Stonnall eye-witness history
Memories of Old Stonnall
by Gordon Mycock
Their first child, out of an eventual set of 8, was my great-aunt Louisa who was born on October 5, 1866. She attended the National School in Thornes. Eventually, she married Jack Scott and they lived at 85 Main Street, now Steps Cottage.
Their fourth child was my grandmother, Elizabeth, who was born on June 29, 1874. On April 30, 1900, she married my grandfather John W White, who was born on August 3, 1872 at St Peter's Church.
Grandfather John was an orphan from the age of 12 and came from Clipstone, Nottinghamshire. He served as an apprentice on a farm at Over Whitacre, Warwickshire until he was 21 and had been living in Stonnall and working as a miner for some time prior to the marriage.
My mother, Frances, was the second of their family of six children. She was born on June 24, 1902.
My paternal grandparents, James and Louisa Mycock, who had been farmers in Hamstall Ridware, arrived in Stonnall via Little Aston to take up the position of caretaker at Stonnall School in 1904. Eventually, they would leave in 1927 to live in Walsall Wood.
However, my father, Joseph C Mycock, stayed on in Stonnall and married my mother Frances White on August 1, 1927 at St Peter's Church. They then took up residence in Lynn where, as already noted, I was born in 1929, the first of four children.
The family remained there until 1938, when the new council houses were built and we moved into number 24 Cartersfield Lane. One of my mother’s brothers took another of the houses which, incidentally, created a space at my grandparents' house at 95 Main Street. Consequently, after some persuasion, I went to live at Number 95 with my grandparents, remaining there until 1957 when I got married. Eventually, I bought that property and sold it in 1974.
For example, I can remember when electricity was installed in the house. Previous to that, the living room had been lit by means of a beautiful brass lamp that was attached to a pulley, which enabled my parents to raise and lower the lamp and to manouevre it precisely to where light was needed.
After electricity had been installed, I remember my mother thinking the worst when lighting suddenly failed. The cause, as it turned out, was merely a faulty light bulb!
Opposite the bungalow there was a stile where a public footpath was accessed. This led to the Smithy where there was another stile and farm gate. This footpath was ploughed up by thoughtless farmers quite frequently and thus it was unsuitable for somebody using a push chair. Consequently, my mother would need to take the long route via Cartersfield Lane and Main Street to take me into the centre of the village.
At the end of Cartersfield Lane, to the right there was a high bank which obscured the view into Main Street. I realise now that this bank was created by centuries of wear and tear on Cartersfield Lane and Main Street. To the left, there was a green, of which a little more later.
From the end of Cartersfield Lane, there was a long row of trees alongside Main Street where, of course, in those days there were no houses or buildings except for the smith's house and his workshop. These trees were cut down suddenly. I have no idea why this took place.
Growing Up in Stonnall
To convey an idea of the character of the village in those long-lost days, it might be an idea to take you, dear reader, on a virtual tour of the village as it appeared in the 1930s.
The Old Village of Stonnall
The new section of Chester Road had been built some years before I was born, but it was well-known that it was the Old Chester Road that passed down towards the Manor House and the village pond and that it had been renamed as Main Street.
The cottage was abandoned shortly after and gradually fell to rack and ruin. We used to go inside to play and I remember that the bedroom had a lovely oak floor. I removed one of the floorboards and made a truck out of it.
The land around the triangle was a wooded area, known as Wright's Wood.
There was a busy track that passed through its yard and all kinds of traffic used it.
As the Welsh Harp, it was known as the supposed birthplace of Tom King, highwayman Dick Turpin's henchman, of whom there will be more to say later.
The Manor House
Later, the Hoftens became the residents. I think in 1950, when Mrs Hoften was having refurbishments to the kitchen done, a large open fireplace was discovered, much to her great delight.
In Stonnall, there were persistent rumours of tunnels leading from Wordsley House and the Manor House and there will be more to say about this later.
The Village Pond and Brook
On the fourth side, nearest the farm buildings, there was a concrete ramp that enabled the lowering of farm machinery so that it could be washed off easily. The pond was full of frogs, leeches and other life and ducks were frequent visitors.
The brook rose at Lazy Hill and passed under Chester Road via a conduit. At the Main Street side of the pond, there was a sluice gate which was opened as necessary. From there, the brook flowed down beside Main Street on the other side of the roadside hedge for a distance before making a sudden right turn into the fields.
Its water flow was quite placid most of the time, but occasionally it would be an absolute torrent. There will be more to say about this later.
