14 November 2016

Village People

My (already) well thumbed copy!
 I was very happy last Wednesday to attend the launch of a new book about Aldridge at Aldridge Library. The book "Our Village" is written by Sue Satterthwaite and Len Boulton.

As you may know both Sue and Len are the stalwarts and leaders of the Aldridge Great War Project. The ultimate aim of the project is to create a permanent historical record of people from Aldridge who served in World War I and they and other volunteers are busy  tracing and recording everyone they can. It is hoped that a hardback book will be published detailing all the information but this is an expensive project, especially if the cover price of the hardback is to be kept at an affordable price.

"Our Village" has been published with the hope that valuable funds will be raised for the project, so get your purses out! The book is available from Aldridge Library, Simply Delicious, Croft News, Covent Garden, Lynda's Pets and Plants and The Thomas Project. It will also be available in Walsall at The Local History Centre and Waterstones. Price is 5.99 and it's value for money! I have read the book from cover to cover, examined the maps and enjoyed the photographs. There are some lovely stories and memories and some rather tantalising trivia. As usual when Sue is involved with a book, it is well written, well researched and interesting, written in a way that appeals to everyone. This will make a lovely Christmas present.

If you now live far away from Aldridge and would like a copy then get in touch with Sue and Len at  aldridgegwp@outlook.com  and they can arrange for a copy to be posted to you. Postage will be about 2.00.

If you know of anyone who served or lived in Aldridge during the Great War do contact the project on the above email address. Sue and Len would be very happy to hear from you.

17 June 2016

An Aldridge Echo - secrets of my childhood

As you walk over the railway bridge on Dumblederry Lane towards where the BRD once stood, you may notice on the right hand side, a small gap between the bridge and the shrubs that line the road. Two, now rusty, dilapidated and downright dangerous iron bars preventing motorcycles from gaining access, stand at the top of a steep embankment. If you check out an OS map there is clearly a footpath right of way down there. When I was a child that embankment was the entrance to a mythical land, a land of enchantment and fairy tales and also of very scary monsters.

Of course, back then the embankment had not been worn away from years of use, it was a gentle little run for small legs to the bottom, nor had fly tippers dumped their unwanted rubbish encouraging rats to set up home in desirable sofa's with a ready made food source from rotting rubbish in their garden. There was just the footpath leading through the long grass and alongside the forbidden world of The Swamps where gruesome creatures could rise up from the black depths, so keep to the right and keep walking. Following the path through the forest that was there in my head would lead to a gravel pathway, which ran alongside the railway line and then past the old mortuary, where one had to be careful of the ghosts for they would reach out in even in daylight to take possession of a young child and there at the end was a gap in a fence where a gate had once been, and Anchor Road and the railway bridge were there.

Everyone I knew on the Redhouse called that fairytale playground 'Echo'. I do not why and I do not know how the name came about because it was not a place an echo could be heard, not unless it was echoes of the past and of those long gone, who knew the area as a very different place.

My siblings and I were born within four years of one another, which may explain why I never remember being pushed anywhere as I was the eldest. My sister lay or sat, in the enormous pram, the sort now associated with Norland Nannies, then she was ejected following the birth of our brother from that comfort to sit on a tiny seat on top of the pram, just behind the handlebar and I walked. There had been no little seat for me! Every day my Mother would take us from Bonner Grove, via the 'big garages' (so called to distinguish them from the 'little' garages - the garages were all the same size, it was the number of them that determined the description) turn right into Dumblederry Lane, left onto Station Road and then the long slog down to Anchor Bridge and then on to the village. The one bright spot of this interminable walk was stopping by the station to watch the steam trains stop at the station. I loved watching them refill their tanks with water from the enormous water tank right by Anchor Bridge. Often there were people I knew standing on the platforms waiting for a train to either Walsall or Sutton Coldfield and I would shout and wave to them much to my Mother's consternation. The station closed on 18th January 1965, three months before my third birthday and yet these memories are vivid to me and full of colour and steam and a thirsty mouth and tired legs.

