I wonder does anyone remember the community of shops on the Lichfield Road between Victoria Road up to Ansell's Brewery?
I grew up there during the 60s and remember a thriving bustling community, where ladies in headscarves pulled tight over their beehive hair does, did their shopping and their gossiping.
Across the road from us there was Gregory's clothes shop, Taylors the toyshop (who always had windmills outside in a cemetary urn), a butchers, Poole's the furniture showroom, a grocers and the junkshop. I think there was a "walkaround shop" selling household stuff and further up was Heath's two china shops on either side of the Methodist church. Further on towards Ansell's was Dent's the green grocers, Digger's the paper shop and of course Thompson's the Butchers. No one from Aston could possibly forget the scratchings, sausages and black pudding from that shop, I would go with my mom or dad and wonder why there were photos of animals on display, while I scraped little piles in the sawdust on the floor. I never made the connection between the pigs on the photo and the sausages until years later, when the bus passed while the pigs were being taken to the abbatoir. Then, oh the tears for the poor pigs, and what a telling off I got! "Remember that next time you want a bacon sandwich" I was told. There was no such thing as a vegetarian in those days.
All the shops had colourful awnings that shaded the pavements and filled with water to catch the unwary on rainy days. You dont see them any more. I remember as a youngster sitting among the vases of flowers looking out at everyone passing by and listening to the ladies chat as they bought flowers for their front windows. Those little houses, like those in Park St, Sandy Lane and Wainwright St, had two rooms downstairs but no one was ever allowed in their front rooms. They were like a holy sanctuary, filled with ornaments and the best bits of furniture, and the window onto the street was an essential part of the display. The ladies washed the street out side their door, cleaned the doorstep and put a bunch of flowers in the window for the benefit of those who passed by.One of the only benefits of having no central heating was that the flowers lasted ages, and an unspoken competition took place from house to house over whose house looked the best.
This part of Aston doesn't seem to get much of a mention and yet it was always busy before the council did what the Germans failed to do and knocked the heart out of it. All the shopkeepers were honourary aunties and uncles to me as were many of our customers, and I would like to pay tribute to all of them. Many had very little materialistically but they were unfailingly generous to the little girl at the flower shop. In fact when I was taken into hospital after an accident we had enough colouring books and crayons brought in by friends and customers that we could supply every child in the ward. I still remember the local characters: Uncle Bill at the junk shop who instead of a nervous twitch had a repetitive whistle that he did over and over again as he stood outside his shop. After a while you got so used to it you didn't hear it any more but when you concentrated ... yes there it was. Mom was in that shop for years and he whistled about every two minutes for all those years. We never worked out if he knew he did it! Come to think I never saw any one buy anything either.
Uncle Eric at Taylor's Toy shop whose shop window was full of games, puzzles and practical jokes. Oh how I wanted that ring that gave people an electric shock when you shook hands or some stink bombs or a hairy spider to frighten the customers... but some how I always came back with a tub of bubbles or something more lady like. Uncle Eric was a wise man and his fireworks were second to none.
Auntie Mill ran the Wine shop, a little off licence across the road. They were always a cut above. Auntie Mill would hang the plastic cherries from the Cherry B display on my ears and we would dance about like carmen miranda. Auntie Joan ran the grocers and when I was little she had an elderly mother who showed me how to pull the tendon in the chicken feet to make them move. The shop was open to the street and I remember how cold her fingers were on my face when she kissed me. Mrs Cox ran a tiny little shop that sold sterilized milk from a crate outside, her shop was on the same side of the road as us and this was the first shop I could go to on my own. I loved to buy a lucky bag or sometimes a pair of plastic sunglasses. She would always shake the bags to find one with a good present, but woe betide anyone who stroked her huge black and white cat. "Its because she likes you" Mrs Cox would say as the cat happily sank its teeth in your finger.
Opposite, Mr Whetton also sold sweets which were displayed loose in the window fading in the sunshine. He would serve you in his flat cap and knitted waistcoat, trilling like a bird as he whistled through his teeth. Thirty years later my brother would be told "stop doing a Mr Whetton" when he whistled in the house. Then there was Florrie the local bag lady that hurled abuse and smelled terrible as she worked her way up from Clifton road. The word would go up the road quicker than you could say Jack Robinson and all the doors and closed signs would go up until she had passed by. But best of all were the ladies who had been to Attwoods the paper shop and came laden with lollipops or a comic for me!
Gradually all these shops and characters disappeared as urban redevelopment wiped out the houses and closed the streets. We became isolated on an island of empty properties, in a sea of demolition wasteland as we waited for the compulsory purchase of our home. Everytime a property emptied the vandals would move in and fires were a regular occurrence. From living in a community, we were left stranded in what simply looked like a warzone. One night mom looked up from her bed to see someone looking in from the loft! We couldn't wait to escape.
