Gladys Willets

My name is Janine Willetts I was born at Rosemary Edmund maternity home, which was the back of Burton Road hospital. I grew up in Oakham, the top end by Tividale.

I want to talk about my auntie who was Gladys Willetts, the sister of my father, Leslie Willetts. I inherited these photos when Auntie Gladys passed away. As part of the collection. I then discovered some other beautiful photographs and I just can't bear to throw them away. I want to take them to the archives so everybody can see how fantastic they are.

Gladys Willets

Auntie Gladys was like anybody else. I think we've all got aunties and uncles that we don't appreciate until perhaps they've gone. Auntie Gladys was one of the older girls in the family and single so when my grandmother passed away, she took on the role of cooking, cleaning, still going to work, with the others keeping a full-time job down, keeping the family together, and making sure that when they sat down they had a cooked meal.

She worked all her life until she retired when she was 60. She never married, much like myself, but she travelled. She did things. It was just amazing at the time because it was air travel which to us mortals was something we'd never do or maybe in the distant future. She travelled on a boat. She went abroad, where the only people who'd been abroad in our family was during the war and that was because they were in the armed forces. It was just so adventurous. She was always glamorous. That was the one thing. She was always glamorous. My granddad used to say he had the prettiest daughter’s in Cradley Heath.

Auntie Gladys was funny. She liked a glass of whiskey, as did all my aunties. She was always there. She was there for all her brothers especially Uncle Joe and her sisters. She was there for their children. I think she looked at nieces and nephews as the children she never had. I remember Christmases at my granddads where the carpet would be rolled back because there was no fitted carpet. Music would be playing. Aunties Violet and Gladys, let’s just say they had a little warmth inside them, well they liked to do Charleston and dance.

There’s a few other photos in my collection that I want to talk about. This is my granddad and my gran, Gladys’s parents. That's James Albert Willetts, who was known as Albert, and Laura Cox was her maiden name. They actually met in Granger's Lane. They lived two doors away from one another. That's where they spent the first part of their married life where they had I think it was seven of their eight children, well seven of their nine children I should say because one died in infancy. They would sell groceries from their house, which were the old terrace houses, and my grandmother, Laura Willetts, is actually in the trade directory as selling goods from her property at 10 Granger's Lane.

In this photo, you can see Grandad as got his cigarette in his hand. Gran has got the pendant around her neck and clothes down to her feet. This is like Edwardian clothing. I've also got a ring of my grandmother's and it's the suffragettes. It's purple, green, and pearl. I mean my granddad, I don't think he would have objected to her being a suffragette, but I think it was her way of showing her support.

This is Auntie Gladys looking very dapper in her glamorous outfits, trousers if you've noticed, which a lot of ladies didn't wear trousers back then. I would say she's about 17, 18, and it was taken at Haden Hill Park at the back of Cradley Heath.
Aunt Gladys’s sister Lavinia (Vinnie) far right top row and sister in law Phyllis Willetts (my mom) centre front row with work friends I think at the Revo factory in Tipton late 1950s

In this first photo above she would have been work for a few years by this time, but Gladys still house-mother. This was Haden Hill Park which was their recreational area Gladys used to go out with friends. One lady had actually got a record player, a wind up one, and they used to have it out on the backyard and they would play the records and they would dance. The family loved dancing. About this time she's just going out into the world, earning her own keep, buying her own beautiful clothes as you can see, being very fashionable for her time, where some seemed to have clothes that were tied up with string and patches like the boys. The ladies, on the other hand, were all gorgeous.

The second one of the working women was taken at the Revo I think, that was a factory in Tipton. It was walking distance from my mom and my Auntie Vinnie. I was born when mom was working at the Revo, so this would be '59, '60, and these are the friends that she worked with.

The Revo I believe they made cookers because when mom and dad moved into the council property in Wheatsheaf road up at Tividale it was fitted with one of the old gas boilers. It was a galvanised gas boiler. You've got the gas ring underneath that you lit to boil the water. It came with a cooker, the stove, and it was a Revo stove.

Aunt Gladys (left) at Billingham's, Cradley Heath.
Work's outing - Gladys is on the right.

