Children and animals in the street


Between the two World Wars, the soundscape of the roads in most small provincial towns, such as Walsall Wood, in South Staffordshire, altered radically and irrevocably as vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine were introduced, and animals – of all sorts – everyday traffic, or beasts driven to market or slaughter – were seen less frequently in the street.

But in the earlier part of the period, human voices could be heard over the rhythmical striking of horses’ hooves on a rutted surface of pulverised stone or cobbles.   The metal-rimmed wheels of horse-drawn vehicles sang along the streets, augmented by the whirr and ring-ring of bicycles.  Steam engines were occasionally seen. The effect at a busy junction could be noisy.  Around 1920, where several thoroughfares met at “the Vigo” it certainly was.  My Aunt Mary remembered measures being taken to dampen down the clatter during her brother’s illness, and what a contrast the quiet time was to the usual cacophony:  Little George was suffering from

……double pneumonia. I had to watch him one evening, [I] remember his eyes turned up under his eyelids, only a tiny bit of blue showing. For days there had been thick straw across the road and everybody coming to the house speaking in whispers. Somebody said ” He’s going to die ” Everywhere was so quiet – more frightening to me than the words I heard. As you know, he didn’t die……

But Walsall Wood streets were not too busy for playing children to be able to inhabit them.  Even when draught horses were commonplace, there were certain circumstances in which they were a spectacle for young Mary Horton and her playmates:

I saw a hearse pulled by horses wearing purple ear covers and I think purple ribbons on the harness. The hearse was followed by the mourner in a purple veil and a purple scarf round one shoulder and across her body and tied, with some of it hanging. She cried so loudly us children felt like bawling too. Behind her came the people dressed in black, the ladies wearing black veils. After they’d passed out of view, I remember we sat down in the gutter covering our bare feet with the warm dry dirt… must have been a hot day……


Not all the children of Walsall Wood were allowed to lark unsupervised in the dusty gutter with their friends, and not all draught animals were horses: “When I was three or four,” my Aunt Mary began an anecdote in her hand-written memoirs, ( meaning that this memorable incident took place towards the end of the first World War):


From “”

I remember a lucky small child coming down our road in a small dogcart, pulled by a goat, their nanny holding the reins, walking behind


The streets that surrounded the family home at the top of Aldridge Road circumscribed Mary’s early experiences. Even the short journey on foot to and from school could be eventful:

I remember I had to come home at dinner time to have mostly bread and jam, or what I particularly liked: condensed milk on bread. Going back to school one day I saw a man whipping his two mules supposed to be pulling a long cart. I shouted at him ” Mister – don’t hit them horses…”. He stopped, cracked the whip in front of me, spat on the horses leg and shouted ” Bugger off ta school or I’ll cut yow across th’arse wi it !- Goo on ” I went – running as fast as my little legs could take me


The local sweet-shop was a cornucopia of delicious confectionary, but frightening sights lurked upstairs:

 Across the road from school was Suranne’s little sweet shop. All sorts of mouth-watering sweets were in small boxes with price tickets on. Liquorish Laces were 3 for 1d., birds nest with 3 eggs a penny, gob stoppers a halfpenny, sherbet suckers a halfpenny with a liquorish “straw” in the corner of the sucker bag 1d. “Sucky” fish 3 for a halfpenny, sucky pigs and mice 1d. Chocolate bars a halfpenny, penny or three ha’pence according to size.

One day when Suranne’s mother was ill (Suranne was mother’s cousin) my mother said I was to go in after school…. remember being taken upstairs into a room with curtains half closed. There were lots of people standing about – and a large bed in the middle of the room – in it lay the oldest, wrinkliest, most frightening old woman I had ever seen. Always before I had just heard her voice…” Suranne !.. Suranne!..” ” Coming Mother….” Suranne answered, but still attending to our wants, until once again the voice came ” Suranne!!!!”

She lay there propped up on the pillows. I peered at her through the slats on the bottom of the bed. Her eyes saw me – fastened onto me – ” Suranne, is that Mary?” I was so terrified I ran down the stairs and out into the road and ran all the way home.

By now, quite an elderly person herself – though she never really seemed it – Aunt Mary wrote, apologetically “Thinking of it now, the poor old thing must have been near to death.”

