Entertainment in Aston by Bob Houghton

Entertainment in the Manor of Aston

An Astonian is a person who lived in the Manor before being taken over by the City of Birmingham

As I wander around in my thoughts all be they the thoughts of an old man, who is now recalling his first years of maturity. Growing up in Aston where entertainment was eagerly sort after a hard days work. or after school.School being Burlington street Infants then Upper Thomas Street Senior Boys High on the agenda was the Aston Hippodrome, The exterior was of impressive design it had a stately foyer and a grand balcony for the patrons to take an interval drink in the fresh air when queuing for a performance in the gods you could catch a glimpse of the stars that where appearing that week

The interior of this fine establishment was resplendent in pure gold leaf adorning replicated Georgian sculptured stucco against the muted magnolia paint, the well off sat in luscious red velvet upholstered seats, it also had the added luxury of the private boxes on each side of the large Canadian maple wood stage that was graced by so many famous names. It had all the hallmarks of a first class theatre.

In the late fifties it was rapidly falling from grace and to make ends meet had to rely on striptease and other sordid shows, When that failed to save the grand old theatre they turned to the national craze at the time, an transformed it into a bingo hall, unfortunately it failed to make revenue, and time was called in September when it was raised to the ground. Complementing this fine building was the grandeur of the Barton Arms where you could rub shoulders with the countries top and up and coming stage performers that frequented this splendid watering hole.

Thankfully the Barton Arms did not suffer the same fate as the Hippodrome being devoured by the hungry bulldozer. Saturday matinees and in the evening the flicks or the pictures was high on the list of pleasurable things to do. The kids of Aston were lucky in respect that they were spoilt for choice. We could have the pleasure of visiting six movie houses and each one of them was an cinch to sneak into. The Globe was just across the road from the hip and up High Street we had the Orient Picture House, from the orient you could walk along Victoria Road and visit the Victoria Play house, carry on to Aston cross and you could chose from two the Aston Cross and the Astoria then just up the Lichfield Road throw a right turn into New John Street West to the top end of New Town Row and there on the corner was the New Town Palace every one of these venues were alive and had their own individual character no like today's multiplex cinemas that are clones, bland and sterile.

Making Our Own Entertainment

Aston Hall, Aston Park, a seventeenth century architectural gem built by Sir Thomas Holte who was an ardent Royalist. Causing him great grief in the altercation of civil war, the grand oak staircase sill as the scars of the parliamentary attacks when the hall was under siege and to day it is open to the public to browse its domestic museum

The excitement of the hall for us kids was that it was allegedly haunted but it did not stop us from playing there for we never roamed far from Aston. It was our Shangri-La where we spent our summer days playing and exploring the culverts of the River Rea the muddy banks of the River Tame and the canals; apart from the occasional break to Sutton Park and the Midlands Riviera and holiday play ground for every man Jack, The Licky Hills.

But the majority of our leisure time was spent in Aston Park from dusk till dawn. From the park it was just a small distance to investigate Witton lakes and the reservoir from here we could walk the canal paths to Minworth or in the other direction have an expedition to the Perry Barr locks.

On occasions we would end up at Gas Street Basin and talk to the people that lived and worked on the barges and sometimes if we were lucky could scrounge a ride then after a days adventure catch the tram back home. It wasn't much of a walk from Villa Park if you used the Broadway as a short cut to the Odeon on the Birchfield Road then do a right-hand turn to the Brummies Speedway and fly the colours of red and yellow. Tiger Heart was my favourite rider.

Also there was the Salford Reservoir for boating and fishing now it is a Stadium for athletics and championship cycling. There was grey hound racing at Perry Barr. Gordon Richards and Lester Piggott reputed to be their favourite horse racing track.

Although we lived in the city there was always plenty of entertainment and it goes with out saying we were rebelliously spoilt for choice. Each time I use Spaghetti Junction, sorry Gravely Hill Interchange in the luxury of a motor vehicle I am transported back to the days of wonderment and walk the many paths of a breathtaking childhood that was spent in Aston Manor through Aston Brook