Stonnall people and places
The Royal Oak Photo
by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
In the early 20th century, a photo was taken outside the Royal Oak public house in Upper Stonnall, in which a number of adults and children are depicted (see below).
A copy of it was handed down through the Broadhurst family and then the Blakemore family until it ended up in the hands of Pauline Blakemore. Two names are written on the back of the photo: James Broadhurst and Harriet Broadhurst.
The photo has been purported to record a celebration of the conclusion of the First World War in November 1918. However, we can now prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the month could not have been November and that the year could not have been 1918.
Thus, in this paper, we will attempt to:-
The Royal Oak Photo, taken in Main Street, Upper Stonnall, in the early 20th century.
These individuals are divided into two groups: on the left, there are 3 boys who seem to have been onlookers and who do not appear to have been intended as part of the subject matter, but who were included in the shot nevertheless. We will return to these boys later.
Everybody else appears to have posed formally and deliberately together. Clearly, the photo-shoot was pre-arranged and everyone in the main group prepared for it, as they all appear to be dressed in their Sunday best.
These people are further divided into sets of one or more individuals, such as the three girls and one boy dressed mainly in white at the front-right and, next to them, the two girls dressed in grey dresses and white hats. We will go through each set one by one.
Depth of field is also excellent, with objects in the background shown very clearly, including the Lower Farm barn and, in the distance, the blacksmith's workshop (demolished about 1954).
This shows that the camera, the film stock, the back-room processing and the printing process that were deployed were absolutely first-rate in every way.
These factors indicate that the work was done by a professional outfit, which was almost certainly a news organisation. This might give us a clue as to what was really going on, pointing to our next item of interest.
The main subject matter
The legend on the vendor's bag is LLOYD NEWS or LLOYDS NEWS and we know that this company was a firm of newsagents operating in the early 20th century.
We will try to pin down the event and its surrounding circumstances at the conclusion of this paper.
It might have been a local newspaper such as the Lichfield Mercury or the Walsall Observer, but it could just as easily have been a regional or a national newspaper.
We can be fairly certain that a copy of this particular edition exists in an archive. If so, finding it would go a long way to confirming the conclusions set out below and solving this mystery once and for all.
The Royal Oak's history in brief
Over the succeeding 50 years or so, the premises transformed into a public house. However, the grocery aspect of the business was not abandoned.
Thus, listed in the 1911 census as publican and grocer, Thomas Jones was the licensee of the Royal Oak for a period leading up to 1913. He married Anne in about 1862 and they had four boys and two girls. Their daughter, Susannah, married William Hopley of Walsall Wood and, when his in-laws ceased operating the business in 1913, he took over the running of the pub.
The year and the month of the photo
This informs us that William Hopley was already installed as the licensee by the time the photo was taken and thus the year could not have been any earlier than 1913.
All the figures are fairly lightly dressed and a tree in the background is in leaf. These factors would rule out the month of November and indicate a summer month.
As the men are not at work and the children are not at school, we would suggest that the photo was taken on a Saturday or a Sunday or possibly a bank holiday.
We will try to pin down the exact date of the event at the conclusion of this paper.
We will now identify as many of the figures as possible. Many of the identifiable people are still within living memory. However, for obvious reasons, none of the children in the photo were known as children by any person living in the present day.
This creates a few difficulties that we will try to unentangle as we go along, using as guidance information about the extended Hopley family, information about the Royal Oak's neighbours and information about dates of birth, much of which we can glean from the 1911 census.
Starting from the left of the main group of people:-
Elizabeth 'Bessie' White
The Whites were near neighbours to the pub. She might have been included in the photo for that reason or possibly because she worked at the pub in some capacity, although we have no information to confirm that.
Bessie appears to be about 12 or 13 years of age in the photo and this would seem to place the year as 1913 or 1914.
Bessie would go on to marry Bert Wright and they lived in the so-called Mural House (demolished in the 1960s) in Main Street.
James 'Jim' Broadhurst and Harriet Broadhurst
Harriet appears to be about 2 or 3 years old in the photo, likely placing the year as 1913 or 1914. The Broadhursts were near-neighbours to the pub.
Jim Broadhurst joined the Royal Field Artillery in April 1916 and was killed in action on March 21, 1918, at St Quentin. He is commemorated on the war memorial in St Peter's Church.
As Jim was deceased before the end of the war, this is a major reason why the photo could not have been taken in November 1918.
Alfred 'Alf' Hopley
Alf is standing near to his father...
William 'Bill' Hopley
From this, we can guess that the remaining figures in the photo represent his wider family, some pub employees and certain of his immediate neighbours and friends. These latter two categories might have consisted of some of the pub's regular customers of the time.
The two girls with white hats
Tet married William Broadhurst (Jim Broadhurst's brother) and Agnes married Joe Ensor. The Ensors went on to occupy one of the 1938 council houses in Cartersfield Lane, where Aggie lived into old age.