Photograph taken by D J Norton of Birmingham.The bridge in the background is Dumblederry. Echo would grow to the right of the bridge
After the station closed and the line became goods trains only, the buildings associated with the station were demolished as were the sidings and the sheds. The old line that once branched off and ran over Middlemore Lane and had once serviced the collieries in the northern part of Aldridge and Walsall Wood, was taken up and the bridge over Middlemore Lane was dismantled. Nature slowly started to reclaim the area. The 'Swamps' were already established, their blackness a  reminder of Speedwell Mine that had closed around 1880 although the venting apparatus and an opening to the shafts can still be seen on the site of what was Greenhams. Gradually the whole area became a green corridor from the Redhouse to the Village and a playground for a generation of children.

By 1970 'Echo' was established and my mythical land took root inside my head. There were imaginary games to be enacted down there where we would be chased by monsters rising from the Swamp, hiding behind the old spoil heaps now overgrown with grass and shrubs, making our way through the enchanted forest (in truth small willows and silver birches) and never ever entering the old mortuary for we knew that only death dwelt there.

Echo was also a place of natural discovery. I caught my first tadpoles there, saw my first field mice and newts there and wonder of wonders watched the first kestrel I had ever seen. I pulled apart horsetails and then put them back together again, collected wild flowers and grasses and then decorated the garden shed at home with them. As I got older explorations Dr Livingstone style would take place into the darkest depths of the swamp, wellies smuggled out of the house so that mom wouldn't know what we were intending to do but all we ever found were the secret dens the boys didn't want the girls to find and further on, the railway line. We never sank into the old underground mines as we warned would happen if we carried out such follies. We just got very wet and extremely dirty and then had trouble explaining to parents how this had happened if we had only been playing around 'the block' of Bonner Grove.
The Swamp

The one thing about Echo that made a difference to my life in terms of time, was that if you walked swiftly along Echo you could be in the village well inside ten minutes instead of what seemed like years if you walked along Station Road. That walk would have saved my tiny legs miles when I was not even of school age but alas it's birth came later. To have walked there then would have proven impossible unless dodging trains was something your Mother enjoyed doing! When I was 21 I moved back into my parents home for a few months whilst I was working in Birmingham. The 357/8 bus stop by McKechnies was closest for me but many a morning I would walk over Dumblederry Bridge only to see the bus rising over the canal bridge just before the bus stop. I discovered that if I ran like the wind down Echo I could beat the bus to the stop by Portland Road. Only one morning did I come a cropper when unbeknown to me someone had been working heavy machinery at the part of Echo that is directly at the back of Greenhams. I ran in the dark until I hit the mud and lost my shoes. Not recommended. The Swamp monster nearly got me that morning!

Echo is still there, just follow the pathway through Westfield Drive, head across the wilder part of Anchor Meadow, taking time to glimpse at the real forest now growing on what was the railway embankment leading to Middlemore Lane diagonally to your right and you will see a gap in the shrubs and trees. There you will discover the Swamps. Don't try getting down from Dumblederry Lane unless you are young and nimble. I am neither!


16 June 2016

Aldridge Remembers the Great War - A Whistle Blow

I have written many times about the wonderful work that The Aldridge Great War Project has and continues to do, to commemorate the contributions made by the people of Aldridge, men and women, to the First World War 1914 -1918. Sue Satterthwaite has managed the project and the volunteers with amazing results.

I have also written about my own personal journey in researching my own family members who were involved in the war. For me, remembering World War I is deeply personal but then it is for so very many people as there is scarcely a family in the land, who do not have a connection to someone who fought and perhaps died in that war.

Photograph courtesy of The Aldridge Great War Project
On 1st July 2016 it will be 100 years to the day that the Battle of the Somme began. A devastating battle that raged for 141 days claiming the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 Germans. 

Aldridge will remember the anniversary of the commencement of battle in two ways.

Firstly at 7.15 am on Friday 1st July at The Aldridge War Memorial, there will be an act of remembrance followed by the blowing of trench whistles at 7.30am, the time the battle started and then two minutes silence. I sincerely hope that Aldridge will turn out at this early hour for this. 

A little later in the morning at Aldridge Library at 10.30 am, there will be a talk and powerpoint presentation from The Aldridge Great War Project featuring 'Voices from the Past'  read by pupils of Aldridge School. The presentation will use words, archive film, images and music to remember those who died, those who survived, the effect on the military convalescent hospital at the Manor House and the day the whole village came together to watch Geoffrey Malins' film of the battle. Original items will be on display. The event is free but booking is essential either by calling 01922 655569 or emailing  aldridgelibrary@walsall.gov.uk . Refreshments will be provided.

Again I sincerely hope that this event will be fully booked. I am only sorry that I cannot make either event due to prior commitments.

