Acocks Green 50 years ago, by J.V. Tustin (1953)
J.V. Tustin, a member of a long-standing family firm of grocers and butchers in Acocks Green, produced a short series of articles in 1953 to evoke the Acocks Green of 1903. The ones we have are reproduced here, and contemporary photos have been added to illustrate his evocation of the Acocks Green of old.
Tustins are a well-known family business in Acocks Green. They first appear in the directories right at the end of the nineteenth century as J.C. Tustin, grocer, at West End House. Mrs Tustin is listed at Clarendon House nearby in 1900, and in 1905 John Charles is living at Moreton Villa next to the shop. By 1912 Frederick J. Tustin is listed across the road as a butcher, in the fourth of the new shops north of Oxford Road. These businesses became numbered as 1163-5 and 1174 Warwick Road. In 1938 road widening obliged the family to build new premises on the west side of the road, and these still stand, with the name West End Stores above them. In 1953 J.V. Tustin wrote a series of articles on Acocks Green in the early years of the twentieth century. We are missing the October article, and any subsequent ones, and would be grateful for copies to add to this page. We have added contemporary images of the places mentioned.
From The District Advertiser
Acocks Green 50 years Ago, by J.V. Tustin
I have been asked to write a few articles on “Across Green 50 Years ago”, and, whilst l have gathered quite a lot of information from reference libraries and older friends, there must be many hundreds of old residents who can supply many more stories. May we, therefore, ask kind readers who remember Acocks Green between 1900 and l 906 to send descriptions to me, c/o Tustins Ltd., grocers, 1165, Warwick Road, and let us make this a real Readers' effort. Information would be welcome on points such as: The date of “Ye Olde House '' (now a social club); the old Police Station; the old Fire Station; the old Railway Station; old road names, such as Dog Lane (Hazelwood Road); the “Pound lands”, memoirs of Zaccheus Walker, etc. etc. And now to start our story.
To visualise Acocks Green in 1903 one has to think of the countryside as it is today out well beyond Knowle. The old “Spread Eagle'' (mine host Matthew Bissell), at the corner of Warwick Road and Victoria Road, was virtually the end of everywhere. True, the Warwick Road continued on to Olton, but only as a winding and narrow roadway, with just scattered houses here and there. This was the terminus of the old horse bus which left for Birmingham every hour; and the regular link for parcels was by “Old Willcox”, the carrier, who drove a horse van from Knowle to Birmingham and back each day. The Dolphin Inn was a picturesque old building for many years run by Walter Padgett, and Dolphin Lane was little more than a cart-track, with high hedges each side and fine old oak trees which joined overhead. The lane did not go right through to Shirley Road as now, but turned sharp right about two-thirds of the way along. Most of the old oaks have gone, but if one stands on the present crossing of Greenwood Avenue and Shirley Road and looks towards Bishop Westcott Hall, that avenue of oaks was either side of Dolphin Lane, as it joined Shirley Road. Shirley Road, nearer Hall Green, was exceedingly narrow, with high holly hedges each side and two vehicles could hardly pass.
Returning to the “Dolphin”, the lane on the right was Beeches Lane, locally known as Walls Lane, taken from the name of the farmer whose old farm was on the corner of Warwick Road. There was a duck pond on the edge of the lane, and again, like Dolphin Lane, it was little more than a cart-track, with lovely trees and high hedges. On the right, about 200 yards along, was Wellesbourne School playing fields. Beeches Lane is, of course, now called Gospel Lane.
Over the whole of this area were just fields and hedgerows, completely undeveloped and in the heart of the country, Green fields with buttercups, lovely golden corn, grazing cattle and sheep, taken care of by three old farms - Walls Farm, Hyron Hall Farm and Pool Farm.
My article in last month’s issue appears to have given wide interest and to have been the subject of much reminiscence by our older residents. I have received some most interesting stories from readers in all districts, but there must be many more. If you feel you cannot write them on paper will you please call in and see me, or if you prefer. I would come and see you. And now to continue our story.
THE MAIN ROAD
How very narrow, twisty and dusty was the main road as we know it today, and on entering Acocks Green from Tyseley was the old village “Smithy” shop run for so many years by a Mr. Harris and his stalwart sons, a place where all grooms, carters and local tradesmen regularly met and chatted while their horses' needs were cared for. Facing, and on the corner of Stockfield Road, was the fine Congregational Chapel, looking much the same as it does today. To the older residents it was known as the “Tyseley Church”, having been built some years before St. Mary’s, but until the latter church was completed a Church of England service was read in the chapel each Sunday. On the corner of Fox Hollies Road was a dreary and drab “Mattress '' factory, with its dark blue brick walls and iron windows more resembling a prison than a place where men worked. Next we come to Broad Lane, now Road, and on the corner lived the beloved and well-known Dr. and Mrs. Cordley Bradford. The doctor, a stately, bearded and benevolent gentleman, was known to everyone. It was, of course, before the days of the Insurance Acts with its free medical service, but no one in Acocks Green was denied a doctor because they could not afford one. In Broad Lane we had the old St. Mary's Day Schools with its strict schoolmaster Mr. Rose and his wife a charming school-mistress, who resided further up Broad Lane.
Proceeding down the hill to the “Green'' were the old picturesque cottages high on the left-hand bank where old people sat in the doorways or pottered about in the front gardens. Opposite these cottages were some delightful gentlemen's residences, many of which remain today, but an outstanding personality lived at “'The Corinthians” in the person of Mr. Taylor, who startled the “locals” by exchanging his horse-drawn brougham for a new-fangled means of locomotion, an open [L]anchester motor car, steered by a lever and driven by a weird-looking man dressed in black leather livery with leggings and goggles, who was called a chauffeur. This was much to the amusement of the school children, and the annoyance of all horse drivers.
