20 June 2017

Permitting Sundials?

IMPORTANT EDIT 22 JUNE 2017: ALL COMMENTS/OBJECTIONS HAVE TO BE SUBMITTED BY  6 JULY 2017


I took a lot of personal abuse and grief for my blog SUNDIALS AND DEMOCRACY  (please click on the highlighted words to read the full story - thank you!) from those who don't much care for the democratic process. Fortunately it was later confirmed that planning permission would be required and could not be circumvented at a whim before £10,000 of publicly funded money could be spent on erecting a sundial on The Croft in Aldridge.

It is noted that planning permission has now been applied for.  You can see the full application HERE. The planning reference is 17/0704. Just pop the details in and you can then view all the papers although. You can also press the "Click Here to make a comment on this application" to make your views known or of you prefer, you can email or write to the planning department. Just make sure you quote the reference! You have until 13 July 2017 to make a comment.

I don't wish to preach but there's no point moaning about something after the event! If you have a view, a strong view, one way or another, then please let the planning department know. It is not a forgone conclusion that any application will be approved and not everything that is submitted within an application is necessarily the truth, only the truth as the applicant sees it.

You can also make representations to your local councillors. (Just click on the names below for details of how to contact them)
For Aldridge Central and South they are:
John Murray
John Rochelle
Timothy Wilson 

For Aldridge North and Walsall Wood they are:
Gary Clarke
Anthony Harris 
Keith Sears 

I am not making my own personal opinion on this planning application known here and now. That will follow.

20 May 2017

Adam Ainsworth - his four wives, curs and a horsewhipping

This isn't about Aldridge or even Walsall. It's family history and is not connected to the Midlands in anyway. If you're from up north though, you might be interested!

In loving memory and dedicated to Maria Gloria McHaffie nee Donohoe 1934-2017

I first made Maria’s acquaintance 6 years ago. She made quite an impact upon me as she did with everyone she met. Maria was a feisty, independent and an extremely intelligent woman, who worked hard and fought hard all of her life.

When we first talked about her family history one name leapt out from the past; Adam Ainsworth. Maria spoke vehemently. Adam was evil and  responsible for stealing the family fortune from the Jackson’s and had also driven his fourth wife to commit suicide at the docks in Barrow-in-Furness.

The story was intriguing and this blog is a record of my research so far BUT not all mysteries have been solved and not all family legends examined for the grain of truth that explains the foundations of the legend. This is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Maria was not a direct descendent of Adam. He was her two times Great Uncle on her maternal side.

I shall start at the beginning of what I know.

Adam and his sisters, Christiana (Christiana was Maria’s Great Grandmother) and Mary Ann were the children of Robert Ainsworth and Christian nee Brocklebank. Both Ainsworth and Brocklebank are old names prevalent in Lancashire, Cumberland Westmoreland. Robert married Christiana on 30 November 1835 in Whicham, Cumberland. Adam was the youngest born in 1842 in Whicham. They settled nearby in Green Cottage, Whitbeck.

Robert Ainsworth, Maria’s Great Great Grandfather  is integral to this story because he must have had an enormous influence upon his son Adam and clearly, he cared for his family if his last will and testament is anything to go by.

From what I can gather Robert was of humble origins, his father being a labourer and he is described in the 1841 census as an agricultural labourer. Sometime between 1841 and 1850, Robert’s wife, Christian died, leaving Robert as sole provider and carer for Adam, Christiana and Mary Ann. No record can be found to substantiate this but then no record of Christian can be found to indicate that she still lived beyond that time and when Robert married Agnes King in August 1850, he is described as a widower, working as a husbandman and resident in Dalton-in-Furness. By the time the 1851 census was taken the family was scattered with Robert and Agnes living alone in Hawcoat, an area now encompassed by Barrow-in-Furness and where Robert stayed for the rest of his life.

Somewhere along the line Robert got a financial break, how and in what form is not yet discovered but it seems to have coincided with the growth of Barrow from a tiny hamlet in the early 19th century to an enormous industrial town by the end of the century, following rapid expansion after the railway arrived in 1846 to transport iron ore and slate. Perhaps he was a shrewd investor, scraping a few pounds together to invest in various ways that came to fruition by him becoming owner of a good number of properties built in that ever expanding town.

In 1851 Robert is described as a licensed hawker. A hawker is a seller of merchandise that can easily be transported, back then either by hand or perhaps by horse and cart. The goods would have been inexpensive and usually consisted of handicrafts, cheap household items and food. The licence would have been issued by the local council. Robert must have been a good salesman and have worked incredibly hard in what was a competitive business because by 1861 he was trading as a grocer from his shop in Hawcoat.  Times got better and ten years later Robert is now a farmer of 5 acres, living at 34 Hawcoat. This too must have been lucrative and no doubt his early experience as an agricultural labourer and then a husbandman helped him enormously,  as ten years later and at the age of 70, Robert was now a retired farmer at 35 Hawcoat. It is interesting to note that afterwards Robert only ever described himself as a retired grocer, adding ‘master’ to make it appear more salubrious!