The three ladies and the men standing behind them
Based on resemblance, we are reasonably certain that the older person standing next to Edith is her mother, Susannah Hopley (née Jones, b 1872), Bill Hopley's wife.
Next to her, we suggested originally that this lady (in the hat) might be Mrs Nutting. The Nuttings lived next door to the pub and their house is still called The Nuttings. Since this article was first published, two very senior members of the Stonnall community, Dot Smith and Iris Hewitt, have confirmed that our provisional identification of this lady as Mrs Nutting is, in fact, correct.
It should be noted here that Mrs Nutting's complection is very dark, indicating that she had been working in the fields during the summer months, an occupation in which many Stonnall women engaged annually up to the 1970s. This gives us another clue as to the actual time of year when the photo was takenSusannah had four brothers. They were Edwin Jones, William Jones (b 1880), Samuel Jones (b 1883) and Thomas Jones (b 1886), the last three of whom having been resident at the Royal Oak, at least for a period during their parents' tenure of the pub. Were they, as seems likely, standing behind their sister, Susannah? If so however, it is impossible to put names to faces, unfortunately.
The Royal Oak-based Jones brothers were listed as carters in the 1911 census, thus starting a tradition of a haulage business at the Royal Oak that would last at least another 50 years after this photo was taken.
The four children in white
George would go on to get involved in road haulage, no doubt under the influence of his uncles, the Jones brothers. He is remembered for operating a Sentinel steam lorry from the Royal Oak.
Hilda would go on to become a long-serving barmaid in the Royal Oak, working alongside her sister, Emily 'Pem' Hopley (b 1897), who became the licensee following on from Bill Hopley after he retired. Pem is absent from this photo, unfortunately.
We have now identified the boy standing at the rear of this group. He looks like he was about 9 or 10 at the time. Some other photographic evidence that we have and the 1911 census suggest that he is John White (b 1904). He was Bessie White's brother and Gordon Mycock's uncle. His apparent age strongly indicates that the year of the photo was 1913 or 1914.
The young woman
Annie appears to be in her late teens or early twenties, placing the year of the photo as either 1913 or 1914.
Annie worked in a munitions factory in Aldridge during the First World War, where she met her husband-to-be, John Clarke. They married on December 26, 1916, at St Peter's Church.
According to her son, George Clarke, (b 1925) the Clarkes went to live in Small Heath, Birmingham. This proved to be a very dangerous place during the Blitz in 1940 and so they moved back to Stonnall at the behest of Bill Hopley, who was concerned about the family's safety.
Annie died after a short illness in Stonnall on February 3, 1941.
The man in the cloth cap
As at least three of the Jones brothers were carters, their horses would have needed to be re-shod periodically. It is inconceivable that they were not among Mr Furmston's regular clients.
The boy shading his eyes
This soldier was George Langley, who had lived in Main Street. He joined the 7th Middlesex Regiment in March 1918 and was sadly killed in action the following August, only 23 days after arriving in France and very near to the end of the war. George is commemorated on the memorial in St Peter's Church.
The couple with the infant
In fact, the first-born to the Jewells did not arrive until October 1914. The baby in this photo could not have been more than about a month old at the time. If that really was Baby Jewell, the month would be November. But as we have seen, that was impossible. So who was that baby?
We believe that it is the strongest possibility that the baby was Bill Hopley's youngest son John 'Jack' Hopley, who was born in July 1914. If this is correct, then we can rule out the year 1913 and underline the year 1914 as the year in which the photo was taken. Jack's age also strongly suggests that the month of the photo was August.
Jack never strayed very far from the Royal Oak, ending up in one of the council maisonettes that were built opposite the pub in 1956/57.
The event - what it was not
The event was not a celebration of any kind. We can see that from the demeanour of the crowd.
What was really going on - the clues
The mood of the crowd
The presence of the newspaper
The time of year
We have seen further that the infant held up by William Jewell was, in all probability, Jack Hopley, who was born in July 1914 and looking no more than about a month old in the photo. This would place the month as August.
We can also say that if we look at the shadows of the people, we can see that they were quite short, indicating that this event took place at around the middle of the year. The summer solstice occurs at around June 21/22.
Thus, we can say that the event took place at a point within a period about 6 weeks either side of the longest day of the year, in other words, probably on a day between May 4 and August 17.
The only major event that would induce the kind of mood we see in the photo took place on August 4, 1914 - and that was Britain's declaration of war - in effect, the beginning of the First World War, which is undoubtedly what the headline of the newspaper was marking in some way.
That is what this photo is all about.
If the edition of the newspaper followed on in the first week after the declaration of war, the next weekend consisted of Saturday, August 8 and Sunday, August 9, 1914. This is within our projected time slot.
Everyone appears to be dressed in their Sunday best and, while they could have made the necessary effort on a Saturday, we would tend to believe that the people who organised this photo session would have opted for a Sunday as the safest option, as it were.
It is believed, therefore, that this photo was taken on Sunday, August 9, 1914.
© Julian Ward-Davies 2014
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