The Public Footpath and Bridge
The House with the Castle Hill Mural
The house was very special to me because there was a mural on the gable end bedroom wall which faced up Main Street. There were no windows in this wall. This mural depicted Castle Hill as seen from the bedroom window that overlooked Main Street. In the foreground of the mural, a blackbird was depicted sitting on a branch. The painting was done with oils and, in my opinion, of very high quality.
The 'T' Shaped Building
It appeared to be a very old structure that, with hindsight, I would date to the 17th or early 18th century. It was notable for the type of bricks that had been used in its construction: they were of a yellow-red colour that were quite unlike any other brickwork elsewhere in the village.
According to local tradition, this building had once been a public house. Also, I have seen 19th century maps of Stonnall where this building was marked as Post Office with what appears to be a coach house in its grounds. However, in the 1930s, this building was divided into three parts and there was no sign of a coach house.
Looking at it from the road, the right-hand part consisted of two dwellings, each having a front door and window facing the road. The Glovers lived in the left-side dwelling and the Griffiths on the right.
The left side of the building when viewed from Main Street had no windows nor doors and there was no sign of it ever having had any of those features. To the rear of this side, which was accessed by quite a wide drive to the left of the building, there was another entrance. This part of the building was not occupied. The enclosure was used by the Oakley family business as a builder's yard and there always seemed to be a pile of bricks in it.
The Old Swan, Post Office, Village Institute and Surroundings
A little further on, the Old Swan Inn was (and still is) situated. It had a coach house and stables situated on the lower end of what is now its car park. These features were demolished, I think, in the early 1950s. The landlord was Baise Pratt and his very attractive daughter, Rosemary, worked behind the bar.
On the Swan side of the road, somewhat lower down and opposite the Village Institute, which we knew to be a First World War prefabricated military hut, of which more later, there was a couple of very old cottages that could only be described as hovels. The cottage depicted in The Stonnall Mysteries as "A cottage in Stonnall Dated 20th June 1813" may have been one of them, but I cannot be sure about this. One was occupied by the Snapes and the other by the Bastins. The Snapes moved to Cartersfield Lane and the Bastins to the house of the National School in Thornes eventually, in about 1938 when the cottages were demolished.
A little lower down, there was a group of buildings consisting, amongst others of the Royal Oak public house and my home between 1938 and 1957, 95 Main Street. The Royal Oak was run by the Hopley family and they also ran a shop on the opposite side of the road.
One of the errands that I would have to run for my grandfather quite often would be to take an empty pint bottle to the Royal Oak off licence to get it filled with a measure of mild ale. I would enter the pub front door and tap on the window, which would then be raised by Mrs Hopley. She would then fill the bottle and place a sticker over the spout. If this sticker appeared to have been interfered with in any way, my grandfather would know that I had taken a crafty sip on the way back from the pub and I would be in big trouble.
The Thieving Jackdaw
Then about halfway up the long garden was a large wooden shed that was used as a chicken hutch. Amongst the chickens etc, they had a jackdaw which had a nest there. The bird was free to fly around and come and go as it pleased. It could say a few words and was quite friendly.
Anyway, it had a habit of picking up things that glittered and taking them to its nest. I recall an occasion when a lady had lost, I think, a ring and she was very upset. However, a visit to the Hopleys at the Royal Oak and a look in the jackdaw's nest revealed the lost article - and there were several such incidents.
You may wonder how I know about the rear of the Royal Oak, but I was a near-neighbour at 95 and we held our band practices in the pub. Interestingly, William Hopley Jnr had a liking for the bagpipes and marching bands that featured this instrument, as did I. He had records of them and I believe his interest may have come from his naval service in Scotland during the 1914/18 war.
The Village Pump, Public Footpath and Well Meadow
There was a large, grass-covered hollow behind the pump, which readily filled with water. I believe this was constructed to ensure that there was always water available to the pump. The pump had a low sandstone wall surrounding it, with steps up from Main Street. The pump itself was made of cast iron. It disappeared in late 1938 and most of the sandstone wall was removed to create a rockery at a house in Cartersfield Lane.
The footpath went alongside the hedge of Well Meadow and eventually crossed the brook. In bad weather and during thaws, the brook carried an overwhelming amount of water down the valley and the field to the left, now occupied by Thornes Croft, would become a lake for several weeks at a time. We always referred to this area as the Flood, irrespective of whether it was actually flooded or not. Most of the time it was a very marshy area.
In the centre of the field, at its highest point, there was a structure surrounded by a wooden fence with a brick lined well-like hole. It was disused and mostly filled with loose bricks. We kids used to call it the well, but of course it was not a well at all. In fact, it was some sort of sewer installation. There was a large cast-iron structure behind the hole which supposedly operated a tilting mechanism which tipped when full.
