Leaving the Door Ajar” and “A Knock on the Door”

By Gladys Jones

Gladys Jones in 1948

I have to introduce this article with the sad news that our dear friend and long standing society member, Gladys Ivy Jones, passed away in August this year. Gladys was born in 1925 and had been a society member since its inauguration in 1999. Gladys was an eccentric but lovely lady and a true Quintonian, she will be missed by everyone; Quinton will not be the same without her.

After her death I found an article she had written, I think it may repeat passages from her other memories but as a tribute to her I would like to share her memories with you.

The cottage doors at 221 and 223 Spies Lane were often ajar that is “slightly open”. If the coal fire wouldn’t draw, then the back door and the front door had to be left partly open, whatever the weather. To draw the fire the draft from the two open doors would kindle the fire. If no draft then no fire and that was our only form of heating. But with a little help from wafting a folded flat newspaper up and down then the fire would be alight. If a neighbour called it was a knock on the open door and walk in; maybe bringing a few apples from their garden or even a rabbit from a local farmer.

Another neighbour would come round asking if she could leave the pram and baby whilst she popped to Bearwood for a bit of shopping or whilst she did a few hours cleaning at one of the big houses in Spies Lane or Victoria Avenue. Married women were not allowed to take employment; it was the time of the “Big 1930s Depression”, many men were on the dole. They were pleased to take any form of employment.

A knock on the door and it was some young children from Birmingham, a place we only visited once a year near Christmas for our visit to meet Father Christmas at Lewis’s. One shilling for a lucky dip, pink for a girl and blue for a boy, it wasn’t a wonderful present but all the children went, it was traditional. These young children wanted a drink of water please; they were out for a day in the countryside. Mom always found them a little something to eat, cold bread pudding or plain homemade cake, no cherries though-too expensive. In the early evening a knock on the door meant it was the Night Soil Men with their shovels and wheelbarrows; they had come to remove the contents of our shared midden. The toilet, open one side to the elements so always resulting in a cold bottom.

Mom would call out “all hands to the pump” which involved us kids with galvanised buckets carrying water from the well to the paths outside the house so Mom and Auntie Phoebe could scrub the paths and the yard with a hard broom. To get rid of the droppings from the overloaded wheelbarrows. It was a shared toilet, two holes one for an adult and the other for a child. I cannot remember what form of transport was involved to take away the offending load because I was too busy carrying water.

Aunt Phoebe and Mom in “our field” at the rear of the cottage

Hobbs the hardware shop in Halesowen delivered once a week. To us it was mainly paraffin for the lamp, which stood on the living room wooden table. The clear globe cost sixpence and was our only form of lighting. We had candles in the bedrooms and for the visit to the midden in the middle of the night. Usually the first puff of wind and out went the candle but you knew the way to the lavatory in the pitch black if the needs must. When short of candles a roll of newspaper lit from the coals in the fire, until you were outside and the night air soon put it out.

The Friday knock on the door was the greengrocer, Shuker from Halesowen, with all the out of season fruit and vegetables. The baker came by horse and cart from Blackheath three times a week, even in the snow. Mother made our cakes; she saved the fruit for our Christmas cake and puddings. The making of this started in June but in October the fruit would be mixed for the Christmas puddings, these were boiled in the kitchen coal boiler which was also used for clothes and the weekly baths!

The monthly knock on the door was the Shoe man. A shilling or two would be paid for plain black shoes and black wellingtons. When I was very young I wore button-up boots which were fastened with a long wooden hook at the end.

The groceries were never delivered to our door; Mom took an old push chair to Hagley Road to George Mason, next to Quinton Old Post Office. We would collect on a Saturday morning as pay day was always Friday. The tea, sugar was hand weighed into the blue bags; the cheese and a pat of butter into greaseproof paper. Mom and Aunt Phoebe always covered these foods with a snow white tea-towel to keep the flies at bay.

Leaving the door ajar meant that the local farmers would leave a rabbit or two on the doorstep; these would be stewed or roasted. A few apples or vegetables would often be left on the doorstep during autumn as greens were plentiful. Nothing was ever thrown away.

Life was never boring, we had arguments but disputes were soon over. In hours of need we helped each other, weddings, births and funerals. If you couldn’t afford a posh funeral the coffin was taken to church on a tradesman’s hand cart. Births were carried out by Mrs Dugmore, who was a locally trained nurse. When a death occurred the next door neighbour “Laid you out”, washed and straightened the body, place on a clean nightshirt and place a penny on each eye. This was done for when neighbours visited the dead body; if the eyes were open they were afraid of the body.

A knock at the door, it was Aunt Phoebe telling us there were horses in Spies Lane, out we would go with the galvanised buckets to collect the horse manure. We would then go round to the big posh houses in Spies Lane and sell it for cash, a copper or two but always keep some back to put on the roses. I would place the manure in an old water butt and feed the rose bush every week. The roses were grown by some iron railings and gate which were taken away and used for the 1939-45 war effort.

