Life in the Old Days of Dawley
By Noah Ball
In writing the following I am trying to give a picture of how things were in the old days of Dawley.
Shopping and the Market
Saturday was looked forward to by some of us older kids as we would be allowed to go to Dawley with Mother to do the shopping. The High Street would be so full of people you could nearly walk on their heads and it was a work of art to get into the Market Hall.
There were stalls by the Lord Hill also in front of the Crown Inn fold and a meat stalls on the corner of Meadow Road all lit by old-fashioned paraffin flare lamps. All shop windows were packed with goods such as oranges at 40 for 1/—, bananas 13 for 6d, and a twelve-pound tray of tomatoes was about 6d; wages were small in those days but the cost of foodstuffs was equally small. Eventually we would end up in the Market Hall just before it closed for the night and I have known my Mother get a 20lb round of beef for 4/- from Joe Brown, rather than he have to take it back, for remember there was no refrigeration at that time.
Mr. Joe Brown kept the Manor Farm (now Manor Gardens); he also had a slaughterhouse and butchers' shop in Chapel Street apart from the one in Burton Street and the meat stall on the corner of Meadow Road, which was run for him by a man by the name of Dick Wood.
I remember two girls who were employed at the Halesfield and Kemberton Collieries. They used to walk from Dawley at about 5.30 in the morning and return about 2.30. They were employed on the Pit Banks sorting the pit waste for coal and also for iron stone which was passed on to the blast furnaces for the extraction of iron. You will see the waste from this dotted about the area as great square slabs of slag.
These girls always seemed to be happy as they sang their way to work, and on their return some of them would be balancing a wicker basket on their heads but the contents of these baskets I never knew.
In those days most of the merchandise for the shops and pubs in Dawley used to come to Stirchley Railway Station and was then loaded onto a big dray with two large horses and taken to the various addresses in Dawley. The owner of the dray and horses was little Georgie Morgan and from Stirchley to Dawley he did nothing but sing hymns to his horses. At the bottom Portley Bank and Dun Cow Bank he would hitch on an extra chain horse to get the load, often 10 tons, up these two hills.
Some of us kids used to walk with the dray to Dawley on purpose to have a ride back and I am sure that it was through the influence or Mr. Morgan that I became a scholar at the Holy Trinity Vestry Sunday School where he was a teacher; later on, I found myself teaching at the same school at the age of 15.
Upon leaving school it was quite easy to get a job, as at this time the following factories were in operation: - Horsehay Works, now Adamson Alliance (closed), Days Brick Yard at Brandlee now closed, Randlay Brick Yard, now closed, Stirchley Chemical Works, now closed, (but it is noticeable that the old Chemical Stack is being preserved). Then there was Lightmoor Brick and Tile Works, Kemberton and Halesfield Collieries, Coalport China Works, The Court Works and lots of small traders who would take on the school leavers such as Merringtons the Blacksmith, Claytons and Charlie Beddard, Butchers, J.Ruscoe, J.R. Smith and Darrall’s, all grocers, Tom Weaver the printer and Billy Smith and Harry Lees, barbers, who would employ lather boys. This meant that we all had some employment to go to when leaving school at the age of 13.
Do not think that because we left school at an early age that we were not educated; on looking round the present-day school leavers of 16 years of age we could give them a start.
We had teachers such as Mr. W. Gough, Mr. W. Wilkes, Mr. C. March and Miss Davies who were very strict but dedicated to fully educating us even at the expense of neglecting the sporting activities, and on looking round the old scholars of that day there are very, very few who have not made their mark in life. Looking on the sporting side we were all pretty good at football, cricket or any other game, due in my opinion to the fact that we were tougher physically than the kids of today because we had to walk not only to school, but anywhere else we wanted to go, as there were no school buses in those days. At holiday times a walk to the Wrekin and back was a small matter.
There were many other games we had used to play after school hours such as, Tin Can Mecky, Rounders, Duckston, Hide and Seek, Jack upon the mop Stick, and many others. Our playgrounds were the Old Castle Furnace yard or the School Hole which was a hole in the ground adjacent to Langley School but note now that it is being filled in.
