Arthur Masters

by Charlotte Tate

My grandfather, Arthur Masters, was born in 1866; in a tiny village called Farthingstone in Northamptonshire, many miles from Quinton where later in his life he became the village fireman. Farthingstone is a beautiful village, built in a deep, rich, gold coloured stone. It had a "big house," that was demolished in the 1950's by order of the owner on his death. There is a Norman Church, a school, a pub, a deer park and farms.

Farthingstone, Birthplace of Arthur Masters
Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

Farthingstone Church
Farthingstone Church, where the Masters family graves are situated
Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

Arthur was the youngest of seven (?) children. His parents, Ann and William were farmers. He received a good education at the village school.

Farthingstone Village School
Farthingstone Village School
Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

I remember that his general knowledge was very good. The 1870 Education Act thankfully had taken children off the farms, out of the mines and factories, and into school. Arthur told me that he enjoyed school and would climb up a big tree outside his house in order to do his homework in peace away from his siblings.

The children would work on the farm before and after school; getting up really early on market day to collect the eggs, pick and bundle parsley, thyme and mint and other similar tasks. When he left school, I think that he farmed with his father for a time, but felt a need to leave Farthingstone and experience what life was like outside of the village.

His cousin Louise was married to a Mr.Tozer who was an official with The Birmingham Fire Brigade. They wrote to Arthur to tell him that the fire service had a vacancy for a new fireman, who had a good knowledge of horses. His duties would include tending to the horses, driving them to the fires and fighting the fires with the other firemen. "Was he interested?" they wrote. He was.

Fireman Masters.

Arthur Masters secured the post with Birmingham Fire Brigade and left his beloved family and Farthingstone to begin a new life in Birmingham. He lived in bachelors quarters with the other single firemen and tended the big horses that pulled the fire engines. He had a life-long love of horses and made friends with the other firemen, so he was happy with his new job.

The firemen had a pet chimpanzee as their mascot. His name was Ponto. Ponto had a huge cage from which he was often let out to play. He was always getting into mischief, but they were all fond of him.

One day Ponto got out of his quarters and jumped onto a cart loaded with tomatoes and began to pelt the passers-by with the fruit. The brigade had to compensate the owner of the tomatoes, of course. The firemen's families loved to visit Ponto. On one of these visits, he stole a baby's dummy and was allowed to keep it.

Another time when Ponto went out into the town, he climbed through the window of a factory that made ball bearings. The firemen were sent for, and several of them came to catch him and take him home. When they arrived at the factory, Ponto was stuffing his mouth and cheeks with ball bearings. As the men closed in on him, Ponto spat out hundreds of ball-bearings on to the factory floor. The firemen skidded and slid on the ball bearings as they approached the area where Ponto was hiding, making his re-capture even more difficult. They eventually coaxed him from his hiding place by offering him his dummy. Then he went back to the fire station with them.

On another occasion, he found his way into the Law Courts. There was a case being heard, and when he entered the courtroom, pandemonium broke out as Ponto rushed around scattering papers as he went.

When Ponto died his body was taken to a taxidermist to be stuffed. The taxidermist posed him climbing up a fireman's ladder. I believe that it was displayed in the old Birmingham Library for a while. I do not know where he was relocated. Ponto may still be on display somewhere.

The Fireman's Wife.

Charlotte Masters, nee Herbert, was born in 1874, the youngest of three sisters. Her parents were Sarah and William who was born in Hertfordshire; they lived in West Bromwich. When Charlotte left school, she went into service in a big house in the Lower Priory area of Birmingham. She rose through the ranks and became the cook. Her employers looked after her carefully. She was not allowed to have boy friends. When she was in her twenties she took an evening job at a local hotel, for pin money, where she served behind the bar and washed glasses. One evening in February 1898, she was working at the hotel and heard a man with a rural accent, not unlike her father's, order a half-pint of beer. She turned around and came face to face with Arthur Masters, a fireman. It must have been love at first sight because within one month they were married.

In spite of the boy friend ban, her employers welcomed Arthur and became fond of them both; saying that Charlotte was marrying the pick of the Birmingham Fire Brigade.