Now I look back and wonder how all those larger than life characters fitted into such a small area, and when i go up the Lichfield Road, past Aston Station up to Aston Cross the only thing I recognise is the Vine Pub which was always said to be "the only pub in Birmingham to be built on a road, a lane and a street" and there is no trace of 139 Lichfield Road Aston Birmingham 6..my home.
Some memories of my 5th shop at 296 Lichfield Road Aston Birmingham 6
The estates department (fun & games dept.) gave me the tenancy of this shop at 296 Lichfield Road in exchange for my 132 Clifton Road shop that they condemned as un-safe, (although it was still standing there for many years after). I moved in on Monday 21 November 1966 the rent was about £2.50 p a week including rates and water not bad. It was originally before the war a flower shop with a house at the back, there was a small window in the wall so they could see the customers coming in, an idea I copied many years later. When I took this shop over it was a ladies boutique, but we soon got stuck and made it into a retail vacuum cleaner shop selling re/conditioned cleaners & stocking all the spares plus doing all the repairs.
It was my mate Joe Baileys idea to specialize in vacuums only and it was a great success as we were one of the first we had an excellent long frontage to display them, it was on a very busy main road and we had large slogans printed to paste along the fence "going for a song vacuums from £3-50 "you have seen the rest now come for the best. On one very busy Saturday we sold 8 cleaners I was glad when six o clock came although had plenty of help.
There was O.A.P. good old Arthur Langley an old soldier a veteran of the 1916 battle of the Somme always very smartly dressed a happy man, he used to work for Ansells Aston Cross as a messenger and he used to boast that all the ladies were after him, he passed on in 1976. Then there were my two young sons No 1 Andrew who now has his own electrical business Countrywide Electrical Services Ltd. He worked very hard to pass his exams and get his BSc (honors) Eng LCIBSE. A real slogger he always remembers the fable about the tortoise & the hare that I impressed upon him when he was a lad, and No.2 young Phill who has now took over the business with his mom, then Jo my daughter who now has three lovely young children and lives in Nottingham and my better half Sylvia, my miss right and her youngest brother Bryan who now has his own market stall.
Then Tom the painter who now has his own building company, and young Eric who came from a very poor large family he now has his own transport business in Exmouth on the south coast. It seems like something rubbed off Towervacs. I used to buy scrap cleaners by the lorry load, the upstairs rooms were soon full to the ceiling thanks to my mate Joe bailey's contacts. He was king of the vacs, just after the war. He was a door knocker selling national Vactric cleaners on commission only, no sales no wages but he was an excellent No 1. + Salesman with a good sense of humour. He said as long as they had the electric in he did not loose many. His wife sadly passed away suddenly leaving him with two young lads but he soldiered on I and made sure they had a very good education they both did well
Joe sold loads of vacuums from his front room at 376 Court Lane. He was very well known, the bus conductors on the Perry Common 5a knew Joe the Vac man and they used to direct all the customers to his house 'saying its just opposite the Greyhound pub. I think he had them straightened, he did very well flying around in his flash Morris Oxford car when it was wore out he swapped it for a Morris minor. His brother frank in Wolverhampton was the car dealer who he got them from an excellent engineer. I had a grey Ford Consul Mk.II off him it was immaculate a real genuine guy well known in the trade liked a wee dram or two like Joe did. They have both passed on.
I miss old Joe (major blink) he loved a laugh and a joke and a sing song a great happy character and a good mate of mine he often used to give our mom a lift home from the shop stopping on the way and treating her to half of Ansells and a sandwich at the Deers Leap Kingstanding Hill Joe passed on 30 July 1989. Not many about like him now a days then there was the top dog the Mr P the midlands main Hoover agent F T Pearce Electric Ltd at 536 Stratford Road Sparkhill. What a case he was would buy and sell anything always at Clares auctions Jamaica Row, a big cigar in his mouth running punters up just for the fun of it.
One day Mr Clare got fed up of him and stopped the auction he said "Mr Pearce this is not a three ring circus I am taking your last bid" he really dropped him in it. No flies on Mr Clare he left him stuck with a load of junk, Old Pearce just chuckled but he was more careful after that. When I made a bid Mr Clare used to call me cash! Cause that's how I paid him a nice old-fashioned gentleman there was another good auctioneers called 'Slater-Dann' who my mate Gavin of Bartons Bank Radio & I did well with old Slater used to shout on the hammer 'I shan't dwell' and bang! We got it again we were well in mind you I liked having a deal with Mr P it was such fun had some good bargains off him. He would toss up for the odd pound then it' was tea and cakes for Joe and me is two sons Bob and Trevor used to work for him nice lads.
