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Browsing the web recently, quite by chance I came across various interesting accounts of life in Handsworth in the past.  Although I lived there only briefly back in 1950, and have lived in Western Australia for the past 42 years, I have family connections with the area.  My great-grandparents, Henry Dingley and his wife, lived in Lozells and Henry was a goldsmith working in the Hockley area.  They had one daughter, Lizzie Dingley, born in 1865, who was a talented painter of both landscapes and still lifes and I have a number of her paintings here and so has my brother who still lives in Worcestershire.  She won a number of awards and I have a book entitled Familiar Trees which was awarded to her at the Birmingham Municipal School of Art – second prize for a decorative panel in water-colour.  Signed by Thos Martineau, Mayor, 22nd July 1887.  I also have a couple of her sketch books, practice books and a mapping book – incredibly fine work.

Lizzie married Ernest William Bourne in 1893(I have no knowledge of his forebears, although someone once told me that there were Bourne brothers operating as corn merchants in the Bull Ring around 1840) and initially they lived in Perry Barr; I remember my mother telling me that they were almost in the country at that time with cornfields opposite.  My mother, Katherine Mary Bourne, was borne in Perry Barr in 1895 and at some time after that, the family moved to 26 Radnor Road, Handsworth immediately behind the Villa Cross picture house.

Ernest was a commercial traveller working for Weiss Brothers, an import/export business in Spencer Street, Hockley, and spent a lot of his work time in the early part of the century, travelling in Mexico.  He eventually bought the business when Weiss brothers retired.  I still have delightful letters and notes he wrote to his daughter during his times away.  They had another daughter, Elvira (c1898-1904), who died from diptheria.  They were a very musical family – sang, played the piano, and my mother sang with Madame Gell’s (?spelling) choir in Edgbaston and once, she told us proudly, she sang solo at Birmingham Town Hall.

Ernest seems to have been a sort of minor ‘patron of the arts’ in that he encouraged local artists in their endeavours.  At one time, the family owned a large number of paintings by Langley.  There was also a young man who I think lived in Radnor Road called Walter Morgan.  I have a very attractive portrait of my mother painted by him on a very dark brown background, dated 1919.  Recently, my sister died in the Cotswolds and some of her things were sent out to me – they included a small book (very battered and well read) which evidently belonged to me as a small child.  It’s called Nursery Rhymes and Fables – collected and illustrated by W.J.Morgan.  At the bottom, it says LONDON – Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge – NEW YORK – E & J.B.Young & Co.  I wonder if anyone knows anything about Walter Morgan.

Katherine was sent away to a small school called Stonehouse in Nailsworth (Glos) in her teens and whilst there, she met two sisters, Eleanor and Ann Harris whose family lived in Avening.  She and her parents used to spend weekends and holidays in the country and during one of their visits to Nailsworth, they stayed on a farm outside Avening - I have seen the farm and have a delightful painting by my grandmother of the farmyard as it was then.  Through her friends, Nell and Ann, she met their brother Sidney and they married in 1924; they moved to the farm in Worcestershire where I and my 2 sisters and a brother were brought up. I have a rather lovely picture by Lizzie which was painted on the Gatcombe Estate.

I was born in 1927, and the rest of my siblings appeared in 1930, 1936 and 1937, all of us first seeing the light of day at the Hall Road Nursing Home which was just around from my grandparents’ house in Radnor Road – they owned the house until my grandmother died in 1947.  As a child, I stayed there frequently and my grandfather would take me down to Handsworth Park to ride on the roundabout.  He was a truly lovely man and when he came down to the farm, would take my sister and me for walks armed with his spiked walking stick which was used to gather litter as we went and we would then have little bonfires along the road.  I well remember sleeping in their house and listening to the trams clanking along Villa Road.  We were all christened at Handsworth Parish Church.

My mother always did her shopping in the village weekly or fortnightly during the war when she visited her mother, and shops I remember were George Masons, Wagstaffs, was there a Kardomah café perhaps?  Mrs. Hulse sold hats, Violet Henderson had a little fruit and vegetable shop just down Heathfield Road, and Mrs Haynes had a cigarette and tobacco shop further up Villa Road towards Soho Road (and always gave my mother a sustaining cuppa during her marathon shop).  She had her hair done by Mrs. Keens at Edgar J.Booth’s salon opposite the Council House in Soho Road.  I think I had my first ‘perm’ there too.  Edgar Booth was a brother of Webster Booth who sang with Anne Zeigler.

My godmother, Marion Withers, lived with my grandmother and worked as personal secretary to Sir Percy Mills who was MD of Avery’s Scales in West Bromwich.  Her brother, Arthur Withers, lived with his family in George St, Lozells.  My sister’s godmother, Norah Cattell, lived in Handsworth Wood.  They were all, my mother included, members of Handsworth Tennis Club.  My grandparents had friends down Hamstead Road – Mr. & Mrs. Norman Tiptaft – did he become Lord Mayor of Birmingham during the ‘30s?  After my grandfather died, my grandmother played regular games of bridge with neighbours – if I was staying, it was my job to hand round the little bridge rolls and cakes and cups when they stopped for afternoon tea.

At the end of the war, I went into the WRNS for five years, and my sister went to Miss Gosling’s business college – she lived at Radnor Road during that time.  On my return from the Navy, I did a government Educational and Vocational Training course on Soho Road in West Bromwich.  I was one of a number of ex-service girls taking this shorthand, typing and bookkeeping course, and three of us were billeted in a rooming house owned by some Irish people just round the corner from Booth’s hairdressing salon and opposite the Council House – where there was a wonderful library, I recall.  I read a huge volume of Gilbert & Sullivan plays while I was there!  This was in 1950 and at the end of the course, an ex-WAAF girl and I went off on a three week holiday hitchhiking around France – what a marvellous experience that was too.  I came back to start a job as private secretary to the managing and works directors of a firm on Chester Road, Tyburn.  I still lived in Handsworth, this time with another friend in a house behind the Council House – I remember we had a gas ring and lived on baked beans and poached eggs – and had mice living with us!  Downstairs, our landlady always had newspapers all over the floors in case we made a mess.  However, I had to catch three buses to get to work, my grandmother had died and I no longer had ties to the area, so shortly after that, I went to live on the Chester Road at Erdington – and there I stayed happily until I married a couple of years later.

My husband had lived in Kenya and Tanganyika and we met when he returned to UK in 1951 – his parents lived in Olton.  In 1955, he was lucky to get a job in Zanzibar and we spent 9 very happy years there before emigrating to Australia in 1964.

Liz Hurst, Perth, Western Australia.
29th April, 2007.

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