by Keith Heywood
Edited by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
My father was born in 1916, in Chadderton, near Oldham in Lancashire, the only child of working class parents David and Jane Heywood. Though reasonably bright at school, financial pressures meant that going on to grammar school was never an option. His art teachers recognised his talent, but in the same way further education to develop them was out of the question. Instead he was apprenticed to a local engineering firm.
Alan Heywood was a very talented illustrator and was easily skillfull enough to have worked for a major publishing house. Sadly but for the quirks of fate, this never turned out to be the case. Several of his pieces of artwork are shown below. We are particularly indebted to him for his depiction of the long-lost National School that used to be by the church.
The mid 30s in industrial Lancashire was not a good time to complete an apprenticeship and, on doing so his employment was terminated and attempts to find other work failed, so he left home and moved to the Midlands. Here he was more successful and found a job in Rowley Regis. He soon joined the West Bromwich branch of the Clarion Cycling Club, and quickly made many lasting friendships. He raced a few time trials but his main interest was the Sunday rides through the countryside bordering the Black Country. At the outbreak of war, he applied to join the navy, but was turned down on medical grounds, so continued to work in the engineering sector.
My mother, Lilian Elizabeth, known to all as Peg, was born in 1920 in Smethwick. Her parents were Fred and Lilian Ferneyhough, who went on to have 4 more children, Tom, Jean, Bill and Stella. My grandfather was something of an entrepreneur, and tried his hand at several businesses. Although real success eluded him he did reasonably well and in the mid 30s he bought a smallholding on the Chester Road, Stonnall.
By this time my mother had left school, and the prospect of moving to a rural idyll held no attractions whatsoever. So she moved in with her grandparents in Smethwick and worked in the family shop for a while, before getting a job with Kirbys, the local bakers, which was rather more interesting. At 17 she started driving the delivery vans for them.
She too was interested in cycling, and also joined the Clarion Cycling Club, which of course is where she met my father. She joined the ATS, where she worked as a cook in the Officer's mess. She always looked back at those days in the ATS as probably the happiest of her life, making several lifelong friends.
Marriage and moving to Stonnall
They married in March 1945, living at first in rented accommodation in Rowley Regis, but as soon as the landlady found out she was pregnant they were given notice. As it happened 14 Chester Road, Stonnall, was for sale (for £750) and there was a vacancy for a mechanical fitter at Charlie Jones in Birch Lane. With the help of £100 loan from my grandparents they were able to secure an affordable mortgage and moved in at the end of 1945. Luxuries like an electric stove had to wait a while so the coal fired range was the source of heating, hot water and cooking!
My father kept up his Sunday cycling with the Clarion for many years, and also cycled to West Bromwich every Tuesday evening for the social meeting. My mother rarely cycled for pleasure now – anyway someone had to mind the baby. At Charlie Jones my father was elected Union Secretary. Very much a believer in the union movement he was always a moderate and successfully prevented several strikes.
My mother was delighted to have a reasonable sized garden to grow flowers and vegetables, and my father reluctantly agreed to do the spade work – he had never lived in a house with a garden, so had no interest in them. This arrangement worked fine for a couple of years, and then, to my mother's dismay, he became increasingly interested in gardening, and quickly took over the vegetable cultivation, reluctantly allowing my mother a little room for flowers and a tiny lawn.
My grandfather's nursery produced a lot of chrysanthemums, both earlies and lates, and my father soon started cultivating them too. The earlies were no great problem, being grown outdoors, and producing flowers in autumn until the first frost. The lates were much more demanding. They flowered from October to December, and required the protection of a greenhouse. They were begun as cuttings taken in January, grown on in the greenhouse until late spring, when they could be put outside in pots – which needed watering at least twice a day if sunny, staking, tying in, spraying, disbudding, etc, etc. And the greenhouse boiler needed lighting and stoking with coke in winter. True the flowers were gorgeous, but were they worth it? The tomato crop which occupied the greenhouse in the summer provided a good surplus to sell at work, together with bunches of chysanths, so the garden was self-financing.
Pottering about in the shed
My father always needed to be doing something, so the box room was his carpentry workshop until he could afford to buy a proper shed, the erection of which is my first ever memory, at the age of 3. In winter he would disappear into the shed every evening (except Tuesdays) after dinner, where he would spend two or three hours on various carpentry projects, or bike maintenance. Naturally it was a magnet to me too, especially the coke stove lit to keep us warm. In November, he would spend evenings indoors for a couple of weeks, while he made two pen and ink drawings to make into calendars, one for his parents, one for my mother's parents.
Once married my father really wasn't very sociable, and never attempted to make friends with anyone in Stonnall, nor to take part in any social activities. He rarely drank alcohol, so didn't frequent the local pubs. My mother's relatives were discouraged from visiting the house too, as were my schoolfriends.
My mother was an excellent cook – all that ATS training – and housekeeper. She never had a permanent job after I was born – which was normal in those days. Having parents and three siblings living close by meant that she had a ready made social life. She did however join the Stonnall WI, and really looked forward to the monthly meetings and occasional outings, and always entered the monthly competitions – and won more than her fair share of them too.
They never moved from 14 Chester Road. My father did not have long to enjoy his retirement, he had a stroke after 2 years, which left him slightly handicapped, but totally changed his personality. He became much easier to please and would even spend hours watching daytime television. He died in 1987. My mother lived for another 6 years, in good health, but increasingly lonely, until one morning when she simply didn't wake up.
© Keith Heywood 2017
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