of the past - from recollections of a Ladywood childhood to those of soldiering in India, and from memories of the Smithfield Market and those of an Italian mother to evocative photos of Vyse Street to Highgate Park.

Have a bostin read

Tara bit and a happy New Year

Carl

February 2017 Brummagem magazine cover.png




Issue Number 191 February 2017

Carl Writes

My great grandfather, Richard Chinn, joined the Coldstream Guards in the autumn of 1883. Unfortunately, we know little about his service but we were told that he was in the relief column that was sent to rescue General Gordon who was besieged in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan. This country was mostly in the hands of rebels against Egyptian rule headed by a religious leader, the Mahdi.
 Commanded by Lord Wolseley, the British force included a Camel Corps which was sent ahead across the desert towards Khartoum and give moral support to Gordon. A picked force, it included volunteers from the Guards regiments, amongst whom were men of the 1st and 2nd battalions the Coldstream Guards. It seems one them was my great grandfather.
 Led by Colonel Stewart, the Camel Corps of just over 2,000 men came up against the 11,000 strong enemy on 16 January 1885 at the wells of Abu Klea. Stewart formed a zereba, an entrenched camp, which was fired upon throughout the night. The next morning he advanced in a hollow square, with the Guards and Mounted Infantry at the front. The Sudanese attacked the square fiercely and broke through the rear.
 After a few minutes mayhem, the rear reformed and the enemy was repulsed bloodily. Amongst the British killed was Colonel Burnaby, a staunch Conservative who had stood for Parliament against Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham in 1880 and to whom there is a monument in Saint Philip’s Churchyard. An obelisk in Portland stone, it is over 50 feet high. 
 The Camel Corps moved on and soon after was attacked again by the Sudanese, who as before showed great bravery. Colonel Stewart was killed, but now commanded by Sir Charles Wilson, the Camel Corps pressed through its opponents towards the Nile. They came upon four of Gordon’s steamers and were handed a letter from the beleaguered general. It was dated 14 December and declared, ‘I think the game is up’. Sadly it was.
 On 24 January Wilson set off on a steamer down the Nile with a small bodyguard to find out what was happening in Khartoum. It was too late. They reached the outskirts of the town and realised it had fallen two days before.
 We didn’t know why Great Granddad Chinn joined the Coldsreamers as a teenager but thanks to Andrew Thornton’s deeply researched article now we do – because the Regiment recruited heavily in Birmingham throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Indeed my Granddad Chinn and Uncle Ron Chinn would also join the Coldstream Guards. 
 As ever there is much more to stair memories in this month’s Brummagem from recollections of dancing days to those of Birmingham Girls.

Have a bostin read.

Tara a bit

Carl
March 2017 Brummagem magazine cover.png




Issue Number 192 March 2017

Carl Writes

The Borough Rental of Birmingham of 1296 is a fascinating and important document. Because it includes surnames, it enables a detailed analysis of the origins of the local people a few generations after its foundation of the town. Over 300 individuals were recorded, most with a forename and surname, of which latter 160 were unique.
 The three surnames of Jones, Prys and Brangwayn, meaning fair raven in Welsh, would seem to indicate immigration from Wales and thus they emphasise the deep bond between Birmingham and the Principality. This had had been forged in the later Middle Ages, when Welsh drovers from Brecon and Radnorshire brought cattle to Birmingham. That trade must have been well established by the sixteenth century when one end of the cattle market in High Street was called the Welsh Market.
 A number of Welsh families who settled here went on to make a major impact on our city. They included the Quaker Lloyds of Dolobran in Montgomeryshire, Wales, manufacturers and bankers, and the Kenricks from Denbighshire, cast iron makers in West Bromwich and local politicians in Birmingham.
 The Welsh were as influential culturally. Edward Burne-Jones, the celebrated stained glass artist had Welsh ancestors, as did John Henry Langford. A self-taught working man, who strove for the improvement of the working class, Langford became a journalist, compiler of histories of Birmingham, and campaigner for free parks and free libraries. 
 With the decline of the coalfields and steel works in South Wales in the 1920s, many men and women from The Valleys came to Birmingham to work on the railways, in firms like Bakelite in Tyseley, and as teachers - but men and women from North Wales also moved here and made their mark. They included Robert Jones, the beloved Taid of Alison Passmore whose tribute to him is moving and insightful.
 As ever there is much more in this month’s Brummagem to stir your thought and memories, including stories of delving into family history and of youngsters from Birmingham who were taken to Canada by Middlemore Homes.


