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    Cradley Links

    A Netherend Childhood by Derek Hackett

    Like Michael Raybould, who he knew and whose memories of life in Park Lane in the 1950s we have published already, Derek Hackett contacted Cradley Links having known Howard Hill, of steam engine fame, and whose Memoirs of a Black Country Mining Engineer we have also published. And also like Michael Raybould, Derek has an encyclopaedic memory for the people who were his neighbours in the 1940s and 50s.

    Michael lived in Park Lane, which was well-known to Derek too, as the road to Netherend - the "lower end" of Cradley. In Derek's own words: "Can remember most peoples names that lived in Park Lane Cradley from about 1950 until 1970. Quite happy and willing to list names and addresses and muse on happy childhood days spent amongst industrial artefacts and Netherend School. I lived at 94 in the 'new' houses opposite Kings Brickyard and not far from The Blue Gates where Mr Hill maintained the steam engines and sounded the works 'bull' to remind workers of the relevant working times."

    Cradley Links could not resist asking Derek to commit his memories to 'paper', and we are pleased to publish them here. Derek did not stop without also telling the story - and revealing the secrets - of 'an explosive event', which follows below.

    Time and Imagination

    Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future. The Eagle comic strip that brought spaceships, trains, submarines and flying saucers to life.

    I enjoyed the best childhood that any child could possibly have had.

    Life in the late 1940's and 50's amongst the disused machinery that littered the area and the many open spaces, ensured that a youngster's time and imagination was utilised to the full. Spaceships, trains, submarines flying saucers seen in Dan Dare comic strips came to life in and amongst the old coal fired boilers, massive mineshaft gear wheels and other left overs from the industrial revolution that littered the fields and open spaces.

    School holidays were spent outdoors from dawn till dusk with a cocked ear to listen for the one o clock 'bull' that sounded at Kings Brickyard to signal workers lunch break, when a hasty run home would be rewarded with a jam 'piece' and a lump of home made cake, swilled down with home made lemonade before vanishing again into the Dingle or places we really shouldn't have been in.

    Brickyards of the Black Country: A Forgotten Industry by John Cooksey.

    King's Pool was a good place to catch tiddlers and even to skate on when it froze over in Winter. The Ash Bank and the Black Bank were huge mounds of spent coal ash and pit waste and provided many hours of fun as we utilised old lorry mudguards to slide down the steep slopes on; sometimes six or seven of us at a time. Batts and fuel from the black bank was loaded onto pram wheeled trolleys for bonfire night, which was held in the field behind Clive Moore's house.

    The fields behind us had supposed to have been left in trust for the enjoyment of local folk and it still is a mystery to me how it was suddenly sold off and houses built on it, depriving future generations of a valuable play area. Could it be that palms were greased? I can't prove that but I do know that there was very little public consultation in it and most were surprised when the builders moved in.

    The War Babes

    There was a gang of 'war babes' in Park Lane. My father, Alfred Hackett had been a regular soldier in the Irish Guards before the Second World War and had been recalled to the colours on the outbreak of hostilities. My older brother Mike was born in 1937 shortly before dad was recalled and sent to Narvic. My other brother John was born in 1940 after dad's home leave and I was born in 1943 following a further spell of leave prior to the Anzio landings.

    Dad was wounded at Anzio and invalided out of the army and he now worked hard as a painter, decorator and signwriter at the Birmetals factory at Woodgate, Quinton. He worked long hours and we didn't see much of him in the week and at weekend's dad was in the garden, or tending his beloved greenhouses, where most of our food was grown.

    Mom and Dad had purchased the house at 94 Park Lane when the houses were newly built before the war and things were very tight for mom when dad was away and managing on his army pay. Previously they had lived in a rented house at Chapelhouse Lane near to Mr and Mrs Bloomer and their daughter Jean, who was later a teacher at Homer Hill School.

    School Days

    Early schooling was at Netherend County Primary School and Miss Cartwright was our teacher there. A strict disciplinarian in the shadow of the former Head teacher there, a certain Ms Bartingdale who had retired in the summer before I started, and who dressed in all black Victorian garb and wielded a short whip with relish. Miss Cartwright was slightly more humane and had a long cane and was very adept at tapping ones head and knuckles with a large wooden whistle that she carried most of the time.

    My mates at that school were Trevor (baggy) Shaw, Graham Harris, Dennis Randle, Hugh Redfern, Roddy Wilson, Adrian Ray, Stuart Colley, Gerald Perks, John Butterworth, Roy Basterfield and Clive and Graham Moore, Louise (pudden) Woodhouse and Maureen Troth. Others I can remember were Janet Felton, the Southall sisters, Merville Hatton, and Angela Bridgewater, all from Park lane, Mogul Lane and Hayes Lane areas.