At the stile in Main Street for the footpath along the hedge of Well Meadow field there was a street lamp where young people of the village would congregate on darker evenings. It was switched off during the war period and taken away soon afterwards.
Lower Farm and The Smithy
Between the farm and the Smithy, there was a small brick barn which was always occupied by owls. The farmyard provided access to a track that led all the way to Chester Road and I used it frequently to visit Sam Cohen's cafe, which was always later referred to by most people as the transport cafe.
Beside the workshop, there was an entrance to the public footpath to Cartersfield Lane. This consisted of a farm gate and a stile.
The Smith's Workshop and its Interior
The left-hand side was a large, more-or less-empty room with no windows and a brick cobbled floor. It was accessed by double doors that took up most of the space of the wall of that half of the building. This part of the shop was used to shoe horses.
Inside this room was a frame on which a horse's hoof could be rested while work was being done. There was also a box containing a few tools like a claw hammer with a nail hook on the end, a metal file, a special knife for trimming the hoofs and the nails for the fixing of the shoes.
The other half was accessed by a door immediately to the right of the double door. To the right of that, there was a window that looked out on Main Street. The furnace and anvil were situated in this room. To the rear of this room, there was another window directly opposite the window already mentioned. Both windows were always covered with sooty dust and grime. You could hardly see through them for the accumulated dirt.
On entering the door, directly in front of you, there was a large amount of iron and steel of all shapes and sizes and a large amount of scrap, all ready to be reshaped into useful things. At the extreme right hand, near the front of the building, the hearth was located. It was built up by brick and about a yard high. Extending from it was a long wooden arm which operated the bellows. This is where we kids came in always ready to assist, Coke was the fuel used and there always was a pile of it next to the hearth.
The anvil was situated in the centre of this room and was mounted on a large block of wood surrounded by hammers and various tools.
There would be items in there waiting for repairs or to be remade. These were largely from the local farms, but there were also domestic items. The blacksmith would also make some horseshoes ready for shoeing later. Occasionally, some larger farm equipment would be left outside for attention by the blacksmith. There always seemed to be something going on.
The Smithy always struck me as being an old building even in the late 1930s. I think it was the brick type which appeared older than the house, but maybe it could have been that a better quality of brick was used for the house.
On one occasion, I remember that some workmen were digging a hole in the lane outside my house to install a water main and I noticed that there were many cobbles just under the road surface where the original road surface had been exposed. I asked my grandfather about this. He told me that, in the old days, people were paid to collect cobbles from the fields and make piles or pyramids with them from a base that was one yard square. These stones would then be used to repair the road.
Stonnall School and Hastilow's Corner
A little further on there was a house on the corner of Wall Heath Lane that was occupied by Harry Hastilow. We always referred to this location as Hastilow's Corner. The land between the school and Mr Hastilow's house was used for a number of purposes. I remember it being ploughed up in the Second World War to grow vegetables and then later it became a chicken farm. Mr Hastilow also ran a petrol station from the premises.
Wall Heath Lane, Lynn Lane and Lynn
There were very few houses in the lane when I was a boy. I remember that a Mr Hodgkins kept a cattle truck in a barn in a small, high-hedged enclosure in Wall Heath Lane in the 1950s. The last house in the lane was a shop, which we called Swain's Shop and which was run by a member of the Swain family who were based in Hilton.
In Lynn Lane, there were several features on the north side of the road that have long since disappeared. The first of these was a long line of mature chestnut trees at the roadside. In the same field at the top left, there was a ruined windmill with broken blades in the 1930s. Next to that, Lynn Cricket Club was situated, with its wooden pavilion to the right of the pitch and below it a pond.
Lynn was one of my favourite places to play, especially the pool opposite the end of Mill Lane and a wooded area in Thorneyhurst Lane that we called Bluebell Wood.
My mother kept some notes about Stonnall and one of them states, somewhat cryptically: "Ivy House Farm built by John Smith 1714" and then "John Smith 1747". Of course, the second reference is to the namestone on the barn at Ivy House Farm, but the first reference is baffling. Did she mean that the house was built in 1714 and that its barn was built some years later?
Church Road and Grove Hill
Next to that, there was a very old and somewhat decrepit cottage that was occupied by John Shufflebottom at one point and then by Jack Hall and his son John. The cottage seemed to be mediaeval in origin and appeared to be made principally of wattle and daub. Living conditions were very basic with, by present-day standards, crude toilet facilities. Water was taken from a well. Even in the 1930s, this was somewhat unusual as nearly everyone had much improved lifestyles, with flushing toilets and piped water.
