Eight years living at The Finney, Lightmoor.
David John Amias
Born 5th June 1947 at Broseley Cottage Hospital
My home was to be 2, The Finney, Lightmoor, Nr. Dawley, Shropshire. Jack and Margery Amias, were my loving and caring parents.
Mum and Dad went to live there about spring 1944 after living at Granny Amias’s home at 7 King Street, Dawley from their Wedding in July 1943. Available housing was very scarce during the war years, and, as my Dad was in a reserved occupation, as an iron moulder and had worked at Sinclair’s Ironworks at Ketley, had been transferred to work at Coalbrookdale Ironworks, it made sense to live closer to his place of work. A cottage became available at The Finney and they moved there, intending to stay only until they found somewhere better. As it turned out they stayed for eleven years until much needed new houses were built. We only left when I was eight years old. Our moving day was August Bank Holiday Saturday 1955 --- when the Bank Holiday used to be at the beginning of August.
The Finney, that I remember, was a happy place. A small community with mainly small terraced cottages, which dated from, I believe, the eighteenth century and built by The Coalbrookdale Company for it’s key workers in nearby foundries, mines and brick works. Cottages were numbered up to 16, but I can’t work out why there were only 15 of them. Maybe No.13 was omitted! From the first cottage the families were: Mr & Mrs Jack Yapp & family; Mr & Mrs Jack Amias & son; Mr & Mrs Will Davies & family; Mr & Mrs Bill Bullock; Mr & Mrs Joe Skitt & family; Mr & Mrs Stewart & family; Mr & Mrs Albert Skitt & family; Mr Stewart & Miss Stewart; Mrs Robinson & nieces & nephew; Mr Joe Boycott; Mr & Mrs Gordon Morton & family / later Mr & Mrs Jim Smith & family; Mrs ‘Bloxidge’ / later Mr & Mrs ‘?’ Shirley (nee Cooper); Mrs G. Cooper & family; Mr & Mrs Joe Pitchford (later moved to house where first Stewarts’ had lived); Mr & Mrs John Bullock & family.
So, that was our community. Ranging in ages from very young to old age. Help and friendship was always at hand, be it illness, shopping errands, or skills.
Only about three deaths occurred while I lived there. All shared the grief experienced by families. One in particular was felt deeply by all when we heard that Reggie Skitt, aged about twelve, (son of Joe and Dora) had drowned in the Castle Pool, Little Dawley, while playing with friends. Thereafter, I was always warned about not going there.
The entrance to each cottage was through its only exterior door, into a living room with quarry tiled floor. A room literally for day to day living; cooking, dining, relaxing, bathing etc. “The hearth of the home” The fireplace (or coal fired cast iron range) had been made by the Coalbrookdale Company. This provided much of our daily needs, not only warmth for the whole cottage, but baking in a side oven and a rack at the front for boiling etc. At the opposite side of the room from the outside door was a ‘middle door’ leading to a small space (too small for a grand title of vestibule) with door into a ‘cellaret’ pantry (down three steps); straight ahead went up a winding staircase with a coal store underneath. Upstairs had an open to the stairs back bedroom, then through a doorway into a front bedroom with a small cast iron fireplace and chimney breast, above the living room fire and on the party wall with next door cottage.
There were only four windows in most cottages – two cast iron ones and two wooden ones. The front bedroom had an iron one with a tiny side hung opening centre section; the tiny pantry window was iron too. The back bedroom had a wooden one with a right hand side opening casement and left hand fixed casement. The living room too had a wooden one with a full width opening casement and a top hung transom opening.
The brickwork would have been made locally by a Coalbrookdale refractory and was dark brown in colour. The mortar courses were quite thin and I remember had fine grit in the lime mortar mix. Therefore, could the sand have been riverbed sand from Buildwas?
The facilities were very primitive indeed. No indoors plumbing, only a communal standpipe for drinking water. Each cottage had a concrete water butt to collect rainwater for laundry and bathing. Laundry was a full day’s work in the wash house (or “wesh-us or brew-us”) from lighting a fire under the boiler to ‘dollying’ clean the washing, rinsing, mangling the water out, then hanging it on the line in the garden to dry. Two families shared each privy lavatory. The only saving grace was that Dawley UDC emptied them each week! Also the bins were emptied weekly. Only the bins, nothing extra. Any large unwanted items were either burnt on a bonfire, or if metal, dumped on the “mixen” and well away from the cottages, it gradually rusted into dust. Electricity or gas was not available, so lighting was by oil lamps or candles. About 1954 / 55 electricity was brought to the community and anyone who wanted it could have a connection made. We didn’t because by then we knew that we were allocated a Council House. The ‘brew-us’, as mentioned, was a place where ‘small beer’ was brewed. A safer drink than water directly from a well. The practice of brewing had died out because mains water, via a communal standpipe, had been laid on decades before.
