When I was a Lad by Brian Harding
When I was a lad I lived in Summer Lane. Now Summer Lane started for me at the bottom of our entry which was opposite Brass Street and it went to my left down to wards Asylum Road and if you went right it went to Snow Hill. Now if I turned left there was a shop which was owned by Mr and Mrs Kale. Then there was an opening, then there was the barber shop, then there was a small factory the name has gone but I’ll remember it later. Next door to this factory lived an old mate of mine. He lived with his Nan and grandad and his sister Cathy.
His name was Timothy Fitzpatrick. All I know now is that he done a very good impression of Elvis Presley and he toured the country with this act. Next to their house was a big opening which belonged to Mr Yafratti who also had the shop next door. He used to hire out horse and carts to the local tatters. He sold vegetables from his shop and a few things from his shelves.
Then next door to his shop was a small yard where he put some of his carts, then next to there was the Dare’s pub The Cross Guns, which was on the corner of Frankfort Street. Crossing over there was a bomb peck which brought you to a tobacconist where all tobacco requirements could be purchased. Snuff which was weighed on some scales on the counter pipe tobacco rolling tobacco chewing tobacco and of course fags. The quantity of the fags came as far as I remember fives, tens, twenties and twenty fives which were in round tins. Right next door to this shop was a pub called the Birmingham arms which was a dowdy looking place and here was the only set of traffic lights in the lane which was Farm Street.
Now farm street went all the way to Hockley Brook were it joined up with Bridge Street West which I will talk about later on. Then if you crossed over Summer Lane to Ormond Street you came to a shop on the corner owned by Farnell's who had a daughter whose name I think was Brenda and she was very friendly with a girl from Moorsom street whose name was Betty Fitter. Then proceeding back up the Lane you come to Holte’s warehouse who sold dairy products etc., to the local shops. Then there is next door which used to sell comics and some odds and sods and they had a one armed bandit in the shop. Next door was another shop which sold some jewellery. My mother bought me a signet ring from there in 1955 which I still have now but it has worn very thin and next door to there was a lodging house with it's entrance in Moorsom Street. It was a scruffy looking place and the people who lodged there had to get out in the morning after breakfast and went back in on the night across from there was the Green Man pub which had a concrete bollard outside which we attempted to leap frog, not always successfully.
Then there was Joe Wheeler’s betting shop which had it's entry in Moorsom Street then there was a butchers shop with an opening between the next shop which was Allen's the chemist. Mrs Allen was always dressed in black and she was also very small. I know there was another shop before you come to Green’s which was a treasure trove of goods were you could buy a pin to an axe; from a drawing pin to a zinc bath; you name it, they had it. Then we now arrive at Brass Street where when crossing we find Harman's the funeral place where there lived as the caretakers the Dugmore family. I went fishing a few times with Brian Dugmore. Then next door was the boot menders [cobblers] Chester's. I only went in there for shoe polish; our dad mended all our shoes [I still have his last]. Then there is Mrs Smith’s shop who sold the grocery to mom some times on the strap [but we couldn't tell dad]. Then there is the flower shop. Next door was Shipway’s another butcher but I don't go there for our moms meat, I have to go to Jame.s down Newtown Row on a Saturday morning.
Crossing back over to our side of the Lane we find Pemm's greengrocery shop. We go there to see if she has any specks to sell and sometimes we would be given an orange that was bruised but it was okay for us. Then came some houses. They where rather big and they had three steps up to their front door. Then there is the entry which, when you went up came out in Bridge Street West then there are two more houses then the factory workshop of Ingram and Carless. Then we are back at our entry to our yard.
I remember a time when I was but a kid our mom come to our Alan (my brother) and me she said ‘Your dads given you two bob (ten new pence} to buy me a Christmas present’ and before we could get our breath she had us both going down to the House of Jack Built down Newtown Row (I never knew it as anything else till I got older). ‘Well’ she said ‘there you are that's what I want’. It was a glass milk jug and a glass butter dish! Well me and our kid d’ain’t have much choice did we, blimey milk in a jug and butter in a dish. Before then I could only remember butter on a Sunday then it was mixed up with margarine.
On Monday, do you remember Mondays ? Ah bubble and squeak with a big piece of bread cut with a bread knife. No sliced bread them days and proper pork dripping with the jelly, Gordon Bennet my mouths a watering now, and was there any thing better than getting the toasting fork off the side of the fire place, and doing a nice big piece of toast with dripping on it, then a full cup of cocoa Cadburys of course. Sometimes we had Bournvita, not very often though, then up the wooden hill in the dark, watching out for the bogeyman. Another thing we used to do, was put a tater in the ash hole, and bake it. Sometimes if we were lucky and got an orange, we would also put that in the ash hole take it out turn it round until it was warm on the both sides. And our mom used to slice some lemons up then put the lemon slices in a big jug by the side of the fire, and I think she put a powder I don't recall the name (help) in it. Then one time our mom decided she would make some ginger beer, (crikey) well our kitchen, come pantry, come wash place was were she decided to let it ferment. It daint half ferment it blew up, the corks blew out of the bottles. Whoo what a mess, what a stink. She never tried it again. Well in them days you had to do it yourself you couldn't afford to buy these things.
