Jean Sweetland

Jean Sweetland shares a few of her treasured photographs with us while talking about her life.

My name is Jean Sweetland, I used to be known as Jean Sheldon, which is my family name. I was born in 1938 at the start of the war. I’ve lived in this area Rood End all my life, and now live in the same street as I was born! I grew up here with my mum, dad, my two brothers and my sister. My dad died when I was 11, so my mum was left with four children, it must have been very, very hard for her to have kept us going. I don’t remember ever going without things, we had a good time.

This is a very, very old photograph of my grandparents and my mum, my auntie and uncle. It’s at Olive Mount, which is Rounds Green, and the gentleman on the left, behind the wall is my mum’s father, my grandfather. The house is apparently still there. My mum is sitting on the wall and leaning up against the back is Uncle Will, who became a minister, a pastor in Plymouth and Wales and I remember him very well.

I remember my grandma quite well because she used to come up and help mum with me, my sister and younger brother, taking us out of the way while she got on with her work. We used to go down to Tat Bank to watch the big trains coming by and down to the park as well.

This is a wedding photograph of my parents. I don’t know where they got married. They both came from Rounds Green and I think they met by going to Congregational church. Mum was a very smart lady, dressed like she is now. She was a lovely lady, she was a quiet lady, she cared for you. She was always there, we learned a lot off her, you know. Of a Sunday we used to help her doing the Sunday dinner, learning how to do things. If you wanted to know anything or be anything, she was there for you.

‘And she used to read us stories, ‘cos of a Sunday for us children was chapel in the morning, Sunday school, chapel in the afternoon, night time as well, and then walk round the park, come back and mince pies. She was always baking mince pies and things like that, jam tarts – and then a story and bed.

My dad was very, very gentlemanly, but he was a very dominant man really. He was a feller that, it wasn’t like you could ask him questions, you had to sit still and behave. He wasn’t cruel or anything, but he just didn’t involve himself with us like me mum did. I remember him being there when the planes were going over to bomb Birmingham and Coventry. He was always in the garden and wouldn’t come in the shelter. He was brave. ‘I’m not getting in there’ sort of thing, playing the big man I suppose. The night they shot one down and it crashed up just on the edge of Smethwick, and he shot in the air raid shelter like a bullet out of a gun!

This is me in my ice skate boots. I used to go skating in Birmingham. It was first thing on a Saturday and we had the ice to ourself, and we had a certain length of time before they cleared the ice for whatever they did after. It was one of those things that dad did say you do, that I did enjoy. Not like when he wanted my elder brother to play the violin, which he had lessons, and me to play the piano. And then my dad wanted to play the violin, so if you saw the three of us together, you might know what sort of row it was.

We didn’t have many holidays, but I remember one in Looe, Cornwall. This photo on the left is of my sister and myself in the sea with our knitted bathers on, having a lovely old time. I remember getting the train to Looe, I would have been about 8 or 9. It would have been a steam train from West Bromwich right the way down to Looe. We slept on the train on the way down overnight on a most uncomfortable seat, itchy horsehair. It was a great holiday and about the only time I went away.

This photo on the right is another one from our holiday in Looe. We’d just come back from a boat trip and dad asked someone passing to take our photo. We all looked as if we’d had a good time, but it was when dad would do what he wanted to do, and we all had to more or less do it. He’d got a fisherman to take us out to an island – he told us. We started off and it got a little bit choppy. We spied dad had got a fishing reel in his pocket, so I think that was what he really wanted to do. Anyway we all started looking a bit green and my little brother was really going to throw up, so the fisherman says I think we’d better go back. So dad’s face went like thunder. It was one of those days that didn’t work out for dad. But he said ‘now smile, you’ve had a good day today’ when this photo was taken.

This is me, with the camera round my neck, in Wales with a group of girls from St.John’s church. It was a week away for the children, and we used to help out, doing things like the washing up and making sure the kids went to bed. It was good, enjoyable. We learnt to dance and it was really good to grow up.

One time we went to Barmouth, John too, it was before we were married, but we were together. We used to go off with Anne and Graham, and have a walk over the hills to fetch supplies. Once the weather came down and we got soaked. Graham wasn’t really dressed for the weather, so he tried to get behind a stone wall, but he was really cold and we had to go and knock on the farmhouse door and they fetched us in and gave us a drink. We waited for the storm to go and walked back down.

This is me and my younger sister, Barbara, on holiday, in Tintagel, I think. I must have been married by then, and my husband John, my little brother, sister and my mum used to go out to have a holiday.

So we walked up the hill to Tintagel and there’s this photographer there with a parrot and a monkey. I said to my sister when we’re coming back down, don’t you dare have that parrot or monkey on your arm, or we’ll have to pay for the photograph. Anyway, when we were coming back down, what did she do? ‘Oh look at the monkey!’ and the next thing we knew I’d got the parrot and she’d got the monkey! So it cost us to have this photograph took. But we had some fun.

This photo on the left is me with my two bridesmaids, Anne, John’s sister and my sister, Barbara. The bride’s mum should know what sort of dresses the bridesmaids had, the colour and everything, but of course we told his sister, Anne, ‘don’t you dare tell your mum’. His mum was a bit grumpy about it because we had done it all secret, so she didn’t find out until the day of the wedding. She was all right most of the time, but she was one of those where she ruled the roost, like my dad.’

We went on honeymoon, but it was fishing. He sent me down to the railway station to get the maggots as they come in on the train for the local angling shops. I was standing there thinking ‘What am I doing this for? Is this what it’s going to be like?’ Yes, we’ve done everything really. A good life.

This photograph on the right is of my husband John and myself outside Oldbury Church when we got married in 1964. I was 25. John was the Scoutmaster and I was a Cub Leader, so these are some of the young people from the Scout camp and Cub pack. No doubt a lot of those would now be in their 50s, if they’re still around. It was a good group. I went on to be a Brownie leader for 25 years.

We were round his when he proposed. My mum was there, my brother and sister and John’s mum and dad. We were in the kitchen, John and myself, and he just said, here you are, and gave me the ring. So it wasn’t a very romantic moment. That’s how he was, bless him. But we had some good times. We did everything, it was great.

This is a photo of my husband, John, giving away our daughter, Lynne at her wedding in 2014. It was in a hotel in Cornwall that overlooked the beach, beautiful. It was really, really good.

It was a happy time because two years previous to them getting married, John had been diagnosed with cancer and they gave him two years to live. He was worried that he wouldn’t make the wedding, but he did. We went to Bude, he gave her away and we had a lovely weekend. And then after when he came back, it was about six months and he passed away. He was a very quiet person, like his dad, he wouldn’t talk about how he felt, he just accepted it and he had determination – he’d do it, but he wouldn’t talk about it. And that’s how he was.


Many thanks to our volunteers Pat Rodwell who recorded and edited this story with Jean, and to Deborah Woods who transcribed the recording.

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