Next was Ormside House and then the vicarage, which was occupied by the vicar and his wife, Rev and Mrs Freer, of whom there will be a little more to say later. Opposite the vicarage, there was Thornes Hall Farm, occupied by the Wells family.
A little further up the road, just below the church, the National School was located. As previously mentioned, my great-aunt Louisa attended this school in the 1870s and it is likely that she was one of the very first children to attend the new St Peter's School after it opened in 1874.
This building was still in quite good shape when I was little, but over the years it gradually fell to rack and ruin and was eventually demolished in the 1960s or 70s.
The tree of Grove Hill has always been a puzzle, both to me and everyone with whom I have spoken about it. I seem to remember at one time, it could have been late 1930s, there were two trees there. One was larger than the other and the one there now seems much smaller than originally.
It has been suggested that it was a survey point but I could find no stone marker. Another suggestion was that it is an ancient burial site. The grassed surrounding area has got smaller over the years and how long will it be before it disappears altogether? Unless the land owners know something that we do not. To my mind this as got to be the biggest puzzle in Stonnall.
Shire Oak Farm
Schooldays at Stonnall School
The school was divided into three classes, Forms 1, 2, and 3, which were three groups ranging from infants to seniors. Mr Hall was the Form 2 teacher and he had a cane, although I do not remember it being used much. When teaching, he used to stand at a lectern type desk.
The main part of the school was a big room that was partitioned off to create Form 1 and Form 3, the latter being nearest the school house. Form 2 was next to the washing and cloakroom, which had a big high window. Each form had a blackboard, but there were no radios nor any other technology. The toilets were outside at the end of the school and were accessed from the alley at the side of the school.
The school had a small garden which was situated in the tip of the field where Cartersfield Lane and Main Street meet.
We had playtimes in the mornings and afternoons and at lunchtime. The playground was divided by a central wall and playtimes were segregated according to gender: the girls played in the area nearest the school house and the boys on the other side of the dividing wall, quite separately. We had to make our own amusements without any aids. There was not so much as a tennis ball to play with.
The school boiler house was situated on this side directly below the bell tower. The caretaker, Mr Hopley, who lived next to the school in Cartersfield Lane, used to stoke it up with coke. The bell had fallen into disuse at this time, I understand because of safety problems with the tower.
There were wide entrances to the playgrounds from the footpath, but the girls' side had been boarded up, apparently due to there having been an accident on this sharp bend, which was made worse by the high hedge of the school house garden.
We did not have the facilities of football or cricket equipment, but there was not much time to set anything up as I and a lot of the other children went home for lunch. Something was supplied at school and that was a small bottle of milk at mid-morning, and I think we had to pay something for it.
At the school house end, there was a storeroom which was used by the Nit Nurse when she turned up, and our individual school photos were taken in there. When we had our Christmas plays, this room was used as the changing room as the stage was set against the wall in Form 3 and with the partition taken down. These events were always well attended by the local people. I remember being involved in plays and on one occasion dancing a Scottish reel.
The school inspector, I cannot remember his name, was a grumpy old chap who used to roll up on his motorbike and side-car. He sat at the teacher's desk in Form 3, which was on a raised platform, calling out our names. Then with a long pencil with a large rubber stuck on the end, he would tick a register, pointing the rubber at someone who possibly did not answer quickly enough for his liking and telling them off in the process.
I remember having an accident when doing a piggy back with another lad and I went head over heels and smashed my face into the gravel of the playground. My face was a mess and Miss Rainbow cleaned me up and sent me home.
Unfortunately, in those days, polio was still a big problem and I remember that one girl from Lynn needed to wear leg callipers.
I recall being part of the Junior Choir when I was at school and we went by coach to a school choir competition at Stafford, but we were not very successful.
Dick Turpin and Tom King
The Manor House and Wordsley House Tunnels
After the Hoftens became the Manor House residents, some of us were invited to the house for a Christmas party and on that occasion we decided to investigate. We searched the cellar and banged on its walls, but we could find no evidence of any tunnels.
Since then, it occurred to me that we might have been looking in the wrong part of the house, because it had been divided into two dwellings some years before. Therefore, the tunnels story remains open to question.
The Sandstone of the Church and the Main Street Water Pump Wall and Steps
Rev and Mrs Freer: the vicar, Rev Lionel Freer, occasionally used to roll up to school on his bicycle. He was a very well respected member of the village community. He was not a tall man, quite the opposite to his wife, who was tall. She also used to ride round on her bicycle. She was a lovely lady. He had a distinctive lump on his upper jaw. He was often seen visiting people's homes, particularly if someone was ill. I visited them several times at the vicarage. My mother used to visit them when they retired to Aldridge. Mrs Freer survived him.
