Frances Barrack lived at 77 Watford Road with her parents (William and Elsie) from the 1920s until she married and moved to Bournville after the war. She spent her working life as nurse at Woodlands Hospital, and now lives in Rednal with her husband Stanley Newton.
Here she recounts her memories of Cotteridge to her nephew Andrew. The text below is the full version of the memories which are summarised on the memories page.
Frances would like to hear from anyone who remembers her at school or the Barrack family at Watford Road (if so, e-mail us and we’ll pass it on) and she has a question for anyone who can help. There are nine houses on Watford Road with names carved into the lintel stones above the front door eg. Shirley, Hockley, Paisley, Bentley and 77 Watford Road which is called Seafield to which Frances comments “Well you couldn’t see any fields from No 77 and you definitely couldn’t see the sea!” But if anyone knows the why these houses were given these names then please write to us.
Mr & Mrs William and Elsie Barrack lived at 77 Watford Road from the early 1920s until 1967.
Elsie’s maiden name was Hickling and she was born in 1887. Her family originated from Smethwick.
William’s side of the family came from Aston. William was always known by his middle name Ernest, and for reasons unknown he had two pet-names for Elsie, calling her both Mabel and Ethel, depending on the occasion.
They began married life in Gooch Street, between the Bristol Road and Hurst Street, before answering an advert asking for tenants to look after an elderly lady living at a house in Cotteridge. They moved to the house and cared for the lady (Mrs Richards) until she died, then becoming the tenants of 77 Watford Road for the next forty years.
Elsie and William had three children. Their first child was also named Elsie and was born in 1924 and twins Frances and Frank born in 1926 –Frank being named after his mother’s favourite brother Frank Ernest Hickling, who was killed in the First World War. Eldest daughter Elsie Barrack left school at 14 years old and worked at Cadbury’s. She moved to Bradford around 1947 as demonstrator for the company. The job was short-lived but Elsie made Bradford her home until she died in 1994. Frances and Frank also left school at 14, Frances following in her sister’s footsteps and working at Cadbury’s while Frank went to work at Charles Taylor’s in Bartholomew Street. When Frances married she moved to Bournville and had a daughter Christine in 1954. Frances spent the rest of her working life as a nurse at Woodlands Hospital. She now lives at Rednal with her husband Stanley Newton, Frank married Hazel Shaw from Quinton in 1953 and set up home in Rednal. They had two sons, Stephen and Andrew and then moved to Bromsgrove. Frank became a respected press brake tool designer and worked at Bronx Engineering in Lye for over thirty years. As grandparents, Elsie (nee Mabel/Ethel) and Ernest (nee William) continued to live at 77 Watford Road until they passed away in 1967 within a few weeks of each other, at the age of 80.
“There were Mr and Mrs Huggins at 75 Watford Road. On the other side of us at 77 was Mr and Mrs Gilbert, but before them was a family called Edkins, they moved to a bungalow at Withall. Mrs Lancaster lived next door to the Huggins. As a little girl I asked Mrs Lancaster where kittens came from, and she told me cats dug kittens up from out of the ground. Then when our cat had kittens under the rhubarb leaves in our garden that was proof to me that cats really did dig up kittens.
The landlord of our house was Mrs. Robinson, who lived at 81. The rent was 10 shillings. Mrs Robinson had a son called Douglas, who was a nudist and used to lie in a hammock stark naked. Mum thought it was horrific and when I used to take the rent round she’d say “don’t go in the garden!” – there was a path along the back gardens that led to the passage way between 81 and 83. One time Mrs. Robinson wanted us out of the house for some reason. I used to go round with the rent and she’d refuse it. Then I would push it under her door and she would push it back. This silly carry-on continued until one of her sons took over as landlord. There were three sons, I don’t know what other houses they owned in Cotteridge but I know they owned property down in Portsmouth. Mum and Dad were still renting the house up until they died.
Mrs Flavell lived at No 83. I remember our mum went round to Mrs Flavell’s to help kill some chickens. Once they’d cut the heads off mum and Mrs Flavell just ran in the house but us children hung over the fence watching these headless chickens run round. Horrible really I don’t think I could do it now. Dad used to kill our chickens by wringing their necks.
Howell’s house was what is now the vets surgery near Woodfall Avenue. It used to have a wall round the front and as children we’d sit on the wall but Mrs Howell used to come out and shout “get off my wall!”
