It wasn’t a particularly nice evening, being cold and wintry, on Wednesday 3rd December as we set off from home to walk the short distance to the Ruskin Centre to attend the Amblecote History Society Christmas Meeting. But the evening promised a lot – mince pies with nibbles, a quiz, a glass of wine, a good social scene and an impromptu talk about history in our neighbourhood.
Given the weather there was some concern that numbers turning up might be low but this proved not to be the case as the Society’s staunch members quickly created a lively atmosphere, especially when Cllr Pat Martin opened the bar!
Given that this was the Christmas meeting no formal speakers had been organised but instead a good selection of historical photographs of Amblecote were displayed on a huge screen, introduced and talked about by Mike Perkins and Helen Cook both from a personal and informed perspective. At this stage the night really took off with the Members joining in enthusiastically with their recollections, knowledge and insight into the way things were (and not too long ago at that). Perhaps this was because many of the photographs were of pubs of yesteryear – there must have been half a dozen on show but now sadly the majority have either physically disappeared from the landscape or are used for another purpose. There was quite an interesting discussion in response to the question “Why is The Fish so called?”. I was amazed to learn the most likely answer is that where the building still remains to this day the High St was traversed by the river and vehicular traffic (albeit horse and cars in those days) would have needed to have crossed a ford to continue their journey. Apparently with canals and rivers abounding in the vicinity there was a tendency to introduce a fish pond fed by those water sources and so that is why it is believed the public house was subsequently named.
From my personal perspective I found that the very first photograph shown captured my imagination and sent my memory banks into a frenzy of recollection of my school days at King Edward VI Grammar School (1966-1973)– the photograph displayed was an aerial shot of Amblecote in June 1938 which covered the gas works site, the adjacent school playing fields and Holy Trinity Church.
A number of historical aerial shots from different angles can be freely accessed online from http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/ - you just need to search for Amblecote or any other location you may be interested in serviced by the website.
As a youngster I spent many a happy time enjoying sporting activities – cross country, athletics and a bit of rugby (being on the small side not my favourite or best sport). The aerial shot clearly showed me where the ‘sand pits’ for the hop, step & jump and long jump were positioned as well as the discus throwing cage. The changing room pavilion also holds memories – rather cold showers I recall but great banter within the teams as we hurriedly changed to get outside and warm up. Cross country was one of my favourites and of course in 1966-1973 there were plenty of routes which quickly found you in ‘the country’ – the days before Withymoor housing was built provided many opportunities to run through grey clay quagmires which didn’t serve to keep the Dunlop Green flash pumps clean at all ! My how the landscape has changed to what it is today. Like most schools who organised sporting activities there was always a “Sports Day” at which each school House (I was placed in Swinford as a sibling to my elder brother Terry) competed against each other within age groups. I did OK, winning certificates (and points for the House) in the long jump and hop, skip & jump (now the Triple jump) and also competed in the 400 yards relay around the running track in the centre of the playing fields. It was quite exciting, fiercely competitive and the adrenalin flowed as you ran around the track cheered on by the other pupils from the grassy bank which dropped down from a length of Church Avenue. At the end of the day the individual who had scored most points for his House (boys only then!) was declared the Victor Ludorum – I didn’t earn that distinction but did my bit and still run the streets of Amblecote now. There were so many memories and stories I could tell prompted by that photograph and the pleasing irony is that I now live in Hammond Way on what is known as Cricketer’s Green but was formerly the school playing fields. I reckon my house is built very close to where a set of rugby posts were positioned close to the cast iron perimeter fence to the gasworks (some still standing!), my neighbour has the pleasure of owning the long jumping sand pit ! I still find the odd piece of coke as a legacy of the gasworks site now when maintaining the garden so Mike didn’t manage to collect every piece in his saddlebag as he cycled home.
It is interesting I find that when a photograph is put in front of you it does prod the memory banks and a few other photographs personally did this for me though my recollection is vague but gaining clarity the more I think about it – the railway sidings where Mill Race Lane is now established for instance with steam locomotives in operation. I must have walked past these on scores of occasions but as an 11 year old I guess you accept it as normal and only view it as history when you re-visit the site 50 years later, hence it is massively changed and a distant memory brought to life at the meeting.
As an occasional visitor to the monthly meetings I’d like to thank the Amblecote History Society for a lovely night and for stimulating my memory of happy schooldays. Sue and I will be taking full membership for 2015 and look forward to further pleasant and informative historical sessions with you at The Ruskin Centre.
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