John W White, my grandfather: my grandfather was a very knowledgeable countryman and knew a lot about the area, which he freely passed on to me. The hunting of rabbits - rabbiting - was one of skills that he passed on to me, of which more later.
He was employed by Staffs County Council as a sidesman for Stonnall district. His job was to keep the sides of the roadways in good order and to keep drains and draining ditches clear to dispose of flood waters, all of which he did enthusiastically.
He continued doing this job until he was retired by the Council at the age of 82 in 1954 which, I remember, distressed him considerably. He was a very fit man for his age. I can only ever remember him doing this job.
An incident that took place much before my time, but I remember being told about it by a man from the village who had known him in his younger days, was that a boxing show that used to travel round the Black Country had a champion boxer who would offer any takers to take him on for so many rounds and, if they were still standing after this time, they would win £5, a huge amount of money in those days.
Well, this show was in Brownhills and grandfather offered to take him on. He knocked the champion out and duly received the £5. Thereafter, when the shows came round again, he was banned by the organisers from stepping into the ring.
Mr Furmston, the blacksmith: Mr Furmston had a rich Shropshire accent and could do just about anything with a bit of iron. He was a master at making and fitting horse shoes. We spent a lot of time with him. He lived on his own having lost his wife who, unfortunately, had died on a Christmas Day. He often called at my grandparents' house at 95 Main Street for a cup of tea and a chat.
Harry Hastilow, local businessman: Harry Hastilow, I would say, was a very helpful sort of man and during the war he was noted for doing all sorts of charity work. I remember his chicken farm between the school and his house. As we will see, he also took a role in local defence during the Second World War.
Somewhat unusually for the village, the Hastilows were Catholics, whereas just about everyone else in Stonnall was C of E. To everyone's credit, this was never considered to be a problem and there never was any friction on account of it.
Sgt Cunnington RAF: the name of Sgt Cunnington RAF is inscribed on the church war memorial. He was an air gunner of Bomber Command and lived on Castle Hill on the left-hand side. He was the only son of his family.
I remember well the last time I saw him, which was at the New Year's Party of 1943-44 at the Village Institute. He was in fine form. He had earlier been talking to an older cousin of mine and indicated that he did not think that he would survive the war and poignantly offered to sell my cousin his bike. He obviously knew about what we all found out about later, which was the high attrition rate of British bombing raids. I believe he lost his life in the biggest disaster in RAF history, which was the Nuremburg raid of March 31st-1st April 1944 and which was to have been the last of such before the military leadership concentrated on invasion plans.
Jim Smith: Stonnall can claim to have had at least two successful athletes who were distance runners.
In the 1930s, Jim Smith who lived in Main Street and who ran for the Birchfield Harriers, won many medals. He had used to practice in one of Garnet Burton's fields. He later moved to Shire Oak and, unfortunately, his career was cut short as at the outbreak of war he was called up to the army and was made a POW in 1940, not returning home until 1945.
Eric Kinchin: the other was Eric Kinchin who lived in Cartersfield Lane and who competed and was prominent in the 1950s, with considerable success.
Mrs "Blossom" Mountford: the Mountford family farm was located at Ivy House Farm, Lower Stonnall. They kept a stall on Walsall Market for many years. Mrs "Blossom" Mountford was a very well-known, larger than life and kind-hearted woman.
Garnet Burton: Garnet Burton occupied Lower Farm and farmed many of the fields in Stonnall, including Well Meadow. Mr Burton always had a somewhat serious manner, but fundamentally he was a kind-hearted man. For example, he would let the kids play cricket on Well Meadow, which had a near perfect surface for the game. As already noted, he also supported Jim Smith's training programme with the provision of a practice area.
Arthur Burton: Arthur Burton was also a farmer and was Garnet's brother, but a different character altogether. I met him many times when I used to go into Birmingham market with farm produce during the war, of which more later. He was a very affable and sociable man and easy to get on with and very well liked on the market. There was always a laugh when Arthur was around. He liked a drink and he was always to be found in the pub after business.
Ernie Burton: Ernie Burton, who was was no relation to the farming family, was one of the few village people who possessed a motorbike.
He married Emma Mills after they met when he worked on the sewer in Well Meadow. They lived with the Mills family in Main Street after they got married.
The Irish Migrant Workers: although I cannot remember any names, it is as well to remember the Irishmen who would arrive annually to do farm work.
