Barbers Shops

A Barber's Tale by Ray Burbery

I ran a gents hairdressing business in Newtown Row, Aston, from 1954 to 1997, from around 1974 incorporating a ladies section when I moved into the new Newtown Shopping Centre.

My first shop had previously been run by a man known as Swannie, it had been owned before WW2 by George Davires the local bookie. The shop was located in a row of premises betwen Asylum Road and Milton Street, the landlord being Ansells Brewery and the rent was 14 shillings (70 pence) per week.

Looking at the shop from the front from its left towards town, was an outdoor, followed by Percy Cook - secondhand dealer. then

Barclays Bank on the corner of Milton Street, this was a beautiful red brick old building.on the other side of Milton Street was Paddy O'Neils secondhand clothes shop.

To the right of my shop was the British Lion pub, then Norman Lock's Garage, Jess Meakin the greengrocer, memorable for his stove pipe hat and his very long dead chickens.then the entrance to the Market Hall, to the right of that was Bella and her butchers shop, then the Post Office on the corner of Newtown Roiw and Asylum Road.

On the opposite side of the road from the corner of Bracebridge Street going up Newtown Row towards town was Lambs Drysalters, Rose Gents Outfitters, Sidwells Electric Shop, where he was still charging accumulators, then Betty's Costumes, Hills newsagents, Williams Electric Laundry, a large shoe shop (can't recall the name) then a little drapers shop, this was just a small terraced house which had been turned into a shop.

These blocks were the tail end of the main shopping parade, the entire area was densely populated with both industry and residents with a wealth of characters and stories, for instance, the British Lion pub was for some time the daytime drinking venue for the tatters and rag and bone men, who usually parked their horses and carts in Milton Street, at closing time the landlord would literally push them out, they would spill out onto the pavement still singing and dancing, they were also known to take their horses a pint or two in a bucket. How the police of today would manage to breathalyse a horse I can't imagine.

However, such stories and there are many, are not the object of my unusual tale, unusual in that it shows that the demolition of old Brum greatly contributed to the restoration of a 400 year old cottage in a village mentioned in the Doomsday Book. My father's ancestors came from, and around the village , with his father moving to Dolman Street, Vauxhall, Birmingham around the turn of the century, where my father and his brother and sisters were born.

My mother's parents moved from Darlaston, Staffordshire at roughly the same time to Plume Street, Nechells, having lost their barge business, the final straw being when the horse fell into the cut, they pushed all their wordly goods to Birmingham on a hand cart accompanied by their seven daughters.

Mom and dad met in Aston, and married at Aston Parish Church, although O was not born in Aston, I think I qualify for "affiliation".

My father was a long serving navy man, a submariner, and finally a Chief Petty Officer. My early childhood was spent in numerous seaside areas, before mom settled in Lodge Road, Witton, some months before the outbreak of WW2 , then came evacuation, which lasted all of a fortnight. I came back to Lodge Road and spent many a night under the stairs sheltering from the bombing, one night a neighbour made room for us in his Anderton Shelter at the bottom of his garden, we were all dug out of it unharmed the following morning after a bomb had landed too close for comfort.

My father was badly injured by a bomb that hit his ship H.M.S. Mallard outside Dover harbour. My maternal grandparents were also bombed out of their house in Aston Church Road, and moved to a back house in Rupert Street, Nechells. At my father's insistence we got out of Birmingham to live in a 15th century cottage in Thurlaston, until moving back to Birmingham in late 1945 so my father could find work. For me they had been four very happy years. My father died in 1963 and my mother then returned to Thurlaston, buying the cottage in which I now live.

Now to bring the threads of the story together. Most old cottages require constant attention due to if nothing else, the ravages of time and Rose Cottage began to show its age and the consequences of underfunded maintenance. Mom applied for a grant from the local council, this was turned down, this left two options, to sell or refurbish on a DIY basis as there was no possibility of raising enough money for the services of builders.

Although I hAd never laid a brick in my life, necessity became the mother of invention, the task could not have been undertaken were it not for the redevelopment of Birmingham. The scale of the demolition created an abundance of very cheap secondhand building materials, including oak beams, and materials of all kinds. A minimum of 3,000 matching bricks were required for the outside walls alone, in adition to those need to rebuild outhouses, the gable end, and a garage.

The Aston Hippodrome was about to be demolished too, along the side of the theatre was a passage way curtained by a wall, I bought a large part of it not only for the suitability of the bricks, but I recalled that I had queued with my grandmother as a child in that spot to see the pantomime Robinson Crusoe, starring G.H. Elliot. My grandmother was a regular patron getting of the no.8 bus in Park Lane, walking down Potters Lane and treating herself to her favourite bag of Black Country troach drops before joining the queue in the passage way.

The idea of incorporating memorabilia into the project took hold, I hitched a small trailer to my car and visited the different family locations previously mentioned, luckily finding them all in different stages of demolition, I obtained many bricks and materials to incorporate into the project. I also went to my late in-laws house at 8, St. Saviours Road, Saltley, where I dug up blue paving bricks from the entry floor. I am sure many of you will revcall that before cars were available to everyone a lot of courting took place in entries, the favourite winter spot being the area that backed onto the internal fireplace.

Perhaps of particular interest to Aston Villa football fans are the beams purchased from a reclamation yard, these had been part of a structure on the Villa's training ground, these now support the roof extension. Wrought iron features including a gate were made by the blacksmith in Whitehead Road, Aston. Some of the window frames were made by Wallins of Phillips Street..

The genuine leaded windows were made by John and Gordon at their DIY shop in the Newtown Shopping Centre, they had moved there when the old Market Hall closed. Another connection with Newtown Row, I obtained a large quantity of excellent timbers from a building sited at the bottom of the passage way between Averills the cooked meat shop and Norris' butchers, which lay at the rear of Blacks and Griffins, I was told that the material was once part of vinegar distillery.

The project was a unique moment in time that preserved Rose Cottage, hopefully for another 400 years. Footnote: just one old brick of the Hippodrome quality, cleaned and dressed is now worth at least 80 pence. One old roof tile would now cost between 28p and 40p and large old oak beams cost anything up to £400