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     As a child living in Winson Green, Handsworth seemed like a magical place to me. It had a swimming baths, a library, not to mention a beautiful park with a boating lake, tennis courts, a cricket pitch and tearooms.
     At the time I was too young to remember have first hand knowledge but I was often told of the Endwood pub (on the far side of the park). According to folklore, my father defended this establishment from a German invasion when he was a member of the Home Guard. It would seem the defensive plan was simple: Drink the place dry, leaving nothing for the invaders to plunder. I'm led to understand that the operation turned out to be one of the most successful of WW II, with the enemy not daring to venture within rifle-shot of the place.
     In my early years, I remember Sunday morning trips into Handsworth. My (much) older brother, (he was the oldest of seven, me the youngest) would take me swimming at Grove Lane baths. After the swim he would treat me to a cup of hot Oxo, or Horlicks. Then we'd walk through the park and take a rowing boat out for an hour (or was it half hour). By this time the pubs would be open for his refreshment, so on we'd go to the gardens of the Endwood. He'd have a pint, or two, and me; pop and crisps. Strange, isn't it how the sun always seemed to shine in those days and particularly in Handsworth? I suppose, with hindsight, on miserable days we wouldn't have gone there.
     Other early excursions into Handsworth were with my big sisters who introduced me to the library. After school, we'd make our way along Handsworth New Road, up Boulton Road and onto Soho Road. Libraries weren't as child friendly as they are now, but I was fascinated by the amount and diversity of books - I loved browsing the shelves to make my selection - usually the latest Biggles or something similar.
     On Saturday mornings we would regularly make our way through Black Patch Park, up Queens Head Road and to the Regal cinema, to join in the fun with all the other ABC Minors, and Uncle Len. As I recall, if it was your birthday, you'd receive a luminous badge and a voucher to get in free the next week - a saving of 10d. (I must have had ten birthdays a year in those days. No wonder I've aged so rapidly!)
There was an `usher' (I suppose that's what you'd call him), who, because of his prominent ears, the kids nick named Dumbo. He'd never leave us alone, `.queue up properly. be quiet. put your feet down. pick up that orange peel.'  he'd never stop! We hated him.
Many, many, years later, I recall him applying for a job where I was working with another ex-ABC Minor. Dumbo actually wound up labouring for us. The first day he turned up my colleague challenged him about his true identity (apparently he hadn't used the name `Dumbo' on the application form). Well, the poor old fella nearly dropped through the floor.
     Shopping was another good reason for trips into Handsworth. My mother reckoned there
 was the best selection of shoe shops in the city along Soho Road. And, of course, there was Fosters'. Annually, towards the end of the summer holidays, my mother clutching the Provident cheque would take me to Fosters'. It was the same every year: New grey trousers (probably shorts), navy blazer, grey shirt, and new underwear, ready for the coming school term. I'd stand around there bored to tears, watching the receipts and cheques being transported around the shop by a strange sort of monorail system.
     Growing up meant going to the Regal on a Sunday afternoon, rather than Saturday morning. The plan for us `scallies' was to select seats behind a clutch of girls, flick popcorn, or something at them, to attract their attention. Once we'd built up enough courage, we'd move in. If you didn't come out with a girl on your arm you'd be rated a right dork. In the darkness of the cinema, desperate not to be seen as a dork, I can recall often pulling some right strange looking ones. (Hammer House of Horrors had nothing on some of the ones I wound up with!)
     It was this interest in girls that led me to two youth clubs on Soho Road, both held in large houses opposite St Michael's Hill. I think the one was associated to the church, the other to the YWCA. It was an eye-opener walking girls home from them. They all lived in the area, most in houses the size of Buckingham Place, or so they seemed compared with what I was used to. This was about the time I experienced my first pint in the Beehive pub, just down the road from the clubs. I must've been all of fifteen.
     This ever-increasing attraction to girls eventually led me to the Plaza, which had been the old Rookery Picture House on Rookery Road. I was initially introduced to this dance hall and live music venue by my (slightly) older sister. I think we went to see Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, although the biggest attraction for me was one of her friends!
Within a couple of years, the emergence of the Swinging Sixties brought some of the top acts to the Plaza: The Searchers, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Four Most, Long John Baldry, Showstoppers etc. etc. I have heard it said that the Beatles appeared there in there early years. Well, if they did, I missed them!
Some of the most popular acts were the local groups like The Brumbeats, The Beachcombers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Carl Wayne and the Vikings. And then of course there was the chart topping Move and The Fortunes, whose drummer, Andy Brown, lived in Handsworth's Maxwell Avenue, a stone's throw from the venue.
Every Friday, or Saturday night, or both, we'd be there, checking out our gear, from giraffe collar to Beatle boots, in the full-length mirrors of the toilets. Again, some of my sorties on `the pull' turned out less than wonderful. Not because of the lighting - now it was the excessive amounts of alcohol, which induced me into taking home more than the odd girl with a face like a bag of spanners.
I also remember that flight of stone steps at the entrance being a death trap when you'd had a few. Many are the times I've seen the whole lot shifting about in an attempt to trip me up on the way out (often succeeding).
 When there was no one much good on at the Plaza, just down Rookery Road there was the Farcroft. There was a dance there every Saturday night. They never had anyone famous on but it was always live music from a reasonable band, and the beer was cheap. Best of all, if you paid a couple of bob into the dance, you got the benefit of the bar extension. In fact, we sometimes called in there before carrying on to the Plaza, getting a few cheap pints in us, before topping up with the more expensive stuff up the road.
     During this period, I was knocking about with several work colleagues who lived in Handsworth. Besides the dances, our other haunts included The Endwood, The Grove, The Uplands and the posh, new, Garden Gate. In fact one of them held the distinction of being introduced to Handsworth pubs by being left outside The Grove in his pram. His father had taken him there for a Sunday lunchtime drink and forgotten him. It was only when he reached home and the mother asked, "Where's the baby?" that her husband remembered his charge.
My Wife
     It was through one of these colleagues that I met and married my wife - his sister. They lived in Millfield Road, in a comfortable semi with a garage, integral plumbing (including hot water) and a cocktail bar (like Del Boy's) in the front room. Did I take some ribbing from my Winson Green mates about courting the gentry? "Handsworth ain't good enough for `im. Oh no! He only goes on the pull in Handsworth WOOD!".
There was one Christmas at Millfield Road that sticks in my mind. As I've mentioned, there was this Del Boy cocktail bar. Well, what amazed me was the displayed bottles of whiskey never seemed to get drunk. That was until this particular Christmas when relatives were visiting. The whiskey was taken down and a drop poured out for the male visitor. He took a sip and left it to one side. A short time after one of my girlfriend's (as she was at the time) brothers appeared, half steamed. He helped himself to about four fingers of the whiskey. He took one gulp and he spat it out all over the place, with the exclamation: "What the bloody hell is that? It tastes soddin' tea!"
Mother clamped her hands to her face with embarrassment and blamed her husband: "You didn't give Eddie that stuff, did you?"
Father: "Er. yes. Why?"
Mother: "It IS  cold tea. I only keep it there to look good."
Father: "Didn't you notice, Eddie?"
Eddie: "Oh yeah, but I didn't like to say."