Woodfall Avenue is where the allotments were. There was the church, and these allotments were there. It had all become overgrown and Mum used to go down to the old allotments with a basin, to pick wild blackberries so she could give us a bit of pudding. But this one time Mrs Howell came up to her and said “those are my blackberries!” I think Mum nearly threw the basin all over her. But Mrs Howell condescendingly said, “You can have them this time. But don’t come here again.” Mr Howell had built that modern house and these blackberry bushes were really where from the old allotments but she said, “they are mine.” I remember there was a stream there.
When they built those lovely new houses (Woodfall Avenue) Mum used to go down and look at them, but Dad was never going to move from 77. Frank and I always felt ever so sorry for our Mum, she always hoped we could move to a modern house and Dad would grudgingly go and take a look with her. But you knew Dad was never going to move. Dad wasn’t a man who liked change.
Family life at 77 Watford Road
Mum used to take in lodgers. There was Norman Nelson, Mr Crabtree (we had to call him Mister) who Mum let the downstairs front room to, and another but I’ve forgotten his name. Frank and I shared the front bedroom when we were little children but when we’d grown up a bit I moved in with Elsie in the back bedroom and then Frank had to share the front bedroom with one of the lodgers. You couldn’t imagine it today. Eight of us in the same house, no bathroom, no hot water, an outside loo.
Dad used to keep chickens in the back garden. I would say we had at least eighteen and then a couple of cockerels. It was mostly hens because of the eggs. I remember Mum put some eggs under this hen, but one was a bit on the slow side hatching and all the other chicks had come out, and Mum was frightened the mother would abandon this egg, so she put this egg in her bosom and went around with it all day until it hatched. Then in the dark she pushed it back under the hen so it would accept it.
But Mum didn’t like the cockerels, they were vicious. I remember one time one of the cockerels chased her down the garden and she threw the watering can at it to stop it attacking her.
When the war happened Dad went to talk to some official person and he got grain for the hens, he was registered as supplying eggs.
We had no running hot water; the kitchen had a big square ceramic sink and a single cold tap. The fire in the back room had an oven and hobbs that you put your kettles on. The only hot water we got was from the fire or you put a kettle on the gas stove in the kitchen. It was very bad really, no bathroom just a tin bath in the kitchen, and we had to share the water. And outside loo of course. Mum used to sit out there with the cat on her lap. We used to say she’d die sitting on the toilet – and she did, God bless her. There was never a bathroom at 77, I still was using the tin bath up until I got married. When I moved to Cobbs Field at Bournville, Mum used to ask me if she could come up on the bus and have a bath.
Frank once had a terrible accident on his bike on Bunbury Road. We were out cycling together and he was pedalling along with his head down but I thought he’d see this car parked up ahead but he didn’t. He went straight into the back of it with an awful crash. I can remember him sliding off the car like a rag doll and lying dazed on the road. A lady came out from her house and we got Frank sat in her garden, while she cleaned him up. His face was a terrible mess. When we got home Mum was beside herself when she saw his injuries but the first thing she said was to tell me “Go out in the garden and pull up the parsley!” There’s an old superstition about transplanting parsley is bad luck and that was the first thing we had to do, before attending to Frank. Ridiculous really, but that was Mum.
Mum and Dad used to go out on a Saturday night, always to the pictures. The Savoy, in Cotteridge. The King’s Norton on King’s Norton Green. The Empire and Pavilion down Stirchley. That was their night out. And if they went to Cotteridge they went in the Grant Arms after the pictures. Dad had perhaps half a pint but that was it. They weren’t drinkers.
Friends I can remember? Well there was Connie Booth who lived in Holly Road. Her father was an engine driver on the railway. You thought he was God, I mean… a driver on the steam train! Nice man he was. Millie Tye was another friend, she lived in Heathcote Road.
We always laughed about the story about the Kleeneze man. There were a lot of door-to-door salesmen compared to today. Anyway this Kleeneze man came to the door, and Mum answered and he was stood there in the pouring rain and was so bedraggled and frozen to the bone. Mum didn’t want his wares but she felt so sorry for him she said “Oh come on in you poor devil.” He was absolutely saturated and asked if he could lie down on the hearth in front of the fire. Before Mum could even give him a cup of tea he was asleep on the rag rug, so Mum just left him. He was still there when Dad came home from work. Mum must’ve been in the kitchen or up the garden and Dad walks in to find this man asleep on the rug, steam literally coming off him. Dad hadn’t a clue who he was or why this man was lying on the floor. Well you can imagine what he said to Mum when she appeared. And the Kleeneze man he must’ve had quite a shock when he woke up to find Dad bent over him. But Mum explained what had happened and it became a joke they always laughed about for years after.