Robert and his second wife Agnes never had children and Robert became a widower for the second time when Agnes died in 1883. He did not marry for a third time.

So what about Adam? He was very young when his mother died. Separated from his sisters and father he is found living in Millom, near to where he had been born, in 1851 age 8, attending school, a lodger of Thomas, a shoemaker and Isabella Braithwaite, who may have been distant relations of Adam's. By the age of 18 Adam had found a trade, working as an apprentice tailor and living as a lodger with John Gawith, his wife, their five children and another lodger, in Barrow.

By 1864 Adam had completed his apprenticeship and moved to Kendal then part of the old county of Westmoreland to ply his trade as a tailor. There he met Margaret Haddath, a dressmaker, who was three years older than him. Margaret had been born illegitimate in the Workhouse in Ulverstone. She had been brought up by her land owning farmer grandparents and various unmarried aunts and uncles, on their 50 acres at Hard Crag near Ulverstone. Judging by what Adam achieved in life, I believe he must have had a presence that impressed Margaret because in 1865 she gave birth to Adam’s first child, a son named Albert Robert. The following year Adam married Margaret because by then a second child was on the way. Alfred was born before the end of the year!

Adam and Margaret remained in Kendal living in Highgate Yard, just off the main street that runs through the lakeland town. They had a daughter in the early part of 1871 and Margaret made a little extra cash by taking in four young boarders, all of them tailors. Unfortunately good fortune and industry was to end for Margaret. Her death on 17 September 1872 was reported in the local newspaper. Adam uprooted his young family and moved to Barrow, where his father was now farming and his sister Christiana was raising a brood herself, having married George Jackson. Adam presumably would have felt better able to raise his children with other family around him and possibly it occurred to him that he did not want his children to be boarded out as he had been.

Adam throughout his life, was never a man to let the grass grow under his feet. It is not known how he met with Elizabeth Clara Tatley, a young widow who had been living in Leeds but when 1874 was a brand new year he married her in Ulverstone. Elizabeth was the daughter of Donald and Martha Finlayson. She had been born in barracks in London as her father was a cavalryman, rising to the rank of drill sergeant. In early 1868 Elizabeth had married Jacob Tatley who sadly died almost immediately. There had been no time for children.

Adam and Elizabeth were industrious both personally and professionally.  Elizabeth not only had her readymade family of step-children to care for but she also had two daughters by Adam in 1874 and 1876. There was also a son, Donald born in 1879 but unfortunately he died as an infant the following year. They moved into numbers 62 and 64 Dalton Road Barrow, which they converted into one property. Husband and wife worked as drapers both in Dalton Road and also in their newly acquired premises on the main thoroughfare of Duke Street in central Barrow. The premises at number 85 remain there to this day having escaped Herr Hitler’s bombs during WW2 and is a listed building. With Adam’s skills as a tailor and the rapid expansion of his business during a period of general recession,I think it can be safely assumed that Adam offered outfitting services also, clothing the great and the good of Barrow in the finest textiles and the latest fashions. No doubt it helped that Adam never let any opportunity pass him by.

A glimpse into the world of Adam and Elizabeth can be found through reports of an action for damages they took against the local railway company. Ainsworth v Furness Railway Company was heard in court in January 1879. In October 1878 Elizabeth had travelled to Manchester with the company. Unfortunately for her, all platforms were busy when the train arrived and so the doors were opened and passengers asked to alight without the safety of a platform. Elizabeth fell onto the rails injuring her head, right arm and knee although not seriously. Now we all know from modern advertising that where there is blame there is a claim and the claim was for £1250, an enormous sum back then. The compensation was sought for lost takings in their shop owing to Elizabeth being indisposed and also for the incidental expenses of engaging a nurse. The appellants counsel considered that Elizabeth had been negligent in not alighting the train safely and indicated that she had been careless! Nevertheless Adam won but only received damages of £130, still a considerable sum.

It seems that by 1880 Adam had made attempts to embark upon a political career in a local sense. He stood in Newbarns Ward, Barrow in 1880 but came bottom of the list by a good margin. Perhaps Elizabeth’s actions with regards to a local newspaper editor was held against him with the local (mostly) male electorate taking a stance against Adam for not holding his wife in check. It is an incredible story.

Here is my transcription of a report from the Sunderland Daily Echo on 27 October 1880 but there are reports to be found in newspapers the length of the land. Notoriety hit the Ainsworth’s!

