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