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Things that go bump in the Borough

October 28, 2015 in Article, Bloxwich, Ghosts, Walsall Borough by Stuart Williams

by Stuart Williams
The Old White Hart at Caldmore

The Old White Hart at Caldmore

Since Hallowe’en is rapidly approaching, and many of us enjoy a good scare at this season of the year, I thought that you, dear reader, might find this article intriguing…

Over the centuries, creepy tales of ghosts and ghouls, legends of mystery and imagination, and fragments of ancient folklore become inextricably intertwined with the history of every town, and whatever you believe about the origins of ghost stories, these old legends are firm favourites with those who like to tell tall tales by the fireside, ale in hand, long into the night.

The Old White Hart

There are a few particularly memorable local stories of the supernatural, perhaps the most popular of which relate to The White Hart.  The legendary home of the ‘Caldmore Ghost’ is a very old and picturesque house, later used as a pub, located on Caldmore Green, just outside Walsall town centre.

Now wonderfully restored for shared use, The White Hart is thought to date back to the second half of the seventeenth century, and was probably built by George Hawe (died 1679).  This remarkable listed building is the object of great local affection, despite the dark legends associated with it.  Since it was built it has gathered around it a shroud of many chilling stories, which may or may not be old wives tales.

The Caldmore 'Hand of Glory'

The Caldmore ‘Hand of Glory’

In the latter part of the nineteenth century The White Hart was renovated, and, during the work, a child’s arm was found hidden in an attic chimney. The arm has become known as the ‘Hand of Glory’, traditionally a hand cut from a hanged felon and dried in the prescribed manner.  Then, either by lighting the fingers themselves or using the hand as a candle holder, the Hand was supposed to stupefy any person seeing it, thus enabling a burglar to ransack a house without being caught.  It was generally believed that the flames could not be blown out by any ordinary person and that milk was the only liquid able to extinguish the candle.

This grisly object, which was for many years on display in Walsall Museum  (now closed), seems to be a medical specimen, dissected by a surgeon and injected with formalin to preserve it.  It certainly does not date from the time when the house was first built.  However, popular legend refuses to accept such a dull solution.

There are many other tales of haunted happenings, into modern times, and The White Hart has become known as the home of ‘The Caldmore Ghost’.  I present here for your interest a photograph taken in 1925 of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Clarke, allegedly ‘taking the pulse’ of this legendary spectre.

Dr. Clarke 'taking the pulse' of the Caldmore Ghost...

Dr. Clarke ‘taking the pulse’ of the Caldmore Ghost…

Sites of spooky speculation

Other subjects and sites of spooky speculation around the Borough include, of course, the old vicarage of St. George’s Church on Darlaston Green, the haunted Area Dispatch Office at Walsall Bus Depot, the spirited old lady at the Manor Arms in Rushall, the spectral West Highland terrier of Sutton Road, the cellar spectre at the ‘Memo’ in Bloxwich and the Ghost Train of the Leighs Wood Line at Shelfield!

St George's Church, Darlaston, c1970. (Alan Price)

St George’s Church, Darlaston, c1970. (Alan Price)

Saying “Boo!” in Bloxwich

Bloxwich is certainly the haunt of many a terrifying tale, and I well remember in my youth being told of the ghostly Flying Nun of Wallington Heath, who had supposedly committed suicide in the old fishing pool at the Convent there.

The former King's Arms, Wallington Heath, Bloxwich, early 1900s. (Walsall LHC)

The former King’s Arms, later convent, Wallington Heath, early 1900s

This story may derive from the alleged haunting of the Old King’s Arms, a former coaching inn on the site which later became the convent of St. Paul of Chartres, by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered at the inn. There are still a few older people in the neighbourhood who can well remember their parents hurrying past the spot or refusing to venture that way at night…

The former 1874 Bloxwich Police Station and Library, 2010. (Stuart Williams)

The former 1874 Bloxwich Police Station and Library, 2010. (Stuart Williams)

Then of course there are more recent reports of footsteps and mysterious figures seen upstairs in The Spring Cottage pub, Elmore Green Road, Bloxwich – or the beer-chucking spectre at the Memorial Club in Harrison Street!  Indeed, not many people know that the old part of the ‘Memo’, heavily modified externally in the 1970s, is Bloxwich’s first Branch Library, and second Police Station, in use from 1874.  The old house’s former cellar was used as a gaol cell, as the rusted hinges down there testify.  Is the spooky lager lout a former prisoner or spectral librarian causing a ruckus? Who knows…

Supernatural goings-on in Bloxwich have not been limited to reports of ghosts, though.