Have a bostin read.

Tara a bit

Carl
April 2017 Brummagem magazine front cover


Issue Number 193 April 2017

Carl Writes

On the evening of 16 November 1966, a harrowing television play on homelessness shocked the nation with its story of destitution, distress and desperation. ‘Cathy Come Home’ went out on BBC 1 as one of the Wednesday Plays. It was watched by an astonishing twelve million viewers, just less than a quarter of the total population of the United Kingdom, and it has been acclaimed as the best British television drama ever made.
 Yet it also caused outrage, with some people complaining that its innuendoes were unfair to local authorities which were trying to help the genuine homeless.   One of those councils was Birmingham and its objections to ‘Cathy Come Home’ were made the more strident because some of the street scenes in the play had not been filmed in London - where the story was set – but in Hingeston Street in Brookfields, Birmingham.
 There was a critical housing shortage in Birmingham; and its older central districts were dominated by badly-built, insanitary and outdated back-to-back housing that was an unwanted legacy from the Victorian age. After the Second World War, plans were finally enacted to rid the city of its bad housing but the building of new homes was painfully slow – most especially for those that needed better homes and had to live in crumbling houses.
 By 1947 piecemeal demolition of the most insanitary houses and bombing had reduced the number of back-to-backs in the city from around 39,000 in 1936 to 29,000 – a figure to which could be added the 6,000 other homes that had shared lavatories. This total of 35,000 houses included 6,500 that did not have a separate water supply and had to share a standpipe outside, and 417 with neither gas nor electricity.
 Unhappily many of the people who lived in such housing were forced to endure their dreadful living conditions for years more, and by the mid-1960s those back-to-backs that remained had deteriorated badly despite their previous reconditioning.
 This deterioration of individual properties was made worse by the decline of whole areas because of clearance. Lived-in terraces of back-to-backs stood amidst a scene of destruction. Mounds of rubble were interspersed with rows of partly-demolished houses surrounded by stinking puddles of water, overflowing drains and decomposing vegetation.
 One remarkable working-class Birmingham woman acted vigorously against the awful housing condition in which she and her family lived. She was Irene Hay, whose battle for better housing is told in this month’s Brummagem by her daughter Lorraine Dewar. Another remarkable back-street woman was my Great Granny Wood, to whom I pay tribute. As ever there is much including Des Kelly’s evocative memories of a 1950s Sparkbrook childhood.

Have a bostin read.

Tara a bit
Carl
May 2017 Brummagem magazine cover



Issue Number 194 May 2017

Carl Writes

Birmingham's Onion Fair was one of the leading fairs in     the country. As far back as 1400, a fair was held at Michaelmas, 29 September, for the sale of animals, but like all fairs it soon attracted show folk who offered entertainment and refreshment.
 By the late 1700s, the fair began with a march through the main streets led by the Town Crier, the High and Low Bailiffs and a band. Then the real fun started. Up to 40,000 people poured into Birmingham, looking for a good time - and they found it.
 There were shows, street entertainers, stalls and booths galore, from the bottom end of Bull Street to Digbeth, from Jamaica Row to Allison Street, and from Spiceal Street to High Street. Circuses and theatres, penny gaffs and merry-go-rounds, performing horses and strange folk were all there. So were piles of gingerbreads and wagon-loads of onions, brought in by French growers from Brittany.
 Sadly not everyone enjoyed the frolics. Retailers lost trade and serious-minded councillors were upset by the boisterous crowds. In 1860, they restricted pleasure fairs to the Bull Ring and fifteen years later they abolished them altogether - although they continued to allow the sale of onions.
 The show folk weren't beaten, though. At the end of September 1875 they set up their pitches at the 'Old Pleck', near Bracebridge Street in Aston, then just outside Birmingham's boundaries. But there were less things to do and only a few onion sellers whilst gangs roamed around.
 Then in came Pat Collins. The son of an Irish horse dealer from Ballinasloe in Galway, he had learned his trade travelling with simple rides around the fairs of North Wales, Cheshire and South Lancashire. By the 1880s he was living in Walsall, and with a number of steam-powered rides he was the Black Country's leading showman.
 Collins took over the lease of the Old Pleck in 1890, but soon he moved it, first to the 'Reservoir Ground' and then by 1910 to the Serpentine near Villa Park. It was here that the Onion Fair once again became a major event in the lives of Brummies of all ages.
 Each year it had new rides and more attractions, and it continued to draw in huge crowds - until the building of the Aston Expressway made it impossible to use the Serpentine Ground. Nearly 600 years after it started, the Onion Fair was held for the last time in 1969. Like so much of Old Brum, it fell victim to redevelopment.
 This month’s Brummagem includes an evocative poem about the Onion Fair as well as a tribute to the real Ciangretta family, hard-working and honest Italian Brummies who gave much to our city, as well as memories of Stechford and Kingstanding, Aston and of a highly politicised father.