AN ELECTION EPISODE

The pleasure of horse-whipping editors is somewhat extensively realised in America and so long as the practice was confined to the other side of the Atlantic we could afford to laugh and pursue even tenour of our way unmindful of the existence of certain cowhide whips, the threatened use of which ere now has aroused more merriment than uneasiness in our editorial bosom. Man, however, is an imitative animal, so also is woman and therefore it is with feelings somewhat akin to alarm we find that the horse-whipping mania has manifested within a hundred miles of our border.
In this latest case no idle threats were used; the victim was unsuspectingly inveigled into a public room in a hotel and without being allowed a single chance of escape, was horsewhipped for an offence committed by one of the staff for whose literary misdeeds the poor editor was practically though not morally responsible. Worse still, the gentleman was horsewhipped by a woman whose sex protected her from bodily chastisement in return and for our own sake we sight that fact distinctly remembered. The assailant did not incur any personal danger because of her sex. Had she been a man-we won't say what might have happened but we advise people who are much given to crow loudly and to threaten still more loudly that editors are terrible fellows when their backs are up and are particularly well versed in all the most approved methods of self defence.
To some whose shoulders are in no danger a statement of the facts of the case under notice will doubtless be amusing; to others the action of Mrs Ainsworth will doubtless be a beautiful example of a wife’s vindication of the honour and the good name of her husband; to us who feel a personal interest in such proceedings ‘it is a case which merits the strongest condemnation from every right-thinking member of society’. In descending to details , it is necessary to give Mr Adam Ainsworth, of Barrow, a gratuitous advertisement. Mr Ainsworth is a draper and has two places of business one being under the personal superintendence of his better half. Like other men in a similar position, he aspired to municipal honours and issued an address to the burgesses of Newbarns Ward. His candidature was opposed by The Vulcan, a local newspaper, which advised Mr Ainsworth to retire and added that ‘he was a nobody and unfit to represent Newbarns Ward’. This notice appeared on Tuesday week and as  heretofor, the local papers have not ventured to give advice of this kind it created some commotion in Barrow. Mrs Ainsworth was exceedingly angry but evidently being of a frugal turn of mind, like the wife of another linen draper bold, she nursed her wrath until the arrival of the weekly half-day holiday on Thursday. Then she commenced a search after the author of the libel on her husband. She journeyed to The Vulcan office and was told the editor, Major Harrison, lived full 20 miles off at Grange. Nothing daunted, she continued her search by rail and trap until the evening, when the Major was unsuspectingly  landed at the Rigg’s Hotel at Grange, to meet a lady who wished to see him on a particular business. He entered the drawing room of the hotel, we are told in a very gentlemanly manner and asked for the lady whose pleasure it had been to send for him. Mrs Ainsworth stepped forward and asked if in the new arrival she saw Major Harrison. The latter replied that this was the case  and asked the name of the lady whom he had the pleasure of speaking to. ‘Mrs Nobody’ replied Mrs Ainsworth. After some further words (a local paper tells us) the Major began to ‘smell a rat’ and invited the lady into a room on the other side of the corridor. Mrs Ainsworth obeyed his request but took care to leave the drawing room door open. The Major, in reply to Mrs Ainsworth, admitted he was the editor of The Vulcan and was responsible for all that appeared in the columns of that paper. Mrs Ainsworth read to him the paragraph respecting Newbarns Ward and asked the Major if he was responsible for that. He said he was.  ‘Do you know Mr Ainsworth Sir?’ ‘No’, said the Major, ‘I never saw him in my life that I know of’. ‘Then’, replied Mrs Ainsworth ‘how do you know he is a mere nobody and not fit to represent Newbarns Ward? I may tell you that Mr Ainsworth is a respectable tradesman in Barrow and has been in business for eight years. May I ask if you are prepared to apologise for what you have said?’. The Major declined to do this but said Mr Ainsworth would get redress by writing to other journals and other journalists would like to have the opportunity of dealing with it. ‘You do not call yourself a journalist do you? I call you a scribbler. You have acted the part of a cur and I will give you a cur’s chastisement’. No sooner had she conveyed this  pleasant intimation to the Major than she unfolded a copy of The Vulcan, displayed a dog whip and striking the gallant Major over the face and shoulders three times saying ‘Take that, and that, and that’ quoting Shakespeare ‘Such duty as the subject owes the prince, Even such a woman oweth to her husband’. The Major seized her by the hands and told her she was a woman and he was not in a position to defend himself. She replied ‘I know I am a woman but treat me as if I were a man and give me into custody if you like.’ The Major declined to do this and there for the present, the story ends. If two over the shoulders and one over the cheek be an adequate return for simply telling a candidate  he is not fit to represent a ward how many three times three has a certain gentleman run up on our account. We may be truly thankful  that among the good ladies of Sunderland a Mrs Ainsworth has not been found, nor is one likely to be found. As for the sterner sex- well, we do not fear its members; we’ll build for them a ‘Byzantine place of worship’ and change their angry threatenings into the mild cooings of a dove”.

