Recollections by W John Green
Stambermill was once a village on the banks of the River Stour, lying
between Lye and Stourbridge, but which in my time had been partially
absorbed into the conurbation which stretched from Birmingham to the
Wollaston Ridge. The absorption process is now complete. The following may
be of interest.
I was born on April 15th. 1923 at 31, Yardley Street, Stambermill. My
maternal grandfather, William Hughes, was then employed as a turner by
Yardleys of Stambermill (spades and shovels), whose factory was on the banks
of the Stour at the bottom of Yardley Street. He must have been a man of
parts and of some enterprise, for he owned a row of six houses at the point
where Bagley Street diverged from the main Stourbidge Road. He occupied the
largest and most westerly house himself and from it ran what started as a
‘cobbler's’ shop where boots and shoes were sold to the ‘workers’. This was
soon expanded to become a clothing business. Stocks were limited, but almost
anything could be obtained from the wholesale warehouses in Birmingham,
Lunt’s in Old Square and Wilkinson & Riddell’s in Cherry Street. People
would come into the shop, describe what they wanted and periodically a
member of the family would go to Birmingham, bringing back a limited choice
“on appro”. Until Grandfather retired the clothing business was run largely
by his wife, my Grandmother Sarah, and such of their five daughters who were
at the time available by age and ability. Grandfather himself kept the
shoe-repairing business going in his spare time.
Later the village Post Office was moved from its former location opposite
the ‘Hart-in-Hand’ to the Hughes establishment, with my Aunt Ethel
(Cartwright) being appointed village Post-Mistress. Later still, a red
telephone box was installed in the minuscule front garden. Aunt Ethel
occupied this prominent position in the village for forty years and I have a
copy of the certificate presented to her by the Post Office on her
retirement. The post enabled her to be the confidant and the close observer
of everyone in the village, thereby acquiring a vast fund of funny stories
with which she entertained her nephews and nieces up to the time of her
death at age 97.
My father, Benjamin Green, was brought up in Lye and after his
demobilisation from the Army in 1919, married Margaret, my mother, who was
the Hughes’s third daughter. As children they had been together at Orchard
Lane School, Lye. The Hughes family had lived in Orchard Lane before moving
to Stambermill. I do not know the year of that move, but it must have been
fairly early, since my mother was given to reminisce about being at
Stambermill School under the tutelage of a formidable Evan Evans .
My father was the second son and one of the six children of William and
Elizabeth Green who lived at Lye “in a large house next to the
Congregational Manse” (this was up a lane leading off the High Street
alongside the 'Vic' cinema) - as the records have it.
William Green was a person of some standing in the Lye community of the
time, being the Rating Officer for the Urban District Council, a leading
light in the St. John's Ambulance Brigade , and the Secretary and Deacon of
the Congregational Church. Amongst other things he was the local organiser
of celebrations on the coronation of King Edward VII. His many enterprises
included the running of an 'Adult School' on Sunday mornings. This was
designed to improve the education of the working classes and such schools
were the fore-runners of the Workers' Educational Association.
The Medical Officer of the Lye St. John's Ambulance Brigade at that time
was a Doctor Derby in whose little black bag I was thought to have arrived
in the world, and who for some time thereafter assisted my defence against
measles, scarlet fever and similar diseases. Dr. Derby's daughter married a
Claude Aston and by him had a daughter Hilary, one of the notables of the
'Red Hill School Gang' in later years.
In Stambermill, a few yards from the Hughes family’s establishment was a
redundant chapel which had belonged to some small religious body but which
had fallen into disuse. William Green managed somehow to raise funds to
restore the building and to use its premises as a Congregational Chapel and
as an extension of the Adult School.
The Chapel Keeper or caretaker of this building was a certain ‘ode ‘ooman
Gauden’. The term ‘ode ooman’ was then used, almost as a term of affection,
for any widow over the age of fifty. Mrs Gauden had, like so many of her
vintage, lost most of her teeth in her youth, but unlike those who could
afford a 'full set', had been left with a single front tooth which thereby
acquired a certain prominence.