They were married in St. Phillips Church in Colmore Row; now Birmingham Cathedral. They were a handsome couple. Charlotte was petite and under five feet tall. She had a heart shaped face, with very high cheekbones, hazel eyes and long brown hair piled high on top of her head. She wore a heliotrope velvet gown and a matching Gainsborough hat, trimmed with ostrich feathers. Arthur was blond and blue eyed, with a blond moustache and a very straight back. He wore his dress uniform with its rows of shiny buttons and looked extremely smart.

The Fire Brigade married quarters were a block of flats in Birmingham's Old Square, close to The Law Courts. After their wedding, Arthur took Charlotte to live there.

Arthur Masters, the city fireman.

Arthur was devoted to "his" horses and the fire service. He served the city loyally, doing this dangerous job that only a strong, committed man can do, then and now.

On cold winter nights, when the men were fire fighting, the spray from the hoses would freeze to ice up their sleeves and down the front of their uniforms. Their wives would bring them jugs of hot cocoa to try to keep out the cold.

At least once Arthur almost lost his life. One time he and his team were fighting a fire in the jewellery quarter, in Hockley. He went inside the building and up the stairs in order to check that there was nobody trapped inside. Whilst he was searching through the flames and smoke, the burning floor gave way beneath his boots and he fell through either one or two burning floors and landed between a vat of acid and a vat of hot wax. Had he fallen a little more to the right or to the left, he would have died horribly.

His team got him safely out of the building. His hands and face were burned so he had to have hospital treatment. My mother told me that when he came home, his head and hands were bandaged all over. She remembers him sitting quietly by the fire smoking his pipe through the mouth slit in his bandages.

When the dressings were eventually removed, his hair, eyebrows and moustache were gone. They soon grew back. He was presented with more than one medal for bravery, but this story is the only one that I was told.

Victorian and Edwardian family life in the city.

Six children, Frederick, Anne, Doris, Elsie, Winifred and Florence were born to Charlotte and Arthur Masters when they lived in Birmingham. The children were "little city sparrows" - the streets of central Birmingham were their playgrounds. They would push the latest baby and the toddler in the big pram to play around the Victorian fountain that is close to the Art Gallery.

Masters Brothers
The Masters Brothers (left to right),
George, Frederick and John taken in
Bissell Street in 1939

Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

The family regularly visited Farthingstone to see the Masters grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They would travel by train from Birmingham to Daventry and then on to the village by pony and trap. It was such a treat for these city children; they loved their country relatives, the countryside and its wild flower meadows, woodland and animals. However, the city was where the work was.


My mother told me about the bath night ritual, which occurred every Friday night. Arthur was always a devoted husband and father and would always help Charlotte when he was not fire fighting.

The bath water was heated in the kitchen, brought into the living room, and poured into a metal bath in front of the fire. Arthur would wash each child's hair and pass him or her to Charlotte. She bathed the children two at a time; one soaked as one was soaped. They were dried with warm towels and dressed in a clean nightgown. The children then sat in a row by the fire, drying their hair, and then Arthur would keep them amused by telling them stories about his country childhood or sing songs to them.

He never lost his love of "the old home." His grandchildren born in the 1930's and 1940's also regularly visited Farthingstone and the Masters family that remained there. Later still, we took our own children there. It is still a beautiful village.

The beginning of the end of life in Birmingham.

One day the firemen were shocked that The Birmingham Fire Brigade had decided to update their fire fighting equipment. Motorised fire engines were to be introduced and the horse drawn ones phased out. The men were upset because they all loved the big horses, so to lighten the mood Arthur Masters challenged the motorised division to a race. His challenge was accepted. They made a big occasion of the race. The Birmingham Horsefair was cleared and made safe, and crowds, including the firemen and their families gathered to watch the race and cheer on Arthur and the horses. The two fire engines lined up. Arthur, reins in hand, sat up high and straight backed, feeling confident of the speed and strength of his horses. At a given signal, they were off. Arthur urged the horses at the top of his voice,"ON-ON-ON-ON." My mother told me that the horses' shoes struck sparks off the cobble stones of the Horsefair as they galloped at top speed pulling the fire engine as if they were racing to a fire. The horses won! The crowd cheered and cheered. However, as we know, and Arthur then knew, it was inevitable that horse-drawn fire engines would be phased out.

