Wilmington Road Memories

By Keith McDonald

I suppose the best place to begin these reminiscences is Wilmington Road, where I spent 27 years of my life. The memories will not appear in chronological order, just simply when my mind recalls them.

I would leave my home and walk towards the Hagley Road West, which at one time was a dual carriageway. The central reservation would start or end, depending where you were coming from, opposite Wilmington Road and finish just beyond White Road, in fact, where it still ends today. On the corner of Wilmington Road/Hagley Road West was a telephone kiosk, which was a very important centre of communications, because in those days a telephone in one’s home was a luxury. From this kiosk, we, as children and later as teenagers, would be able to access the world. In those days, this stretched to Harborne, Halesowen or the City Centre and, of course, those other environs where one had a friend or relation. Without this telephone kiosk, social outings to places like ‘Coffee Bars’ or the ‘Ice Rink Cinemas Youth Clubs’, dates with other members of the opposite sex would not have happened with the regularity that they did. Even when the home telephone became more readily available, the use of the kiosk did not decline. It was still used to plan one’s social life without the presence of parental interference.

Before the charging structure of telephones became complex one could, provided it was a local call, talk as long as one wished for two old pennies (that’s 1p in new money).

At one time, I held the school record for one continuous call, 1 hour 43 minutes. It would have been longer but someone else was waiting to use the phone (not for the whole 103 minutes, I hasten to add).

Turning left out of Wilmington Road, along the Hagley Road West and just beyond thekiosk was a small service road. An island, planted with an abundance of small trees, and bushes, which afforded a certain amount of privacy to the houses that occupied the service road, protected it. It was in one of these houses that I first encountered television with a large screen (12 inch). My mother had a friend who lived in one of these houses. A delightful lady who in appearance was very much like Mrs Fox, out of “Dad’s Army”. She suggested that my mother brought my sister and I to watch a programme specifically for children, I was looking forward to seeing this programme on a LARGE screen, but it was at that time, one of life’s great disappointments. The lady in question was very house proud and exceedingly fussy. We were asked to remove our shoes and made to sit correctly on the settee. The programme we had come to watch was one of the most boring programmes I could have imagined. It was entitled “Muffin the Mule”, I believe presented by Annette Mills. The broadcast only lasted about 10 minutes but then we had to sit for a further length of time whilst we ate cake and drank a cup of tea. She was so fussy my sister and I were frightened to move in case any crumbs from the cake fell on the floor or even at worst we spilt some tea.

On the other side of the Hagley Road West, opposite the service road, were the two shops ‘Alford’s’ and ‘Don Smith’. Alford’s belonged to the Alford family, it was probably my introduction to the ‘chain store’ because the family had 5 or 6 shops scattered around the area. ‘Alford’s’ were the local newsagents, tobacconists, stationers and bookshop.

They were also the local ‘travel agent’, where you could buy train tickets for anywhere in the UK and also you could book trips for the local tour company, known as the MIDLAND RED. Indeed, there were boards placed outside the shop giving details of trips to such far off places as Rhyl and Weston Super Mare.

In my younger days Alford’s provided many services for me, every Friday on my way to school I would collect my weekly journal, The ‘Eagle’ comic, which would receive my undivided attention on the bus journey to Five Ways, which would take twenty minutes in the rush hour.

As I grew older, my interest in ‘Dan Dare’ and others declined and the ‘Eagle’ was replaced by more mature weekly magazines such as ‘Cycling’. Alford’s reserved my copy every week for the princely sum of sixpence. Unfortunately, in our early teens, most of us were introduced into the habit of smoking, on a very limited amount of pocket money, cigarettes were very expensive. However, at Alford’s you could buy five ‘Woodbines’ for nine pence and a book of matches for one penny. On a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, depending on your social arrangements, you bought your cigarettes from Alford’s before taking the escape route on a No. 9 bus to the bright lights outside Quinton, such as the ‘Warley Odeon’ cinema or the Ice Rink at the Sandpits. Alford’s reflected the improvement in the economic climate by being one of the first shops to sell ice-cream in Quinton, I believe you had a choice of three varieties, cornet, wafer or if you were lucky a choc ice, all made by Midland Counties Dairy. When sweet rationing ended, I bought my first packet of sweets, a tube of Rowntrees fruit Gums from Alford’s, priced three pence. When Bonfire Night was celebrated, all the necessary fireworks could be bought from?

“Yes-Alford’s!”. Every year, without fail, there would be a display case protected by a glass top. In those days, you could buy one-penny bangers, canon bangers and jumping jacks without any trouble. The only problem came when ”adventurous” young boys tried to finish the task Guy Fawkes set out to do.

Mr Alford lived in a house next door to the shop, I always recall as a lad thinking “how nice it must be only having a few yards to walk to work each day”.

Next door, on the corner of Walters Road, was the grocer ‘Don Smith’. I cannot say much about this shop, as it was not an establishment that I would regularly visit; our groceries came from another supplier.

However, I can tell you that Don Smith ran a very successful dance band that broadcast on the radio from the BBC Studios in Broad Street. As I love Jazz, Don Smith, who also lived in Wilmington Road, would ask me on occasions into his home to listen to some of his records.

To be continued………………………………………………..

©QLHS 2001 - Keith McDonald

Ed’s Comment - I would imagine Keith has stirred a few memories for most of you .

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