The Bloxwich Wishing Tree
The Old Bull's Head and Wishing Tree, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927. (Billy Meikle)

The Old Bull’s Head and Wishing Tree, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927. (Billy Meikle)

More than once I have referred to the story of the Bloxwich Wishing Tree which once stood near the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road. Both Billy Meikle, writing in 1938, and later fellow local historian E. J. Homeshaw, who published his book The Story of Bloxwich in 1955, recorded versions of the following tale of the old Bull’s Head, the events of which Meikle dates to about 1906.

Samuel Moseley, a coal miner, sat drinking in the kitchen of the Bull’s Head one day, when his wife Margaret came to remind him that it was time he was preparing for work.  She told him the time but he paid no heed to her warnings.  In fact he told her that he did not think he would go to work that afternoon.  Margaret left the Bull in a towering rage and when she got to the door she cursed him and wished that the Bull would fall on him and bury him.

According to the story, she only got as far as a nearby tree, where she repeated her wish and suddenly the roof of the Bull’s Head fell in with a great crash!  Everything in the upper rooms including the furniture was smashed, but both the old kitchen and Samuel Moseley escaped unscathed.  When Mrs. Moseley saw the roof fall in according to her wish, she took to her heels, ran all the way home and fell down in a dead faint!  Henceforth, the tree beneath which she was granted her wish became known as ‘The Wishing Tree’, and was held in great awe.  Today, it even features on the top of “The Bloxwich Tardis”, a public monument to Bloxwich in steel and cast iron erected on Elmore Green in 2007.

Bloxwich Carnival Ambassadors at The Bloxwich Tardis monument in 2013 - the gold Wishing Tree is on top (pic courtesy The Bloxwich Telegraph)

Bloxwich Carnival Ambassadors at The Bloxwich Tardis monument in 2013 – the gold Wishing Tree is on top (pic courtesy The Bloxwich Telegraph)

The present Bull’s Head pub, closed in August 2007 and badly damaged in a suspected arson attack in 2009, today lies empty and forlorn, its roof and other parts of the building left unrepaired and reminiscent of the now-legendary falling in of the roof believed to have been caused by Mrs Moseley’s unwitting curse upon her husband.

I’ll conclude this article by returning to that story and quoting a spooky poem from the book ‘Ghosts & the Folklore Around Barr Beacon’ by Andrew Perrins, sadly now out of print:

Ballad of the Wishin’ Bush

Sum airty years ago in Bloxidge town,

A tale told there is so well known;

About a quaint ode wishin’ tree,

By th’ Bull’s Yed for all to see.

Now a local blade, he did enjoy,

A pint or two upon the sly,

In that said pub within th’ town,

Those quarts ov ale, ‘e drunk ‘em down.

Now ‘is wife she was so much vexed,

In fact, she was a touch perplexed,

To know ‘er bloke went astray,

Drinkin’ each nite an’ ev’ry day.

She med a wish so th’ tree would fall

Upon ‘er spouse to stop ‘im all,

From a drinkin’ in that wretched pub,

A curse she uttered upon the shrub.

But th’ tree, it missed an’ ‘it th’ inn

Uzby escaped by th’ thick ov ‘iz skin,

Now th’ wife, she took it all to ‘art,

An’ on that day she did depart.

‘Em say th’ bush’s growin’ still,

So do mek a wish if yoh will!

Whether all of these tales are the result of ghostly materialisations and spectral shenanigans or can simply be put down to the effects of some other kind of spirits, who can say?

