"Times and places have to change" writes Peter Barnsley in this 1977 article, but "one thing you cannot do in a block of flats is sit on the doorstep of an evening and gossip with the neighbours."
by Peter Barnsley
First published in The Circular October 1977
What I used to consider the old centre of Cradley has by now been obliterated. The streets below High Town -
From High Town, Cradley High Street wound steeply down towards the Stour in a long, lazy 'S' bend. Clinging to the slope to the east of High Street (and connected with it) were the cramped and insanitary buildings of Little Hill, New Street and Victoria Street. They were cheap Victorian working class houses, and they always looked to me as if one good shove would have put them in the river at the bottom of the hill. They outlived their time, and when they were swept away in the early 1970's, their names vanished along with them. Even the High Street (whose buildings incongruously remain on one side like survivors from a blitz) has been humiliatingly transformed into a mere extension of Colley Lane. So the area has lost not only most of its buildings, but most of its identity as well. Only a picturesque memory remains.
The late Mr. Harold Cox knew this area well. "You could stand on High Town at nine or ten o'clock at night," he once told me, "and you could look over the houses, and see the sky all of a lightshine with the sparks from the chainshops at the back".
By the nineteen fifties the chainshops were long gone. For me, High Street and Little Hill were merely the short road to Cradley Heath, particularly when working on the post at Christmas. "Old" Cradley was one of the rounds for postmen from Cradley Heath, and had its disadvantages. The doors in those benighted streets were not equipped with letter boxes; when they were built, it was probably presumed that their inhabitants would be illiterate, and therefore would not be receiving any mail. Delivering mail there in more literate times, you had to resort to hammering on the front doors (most of which looked as if they hadn't been opened since Mafeking Night) or going round and hammering on the back doors (which didn't have letter boxes either but which were at least opened more frequently).
My friend and fellow postman, Dirk Cox, was a firm believer in going around the back. For one thing, it was invariably quicker. Back doors were often ajar, which meant that you could dispense with knocking altogether: you merely leaned in through the doorway and lobbed the mail onto the kitchen table. (On at least one occasion, a washing day, Dirk missed his aim and landed a bundle of Christmas cards in the boiler. He was in even riskier circumstances on another occasion: for some reason he stepped inside the kitchen but soon retreated flinging the mail over his shoulder when a carving knife embedded itself in the door beside him. It may have been a friendly warning not to drop any more post in the boiler. He didn't wait to see.
Little Hill's electoral roll for 1890 read as follows: Edward Bayliss, Abel Bloomer, William Boxley, Charles Bridgwater, James Buffery, William Buffery, George Cookson, Albert Dillard, Joseph Dillard, Felix Dunn, Levi Dunn, Josiah Edmunds, Thomas Edmonds, William Edwards, Harry Forrest, Joseph Forrest, William Hadlington, John Harbach, David Harris, Edward Harris, Joseph Harris, Joseph Harrison, Iram Hill, Neri Homer, John Jeff, William Morgan and Frederick Reece. Most if not all of those names could be found in or near Cradley today. (I am indebted to Mr. V.H. Pitt for the names).
Nothing like that ever happened to me in that area. My experiences were less dangerous. I was once walking by the junction of New Street and High Street, when I was astonished to hear the sound of tambourines and rhythmic handclapping coming from a building on the corner. It was like hearing a jam session in a crypt. Not that Old Cradley was a s dead as that but -
Intrigued, I went inside. It was one of those gospel halls, sparsely furnished with rows of benches, that are a feature of the outer fringes of non-
It was all intense and deeply felt. A small congregation in a tiny room enjoyed what was for them undoubtedly an uplifting experience. At the end, the preacher stood by the door to bid us each 'Good night' as we filed out. The top of his head was about level with my breast-
THE BLUE BALL
There was no shortage of that other, more popular, meeting place -
The Blue Ball stood closely opposite to the Baptist Chapel, as if seeking respectability from its walls, and despite its poverty (it was the smallest and most spartan of all the neighbourhood pubs) it had an atmosphere of its own that was not entirely squalid. In the 'Blue Ball's' front room, with its black-
Nor were the people who took advantage of the elastic time-
One of the 'Blue Ball' regulars was old Steve, who used to sit by the fire reading his paper and taking snuff. Occasionally, he would emerge from the bar and survey the pillars of the Church who usually took their beer at a little table in the red-
One thing you cannot do in a block of flats is sit on the doorstep of an evening and gossip with the neighbours.
Times and places have to change. And I never had to live in any of the cold and tatty buildings that now seem to have been so full of character.
But I can't believe that in the barrack-
I bet the inhabitants of what is now called Huntingdon Gardens (Gardens! They haven't even got window boxes) can't get an after-
And I am absolutely sure that they never hear the sound of tambourines wafting up the lift shaft.
This essay is © Copyright Peter Barnsley,
who has generously granted permission to
Cradley Links to reproduce it on this web site.