The heart of “Old Quinton”

by Keith McDonald

At the time Peter Beck sold me the benefits of the Q L H S he omitted to tell me that apart from writing a cheque each year I would also have to spend time racking my brains to remember the past and then record these memories in written form. So as to preserve a friendship that goes back further than I care to remember I will now revive my brain with a little alcohol and put pen to paper. Last time I wrote about my memories around the area of Wilmington Road. I suppose it is logical to proceed to the heart of “Old Quinton” i.e. the commercial and spiritual centre as it was, all those years ago. This area consisted of two churches, three banks, a post office and a funeral director. There was, I believe, at one time a chapel on the corner of College Road and Hagley Road West, which fell into disuse and if I remember correctly became a warehouse before being demolished. On leaving "Alford’s'' and heading along the Hagley Road West in a westerly direction the first spiritual place was the funeral director, W. Gane and Sons. This was and still is I believe a macabre building with a black marble frontage and black windows. This building fascinated us as children and often we would peer through the windows to see if there were any dead bodies on view. Fortunately this was not the case but at times one upmanship prevailed and we convinced others that at certain times a corpse had been seen 'in a mummified state’. Despite our presence and antics in front of this place I cannot recall that we were ever reprimanded.

In this row of business premises was the first bank, the ‘Midland’. I think I only went inside once and can't remember much about it other than it was a bit on the stuffy side. It is now a double-glazing showroom. Next door, but one was Lloyds Bank, before becoming a bank it was the local shoe shop run by Mr & Mrs Cutler. Most of our shoes were purchased from this shop. Mrs Cutler was a friendly lady; her husband however was a little on the severe side. If he was serving you, you felt as though the shoes had to fit whether they did or not. Mr & Mrs Cutler retired, sold the premises to Lloyds Bank and went to live, I think, on the North Coast of Wales at Rhyl. The bank still survives. Sandwiched between these two banks was probably 'the most exciting shop in Quinton or anywhere else in the world, that is if you were interested in cycling, Millward & Calloway. At that time cycling was a very popular leisure pursuit and form of transport. Also in the neighbouring town of Halesowen was the ‘Halesowen Athletic & Cycling Club’, situated at Manor Abbey Sports Ground. Given the proximity of this club you had a local ‘Mecca’ for cyclists. Millward & Calloway supplied most of the needs of the cyclists in the area especially those local heroes who excelled at the sport and raced regularly at Halesowen. The stock on display in the window was beyond belief. The best bikes, the best frames and spare parts for those who wanted to build bikes to their own specification. On certain days a local cycling celebrity would be in residence to offer advice. After days like these one would go away totally convinced that, “one-day it will be me" - it never happened. Why? You may ask. It needed commitment and dedication. It wasn’t long before distractions like ‘girls’ and ‘rock & roll’ appeared on the scene, need I say more! I did, however, manage to build my own bike. One of the few regrets that I have in life was that I sold it. Even today it would have been considered a highly respectable machine. Having digressed I will now return to the theme of this article. In a spiritual sense I can include the local ‘Co-op’ because food is essential to life. Next door to the funeral directors was the local Co-op. It was quite a busy shop stocking most of the grocery lines of the day. In those days well before the advent of ‘Greenshield Stamps’ and loyalty/bonus cards you became a member of the Co-op, which entitled you to a ‘divi’ on all purchases. The shop assistant recorded each time you purchased goods the amount spent on your card by hand. If I remember correctly the ‘divi’ earned was distributed once a year and I think it was in cash. The Co-op is no longer there and the premises have been converted to an office.

Opposite was Quinton Parish Church. As children my sister and I attended Sunday School in the Parish Hall, and occasionally went to Sunday services in the Church itself. I wouldn’t say that Sunday school was the most exciting way to spend your time on a Sunday afternoon and it wasn’t before long that ways were devised to ‘play truant’. Also it didn’t take long for parents to find out what was going on especially when you returned home with your best shoes caked in mud acquired from a game of football in Quinton Park. It goes without saying that education in Sunday School terms didn’t last long. However, the Parish Hall at a much later date did provide me with an important step in growing up. The hall was available for hire for private functions but the provision of alcohol was expressly forbidden. At the time of this event I was "dating" a young lady who had an elder sister who was about to celebrate her 21st birthday at the Parish Hall. As the current boyfriend I was invited to attend but by the time of the party the romance had run its course and no way was I going to this party. My peer group, however, decided that it was only right and proper for me to honour my obligation and attend. The pressure I was put under was quite intense so I went. At this time in my life I also felt a little superior as I had left school and started work as a bank clerk. My friends escorted me to the party where I was given a warm welcome by the elder sister. I was immediately asked what would I like to drink, alcohol had been smuggled in! (Sorry Vicar).