Much later, I think during the Second World War, my family were invited
to the Stambermill Chapel, probably to help celebrate the golden jubilee of
its resuscitation by Grandfather Green. There, with a cup of tea in one hand
and one of Mrs. Pardoe's rock cakes in the other, my younger brother Paul,
then in his mid-teens and therefore most vulnerable, was accosted without
warning by Mrs. Gauden and her tooth in the solemn words, “Ah knowed yo’er
gran’faether!” That is the one time that I have known my brother to be left
The correct reply would, of course, been “Oh Ah!” on a rising cadence but
we had then lived in Stourbridge itself for some years and had gone
(The term 'Oh Ah' used in the area was not, as in the West Country, just
another way of saying 'Yes'. With a slight variation of cadence it could
mean 'yes' but also the equivalent of 'Really!', 'How interesting!' 'Extr'ordin'ry'
or 'Go on - pull th'other un!', etc.)
One can reasonably surmise that the Greens’ interest in the Stambermill
chapel was the cause of my father renewing his acquaintance with my mother,
one result of which is this account.
They were married on Christmas Day 1919 after Father's ‘de-mob’ and for a
time lived with my mother’s sister Ruth and her husband Sam White at Ham
Farm. This arrangement was not a happy one for reasons I was never told. I
am glad that in spite of this my personal relations with the White family
have been very happy.
Soon, however, the newly-wed Greens moved to the end-terrace house which
they rented at 31 Yardley Street Stambermill and where I was born. The house
was still there, maintained and modernised, when I visited the area some
time in the 1980’s.
I can, of course, remember little about my days at Stambermill as I was
only three when we moved in 1926 to the house at 7, New Road, Stourbridge
with which my early school days are associated. I do recall, however, my
first girl friend whose name was Sybil Smith. She wore thick black stockings
which had an inevitable hole. One day she allowed the iron gate to swing
shut, in the process hitting me on the back of my head and leaving a scar
which I bear to this day. That was the end of that little romance and I
still am somewhat wary of ‘Seers and Sybils’.
There are memories of frequent visits to the grandparents’ home - it was
only a few hundred yards walk - or being pushed in a push chair - and of
being entertained there by the two aunts, Ethel and Vera, who were then
unmarried. There are vague memories too of Christmas parties when a vast
cracker containing a present for each of us cousins was pulled with much
At Yardley Street there was a cat, a garden, a ‘mangle’ in the wash
house, which was dangerous but the handle of which one was allowed
occasionally to turn under very close supervision. (“It’ll crush your
There was also Mother’s ‘Work Basket’ which contained scissors. These, I
found by experiment, could be used for removing the toes from my socks.
However, this, my first essay into scientific experiment, resulted in a
little domestic friction, and in my regarding scissors as taboo for some
Another memory of Stambermill is of a certain Mr. Homer who appeared
regularly outside our house with his horse-drawn wagon loaded with fruit and
vegetables. He announced his arrival by shouting “Flowey!”. This, I was
told, was an abbreviation of “Potatoes like flour”, indicating their
smoothness when mashed. Homer’s cart was followed sometimes by a small boy
with a bucket and shovel anticipating a supply of manure for his father’s
rhubarb. Many years later I was told that this was the only profitable way
of following the horses ! The small boy’s enterprise was regarded by my
family with that mixture of disgust and pity which they reserved for ‘the
poor’. Our rhubarb, being of a better class, did not, apparently, need
“Stambermill was, of course, on the bus routes from Stourbridge to Lye,
‘Th’ Ayes’, Colley Gate, Cradley Heath, Halesowen, Quinton and eventually,
Birmingham. Before my time there had been trams on the route, but my first
memories are of buses, a variety of them, which stopped at ‘The Bird’. This
was a public house directly opposite my grandparents’ house. It’s full name
was ‘The Bird in Hand’, but by that it was never known. Most bus conductors
simply called “Bird!”. In fact, there was a time when I was under the
impression that I lived at a place called ‘Bird’, the word ‘Stambermill’
being rarely mentioned..
Before the ‘Midland Red’ (O. C. Power - Traffic Manager) acquired a
monopoly on the route, there were one or two small companies operating a
service with what we would now call ‘Mini-Buses’. One had its garage in
Enville Street, Stourbridge. Another was ‘Sammy Johnson’s Supreme’ coach
services with headquarters in Victoria Street, Stourbridge. Their coaches
had a drab but distinctive khaki and green livery.
