There can’t be many places or communities other than Birmingham that have such a wealth of stories and information written and produced by the people of those communities. For example, there are countless histories of London and stories of its people but much of this is written by professional historians, writers and researchers. Of course they had Pepys but we had William Hutton. The number of stories from the ordinary people of Birmingham seems endless; this magazine is one of the pieces of evidence of this.
The Brummagem Magazine has been in print since 2001 and still there are wonderful stories every month. We have always been known for our trade and industry; we should also be known for our story tellers. We were the Toy Shop of the World but for me, we are the Story Book of the World. These stories are by ordinary Birmingham people; our friends and families, but they tell us about the lives of all ordinary people and their families where ever they are from.
Other places to find these stories are the books written by Brummies that are regularly published and the growing number of websites and internet forums.
Like many others, I discovered the Astonbrook-through Aston Manor while researching my family history and was drawn back into the life I remember as a lad in Guildford Street. One of the joys of late summer was to go to around the corner into Geach Street to the front door of the Toon’s house to buy a toffee apple; a memory I will never forget. And there on my computer was Joyce Toon, talking about her family and those unforgettable toffee apples. I see the picture of little Sammy her brother and I am drawn back into the street biting into the hot and crispy apple.
Reading the stories of Stan Wood I am back down Newton Row watching the blacksmith shoe horses while my mom is queuing at the butchers. Sue Bonner reminds me of the Aston Billiard Hall where I went Mondays and Wednesday afternoons with my friend Eddie. It was half day closing and we were both butcher boys. And there is a photograph of the inside of the library, just off Six Ways with its polished wooden floor and shelves, where I went every Saturday morning, after going to the Villa Cross pictures, and bought home encyclopaedias, HG Wells, and how to make an aeroplane out of balsa wood, tissue paper and a rubber band.
When I started to rebuild the Astonbrook website for John I couldn’t believe what a treasure trove I was in. I had to discipline myself to concentrate on the job in hand but the stories still drew me in. As you are reading this, the new version of the site should be on line. What I have tried to do is to make it easy and straight forward for people to find their way around the site. I have tried to create a design which will run with simplicity and ease for those with basic equipment and at the same time a design which is clean and up to date.
If you have not visited the site before I urge you to do so. What John Houghton has created, with the earlier collaboration from Rod Birch, is a great Birmingham landmark. Perhaps I should say coordinated rather than created. It is, rather, the ordinary people from Birmingham who have created the Astonbrook-through-Astonmanor website; our friends, neighbours, uncles and aunts, brothers, sisters, grans and grandads, our moms and dads.