24 February 2012

Soul Destruction

There had been a downturn in the birth rate but the Estate was still filled with children, as were the surrounding areas that were not strictly part of the Estate but which had help feed its school. Lots of children. All needing an education.

You know when a place is being given up on and abandoned to a nefarious fate when despite all those young humans running around, they close the schools. It is done apparently to save money for the local authority that abdicates all responsibility for allowing a school’s reputation and performance to descend to such a level that they see no other alternative. Had action been taken a few years previously, before the real rot had set in, then maybe the school could have been saved. The end when it came was inevitable. Middle class parents in the geographically close areas to the Estate would not send their children to the local school quite literally on their doorsteps because they did not want their children to be brought down to the level of the so called socially deprived children from the Estate, which in its turn was on a downward social spiral having had its soul ripped out by the closure of so many work places on the adjacent industrial estate and never having really recovered. I’m not sure whether it ever dawned on anyone that the children on the Estate would no doubt have enjoyed being brought up to an all encompassing, equitable acceptable level if that indeed was really what was needed.

Redhouse JMI School opened its doors in 1958 at around the same time that the Estate that shared the same name was built along with a plethora of private housing that had quietly gone up in the area since the end of World War 2. The Infants school opened first; the Junior school being built whilst lessons had already started. They shared the same campus but were separate buildings, each with its own hall, heating system, kitchens, classrooms and Head Teachers.

I started there in September 1967 aged five and a half. Such were the numbers wanting to attend due to the post war baby boom that I was a full six months over compulsory school age. This did hold me back for a little while but not for long due to the inspirational teaching of Miss Carne, an elderly (well it seemed that way) white haired, tweed wearing spinster, who was extremely stern but also incredibly kind and dedicated to her job. If there is one thing that has stayed with me throughout my life having received my primary education at Redhouse, it is that all the staff there, without exception, were dedicated to giving their charges a top notch education without any regard to which side of the road they came from. They all seemed to believe in equality in education and in pushing their students to their academic and sporting limits.

It was a real local school. It would have been considered strange to be sent to a school out of the area and by out of the area I mean Cooper and Jordan, up in the Village or to the foreign parts of Leighswood! When the cliché of school days being the happiest of your life is referred to I would agree that my time at Redhouse was very happy. School days were regimented and discipline was strict. You respected those teachers but they were wonderful teachers and knew that the only way to ensure that valuable knowledge was imparted to pupils was through brooking no unacceptable behaviour. Each teacher had their own methods and what would now be considered torture techniques. Mrs Wilkes had a cricket bat and a baby’s dummy; woe betide anyone who chatted too much in her class because there wouldn’t be time to draw breath before the dummy was placed into the offenders mouth. I was secretly relieved when I was allocated to Class 3 that year and not Class 4 and Mrs Wilkes! Mr Boulger had his training shoes or if not wearing them then the offender would be required to supply their own plimsoll or training shoe. With other teachers such was their demeanour that you didn’t even try it on, for example Mrs Whorton, Mr Ball and Mrs Thomas. In theory Mr Bennett, the Head Teacher, had a cane but it was rarely used because you just didn’t misbehave to that the extent that a risky visit to his office had to be made. The only time I remember it being used was when there was a mass fight after school on Gorsey Way and there were a few.

I could reminisce about the teachers, other staff and pupils of what was an incredible school and fill a book and that is what I may do. When I was researching a few background details for this blog it became apparent that there is no written history of the school. So if you have memories and would like to get in touch I would love to hear from you. Just drop me a line to taxwizzard at gmail dot com.

The two schools were amalgamated in 1987 and then ‘rationalised’ onto the Junior School site in 1992. The Infant School was demolished and housing built on the site. The school was finally closed in 2006 and demolished shortly afterwards. It didn’t quite make its 50th anniversary. The local children now face journeys to school rather than enjoying a short walk. I don’t think I’m the only ex-pupil who holds more than fond memories of what was an incredible school, the closure of which removed the final element of soul and cohesion from the Estate and its surrounding area.

This photograph appeared in the Walsall Observer in July 1973. I was the girls captain of the athletics team and Vincent was the boys captain. In the middle is Olympic medalist Pat Cropper. Our school, Redhouse had for the first time ever usurped the usual winners of the District Sports Day, Leighswood. It was a time to be proud of our achievements.