When he retired to live 114 Weston he used to phone me at the shop on his birthday every year to ask how we were going until he passed on. A real mans man full of life.
Next was Fred Smith of 219 Heeley Road Selly oak a very good engineer went to Gower Street School same as me. Started up on his own in about 1960 after leaving the Vatric & Bylock Co when they packed up. A good mate of mine a hard grafter now retired & loaded. I still see him knocking about.
There was big Bob Lieshman of the Bull Ring market always on the go he had some large premises above a shop on the corner of Cherry Street in the town with a production line rebuilding Bylock & G E C vacs big time plus when his lease was up I cleared out all his old stock for a few quid his brother. Once played for Aston Villa, Bobs son Garry runs the business now he has retired.
There was Craddock of B R S C E Manchester what a nutter mind you he had some good gear quality drive belts etc, Joe Baileys Then Mr Nash the bustler vacman of the Gothic Arcade, Snow Hill he started before the war a nice very old fashioned gentleman he later moved to 77 Hampstead Road Handsworth knew his stuff. When he retired I bought some of his gear.
There was the Freeman Street gang all red-hot door knockers selling Electrolux cleaners on the HP we used to bid them silly prices for their part exchanges and as they kicked us out Joe used to shout out, and our second bid is good day, they usually called us back and did a deal cash on the nail no bills well we knew they needed the space no flies on us pair what a team (flotsam and jetsam).
It was big Frankie- Griffiths who introduced me to old Joe he was his next door neighbour and I first met big frank in 1952 at 'George Dockers' radio & T.V. shop 124 Park Road Aston what a den of iniquity. He made Fabian look like a Sunday school teacher sailed very close to the wind did old George but he smoked him-self to death and left a fortune silly sod. Worked seven days a week in a cloud of smoke an ex partner of mine but that is another very long story (classified).
Big Frank was born in a tough quarter Weaman Street in the town by St Chads Cathedral up the Hilly Yard, in1916 he knew all the gangs of Summer Lane went to St Chads school and took up amateur boxing fought at eleven stone had over 200 fights and won most of them well his grand-parents were Irish so no wonder. During the war he served in the R.A.F. as a P.T instructor then worked for the M.E.B later he became a self-employed electrician with his mate Charlie always on the job who he named (ever ready). But that story is also (classified) later on he opened a hardware shop on the very busy golden mile up Stratford Road Sparkhill and called it 'The Woodman' I had loads of planks & gear off Frank for all my shops at the right price we pulled off some good deals between us a good old mate of mine what a team.
Big Frank is still knocking about fit as a fiddle, was on our local radio station M recently with Dr Carl Chinn the historian. A long poem about the good old days was sent to Carl and he found out big Frank had wrote it so he got him to read it out from memory. Well Frank was in his oil-tot away he went a very interesting hour. Now he has another feather in his ratting cap "a radio star". Frank came to see me recently at the shop and we never stopped rabbiting yac yack. Sylvia made us a nice cup of char we had a good laugh all interesting stuff a diamond they don't make' them like big Frank any more no sir.
A lot of my old customers from Tower Road Aston still came to see me. We did very well also no break-ins except for the local firemen when they were called out late one night by a passerby who spotted our 'neon sign' in the window smoking. They had to cut off our big Chubb battle-ship padlock a good job they had some heavy cutters. When they phoned me in the middle of the night saying my shop was on 'fire' I thought it was a wind up so I answered 'this is the dogs home here' The fire-man went mad he said 'if you don't bleeding hurry up and repair your door the old burglars will be in so I flew down the Tyburn Road and sorted it All out.
Tom the painter built me an extension on the side of the shop to give us an extra work room using some old doors and corrugated sheeting I got cheap. We had a long bench and seats in there and on Saturdays we made it our canteen we had lovely dinners fish and chips or faggots and peas the soup of the day was always 'oxtail' that we put chips in. No wonder I had so many pals turn up to help me? Can still smell the lovely aroma.
Now I would have liked to have had a transport cafe but alas the best laid plans of 'mice and men aft gone astray' My young-un four year old Phill took the extension over in the week for smashing up our scrap vacs what a din he made, I had to explain to the customers what all the noise was as he used to come in-to the shop shouting 'ok dad I've fixed that one any more'? Even Dennis from the fruit shop next door used to pop in asking what all the noise was Phill had his grand-dad Arthur Ellis helping him some days he would be in there puffing away happily on his old pipe.