23 May 2016

The Birmingham Book Burnings

Birmingham is rightly proud of its new library. Opinion on its design is divided but I like it. The library opened on 3rd September 2013 and people come from far and wide to see it and use it. It has become an award winning visitor attraction in a city that is full of wonders,  and is, these days, proud of itself and so it should be. 

Not only is the library there for lending purposes but it also houses an amazing reference library and the city archives, both jewels for those who study and research academically and for those like me, who research their own interests there and also for family historians.

Not long after the library opened cutbacks were announced, opening hours were reduced from 73 to 40 hours per week and the staff of 188 was cut more or less in half. The cuts are hardly the fault of Birmingham City Council who have a massively reducing budget to juggle and were mildly embarrassed to say the least that their brand new beautiful library was to suffer so publicly but can be laid firmly at the door of the austerity politics of our government.

It seems though that the library has now been left in a perilous position and due to the cuts in staff numbers the City of Birmingham is in danger of valuable reference books being disposed of, in the dark with nobody watching to witness the secret bonfire of profanity.

I am a member of a wonderful Facebook Group called Birmingham History Group. If you want to know anything about Birmingham, it's history, and it's people, it is a one stop shop, especially for the amazing photographs. My attention was drawn to a post by Jan Ross made today. It said:

"As some of you will have read I have been searching for a set of books, in the new reference library that I used to access in the old Birmingham Library. They were not in the catalogue. After writing and emailing and actually visiting the library, I was informed that they had been "dumped" in a skip in accordance with Birmingham Council Criteria. 
I pursued this, and eventually the books were found. 
The facts apparently are that a large number of historical books could not be placed in the library due to the vastly reduced amount of shelf space. 
Those historical books are not catalogued and are in the basement of the library. The library has no librarians available to catalogue them and the hope is that they will be forgotten and then thrown out. 
This will be an enormous loss to the people of Birmingham and beyond.
I ask that each and every person write or email Birmingham Library and c.c. Birmingham Council to save these books. 
Don't let them go in a skip!"

There has been quite a discussion about this and Jan has since added:

"The problem is achieving communication of the problem. It needs to be highlighted. All media likes to show off the new building but what is the point of having a fantastic new building if massive amounts of historic books are lost"
"The Man in Charge did not want to acknowledge the books were even there. He told me they had been put in a skip and gone. 
This applies to many historical books. We can't ask for the books to be fetched as we don't know which books are there, we don't know how many there are. They are not in catalogue. It's appalling and the people of Birmingham need and should do something about it.
I have written a letter of complaint and I'm asking every other person to do the same.
Thank you"

All of the above is reproduced with Jan's very kind permission and also that of the Group Administrators. 

So OK, I exaggerated, Birmingham Library is not burning its books just yet but disposing of them,  without giving people the opportunity to volunteer to catalogue them or perhaps offer them to other libraries for safe keeping, is akin in my opinion, to book burning.

If you live in Birmingham I urge you to contact your local councillor and ask them to look into this. Everyone who has a connection with Birmingham whether you live there now or not, should email Birmingham Library and ask that this problem be dealt with by not disposing of the uncatalogued books that are currently stored in the basement. They and their value is not forgotten.

The library email address is  enquiries@libraryofbirmingham.com

Local councillors can be found here http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/members

From the group discussion it seems that there is an army of volunteers out there who would be more than happy to help with this problem.

19 March 2016

Regret, grief and care

Five years ago this very night my Mother spent her last night at home. The next morning she was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and died there just fourteen hours later.

The GP had earlier in the week diagnosed a chest infection when reluctantly attending her at home. She said she didn't want to go to hospital and he didn't insist. A few days later she could not resist. Hospital treatment had become a necessity.

Mom was so very poorly. She barely ate during her last week of life, nor barely moved. I did my best trying to make her comfortable but it was not enough. She must have been in agony what with all her existing difficulties and with what we discovered afterwards to be multi organ failure. Slowly throughout the week her vital organs all began to shut down one by one.

When I left the ICU late on Sunday evening with my Dad and Brother I knew I had said my last goodbye to her. I would dearly have loved to stay but as a single parent of two, one only eleven years old, I could not. Regrets.

Mom had been ill for eight years and although I tried on many occasions, she would not let me fight for her; for better care, better pain relief, better everything. She insisted that all was fine. It was never fine and I always felt so helpless and now I feel that I let her down. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.