Gardens were quite extensive. My Dad was a keen gardener and grew vegetables and flowers. We had two plum trees, an apple tree, black currents and a large bed of mint. We had four lawns as well, set amongst the trees. This gave the surroundings a ‘deep in the countryside’ feel which were great for picnics. We also had a garden shed which my Dad built from salvaged materials, (steel frame and corrugated asbestos sheeting). Next door, the Yapp family, grew vegetables mainly, but had quite a number of apple trees. One in particular had two varieties on one tree. (a product of grafting). They also kept a pig each year in a sty at the top of their garden. Mrs Yapp would take its food up daily and tap a wooden spoon on the cooking pot and call “I’m coming”, to which the pig squealed with eager anticipation. Every year would be the same – the pig would have to be taken away and butchered and Mrs Yapp would be in tears. Then a new piglet would be brought in and the process began again. Though it kept them in meat for some time. Davies’ had a garden, which had fruit and vegetables and at the top of the garden was a large fowl pen, from which they collected eggs. In front of the pen, grew about three flowering cherry trees and in spring would be a stunning band of pink blossom. At No.4, Bill and Nellie Bullock were unable to use their garden as they were both blind, but a shed was erected for Bill’s sister Eileen to use as a knitting workroom because she was registered as partially sighted. I also remember Nellie knitting socks and Bill making rush seating on stools and chairs. Ironically, I can remember being given my first box of paints by them as a gift. A few other families had sheds too. Ideal for storing bicycles or garden tools, as well as a place to make things. There were also two pairs of pigsties, which had fallen into decay. One was completely demolished, however, and a forward section of fuselage from a Horsa glider was fitted into place by Norman Skitt for a garage to keep his motorbike in.
Being quite isolated, going to a shop was at least a twenty-minute walk to Little Dawley to a grocery shop, a cottage Post Office or to catch a bus to Dawley or train to Wellington. Traders being aware of these outlying communities, brought goods on a regular basis in their vans and carts. Our milkman was Percy Rogers from nearby Gravel Leasowes, who came with his pony and trap and delivered bottles of milk. They were unusual bottles, in that they were quite broad and had a cardboard stopper pushed inside the bottleneck and removed by pulling a projecting tab. There was a van with bread delivery. Another from Phillips’ Stores in Dawley, bringing bread and cakes. A Corona pop lorry came occasionally so did a butchers van and a fish van. The vital commodity of coal was brought too, either in sacks for most of us, or an NCB coal issue tipped for Joe Pitchford, who was a miner. Post was of course delivered by a ‘postie’ on a bike, as were newspapers by a man or woman. Weekends saw deliveries too, not just the Wellington Journal newspaper, but Mr Bott with his van full of ironmongery, cleaning materials and paraffin for lamps. When I smell cleaning fluid etc now I still think of those far off Saturdays and that van. Sunday afternoons we had a special delivery, -- Sidoli Ice Cream – brought in a special coach-built vehicle with a very large horizontal cone shape on the roof, which was painted to look like an ice cream cornet. It was driven by an Italian gentleman in a white coat, (presumably one of the Sidoli family) who rang a loud brass hand bell to announce his arrival. Plain ice cream only – wafers 6d; cornets 6d and 3d; choc-ices 6d.
For entertainment, some families had a radio. They would be powered by 12 volt heavy duty batteries costing about 10 shillings, or Le Clanche wet accumulator cells, which needed recharging by the Picken family, at the Ridges nearby, who had access to mains electricity, There was no television, of course. Friday or Saturday evenings could be spent at a pub. Perhaps, either the Unicorn or Red Lion at Little Dawley. We were in the parish of St Luke’s church, Doseley (i.e. St Luke’s Dawley Parva). Some made church going and Sunday school regularly on a Sunday and special social events in the church hall on Saturdays. Others went to a Methodist Chapel in Little Dawley. Playtime for children was great, playing on the old grass and tree covered pit mounds (mounts) or open fields. We never considered being near possible partially collapsed pit shafts a hazard.
In November an effort was made by older children to build a bonfire from fallen branches to commemorate Guy Fawkes Night. Only ten years before the same had been done to celebrate the end of World War 2, after a total ban of night time light. There were occasions when coach trips were organised by Gordon Morton. I can remember going to see a Bertram Mills Circus performance, trips to Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton and to the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton to see a pantomime performance of Aladdin. In 1953 all children in the parish were given a Coronation Celebration tea party in Doseley church hall, then taken to The Cosy Cinema in Dawley to watch a matinee.