What a story! What a woman! You do wonder at the conversation between Elizabeth and Adam following this episode.

Adam was eventually elected to serve the people of Barrow for the Yarlswood Ward and served for many years.

In 1886 tragedy struck and for the second time in his life Adam became a widower. Elizabeth, strong minded and strong willed, whipper of a newspaper editor, was no longer there to defend her beloved husband.

At the end of the following year, Adam married again. The marriage was reported in The Liverpool Mercury on 8th December 1887. “AINSWORTH - PETERS November 22nd at St Peter’s Church, Church Street, Adam Ainsworth of Barrow to Eliza Peters, widow of the late Captain Peters, of Bristol.”

Eliza was born Eliza Jane Noble in Chester in 1852. When she married Adam she brought with her, her two children from her previous marriage who were just seven and eight years old.

Adam diversified in business becoming an auctioneer and not of bits and pieces either. Adam was auctioning property. On the 12th November 1890 he successfully auctioned various properties around the Barrow area including a valuable freehold hotel. Ironically, considering the origins of his first wife Margaret, Adam was elected to the Board of Guardians for the  workhouse where Margaret had been born, in April 1892. It will be interesting to read the minutes of meetings he participated in. I do hope he was kind and compassionate with any decisions he made. He remained a councillor.

By 1891 Adam and Eliza had moved to 55 Vincent Street Barrow and at the grand old age of 48 he had retired as an auctioneer. Perhaps home life was becoming even more chaotic than it had been previously for he and Eliza and had produced two sons in two years by then, with a third following in 1892. Alas Eliza died before the end of the decade and Adam then remained a widower for  five years before marrying again. His young children from his third marriage stayed  with him and with a succession of older widowed female servants, he managed both the children and also the various properties he had acquired over the years. It was one of these properties that put his name in the public domain of the newspapers once again. The Lancashire Evening Post on 18 July 1902 carried this report:

“At Barrow, this morning, ex-Councillor Adam Ainsworth was fined five shillings plus costs for permitting water to run to waste at two houses belonging to him. Ainsworth maintained that he was not responsible, having provided a stop tap on the supply pipe to prevent waste. He could not stand by the pipes and see the water turned off. It was stated that the reservoirs are falling fast. The Chairman appealed to the public to exercise the greatest care to prevent the waste, matter which was getting serious.”

Adam stood once again as a candidate in Yarlswood Ward in 1902 however, he was thwarted by two unstamped votes. From my research so far I believe he did not stand for election again.

It is a lovely thing to imagine Adam taking his young motherless children to the local confectioners to buy sweets and confections and thereby make the acquaintance of Lillian Dora Topping who worked for her family in their shop. At the age of 63 and after the deaths of three wives, Adam married Lillian who was 28 years his junior. She was no spring chicken and wasted no time at all in producing another set of children for Adam. In the space of five years she gave birth to four children, bringing his total of children across four marriages to twelve.. Adam must have been a virile man!

By 1911 Adam, Lillian, five of Adam’s children and a young female servant had moved to The Rallies on Hawcoat Lane Barrow, where he remained until the end of his days. I am led to believe that this was a large house and quite ostentatious.

Adam died on 13th November 1913. His fourth wife remained a widow for her remaining years. She lived for another 20 thereby putting to rest the legend that she had been driven to suicide, leaving a young child, not two years old, lying on the docks at Barrow. Margaret had died in Kendal with no docks nearby. Elizabeth appeared to be an incredibly strong woman whose youngest child was seven when she died and Eliza’s youngest child was also seven when his Mother died. An extensive search of newspapers around the dates concerned reveal no Coroner’s Inquests into deaths of women connected to Adam, so it seems for now, that he didn’t drive anyone to suicide.

There is no doubt he was a strong and driven man. He succeeded in everything he turned his hand to. He was virile into old age and certainly appears to have been charismatic if his marriage record is anything to go by. I can find no evidence of cruelty or evilness. His last will and testament demonstrates the love and respect he had for his fourth wife and for all of his children. The gross value of his estate was £6416 15s 2d, net £66 13s 2d. He has amassed some considerable wealth and it had to be stretched in nuemrous different directions. All of his furniture, plate, linen and other household and domestic effects, good and ornaments were left to his wife Lillian for use during her lifetime. She was also provided with an annuity of £2 per week for the duration of her life. The residue of his estate after discharging all debts and mortgages was distributed evenly between all of his children from all four marriages.

So how was  the legend born that Adam had stolen the Jackson family fortune? I believe the answer lies with Adam’s father, Robert.