In my time, these men arrived in Stonnall every year at the start of the potato harvesting season and were employed to dig up the crop. They were paid by the rood, which is a unit of area measurement equivalent to 1/4 of an acre, or 1,210 square yards.
This practice ceased in the mid to late 1930s as the process became mechanised. Thus, a tradition of Irish seasonal workers in Stonnall ceased after hundreds and possibly thousands of years.
The Ice Cream Seller: an ice cream seller used to come to the village on his tricycle that had a box on the front to contain the ice creams. He usually managed to come during school holidays and weekends. This ended in 1939 and, like many other things, never continued after the war.
Milk Delivery: milk delivery to the village in the 1940s was done by the Bower family of New Barns Farm, Lower Stonnall by pony and trap. The milk was transferred from churns to a large bucket with a lid in which were measures hooked inside so as to dispense the exact amount the customer required into their milk jug.
The Rag and Bone Man: he would occasionally visit the village to collect what his description suggests but would also be looking for metal or anything that he could trade. When he was around, we kids would search for something to hand over and we would always receive a couple of goldfish in exchange. He had a tank full of them on his horse and cart but in my experience they did not live for long after we had them, whether due to water or temperature change I do not know.
As for the rags he collected, they were in demand at the time as they were shredded for rags used by engineers on steam trains and engines, etc. As for bones, most meats we consumed were from the bone and so there could be a fair amount of these available and these were eventually ground down for fertiliser.
Bringing in the Grain at Lower Farm
Then, along came horses and carts and lorries and these would transport the harvest to the Dutch barns in the farmyard, where it was stored until it was threshing time. At that stage, a steam-driven tractor arrived. I think this belonged to a company called Dungers from Muckley Corner. This machine towed a large threshing machine and other equipment. It would be set up alongside the barn with the tractor driving the thresher by means of a large belt which, in turn, drove a baler.
The process was that the bunches of corn were passed from the barn to a man on the thresher who would feed them into a flailing drum within the machine that would separate the grain from the straw. The grain was bagged up at the rear of the machine. The straw went into the baling machine and the resulting bales would be used for animal bedding or feed.
We would arrive at a hedgerow where there were known rabbit holes, with a ferret in a specially constructed box, together with nets that had been improvised out of old onion bags and which opened out into a square shapes,
Grandfather would tell me not to talk and to move around quietly. Hand signals were used as necessary. Leading the way and carefully examining each hole, he would reject some with a shake of his head, then with a nod he would point to several holes that he considered more promising.
The nets were then spread over the holes he had indicated and fastened down with his specially made pegs at each corner. He would then indicate to get the ferret out. The animal had a collar fitted, to which he would attach a cord, making sure that he could encourage it to return to the surface. The ferret was then sent down one of the holes.
Grandfather had a hearing trumpet so he could listen to what was going on in the rabbit hole. The idea was that, upon encountering its unwelcome guest, the rabbit would bolt out of the nearest exit and then, hopefully from the rabbiter's point of view, become trapped in one of the nets. The rabbit was quickly dispatched and we would return home in the expectation of a good rabbit pie or stew in the next day or two.
Generally, we only took what was immediately wanted, but if ever there was an excess, a rabbit could be traded for a pint of beer in one of the pubs. The local farmers were happy to keep the rabbit population down and as long as we observed the rules of the countryside, which of course we always did, a good relationship was maintained.
Preparing Alcoholic Beverages at Home
After boiling the fruit or vegetable base in a lot of water and dissolving the exact amount of sugar required, the mixture would be poured into a large earthenware bowl that was known as a joule and allowed to cool down. A piece of toast would then be floated on the surface and yeast would be sprinkled on the toast.
The idea of the toast was that it would allow the yeast contact with the sugary mixture as it soaked through, while it also acted as a filter to prevent clouding of the liquid.
A tea towel or similar was used to cover the bowl and it would then be left to ferment for a couple of weeks, while my grandmother checked it every now and again.
I must say, the mixture looked quite disgusting as it bubbled and frothed away, but somehow it always disappeared quite rapidly when ready for drinking.
Around 1939, following the outbreak of war, this activity became less commonplace because of a shortage of sugar.
The Harvest Season
St Peter's Church
I was a choirboy at the church until the age of 14, when I got my first job. Also, because of this, it was necessary for me to attend further education evening classes and there was no more time to devote to the choir, unfortunately.
I remember well the procedure of being a choir member. We would arrive at church and enter the choir vestry through its door on the south side of the church. There, we would put on our cassocks and surplices and then file out to the choir stalls at the appropriate moment.
The really special church occasions were, as always, Christmas, Easter and the Harvest Festival.