When going by bus to Stourbridge, you didn't bother with timetables, you
just stood outside ‘The Bird’ until, within a few minutes, a bus would
arrive. This could he a ‘Midland Red’ or one of the independents. The latter
were exciting, having wooden floor boards, some with gaps through which the
road surface could be seen whizzing by, and up through which exhaust fumes
at times penetrated. This probably accounts for my mother’s association of
bus travel with inevitable sickness. This phobia she passed on to us, and it
took many years for us to shake it off. If a Midland Red came first, one had
the luxury of a larger vehicle, but no view of the road. The single fare was
one penny from ‘The Bird’ to Stourbridge for adults and children over 5
Much later, when we had moved to Stourbridge and I had acquired some
elementary economics, I found that the fare to Lye Church was 2d. and that
there was also a return fare to Lye Church of 3d. Being under fourteen I
could therefore get a ‘half’ return for 1½d, and there was nothing to stop
me getting off at The Bird, which was a mile or so short of the distance I
had paid for. Adults not knowing about this, and as I had been given 2d. to
go to Stambermill and back, I could thus save ½d, per trip. You could buy
chocolate for that!
Reaching an age when I was allowed out on my own, Stambermill had its
attractions as my grandfather was ‘always good for half-a-crown’, Aunt Ethel
for tea and cake and occasional gleanings from the Post Office such as
‘stamp-waste’ which, in the days before Sellotape, came in handy for lots of
To go to Stambermill from Stourbridge you could walk, or just go to the
Stourbridge bus station where there would always be a bus ready. For all
destinations east of Stourbridge everything had to go through Stambermill.
The No. 120 was for Brum, 235 for Cradley Heath and I believe there was a
240 for Cradley Heath by another route.
Until the 'Midland Red' acquired some ground on the east side of the
railway station, all buses going east from Stourbridge had to be
single-deckers as the bridge carrying the railway from the Town Station to
the Gasworks was too low for double-deckers. You got on the bus and waited.
Within a few minutes, the conductor would arrive in blue uniform, equipped
with a largish black metal box, a way-bill on a metal clip board, a ticket
holder consisting of a piece of wood on both sides of which were miniature
mouse-trap springs holding a variety of tickets. (1d. white, l½d. yellow,
2d. red - and so on) and a ticket punch with bell on a strap over his
shoulder. The latter was made by ‘The Bell-Punch Company, London’. The bell
sounded when the ticket was punched and the index moved up a notch. This
assured the passenger that payment had been recorded and that the conductor
had not pocketed the cash. (Not a lot of passengers knew this, but I knew
the son of a bus conductor!)
Some of this paraphernalia would be put on the luggage rack together with
a white enamelled combined jug and cup which would hold tea at some stage of
The driver, meantime, and in brown uniform, would be swinging a handle to
start the engine – ‘self starters’ only became necessary when diesel engines
arrived. The conductor having assured himself that there were no last minute
potential passengers, pulled the leather bell cord twice, the clutch was let
in and off we went, diving under the railway bridge at a terrifying angle.
To the accompaniment of a non-electric Klaxon which sounded like a donkey
with laryngitis, we swung round past St. John's School on the left and Jabez
Attwood’s foundry on the right into Birmingham Street. Immediately there was
another foundry on the left, opposite which was the ‘Hole in the Wall’, a
pub being a vital parasite of any foundry. This was of the many pubs which
lined the road to ‘Brum’. After a row of miserable terrace cottages, the
road widened out and we passed the ‘Ice House’ on the left, with a
footbridge over the river, followed by the ‘Railway Tavern’. Ruffords’s
Brick Works and its chimney stack were prominent on the right. The site is
now the Stepping Stones housing estate. On the left, after the Railway
Tavern were some fields before a railway embankment. Through this embankment
was a small tunnel known locally as ‘The Murdering Tunnel’, there having
been a ‘breach of the peace’ committed there at some time.
The view was at this point dominated by the blue-brick railway viaduct
which carried the Wolverhampton line over the road and over the River Stour
whose waters, turned to khaki by effluent from every factory from Halesowen
onward, lay on our left.
The railway line was assumed to be the boundary of Stambermill. The
fields on the left after the viaduct were known as ‘Clatterbach’ - don't ask
me why. Cows could sometimes be seen in them and it is believed that these
were the source of Fanny Edwards’ supply which was delivered locally morning
and evening from churns pushed in a modified pram. In a house just after the
viaduct lived the ‘Boddy’ family, one daughter of which was curiously
We then came to the junction where Bagley Street diverted at 45 degrees
to the left, at which the bus stopped, the conductor called out “Bird!” and
we got off if visiting the family ‘seat’.