A good man he had a very hard life his lovely wife Gertrude Ellis tragically passed away after a long illness aged 46 in Dudley Road hospital in 1949 leaving him to bring up five children Bryan, Johnny, Sylvia Irene and Arthur. They all did well later in life, Arthur worked at Willmot Breedons factory as a bench fitter making locks for the Rolls Royce at Hay Mills Coventry Road. He had to be up at the crack of dawn rain or shine he slogged away kept them all-together in their little back house 4/6 Theodore Street Aston off Summer Lane. A happy little brood he was very strict and when I was courting my miss right' Sylvia' she had to be back in the house for eleven o'clock or we were in trouble.
I remember one snowy winter night 1953, we went to the Regal cinema up the Soho Road and when we came out the brakes on my Morris Minor van had iced up so I had to call the A.A. out and of course we were very late back about 11-30 pm. Sylvia was worried to death so in-stead of leaving her at the bottom of the entry I went and stood out-side her door. Poor old Arthur blew his top so I knocked the door and went in to explain. Then I said 'Mr Ellis there is no need to worry I am going to marry this girl'. He was delighted and we were good pals after that. He was a gentleman of the old school we used to take him for a drink with our mom very often and he used to come to our house for Christmas dinner. He passed away in 1982 aged 80. I liked old arthur he was very thin like me weighed about 8 stone but had bones of silver steel a real quality gentle-man.
Now back to the ordinary folk. There was 'Bryan Stokes' of brood he had a shop on the Soho road an ex- school teacher made loads of money had a villa in Spain to which he has now retired. Nice guy he used to give me all his old scrap vacs. I cannibalized making one good one out of two or three. I loved to bring them back to life and put them back into circulation again also making a few quid. In fact I am still doing it to-day. Then there was' Mr Cox' the polish chap from the Butts Coventry. Now he was the main Siemens vacuum agent the Rolls Royce of all cleaners in fact we still use two underneath our benches at work, I had them for donkeys Years.He used to pop in the shop after he had been to Dale-vacs in Dale End in town giving me a load of gear that they did not want. Then we would enjoy a mug of char and cakes. A good natured guy.
We had some very good reps. There was 'Ernie Ellard' of V. C. S. his gaffer was 'Mr Bains' Ernie was a good slogger he would not leave until he flogged us some gear sometimes he would be at the shop till we knocked off at 8-0 clock. I always bought something off him in the end. When Mr Bains retired Ernie started up on his own, he did very well made a fortune had a villa in Spain etc but sadly he had a very serious heart attack recently leaving him an invalid. His son-in-law now has the business but not as good, no. Flair I think Ernie worked much too hard a smashing pal of mine.
Next there was 'Jock' of Vac Spares London, he was good kept his bulging wallet on a long chain to his belt liked a tot he said he had lost his wallet once never again. Sometimes his gaffers 'the brown brothers' used to pop in trying to sell me loads of vac spares in bulk with big discounts. They were red hot but I told them no thanks I was happy just to be a little tiddler swimming around.
Well a lot of those who joined in the rat race never lived to draw their old age pension now A. W. 0. L. Well what's happening outside the shop it looks like the council (fun & games dep't) have got hold of some cheap yellow paint so they are marking double lines outside our shops for no parking and we now have our own warden 'Big Tom'. We'll I soon got him straightened with hot mugs of char. He was a nice guy in fact he told me he used to have a small watch-menders shop in Wheelers Street Lozells during the war. He knew an old pal of mine 'Johnny Vella' so we had a lot in common he used to give our customers time to pull up and collect their repairs without any hassle the good old fashioned wheel within wheel. How it should be. He still pops in to see me even though he has retired.
Well it never rains but it pours they the (fun & games dep't) have sent us notices to move out under a slum clearance order its now 1969 this will be the sixth time they have slung me out no problem I have had plenty of experience starting up new shops. Now I have got my eyes on new pastures to conquer in booming Erdington.
So to complete my memories how about a stroll around all the little shops that made up our golden mile starting at No.260 Lichfield road 'Mrs Mundys' shoe shop a very old established family business started before the Great War a nice little shop you could smell the leather as you went in. We had some very good shoes off her they were lovely people.
Next door was 'Whites' the butchers always very busy.
Then Aston Station' brings back some happy memories on one very hot bank holiday some mates and I decided to go to Lichfield mop pair all the coaches were full but they put on a couple of cattle trucks so we all piled in. Well we were not posh and we had had a skin-full we sang all the way we are 'poor lost sheep and we have lost our way' baa' baa' ah'. We got the whole train singing had a smashing day. A 'Mr Pat Rose' was the station guard he was a good friend of mine and he told me he served in The army in India during the war stationed at the same B. B. R.C. camp in Deolali as I was for a time. Sadly he passed away suddenly leaving a large family, his wife is still a good customer of mine. The station lost its good name for a while as the new bloke could not get up in the morning not like good old Pat the early bird.