Dad wouldn't let me fight after Mom had died and there was an inquest. The Coroner did adjourn to ask more questions of those who were supposed to have cared for her in a medical sense but when it came to the second hearing Dad wanted peace and he wanted closure and so I let it all go for his sake.

The frustration and regret I have is difficult to live with but I do as you do.

My daughter suffered an accident nearly five months ago now and remains seriously affected by that event. If anyone wants to know why I fight so hard for her to get the treatment and consideration she needs and deserves, they only have to look to my past experiences plus the love a Mother has for her child. I let Mom down. I will not let my daughter down.

Don't judge me. You haven't walked in my shoes and I judge myself far more harshly than you ever could. I cannot change the past but I have learned from it.

6 February 2016

Life threatening

It was my unfortunate experience last night to spend some hours at the local A&E at The Manor Hospital in Walsall. It is the third time in as many months. A loved one experienced an accident three months ago that has left her with brain injuries. We were told last time she was discharged from hospital that there should be no hesitation in calling 999 should another incident occur. There was no hesitation.

I have to say that I find the Manor a curious place. I have seen examples of both the best and worst of care there. I will never forget the attitude and care my Mother received when she was an inpatient in HDU and ITU. You knew instinctively that she was receiving the best of NHS care. Nor will I forget the care she received again during her last day of life, from the staff in A&E to one particular ward for a few hours and finally, ITU. Exemplary. Experiences like this demonstrate what a wonderful thing we have in our NHS and how a small local hospital can give the very best.

Sometimes though staff are encountered who are stressed for whatever reason, have an attitude lacking in empathy and sympathy, communication is difficult between both staff and their colleagues and staff and patients. Perhaps it is the stresses and strains that are put on certain services. The over work, the lack of full staffing levels, a lack of fully trained staff, a lack of fully rested staff. Sometimes these problems are all down to local issues, mostly I blame the government and their deliberate policy of downgrading the NHS, outsourcing services to profit making companies, ensuring that people perceive the NHS as not to be working  thereby meaning that less of a fuss is made when one day in the not so distant future we wake up and the NHS as we know it, no longer exists. Don't be fooled.

Back in November we endured two nightmare experiences in that A&E, the first lasting over 7 hours and the second nearly 6. The department was full to bursting, not even standing room, ambulances backed up to the West Wing and a line of patients on trolleys down the corridor waiting to be admitted, paramedics stranded. The entrance waiting room was totally packed. Clearly there were too many people using a service for which there are not sufficient staff. Or maybe something else was happening? I ask because part of the problem with the back up in A&E was that there were no beds available in the hospital. Patients and potential patients could not be moved on and there was something else too, something that until last night I could not put my finger on.

The controller who took my 999 call was superb. She sensed the distress I was desperately trying to control. She spoke to me on a very personal level. Towards the end of the conversation she asked me if I thought my loved one's condition was life threatening. I am not medically trained. I really cannot answer that question with any expertise but in my gut? Loved one may have been having a brain hemorrhage. I didn't know and so I answered that in all honesty it could be life threatening.

The paramedics were brilliant, just like the previous two occasions, efficient, patient, caring and soon we arrived at A&E. This time there was no line of trolleys down the corridor, no backup of ambulances, the entrance area was not packed, booking in was efficient and the receptionist was pleasant adding a personal touch that is needed when you are stressed. The department itself was busy but not full. Different.

I cannot comment on the care at the moment apart from the fact that communication is still not right but I will comment about what was said and what it was the staff were prepared to do. A few hours after admittance we were told to go home as the condition was not life threatening. Apparently so we were told, A&E staff are there to deal with life threatening conditions. They are not there to refer a patient on for further treatment unless there is to be an immediate in patient admittance and despite the problem being exactly the same as the previous two occasions when in patient treatment was deemed appropriate, this time it wasn't life threatening enough for consideration for admittance. Go and see your GP on Monday for the continuing care that is both required and needed. We are life threatening care only There is, it seems no one NHS, there is no streamlining of care. There are separate entities and n'er the twain shall meet.