15 February 2012

The Redhouse

The photo was taken a couple of days ago. It shows the rear of McKecknies from the canal.

Whenever as a child I replied to the question 'Where yow frum' with 'Aldridge' I was usually met with a finger brush to turn the nose up and the response 'Yam posh then aye ya'. I never considered that I was posh a possibility as I lived in a council house on the Redhouse and the Redhouse was seen as a bit of a dump to everyone else that lived in Aldridge and yet, although it was a council estate I could never see why the good burghers of the rest of Aldridge should see it as a dump. We sent more than our fair share of children to the Queen Mary's Schools in Walsall and also to Aldridge Grammar, there was even the odd university student so I always saw the estate as filled with decent hard working class people some of whom had aspirations.

Virtually every home on the estate had connections with one or more of the three enormous factories on the adjacent industrial estate; Birlec, where my own Mother worked as a secretary, BRD or McKechnies. All three are long gone now. The old Birlec factory now sorts and recycles all our green bin rubbish. BRD latterly GKN is closed and McKecknies having gone through several name changes/takeovers/buy-outs is largely mothballed although a small number of people are employed within the huge caverns that once employed thousands.

As a child I used to sit at my Mother's bedroom window and watch people from the estate scurry to work for the appointed shift. The men would often carry small women's shopping bags or maybe a duffel bag containing their flask and lunches if on a late or night shift. All would be wearing a cap on their heads, women a headscarf and they were smart. Men who only every saw the dirt and filth of an assembly line wore blue shirts and a tie and a decent pair of functional trousers. No jeans, they were for those student hippy types not decent working class men. Three times in 24 hours I would hear the siren signalling the change of shifts at 6am, 2pm and 10pm and additionally at 8am for the day shift. Thinking back that siren must have been a left over from World War 2 as it had the distinct tones of an all clear sign.

The three factories all provided additional facilities for their workers and staff. Both the BRD and McKechnies had thriving sports and social clubs and a playing field. All three had canteens and all three provided their employees children with a brilliant Christmas party. I only ever attended those for the Birlec but was always envious of those who had families with feet in every camp and attended all three. Good party food, sausage rolls, cheese and ham triangular sandwiches, crisps and treat of treats fairy cakes followed by jelly and ice cream. Father Christmas would arrive towards the end of the party and dish out the presents and I was thrilled when reaching my teenage years to discover that the present was a WH Smith's voucher, which meant I could add to my book collection.

Those three factories provided work and an identity for many on the Redhouse. They also provided a social cohesion because every man who wanted and could work would find a job, even the so called yampy lads would be found some menial job on the shop floor. There was pride and there was graft and wages weren't always brilliant but they were a life blood of that estate.

I'm not sure when the sirens fell silent. Certainly by the end of the 1970s 24 hour working had long since ceased and gradually the work force became depleted. Birlec was the first to close following the collapse of the steel industry for whom they had supplied furnaces.

A walk around the industrial estate now is a quiet experience. No sirens, no sounds of heavy industry, few cars and a sign of the times in that the bus stops outside the BRD and McKechnies are no longer in use. The old canteen at McKecknies with its large windows seems filled with ghosts from my childhood. The times I walked passed as a child and would find myself waving to someone inside that I knew. They would be balancing a tray laden with what looked like delicious food. Then there were the dinner/dances on Saturday nights when the stage would be dusted off and used to house the musicians. Now through the grimy windows you can still tables and chairs, some upended, some stacked untidily. The curtains on the stage look forlorn, dirty and dusty, faded relics of a time long gone. There are even trays scattered about.

We often look at the past through rose tinted spectacles. Times weren't always good back then but we have lost something that was good in the 60s and early 70s; full employment. For me that was something worth paying for. The pride and social cohesion that existed on the Redhouse back then disappeared when they closed the factories down.

8 February 2012

A Plea for a little of your Money!

I've now set up my Just Giving page for my first 100 mile cycle ride at the beginning of May. The ride is for Macmillan Cancer Support Services and I'm really hoping that some of my readers will be kind and generous in helping me to raise at least £100 in sponsorship money.

For more details of the ride please click here

To sponsor me and help me raise funds for this really necessary and important cause then click here

I'm doing the ride because all of us have been affected in one way or another by cancer and so the work that Macmillan does touches us all.