Apart from a Christmas treat of a small glass of cider, which my father allowed me, I had never drunk alcohol. Here I was an ‘adult’, who worked for a living, being placed in position he had no idea how to handle. How embarrassing, arrogance came to the rescue. The only drink I was familiar with was gin, because my parents drank it occasionally. “A gin please!" I replied. "Fine Keith", was the reply "with orange lime or tonic"? Suddenly I was caught again. Arrogance prevailed again. “No neat please". It was an expression I had heard at the cinema. All night I was drinking neat gin. It was awful but I was not going to spoil my new adult "image" At about 11 pm I left to go home. The time of the year was November, it was cold outside. When the cold air hit me I thought the end of the world had arrived. “Boy was I ill”; I thought I was about to die. Thank goodness there was a solid wall nearby, behind which I sought sanctuary. I stayed there for about an hour and then with a swimming head made my way home to a comfortable bed. How I don't know. Next day my head felt as though it had been put in a vice. I had my first hangover. To this day I have not been able to acquire a taste for gin.

In the grounds of the Church was the local primary school, which also housed the local library. I think it was only open two or three times per week. You were only allowed two books per week, one fiction and one non-fiction. The children’s section had a good range of books and as there were hardly any distractions e.g. television, many books were read. Books by authors such as Enid Blyton, in the early days, progressing to Agatha Christie, Arthur Ransome, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others. This part of the school has I believe recently been demolished. Next to the church was the Post Office, which provided a very important service. Before the days of direct debits, credit transfers, telegraphic transfers, many everyday financial transactions were done by postal orders, money orders etc. (cheque books were not that popular). You bought your postal order/money order, a stamp, and then you addressed an envelope and put it in the post with the appropriate invoice, job done! Postal orders also provided a convenient, way of sending birthday and Christmas presents to nieces and nephews. All the recipient had to do was present the order to the postmaster and he gave you its value in cash. Another necessary service was the provision of national insurance stamps. In those days each employee had a national insurance card, which was held on his behalf by the employer. It was the duty of the employer to buy a stamp each week from the Post office on behalf of the employee and stick it on the card. When you left that employer he returned the card to you stamped up to date. On arrival at your new employer you handed it to him with any tax forms that were necessary. Most state pensions were paid over the counter as well as other benefits. Not much has changed in this respect. Middle of the week was nearly always busy. It was "pools" time and people used to queue for say “a shilling postal order and a stamp”. Littlewoods, Vernons and others were the "National Lottery" of the day. A stake of about 1/- (5p) could bring you riches of vast sums of money (say £75,000), if you forecast eight draws. I always enjoyed going to the Post Office just to see the postmaster at work. The speed at which he dealt with his customers was amazing. The rate at which he counted money, both cash and notes, was to be seen to be believed. The dexterity of his fingers was amazing. If I remember correctly he worked alone for most of the time, an Estate Agent now occupies this building. The present post office is now located a few doors away at Alford’s.

We will now proceed to Quinton’s third Bank, the Birmingham Municipal. This bank was unique, there was not another like it anywhere in the country. It belonged to the Birmingham City Council. I don't know if "belonged" is the right word but there was a strong financial connection between the two. I think the council provided financial guarantees. It didn’t offer cheque book facilities just savings accounts and collection facilities for certain services such as gas, electric bills etc. I do remember that in order to earn my pocket money I was to take a utility bill to the bank in settlement of the amount due. If it was paid before a certain date a discount was allowed of say 2.5%. It offered special savings accounts for children; in order to help a child save his/her money they provided a moneybox. It was a very solid metallic object oval in shape with a handle. Once money was put in it could only be taken out at the bank where the key was held to unlock it. There was, even a special lip inside the box to prevent anyone inserting a knife blade to aid the extraction of money already "saved". The Municipal Bank was affectionately known among the clearing banks as the ‘Birmingham Piggy Bank’. This bank, which was set back behind a small shrubbery on the Corner off Hagley Road West and College Road, was taken over by the Trustee Savings Bank, which in turn was taken over by Lloyds Bank. Needless to say it no longer exists. Quinton Methodist Church used to be sited on the corner of College Road and Ridgacre Road. I cannot say much about life at this church as I "prayed" elsewhere. All I can say is that it was the home of the local Boys Brigade, the younger element of the congregation made up the membership of this band of buglers drummers etc. Once a month, I think this band marched around the Quinton area playing quite rousing marching music. It was a great sight to watch. The musicians were very accomplished and the marching discipline was something of which they were very proud. I don't think I can say much more about the financial and religious centre of Quinton so I will therefore bring this chapter to a close.

Finally, the Don Smith Orchestra mentioned in my last article; actually supported Buddy Holly in a concert at the Birmingham Town Hall, also appearing was Des O'Connor.

© QLHS – Keith McDonald 2003

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