Spies Lane in the 1930s

By Gladys Jones

My memories of Spies Lane in the summer of 1930 were of horse and carts; the branches of the trees overhung the road and would touch you as you walked along at twilight. One’s imagination ran wild of witches and ghosts; we all had our own witch in the area. She was such a kind, wonderful lady; her name is a secret and will remain so.

Later on I remember when they cut those trees down. Progress, we were to have real light to take the place of the oil lamp standing in the middle of the table, also gas, and water from a tap. The men came and widened Spies Lane. They dug, by hand, trenches about two yards wide. These would be a great source of amusement for us kids. When it rained, because of the many springs around Quinton, the trenches would fill with water and we could go canoeing down them on the tree trunks. When the darkness descended, a night watchman came and lit his brazier. Sometime in the evening he would disappear, one of his visits to the black and white "Old Royal Oak" public house, on the corner of Spies Lane and Carters Lane (also on the corner of Carters Lane was a small farm and in the front parlour of the farmhouse was a shop-I recall that the shop was always very smelly). When the night watchman returned from the pub, just a little bit merry, he would find us kids huggled together in the hut keeping warm by the fire. We had been imagining all sorts of things, the ghosts of the soldiers who had searched the lane for King Charles (he had hidden at Howley Grange Farm). This farm always appeared to be so dark, misty and spooky; the apples were always safe there. The best orchard for fruit was the farmhouse situated on the corner of where Kent Road is now. They had a grocer’s shop in the parlour, where a bright fire always burned in the black-leaded grate. At last we had gas, and water from a tap. However, just like today, the workmen came back a few years later, dug up all the trenches, to put electricity into the houses. We missed the ‘lamplighter’ who would arrive regularly each evening on his bicycle, to check the gas lamp outside our cottage.

Traders, mainly from Blackheath, delivered regularly, the baker, grocer, greengrocer, shoe and clothes man. Hobbs from Halesowen, who sold paraffin, candles, firewood and matches and Shuker, whose trade I can’t recall.

The cows and sheep came up and down the lane, the cows twice daily to be milked at the local farms. The animals were quite profitable to us kids. The manure left following the cows’ visits would be collected in galvanised buckets and sold for 6d (old money) a full bucket and 3d for half a bucket. It was hard work carrying the full buckets but well worth it, just to put a few pence on the Christmas card saver or buy a few sweets.

The summer was the time when the gypsies came to Quinton in their colourful horse-drawn caravans. They picked potatoes, peas, and fruit and would do any odd jobs around the farms; there were plenty of those in Old Quinton. They made dolly clothes pegs, the ones that would hold the thick woollen blankets on the line even in the strongest winds. The women, wearing brightly coloured scarves, blouses and skirts, used to call at the house. They carried large hand made cane baskets, containing hand made lace, pegs, dried flowers, scented cards and lavender. You would be greeted with "You have a lucky face deary, cross my palm with silver and I will tell your fortune".

Yes go and find a ‘Joey’ silver three-penny piece, or was it sixpence? "Sometime in your life you will go over the sea to Australia". What a joke when the furthest I had been was on a number 9 bus to good old Brum as a special treat.

Well, when I was sixty years young I did go to that unforgettable land, so the fortune-teller was correct. What an idyllic time I had and one night back to my childhood I went. We met up with a party of young back-packers, spending a night out in the wild.

Gathered together in front of a large bonfire, our tents around, food to eat and complete darkness. Out came the cry, "I’m bored, there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go!" "Give me your radio!" I said, "We will play musical chairs". Then we played ‘blind man’s buff’, ‘pass the parcel’, ‘statues’, ‘I sent a letter to my love’ and to end the night we played tunes on the spoons and on the comb using a piece of paper, and we turned cans upside down and hit bottles with sticks. What great fun, back to my childhood, I remembered the cries "Here’s a tanner go and play in the next street!" Then the reply "We can’t, they’ve just sent us from there". At 2.00am in the morning everyone crept to his or her tents exclaiming "What a wonderful night!"

As time passes and the world seems to grow smaller, we lose sight of many precious customs and traditions. One of them, the fair. It usually rained but that didn’t matter, I would wear my old mackintosh, the one that touched my wellington tops. A chance to spend my hard earned few coppers on the many stalls, roll the ball (2d), throw the loop over the goldfish bowl (3d), I never managed to win one. Throw a softball (3d) to win a double-jointed doll dressed in a cheap pink cotton dress; her limbs would disintegrate in a few days. Pink candyfloss on a stick, a toffee apple or a roasted potato (nearly always partly raw), with a few coppers left for a go on the swing boats. Simple pleasures but we were content, happy, and we always had our dreams. Simple things that I remember now. Boys always wore short trousers whatever the weather, until they were fourteen when they started work.

Every Friday night we had cream slices bought for 11/2d each from the general stores on the Hagley Road. The stores were just below the farm and opposite Miss Nora Parkes, the haberdashers. I can’t remember the ladies name; I think it may have been Dugmore. She was a sweet grey-haired lady who had two sons, both of whom were on the dole. The shop sold bread and cakes from the white scrubbed counter, also on the counter was the wooden cheese board with the thick wire to cut the cheese. The same shop also sold firewood, candles, lamp oil and glass globes (6d each). On Saturday night at 6 o’clock you could buy a large bag of stale cakes for 6d. Just warm the buns in the oven for a few minutes and they would be as fresh as a daisy. The number 9 bus terminus was outside the shop; the bus driver and conductor would collect their tea (in a ‘Billy can’) and a few buns, no sandwiches though they were too expensive. Sometimes, one of my pensioner customers, Mrs Phoebe Price would give me a piece of sponge cake with jam holes in the top. The baker would deliver the cakes on a Friday, from Blackheath, in his horse & cart. He would knock on the door and walk into the kitchen; the money would be ready on the table to pay for the week’s bread and a weekend sponge.

The 1930’s were hard times. The dole queues meant no jobs for married women. Although my mum could read and write, she was only able to get cleaning jobs at the big houses. My mother used to clean at one large house near the bottom of Perry Hill Road; she would earn half a crown for cleaning the whole house. The men also suffered, no work and no state benefit at that time. They would take any sort of work, odd jobs, gardening, labouring, just to earn a few shillings to put food on the table. My Mum later worked for Doctor Mather, who was an ex-naval doctor. He had been deeply affected by his wartime escapades, being involved in the treatment of Japanese prisoners of war. However, being treated by the doctor, at one penny a week was a luxury, so we were rarely at the house with the ‘square chimneys’. We would have to be cured with good old home made remedies. Herbs picked from the hedgerows and fields around our cottage, boiled in water in the old beer saucepan, and then administered regularly. Different herbs for each complaint, then you were made to lie on the sofa covered by an old blanket with a vinegar rag on your head. "Kill or Cure" as our good friend, Mrs Phoebe Price, would say - Oh! Happy days.

©QLHS 2000 - Gladys Jones

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