I was born on the borders of Dudley and Tipton at Burnt Tree - I think the address was actually in Dudley. I went to school in Tividale. I am very much a Black Country boy. I lived in the Black Country for the first 30 years of my life, and I was running a business in the Black Country until I was well into my 60s. So yes, I have an intimate connection.
The most valuable photographs in my collection are to me the old ones that have passed down from my family. They are little snapshots, a window into a world that's gone. I remember the ones I've taken myself but these ones before I was born just take me into a different era.
This is my paternal grandfather. Looking at him there, I would think that it was taken probably in something like the '50s, when he was into his 80s. He lived to a pretty ripe old age. My grandmother had died by then. So he lived in Tipton with my uncle and aunt. So he was born in the 1870s.
I know he didn't serve in the First World War, but then both my grandfather and father did not fight in either World War because they were working at Palethorpes busy making food for the army.
Looking at this photo reminds me of this kindly old man who I only knew as a child. They lived in Castle Road, Tipton. And I remember it because the man who lived next door had a railway in his garden that if I was very lucky, he let me ride on it up and down the garden.
In the first half of the 20th century, Palethorpes were a very paternalistic employer. They provided a lot of facilities for their staff, well ahead of their time. They had a very nice canteen across the road from the factory. And just down the road, the other side of the railway. They had a very elaborate sports ground. Young men like my father, they’d work there all week, and then spend their weekends there playing cricket and tennis and whatever. Palethorpes also had a holiday home in Rhosneigr on Anglesey. Some of the staff - and certainly my parents - went up there a lot.
This picture is of my parents with some friends riding horses on the beach at Rhosneigr. Well, it’s lovely to see my parents enjoying themselves. It’s nice to see your parents as quite young, active people, instead of the parents that you, if you like, you tussle with when you’re a teenager. To see them, to see what they were like before you appeared. My father was actually christened as Albert Reginald, but he hated the name Albert, so he was always known as Reg. And my mother’s name was Mary. My father is on the horse on the left in this photo with my mother standing in front of him. I think it was taken sometime in the 1930s.
This is my mother and father dressed up for a walk along the pier at Llandudno in the 1930s. I chose this one because my father just looks so happy. He's got my mother close by, and they're enjoying the sea air. My father knew how to enjoy himself, and he looks as though he's doing just that.
My father was very extrovert. Very hard working. Quite impatient. Not everybody's favourite person. I loved and hated him at the same time, which is often what happens. Quite a complex personality, actually. But he and my mother were deeply in love. They were very different people. My mother was very reserved. These days, she would have probably gone to sixth form college or whatever and gone to university. Very bright, but she never had the opportunity to develop that intelligence and use it. My father would have preferred to have been the one earning money, but my mother could very definitely have been university standard.
(photo above - left)
I'm fascinated by the look of the back of the house and this wall. A very crumbly Black Country brick wall.
Well, in order of age, there's what I take to be my great-grandmother on my mother's side.. My grandfather. Then my mother and her younger brother. I'm guessing, but by the look of her, I would think she was probably 12, 14, something like that. I would think it was immediately pre-World War I. So that's my guess, it's 1913, 1914, something like that.
I love the photo. I think it sums up life back then. These were a reasonably skilled working class family, and look at where they lived. And the whole clan had the family name of Stockton. And they all lived in the Burnt Tree -Coneygre area. And the greater part of the family, that is my grandfather's siblings, all went to America. They emigrated to Pennsylvania in dribs and drabs - I think there was one other brother who stayed. Out of the whole tribe of about a dozen, there were only two brothers that stayed in Britain. The rest left.
As soon as he had a decent job my father had several motorbikes. I believe he made several valiant attempts to kill himself but didn't succeed. And of course his dad was working at Palethorpes, and I believe was in charge of the transport. So very unusually for that day, they had a car. There can't have been many working-class families in Tipton had the use of a car. I have no doubt it was owned by Palethorpes.
My father had risen through the ranks at Palethorpes. He'd worked very hard, and as I say, it was a very paternalistic firm that looked after its employees. It didn't treat them badly. They were very encouraging of all the people who worked for them. By the '30s, my father had his own works car and was in charge of advertising, basically. Advertising in those days consisted of putting up large posters and he went all over the country staying in hotels.
He had to travel all over the country, and he hired or rented or bought sites to put posters on with a big picture of Palethorpes sausage. So that's what my father was doing.
When World War II started, that was all ended. No advertising. The car was taken away. It was requisitioned. And he ended up in charge of the canned goods department, which was making transportable preserved food for the services. He would have been just young enough to have been called up, but because that was a reserved occupation, he wasn't ever called up. Because he would have been at the start of the war in '39. He would have been 37, yes, I think they took men up to 40, eventually.
This is one of me and my mother sitting on the running board of the car. I'm not saying I could remember that, but I have a very vague memory of the car being taken away at the beginning of the war. So it must have been a fairly traumatic experience for the family.