Robert as you will recall was a self made man who rose from nothing to some standing in the local community. His middle child Christiana married George Jackson in 1859. George was the son of an agricultural labourer who was still working the land when he died of heart disease at 71. He left nothing. George worked as a labourer or agricultural labourer for most of his life although by his 50s he had become a horse-keeper in Barrow. George and Christiana worked hard all of their lives providing for their four children that survived childhood. Three did not. There was no money there.

When Christiana’s father Robert Ainsworth died in 1895, a retired farmer living in the arguably the best district in town at the time, he left an estate valued at £211 4s 8d net. Not bad. He also left an extremely complicated will, which rather nicely details his assets and for me, explains why Maria thought the Jackson’s had money to steal.

Robert left two houses in New Street Barrow and two houses in Gleaston along with his shares in two ships named George Fisher and Julia to his son Adam Ainsworth.

He bequeathed a life interest in 5 properties in Anson Street, Barrow to his daughter Mary Ann. On her death he detailed that the five properties were to be distributed in their entirety and entirely to her five children.

To Christiana Jackson, Maria’s Great Grandmother, Robert bequeathed a life interest in four properties scattered about Barrow. On her death, three of the properties were left to three of Christiana’s children Mathias, Amos and Albert. The fourth property was once again bequeathed as a life interest, to Robert’s  granddaughter Agnes. It is fair to say looking at what happened to Agnes and also her actions, that there was a strained relationship between her and her father George Jackson and perhaps Robert had disapproved of her behaviour too. Once Agnes died that final property was to pass entirely to Agnes’s daughter, Christiana Millward.

So the Jackson’s did in the end own property via Christiana but it was not stolen from them by Adam.

The source of the animosity towards Adam is probably found at the feet of his sister Christiana or maybe I’m being unfair but it is easy to imagine Maria’s mother being heavily influenced during the first eleven years of her life by her Grandmother Christiana, who perhaps felt slighted by her brother in some way that we will never know about and who didn’t die until 1919.

There is much research yet to do but oh how I wish I could have chatted with Maria about what I have found and perhaps got her to reconsider her thoughts about Adam. I have a suspicion that Maria was actually very proud to have been related to Adam but we all need a bogeyman in our lives and Adam was convenient!

15 April 2017

Planning for Sundials

My recent blog about proposals for two sundials in Aldridge Village caused a little controversy.  This is good. My aim was to draw attention to the project because so few people in Aldridge were aware of what might happen. That aim has been fulfilled with the post becoming my most viewed ever.

I am pleased to let everyone know that there is good news with regard to democracy and accountability. I have been in correspondence with Councillor Tim Wilson and he informs me that Mr Cooke has been informed that a planning application will be required for any proposed sundials. This means that should any applications be made, then everyone who wishes to make a comment either for or against the proposals, will be able to do so.

Good news indeed.

Other issues have been raised through research into this subject and I shall revisit them with you all. We all need to participate in local decision making if we want what is best for our local community.

Thank you to everyone who supported me through the less than savoury aspects of attempting to ensure that accountability and democracy are promoted.

31 March 2017

Sundials and Democracy

First two warnings. There are people who will be upset by the contents of this blog. No personal offence is intended however, when the local democratic process and possibly planning laws are being circumvented then someone needs to speak out. A debate is needed. People need to be informed about decisions that are being made behind their back by a small number of people who belong to several local groups, in my words a cabal, about a much loved local green space and then to be allowed their say. Secondly, this is dry, very dry. Sit down with a drink whilst reading!

We can all agree that The Rotary Club of Aldridge working with Aldridge Croft Community Group, Aldridge Village Partnership and Walsall Council have brought about some lovely improvements to the environment of our 'village' centre. The Peace Garden by the Elms Island, the lovely improvements made to the Croft a couple of years ago and the Ellie (Simmonds) Sculpture have enhanced the village. The Aldridge Volunteer  Gardeners are out there in all weathers creating beautiful floral displays through the village and I cannot applaud them enough. They have brought honours in the forms of various awards over the last few years and long may they continue.

Alas, a proposal brought forward by the Rotary Club working with Aldridge Croft Community Group to install two sundials on what they call 'the crofts' (there is only one croft but the grass adjacent to the war memorial outside the church is being referred to as the 'little croft' by them, not a name that may be familiar to many) is probably not something you may not have heard about, let alone been able to express a view about and I believe, brings into disrepute the local democratic process. There appears to be a local cabal that is involved with all the local groups in Aldridge, that feel they are empowered to make decisions that affect the wider community and the village environment without reference to the community at large. Their intentions may be for the local good but the avoidance of true consultation and the democratic process means their intentions are meaningless.

