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.


  1. Cripes I thought from that you a child in the 1930s!

  2. The Redhouse wasn't built until the 50s Charlie! That's how I remember it but then we weren't affluent southerners ;-)

  3. Like you Linda I have had very happy times in Redhouse ,My Aunt & Uncle were steward & stewardess
    at McKechnies sports club for a number of years
    also I worked at B.R.D. for 25 years very sad to
    see factories close down even worse when they are
    world class .

  4. I'm a BRD lad , and my teenage years in the early 60's were at the sports club and the Sat night dances at McKechnies . (girls no stilletos allowed on the floor ) :-)

  5. A good piece Linda, many thanks. Both my mum (secretary) and dad (electrical engineer) worked at McKechnie's in the 1970s and I well remember the Christmas parties (where I was given my first ever chess set, that I still have to this day). My dad also used to be the projectionist for the cartoons during some of the parties, and I had the privilege of being able to accompany him up in the projection room (yes, they even had one of those, with a couple of big professional-quality projectors). Sad that it all came to an end and I feel lucky that thanks to McKechnie's our family had a relatively comfortable time of things and my parents - now in their mid 80s - are still enjoying the benefits of their works pensions. Another time, another world.
    Thanks to BrownhillsBob for directing me here.

  6. A superb article Linda , I am from Redhouse lane and went to Redhouse junior and infants , I lived on Redhouse lane. The kids off the estate said I was from the *posh* houses! Now all the years later the school has gone and I very recently took a walk down past Mckechnie and the GKN (the old BRD) and was shocked by how derelict the former is and that the latter is now fully empty. The geenhams crane yard that became a lorry repair and hire yard is fully closed and deserted too. It's a great shame really. To top it all Linley Woods is up for sale, which is how I came across this blog and BrownhillsBobs whilst looking for details of the sale.

    Mike Hawes

  7. Hi all. I was a Birlec apprentice straight from school in around 1967. Lasted 2 years then was "asked to leave" and moved on to Mckechnies where I lasted a little longer but again was ofered the same deal and went to Aldridge Plant Hire the "had" to move on to John Stokes foundry where I stayed for a good few years. During my stay in the Birlec Training school I made some great friends whom I remember with fondness. Bob Hayley, Ken Row, Doug Smith and the like. Does anyone know how I might find any of them again?
    Martin (Seth) Heath

  8. Hi there my name is michael delaney my family lived and still live on the red house even though im only thirty two I can still remember playing with my three brothers on the little play aera on the back of mckechnies and my dad telling us that we should not be playing on there but we did any way.

  9. The main industry at BRD in the 60s was Automotive prop shaft design and manufacturing although it also had a mining section that made the Polar Pit Prop among other things. There was also a division that designed and made the Bermuda outboard motor for boat's...largely development but was pretty good. Propshafts were the big thing though but this might have well changed a lot when cars became mostly front wheel drive about then and just after. Coal also became less of a used commodity after North Sea gas.
    All gone!...did it have to be?...