Well, like everybody else who lived through World War II as a child, life was a bit strange, and very limited. The impression I gained as a child was that we lived in strange times, and there used to be a golden era before these times when you could have things- children could have toys, your parents could have holidays and buy things, and now there wasn't anything. So I don't think I had ever been further than say about Himley Hall by the end of the war, by which time I was eight. It was a very, very limited life. So I counted myself fortunate that at the back of the house on the Birmingham New Road was a lot of wasteland, and I could just run around there with my friends. And at least we had some space to roam. But in terms of what you could do and where you could go, terribly, terribly limited.
And of course, when the bombing started, one at night as a child I was plucked out of bed and taken down the shelter. My father had built, an underground shelter at the top of the garden. To this day, if I smell paraffin burners, paraffin lamps, I'm back down there. Because we kept it warm with a paraffin heater. And I was put to bed there, only like a bunk, and I'd lie there, dropping off to sleep, listening to the adults telling jokes and whatever, probably supping a little something strong to maintain them.
When the war ended my father continued with Palethorpes for a while but was uncomfortable with the management of the company. So he left and worked for a northern firm selling ingredients for meat products to butchers and manufactures. He very hard, driving all over the North and the Midlands in the rather unreliable car which he could afford. He then took a risk of starting his own business and eventually did very well. He could afford a very nice car and we were able to enjoy family holidays.
In the photo above with the car, you can see my aunt who was the widow of the other brother who stayed in Britain. She was the widow of my maternal grandfather's brother. She was quite a talented amateur painter. We've got a couple of still lifes she painted. We grumble a lot about the life we have now, but people have so much more opportunity to fulfil themselves now than they did in those days. It was a very, very restrictive society, looking back at it.
When you were travelling about there was nowhere to stop you know. There were very few roadside cafes. You wouldn't go into a pub for refreshments. Most pubs served beer, full-stop. The opportunities to spend your money were extremely limited. My father, because of all his years travelling, had developed good antennae for knowing where you could stop and refresh yourself. They're few and far between. Sometimes if you went to some county towns there'd be a nice hotel where you could stop for lunch. And the ladies could go to the loo and so on. But by and large, there was very, very little.
Society was much more constrained in many ways than it is now. People don't realize how lucky they are.
This is me with my first car - an ex-War Department Austin 8 which I ran for several years. I think it's taken in Norfolk somewhere.
I would say I was at university by then. My family wanted me to do well, they were very aspirational. I mean, they weren't quite sure how to achieve it, but more or less by accident, they guided me into the right paths. We were very fortunate to have a teacher at my primary school, a Miss Lewis, who was one of that generation of women who lost their men in World War I and were nurses and teachers and so on. And she made a point of picking out people, or children in the upper classes of primary school, and putting them into entrance exams for secondary schools.
I got through to King Edwards in Birmingham, which was a direct grant school. So it was a public day school, but it was financed through public money.
The photo on the left was taken on a university geological tour, or geological course, in the Lake District. Actually, that might be me, but I had thick dark hair in those days. They were great fun. And very few girls, unfortunately, in those days at university. There were, a very few. They were a tiny minority.
I actually thoroughly enjoyed my time at university. I made a lot of friends. And especially ... It was nice for somebody who'd been brought up in this very restricted way as a young child during the war to meet people of the same age from all over the country. Very interesting indeed. Put a much deeper perspective on your view of people.
My father had always been interested in the countryside. I mean, he'd always done a bit of fishing. And post World War II, when he got a bit more money, he'd left Palethorpes, he was running his own business and he started going shooting. So he got into this little syndicate based on Bridge North, and I used to go out with him. I mean, that looks very early season. This photo must be September, from the clothing.
My father is on the far left. He used to wear this belt so that he could pop his cartridges in. You can still get them. And it's a convenient place to have them, you see, especially if it's bad weather. You can put your coat on over it and keep them dry. In those days, the cartridges had paper cases. They're plastic now. So then it was important to keep them dry.
I'm the skinny young one, without a gun. It could be that that was before I had one. I might have just gone out to walk around with them.
My father died about 1970. He was only 68. But then I have heart problems, but these days they keep giving you pills, and it keeps you alive. In those days they didn't have all these medications. I'm sure that had he lived now, he'd be still alive. He'd have lived to a much greater age. Because I don't think there was that much wrong with him, but he suddenly had a heart attack and that was it.
My mother lived until she was 84, so that must have been '86 when she died. And until the last year or two of her life, she could walk two or three miles, you know, she was a very fit lady.
It's extremely satisfying to look back over these photos. I realize how fortunate I was to be born into this family. Perhaps my father's family were a bit more affluent than my mother's, But they both were in jobs where they could see possibilities, that there was a lot more to life than just going and working in a factory, which is the norm from the backgrounds they came from.
I feel fortunate because what I didn't know in any of these pictures of myself was that I actually had tuberculosis, which the doctors thought I might have picked up during the war from drinking unpasteurized milk. Of course, apparently, that wasn't uncommon. Not all milk was being pasteurized. So I had to have a kidney removed when I was about 30, and I'd only just got married.
But I survived that. And I'm living in an era where modern science keeps me going as long as I take the pills. And I count myself fortunate. I was more or less by accident, fell into running my father's business, and that served me well. It was very hard work and very stressful at times. But I survived that. And now I've got a lovely wife and I live quite comfortably, and we've got younger relatives on my wife's side. So we're not entirely cut off from the younger generation.
I have very few regrets.