Have a bostin read.

Tara a bit

Carl
Brummagem June 2017 magazine cover

ISSUE NUMBER 195     JUNE 2017


Carl Writes

Local and national elections used to be passionate and raw things. For weeks before the day of the vote, candidates would traipse the streets putting forth their case to all and sundry, and often at a busy street corner, they would put down their soap box, stand upon it. With a few supporters backing them, they would hold forth, trying to drum up a crowd from the passers-by.
 It never took long to do so, but the audience was nothing like the orderly ranks of the converted to whom the vast majority of politicians now speak in ­controlled party-gatherings. Rather, they were raucous, tough and challenging. To gain attention and keep it, a speaker had to be loud and commanding, quick and sharp, ardent and convincing and above all, able to put down hecklers.
 But elections were also good fun, especially for youngsters on polling day when candidates vied for their attention. In each and every working-class constituency gangs of children and teenagers were rounded up by local activists to form a boisterous column of support for their party.
 In their midst would be an empty coal wagon pulled by a horse. Festooned with red, white and blue ribbons and plastered with election posters and slogans, its driver stood aloft, reins held tightly in one hand. With the other hand, now and then he'd scoop a handful of rocks from a big bag and chuck them into the air for the delighted youngsters to catch hold.
 Yelling and banged miskin lids, they paraded the streets sporting rosettes in the colour of the candidate whose name they were chanting. Those supporting the Labour candidate Percy Shurmer for Sparkbrook sang: ‘Vote, Vote, Vote for Percy Shurmer, And who's that knocking at the door,  If it’s so and so and his wife then we'll stab 'em with a knife, And they won't come knocking anymore!’
 Another variation was ‘Vote, vote, vote for Percy Shurmer, He will be sure to win the day, If you vote for any other he will put you in the gutter, And they won't come voting anymore!’ ‘Our Percy’ was loved as the Miskin King, the Poor Man's Champion who fought tirelessly to make things better for the Brummies of the back-to-backs.
 Yet in the 1920s and 30s there was plenty of local working-class support for the Unionists, especially for Sir John Smedley Crooke. The youngsters cheering him on sang: ‘Vote, vote, vote for Smedley Crooke; He's been fighting at the war; He's the one for you and me and he'll get us ham for tea, And the others won't come voting anymore!’
 ­A former soldier with the Royal Warwicks, 'The Good Knight of Deritend' was well-respected as a Serviceman's MP and as someone who campaigned for a local employment exchange to help men who were out of work.
 MP for Deritend from 1922, Smedley Cooke retired in 1945 the year in which Percy Shurmer was finally elected to Parliament for Sparkbrook. They may have been political opponents but both of them always put the people of Birmingham first. This month’s Brummagem brings you memories local politicians who did just that and as ever there is much more to stir memories and thoughts.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