The railings outside 221 Spies Lane and the roses

Bourne College closed and became a Home for Male Pensioners, Quinton Hall. They always wore thick grey suits. One posh looking gentleman called regularly at Aunt Phoebe’s to purchase one pink rose for a button hole on his suit. The pensioners would often stop for a chat with everyone including the children, they would give you a sweet or two, they were never a threat to us, they were just friendly, lonely old gentlemen. If ever a problem took place then us kids would just run like hell or scream! When Bourne College finally closed Mom purchased a single cast iron bed and mattress for 1/6d.

In the dark winter evenings the lamp lighter gas man arrived in the lane with his bicycle and long handled pole with a hook on the end, the hook tripped the top to light up the gas mantle, this happened each evening, no matter what the weather.

Bourne College Dormitory beds

Us kids would hang around the bottom of the lamp post and would shake the pole if the light wouldn’t light. There was also a Night Watch Man who was supposed to guard the many holes in the lane. But most times he could be found in the Royal Oak, much for wear of alcohol, we would hide away and take over his hut to sit around the fire to keep warm.

Our milk man was Albert Porter who lived three cottages down the lane. He delivered milk six days a week, the knock on the door and he walked over to the wooden table near the fire where a jug waited for him. Mom would pay the bill on a Saturday, just two pence a pint.

Royal Oak Pub

Albert carried on along the lane serving regular customers and then on to Bearwood, pushing his hand cart containing two large churns of milk. After his lunch he would go gardening at the posh houses in Quinton. Us kids would always hang around hoping he would throw us a few apples or pears just to try and get rid of us. In the evening he taught himself to play the organ.

Mom paid sixpence a week into a sick club, but a knock on the door and in came Doctor Mather to attend to the child on the sofa wearing a woollen hat, scarf and gloves and covered by a blanket. Doctor Mather climbed up the scrubbed wooden stairs to attend to the next birth or in fact death.

He would not leave until he had had a drink of homemade wine. His favourite was potato wine which tasted like whisky.

If the chimney needs sweeping because the fire wouldn’t pull then Sam Price from next door would arrive with a very large holly bush. Sam and Dad would force the hollybush half way up the chimney. The fire was lit to burn the hollybush. All of the family would be ready on call with buckets of water and containers just in case the fire managed to get out of control. Sometimes it did happen, Sam Price had his ladder at the ready, then he would climb on the roof and tip buckets of water down the chimney but that would create a smell in the bedroom with the smell of wet soot.

The door ajar was now wide open because the weather was warm. We would sit on the doorstep and watch people returning from work on the number 9 bus or on the 132 from Halesowen.

On the first Sunday in May Auntie Phoebe and her married son, Jim who lived in an old farmhouse near the Black Horse Public House. They would get out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning, whatever the weather. They would go “Maying” to William Shenstone grounds at the Leasowes to bless the hawthorn bushes and collect the flowering May Blossom, if in full bloom or blossom. This was then placed in a jam jar by the side of the open door, not inside because May flowers in the home would bring bad luck. Aunt Phoebe returned after breakfast, cold and often wet but Mom would warm some old ale in the saucepan on the coal fire with a pinch of ginger or spice, while I toasted a few rounds of bread. This will warm “the cockles of your heart” said Mom.

The 1939-45 war arrived just as our standard of living was improving, our lives changed forever. The door ajar was often closed and old sheets were dipped black in the old tin bath for black out curtains for the windows and doors.

Pop was forced to be an air raid warden two evenings a week, which was after he had worked six days a week at the munitions factory in Ladywood. We didn’t have an air raid shelter because Halesowen Council said that we lived in the countryside! So Mom, Aunt Phoebe, the dog and I went under the wooden table which we pushed to the corner of the living room, where the three walls joined together. Pop said it was the strongest point if hit by a direct bomb. So with the gas and fire turned off we would wait under the table.

Pop called me out one night during a lull, a quiet spell from the heavy bombing. Come to the doorstep but put my steel helmet on first. He said to look at the sky; it was bright orange-red and a mixture of smoke and fog. Pop told me that when I was an old lady I could tell people that I watched Coventry burning.

From the now closed door we watched the men of the lane go to war. They came home occasionally on leave but many never returned from the battlefields of the world. A young couple, Mary James and her young Royal Air Force boyfriend, were like two peas in a pod. Mary died in childbirth not wanting to live without her husband who had been killed in a plane crash. Eric Mantle, killed on his last trip before becoming a tutor and getting married.

Some of my play mates, who I played football, cricket, rounders with in “our field” and socialised with in later life, never returned. Times were changing, my beloved Aunt Phoebe died, her husband Sam price was our landlord and he married again within the month. So it was time for us to move on, the end of “keeping the door ajar” forever!

Sketch of the junction of Spies Lane and Kent Road in 1949

Thank you Gladys for always being supportive and always willing to share your experiences and memories, Iris and I and all of your Quinton LHS friends will miss our “Rosy-glow Pensioner”.

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