Harborne Firestation
The Harborne District Station - Birmingham Fire Brigade, circa 1900s
The above photograph with kind permission of the John Hope Collection

This race must have occurred in 1907 or 1908. Arthur and Charlotte now had six children. When the horses went Arthur was made fireman of Quinton village- a less dangerous posting than the city one. There he would put out fires in nail-makers cottages, household chimney fires, haystack fires and suchlike. Other duties included maintenance of the fire-fighting equipment.

When he left Birmingham he was presented with two paintings of his favourite horses, one was a grey, the other a chestnut. Their names were Franklin and Frizzel. The paintings always hung on the wall of the front room on either side of the piano.

The family came to Quinton on a snowy day in 1908. My Aunt Florence, born in June of that year, was a baby-in-arms. They moved into the fireman's house in Bissell Street and began a new life there. It would be a better life for the children to live away from the city and a safer job for Arthur now in his forties with a large family to support.

Arthur Masters- the village fireman.

It was in the winter of 1908-1909, with a deep snow was on the ground when the Masters family arrived in Bissell Street. Quinton, and took up residence in the Fire station house. In Ridgeacre Lane, just around the corner from their house was the small fire station. It was a lofty, glass-fronted building, and even when I was a girl one could look through the window and see the old fire-fighting equipment inside.

Ridgacre Lane
Ridgeacre Lane in 1938 taken from the corner of High Street
(is the building centre right the Fire Station?)

Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

It was necessary for Quinton village to maintain a modest fire station and a resident fireman, as many of the villagers were nail-makers. Their cottages were prone to catch fire because of the nature of the work they had to do.

This era of Fireman Masters' life has been covered in previous articles. One publication shows photographs of the 1909 celebrations when Quinton was annexed to Birmingham. One photograph shows my grandfather standing with the crowd beside his fire engine. (See next page-Quinton Fire Service on Annexation Day 9th November 1909). Another article tells of fireman Masters fire-watching for zeppelins during the First World War.

My mother, Doris, was six years-old when they came to live in Quinton. She told me how excited they were to have a garden, a park, fields and woods to play in, and even a pond to skate or slide on at the end of Meadow Road.

Annexation Day
Annexation Day Nov. 9th 1909.
Arthur Masters, the village fireman, second from the left

Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

On that first day in Quinton, the children went to play in the park. The snow was brushed from the swings and seesaw so that they could play on them. What a contrast it all was to the city streets that they had left behind. They each felt that they had come to live in Paradise.

The park is smaller now, yet it serves hundreds more homes. What a pity it is that the present day Quinton children have fewer play facilities there than did their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors.

The Masters children all attended the Quinton Church of England School, as did most of their children. I was a pupil there from 1940 until 1947.

Miss Garner, Miss Cutler and Miss Smart taught my aunts and uncles. Their headmaster was Mr. Strudwick. Miss Ford, Miss Cutler, Miss Smart, Mr. Ashman and Mr. Clark, who was also the headmaster, taught me.

Three more Masters children were born after the family came to live in Quinton. Clementine was born in November 1910, followed by brothers George and John (Jack), (see photograph above).

My mother, Doris, was in Mr.Strudwick's special group. The children in this group were being prepared by him to take the entrance examination for George Dixons Grammar School. Doris decided not to take the exam because Charlotte tearfully told her that if she passed the exam she could not afford the school fees necessary for her to attend the school. She therefore had to finish her education at Quinton Church of England School at fourteen, with the other village children.

Watery Lane.

During the school summer holidays, there were no seaside trips for the Masters children, however they had wonderful times in the countryside in and around Quinton. Among the favourite family outings were the picnics taken in Watery Lane.

