Memories of Shell Corner, Blackheath

by Audrey H. Brodie

Shell Corner is a group of buildings at the junction of Long Lane and Nimmings Road, so called because a large shell from the First World War once stood on the traffic island there. It was previously known as The Junction. Situated in Worcestershire, it was part of the area administered by the Halesowen Municipal Borough from 1936 to 1974 and is now part of Dudley M.B.; it is in the parish of Cakemore. For many years the postal address was ‘ Blackheath near Birmingham’.

I lived ‘on the Shell’ for some forty years prior to 1968 — first of all at No. 2 Nimmings Road (later re-numbered as 124) and from 1934 at 302 Long Lane. My parents came from neighbouring counties and came to Blackheath through the good offices of George Dafthrn, a relative who was a Police Constable at the station in Nimmings Road at that time. No. 2 was a large double-fronted house — later shop premises- at the top of Nimmings Road. Our immediate neighbours were the Lowe family, who ran a flourishing hardware store (later Jack Pritchard’s ‘Jack’s Bazaar’). Next-door were Mr and Mrs Tite and their son Bernard — Mr Tite’s brother Jim ran a garage on the opposite side of the road. Still known as Tite’s Garage to this day, it is one of the few properties on the Corner used for the same trade since before 1939. Further down Nimmings Road were the Wilsons with their daughter Susan - he was a woodworker- and Alfred Hill, picture framer. I also have early memories of Jim and Lizzie Ruston, who ran a grocery shop at 78 Long Lane — they were friends of my parents, and I spent many happy holidays at their home in Belbroughton after their retirement from business. While at No. 2 my parents took in lodgers to supplement their small income — I particularly remember a Miss Gardner who taught at one of the local schools and a Scottish student who was studying for an engineering degree and working at the BTH factory in Cakemore Road.

Opposite our house was a drapery business at 302 Long Lane run by the Sadler family. When the mother died and the premises became available my parents decided to take it on, as my mother had worked in a large family drapery business in Shrewsbury before her marriage. Thus in September 1934 they opened the shop ‘HIGGS’, described as ‘ladies’ and gent’s outfitters’. In her own words my mother stocked ‘everything for the family’- men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and household items. The business flourished and became very well known in the area, eventually closing after my mother’s death at the age of 79 in 1974.

Here then is a portrait of Shell Corner as it was at the outbreak of war in 1939 —all the shops etc. mentioned appear in Kelly ‘s Directory of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, 1940. At this time the Shell was a flourishing neighbourhood shopping centre serving the needs of the whole family. It included three butchers, three grocers, three bakers, three tobacconists and even two ladies and two gents hairdressers. A notable omission by today’s standards was a wine shop, although there was an ‘outdoor’ run by the Payne family further down Long Lane, and most pubs had a side door where drink could be purchased for consumption off the premises. The Corner was also very self-contained —nearly all the shopkeepers lived ‘over the shop’ and knew each other well - this community spirit was particularly obvious during the war. The town of Halesowen was unknown to me as a child — we did go to Dudley occasionally, but if we went to ‘town’ that was Birmingham, where my mother visited the drapery warehouses every Thursday afternoon. Most of the shops closed at lunchtime on Thursdays, although hours were flexible at other times — my mother always stayed open until 11.00 pm on Christmas Eve

Passing the Hill and Cakemore Conservative Club, Everton’s Garage and May Portman’s fruiterers going towards Blackheath town, Shell Corner proper began with the hardware shop of James Hobbs at 295 Long Lane, on the corner of Maple Road. Next-door at 297 was Eades the butcher and at 298 the gents hairdresser A. C. Britt. ‘Alf’s wife Winnie came from Erdington in North Birmingham — foreign country to us — and their daughter Eileen was a childhood friend. Sadly she died in the polio epidemic of 1950 at the age of 23. A memorable feature of this shop was a large electric clock in the window — one of the first many of us had seen. The Britts had an ‘Anderson’ air raid shelter in their garden, to which some of us repaired on a night in 1940 when a shower of incendiary bombs rained down on the area. At 299 was the shop of’ Laurie’ Willetts, cabinetmaker and upholsterer, which had a workshop at the rear. There was also a small house later occupied by Mr and Mrs Frank Robinson who had been ‘bombed out’ from Birmingham. No. 300 was Riley’s chemists and opticians and the same family also ran a fancy goods shop at 301.