The fact that the phrase life threatening was used by different people from different parts of the NHS made me see what has changed and why there were no delays or queues and possibly no delays in getting a bed if thought necessary. Unless your condition is life threatening you will be despatched as quickly as possible to become a burden elsewhere within the NHS. Our underfunded and understaffed emergency services may just be able to tick along and meet targets if this is done. Perhaps you've fallen off your cycle and are lying in the road with a broken leg, unable to move, in enormous pain and also in shock. You do not have however, a life threatening condition so you may wait for your ambulance and when it does arrive and they deliver you to A&E, you may be treated quickly but observation will not be a consideration and you will be left to become a problem for someone else but not them.

Maybe I am seeing things in the wrong way here and no doubt there are massive holes in my thought process that will be pointed out but I strongly suspect that word has come from on high, from our political masters who have interests galore in private healthcare provision and therefore less of an interest in an expensive National Health Service, streamlined to meet the needs of the patients as opposed to the needs of the staff, department, hospital, government, that unless it's life threatening, you pass the buck on or not at all but leave it with the patient and let it become a problem for someone else, somewhere else, where perhaps the immediacy and the importance is not quite as sexy for reporting upon when there are problems. Let's face it, it's the beds and A&E that get the vast majority of the reportage. This was my sense last night. It was different. Something had changed and in a very short period of time. The language was very different and language is at the heart of what is to be conveyed for public consumption and perception.

Or perhaps it's all to do with being classified by the CQC as failing and being put in special measures. I do hope whatever it is, medical staff are being allowed to do their jobs properly with due care and attention, rather than with an eye on targets.

15 January 2016

An Afternoon to Remember

The crowd along with the media begin to assemble
Today I had the pleasure along with a substantial crowd of local Aldridge people despite the freezing cold, miserable weather, of witnessing a little bit of Aldridge history. The unveiling of the Blue Heritage Plaque at The Manor House. I've written an awful lot about The Manor. You may have noticed. It's because for a myriad of reasons, that old house means a lot to me, as it does to many residents both past and present of Aldridge. It is a house that has been used for community purposes for a very long time, starting 100 years ago today when it opened as a military convalescent hospital for soldiers of the Great War.

The unveiling today was the culmination of a lot of hard work by several people but in particular Sue Satterthwaite and Len Boulton of The Aldridge Great War Project. Sue and Councillor Tim Wilson did the actual unveiling and Tim also acted as the host, introducing three speakers. It took place at the same time of 3pm where  100 years earlier residents had gathered for the opening of the hospital.

Alison Beardwood
First to speak following prayers, was Alison Beardwood who gave us a fascinating background to the history of blue heritage plaques.

Next was Sue Satterthwaite, local historian and author of several books about Aldridge including the book that led to todays event "A Patriotic Endeavor - Aldridge Manor House as a Military Hospital". Sue took us through the Manor House journey in community use; from the hospital to Doctor's surgery to library and in her words, as the legendary Manor House Youth Club. She also spoke of what a magnificent achievement it was for the people of Aldridge and in particular the women of the village to raise the money in order to open the hospital and furthermore to fund its continuation throughout the war. Sue pointed out that at the time Aldridge was a village of around 3000 residents and yet it saw over 900 men pass through the hospital as patients.

Sue Satterthwaite
Sue introduced the final speaker. A very special and most welcome visitor to our village; Marilyn Preece who had travelled a long way to be with us all. Marilyn  is the granddaughter of Matthew Nell who was the only soldier patient that died whilst the hospital was operational. You can read the full story in the book. Marilyn spoke movingly about the Grandfather that she never knew and of the effect that his death had on her Grandmother and her Mother, who was only 11 months old when she lost him. I have to admit to having a tear in my eye when Marilyn finished her speech.

Sue and Councillor Tim then did the honours with Len standing close by. It was a proud moment for everyone there and I hope that it is a moment that Sue and Len hold dear to themselves for always. You have both done Aldridge proud and we are grateful for all your hard work, dedication and the love that you have for Aldridge.

Marilyn Preece

Following the ceremony I was delighted to be able to chat with Marilyn Preece over a cup of coffee inside The Manor House. I was also happy to be able to swap village memories with Fionna, the daughter of former village GP Dr Boyd Stirling. I don't think I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with Fionna before but it was interesting how many 'joint' village memories we shared. It was Fionna's family that were able to offer all the wonderful records that they had kept from their time at The Manor that meant Sue's book could be researched and published.  

In 1916 Aldridge was a small village but it had a huge heart and with the plaque this will never be forgotten.

Sue Satterthwaite and Councillor Tim Wilson

Len Boulton

The Plaque