The story begins nearly two years ago now. A proposal for the sundials project was put to a meeting of Aldridge Village Partnership by The Rotary Club. This proposal was never put to the vote but apparently was 'widely approved'. I take issue with this. How can something be widely approved if it hasn't been voted upon and has not been brought to the attention of the general population of Aldridge? The correct way for discussing changes to common and public areas of our village and in particular the Conservation Area around The Croft is to put it out to WIDE consultation through various methods including VISIBLE displays within the shopping centre, a display in the local library of several weeks and wide advertising of those events through local newspapers and social media. This is not an all encompassing list because there are other ways to consult with the people who live in Aldridge but you get the general idea.

Without wide consultation at any level and without discussion with the people of Aldridge about how money of the magnitude granted could be used to better the environment say for our young people, an application was made to the Tesco Bags of Help community grant scheme (this is where  your 5 pence for plastic carrier bags goes to) by the Aldridge Croft Community Group and they were granted £10,000, yes ten thousand pounds, for a proposed project for which no consultation had been carried out!

This is where the steam rollering begins in earnest. A small stall was set out in the shopping centre one Saturday last month to 'consult'. It must have been small and hidden because I went into the Village that grey and rainy day specifically to make my opinions known. I didn't see it. Following that there was a few weeks of non-publicised 'consultation' in the library where people were invited to make comments about the scheme. I am told the majority of comments were against the project however there is no proof either way because the evidence remains the property of one person.

So what is this project? Here's a leaflet:
Their plans seem to be changing and it is now believed that the first sundial will be located adjacent to the Children's Playground on The Croft and will be in situ by June this year. The information about that in their own words is as follows:

It is proposed that the Sundial be located to the side of the existing pathway that connects the Children’s Play Area to Little Aston Rd. This is in an area where some very old and diseased trees were removed and where the feature Tree Sculptures have been added.


We will use pavers, together with local red clay brick for the special features. These will include a selection of brickwork imprinted with verse, dates of significant conflicts and two sculpted brickwork features, set in the ground.



A white Peace Post will display words of Remembrance.

Single-leg information Lecterns will include Remembrance Poetry from local schools, information on the purpose of the sundial and acknowledgement of the sponsors.
The Peace Post and the Lecterns will be the only features that will be above ground level."

By June 2017? What has happened to Planning Permission? Surely changes to be made to what is a Common within a Conservation Area should be subject to planning permission? When a direct question about planning permission was asked at a recent Aldridge Village Partnership meeting of Bob Cooke, who is the sundial project coordinator, replied that no planning permission is needed. Really? The local planning department when asked the same question by at least two different people, replied that planning permission was most definitely needed.

So you may ask, why is planning permission so important. Under circumstances such as this where a scheme has been dreamed up, funding obtained and plans put in place for implementation with only lip service paid towards any consultation and discussion as to whether an enormous sum from a community charity should be used for such a scheme, it is the only avenue open for the general public to actually view the plans, consider the plans, to ask questions and to consider do we really need and want this. Apparently if anyone does have any questions, comments etc then they can contact Bob Cooke. Who is Bob Cooke I ask myself and how is he accountable to the local community. Point is he isn't. At least if a planning application is made and considered our local councillors and the planning committee can take into account the views of their constituents and be held accountable at the ballot box for any decisions made.

If you lead people to believe that the powers that be have already been consulted and that permission has been granted then just like in the George Orwell novel 1984, it becomes the truth. A search on the council web site for any such planning applications produces a big fat zero. That is the truth.

Do we need two sundials? They are apparently inspired by the analemmatic sundial located at The National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas. Aldridge is not Alrewas, nor a destination for those who wish to remember. It remembers its own in its own way. Aldridge already has a beautiful war memorial adjacent to the Parish Church, that is cherished by the local community and is the scene every year of an extremely well attended memorial service by both young and old. The young in particular are conspicuous in their presence because there are so many of them from various different groups. The local schools in the area have always held events for their students to inform of the role of local men in world wide conflict, I know because I have two children that have gone through the education system in Aldridge at different schools. Even Year One pupils are led to the memorial each year to begin the process of learning to pay your respects for those who have walked before them.

Alas the local services held each year may possibly be under threat but the memorial will still be there inscribed with the names of those young people from Aldridge who served and died. Many do not keep their visits to just a November Sunday. I go regularly as I do to the Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery. I am not the only one and groups of school children can often be seen with their teachers taking something new from their surroundings. History projects abound, researching individual names on the memorial, the children learning that these young people had families who loved them just as they do.

I show you my card here. I personally see no need for sundials around the village centre. The children and young people of our community already learn and are educated about remembrance. They don't need something else to prompt them such as plastic poppies, bricks and posts. The older people don't need them either. There are benches there right by the memorial where weary legs can be rested and thoughts allowed to formulate. I don't need to see the grass right behind the memorial scarred by an unnecessary and totally inappropriate sundial. The clean run of grass gives a perfect setting to see the memorial in all its glory. Placing obstacles before it will merely obscure the present majesty.

