Memories of Fazeley, written by Joseph T. Hunter in August 2008 when he was 88 years old.

The Twenties and Thirties.

I was born on April 2nd 1920 which was Good Friday, in one of a row of L-shaped cottages with a warehouse over the top, which went by the unusual name of 'Free Trade Place'. It used to be part of the Peel estate and derived the name from the repeal of the Corn Laws by Sir Robert Peel.

Free Trade Place where Joe Hunter was born.

No hot or cold water, bathroom or indoor toilet, or wall to wall carpet in those days and very few gas stoves,radio and no TV. The cottage I lived in, like quite a few dwellings, had no back door. Bathroom facilities were a zinc bath kept at the top of the garden in a shed that also contained bicycles and garden implements.The bath would be placed in the living room in front of the fire and the water was boiled in a 'dixie' pot on the open fire. Most houses consisted of a living room, kitchen and 2 bedrooms. The children in large families would sleep' sardine fashion'.

The twenties were hard times, servicemen had come back from the Great War to find working conditions were no better than when they left in 1914 and were probably worse. My own father, a regular soldier who served in the trenches in Belgium and France in the Machine gun Corps, was gassed and received a miserly pension of half a crown ( twelve and a half pence ) a week, which was stopped when he attended regular work as a clay getter at Stoneware Ltd. There was much discontent which resulted in a countrywide strike in 1920, but the strike that I remember was the General Strike of 1926 which brought the country to a standstill.

Fazeley had three canals meeting at a junction near my house and dozens of narrow boats daily conveyed coal from Glascote to Birmingham; in negotiating the junction quite a lot of coal would be lost. Coal was an essential commodity for cooking with an open fire and a hob, so we children acquired an old bucket, punctured a few holes in it , attached a bit of rope and dragged it along the bottom of the canal. We managed to collect quite a lot of coal in this way. The local Methodist Church, which I attended all my life, opened the schoolroom as a soup kitchen. They were hard times indeed; a few miners managed to find employment on the Peel Estate demolishing the mansion, for the Peels were broke! The going hourly rate was a shilling (10p) an hour.

The main sources of employment in the 20's and 30's were the collieries, brick and pipe works for the men and clothing and tape and webbing factories for the women. There were numerous coal mines in the area, three tape mills and a bleachworks in Fazeley and two tailoring factories and two for tape in Tamworth. Tamworth also had two paper making mills, both now demolished to make way for housing. There was also a foundry and boat building yard at Glascote. Two Gates had a shoe factory which closed after a fire and the transport company 'Midland Red' used part of it as a garage before moving to Tamworth. In the mid 30's the Reliant Motor Car Company started to produce three wheeler vans there, but the bodies were made in an outbuilding at the Plough Inn in Atherstone St, about a quarter of a mile away and they would be carried manually to the factory by four men.

Tamworth was a great market town of 10,000 people in the 30's, the weekly market was held on Saturdays in the street of the same name. It continued until about 9pm and was lit by paraffin flare lamps the produce that was left near the end would be auctioned off. The town had two cinemas The Palace and The Grand. I can just remember the silent films - Charlie Chaplin was one of the favourites and the films had musical accompaniment. One of our neighbours played the double bass.

My childhood was a happy one. We did not have a lot in the way of toys and we did not vandalise. Most of us were hungry and we did 'scrump' apples, quite a few gardens had apple and pear trees. After the Drayton Manor mansion was demolished we had more freedom to go into the Longwood and the grounds. We would find pheasant's nests and tell the keeper Pat Davison and he would remove the eggs to place in an incubator or under a broody hen. I found more than a nest one Sunday dinner time after coming out of Sunday School , the keeper had been in the habit of covering his gun with leaves before partaking of a pint at the nearby cricket and social club. I covered the gun again but someone else must have discovered it , I was questioned but it was never recovered.

Sir Robert Peel 5th (Bobby), ran a dance band called Sir Robert Peel and the Bing Boys. They toured the music halls. He had a dance hall and pavilion at the Deer park cricket ground. He ran two cricket teams, Saturday and Sunday and hired two professionals from Warwickshire. The Fazeley Association Football Cup would be contested on Good Friday. Teams would compete from as far as Cannock and Nuneaton and each team would be allowed two professionals. There was no wireless, so if a team scored a racing pigeon would be released. The match would be preceded with a schoolboy's game, 30 minutes each way and the crossbar would be lowered. These matches would have attendances of a few thousand, but sadly with the onset of the war in 1939 and the need for coal, the local pits had to work on Good Friday and the gates diminished.

Fazeley had an amusement fair in October which was a grand affair. Stalls selling sweets, food and toys lined the streets. In the fair, the Wall of Death was a great attraction, also Billy Hickman Boxing Booth. Boxing gloves would be thrown into the crowd of coal men and youths to get a volunteer to stay three rounds with their 'pro's' at £1 per round. The crowd would flock to cheer on their locals. I remember the Turpin Bros being with the troupe and later Randolph Turpin became the World Middleweight Champion, but only held the title for a couple of months. For anyone who survived three rounds, it was well earned money. We also had a travelling show called Holloways, which we called' Holloways Blood Tub'. One of their favourite plays was Maria Martin in the Red Barn.

Tamworth had two pleasure fairs, the Cherry Fair in July and the October pleasure fair. A neighbour used to relate to me about the times when they had dancing bears at Fazeley fair and in my mothers day it was a' hiring fair'. Mothers would take their daughters to be hired out in service for one year, in return for their keep, a uniform and a few guineas in pay. They were hired by the 'landed gentry', usually colliery owner's, it was either that or the cotton mills for the Fazeley girls in the 18 and early 19th centuries.

As a schoolboy I was friends with a boy whose father was bailiff to F G Allton who owned Bonehill Corn and Flour Mill and farmland. A gang of us would play around the Bonehill pools and make rafts. We could get into the mill behind the old water wheel (sadly now gone) and dive around in the wheat and maize. Simple pleasures, but now not possible.

There were only six cars in Fazeley when I was a child, we played cricket and football across the Watling street.

The village had two racing and one stud farm and the fox hounds met at nearby Bonehill, but worst of all the South Derbyshire pack hunted the otters around Bonehill pool. On one occasion after a storm, a tree was brought down around one of the pools exposing young otters. The last one I saw in the wild was in 1945. I suppose a lot of people have never seen otters in the wild. They used to play in a pool near the nature trail at Drayton Manor.

The 20's and 30's in a way were pleasurable times.