In those days, the church had a pipe organ which was powered manually with a lever in the choir vestry. This meant that every time the organ was required, somebody would have to enter the vestry and pump its bellows with the lever.
The King's Coronation, 1937
I remember walking to this event with my mother. It had been raining earlier. As we approached, I noticed a man in front carrying a box from which a voice could be heard, telling us what was happening in London. On asking what it was, I was told it is a new type of wireless. As a lad approaching 7 years old and only having seen large stationary wirelesses that were powered by grid bias batteries, this portable radio was very advanced technology at the time.
At the event, a running track had been marked out for sport. There were sack races and egg and spoon races, a coconut shy and the like. There was a tub filled with water with apples floating in it, which had to be retrieved without using hands, but by biting them.
Then there was a tall framework set up with an arm hanging down that was connected to an overhead container with water in it. There was a broom handle which a contestant had to strike while passing under the container. If too slow, the contestant got wet, much to the mirth of onlookers. Ernie Burton tried it on his motorbike but couldn't avoid a soaking, even by that means.
Most of the villagers attended, but I think the dampness affected the day.
Stonnall Carnival Band
I was a young member who played a bazooka, sometimes called a submarine or torpedo due to its shape, which was a tin tubular instrument with a vibrating diaphragm. We practiced in a room at the back of the Royal Oak.
The band was suspended at the outbreak of war in 1939, when whoever played whatever Instrument took it home for safekeeping until the war ended. As it turned out, that was the end of it for whatever reason. However a couple of years ago I found myself in possession of a side drum from this band that a deceased member had left and I passed it on to the Salvation Army, who are now using it. Where the other stuff is I have no idea.
On the farms, a lot of work was done by horses, although in the early days Garnet Burton had a Fordson tractor and by the 1940s had a crawler tractor. I did have a drive on this. The Wells and Allertons also had Fordson tractors. The Wells tractor had a well worn transmission which made a noise you could hear a mile away when working.
In those day, people used radios that were powered by grid bias batteries, which consisted of a glass box containing lead/acid. For the time, this was advanced technology and we got the batteries recharged at the post office.
Very few people had telephones or televisions in their homes. The first telephone I remember was in about 1934 in the police house in Cartersfield Lane. It was the old wind up type with a speaking horn and earpiece. Public access to a telephone was through a red call box outside the post office and this was not installed until the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Televisions were quite rare until the 1960s, but they did have an impact on the Queen's Coronation in Stonnall: most people were able to get to a friend's or neighbour's tv set to be able to watch the event in London. Thus there was no public celebration in the village in the 1950s as there had been for the King's Coronation in the 1930s. How times changed in a relatively short period!
Secondary School in Walsall Wood
I remember on one occasion, a kid who shall remain nameless and who had recently arrived from Evesham, Worcestershire, was fooling about in the back of the bus, whereupon he opened the emergency exit and promptly fell out onto the road. Fortunately, the bus was moving slowly up Shire Oak Hill and there was very little traffic on the roads in those days and so the boy was shaken but unhurt. The driver stopped the bus and remonstrated with the foolish boy, who replied in a broad Worcestershire accent: "I wish I werrrrre back in Everrrrrrrsham!".
Gas Mask Distribution
The masks were actually delivered to people living on the outskirts. Garnet Burton's lorry at Lower Farm was requisitioned for this purpose. I was 9 at the time and it was a Sunday. My uncle, Frank White, drove the lorry and I was called upon to help by passing the masks down from the back, This was, by the way, the only time I have been to the house at the top of Castle Hill.
An ARP (Air Raid Precautions) unit was set up. Cyril Slaney was the officer in charge with my father, Joseph Mycock, as sergeant. Both had seen army service in the First World War.
The LDV (Local Defence Volunteers), later the Home Guard, from outside Stonnall often carried out exercises around the area and occasionally stayed overnight in the Village Institute. I remember on one occasion they dug a hole at the side of the building and buried some petrol cans, only to dig them out the next day. The only army transport they appeared to have was the odd motorcycle.
Invasion Obstacles at Shire Oak
The idea was that, upon invasion, the blocks would be lifted from the holes and placed on the road surface. Thus, enemy vehicles would be impeded by both the holes and the blocks.
The concrete blocks, of course, remained in the holes and they are now covered with tarmac.
Most dropped harmlessly in the fields where they burned themselves out, but one landed by the Smithy and another in the field just beyond Hastilow's Corner. This one set fire to the corn that was growing in the field. The ARP wardens soon extinguished the fire and threw soil on the incendiary with very little damage caused.