Mary left Walsall Wood school on her 14th birthday, in 1927, and so we can date the following, most exotic  of her childhood animal encounters quite accurately:


Soon after I left school – in the November – Brownhills Wake was on, and there was a menagerie. Four chained elephants stood in a row, one put its trunk out so I gave it a sweet, then another, and another, til I only had two left. I walked away, but the elephant had other ideas, she wrapped her trunk around my waist and I couldn’t feel the floor I yelled”Mister !… Look what it’s doing !!!”… “Don’t be frightened.. give her your sweet bag ” I did. …and she put me down. Her name was Margaret and she often caught people like that ………


The tours of Bostock and Wombwell’s menagerie had been interrupted by the Great War, but the Tamworth Herald records its appearance back in the Midlands in 1925, and in 1930, and so I am tempted to assume that alarmingly sweet toothed and playful “Margaret” was one of the stars of their entertainments.

The appearance of a travelling menagerie, a fair, a circus, contests of athleticism, sparrow shooting and pigeon racing and the relaxation of licencing laws are all documented in the local press as events to look forward to at “Wakes Week,” although the Lichfield Mercury, with disparaging tone, refers to all this as “the usual paraphenalia” being assembled near the Hussey Arms. Consultation of the local press in the first decades of the 20th century also confirms the traditional occasion of the Brownhills “Wakes”, (a gathering or fair) in November – unusual amongst the survivals or revivals of these ancient festivals in the North of England, and suggests that it pre-dates the mass holidays which have co-incided with annual closures in mining and manufacturing communities since the Industrial Revolution. As Brownhills only came into existance as a significant centre of population in the 19th century, the Wakes must have evolved in one of its older neighbours – Ogley Hay, perhaps, or Pelsall.

Brian Stringer, “The Clayhanger Kid” remembers the pit ponies coming up for a week or two in August during the miners’ holidays, consistent with many mining areas.  Margaret Brice, in her “Short History of Walsall Wood,” records the pleasingly alliterative Walsall Wood Wakes Week as the last week in October/first week in November, but relates that this particular custom ended in 1913, the year Aunt Mary was born.



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17 Responses to Children and animals in the street


    My word you are being busy. I have SO enjoyed this, yet again , and it made me think what an eye Mum had for details, I am sure I could never recall little incidents from my young years so meticulously . It would be wonderful if such minutiae actually return with age !… some compensation for going decrepit I suppose…..

    Much love Ros


  2. David Oakley. says:

    Precious old memories of The Vigo, Walsall Wood. Am 82 and remember those old houses well.
    Salters Road lad, myself. Remember horse- drawn hearses and Suranne Price. Tiny little lady whose shop was directly opposite the Council schools in Brownhills Road. Been in the shop
    hundred of times. Can still remember that lovely smell of sweets as you entered the shop.
    Kind regards,

  3. David, how lovely, and I am glad to have been instrumental in provoking those memories. I would love to pin down how I am related to Suranne. I cannot find her unusual name on the 1911 census, or in the BMD records. As a Price, I assume that the connection is via my great grandfather, Enoch Blann, whose elder sister married Sam Price. Perhaps you can confirm for me that Suranne was a spinster, and that she was born a Price?

  4. David Oakley. says:

    Yes, Suranne was a spinster, surnamed Price, until very late in life, then in her fifties or so,
    she got married. She lived very near my aunt in Brownhills Road and attended the Methodist chapel. David Evans from Brownhillsbob has a lot of Methodist memorabilia and has provided me with old photos of family members, all Methodists. He may have something on Suranne.. Mr. Dunning, David’s grandfather lived nearby. Suranne may have married at the Methodist chapel,
    say, late 1940’s. I would place Suranne as being born in the mid 1890’s.
    Still love your prose.

  5. Andy Dennis says:

    I had a quick look on Ancestry. As there seems to be no record of a Suranne I wondered if it was a corruption of Sarah Ann or Sarah Hannah (say). Whether what I found is right for Suranne I have no ideas, but these GRO indeces might be a starting point?

    Sarah Ann Price born 1894 Jul-Aug Lichfield 6b 459

    Sarah H Price married Frank Burton 1945 Apr-Jun Lichfield 6b 1032

    Sarah Ann Burton died 1969 age 78 Jan-Mar Walsall 9b 856

    I also have some Price in my family tree including: Kate married Dad’s uncle Harry Dennis 1902 and Caroline married Fred Shingler snr 1914. Both were daughters of William Price and Jane Marklew, but there is no census record of a related Sarah Ann or similar at roughly the right time.