Carl
Brummagem 2017 August front cover

ISSUE NUMBER 196 JULY 2017


Carl Writes
For far, far too long our people, the common people, were mostly hidden from history. Having to labour for day after day, year in and year out just to survive, they had neither the time nor the energy to write down their stories or compile diaries. That absence of a written testimonies form working people means that their appearances on the historical stage are restricted to rare mentions in official annals or concern events when they had committed an offence according to the laws imposed for their own benefit by the ruling class.
 Sadly so much of our knowledge of the past is gleaned through these official reports that lack the verve of personal testimony and that relate to working people in an arrogant and insensitive manner. Or else our understanding of the past comes via historians who interpret what they have researched according to their own background, upbringing, beliefs and attitudes.
 Of course, the voices of the past are the concern of every historian; yet some historians speak louder than those whom they study. They muffle the voices of the past, making them difficult to understand and to appreciate. Oral history is a valuable way through which we can overcome this problem and speak with the past more directly – so too is life story history. 
 When writing down their story, or part of their story, the writer sets down what he or she themselves wants to in the manner they want to.  As such life stories, and oral history, are vital and vivid first-hand sources allowing use to engage with the past in a more democratic, egalitarian and emotional way.
 Every person has made their mark upon history and each and every person has a story to tell – but even now too few actually tell it.  There is a real need for the older generation to pass on their lives before their memories are lost forever; and there is as great a need for those who know something about of those who have now gone to ensure that these stories are also handed down.
 For far, far too long our people, the common people, were mostly hidden from history. Having to labour for day after day, year in and year out just to survive, they had neither the time nor the energy to write down their stories or compile diaries. That absence of a written testimonies form working people means that their appearances on the historical stage are restricted to rare mentions in official annals or concern events when they had committed an offence according to the laws imposed for their own benefit by the ruling class.
 Sadly so much of our knowledge of the past is gleaned through these official reports that lack the verve of personal testimony and that relate to working people in an arrogant and insensitive manner. Or else our understanding of the past comes via historians who interpret what they have researched according to their own background, upbringing, beliefs and attitudes.
 Of course, the voices of the past are the concern of every historian; yet some historians speak louder than those whom they study. They muffle the voices of the past, making them difficult to understand and to appreciate. Oral history is a valuable way through which we can overcome this problem and speak with the past more directly – so too is life story history. 
 When writing down their story, or part of their story, the writer sets down what he or she themselves wants to in the manner they want to.  As such life stories, and oral history, are vital and vivid first-hand sources allowing use to engage with the past in a more democratic, egalitarian and emotional way.
 Every person has made their mark upon history and each and every person has a story to tell – but even now too few actually tell it.  There is a real need for the older generation to pass on their lives before their memories are lost forever; and there is as great a need for those who know something about of those who have now gone to ensure that these stories are also handed down.
 There is also a real need for younger folk to listen and record the story of their older relatives- something which Beccy Jones recognised. In this month’s Brummagem we bring you the words of her beloved Grandpa Stagg and his sister, Lily, who raised her younger siblings from the age of fourteen when their mother died. We also bring you the early life of another remarkable Brummie, Decima Woodhead nee Jayes as well as an account of working at Woolworths in the Bull ting and of the relationship between the ‘Titanic’ and the Midlands.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

Carl
August 2017 Brummagem front cover


ISSUE NUMBER 197 August 2017


Carl Writes

Back in 1993, I was working on a two-year contact in the new post of Community Historian at the University of Birmingham, a job which was also funded by Birmingham Libraries. As part of my work for the Libraries I was involved in giving talks at community libraries across the City and in working to help to set up local history societies.
 I vividly recall one session at Bloomsbury Library when lots of people turned up to talk about their memories of Nechells, Duddeston, Ashted and Vauxhall and to discuss the idea of forming a society to carry out research into those areas and to draw people together for social meetings and to listen to speakers.
 My Nan, Lil Perry nee Wood, came with me a she had grown up just down the road in Whitehouse Street, Aston, where she also lived after her marriage until she was moved out of her back-to-back in the early 1960s and into a new maisonette at 17, Garsdale Terrace, Malvern House, Nechells.
 We all sat around in a very large circle and people were sparking off each other with their reminiscences. Many of the people agreed to meet again and from those discussions the Heartlands Local History Society was formed in May 1993. It soon became one of the most active groups of its kind, not only by having meetings with speakers but also by collecting old photographs, gathering memories, organising reunions and parties and bringing out a cracking newsletter called the ‘Old End News’.
 For ten years the editor of that excellent publication was John Kirby, who sadly died recently. John believed passionately that, as he proclaimed, ‘history only tells you about the big events and the small everyday bits of local history, your heritage, that never gets told and needs saving’. And he cajoled his readers to tell those small bits of everyday history by declaring that ‘if yo’re one them that’s never written anything about your time livin’ or workin’ down the Old End ain’t it about time yo did summat about it!’   
 I was privileged to know both John and his wife, Sheila, and I have valued their kindnesses to me and their support for my work. This month’s Brummagem includes some of John’s memories from the ‘Old End News’ in tribute to him. I am grateful to the Heartlands Local History Society and Sheila for allowing me to include them.
 As ever there is much more in this issue – from memories of Balsall Heath to those of a Brummie inventor, and from an account of Birmingham’s biggest football match to date in 1886 to Honouring the Fallen.

Have a bostin read.
Tara bit

Carl

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