I can tell you, I was in bits and thankful I'd chosen a beer.


Despite similar incidents, like most other couples of that time, we went through the traditional courtship rituals - coming back to her house and struggling to suppress our frustrations while we waited the old folks to go to bed so that we could.
Then followed the engagement and the inevitable wedding at St Augustine's church in Avenue Road. We then settled down to married life in our nice little Handsworth house (we couldn't afford the `WOOD').
The house in Uplands Road cost us £2,900. I was picking up around £24 a week, my wife was working and the mortgage repayments were £21 a month and I was concerned about affording the payments! However, the inevitable happened and within ten months we were parents.
     An oil crisis loomed its ugly head when our daughter was barely two. Redundancy and short time working was becoming a sad fact of life to many people in the manufacturing industries. Believing I'd seen the writing on the wall, I jumped at the offer of a job in the west of Ireland - a staff position in a thriving new company, which appeared to offer a more secure future for my family in a very pleasant environment. The whole concept seemed ideal for raising children. So, we sold up and shipped out.
     Only three years into our marriage, we found ourselves with another daughter, and me with the onset of arthritis. Such was the rapid progression of the disease; within another four years I was having both knee joints replaced. I did manage to resume work for a year or so after the operations, but eventually I had to call it a day. At that time, there was no suitable employment for my wife in that part of the world, and because my income had exceeded the minimum to be eligible for free medical care, I had to pay for private treatment. To cap it all, the only hospital that could administer my specialist treatment was seventy miles away. With two young children, a mortgage and a car loan, life was far from easy for any of us.
We eventually realised it was time to rethink our situation. After lengthy deliberations, we decided the only course left open to us was to return to Birmingham. At least here, there was a chance of my wife getting a job, suitable free treatment and our extended families. Once again we sold up and shipped out.
     On our return, we lived in rented accommodation in Ladywood until the money came through for the house we'd sold in Ireland.  Anyway, the upshot is, we eventually bought a house in Stockwell Road. Since then my health has deteriorated dramatically. And, due to a stroke I am now confined to a wheelchair, which has meant us having extensive adaptations to the house, but we're still here in Handsworth. Our two daughters, now thirty-three and thirty also have houses in the area, St Anne's Close and Windermere Road.
     In my view, Handsworth has changed a lot in the last few years and obviously not all for the good. But, when regarded objectively, it still has many of its old charms: There is no heavy industry in the area, no high-rise flats and no massive thoroughfares carving up communities. There are plenty of amenities; almost every house has a garden, most front and back. There is plenty of open space, tree lined roads, fields stretching all the way to Sandwell Valley, the golf club, and of course the park. I do feel the only thing residents lack these days is a sense of pride in their surroundings and its history.
What really incenses me are media descriptions of the housing stock in Handsworth as being `substandard'. For god's sake, if it was good enough for Matthew Boulton and others of his ilk, it should be good enough for those who do the most complaining about it.
Paul Holmes