    The three R's were learned well and when a change of policy sent us the Colley Lane School I was well prepared to hold my own in English, spelling and arithmetic, which speaks loudly for the village educational system that was. I only spent one school year old Colley lane in Mr [Ben] Kirton's class and was the recipient of his cane on more than one occasion.

    I passed the 11 plus at the interview level but didn't gain a place at Grammar School because so many had passed the 11 plus that year and there were insufficient places available and in 1955 I found myself at Homer Hill secondary Modern School.

    With the exception of a few teachers, the quality of teaching at Homer Hill was fairly 'run of the Mill' and I was able to 'cruise' along without exerting myself or being stretched or encouraged in any positive way. The attitude seemed to be that we were all destined for factory work and therefore why should they bother.

    The exceptions were Mr Edwards, the science teacher, Miss Perks, English, whose lessons I enjoyed and where I made good progress. A new Headmaster, Mr Cook came and a breath of fresh air and new ideas entered the system. Mr Cook was a classical teacher and wore a degree gown at work. He introduced a school uniform and gave us pride in our school.

    I was selected with others to stay on for a fifth year in an effort to gain RSA exam levels but I decided that I wanted to leave and start work. It was only later on that I came to realise the value of education and took myself off to part time University where I gained a Law Degree and a business Diploma. I am sure that given the right teachers with some creative teaching, I may have succeeded academically earlier in my life.

    The Children's Friend

    Joe Stevens Grave inscription

    JOE STEVENS: The inscription on the grave of Joe Stevens in Park Lane Unitarian churchyard. No dates are shown, nor even his surname, just that he was the children's friend.

    Joey Stevens from Tanhouse Lane was a true friend to us children in Park Lane. I suppose that these days parents would be horrified at his friendliness and how he made such a fuss of us kids. He may have been labelled as a possible paedophile and nothing would be further from the truth. We would help him to harness the horse in the wooden cart and fit the nosebag and then handle the reins as the cart moved from brickyard gate to gate. We would have to get out of the cart inside the brickyard as Mr King would send us off if we were found inside, but we did manage sometimes to say 'hello' to Mrs Hillman who worked in the moulding shop and who gave me and my brothers a glazed oval firebrick, which we put into the hot oven on cold nights to keep us warm in bed.

    Joe buried our dog 'Blackie' when he was run over by a hit and run truck driver (could we name a dog that these days?). The whole village mourned the loss of Joe when he died and the Chapel was full of locals, all who had been touched by Joe during their lives. Trevor Worton from Mogul Lane designed and sculpted the memorial font that was paid for through public collection. Trevor had been to art school. My gran and granddads grave is next to Joe in Netherend churchyard.

    The Tocky Bank and the Old Steam House

    Park Lane Tavern: a Butlers Beer house, later to be Atkinsons owned

    Names of people in Park Lane are as follows, beginning from Attwoods old farmhouse on the left hand side after turning from Park Road. Attwood's house had a large sign painted on the end denoting that they were painters and decorators. Next was Park Lane Tavern, a Butlers Beer house, later to be Atkinsons owned. Mr & Ms Vic Cook with sons Gilbert and Steven lived at the Tavern and there was a first class bowling green at the side. Mr Cook also played the double bass in a Stourbridge band. The pattern bays etc for the brickyard and then the Blue Gates, where Mr Hill tended the steam boilers and who had the job of sounding the 'bull' to signal working hours at the yard.

    The weighbridge was opposite our house, as was a small petrol pump where the old Bedford and Austin lorries filled up at one time. The 'tocky bank' where we spent a lot of time was inside the brickyard gates and was out of bounds during the week, but a free house at weekends, when the yard was empty.

    Next was the old steam house where a smaller steam engine had powered a winch, which was used to pull up the railway trucks from the branch line, described by Michael Raybould. This was the main meeting place for us kids and the powers that be seemed to tolerate our using the old steam house as a play den, which was invaluable in wet weather conditions.

    The old terraced houses homed Simmy Bagley and his wife, Mr & Mrs Wall with sons Jeffrey and Brian came next door. Next was Mrs Harper with Aunt Polly next to them. Later Glenys and Derek Bloomer came to live in the yard. Derek was the proud owner of several motor cycles and rode a magnificent Triumph Thunderbird to the engine sheds where he was a Fireman and later train driver.

