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.