Ken Bibb 12 years old
                      My 25Years in Handsworth

I was born in July of 1933 the eldest of what would become three boys and one girl in Greenhill Road Handsworth.
My first recollection was when I was going on five and my mother asked me if I would like to go to the nearest school which at the time was the Catholic school at the top of the road in which we lived, after seeing the nun's in their habit I remember saying NO!! So of course I then went to Rookery Road and stayed there till I was 15 (by just missing the rise in leaving age by 4 months from 14 - 15). I do not remember a great deal of early school life, two things stick out. One was being told that we had to knit a square 4 inches by 4 inches to use as a duster for our chalk boards, I went home and (my mother who was a very good knitter through her lifetime) showed me how to cast the stitches on and knit the square. ( I was 5) the other thing that has stuck in my mind was having to do a play when I was about 8 or 9 in the junior school ,and because I didn't know the lines I developed a bit of a stutter which I found very embarassing. I was always small in stature only 4 feet when I was 11, I did get picked on a bit, but then who wasn't.
Up till I was about 13 the things that have stuck out in my mind have been, being evacuated to Bell Broughton for 12 months, the air-raids, my Gran being bombed out in Rookery Road, having to go to Grove Lane school when Antrobus Rd was bombed, having our front glass window being blown out a couple of times. When I look back to the war years as a kid it was fun being able to rummage through the bombed sites looking for schrapnel going down the air-raid shelter etc, but for our parents it must have been a very traumatic time, and then my Dad having to go and serve in the RAF for three years. Mom worked I remember at a factory in Austin Road by Handsworth Dairies spot welding chain. I used to help my uncle who was only 6 years older, sell bundles of sticks for starting the fires. We used to operate from a shop at the bottom of Greenhill Rd I think it was Jackson's, we used to get the wood from a woodyard in Windermere Rd. I did a paper round later had to have a medical at 13 ( the bag was nearly as big as I was). Mrs Burton the newsagent in Rookery Rd was bombed out and she operated from a wooden shed in front of her brother's butchers shop ( Osbourne's) and then moved in front of my Gran's (as my Gran lived behind a shop in Rookery Rd.) opposite the Purus bakery shop on the corner of Newcombe Road.
For the next couple of years before I left school I used to help the local milkman, go with my Dad on his bakery round he worked for Scribbans bakery from Hockley, help a school mate on a Saturday who worked after school for Jefferson's greengrocery on the corner of Newcombe Rd knocked about with a group of lads who lived in Newcombe Rd played in a football team with them at Perry Hall playing fields and of course we walked everywhere in them days. Roller scated on the footpaths, in the school grounds everywhere, went to the Rookery Rd Picture house Saturday morning matinee 4d see 'Flash Gordon' etc.
The Tram only went as far as the 'Grove Pub' in Grove Lane in them days, then the buses came up Oxhill Road, to as far as the 'Uplands Pub' which made things better because before the buses we had to walk up Oxhill Rd to Greenhill Rd. Other things that bring to mind whilst sitting here writing are, Grove Lane swimming baths. Two baths the new had cubicles but the old only had curtains, females Tuesday's and Thursday's I think!. The Outer Circle 11 we used to travel around and try and get in the front seat on the top. Then there was the Lickey Hill Tram, you could catch it from Selly Oak but it was best from Town. We sometimes climbed the back wall at the 'Farcroft Hotel' Rookery Road to watch the Aston Villa players play bowls, also we were never at home in the school holidays like the kids these days, playing games at the Tank field, walking the lanes, playing at Wosson Pool, riding the coal tubs on route from Jubilee Pit to West Bromwich, the mind boggles what we used to get up too.
I remember the winter of 1947 and the snow was around and lasted for weeks, we had fun in them days mainly sledging at Sandwell Park in Island Road.
On leaving school at 15 I worked for my uncle for 12 months but that didn't work out so I went to work at the B'ham Co-op on the milk round which I enjoyed until I had to do National Service in 1951. During that 3 years 15-18 we used to hang around a bit in Handsworth Park which was a delight in those days. A few chaps and girls, we had a great time used to have a lemonade at the Holly Cafe on the corner of Thornhill Road, go to the Grand pictures on Soho Road, walk the monkey run. It was then I met my future wife of today, I didn't know then of course but later when I was in the army things eventuated. After doing two years in Germany I was demobbed in 1953 went back to work at my old job. My wife came from Mary Road off Boulton Road and we got married at Saint James's in 1956. After a trial living in the rural Minworth we moved back to Handsworth for while until we were able to get housing with the Co-op and so we moved to Small Heath.
My connection's to Handsworth ended with the deaths of my parents in the early eighties.
Hope you enjoyed "My 25Years in Handsworth"
Ken Bibb