I for one keep an open mind, especially at Hallowe’en…

Stuart Williams

Back to Walsall Future

October 21, 2015 in Article, Local Studies Library, Walsall Future by Stuart Williams

by Stuart Williams

When a 'real' Delorean time machine landed in Walsall's Victorian Arcade back in August (pic Stuart Williams)

When a ‘real’ Delorean time machine landed in Walsall’s Victorian Arcade back in August (pic Stuart Williams)

It seems opportune, today, when the world is marking ‘Back to the Future Day‘, to re-publish some entertaining predictions and prognostications for Walsall’s future which were printed in the Walsall Shopping Festival handbook for 2nd-10th November, 1923! Especially when a ‘real’ Delorean time machine came to town just a few months ago, also to promote shopping…

Walsall Shopping Festival 1923 Souvenir Hand Book

Walsall Shopping Festival 1923 Souvenir Hand Book

This lovely little booklet, which is available for reference in the Local Studies Library at Walsall Local History Centre, not only talks about Walsall Future (with some tongue-in-cheek predictions for the year 2023, a hundred years hence) but also looks back into the history of Walsall Past, and speaks of a prosperous present.

The booklet was published by the Festival Committee under the auspices of Walsall Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tradesmen’s Association and the Rotary Club of Walsall, with the intention of promoting trade in the town. It was printed at the Press of Thomas Richmond, Leicester Street, Walsall.

It’s full of fascinating adverts for local businesses of the day, and even competitions for young and old.  As you can see from just the pages of the ‘Walsall Future’ feature which we have re-published here, it’s also filled with lovely little illustrations and topical cartoons.  The whole thing is a delightful time capsule and as such leaves a message for modern Walsall.

So, here we present what we may reasonably consider to be Walsall’s own ‘Back to the Future’ moment. Some of the ideas presented are not far off, others may have have to wait a while, or may never come to pass.  They must have, to many, seemed the stuff of science fiction and H.G. Wells.

Nonetheless we hope you enjoy reading – and seeing pictures of – some of the predictions which the author of the feature had so much fun with, back in the day.

I wonder what we will see in Walsall’s future yet to come?

After all, since we still have the year 2023 to look forward to, unlike the 1980’s Back to the Future film trilogy, which after today is set firmly in the past, we are not yet ‘outtatime’…

 

Walsall Future 1

Walsall Future 2

Walsall Future 3

Walsall Future 4

Walsall Future 5

Walsall Future 6

Walsall Future 7

 

When the Delorean time machine landed in Walsall (pic Stuart Williams)

When the Delorean time machine landed in Walsall (pic Stuart Williams)

 

 

 

 

Up the Chuckery with Billy Meikle

October 19, 2015 in Article, Billy Meikle, Business, Chuckery, History by Stuart Williams

by Stuart Williams & Billy Meikle

A thousand miles for Madame Angelo

Madam Angelo walking at The Chuckery, 1868 (watercolour  by Billy Meikle, 1942)

Madam Angelo walking at The Chuckery, 1868 (watercolour by Billy Meikle, 1942)

In 1942, Walsall’s legendary local historian Billy Meikle recalled an early memory of his youth in Walsall.

In 1868, when he was just ten years old, a remarkable lady called Madam Angelo came to town.  A well-known endurance walker, which was a popular sporting pursuit in those days.  She set foot in Walsall having given herself the challenge of walking one thousand miles in as many consecutive hours.  This Herculean task was to take place in a field in The Chuckery, a part of Walsall which lies just outside Walsall town centre.

Billy was so fascinated by this that he decided to play truant from school in order to see her, the only time he ever did so.  He had saved up his pocket money till he had the grand sum of sixpence for the entry fee.  Sadly, he lost the money before he got there, so he sneaked under the canvas surrounding the field.

Budding artist Billy made a sketch of Madam Angelo and noted her costume.  She wore her hair in a chignon, topped off by a turban-like hat with a feather sticking out of it.  She was dressed in a white silk blouse, over which was a black velvet bolero; below were black satin ‘knickers’ (breeches) and white stockings.  On her feet were elastic sided shoes.