The old police station with its railings stood at the bottom of the hill on the right, where the present schools are built, and adjacent to the police station was the one-man fire brigade, with the hand-propelled fire escape being a landmark. There were two rows of cottages, called Westley Brook Cottages, facing inwardly with their gardens head to tail, the backs of one row backing on to the old “New Inn” entered by means of three steps in Warwick Road, but at the corner of Westley Road. How many can remember the flood that inundated these cottages to a depth of six inches, and who can say the exact present position of the old “New Inn’s” front steps? The writer thinks it is near the light standard on the pedestrian crossing at the corner of Westley and Warwick Roads. In any case the new “New Inns” is sited some distance from its old predecessor.
Opposite the cottages was the old post office, situated next door to the present one, with its blue brick forecourt up three steps behind a low wall. Here the lads of the cottages earned a few pence owing to the shortage of telegraph boys or their long absence on errands, and delivered telegrams, being princely rewarded with a fee from one penny to fourpence, according to the distance. One fourpenny journey was to ''Squire'' Zachy Walkers, along the dark and unlighted Westley and Fox Hollies Roads to Fox Hollies Hall, a foreboding house that stood well back from the road among trees, where the hair-raising imagination of ghosts and wild dogs frightened all but a few of the stalwarts. Another fourpenny journey was to Steedman's Farm in the low ground of Shaftmoor Lane, then a narrow country lane. The nightly arrival of the two-horsed Royal Mail van from Warwick to Birmingham, calling about 8.0 p.m., was always an event for these boys.
On the site of the present island was a triangular garden belonging to Mr. Staples, the cab proprietor, who lived in the first of a row of cottages on the site now occupied by a large firm of tailors, and adjoining this garden was an old cottage, which many people thought to be Mr. Acock’s cottage from whence the title of the district was derived, but actually the cottage with the “Green” in front had either been demolished or fallen down prior to anyone's present living memory.
The Bank buildings were some of the first of the future development, and were built about 1903 and housed the “Metropolitan Bank”, later to become the “London Joint City and Midland” and more recently the “Midland”.
Of the shops on the main road, only three names remain - Martins, the Pork Butchers; Harris Bros., Shoemakers; and Tustins, the Grocers. Cliffords were the oldest butchers, a large shop with two doors and private residence adjoining, now occupied by the West Midlands Gas Board and the Municipal Bank.
A more recent comer to Acocks Green was Harry Patterson, a butcher on the other side of the road. What shows of Bingley Hall Xmas “Cattle Show” beef and mutton these two butchers made, with a boar’s head, apple in mouth and decorated with mistletoe and holly, this forming a centerpiece, illuminated at night by huge incandescent gas lamps outside the premises. On the one corner of Station Road was Bridges, Corn Merchants, a shop which was eventually demolished to make way for the old picture house and is now an open space used for displaying garden material. On the other side of Station Road was Lucas’ Cake Shop, but living in the first house down Station Road was the well known character Johnson the Sweep, assisted by has son Bill, who did their rounds in a float drawn by a white pony, usually soot black! There were Howell the Grocer, Hammond the Draper, Thornton (later Hill) the Fishmonger, Stubbs the Chemist, all names which have disappeared many years ago, and in one of the several houses afterwards converted into shops was the Misses Marshalls’ school for young ladies. In the house adjacent to the unchanged “Red Lion” was the tiny telephone exchange with its red enamel sign showing a bell, with the words “Edison Bell Telephones”, and a huge telegraph pole outside, carrying many wires. Outside the “Red Lion” was a horse drinking trough, with a smaller trough underneath for dogs. The single road from this point, with its hedgerows and tall trees, was narrow, with the front gardens on three big houses (two of which remain as a school) reaching down to massive gates. The first house was occupied by a Mr. White, a staunch supporter of teetotalism who offered £5 to the so-called “drunks” who would abstain for a year. It is presumed that the offer was never accepted!
Beyond these houses was the drive leading to Wellesbourne House School, then fast becoming flourishing under its enterprising headmaster Oswold Sunderland, who converted the stables into the well known “fourth form” and also constructed a large new class room. Strangely enough the two assistant masters were Mr. Herbert Dixon and Mr. Whitechurch, both of whom became later headmasters for many years. How many old boys can remember the school playground when the “Giant Stride” stood in the centre? Decay having rendered it useless, the stump was finally consumed as a centerpiece of one of the many great bonfires which took place each Fifth of November.
On the far side of Wellesbourne Drive was my father’s shop, a very tiny place 50 years ago. Many will remember the place up two very worn out steps as it stood until 1938, but even then the shop was twice the size of its original.
Next, and perhaps the most interesting rendezvous and hostelry, was the “Spread Eagle” near the corner of Victoria Road, with its jovial mine host, Matt Bissell and his wife, ably assisted by their buxom barmaid, Maggie. This was a real type of a tavern for good company and a sure welcome. How many can remember the bread and cheese or roast beef and pickles on the bar counter at opening time on Sundays; and the cigar whiffs handed round the smoke room; the fine ale at threepence per pint; the smell of fresh sawdust on the floor; and one summer evening, the performing bear who was stabled with its Hungarian tamer for the night in the stables at the rear. Those were the days!