Furthermore I do not wish more of the green space of the Croft, our village common, taken up by something that is so unnecessary. Let us spend that money obtained under what I believe are false pretences because there was no consultation with local people prior to asking for the money for a proposed project, on something that the young people of Aldridge really need. Consultation really should be carried out before a project seeks funding and not afterwards or even at all!

Let us close the gate on the local cabal horse race that gallops rapidly on making decisions about the future of the village with no meaningful consultation and a complete disregard for democracy. Let us also insist that no work is started on any project until it has been properly debated and discussed at all levels. Let the voices of Aldridge be heard. You don't have to agree with my point of view about the sundials. I just want everyone to be allowed their say.

14 November 2016

Village People

My (already) well thumbed copy!
 I was very happy last Wednesday to attend the launch of a new book about Aldridge at Aldridge Library. The book "Our Village" is written by Sue Satterthwaite and Len Boulton.

As you may know both Sue and Len are the stalwarts and leaders of the Aldridge Great War Project. The ultimate aim of the project is to create a permanent historical record of people from Aldridge who served in World War I and they and other volunteers are busy  tracing and recording everyone they can. It is hoped that a hardback book will be published detailing all the information but this is an expensive project, especially if the cover price of the hardback is to be kept at an affordable price.

"Our Village" has been published with the hope that valuable funds will be raised for the project, so get your purses out! The book is available from Aldridge Library, Simply Delicious, Croft News, Covent Garden, Lynda's Pets and Plants and The Thomas Project. It will also be available in Walsall at The Local History Centre and Waterstones. Price is 5.99 and it's value for money! I have read the book from cover to cover, examined the maps and enjoyed the photographs. There are some lovely stories and memories and some rather tantalising trivia. As usual when Sue is involved with a book, it is well written, well researched and interesting, written in a way that appeals to everyone. This will make a lovely Christmas present.

If you now live far away from Aldridge and would like a copy then get in touch with Sue and Len at  aldridgegwp@outlook.com  and they can arrange for a copy to be posted to you. Postage will be about 2.00.

If you know of anyone who served or lived in Aldridge during the Great War do contact the project on the above email address. Sue and Len would be very happy to hear from you.

17 June 2016

An Aldridge Echo - secrets of my childhood

Echo
As you walk over the railway bridge on Dumblederry Lane towards where the BRD once stood, you may notice on the right hand side, a small gap between the bridge and the shrubs that line the road. Two, now rusty, dilapidated and downright dangerous iron bars preventing motorcycles from gaining access, stand at the top of a steep embankment. If you check out an OS map there is clearly a footpath right of way down there. When I was a child that embankment was the entrance to a mythical land, a land of enchantment and fairy tales and also of very scary monsters.

Of course, back then the embankment had not been worn away from years of use, it was a gentle little run for small legs to the bottom, nor had fly tippers dumped their unwanted rubbish encouraging rats to set up home in desirable sofa's with a ready made food source from rotting rubbish in their garden. There was just the footpath leading through the long grass and alongside the forbidden world of The Swamps where gruesome creatures could rise up from the black depths, so keep to the right and keep walking. Following the path through the forest that was there in my head would lead to a gravel pathway, which ran alongside the railway line and then past the old mortuary, where one had to be careful of the ghosts for they would reach out in even in daylight to take possession of a young child and there at the end was a gap in a fence where a gate had once been, and Anchor Road and the railway bridge were there.

Everyone I knew on the Redhouse called that fairytale playground 'Echo'. I do not why and I do not know how the name came about because it was not a place an echo could be heard, not unless it was echoes of the past and of those long gone, who knew the area as a very different place.

My siblings and I were born within four years of one another, which may explain why I never remember being pushed anywhere as I was the eldest. My sister lay or sat, in the enormous pram, the sort now associated with Norland Nannies, then she was ejected following the birth of our brother from that comfort to sit on a tiny seat on top of the pram, just behind the handlebar and I walked. There had been no little seat for me! Every day my Mother would take us from Bonner Grove, via the 'big garages' (so called to distinguish them from the 'little' garages - the garages were all the same size, it was the number of them that determined the description) turn right into Dumblederry Lane, left onto Station Road and then the long slog down to Anchor Bridge and then on to the village. The one bright spot of this interminable walk was stopping by the station to watch the steam trains stop at the station. I loved watching them refill their tanks with water from the enormous water tank right by Anchor Bridge. Often there were people I knew standing on the platforms waiting for a train to either Walsall or Sutton Coldfield and I would shout and wave to them much to my Mother's consternation. The station closed on 18th January 1965, three months before my third birthday and yet these memories are vivid to me and full of colour and steam and a thirsty mouth and tired legs.