Frank and I both went to Cotteridge School and sat together in class. When Mr Tozer the teacher used to shout out “Barrack!” it was always for Frank, but I used to stand up also because I was a Barrack too. But Mr Tozer he used to say “You’ve got a handle to your name. When I want you I shall call “Frances” not Barrack.” I always remember him saying I had a handle to my name… When I was eleven years old I moved over the playground from the Junior School into the Senior Girls. But that was just for girls, so Frank had to go Stirchley School. The other teacher I remember was Miss Garfield, we used to call her Gerty Garfield, I couldn’t stand her.
I remember a lot of the mothers used to be outside the railings giving the children biscuits and all sorts, because there were no school meals. No shoes were allowed in the hall, so you had to walk around the edge, you couldn’t go across because they polished the floor, it was like glass. In the war I used to hope a bomber would come and blow the place up. I used to say “if a bomb dropped I wouldn’t have to go to that bloomin’ school again!” I was never lucky, the Germans never hit it.
Another teacher was Mr Major, he lived in Woodfall Avenue. He wrote on my school report “Frances talks too much” and when I took it home Dad refused to sign it, and instead wrote on the report “and it is your job to stop her” and I had to take it back to school. Then Mr Major pushed a letter through our letterbox telling our Dad to go up to the school. Dad said “he hasn’t even got the guts to knock on the door” but he had to go up to the school to see the headmaster. I don’t know just what happened over it, but I could have killed our Dad, I really could.
I remember the Life Boys at St Agnes Church. And Councillor Fryer, he used to come round and give you a talk and bore the pants off you. He used to give these talks in the school hall, we all used to groan “oh gosh he’s here again”.
I think Fryer had two sisters who opened a wool shop… Fryer’s Wool Shop.
Of course the railway bridge was just outside Cotteridge School on Breedon Road and Frank would run along the parapet. Never thought twice about what would happen if he fell off the bridge. And I remember there were some stiles there and we used to take a short cut back to Watford Road.
When war started Frank and I were evacuated to Headless Cross at Redditch. Because Mum wanted us to stick together as brother and sister we went with the junior school but they were only children and Frank and I were 13. So we had no companions really – I think it’d been better if we were separated and went with the seniors. We went on the train and they put these labels on you and they took us to what looked like a school house and women came in and they just picked who they wanted. At the end there was Frank and I left plus another girl. You felt like a spare part. So then they walked us round the roads in Headless Cross and started knocking on the doors asking “will you take these children…” It was really that haphazard. Anyway we got to this one house and this lady answered the door, her name was Mrs Moseley and she said “well I only want one but because you are brother and sister I will take you both in.” But Frank had to sleep next door – there wasn’t enough room for both of us to stay at Mrs Moseley’s. Frank had his meals with us but he slept next door. I always remember Frank said how they got MacLeans toothpaste at his house. Well we’d never had toothpaste back in Watford Road, we used to clean our teeth with salt and soot. He said the toothpaste “tastes lovely” and used to eat this MacLeans. I bet the poor woman wondered where the toothpaste was going.
But Frank soon had enough and packed his bags and came home on the Midland Red. Mum brought me home soon after that. The war started in September and we turned 14 at the beginning of December the next year so after that we were at work. Me at Cadbury’s and Frank at Charles Taylor’s.
I remember the plane that came low over Cotteridge School looking for the Triplex factory, you could see the pilot and the swastika on the side of the plane. Then I remember we heard a German plane was shooting at people in the street. Mum was beside herself as she had sent Frank out on an errand. When he eventually came back Mum was so relieved. But Frank had got the sense to shelter in someone’s entrance.
We had no electricity at number 77 until after the war. It was gas, but only downstairs. We had a candle to go to bed at night. We weren’t allowed to read in bed because candles were too expensive. But when the Germans bombed Grant’s Wood Yard it lit up Watford Road like it was daylight. Frank was able to read in bed that night, he thought it was bloomin’ marvellous.
