“What IS that activity you do when you perform a song?” my University tutor asked me, purposefully, some time in the early 80’s, as we strode in step up the challenging incline of Egham Hill from the railway station. “Singing”, I enunciated, carefully. “Sin. Ging.”
“Hmm,” said Dr Martyn Wakelin in a satisfied tone of voice. “The persistent non-coalescence of the Ng!” It’s a feature of my English dialect that I was and remain proud to possess. It’s the enduring, tell tale, phoneme that continues to betray a socially aspiring West Midlander when all else he utters is as Received Pronunciation to the un-tutored ear.
Dr Wakelin had something else linguistic to say about what he had read in the student register concerning my origins. “Your home address is BostyLane! Have you any idea, Susan, where that comes from? I must confess that for once I’m stumped. I have no idea whatsoever about the etymology of that word.”
Me neither, Dr Wakelin. All I can tell you is that, in 1956, when my parents were choosing a building plot on which to site the first owner occupied home in either of their families’ histories, “Bosty Lane, Aldridge” seemed a fine enough address to write, indented, at the beginning of correspondence.
Mom tells me that they chose Aldridge as being equidistant from my father’s family home in Footherley Lane, Shenstone, and from her mom, dad, and youngest siblings in Bentley on the outskirts of Walsall. The fact that it was a pleasant, semi rural environment and that the village centre was both picturesque and served by good butchers, bakers, fruiterers and grocers was also in its favour. Although my father was vaguely aware that many of his forbears hadn’t moved very far around South Staffordshire, he did not know that during the 18thcentury his Hathaway great great grandparents, and their parents, and there on back, were christened and wed in the quaint parish church of St Mary the Virgin, overlooking The Croft. Those Georgian Hathaways would have recognised much of Aldridge in the 1950’s, and very much less today.
Building their house was not a daunting prospect as my dad had been in the building trade since being demobbed from the Welsh Guards in 1946. Not that either of them could afford to leave paid employment to construct their own property. By day, my dad was general foreman for Franks Brothers, at that time constructing Brooklyn Farm Technical College at Great Barr. The building is now the James Watt Campus of Birmingham Metropolitan College. 155 Bosty Lane grew from the ground during evenings and weekends over the course of many months, aided by donations of labour from my dad’s colleagues.
The future site of 131 to 169 Bosty Lane was a field of stubble, newly harvested of a wheat crop when my dad arrived to pace out the plots. He told me proudly, that he had measured the position of number 155 both from the southeast end on Red House Lane, and again from the north west on the corner of Linley Wood Road, so that any “allowance” the planners had made in their calculations was subsumed into our ever-so-slightly wider garden.
Between Red House Lane and the Aldridge to Walsall Road, 18 pairs of small semi detached houses had already been built some time between the wars. The 1950s development of that part of Bosty Lane in the shadow of Linley Woods was to be a mixed lot of semi-detached and detached houses, of varied and individual design. Why then, would a professional builder opt for one of a rather pedestrian and standard pair of semis for his own family home? Could the inherent economies of bricks, mortar and labour of the party wall be so persuasive to my parsimonious parent? Sadly, he did not have the resources to build both houses only to sell one on at a profit. The truth is this. My mother’s work colleague, Betty Rodgers, and her husband, were also keen to have their own home. Gordon Rodgers was, usefully, an electrician and would also act as labourer under my dad’s instruction if my parents would agree to “go in with them” on a pair of houses. It was not generally considered that my parents benefitted from this deal.