    Mr & Mrs Ray senior were down the next entry, and Mr & Mrs Tonks and sons Robert, Michael and later Philip shared the same yard. Trevor Davies came next, with his mom and dad. Trevor was a gifted violinist and later played for a Birmingham orchestra. Johnson's shop came next with Bert and Ethel in charge. Mrs Johnson was a generous soul who always gave a few extra sweets over weight to us but Bert was tight and was seen to cut some sweets in half to get exact weight.

    Jump a few houses to Mr & Mrs Hough and son Trevor whose covered entry to their home had African animal heads on the walls and then Mr & Mrs Stevens with daughter Pat. Next was a long track with another old farmhouse occupied by old Charlie Evans and his dog. Charlie was a character who could be seen at the same time each day with his dog and walking stick making his way to the Tavern. He wore an old trilby hat and long overcoat and he walked with a pronounced stoop as he made his determined progress to the Tavern, where he would sup a few pints before returning home. His small Terrier type dog was well trained and would wait patiently under the bar bench until Charlie had drunk enough. He was not very tolerant of us children and if one got close enough to him he would lash out with his stick and his dog would attack us. I am ashamed to remember that we took the mickey out of him remorselessly and would kick his door and throw bangers in his back yard. He must have been a lonely man.

    Mr & Mrs Woodhouse also lived in the farmhouse next door to Charlie. Louise was their daughter and she was one of the gang. Louise was big and strong and was the equal of any boy in fighting, climbing trees and general adventure play. I remember that the house had no electricity and was lit by gaslight. A man on a bike used to deliver accumulators to the farmhouse to power the radio, which even we thought was old fashioned then.

    Park Lane Unitarian Chapel: Park Lane, Netherend.
    The Parsonage: Park Lane, Netherend
    The Parsonage: Park Lane, Netherend. Rev. and Mrs. Heale's leaving party

    Another big farmhouse with outbuildings came next and Barry Hatton and his family lived there at first, before moving to Fatherless Barn. Freda and Jonny Brookes lived behind. Jonny was fearsome and occasionally had to go into a hospital due to a mental illness. Poor Freda, his long-suffering wife was a lovely lady but frightened of her husband, as were we. We named him, 'Jonny the black bank runner', as he could be seen most days wandering around in a long dirty black overcoat, summer or winter with a cloth cap rammed on his head. He was always dirty and unwashed and when he saw us kids nearby would suddenly roar at us and chase us and we would vanish into the thick undergrowth and hawthorn tress of the Dingle to escape him. We feared him greatly and always avoided him when we saw him on his regular walks. The old barn was another favoured play area.

    Pit Lane came next and I remember being sent to Mr or Mrs Knowles to buy fresh eggs or even the Christmas cockerel or broiler from there. Mr & Mrs Grazier lived in one of the small cottages next to the church Sunday school. Down the dirt track was the Parsonage, where Rev and Mrs Heale lived, a big, dark and foreboding building with orchards and lots of neglected land behind and at the side. Mrs Heale was a spiritualist and held meetings there. That made for lots of gossip and us kids avoided the place and ran quickly past when using the short cut.

    I remember when delivering evening papers for Colley's shop in Mogul Lane, having to deliver the Evening Dispatch to the Parsonage. In winter it was dark and to get to the letterbox meant a walk through overgrown shrubs. Each bush and shrub concealed a demon or ghost and a very nervous paper boy would scarper in quick time once the paper had been pushed into the letterbox. Mr Heale had a big leaving party and I have the photograph of most villagers grouped in the back garden of the Parsonage. Rev Bright replaced him and his family was a revelation.

    Mr Bright owned two vehicular contraptions that caused much merriment in the village. One was some old three-wheeled motorcycle that had obviously seen a history as a tradesman's carrier. It had a shallow wooden box across the front two wheels and the motorcycle minus of course the front wheel was behind. The whole family, consisting of Mr and Mrs with two boys, Martin and Humphrey in the box could be seen on certain days as they took a trip out. A Guinness label was fitted where the tax disc should have been and PC [Joe] Webb from Cradley Police Station would look in a pained way as they passed him by with a cheery wave.

    The other parish transport was a 98cc New Hudson auto cycle of ancient vintage that left a trail of blue smoke for ages after he had passed, no doubt en route to some ailing parishioner needing spiritual succour. On one occasion he parked the machine against the corrugated iron fence outside Colley's shop, while I was sorting out my newspapers. I was sternly warned to watch the bike while he went in the shop as he left it slowly ticking over. Suddenly it gave a cough and splutter and then died. The reverend gentleman came out of the shop and berated me mightily, blaming me for causing the engine to stop.

