Ian Bowler writes...

These memories are not particularly special and probably they make life seem sunnier than it really was, but hopefully they may inspire others to recall their childhood and tell their story; everyone has one, and taken together will give a good insight of life in Fazeley and Mile Oak.

How lucky we were

In the 1950s it was normal for children to play in the streets and in the countryside around. How lucky were those of us who had the pleasure of woods, brooks, the canal and even Drayton Manor Park in which to play. At Mile Oak we had the woods off Price Avenue that at various times became speedway tracks, Indian encampments, Sherwood Forest and football pitch. Of course this disappeared with the arrival of our adolescence and the Rovers’ football ground and Community Centre.

Children would often spend the whole day playing in the woods going home only for meals and frequently getting into trouble for being late especially in the summer months. Making dens from the birch scrub that flourished was an occupation and craft for children at the time. Elaborate structures of woven branches dried grass and ferns were guarded with bows and arrows, swords and spears all made from the things found round and about. The highlight was the campfire and the always undercooked potatoes that were baked in the embers. Invariably I got into hot water at home as clothes and hair all smelled of smoke. The theme of the play changed with whatever was TV favourite at the time, Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid, etc. Cap guns were often in use; caps were a penny a roll from Ted Detheridge’s shop and came in little round paper boxes. The Walt Disney film of Davey Crocket added a new twist to the cowboy clothes we fashioned from whatever was available; those of a certain age will never forget the hats with tails. A lucky few would have shop bought cowboy suits with hats, chaps and waistcoats.

We carried knives...but I don't recall anyone ever being attacked or injured

In these days when carrying knives is illegal; the weaponry the ten year old carried in the fifties seems unbelievable. Catapults, carving knives and axes for cutting down trees seemed commonplace. We all wanted a bow made of yew for that was what Robin Hood used but had to be contented with whichever reasonably straight pieces of wood we could find. Usually it was the ubiquitous birch as were the arrows. To get more than one or two good arrows was unusual while the quivers in which to carry them were often fashioned from tubular Vim containers with the top removed. Flights were made from bird feathers or thin card and we used to marvel at the distance and accuracy that this small addition gave. My friends and I usually used the longest clear space which was just inside the gates to the wood to hone our skills. Virtually every lad carried a knife of some sort and the more fortunate had leather or bone handled sheath knives. There were probably accidents but I don’t recall anyone ever being attacked or hurt deliberately.

The woods

The woods were divided into three parts separated by iron spiked fencing, the “foggy” and “seggy” woods (first and second) and Kinson’s. In reality the first two were just birch scrub with a few mature oak trees, elder and larger birches. The place we enjoyed was Kinson’s Wood and although private, the broken fencing gave us access to denser woodland and ferns that grew over head height – great!

Mazes of paths crossed the woods and at the far end an oval track that we used to race bikes around. Nails were hammered into heels of our playing out shoes so they would kick up dust or sparks as we leaned over to go round corners emulating the speedway riders of the day.

The taller trees on the far side of the wood were used for climbing and older boys used to tie ropes to the branches that were then carried up an adjacent tree from whence we would leap into space to swing through the air. One tree I recall even had set places where branches had been cut off to form min-platforms from which to jump. The braver you were the higher you climbed, the further you dropped and the greater the thrill.

The woods were not without more mundane use as each spring would see men with secateurs or bill hooks cutting pea sticks or bean poles for their garden crops. One year my father brought home a birch sapling to plant in the back garden. It lasted from 1955, or thereabouts, until quite recently and had grown to a good height. I noticed that it had disappeared when I was last in Affleck Avenue in 2011.

Street Games

Street games were many, varied and seasonal. Football, cricket and tennis were all played in the street. In Affleck Avenue the road widened near to where I lived and that tended to be the main play area much to the annoyance of the residents I imagine. However French cricket, hopscotch, marbles, cannon, rounders and L.O.N.D.O.N. spells London all had their times. Bowling hoops seem very simple but we had a lot of fun with them. Essentially most of us had old bicycle wheels with the spokes cut away and we would drive them along with either a stick or the flat of the hand. Various challenges were devised to increase the play value and hoops were often painted to make them look less like old bike wheels.

Cannon was a game I can just remember and have never come across again. It consisted of four sticks arranged in an extended H shape, the cross piece resting on the two uprights with the third leg resting on the cross piece, the whole leaning at an angle against the kerb. I remember someone had to throw a ball, usually a tennis ball, at the sticks to demolish them from across the road. I think the object was to reconstruct the shape before the opposition got the ball. If anyone can remember I will be grateful for a reminder. 