Photograph taken by D J Norton of Birmingham.The bridge in the background is Dumblederry. Echo would grow to the right of the bridge
After the station closed and the line became goods trains only, the buildings associated with the station were demolished as were the sidings and the sheds. The old line that once branched off and ran over Middlemore Lane and had once serviced the collieries in the northern part of Aldridge and Walsall Wood, was taken up and the bridge over Middlemore Lane was dismantled. Nature slowly started to reclaim the area. The 'Swamps' were already established, their blackness a  reminder of Speedwell Mine that had closed around 1880 although the venting apparatus and an opening to the shafts can still be seen on the site of what was Greenhams. Gradually the whole area became a green corridor from the Redhouse to the Village and a playground for a generation of children.

By 1970 'Echo' was established and my mythical land took root inside my head. There were imaginary games to be enacted down there where we would be chased by monsters rising from the Swamp, hiding behind the old spoil heaps now overgrown with grass and shrubs, making our way through the enchanted forest (in truth small willows and silver birches) and never ever entering the old mortuary for we knew that only death dwelt there.

Echo was also a place of natural discovery. I caught my first tadpoles there, saw my first field mice and newts there and wonder of wonders watched the first kestrel I had ever seen. I pulled apart horsetails and then put them back together again, collected wild flowers and grasses and then decorated the garden shed at home with them. As I got older explorations Dr Livingstone style would take place into the darkest depths of the swamp, wellies smuggled out of the house so that mom wouldn't know what we were intending to do but all we ever found were the secret dens the boys didn't want the girls to find and further on, the railway line. We never sank into the old underground mines as we warned would happen if we carried out such follies. We just got very wet and extremely dirty and then had trouble explaining to parents how this had happened if we had only been playing around 'the block' of Bonner Grove.
The Swamp

The one thing about Echo that made a difference to my life in terms of time, was that if you walked swiftly along Echo you could be in the village well inside ten minutes instead of what seemed like years if you walked along Station Road. That walk would have saved my tiny legs miles when I was not even of school age but alas it's birth came later. To have walked there then would have proven impossible unless dodging trains was something your Mother enjoyed doing! When I was 21 I moved back into my parents home for a few months whilst I was working in Birmingham. The 357/8 bus stop by McKechnies was closest for me but many a morning I would walk over Dumblederry Bridge only to see the bus rising over the canal bridge just before the bus stop. I discovered that if I ran like the wind down Echo I could beat the bus to the stop by Portland Road. Only one morning did I come a cropper when unbeknown to me someone had been working heavy machinery at the part of Echo that is directly at the back of Greenhams. I ran in the dark until I hit the mud and lost my shoes. Not recommended. The Swamp monster nearly got me that morning!

Echo is still there, just follow the pathway through Westfield Drive, head across the wilder part of Anchor Meadow, taking time to glimpse at the real forest now growing on what was the railway embankment leading to Middlemore Lane diagonally to your right and you will see a gap in the shrubs and trees. There you will discover the Swamps. Don't try getting down from Dumblederry Lane unless you are young and nimble. I am neither!

Echo
Echo

16 June 2016

Aldridge Remembers the Great War - A Whistle Blow

I have written many times about the wonderful work that The Aldridge Great War Project has and continues to do, to commemorate the contributions made by the people of Aldridge, men and women, to the First World War 1914 -1918. Sue Satterthwaite has managed the project and the volunteers with amazing results.

I have also written about my own personal journey in researching my own family members who were involved in the war. For me, remembering World War I is deeply personal but then it is for so very many people as there is scarcely a family in the land, who do not have a connection to someone who fought and perhaps died in that war.

Photograph courtesy of The Aldridge Great War Project
On 1st July 2016 it will be 100 years to the day that the Battle of the Somme began. A devastating battle that raged for 141 days claiming the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 Germans. 

Aldridge will remember the anniversary of the commencement of battle in two ways.

Firstly at 7.15 am on Friday 1st July at The Aldridge War Memorial, there will be an act of remembrance followed by the blowing of trench whistles at 7.30am, the time the battle started and then two minutes silence. I sincerely hope that Aldridge will turn out at this early hour for this. 

A little later in the morning at Aldridge Library at 10.30 am, there will be a talk and powerpoint presentation from The Aldridge Great War Project featuring 'Voices from the Past'  read by pupils of Aldridge School. The presentation will use words, archive film, images and music to remember those who died, those who survived, the effect on the military convalescent hospital at the Manor House and the day the whole village came together to watch Geoffrey Malins' film of the battle. Original items will be on display. The event is free but booking is essential either by calling 01922 655569 or emailing  aldridgelibrary@walsall.gov.uk . Refreshments will be provided.

Again I sincerely hope that this event will be fully booked. I am only sorry that I cannot make either event due to prior commitments.