    Netherend Square

    Some cottages on the left towards Netherend Square housed one Edie Wiggen who we thought was a witch and that house too was avoided like the plague.

    Netherend Square had the school on one side and small houses where Mary Hingley and family lived and Marina Hough and family. Mrs Hough tended the general stores and Post office there. Other names into Mogul Lane were, Trevor and Alan Worton, Graham Harris and his widowed mom and brother. Janet Felton and on the other side of the railway bridge was the Crampton family, I can only remember Colin and Shirley, who later married Peter Shaw from Shaw Bros. Builders of Park Lane.

    Margaret Hampton and the Perrins sisters were local beauties who the older me fancied like the blazes but the love was unrequited. Then came Michael Wall who later kept a barbers shop in Quarry Bank, and also played the accordion very well too.

    Mr & Mrs Johnson kept the Horse and Jockey pub(?) and Colley's paper shop was at the crossroads. Crossing over and back up the hill I remember Maurice Palmer and his brother Steven and then Carole Cox and Tony 'Doc' Holiday and sister Joy. Tony Harbach and his sister Joyce lived in the old house next to the railway line and then John Cooksey and the Wortons next to the demolished Mogul pub.

    Opposite Netherend school was a big old house that was supported by huge wooden props, where Mr & Mrs Blount lived. Another big house opposite the church and on the bad bend was occupied by the Buffery family. A small row of terraced houses came next and these were demolished when I was about 10 years old. I only remember one family in these houses and that was John Deeley and his parents.

    The 'Blue Yard' came next where specialist clay mouldings were made, including fancy chimney pots and lacy type roof tiles. Later on this yard became the builders yard of Fred Shaw and Sons and eventually my old mate Trevor Shaw's Cradley Plastics factory. Situated in this yard was the Static water tank, a large brick built reservoir holding water in case of fire. We sailed our homemade boats and yachts in this tank and many sea battles ensued. Next was the flat part of the field which was ideal for cricket, football and rounders with the added advantage of having Johnson's shop opposite for refreshments.

    Two houses belonging the Kings brickyard started our row and Mr & Mrs Harris with son Reg and lodger Lawson, both of whom worked in the brickyard. Next-door was Mr & Mrs Detheridge. Their son was a schoolteacher who lived in Egypt and I was very sweet on his daughter Hannah, who came to visit on occasions.

    We were in the first of the private houses at 94 and Mr & Mrs Ray were next door with son Adrian. Next was Mr & Mrs Cook with son Dennis. They left and went to live somewhere near Malvern. Next was Mr & Mrs Watters who were childless. Hughie Redfern and his parents, Les and Veryl were next. Mr & Mrs Moore with daughter Anita, sons Clive and Graham came next and I think a younger son Philip. Mrs & Mrs Troth and daughter Maureen were next.

    Skip one house and Mr & Mrs Wilson and son Roderick and daughter Sandra. Skip one more house and there came the allotments, another favoured play area for us kids. New homes were built there later on and Fred Shaw built his mansion there. Mr & Mrs Raybould with son Michael and daughter Susan lived in the end house of the next row.

    Mr & Mrs Jones with daughter Jennifer came next with Mr & Mrs Handley and son Tom next. Malcolm Bennett lived with his father next door and we amazed at Mr Bennett's daring and speed on his immaculate Norton Dominator as he accelerated away from his house each day and leaned it over to impossible angles as he negotiated the bad bends around the church.

    Mr & Mrs Basterfield with Joan, Pearl and sons Roy and ? lived next door and Mr & Mrs Shaw with Peter, Trevor and Caroline there, before they moved to their new house on the old allotments. Colin Lewis was a mate of brother Mike and lived next door and then came Gerry Perks next to him. Having skipped one or two whose names I cannot recall we move to the Council houses.

    I can only remember a few of the tenants, as most of them were older and had grown up families. My mate Dennis Randle lived in the first one and I can only recall Mrs Williams who used to lay out the dead for a small fee. Later on the Tonks family moved there from their old terraced house when it was demolished. That about takes care of the people I can remember along Park Lane.

    The above names were a snapshot of Park Lane residents at about 1954 time and soon after several people moved away, and other filled their places so I have tried to present a picture at one particular time.

    An Explosive Event

    The old powder magazine had stood in the field at the back of our house since explosive blasting had been used in mining in the area. This one was built of brick and was heavily padlocked and barred, with a big metal notice threatening dire consequences to any person contravening the integrity of this building.