Opposite the Bagley Street junction was another road, Hungary Hill, which
led up to the Junction fields, New Farm and the ‘Burnthouse’, now covered
with housing. Having shed the illusion that ‘Hungary Hill’ was named after a
bloke named Hill who had a prodigious appetite - probably one of Aunt
Ethel’s ideas - we learnt that it was named after Hungarian refugees who had
settled in the district and started the Stourbridge glass industry which
The main road then dropped down to run underneath yet another railway
line, that from Stourbridge to Birmingham. Just before this bridge was
another pub, the ‘Hart in Hand’, regarded even by my tee-total family as
being rather inferior to ‘The Bird’. It was long afterwards that I
discovered what a ‘hart’ was, (something that pants for cooling streams)
until then wondering why a major organ of the human body ......?
The other pub was in Bagley Street - its name I cannot recall, but it
still, I believe, holds ‘Black Country Evenings’ with traditional ‘Faggits
Opposite the ‘Hart’ were one or two scruffy shops, one of which had been
the Post Office before Aunt Ethel took over. One of them was a sort of
general store famed for selling such things as gob-stoppers and kali-suckers
in which, as we were like Alan Bennet’s family and ‘not like other people’,
our family did not indulge.
Local legend had it that this shop was once kept by ‘Ode ‘ooman Lashford’
whose speciality was rice pudding, made so thick that it could be sold in
'sticks' - chunks hacked out of a large rectangular pan.
Legend also has it that one day a chimney sweep came into the shop asking
for a stick of rice pudding. There being a temporary dearth of wrapping
paper, it is said that “’er gid it ’im in ’is fist”. Whether that is true,
or whether it was a tale told to justify our avoidance of the shop on
grounds of hygiene is a matter for speculation.
On the other side of this railway bridge was St. Mark's Parish Church at
which my mother and aunts were confirmed after the tutelage of the
formidable Revd. A. G. Lewis before whom every knee did bow. My parents and
all my aunts were married there, and I can recall being at the marriage of
my youngest aunt, Vera, who married Bert Barlow of ‘H. Barlow & Sons,
Provision Merchants, Lye.’
Beyond St. Mark's one merged into Lye. On the corner of Cemetry Road was
the engineering works of G. Higgins, whose offspring, G. R. Higgins was a
contemporary and friend of mine and who went on to do Mech. Eng. at
Birmingham University but who has since disappeared from sight.
Further into Lye, past the football ground on the right, was the rather
grand red-brick house and surgery of Dr. Derby, mentioned above. On the left
was the jeweller’s shop owned by ‘Alfred Morris, Jeweller, Lye’ whose son,
‘Teddy’ trained with my father in the Army and who went on to become
Archbishop of Wales. A pendulum clock, bought from Morris’s when we moved to Stourbidge in 1926, still hangs on my wall and is still ticking.
So one came to Lye Cross, past the house of Dr. Hardwicke, father of Sir
Cedric, and further distinguished on one corner by the Gents' Outfitters
owned by one Elisha Cartwright. Here my brother, having at last acquired
more or less static dimensions, was measured for his first bespoke suit. The
discovery that his vital statistics were “28-28-28” caused some amusement
since he was not obviously cylindrical.
If you were going ‘all the way’ to Brum you passed Lye Church, ‘Th’’ayes’,
Colley Gate, where at a small newsagents’ shop, the enamel tea can would be
filled. by prior arrangement. Then came the ‘Round of Beef’, The Alexandra,
Halesowen, up Mucklow Hill to the ‘Stag’ at Quinton, and the Holly-Bush,
Warley Odeon and Bearwood. The next ‘pub’ stop was the ‘Ivy Bush’ (Holly &
Ivy ?) and so into ‘Brum’.
The whole trip cost you 1 shilling, (a white ticket with blue stripes) or
sixpence if you were under 14. At New Street Station you could buy for 6d. a
foolscap sized L.M.S. timetable, over an inch thick and containing maps of
the complete system. For another 6d. you could have a cup of tea and a bun
in the Refreshment Room and then get the bus home. I still have the maps!
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004