Life in Quinton for the “Spies Lane Gang”

By Gladys Jones

Before radio and television came to the children from the cottages in Spies Lane, Quinton in the 1930s. The men from the Old Men’s Home were always kind to us poorer kids, giving us sweets etc. Our parents always told us “If any strange men or women stop you, scream and kick then run like a flash in the night. The old men from the home are alright but don’t go near two cottages in Spies Lane. If you do and I find out-I will chop your legs from under you!”

We never asked our parents for money, they couldn’t afford it anyway, Mom would say, “Do you think money grows on trees?” There were always plenty of errands during the evening and weekends for a half-penny or a penny (old money or course), mainly - for the pensioners at the safe houses. The main jobs were collecting beer from the New Inns public house or a few groceries from Misses Fields shop in the High Street. Collect stiff white collars from the laundry on “The Green” for the men to wear with their ‘Sunday best’.

With some of our hard earned money we had a visit to Miss Field’s general store to buy from the ‘tuck box’ for a halfpenny or penny. Perhaps a trip across the road to Mr Phillip Hill’s Fish shop for a big spend, one penny would buy you a few chips covered in scrattings and soaked in salt and vinegar-a real treat and smacking of lips!

Philip Hill
Philip Hill

We would call in at our next customer on the way home and ask for a drink of water, as we couldn’t afford to buy pop on our meagre earnings. Anyway, in the summer, Mom always had homemade nettle and dandelion pop to drink when we got home, and that was free.

At the Church School, Miss Cutler would give us a few coppers to fetch cream biscuits (for her mid-morning break) from Mrs Jordan’s across the road from the school, or we could go to the general store by the Toll House in College road but the choice wasn’t as good.

The streets and Spies Lane had a few gaslights installed, which nearly always were on the blink- Oh! Those dancing figures. The lamp lighter from Halesowen called each evening on his bicycle. Us kids watched while the ladder was placed onto the two arms of the lamppost as he climbed up to turn the lights on, just another free source of entertainment.

One of the customers lived opposite the two cottages near the Kings Highway. Stan lived with his mother; I collected his beer regularly from the new Inns. After being paid, his mother would give me a piece of homemade cake. Sometimes it was seed cake, which I didn’t like so I would feed it to the animals in Spies Lane. There were horses that pulled the carts and carriages used by the posh ladies and gentlemen. We collected the horse manure for the big houses in the middle of Spies Lane. One belonged to Francis Brett-Young’s father; the cook always paid me well, sixpence or a shilling for blackberries

Gladys in Spies Lane (water pump centre).
Gladys in Spies Lane (water pump centre).

A old penny for taking letters to the nine o’clock evening bus at Ridgacre Road, to put in the box hanging from a bar on the deck of the running board. Letters would arrive in London next day. I often had a piece of homemade fruitcake given to me by the cook.

During winter with the snow or heavy rain, we would take our own food for lunch. We would sit at our desks and eat our sandwiches. The final return journey from school with snow fights and sliding down the lane.

Spies Lane in 1947
Spies Lane in 1947

Open space along Spies Lane looking on to the grounds of the Old Men’s Home. No houses or cottages on the left hand side until Gower Road (my childhood it was called the ‘Black Boy’ on the right side bank before Victoria Avenue. Semi detached houses with high bank in front, further along and much larger houses. Standing a distance from the lane with large gardens, excellent payers on ‘carol singing night’. Victoria Avenue the bottom left large double fronted house, where Jean Playdon lived. Her aunt lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden because she suffered from tuberculosis. Opposite Victoria Avenue at the end were two large houses with families. Still on the right side on the corner of Spies Lane and Gower Road (Black Boy) was a cottage belonging to a pensioner called ‘Maggie’, she had a smashing orchard.

Spies Lane Cottage circa 1930
Spies Lane Cottage circa 1930

To the right of her cottage was a sand stone round well, where my mother collected our daily drinking and washing water. Turning the bend into Spies Lane there were trees and then an open space, after that was ‘our field’ where as kids we used to spend most of our hot summer months. The first cottage belonged to the Hacketts, and then there was another cottage. The end cottage was one room up and one down and belonged to the Vaughans, Mrs Vaughan with two sons who were both on the dole. Near the lane was a nice pear tree and another well, which is still there today. Then two cottages belonging to Sam Price and his wife, Phoebe, a most charming and wonderful lady.

Sam Price’s forge was behind the two cottages; it had a windmill installed by Sam, which he purchased from the ‘Old Women’s Hospital’. We lived next door at number 221 Spies Lane. At the next cottage lived Mrs Guest and then next door to her Mr & Mrs Mason with their six children. Next door to that was a cottage facing down the lane where Mr Porter and his son lived. Next came an open space, where square chimneys was later built, home to Doctor Mather.

Mrs Jones and Phoebe Price rear of cottages
Mrs Jones and Phoebe Price rear of cottages

The next plum bricked house belonged to Mr and Mrs Watson and family. Then an open space where later the Chocolate Box shop opened. The owner’s son Les, a lovely man, would let us kids inspect the halfpenny and penny box on the counter. Next-door was a grocery store. Shenstone Valley Road opened up much later. On the opposite corner lived Mary Watson’s grandmother, she was always standing at the garden gate wearing her white apron. Then came a general store, the Fodaguls, then an open space with lots of yellow clay (plenty of frogs). Kent Road wasn’t there just fields leading half way down to the Leasowes.

Just on the corner, where Kent Road is now, was a farmhouse, which was bought by Jim and Maud Price, lovely sweet apples in their orchard.

Artist’s impression of farm at Spies Lane
Artist’s impression of farm at Spies Lane

Across the road was the Royal Oak public house then three or four cottages into Manor Lane. (Photo from Carl Chinn’s archive on next page)

Coming back up the lane, leaving Carters Lane on the right was a the Vernal’s farm and the church, on the corner of Spies Lane another farm with a duck pond at the front.

Royal Oak Pub (dated 1930s)
Royal Oak Pub (dated 1930s)

A small general store in front room, very smelly I recall. Open spaces then a few bungalows, then four houses. A lane leading to Howley Grange Farm, which was at the far end.

H R Wilson drawing-Howley Grange Farm
H R Wilson drawing-Howley Grange Farm

It was always very dark and with many shadows. Later made into a private housing estate. Then open space corner of Spies Lane, Paddock’s house, a couple of large private houses, then Ronnie Rose’s house, Doctor Young, Mrs Barrett (who opened up her side garage to sell vegetables etc.), then the jeweller. On the corner facing the ‘Black Boy’ in a wooden bungalow lived Mrs Jones (wife to William) with her daughter, Doris. The bungalow had two small bedrooms, a living room come kitchen and a steep path to the front door. Mrs Jones collected her water from the well beside ‘Maggie’s cottage’. The jeweller’s wife often gave toys to Doris.

Guess who in 1948?
Guess who in 1948?

My childhood was freedom to roam; Spies lane was “Our World” to us kids. Mostly plants, trees, fields and farm animals, with the occasional flood or two in August. Life changed when all those housing estates were built.

Ed’s comment - Certain members have asked about Spies Lane in the early part of the last century, so I thought who better to ask than our good friend and Old Quintonian – Miss Gladys Jones – many thanks Gladys

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