Madam Angelo was, it seems, a great attraction at the time.  Apparently The Chuckery was a magnet for this kind of stunt, for Billy also tells us about an American man, possibly named Weston, who later decided to outdo Madame Angelo by walking two thousand miles in a thousand consecutive hours.  On this occasion Billy was unable to get into the walking ground, sixpence being a lot of money in those days.  However, not one to be defeated by lack of funds, the cheeky lad climbed a tree in the next field to get a view – though he had to fight for a seat on a branch!

A notable victory

W. G. Grace, 1883

W. G. Grace, 1883

The next event Billy recalls in The Chuckery was a notable Victorian cricket match between the “Eleven of All England” and twenty-two Walsall cricketers.  It was there that Billy had the privilege of seeing “the two Graces” – the legendary Dr. W.G. Grace (arguably the finest cricket player of all time) and his older brother E.M. Grace.

Meikle did not remember the other players of the Eleven apart from an Irish fast bowler called McIntyre, nor does he give a date, but Wisden records a famous match at Walsall in 1883, when Frank Breeden, a medium-paced right-arm bowler, who played for Warwickshire in the early years of the county club, played for Walsall and District.

According to Wisden “Breeden and Allan Hill, the Yorkshire fast bowler, dismissed the entire United All-England Eleven captained by W. G. Grace for 82 and 58. Breeden bowled W. G. round his legs, and his record for the match was ten wickets for 68… Besides the two successful bowlers, Richard Daft and H. B. Daft, famous with Nottinghamshire, and George Pinder, of Yorkshire, a superb wicket keeper, were in the Walsall side. W. G. Grace took 17 wickets for 135 and scored 23 and 9, but the powerful United eleven were beaten.”  Perhaps this was Meikle’s match – I wish I had been there to see it!

Billy remembered lying on the grass near the afore-mentioned bowler McIntyre during an interval, when the two Graces strolled by accompanied by a Mr. Coath who lived at ‘The Shrubbery’ nearby.  He heard Coath say that he “would pay for a Champagne dinner if any one of the players would hit a ball through any of his windows” – upon which McIntyre quipped “By my soul, he will have to pay!”  The Irishman went in to bat, and with the third ball he sent one right through Mr. Coath’s pantry window; good as his word, Coath ordered the dinner at the old George Hotel on The Bridge.  Though his rich uncle who owned the Patent Shaft Company paid for it!

From Canada to Chuckery for tea!

Canadians and the local great and good at The Shrubbery, 26th June 1905 (pic Billy Meikle)

Canadians and the local great and good at The Shrubbery, 26th June 1905 (pic Billy Meikle)

The final Chuckery event Meikle recounts was on 26 June 1905 when, now a small businessman himself, Billy attended a garden party at The Shrubbery for the Delegates of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association.

Walsall was of course a hive of industry, and it is no surprise that such a group would wish to visit the town in those days.  The party was given by Mr. S.B. Wheway, J.P., President of the Walsall Chamber of Commerce.  On this occasion, Billy took his camera, leaving us a record of some of Walsall’s ‘great and good’ of the time.

Mr. John Cooper, Walsall Town Clerk, standing  and Dr. McCarten, Catholic priest of St. Mary’s (pic Billy Meikle)

Mr. John Cooper, Walsall Town Clerk, standing and Dr. McCarten, Catholic priest of St. Mary’s (pic Billy Meikle)

One rather jolly photo shows Mr. John Cooper, the Walsall Town Clerk, standing with top hat and frock coat, smiling – and Dr. McCarten, the Catholic priest of St. Mary’s The Mount, seated next to him, tipping his hat towards the camera in fun.  Another shows the Canadian delegates standing on the left, atop a grassy mound while others chat on seats below.

The jollity went on till 6.30pm when the band engaged for the day played “Good Save the King”, and everyone departed including Meikle, clutching his camera and bag full of photographic plates, having recorded yet another slice of Walsall’s fascinating history for us to wonder at all these years later.

Stuart Williams