Next door was a tyre company and then a pet shop full of beautiful coloured budgerigars and canaries and rabbits, hamsters, white mice, you name it he had got it and when you opened his door what a racket.
Next was 'Hitchmans' tobacconist & sweet shop a nice guy happily puffing away on his Willswiff cigar.
Then 'Brewers' government surplus stores loads of useful gear I bought some enamel plates and a small teapot off him and they are still in use to-day.
Then there was our fish shop chips 4d fish 1/: 6d (9p) lovely grub I can smell them now, we certainly lived off the hog in those days meaty.
Next door was Mr Chute' the chemists with his son' Colin' a happy smiling chap, sadly he passed away suddenly.
Then next door to us the exchange shop 'many things' Norman & Maureen Hawks a very clean shop full of useful gear. Norman was always singing and very smartly dressed they had a good business but he passed away in a bad flu epidemic. His wife and daughter bravely carried on with the shop.
Then next door to us at 298 was our young' Dennis O'Neil the greengrocer' we became very good friends helping each other out he worked very hard open all hours to make his shop a success. He now has a large greengrocers at Pipe Hayes. I saw him some time ago still the same happy smiling chap has a son the dead spit of him. His older brother was a good builder a past master with the Bham screwdriver what a joker now passed on.
Next to Dennis was 'Mr Simms' the butcher good quality English meat those were the days when there was some taste in it or is it me getting old?
The Lichfield road post office next door always busy
Then our favourite bakers 'Mrs Mountfords' on the corner of Sutherland Street a very old family firm lovely cakes my cousin Ernie used to pull up in his M.G. sports car every day for his bread.
On the opposite corner was the out door beer license
Just down the road 'Greys greengrocers' then the coin swap shop man he was very sharp
And then our 'Lou Dilk' Clarity Television he was a smashing guy straight as a dye I had some good T.V. deals with him over the years he moved to Alum Rock later on did very well Ii liked old Lou.
Now we run across the very busy main road to 'Pearce and Cutler' a very old established firm
Then 'Knocks' big brick yard
And coming up to Ernie's paper shop step in that door and now you were in a time warp the 1930s. Old Ernie and his wife were rather slow and stout they kept a very vicious dog behind the counter who leapt snarling at you as you went in. I bet they lost a stack of customers with fright the shop was very dark I think they were a bit careful with the 15 watt lighting my two lads used to drag me over to Ernie's every Saturday to buy some caps for their six guns to shoot all the Indians on the Ponderosa western T.V. show. Our house was full of smoke and dead Indians every Sunday afternoon we had to wear our cowboy hats and six guns. They used to shout 'dad you got to shoot the baddies not the goodies'. Happy days
A bit lower down was the fishing tackle shop then 'David Hudson' the large electrical contractor another very old established firm still going strong the gaffers son Bob used to live by me in Rosslyn Road Walmley nice guy
Next door was 'Ida May Bayliss 'the wholesale tobacconist their alarm was always going off they never came to sort it out their excuse was 'gone fishing'.
And next was 'the Aston station stores' better known as 'Lils Lino Shop' she was a very tall lady always in a clean pinafore and bonnet standing outside her shop with rolls of lino all lined up like soldiers come rain or shine shouting 'come and get your lovely lino bargains' boy was she a grafter. I can see now her poor hands were cracked and sore but she always had a smile a nice lady
Right next door was the 'Swan Pool Tavern' M & B ales
And across the road the scrap metal yard underneath the arches of the railway bridge which was erected on Sunday 25 March 1906 to replace the old one it took only 16 minutes
A little way up Lichfield Road No 286 was the 'Britannia' another M & P pub. I must add that I was an Ansells man so I never went in M & B houses
Ahh well I have come to the end of our stroll round memory lane meeting all those grand old quality people the salt of the earth.
So its good night Silver Ateel Arthur Ellis the singer, Norman Hawks the smiler, Denis O'Neil, lino Lil the grafter, Clarity T.V. man Lou Dilk, our Tom the painter, Aston station pal Pat Rose, Bryan Sylvia's brother, Joe Bailey the vac king, Big Frank the woodman, Arthur Langley the whistler to Roses of Picardy and everyone god bless them all.
I sought my soulsoul
I could not see
I sought my god
But he eluded me
I sought my brother
And I found all three