One thing our mom done was a bostin stew with great big dumplings in and I would eat it until the buttons were ready to bust. she cooked our chips in the frying pan with lard not the axle grease you get today. Why we very often had a piece of bread and lard with salt and pepper on it, and enjoyed every crumb. On a Sunday for our tea we used to have fruit with Birds custard. If we had no custard our mom used to put milk with the fruit, I daint like that. Another thing I did not and still don't like is Marmite. Our mom made a stew once, ooh I couldn't stand the smell never mind tasting it, bread and butter? Pudding spotted dick sago (frog's spawn) semolina, blancmange and home made trifle, and when our mom made a cake I would love to run my finger round the basin and eat what she never used. Then on Sunday when she cut the cabbage up she would very often give me a piece of stalk, to eat. I've tried it since but no way was it the same, but there again is there anything that tastes the same today.
On a Friday night I used to have to fetch a jug full of faggot's swimming in gravy and a basin for the mushy peas. Now this went down lovely with a crust of bread (I was told crusts made your shoulders square) and a cup of sweet tea. We sometimes on occasions we would have a cup of coffee (Camp Bells) which was on occasions. On a Friday sometimes for a change we would have chips. Dad and mom had fish with their's, and mom would very often give us a piece broken off her fish to us. (By the way, fish and chips were ten pence then, that's about four new pence today) and I remember them Fleur De Ley pies full of steak and kidney or chicken and mushroom and nice pastry, aint it nice to say we had that good wholesome food and it never harmed us.
Summer Lane to me was a very long road with plenty of things to see and things to do. One thing I done when I was young was to go to Tower Street Park. Well it had a see saw and some swings on which we had some great fun till I fell off and had to go to the General Hospital with gravel rash. When I had my knees bandaged up our mom said ‘Your still going to school’, and I had to see Mr Powell the headmaster at Cowper Street and he asked me if I still wanted to go to school. One look at our mom’s face was enough, I'll tell you, yes sir I said with my face going red, he gave me a look. I can see him now, and said ‘Allright, but no playground for you my lad’.
Then there was the ghost house at the junction of Hospital Street with Summer Lane. It was said that it was once a doctor’s house and next door to it was the lodging house, but they were bombed during the war, but it made a great playground for us kids, with plenty of ammo to chuck. Across the road from there was the electric place we dain’t know what it was called and we used to look through the big open doors and gaze with amazement at them big things making a loud humming noise. We dain’t know what electric was because more than half of the lane and thereabouts still had gas. Then just a short walk up the lane we came to a passageway which took you down to a wood yard next to the cut. I can vaguely remember that there used to be Green Goddesses based there.
Another story of mine, you can contemplate on if you like. It goes like this, our mom said to me and my cousin (Dennis) ‘You two can take this scrap iron and other stuff to the scrap yard, to Broadhurst's in Pritchet street’, so we loaded it into my dad’s wheelbarrow (the one he used to carry his chimney sweep brushes in) and off we went. Now to get to the scrap yard we went down Theodore Street and on the way I called for one of my mates Harry Walmsley. He lived on the right hand side of the street just before a wood yard. By the wood yard, was a stinking pig bin, it dain’t half reek. Well the three of us went down Theodore Street rather quickly and before we knew it the barrow started to go fast and faster, and as Theodore street went down hill gradually. You can guess what happened when we got to Newtown Row. Well we did try to slow down but we dain’t have no luck so we turned into Newtown Row three bits of kids with a barrow load of scrap.
Well we managed to turn into Newtown Row, but what happened next gore blimey the wheels of the barrow went into the tram lines, what a bleeding mess. It was lucky for us there wasn't no trams about, there came a crowd of blokes out of the pub (we called it The Clock ) and helped us get the barrow up straight, and loaded. And off we went past the Newtown Picture House, then turned left into Pritchet Street and Broadhurst's was on the right. Well for all the trouble we had we only got half a crown (12 and half pence) and when I took that home the old lady went spare. We thought we would get something for going but we cleared off fast cause I knew what I was going to get if I stopped there.
When I went home later our mom said ‘With this half a crown you can go to Lewis's up town and get a bottle of a Tousand and One Cleaning Fluid’ so that she could clean the carpets (rugs actually) with it. Well I had to go up to Lewis's in my dinner time at school so I had to run home get the money off the grate and run like hell up the lane and Snow Hill into Bull Street. And the first doorway into Lewis's was were you got this stuff, then it was a quick shufty back home and if, I had time I might get a bite of dripping, or sometimes a piece of corned beef. I did say if I was lucky.
Now as I have said before there was a factory up our yard and I don't know how our mom kept anything clean, what with me and our kid our dad was a polisher during the week, and he used to sweep the chimneys till some one told the tax office and I remember him saying they have had enough off me, up till now and they aint getting no more. So he stopped doing it and he then worked Saturday mornings at work. He worked in West Bromwich and he always went on a bike up Bridge Street West, up the Soho Road to West Brom. When the weather was bad he used to walk up Bridge Street to Hockley Brook and then he got the bus and I never ever remember him losing a day from work. His hands was cut to bits with the work he done (polisher) and he used to come straight in from work strip to the waist and then have a wash in the sink with cold water, you wouldn't see that today. Then after he'd had his tea he would then go to his mother’s house up Nechells Green to see if there was anything she wanted doing, and then he would come back to the Cross Guns pub (Dare’s) on the corner of Frankfort Street have a drink. (The pubs shut in those days at 10pm) Then he'd come home go to bed and the next was the same.