Clementine Jones
Clementine Jones with John and George
in Watery Lane in 1920s

Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

Doris Masters
Doris Masters in Quinton Park with Frank in 1932
Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

Charlotte took from her pantry three or more of her large, crusty loaves, butter, a stoneware jar of home-made jam, one of her big fruit cakes, tea, sugar and milk. She would fill clean, empty bottles with water. Next she would assemble her kettle, tea-pot, matches, newspaper, a big blanket, a table cloth, cups, cutlery, a bat and a ball, and pack it all carefully into the deep Edwardian pram. She would tear strips from an old pillowcase or sheet to use as bandages in case any of the children hurt themselves paddling in the brook; these too were packed into the big pram.

The family would leave the house and walk down Bissel Street, along Ridgacre Lane and Meadow Road, past the willow trees and the pond and down the field paths to Watery Lane. The children would gather twigs and sticks as they walked, to make the fire that boiled the kettle for their tea.

The area then was a patchwork of wild flower-filled hay meadows, cornfields and animal pasture. The field paths led them to a grassy area beside a broad, shallow stream. The children would then take off their boots, shoes, socks and stockings and paddle in the cool, clean stream; so refreshing for their little feet after their walk in the heat of the summer day. They would then gather some big stones to make the fireplace to contain the fire and balance the kettle.

Charlotte would arrange the stones in a circle, remove the turf inside and light a fire using the old newspapers that she had brought and the sticks that the children had collected. When the fire was burning well, she would fill the kettle and set it on the fire to boil. While she waited for the water to heat she would spread the big blanket on the grass, place the tablecloth in the middle of it, put out the plates and cups then proceed to prepare the food. Round upon round of crusty bread was cut and spread with butter and jam until there was enough for all.

The children paddled, ran races, played "tick," and "hide-and-seek" until they were exhausted, hungry and thirsty. Never were a meal and a drink of tea so enjoyed as they were on those picnics. Afterwards they sang and told stories around the fire.

When it was time to go home, everything would be packed away into the pram. The fire was drenched with water from the stream, the ashes scattered, the big stones were returned to the stream, and the turf replaced. Nobody would know that there had been a picnic there.

This family tradition carried on. The Masters grandchildren enjoyed identical family picnics throughout their childhood summers.

Fireman Masters retires.

Arthur Masters retired at the age of fifty-six, I believe. Firemen usually retire earlier than most men.

Arthur & Charlotte
Arthur and Charlotte Masters in the 1930s, after his retirement.
He is wearing the gold hunter watch and chain given to him
by the Birmingham Fire Brigade as a retirement gift.

Copyright QLHS/C.Tate 2000

The family had to leave the fire service house and they moved to a larger home, an Ansells Outdoor Beer Licence on the corner of Bissel Street and High Street. It had originally been a little brewery. The Outdoor sold bitter and mild beer from big wooden barrels, also bottled beer, cider, lemonade, cigarettes, tobacco and snuff.

The wooden barrels of beer would sometimes be delivered on huge lorries and sometimes they would arrive on drays pulled by huge Shire horses. They were beautifully decked out with ribbons plaited through their manes and tails. Their hooves, horse-brasses, and harness were always well polished. Their feathers were snow white and their coats glossy.

The barrels of beer were carried into the shop by the draymen and wedged onto heavy wooden trestles. I loved to watch my grandpa, Arthur, tap the new barrels. He would put on a heavy, white apron to protect his clothes from the beer splashes and taking a brass tap and a wooden mallet he would, with one knock, hit the brass tap through the wooden seal at the front of the barrel. An orange coloured wooden crate was upended beneath the tap, and a slop basin placed on top to catch any drips of beer that may fall from the tap. The slop beer was mixed with the pig food.

The Quinton people would come into the shop to buy beer bringing their own pint or quart jugs in which to carry it home. As the barrels emptied, the wedges were moved to tip the barrels further forward, thus sending the beer towards the tap end of the barrel. It was lovely beer. Granny and Grandpa said that they never sold a drink that they would not drink themselves. All was very clean, well maintained and cared for. The copper utensils always gleamed and fresh flowers were daily put out on the counter.

The Outdoor was a lovely house in which to live. It was a child's paradise to play in. It had attics and cellars (where we sheltered from air raids during WW2), stables and haylofts to explore. The huge attic bedrooms were used for storage and as playrooms on rainy days. I remember there were acres of old curtains there. We would dress up in them and parade about.