    Any use?
    Best wishes

  6. David Evans says:

    Dolly or Polly Price’s shop…opposite the school..mechanical bell clanked when you went in..quarry bricks/tiles on the floor…….glass- fronted counter to the right hand side as you went in…..a cold shop.. one of a pair of old semi-detached this the shop you remember?

    • Lovely detail, David – just what I was going to ask for! That side of my family seem to have been a clan of shop-keepers….my grandad Enoch Blann by the bridge in Walsall Wood, g.g.uncle Sam Price in Brownhills Road….both at the turn of the century…then my grandmother at 1, Aldridge Road Vigo, and her sister Florrie and her husband g. Uncle Tom Hodgkinson with a fish and chip shop in Brownhills in the 20s.

  7. David Evans says:

    You may find my blog articles about St Johns junior school Walsall Wood useful, too . One has already been posted in Brownhills bobs blog;;”looking after the girls”..more to appear in due course..
    I think the row of cottages opposite the school in Brownhills Road was built around 1900; there was an abattoir behind one of the houses! There certainly was a shop by this row of cottages..Perhaps David Oakley may be able to offer more information.
    kind regards

  8. David Evans says:

    Walsall Wood Methodist Church, as is today. The building was put up in 1908 as the Sunday School..and the wall has stone and bricks paid for by benefactors…One brick has the name
    W.H.Price…..the name Blann rings a bell..Walsall Wood Wesley Church, perhaps.( this was in the High Street, opposite the medical centre)
    all the best

    • William Herbert Price (1866 – 1930) was my grandmother’s first cousin……..he was also my grandfather’s brother in law……William and his wife Elizabeth Jaques had 9 children according to the 1911 census, 8 of which were still living. His handwriting is beautiful, and his occupation is “Colliery Winding Engineman.”

  9. My grandmother often said that her father Enoch Blann was a lay-preacher. Thank you very much for the extra information, David. I would love to find out more. Yes, I’m a dedicated, enthusiastic reader of “Bob.”!

  10. David Evans says:

    Myra Blann was a well-known local singer….A relation?
    kind regards

  11. The 1881 census shows Myra’s grandfather, Edward Harry Pugh Blann, as a 6 year old boy, visiting the household of my great grandfather, Enoch Blann, on Shire Oak Hill. It doesn’t specify what relation he is to the family. Myra is my 3rd or 4th cousin, I would guess. She was exactly contemporary with my father, (Edwin Noah Horton, 31/8/25 – 30/3/2007). What sort of singing did she do? What did she look like? I’m fascinated!

  12. David Oakley. says:

    There were two shops within 50 yards of each other in Brownhills Road, a general store owned by
    Hilda Hancox, with the abbatoir at the rear, as mentioned by David Evans and ‘Polly’s’ as she was
    known locally. a sweet shop.
    ‘Polly’ or Suranne could fairly be described as a ‘character’. Very
    tiny, probably less than 5 feet tall, with round ‘owl-like ‘ spectacles of the period, a beret, worn
    Michael Crawford style and a little facial hair. Perhaps a little short on humour, if the truth be told’
    Her late marriage was quite a surprise to many people. The name Wadey keeps coming through
    to me as Suranne’s married name, but that could probably be a quirk in my ancient memory.
    Suranne Jones, a former actress in Coronation Street, born in Manchester, was christened
    Sarah Anne. Her parents wanted her to be named ‘Suranne’ but an R.C. priest dissuaded them,
    saying that it was ‘not a proper name’ although it was was the name of her great-grandmother.
    She later took on the name of ‘Suranne’ as her stage name, after joining ‘Equity. So ‘Suranne’ has
    quite ancient roots, probably of Northern origin.
    Groping farther back in memory to
    Myra Blann. I think you will find that she was a visiting soprano who sang solo parts in many
    musical events, a popular and well acclaimed singer. As a youngster, I remember seeing her
    name frequently listed for these events, in the limited media of the time. Not really being old
    enough to attend these events, I never had the pleasure of hearing the lady sing.

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