This is a copy of a letter sent to Harold Cooper who ran Hamiltons butchers shop in Newtown Row for many years. It was written by a Sidney Foster in 1979, Mr. Cooper gave a copy of it to Ray Burbery who had a barbers shop in Newtown Row for almost 40 years, he passed it to me, and Ray Cooper - Harold's son has given me permission to put it on the astonbrook site. Sylvia Sayers
Dear Mr. Harold Cooper,
I was very pleased to receive a letter this morning from your neighbour telling me how much you appreciated a childhood memory of mine printed in a letter in the Sunday Mercury. I remember the shop being opened as I was 10 years old at the timeand Saturday night in Aston Newtown has been vividly in my memory all my life, and I bore my family all the time recalling incidentsof those days.
The scene in your shop, and outside it, were tremendous. I always stood inside, against the wall, in a position where I could see the 'cutters up' in the back room, with a young sister, probably about 2, and not always the same sister, because as I grew older new sisters arrived, and I watched and listened enthralled at the scene which really had to be experienced to be believed. You were the pivot of the whole thing, shouting your head off with plenty of good humour, surrounded by a turmoil of women, with only a very limited amount of money clutched in their hands, but with experienced eyes for the joint they were after and quick to pounce when their bargain came up. I thin there were 4 people behind the counter, an elderly man and woman whom I always thought must have been Mr. & Mrs Hamilton and a younger man who might have been their son. There were at least 2 assistants cutting up joints in the back roomand the whole scene was enthralling. The purchaser would successfully get her bargain which you would pass inside while she ran round the milling crowd inside to receive and pay for it after it had been wrapped in last week's Sunday Mercury, The Sports Argus or whatever.
Sunday dinner was the most important meal of the week and for many the only dinner when you had roast meat. It was the pride of the working class that, however poor, Sunday dinner had to be roast beef with a good slab of yorkshire pud which was lovely with the gravy from the beef, lamb with mint sauce, prok which had to have beautiful crisp crackling, or very occasionally veal. Never chicken in those days, except at Christmas and that was usually from someone's backyard pen or picked up cheap late on Christmas Eve.
You were one of the characters of Newtown Row, always immaculate, with your hair, very short back and sides, as was everybodies and brushed back flat on your head. I can remember you in the quieter days up to when you closed, as I passed in my car after the war, and you didn't seem to look any different.
Newtown Row was a world itself. The fat old lady shouting 'mint,sage, thyme and parsley, a penny a bunch, and other gutter edge traders or buskers trying to earn a meal of night's lodging. Griffins, where during the week, I would have to go for a pound of mixed vegetables and please an onion, so that we could have a stew made with a pound of stewing pieces which I think was fourpence, probably not at your shop, you were too 'high class'. The marvel of the Maypole were margarine was cut off huge slabs of various qualities, deep yellow at sixpence a pound, mid at eightpence and creamy at tenpence (never had any of that).
Didn't always get the deep yellow on the bread if we had jam, which soaked into the bread, and was bought loose in a cup which had lost its handle, at the street shop.
Next door to you was of course the 'House that Jack Built' (did a good trade in chamber pots) and then on the corner of Bracebridge Street, Richards, the Pork Butchers, went there only occasionally, when dad's threepenny double had come up and we could afford bacon or sausage. It was rough in Newtown Row and it was a surprise to me that Mr & Mrs. Griffin lived on the premises. I found this out because I obtained a half time job when I was 12 at a very classy ladies shop in New Street in town and Mrs. Griffin was a customer, so they must have ben well off to shop there, and I used to deliver what she had bought usually on a Wednesday, which was half day or at least early closing, and they must have had a flat over the shop, which when I arrived in the evening after school was all shut upand a maid used to answer the bell and present me with tuppence tip. Then there was the Hippodrome and Bartons Arms and the Globe (one penny matinee on Saturday afternoon) and only threepence at night on the first 3 row of bench seats where you craned your neck at an elevated angle to get a distorted picture of Tom Mix or Buck Jones.
To get back to Sunday dinner (we call it lunch now) this had to take place late enough to accommodate my father who did not leave the pub until they closed, which was 2 o'clock on Sundays then, and early enough to give us children time to get to Sunday School which was at 3 o'clock so it was usally about 2.30 but I have known it later if it took my father longer than usual to make his way from the pub to home, then poor mother would be racing round the table, first with the saucepan of spuds, then the cabbage, yorkshire pud if appropriate, and then the meat and gravy. No such thing as 'starters' or sweet trolley, not even rice pudding which was often a meal on its own during the week.
You may be interested in my final story. Sunday School only catered for children up to 14 years and this concerned one of the teachers so he started a young mens class for the boys to go to and it had been in existence 2 years when I became 14. I joined and am still a member and there are 20 of us who still meet at St. Paul's Church in Lozells once each month, so that I have been going 52 years and there are 2 or 3 founder members who still go. The teacher who started it was Mr.George Field a prominent butcher who had several shops and one at the Perry Barr tram terminus. Another butcher Mr. W.J. Baker, who was president of the Butchers Association, and also had a shop in Perry Barr, used to come and speak to us and became a good friend and had a long association with us.
I used to live in Sandringham Road which is the other side of Rocky Lane to you, then went near the Scott Arms to live in a bungalow where I stayed until my wife died two years ago . Now in my retirement I live in this village which overlooks Cannock Chase and I keep in touch with Brum through the Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury. I thought my letter might evoke someones memory but did not for a moment expect a response from the 'leading character in the drama'.
My thanks to you, and to your neighbour, memories are very precious. I wish you all the very best in your continuing well earned retirement.
p.s. I went to Alma Street School and lived in William Street. I could go on for ever, excuse me I get carried away.