The first floor contained three bedrooms. My grandparents slept in the double bedroom overlooking High Street. Next to them was the largest bedroom; it contained three double beds in which the six daughters slept.

At the end of World War Two, when all the girls were married, this room was divided into two and a bathroom was installed by Ansells Brewery. This was such a luxury after bathing for years in a metal bath in front of the copper fire in the kitchen. The boys slept in the bedroom overlooking the garden.

The ground floor was huge. There was a big quarry-floored kitchen; it was joined to the dining room by a glass-roofed veranda. On the far wall to the left was a boxed staircase leading to the bedrooms, to the right was a curtained archway leading to a little square lobby off which were doors leading to the cellar, the shop and the front room. Huge coke fires heated all the rooms. The kitchen had a fire-fuelled copper where all water was heated and where white clothes were boiled on washing day. It also had a big gas-stove, a brown, stone sink, huge floor-to-ceiling cupboards and a scrubbed top wooden table. What parties we had at that house!

The garden was full of flowers and flowering bushes. There was a bench for Charlotte and Arthur to sit on and very broad brick pathways, a pear tree, an apple tree and a lime tree that we loved to climb. This formal garden was fenced and had a little gate. Across the middle of the garden was a broad brick drive with a large, deep drain set into it. On the other side of the drive was a rough lawn across which were two stables, a coach house, (later a garage), a huge coal and coke house, a dustbin house, an outside toilet and a big cage which, I believe once housed a St.Bernard dog that belonged to the previous tenants. The stables were sometimes let to people with horses. Sometimes my granny would raise pigs and chickens in the stables. They always had a good cat and a spaniel dog. Above all these outbuildings were haylofts.

When I was a pupil at the village school I would often go to my grandparents to lunch, this was usually when my mother was helping with all the work there. In 1940, when I started school there were no meals to be had at school, we all went home to lunch. My granny was a wonderful cook; it had been her occupation before she was married. One of her joys in life was cooking and being able to invite people in for a meal. If she saw somebody who looked hungry, cold, or unhappy she would invite him or her into the house for lunch. When I ate with granny, I remember sharing our table with the milkman one freezing winter's day. His hands were red and chapped from handling the icy milk-bottles. How he enjoyed Charlotte's hot, beef dumpling casserole and treacle tart. Whilst I was there other guests included a sad old man from the old men's home, (once Bourne College). One day, to my horror, a teacher from my school that we were afraid of, was invited to lunch when buying cider in the shop. I wanted to hide under the table, but sat, straight-backed, swallowing my food with difficulty.

Arthur Masters, retired fireman, died in the autumn of 1942 during his afternoon nap. He was buried in the new cemetery along the Hagley Road from the Church going towards The Stag as there was no room for any more people in the Churchyard or in the old cemetery across the brick playground behind the Church, where my great-grandmother, Charlotte's mother, Sarah Herbert is buried.

He was a lovely man, a gentleman. We all missed him dreadfully. We took turns to sleep with granny Charlotte after Grandpa died. Their bed was a deep, soft, warm, feather bed, with snow-white sheets, thick cream woollen blankets and a deep rose, silk bedspread and eiderdown. I longed for it to be my turn to sleep with Charlotte. Each morning when we awoke she would tell me stories.

Charlotte's Charlotte went to court and obtained a wines and spirits licence and her name was painted above the shop door as the new licensee. She ran the business, with the help of her children, until her eightieth year when she died. She was buried with her beloved Arthur and was sadly missed.

John Masters, the youngest of their family became the next licencee of the outdoor. He became very ill, but ran the business with the help of some of his sisters and one brother. When John died in 1956 the business went out of the family.

There are no members of the Masters family living in Quinton now. My husband and I lived in Quinton on the Manor Abbey off Carters Lane. We left in 1966 fearing disruption to our lives from the fast approaching motorway link, which eventually crossed the end of our road. We were also alarmed at the fast disappearance of the cornfields, wild flower meadows, orchards and countryside of the Quinton that we loved.

QLHS 2000

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