Queenie” was another game I have not come across since my youth. The gaggle of children would all face the same way with the person who was “on” holding a small ball, again usually a tennis ball. They would throw it over their shoulder and whoever caught it would hide it behind their back. This meant that everyone else had to put their hands behind their backs too. A rhyme would be chanted something like “Queenio, Queenio whos got the ballio” and he or she would have to guess. 

In the autumn conkers was always played and many secret recipes for making them harder were tried out but never has it seemed with much improvement in performance.

Local cars, motor bikes and lorries

There were only two or three cars in the Avenue so they seldom spoiled street games; a big grey Humber a black Austen Atlantic and possibly one other are all I recall. Several men and older teenagers had motor bikes. My friend’s dad had a Triumph Tiger Cub and our neighbours had a Matchless and an AJS. There were delivery vehicles, coal lorries, the dustbin wagon, the green Dennis truck that came to the Lichfield Council depot in the street and the Co-op horse and bread van. 

Mr. Hill who ran the fish and chip shop next to Rowbotham’s shop and post office near the “Hotel” I think used to deliver fish on a Friday in a yellow van, on Thursday the weekly groceries were delivered by the Co-op and of course there was Frank Brierly’s greengrocery van and the various butchers who used to deliver.

The two local Bobbies P.C. Clayton and P.C. FInch occasionally patrolled on bikes and would send us running, as playing football in the street was frowned upon. Both were really nice chaps but I only found this out as I grew up.

Collecting numbers

By the end of the 50s most boys were into collecting numbers of some sort. My pleasure was trains and a couple of us used to catch the bus to Tamworth and walk to the Station Fields, later to become a caravan park, where we would spend most of the day. Another craze was collecting BRS numbers. Each British Road Service lorry had a unique number painted on their cab side and again many a happy hour was spent at the cross roads by the Mile Oak Hotel jotting numbers down as the red and occasional blue refrigerated lorries went past. Others collected bus numbers from the Midland Red, X99, 110, 800 and 801 services that ran past hereabouts.

Some toys

The real transport was mirrored in the toys we played with. Collections of Dinky toys some treasured and some scuffed, followed roads in flower beds and lawns. My love of trains started early and was satisfied one Christmas with a Hornby gauge O clockwork rain and oval of track. Some of my friends had electric trains and I coveted these but in 1958 I managed to save enough to buy a Triang Princess Elizabeth train set from Thorneycroft’s in Tamworth.

Fishing

The brook accessed by the path from Manor Road was a magnet for fishing trips but less successful than the slope down from the bridge which was a good place to start our trolleys (soapbox cars) as the path seemed to drop steeply down between the garages. I see it is blocked off now. However I remember clearly the first fish I caught using an eight foot cane with line tied to it. We called it Perk’s Brook I don’t know if that was its proper title, it was where the overflow from the American Pool in the Manor passed under the Swiss Lodge drive past a bungalow. The magic of that first fish is still with me albeit well over fifty years ago. Later on we progressed to fishing the canal at the Rolling Bank past the Slack Walk in Bonehill where the Victory Club had the fishing rights. A season ticket cost 2/6 (12 ½ p) whereas a day ticket at the Manor cost 2/- (10p). With pocket money of 6d (2 ½p) a week neither I nor my friends fished there very often. We used to buy hooks from the post office in Fazeley as they stocked fishing tackle. 

A feature of the shop was the smell of linseed oil that various fishing nets were soaked in to preserve the cotton mesh. As few of us could afford maggots; bread was the principal bait supplemented with worms and cheese.

Soccer and Cricket

When we grew older and allowed to venture further, we used to go across the field from Brookside Road to play soccer and cricket on the expanses of grass in Drayton Manor. Many of the future Mile Oak Rovers stars used to let us play with them, but I jump ahead into the 60’s. 

A popular story of the time was that when Queen Victoria visited the “Manor” she entered by the lodge gates at Mile Oak and it became a right of way* which is why the line of the drive was preserved, if only as a footpath, when the 50s estate in Mile Oak was built. It seems highly unlikely now, but that was the tale that circulated when we were children.

Such was the freedom we enjoyed as children with the real life adventures we created; an age of innocence perhaps denied to children today where concerns about safety and virtual reality have ousted woods, trees and fields as outlets for imagination. Without doubt there was far less money available and far fewer things to buy even if you did have a windfall but this led to improvisation and creativity in using the commonplace and looking back we had a smashing time.


* editor's comment

The Land Registry shows that the right of way across the field between Drayton Manor Park and Mile Oak is in fact a right of way for the owners of Drayton Manor Park to have access across the field to their land via Mile Oak. It appears not to be a public right of way.