My home at 302 consisted of three downstairs rooms at the back of the shop, three bedrooms and a bathroom (which only contained a bath); there was also a verandah and an outside lavatory in the small garden. A pantry ‘under the stairs’ served as my bedroom during the air raids, and we later had a ‘Morrison’ indoor shelter in one of the ground floor rooms. For many years the 140 Midland Red bus stopped virtually outside the door on its way to Dudley and opposite on the traffic island en route to Birmingham. The return fare to the latter was 7d in pre-decimal currency — about 3p.The 123 bus to Langley and the school bus to Oldbury County High School, which I attended, stopped opposite 124 Nimmings Road as buses still do today.

No. 303 was always known as ‘Wimbush’s’ as it was an agency for cakes etc. made by a company of that name. At the outbreak of war it was run by Mr and Mrs Tom Withers. He had been in the printing trade in Canada and after his death his widow and son returned there. The Fogarty family had occupied the shop before them. Tom Wood repaired shoes at No. 303a and there was living accommodation at the rear occupied by another family. At 304 was a ‘wet’ fish shop run by Miss Nellie Moore, whose brother had a similar shop in Blackheath High Street. Nos.305-6 housed the butchery business of ‘Dick’ Knight and family, and 308 was the confectioner /tobacconist Walter Hill. Next door was Cooke’s (seeds man and corn merchant) and Grove’s milliners. White’s grocers occupied the shop at 4-5 Malt Mill Lane.

On the opposite side at the junction with Malt Mill Lane was a group of properties known as Shell Buildings; here we find a Billiards Hall, Walter Pagett gents hairdresser, Maison Winifred ladies hairdresser, T.A.Nicklin and Co. accountants, B.H.Bate solicitor, Arthur James auctioneer and Dr Amin Fazary general practitioner. Further down Long Lane was ‘Ben’Darby’s butchers at 312, Hadley’s bakery at 313 and Cyril Hewitt tailor at 314.

Crossing Long Lane at this point we reach Thos. Sherwood’s fish and chip shop at No.59, F.W.Boswell & Son (shoes), Elizabeth ladies hairdresser and Fletchers butchers. There was a dental surgery at 63 and the Post Office run by Mrs A.F.Nicklin at 64. The Post Office was later moved to No. 308 opposite and the telephone kiosk was re-located at the bottom of Maple Road. At 65a was the greengrocers run by Rose and Fred Taylor (previously Payne’s), Thomas Harris motor car and cycle agent at 66 and next door Lucy Grove milliner and Walter Grove ‘boot dealer’. No. 69 was a branch of the grocers T.P.Moyle and Co.- the manager Ivan always wore a long white apron. Going round the corner into Nimmings Road we find Fred. Stanley, motor engineer (his father had been a local policeman) and Tite’ s Garage. On the corner of Clement Road was the general dealer Mrs Annie Harris and further down at No. 9 the newsagent Freeman Hill. He ran a subscription library, which I frequented in addition to the Public Library in Long Lane. On the Nimmings Road corner with Belgrave Road was the drapery business of Miss Eades at Melbourne House — she was the sister of the butcher opposite. Although newspapers were available in the shops there was for many years a paper seller who stood on this corner in the evening — shouting ‘Spatch or Mile’ (the defunct Evening Despatch and the Birmingham Mail) and also selling ‘the pink ‘un’ (Sports Argus) on Saturday.

On the Long Lane corner of this junction was the bakery of Frank Honeysett and Son. The family came from Evesham and the two Misses H. served in the shop. The actual bakery at the rear was a frequent calling place for the local constabulary when on night duty! No. 77 was a house occupied by Mr and Mrs A.Duffield and family and next door was Bolton’s, which sold paint and wallpaper. Beyond was Mrs Bertha Cutler’s grocery shop, previously occupied by our friends the Rustons- she was the sister of Mrs White at 4 Malt Mill Lane. No. 80 Long Lane was a tobacconist and fancy goods shop run by ‘Bill’ Price and his mother and 82 was Roberts ‘ Drug Store (later Partridge).

The last of the original shops to go was that of Jim Bolton, which remained open until the early 1990s. Today there is still a butcher at 297 Long Lane, a confectioner at 303 the Post Office at 308 and a fish and chip shop at 59. There is a shoe repairer at 304 next to the previous one at 303a and a newsagent at 9 Nimmings Road. The rest is history.

Ed’s comment – Audrey is not a member but has the Oracle passed on to her from a friend. She also looks at the website on occasions and thought that given the close proximity of Shell Corner to the borders of Quinton we would find it interesting. I hope she has stirred a few memories for you all.

Click here to go back to the Oracle page.