Often, we would follow the huntsmen and women with their pack of hounds, and the distance we would travel would depend on how sly the fox was and how long he evaded the pack – I have known a fifteen-mile run before the fox was caught or had gone to ground. All this I think kept us as fit as fiddles and also kept us out of mischief. Even so, if we did get into any trouble and were trounced by the offended party, we could always be sure of another good spanking when we got home, with the words "That will teach you to keep out of mischief". At that time the Police were empowered to tan us if we did wrong, but today they hardly dare correct youngsters which in my opinion is the cause of so much vandalism, plus the fact that parental control seems to have disappeared, often due to the fact that both parents ate out at work with the result that kids can do just as they please. Most of these parents had a religious training when they were young but it is very noticeable that these days they do not trouble to send their children to Sunday School, which on looking around Dawley is the cause of the closure of many places of worship such as Dawley Bank Primitive, Dawley Bank Wesleyans, Horsehay Mission and now there is the possibility of Malinslee Church closing.
Wages and Prices
I see from an old wage ticket of the Madeley Wood Co. that the miners were paid by production, and, at the following prices, coal at 2/— per ton and slack at 1/- per ton; they had to produce a lot of coal to make a wage.
Also, I have an old grocery bill of 1912 which shows the prices of goods in those days - 71b sugar l/10½d, tin Cocoa 8 ½d, 21b tin Lyles Golden Syrup 6½d, 1lb currants 4d, 2oz tin mustard 2½d, 1lb soap 3d, 21b 5ozs cheese l/6½d, 8 oranges 3d, Jar of Jam 6½p. You will see there is a great difference in comparison with today’ s prices.
At this time, we kids would collect the empty jam jars and take them to the jam factory at Dawley Bank where we would be given a jar of jam for every dozen empties. That should show how careful we were in those days.
As regards my own reminiscences I was the eighth child of a family of twelve, seven boys and five girls and today I wonder just how my mother coped with us all, washing, mending, feeding and keeping us all in good health without any aid from anyone. Naturally the older ones looked after the younger ones and I often remember sitting in a chair with a child on each knee and rocking another one in a rocking chair with my foot; it mattered not how wet your knee would be from one, you had got to stick it. The clothes which an older child outgrew would be altered and passed on to the next one down and so on, until they were completely worn out. My earliest recollection was one of the rides on Jonah Guests horse, and of going to old Sergeant Beckitt for a few windfall apples; occasionally we would be given a swede by Sam Marks who kept the Wallow Farm in those days.
Most of our neighbours had families of seven or eight so we were community on our own and the neighbourliness of neighbours was marvelous; they had only got to know you were short of something and they would share theirs with you. Regrettably this seems to have died out, and today it is mostly self first, second and last.
The Webb Memorial
At this time, approximately 1908, drinking water and hydrants were installed throughout the area by the efforts of the then Surveyor and Sanitary Inspector, Mr. Lewis Price. Water was pumped from Harrington but later a pumping station was erected at Rednall Fields, Little Dawley and this caused the doing away with of the water pumps which were so common about all properties in those days.
It would be about this tine that the Captain Webb Memorial was erected by public subscription at the bottom of High Street, Dawley. We as school children took our contribution of one penny to school. Water was laid on to the Webb Fountain and also attached were iron cups on chains; all you did then was press the button and the water flowed freely.
We were all sent to Langley Board School at the age of 4½ or 5 years old and the teachers there were magnificent; they were patient and imparted their knowledge in a very different way than is done today. Discipline was strict and the cane was used if you transgressed in any way. If you went home and complained that you had been caned well, you got a bit more added to it for not behaving yourself. Today it is an offence for a teacher to use any punishment, which in my opinion is all wrong. Discipline seems to have disappeared both in the home and the school and the lack of it is the cause of so much vandalism.
I can still see the sides of bacon on the wall at some cottages and hams hanging without net, as in that day they cured these and no fly would touch them. If by chance anyone killed too many pigs and had a surplus side it was easy to sell the whole cured side at 2d or 3d a pound.
One would think from this that we were fairly well off but I would remind you that my father only earned eighteen shillings a week to keep twelve of us on, and for that he walked to Maddock’s Foundry at Oakengates morning and night. With my mother "the general at the wheel" we schemed and worked and were never very short of anything, in fact we lived as well as most people. I can still fancy a swede and potato mash with a half inch thick slice of ham, and the "liquor" not grease poured over it with half an oven bottom loaf baked by my mother – you may call this rough but, believe me, it was wholesome and put guts into us all.