    One day it was noticed that the heavy padlock had been broken and the door was ajar. Curiosity demanded that the inside be examined and four of us plucked up courage to investigate. Inside the brick hut was an inner wooden hut, also open. Inside that was black powder and rotted paper sticks of blasting powder. We collected some lumps of damp powder and put it into our pockets. When dry the loose powder gave a satisfying flash and cloud of acrid smoke.

    Many experiments were carried out and of course the powder wouldn't explode because it wasn't compressed. No one seemed to be disturbed about the break in and it was generally thought that a tramp had broken the very rusty padlock and had slept in there. Me and my mates, who must remain nameless made many surreptitious visits to take more powder and had a great time. Soon the powder would have a more sinister use.

    At that particular time the Sunday school at Netherend Church ran a YPL (young peoples league) weekly dance and village meeting place for the young. My mates and I had been members for many years until it folded due to lack of available adult supervision.

    Rev Bright had retired and he and his family moved to Upton on Severn. The church was leaderless and visiting clergy and lay preachers carried out services. One day a young man arrived in the parish complete with dog collar and began to preach. It seems that this gentleman had been sent to take over the ministry and described himself as a Curate. He began the weekly dances in the church hall and the place was crowded. The downturn was that half way through the evening, the music would stop and he would mount the stage and from behind a lectern gave a long sermon to us threatening all manner of happenings to us the sinners. This particular interlude was not appreciated and a plot was hatched.

    The stage in the hall was constructed of former desks with a curtain covering the void underneath the stage. Shortly before the unwanted interlude and sermon three of us crawled under the stage and waited. The music stopped and the 'curate' began his diatribe. As his voice rose and he became more and more excited and agitated in his delivery, some black powder was pushed through one of the inkwell holes in the stage desks, immediately in front of the lectern. He finally arrived at the hellfire and damnation bit of his delivery when a match was put to the powder. A vivid flash followed by a cloud of acrid black smoke ensued and a shocked silence fell on the assembly.

    We crawled out from beneath the stage and mingled with others, looking quite innocent of the suspicious looks that were being directed from others. Well, the 'curate' left the stage ashen faced and picked up his bag and left the hall, never to be seen again. It later transpired that he was a charlatan and not an ordained minister. Tongues wagged and the whole subject was discussed as a scandal.

    I was quite worried when the possible consequences were realised, but we certainly fazed him. The irony was that the dances had to stop again so it was a sad victory and my mates and me felt the ire of our friends. However in more private ways the village was glad to be rid of him as he was interfering in everyone's lives and demanding attendance at church and maybe money. What happened to the mystery curate? No one knows. I only hope that he doesn't read this story and come to exact his revenge on me and my co-conspirators.

    The same powder hut was burnt down later on when one my co-conspirators lit a match actually inside the hut, later telling us that he was only testing some powder. Obviously by that time the powder had dried out and was between the cracks of the boards and surprise, surprise, it flared. We decamped pretty quick and the whole hut was soon reduced to a shell. People claimed that we had been seen running away but that was never confirmed. PC Webb investigated and many sleepless nights were endured with the thought of reformatory school looming on the horizon. Luckily the fuss soon died down and we were able to breath easily again.

    Post Script

    I now live in Pakefield, a small fishing village between Lowestoft and Southwold in Suffolk. I have just reached the official retiring age of 65 years, although I retired from full time work when I left the police force in 1996. On retiring from the police, with the rank of Inspector , my wife Penny and I lived on our narrowboat, Old Stripe for five years, cruising the canals and rivers of Middle England, before settling down in our present home.

    We have two children, Daniel and Constance. Dan lives in Cambridgeshire with his wife and three children and has his own computer business. Our daughter is now a citizen of New Zealand, where she lives in Auckland with her Navy officer husband Graham and their two children, Sammy and Juliette.

    Until recently I was employed part time as an ambulance driver/attendant for the East Anglian Ambulance Service. I now utilise my legal qualification in writing wills and giving legal advice to residents. I am the secretary of the local branch of the UK Independence Party and have stood in local council elections.

    My brother Michael is also a retired police officer and now lives at Wollaston, Stourbridge with a swarm of grandchildren living nearby. Having served in the Irish Guards, Mike joined the former Worcestershire Constabulary, and at one time all three of us brothers served in the same force.

    John has also retired and now lives somewhere in south Worcestershire. He married a country girl and has had very little to do with his family since. I have not seen him more than five times in the last 40 years which is his choice, not mine or Mike's.

    Dad was killed when he fell off a ladder in 1978. Mom died in 2000 at the grand old age of 87 at Russells Hall Hospital.

    Derek Hackett

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