Old Stonnall Remembered
Alan Beetlestone was born in 1918 or 1919 at Chester Road, Druid Heath. The family eventually moved to a property on Lichfield Road at the end of Barracks Lane, Sandhills. Mrs Beetlestone, presumably Alan's mother, is noted as having played the piano at Stonnall Women's Institute meetings for many years in the 1930s and 40s.
I was born in our farm cottage on Chester Road and lived there until I was 14. My father was a general farm hand at Gainsborough Hill Farm, in particular specialising in the cutting and laying of hedges in the appropriate season.
The landscape around Stonnall to the north, east and south is undulating, but to the north-west and west it is distinctly hilly. The long ridge dividing Stonnall from Aldridge and Walsall Wood features Shire Oak, Castle Hill and Lazy Hill. The largest of these, Castle Hill, has at its summit large earthworks and ditches which I have often wished could be the subject of archaeological investigations. I feel sure the results would be fascinating and would establish the importance of Stonnall in ancient times. We already have some evidence of this in the weapons and other artefacts revealed during a dig on Grove Hill in, I believe, 1824. But I will leave village history to those who have probed it more closely.
Note: Alan Beetlestone was by no means the first person to believe, mistakenly as it happens, that there had been an archaeological investigation of Grove Hill in 1824. However, the fact is that there had been an accidental discovery of some Bronze Age weapons and other items at Gainsborough Farm in that year. The circumstances are described in this article and the history of Grove Hill is investigated in this article.
A little way up Castle Hill stands Prospect House, now much more prominent and better-looking than when my paternal grandmother and two aunts lived there, having moved from Brockhurst Farm, Pouk Lane, in about 1918. Some years later they moved again, to Summer Hill, across the road and across the canal from the Boat Inn, kept now as it has been for 52 years by Pat Johnson. Prospect House was subsequently lived in for many years by the Taylor family.
When I was a small boy, Chester Road was quite narrow, but even then traffic useage was increasing considerably. So between 1925 and 1927, a big programme of widening was carried out by Staffordshire County Council, from the Rising Sun to Brownhills Station and from the Anchor Bridge to Streetly and New Oscott.
One feature of this project was the by-pass near the Manor House in Stonnall, eliminating a dangerous bend, but creating another hazard where Castle Hill Road crosses the main road. Also, our small front garden and a strip of the main garden were taken, with a wooden fence and a privet hedge provided. Our front door (which, however, we never used) opened directly on to the footpath. During this roadwork, I chatted a lot with the workmen and learned a lot from them.
Going to school in Stonnall
It was a walk of just one mile to school every weekday in term time. The school was a typical village establishment, with the headmaster's house contiguous to it. On entry as five-year-olds, we were taught by Miss Wilkins, in later years Mrs Garnet Burton, but who then lodged with Mr Page, the local roadman and his wife at Lynn.
Next we passed into Miss Cooper's class, Standard Two. She also lived in Lynn.
Standard Three was taught by Mr Hall. My outstanding memory of Standard Three is of Dick Burton suddenly being taken ill while sitting next to me and being rushed off to hospital with appendicitis.
Lastly there was Standard Four, taught by the headmaster.
During the dinner break at school, we sometimes used to pop up to the forge to watch Mr Furmston the blacksmith at work, and very interesting it was too.
In my early days at Stonnall School, the headmaster was Mr Bowers, who shortly afterwards left to take over as head at, I think, the bigger Burntwood village school. He was replaced by Mr J S Pearson, who lived in the school house with his wife and two sons, Trevor and Alan. He stayed for many years, in fact until the schools were reorganised in the 1940s.
Front row: Philip Loescher, Catherine Besant, Mr Pearson, Caroline Lote, unknown boy.
Back row: John Achurch, Joyce Hewitt, Nora Myatt, Ted Lote.
I have always felt that I owe him a great deal. he was a Yorkshireman and, besides instructing us in all the school subjects, he used to tell us many tales of his young days in Cudworth near Barnsley and his early teaching years in Hamsworth in the same area. He was a rugby man, endevouring to teach us boys the game and was contemptuous of football. He was also a mainstay of Lynn Cricket Club for many years. Other members of the team when I used to keep score for them were Ted Taylor, Joe Gilbert and Billy Hinsley. I believe Mr Hoole, another Yorkshireman, who lived at Lynn House Farm, also played occasionally.
It was while I was in Standard Four that I first experienced the joys and agonies of attraction to the opposite sex. The object of my affections was Gladys Scott, who lived in the near end council house in Lynn, but to my great sadness moved some time in 1932 to Byker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which was where her mother came from.