Dad built an Anderson shelter in the garden; he made a right mess of it. Dad used to do a job and he’d say that it was temporary but nothing he did ever became permanent, nothing ever got finished. We only went in the shelter once. After that we said if we are going to die well we might as well die in bed. Mum would say she would get us up if it got too bad. I think you got very blasé about the bombing. All you used think was “oh gosh they’re here again.” We went into the pantry under the stairs the first time the bombs came down, but after that we stayed in bed. You knew they were German bombers because their engines made that “whum-whum” sound. And you could always hear the anti-aircraft guns starting up. A bomb did drop just beyond Kings Norton railway station but nothing round the houses near us. You just thanked God it wasn’t you. That’s how you thought about the bombing really.
If you were at the pictures then you got the warning come up on the screen if they thought there was a raid. I remember being at the Savoy watching “The Last Days of Pompeii” when the sirens sounded. Elsie wouldn’t let me stay to watch the end. I never did see what happened at the end – until it was shown on telly a few years ago. 65 years later and I finally got to see the end! But I always remember Elsie dragging me out the Savoy because of the air raid warning – I could’ve killed her!
Dad was working nightshift at the Austin throughout the war and whenever there was a raid they used to go into what they called ‘the tunnel’. They always played “Woody Woodpecker” on the loudspeakers, so if that started he said they knew they’d be down there all night. I suppose it was meant to cheer up the workers but he hated that song. I know Frank said one night the sirens sounded when Dad was on the tram to the Austin so he just stayed on until it got to the terminus at The Lickeys and spent the night in the Hare and Hounds. When they asked him the next night at work where had he got to he just said he’d been in a public shelter. Public house more like! He was a devil for playing cards. We never knew how much money he lost at cards. When he came home with his wages, he only gave Mum so much. She never knew how much he earned. That was her lot and she had to deal with it.
Dad used to take us into town to see the bomb damage. We’d get off the tram in Navigation Street and sort of walk around. I remember one shop that was blown up and there was all these sweets scattered about amongst all the broken glass on the pavement. Our Dad said “don’t you dare touch anything.” And nobody touched anything.
They made Hollymore Hospital into a wounded soldiers hospital and my sister Elsie used to go up there and get chatting to the soldiers. She’d bring all these different fellows back to Watford Road. Dad got very annoyed and he said this isn’t a boarding house. But Elsie was a bit flighty she liked to go out and dance with the men. I remember one time when she stayed out too late at night, Dad went out to find her – she must’ve been around 21 then – but he still got the walking stick to her.
I know Frank used to listen to the radio or read about the war in the papers but I don’t remember following the news myself. The only time I can remember was when the newspapers said the Germans were putting people in ovens. I was down Stirchley – I don’t know what shop it was – but they’d got all these newspapers with photographs of these ovens and the bodies in the concentration camps. I went and had a look and people were saying it’s not true, it’s all fake. They didn’t believe it: it was too horrible to believe this was happening.
Shops and businesses
When I was young none of the shops existed at the top of Watford road, they were just houses. You had to go round the corner (into Pershore Road) before the shops started.
I remember Fleetwoods, they were opposite Cotteridge School and Clifford Fleetwood was in my class. Everything was delivered by horse and cart then. But when it snowed… I remember the horses used to come up Breedon Hill and the poor horses used to slip in the snow and they got sacks out to try and help them get a grip with their big hoofs. I used to feel ever so sorry for them.
I remember Huins the shoe shop. Dad took Frank in there to have his feet x-rayed because he couldn’t believe Frank had outgrown his shoes so quickly. Dad went barmy and refused to buy a new pair of shoes until the x-ray showed Frank’s feet were bigger.” (Before the harmful effects of radiation were realised, many shoe shops used to have an x-ray machine so customers could look at their feet. It was more for novelty value than anything else.)
I remember the carnival in Cotteridge Park and the Ten Acres Co-op, they used to give you a cardboard box with oranges, a squash and an ice cream. Then you went into the park to the carnival. We thought it was marvellous, you got this box with sandwiches. And The Blue Belvederes band. The Bummer Toots, as our Dad used to call them.
Ferris’s was a great big house. As children we used to say they had a gold bath in there with gold taps.
The Treasure Trove: I remember there was that big bear when you went in the entrance. And then there was a statue of a nude man outside and people used to come along and stick chips on his wotsit. When we were children the place was just a little shop then Mr Vincent opened it as the Treasure Trove. There were sheds round the back where they stored all the big things – suites of furniture, grandfather clocks and beds and wardrobes and all sorts of things. With the house and the sheds it would take you quite a while to go round and look at everything.
