Roger Noons: Black Country Lad
Corngreaves Road was long and convoluted: our end was near to the Four Ways. In addition to dwellings, there were one or two pubs and shops, and factories, either accessed from the road or one of its side streets. My father was a welder who worked at Fellows Brothers. There were a number of chain shops in the area, in particular Woodhouses, with a factory in Cokeland Place.
The Test was situated opposite. Its main structure was a trench with fastenings at each end. Chains were fixed and pulled until either the load bearing was confirmed, or a link would break. A small structure nearby housed the equipment, kept records, and dealt with visitors. In a sense, it was the equivalent of a weighbridge. Locals would be aware of the days during which testing was carried out, but not so visitors who, when they heard the crack, believed the end of the world was nigh.
Most men either walked to work or rode cycles. Motorised transport was in transition. When I was a boy, milk was delivered by horse and cart. Mr White had a dairy near where Corngreaves Road meets Grainger’s Lane. He would visit each day except Sunday and ladle from churn to jug. Eventually he retired when Midland Counties began to deliver bottled milk. They, of course, used electric floats. Our bread was delivered from Collins Bakery by van, and the coal would come on a lorry. There were occasionally itinerant traders on foot, although door-to-door selling was rare in Cradley Heath because of its market.
Being handy for the High Street had advantages. Some of our neighbours worked in shops, in particular Moyle & Adams and Marsh & Baxter, so that was grocer’s and butcher’s covered; useful in the days of rationing to know what was arriving when and where. My father always kept fowl, so we had eggs. In addition, my mother was a trained dressmaker and tailoress, so anyone who could lay their hands on a remnant of material could be supplied with a garment. Bartering was common in those days.
Cradley Heath was a thriving centre. There were two markets, grocers, tailors, butchers, haberdashers, coal merchants, gas and electric showrooms and novelties such as the music shop operated by the Misses Foley, with one of whom I suffered piano lessons. As the fifties came, so did shops dealing electrical goods.
The early part of the decade saw the grand-scale emergence of television. Our house was one to receive a ten-inch Ultra black and white set, but to accommodate it we had to have electricity installed for the first time. The owner refused to pay towards the cost. It was a great addition to Radio Relay which was already cabled into our house when I was born. My father’s mother refused to watch TV. And although she had seen the arrival of steam locomotives and lived for another twenty years, she never saw men walk on the Moon.