The Stonnall ARP Unit
In another incident, one day the ARP wardens were settling down to a brew at HQ when in walked the blacksmith Mr Furmston with an incendiary that had not gone off and which he had just wrestled out of the roadway, leaving a hole. Everyone scattered like rabbits leaving their tea, calling on the blacksmith, in no uncertain terms, to place it outside on some bare ground, which he did, muttering that they were all too nervous. He was a very cool man.
This particular stick had come down in the garden between No 95 and No 97 Main Street. Next day, the policeman retrieved it and a small parachute, believed to have come down with it, was later collected by me and added to my collection of other items, such as shrapnel and bomb fins. The parachute was made of silk and eventually my cousin made a skirt out of it.
The Anti-Aircraft Battery and Searchlight
The Coventry Blitz
The Birmingham Blitz
On the way into Birmingham along Kingstanding Road, at the top of the hill on the right-hand side of the road, there were fields where an AA unit was sited. On one occasion, as we descended towards Kingstanding Island, the houses immediately on the left had been bombed with resulting damage to the roofs with, fortunately, not much damage to bedrooms. We went by again the following morning and I think there were four bombs that struck every other pair of semi-detached houses.
The resulting rubble and general debris was bulldozed to the side of the roads where it remained until the area was redeveloped in the 1960s. Interestingly, one of the new buildings of that time was a brand new office block for Halfords. It is now a Birmingham City Council office.
The Bull Ring Bombed
Forced Landing of an Aircraft
We in the country, on the other hand, did not do too badly for basic foods. Sugar was the stuff that I noticed the shortage of most and things like oranges, bananas, ice cream and other things that kids like the most did not come back until after the war. But eggs, bacon and chicken were fairly plentiful. We kept chickens and the family shared a pig. I suppose some of these shortages were a good thing as I still have a few teeth left.
Wartime conditions placed restrictions on the use of tractors because of fuel shortages. This brought back the use of horses for ploughing and other farm work.
Doing Our Bit as Kids
The Prisoner of War Camp in Lynn
None of the Italians at Lynn were any threat whatsoever and it was a real pleasure for them to play with us kids. It appeared that many had been conscripted and did not want to know about the war.They worked on local farms and were allowed out of camp.
We lads got to know them well. One was teaching me Italian. We used to play football with them on Sundays and their cook used to make great coffee afterwards. I know of at least one who stayed in this country and he lives in Lichfield to this day. I have been to his home in Italy and met his family.
Vittorio Geroni, or Vito as he was known, was one of the POWs at Lynn and worked on local farms, which was how he managed to stay in England after the war. My father was asked by the authorities to stand surety for him which he did. He married eventually and moved to Lichfield.
There was also an older man, Alfredo Cappette, whom I befriended. He would have been about 50 then and I believe he came from a very different situation in the south of Italy and, as I now realise, he was troubled by a Mafia situation. He and I corresponded after the war and he and his family emigrated to Argentina for a better life, but he made it clear to me that his life at Lynn had been very pleasant.
1944, The End in Sight
The build-up to the invasion of Europe was very noticeable, as men and materials were passing through for hours on end. These men were largely Americans who had arrived in this country via Liverpool and were housed temporarily at Whittington before carrying on to the south coast.
Some people were saying that the country would sink under this weight, but we could see this was the beginning of the end. This movement of resources brought in much work to the garage, with many accidents and breakdowns being repaired. Obtaining parts for this work seemed to be no problem.
We often encountered the Americans around Lichfield. They were always cheerful and chatty and had plenty of money, I remember that a young lady from Lynn was going out with one of them.
VE Day in Stonnall
The wartime period left a lasting impression on me.
Social Life in Stonnall
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the older generation would hold a whist drive and there would be people from the surrounding area in attendance.
Dances would be organised and they took place fairly regularly throughout the year, with either a three or four piece band in attendance. Halloween and New Year's Eve were regular dates.
A local garden produce show was a regular annual event, which was always keenly contested for the biggest and best home grown flowers and vegetables.
Then of course there were the odd birthday parties and wedding receptions.
Stonnall Youth Club
Early in the new year there was always an excursion to the pantomime, usually at the Aston Hippodrome or the Dudley Hippodrome. The shows that I remember were Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Miss Muffet, Snow White and Dick Whittington.
As far as trips to the seaside were concerned, the popular places we visited were Blackpool, Southport and Rhyl, simply because the basic road network of those days (there were no motorways) lent itself to getting to these places more easily than anywhere else.
Trips to the Avion in Aldridge
When we were quite small, there was a children's performance on Saturday mornings that cost 2d (less than 1p in today's money) and we always walked to them. The showings were usually cowboy films.
Gordon Mycock passed away in February 2015.
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