At Doseley church too, there was always an annual summer Saturday coach trip to the seaside, such as, to Rhyl. Once we went on a trip to Rhyl by train. We boarded at Doseley Halt on the special BR excursion. The train was pulled by a ‘Manor’ class loco, (exceptional for this branch line), which had difficulty starting away on the incline gradient towards Horsehay.
Most children from The Finney started school at Coalbrookdale C of E Junior School at The Coke Hearth, Coalbrookdale. Only one family of children went to Pool Hill Juniors. From the age of eleven, children would then attend Madeley Modern School (pre Abraham Darby School). All, of course, had to be walked to. We didn’t have buses to take us.
Living in the countryside made the seasons distinct. From January it would be very cold, wet or snowy. It would make us want to huddle around the fire. The lanes would be wet, slippery or very muddy. The trees would be bare of leaves and look like spiky fingers accentuating the cold. Springtime would announce the coming of warmer weather. Buds on the trees and wild flowers would appear and strong winds would howl around leading to a sweet smell of new growth. Summertime was idyllic. The countryside was in full bloom! Everywhere was our playground it seemed. From the back bedroom at No.10 where my Nana Robinson lived, we could climb out through the window into a field – Jubbs Leasowe I was told. Very handy for popping out to play. At least on one occasion an inquisitive cow had stuck its head through the open window for a look inside. The fields around about, which had been grazed by dairy cattle from Sheward’s farm in Little Dawley, were allowed, for a time, to grow into hay meadows ready for mowing and bailing. Playing in the hay was fun and once turned into bails several local people joined in with loading them onto a wagon or hay cart to be taken away for straw bedding or winter fodder for cattle. If there had been heavy rains early, then the Finney Brook might overflow and flood the lower part of The Finney. It blocked through use of the lane and, of course, flooded the low level pantries of the first four cottages, which including ours at No.2. With such natural surroundings, wild fruits were in abundance. We collected blackberries, damsons, crab apples, mushrooms and hazel nuts. We saw animals and birds too, like foxes, rabbits, mice, wood pigeons, grass snakes, frogs, usual garden birds and an abundance of ants. Not forgetting cattle again, while we walked across fields with grazing cattle we needed caution. Sometimes they might be in a sullen mood and block the path or even start to run towards us, or worse still from behind us. Once my mother had to leap out of the way of a heifer running behind her. The cowman always thought it a great joke if we were nervous. He had, however, to receive his come-uppance as witnessed by my mother, when he was leading a bull by a short length of rope down Lightmoor Road. He jeered of course as my Mother got behind a fence while they passed by. Just as they were opposite her, the bull lurched forward and knocked the cowman down on the ground and preceded to stamp and head butt him while the man shouted in pain. Some workmen nearby came to his aid with wooden posts to push the bull away. The man had broken ribs etc and was off work for quite a time. He never jeered again but apologised to my Mother for his rude manner.
The season changed once again as it came around to autumn. Falling leaves, leaving a carpet on the ground and that dank smell in the air, returning to mud once more.
Many years later, I went for a particular walk via The Finney when there was thick snow on the ground, grey sky and a hoar frost which looked like lacework on the trees. The air was still and cold; all I could hear was the light rippling sound of the brook as I walked across the Wycherley field. As I got closer to the stile at the top of The Finney lane, I heard a light trotting sound of an animal crossing crisp snow. I looked around and to my surprise saw a fox in its russet coat. It stopped close by, and we looked at each other for a few seconds before it turned and ran up the side of a mount. A privileged moment indeed. One I shall treasure always.
Well, that moving day came. One of mixed emotions perhaps, but one that I was eager to explore, particularly the indoor facilities! I expect our departure was seen with some sadness and very slowly others moved away to better housing. The cottages were eventually condemned by Telford Development Corporation but were not taken down for some time until it was found that children were playing about there and setting on fire and wreaking havoc.
Sadly, the last person to leave was Mrs Annie Pitchford, who, with her husband, had moved to the big house many years before. Her husband Joe had died and she was left to live alone, even though she had been offered a modern house amongst neighbours again. She refused, as she wanted to stay in the place she was familiar with. With the arrival of Telford, old ways were to go. New housing estates being built around Lightmoor and people coming into the area from far away. The Finney was seen by some as a place to create mayhem. Stolen cars being abandoned there and set on fire, grazing animals cruelly killed. Mrs Annie Pitchford, still living there, became picked on as well. Her home was broken into and much was stolen. She took to living in a shed to hide away from them. Eventually, through despair and illness she was taken away into care.
Through years of decline, the area was cleared of building rubble and traces of old trees and gardens.
The Finney rises again!
A large house is being built along the top edge of the site on which the big house and cottages were grouped.
I wish them well.
By David John Amias