So the first photo above, this is her with one of her friends from working days. Again, it'd be in Cradley Heath because she worked most of her life at Billingham’s. I know she used to work on a machinist, so I think it was some metalwork.

I imagine the work is quite boring but what I like about is photo is that they still smile. And look how Aunt Gladys (far left) is standing. It's one leg in front of the other and to one side. It's almost like she is a model. Yeah so she's very conscious of who she is and she knows she's gorgeous. I would say about 21. Again, it looks like she's wearing high heels to a factory. I can't wear high heels to the office. I'd be
falling over.

The one thing I liked about Auntie Gladys was the fact that she travelled. Everywhere she went, she'd bring something back of her travels. If there was a day trip though and she was on it, this second one above is from a work's outing. Auntie Gladys again in the darker outfit and again see how she's got legs crossed.

I haven't got a clue where it is but it would be a trip that they either organised at the work or a group of people that they got together and organised a trip. My granddad, uncles and dad used to go on breakfast trips, run by the local pubs. A breakfast trip was from your local pub and it would take you from the pub at about 8:00 in the morning. So you'd get there for about 7:00. Keep in mind the drinking hours were a lot different then. But they'd be having pints.  They'd get on a ‘Sharabang’ as my dad would call it (from Charabanc). It was a Boon (bone) Shaker. They used to get on. They’d go off somewhere in the country where they'd organise a lunch and they'd sit in the country, have lunch, a couple of pints, come back with a crate of beer on the back of the coach and get back before closing time.

Aunt Gladys with work colleagues at Billinghams in the 1960s

Again, this is at Billingham's with work friends. Auntie Gladys is in the middle in the blue. She's a little bit older there, so I would say this is like the mid-60s, maybe late 60s. That would make her in her 40’s

I'm thinking they're all sitting there, they could be doing the tiller girls or something because they've all got their legs crossed. What a lovely pose. You can tell they're proper ladies but they all look like they're kicking their legs up really. Again, they look too happy to work in a factory.

Well, my dad, he used to say that they've all got gorgeous legs in his family. They'd all got gorgeous figures, the women. The men were never really big built but as time gets on, you'd notice that they get a little bit of a paunch. I noticed the one time we were at a funeral and we come up Powke Lane and there's our family standing there. You can tell our family -they’ve all got skinny legs and pot bellies, looking like skinny legs dangling from a barrel!

A works do, probably at Billinghams in Cradley Heath.

The photo above was taken at a work's do. Every work used to have a Christmas do, they'd have summer fates and summer dances. This s is going back to the 60s because you can see the hair styles, fashion and the shape of the glasses. There's Auntie Gladys who is third on the right looking absolutely gorgeous.

I think all the women were from the one machine shop and I think like a lot of work dos, you sat with your group of people, so this would be their little machine shop.

Gladys WIlletts, 1960s

This last one is Auntie Gladys looking absolutely stunning with her outfit and everything with a parrot on her shoulder.  I've got a feeling it’s Petticoat Lane Market (in London) because we used to go down to Petticoat Lane on a Sunday. I went a couple of times when I was younger. I think she's got a cocktail watch on, she’s got the parrot on her shoulder. She's all smiles, hair done beautifully. As I say Auntie Gladys was one of the first to go travelling out of her comfort zone.  She was the one that got on the bus and went on trains. She was the first one in the family to fly, the first one to go abroad. It just tells you that she's the fashion icon, she's full of smiles, a traveller, and a very hard working lady.

I don't think I'd be smiling as much if I had her life. I would if I had her figure, but not her life because I mean it was a hard life. You hadn't got the money you had now. To see how her life was, she smiled, she kept through, supported everybody. She supported neighbours and that and I think that's gone.

Janine WiIletts

I wouldn't like to have lived Aunt Gladys life, but I can see where sometimes we are mirrored in a lot of ways. Neither of us got married. We both like travelling. Family is a big thing.  I still like the community feel. I live in a cul-de-sac in Quarry Bonk (Bank) It’s a nice community feel. We both liked a lot of things. We both liked fashion. But even as she got older, she'd go out and she'd buy the nice stuff. She never had cheap stuff, it was always your 'Marks and Spencer’s stuff. I shop at the market. I loved all my aunts and uncles they all had stories to tell.

Get the latest updates