A particular memory is of the deep snow in March 1930. On saturday the 15th, Mother and I trudged through two feet of snow nearly six miles to Christ Church School in Lichfield for me to sit the scholarship [the 11 plus] as it was then designated. I sat it , but was disqualified for being twenty minutes late in arriving!
My friends remembered
Others of my friends at school from Lower Stonnall were the Loeschers of Stonnall House farm, Donald Paxton the policeman's son, Don and Harold Walton, who in 1930 moved to my grandfather's old farm in Springhill from Cheswardine in Shropshire, and John Genders from Lynn who was a very adventurous and even reckless lad who sometimes got himself into scrapes because of this. In more recent years, he has been in the news as having attempted to row across the Atlantic single-handed.
Note. In fact, Sidney John Genders of Lynn became the first person to row across the Atlantic single-handed in 1970 at the age of 50. Biographical information and an account of his journey.are described in this web page.
I also remember _ Achurch, Charlie Craddock, Frank and Harold Smith, Jack and Albert Lee, Alan Ball who later followed me into the teaching profession, Cyril Tomlinson, Ken Pike who tragically died when he was only 12. In the village [Upper Stonnall], there were Eric Woodhouse from the post office, Ray Oakley, Percy Hastilow, Betty Hopley, Kathleen Craddock, Fred and Gerald Ramsell from Cartersfield Lane.
From Pouk Lane, Jack, Alf and Pauline Beemand. Pauline died tragically in her teens. Then from Springhill, besides the Waltons, there were Phil Aspley, Gladys Aspley, Arthur James and ida and Nessa Westwood. Edith and Dora Brown came from Mill Green and Phyllis Dawson came from Raikes Lane. Connie Remblance and Joe Sears from Lynn.
Around the same time that Chester Road was widened, a shop was built next to Lee's Garage, together with eight pairs of semi-detached houses. The shop was kept by Mrs Vann, who lived there with her husband and their son, Shirley Richard. He became a friend of mine and I last heard of him as living at Blake Street.
William 'Billy' Lee had made some money from exploiting a sand quarry at the rear of his cottage. The petrol pumps he installed had now become an established feature of the scene and I remember that in 1930, BP cost 1s/4d a gallon and ROP (Russian Oil Products) cost 1s/3½d. I also remember Mr Lee having a telephone put in, the first I had ever seen. The number was Aldridge 52125. There is, as you know, a lovely memorial window to Mr and Mrs Lee in Stonnall Church.
Among the families living in the row of houses, I remember the Smiths, the Tills, the Halls, the Wheelers, the Cotterells and the Andrews. Dick Smith was the ploughman at the farm. Mr Hall taught at Stonnall School and Mrs Hall, too, was a teacher before her marriage. Their children were John, Hazel and I think another girl. John was a good friend of mine. George Wheeler and Harry Andrews were likewise among my friends, especially Harry with whom I used to go on many bike rides and in whose company on 5th August, 1932, I made my first acquaintance with Cannock Chase, which was to play such a big part in my life in later years.
At the Villa a hundred yards up the road from our house when I was very young, lived Mr and Mrs Kimberley. Mr Kimberley was an inspector on the railways. Mrs Kimberley and my mother became firm friends and remained so until Mrs Kimberley's death in 1965. They soon moved to a new bungalow at Sandhills, just above where we later went to live and remained there for 34 years until moving to Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales in 1958. At Sandhills, their only child, Ramsay, was born in 1926. He is, of course, my oldest friend and his daughter, Julie, is my god-daughter. They live near Retford in Nottinghamshire.
This is his class pictured in about 1950.
There were other features of life on the Chester Road. I partly learned to read by the aid of the wording of the sides of the vans of Browns of Chester, which passed along two or three times a week. In later years, my associations with Chester became much closer for I took teacher training at Chester College and I have been closely attached to the city ever since.
On Saturday mornings and during the school holidays, there was the excitement aroused by the roar of a powerful engine heard coming along Gravelly Lane. I would drop whatever I was doing and dash out onto the footpath in time to wave to and be waved to by Captain Ellison of Footherley Hall in his wonderful supercharged Mercedes Benz, as he passed by on his way to his factory in Black Lake, West Bromwich. My love of these great cars has persisted ever since.
In April 1933 I left school. It was a bad time for getting a job, like the present time [early 1980s], and I cycled to numerous factories and other establishments in Lichfield, trying to find work. At last I was taken on by Hiskins Garage, working in the paint shop for 7s/6d a week. That lasted six months until the November, when i transferred to a very different job in Barratt's shoe shop in Walsall for 10s/- a week.
This edition © Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2017
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