Frank did a paper round for the newsagents at the top of Watford Road. That was Morrow’s. Our Dad was a devil for nicknames and he used to call the newsagent “Moses” Morrow. I don’t know whether he was a Jew, but each Saturday evening I would help Frank deliver the newspapers so he could get it done more quickly and we could go to the pictures together. But this one Saturday the newspapers were late arriving and as we were waiting, a lad called Gordon Salt started talking to me and said “if you kiss me I’ll deliver your papers.” And our Frank kept saying “go on, go on, it won’t hurt you just to give him a kiss. We can get away and go to the pictures early.” Frank was very mercenary, but I said I am not kissing him, I don’t care what you say Frank. I am not kissing him. Gordon Salt always had a drippy nose. No way was I kissing him. Fortunately the lorry finally drew up with the papers and I could get away from Gordon Salt. Funny enough when I was married and living at Bournville, the man came round to read the gas meter man. I looked at him and I thought I recognise you… you’re Gordon Salt. At least his nose had stopped running.
Yoxall’s – they sold dog biscuits.
The chemist Bellamy’s: Frank worked at Taylor’s chemist, the one opposite. He used to deliver prescriptions for them. They would make up the medicines in the shop and also refill soda siphons and Frank would take them to addresses even as far as town (Birmingham) on his bicycle. If there had been an air raid the night before there would be broken glass and water running down the street but Frank always had to deliver the prescriptions. And he’d always come back with shrapnel, which he collected in a drawer at home.
One day Frank found a pound note on the floor in Taylor’s and gave it to Mr Barker the manager. After three or four months Dad said “have you ever heard whether anybody claimed that pound note?” Frank said no, so Dad said you go to work and you ask them. Mr Barker owned up and said no one had claimed the money and so he gave it to Frank. But I don’t think they would’ve done if Frank hadn’t have enquired and our Dad hadn’t have asked if anyone had claimed it. It was a lot of money back then.
There was a music shop – Dugmores – and they got like a concave window. And when you looked in the window it was like those mirrors at the fairground, and we used to pull faces in the shop window and your faces were all terribly distorted. And the shop woman used to go barmy she used to go “Clear off! Clear off!”
Then there was Jones, a little sweet shop. And our Dad was always sending me up there, “Go and get me some acid drops,” then you’d get home and Dad would say “These acid drops are stale. Take them back!” I had to go back and say our Dad says these sweets are stale. The shop woman shouted “I do not sell stale sweets!” She went barmy and said tell your Dad from now on not to come in here. But he never did go in there – he always sent me!
I remember there was another sweet shop on Dell Road, near Fleetwoods. Elsie used to get them root liquorice from there. I hated it. But Elsie loved that root liquorice.
Apart from Bellamy’s and Taylor’s, there were other chemists too… Wakefields, Bloomfields and Hedges. Dad used to send me there for his snuff. I used to run down the Cotteridge and I used to shout “L2-60 box of snuff” all the way to Hedges, because I used to think if I forget the number… and you could only get the snuff from Hedges.
Mum used to send us up to the butchers, Mr Walker’s; this was when we were really hard up. She would say “Go into the butchers and ask for six pennies worth of ‘something to frizzle’”. And Mr Walker would go round and collect all the bits from the chops and sausage he’d cut up and for six pence he’d give you all these left-overs. You’d get quite a bit. It was enough to feed us. Well one day during the period when Dad was unemployed, Mum sent him up the Cotteridge to go to the butchers to “get 6d worth of something to frizzle”. But he wouldn’t go, he came to the school instead and waited for us to come out into the playground. And he said, “your mother says you’ve got to go in the butchers and get six penny-worth of something to frizzle.” I knew Mum wouldn’t have told him to come and get me, but being muggins I went into the butchers for him. When we got home our mother heard what he’d done and really did tell him off. But Dad wouldn’t go in the butchers, pride I suppose… Mum said to him, “Yes. But you’d eat it…”
Frank and I used to go for a ride in Hirons bakers van, because the son of the Edkins, who had lived next door at Watford Road, married a girl who was the daughter of Hirons, who had the bakery on the green at King’s Norton and he used to deliver the bread. And he’d come to our house as Mum used to have a loaf off him – it was nice bread – and he’d say “d’you want a ride?” And then me and Frank would get in the van and he’d take us on his round; he’d say if you see any policemen you’ve got to duck down. We thought it was wonderful.
Frances would like to hear from anyone who remembers her at school or the Barrack family at Watford Road. If so, e-mail us and we’ll pass it on.