This is a story from  HILDA WARD (NE TOMKINS)
Now 89 years young
Hilda's Mum
Leah Tomkins
One of seven children, I had four brothers - Harry, Ernest, Alfred & Harold, and two sisters Eva & Leah.
Mom and Dad - Leah and Harry lived in Kitchener Street for most of their married life. It was certainly the home that I spent most of my childhood in.
From the age of 5 until I was 14, I attended Handsworth New Road School. When not at school......we all spent many happy hours on the Black Patch Park.We played on the swings most days and watched the gypsies with their everyday life.
The Gypsies who lived on the Black Patch, were very quiet and private people. No-one was really frightened or worried about their choice of location, they were just accepted really.The gypsies would travel round the houses during the day, selling lucky charms and pegs, and of course the
Hilda And Her Younger Sister
 obligatory fortune would be told. It was a while before people cottoned on to the fact that the fortunes were the same for everyone. When the gypsies eventually left, Pre fabs were built on the land.
Every Sunday we would be marched off to Sunday School, at the little chapel beside Black Patch. We would be given a penny for the the collection plate..............often I would withhold my penny and use it to hire a bike for half an hour, until someone 'shopped me'. I got into real hot water for that. All the youngsters who attended the Chapel, were required to take a pledge, I can remember the words as if it was yesterday..........we were instructed to raise our right hand and reel off.........."I PROMISE WITH GODS HELP, TO ABSTAIN FROM ALL INTOXICATING DRINK AND HELP OTHERS TO DO THE SAME" For this we were awarded a white ribbon badge.

Hilda's School Leaving Certificate

The hand written section says
" Hilda is business-like and reliable. She can be trusted to do any work sensibly"

I only really recall, one set of neighbours, Mr and Mrs Hancox - my main reason for remembering them is the nickname that was awarded to their son.........DROP GUTS.............because he could down a freshly made boiling hot cup of tea!
For a special day out we would be taken to Wasson Pool, by our Dad. We would take Jam Sarnies and a Jam Jar to put 'tiddlers in', we would pick bluebells to bring home for Mom, they had usually wilted by the time we got home, but Mom was always a happy recipient of them, what ever state they were delivered in.
Dad had an allotment in Anne Road, every Sunday we all visited him and had our tea there.
We also had occasions at the Grand Picture House on the Soho Road, and spending our 'coppers' in the market on the Soho Road was a special occasion too.
Grove Lane baths brings back a very vivid memory. My mom made me a scarlet swimming costume for my first visit to the baths. I 'wore' the costume for a week.........the colour ran and it stained my skin. Seems funnier now than I recall it being at the time.
Soho Road, known as 'The Main Road', to Handsworthiens, offered a wide range of shopping establishments. Austin's pram shop offered a wide range of perambulators and accessories, and was a popular stop for 'mums to be'. If you purchased your pram there, you qualified for a free dolls pram in exactly the same make and colour.

80yo Hilda Today
In Fancy Dress!!

There was Mapps the Pork shop and Baines the Bakery.
Another venue on 'the Main Road' was the Soho Clinic, it was the family outing of the week if the school nurse had called and found 'visitors' in your hair.
My childhood was a very happy time and made all the more special by the people of Handsworth.