I'm a twit too

Friday, December 31, 2010


Albert and Elsie Higgins - Selly Oak c.1967
When Kath turned the corner from Hubert Rd. into the top of Exeter Rd she felt relief. Unlike her uncomfortable status as the bastard child and rebel domestic servant at her Mother' house, Brian's family were what she thought a family should be like; warm and welcoming, enjoying each others company, and some lively conversations!
Elsie treated Kath more like a daughter than her own mother...but she would only stay at the Higgins home at Number 26 for a couple of nights, because the social service office at Cadbury's not only provided Kath with a job, but also accommodation within Bournville Village.

So much was changing. It wasn't long ago when the two Kathleens had been at the kitchen sink, washing and drying up when her mother asked "Why don't you call me Mum?"
The reply was simple and straightforward: "You don't act like my Mother."

 Return to Exeter Rd  July 2010: now uniform student housing.
 I am pointing out the homes where my forebears  had lived - the
Higgins/Southall's 1900-1978, and the entry to go around to the back garden.
Number 26 Exeter Rd. was in a row of Victorian built terrace houses built in a housing boom for the incoming population of labourers attracted to industries set up on the farming land  2 miles outside of the city - Cadbury's at Bournville, Ariel Cycle Works, Birmingham Battery and Austin Motors at Longbridge.
There was a lot of work for Brickies Labourers...
Tiverton Rd school motto : Knowledge is Power
Creating a foundation of  a love of Learning
Between 1900-1910 Selly Oak/Bournbrook's development progressed with smart red-brick  Municipal buildings like public baths, swimming pools, schools and libraries.
Grandad Higgins would be one of the first pupils at Tiverton Road Junior and Infant School, and my sisters and I the last of the Higgins enrolled there.
Higgins sisters, Tiverton Rd. School photo 1971.
For the first time in the family Albert Higgins would enjoy a standard of education not previously available to the majority of children. 
He would also receive a scholarship to attend King Edward Grammar School at nearby Edgebaston.

Grandad Albert was emblematic of what the Chamberlain politicians envisioned for Birmingham's working-class: vote Conservative!

Kath's fiancee, my dad Brian grew up with his Southall grandparents across the road. They had arrived in Selly Oak at the turn of the 20th century, so that by 1911 the population was 31,000!
His grandmother, Hannah Southall was from the Black Country town of Dudley where they had been Nailers for generations. What was already a subsistence cottage industry came to nothing with global competition. After living in each others pockets for hundreds of years the Southalls dispersed. One lad emigrated to the steel city of Carnegie, another took his family to the Steel city of Sheffield in Yorkshire, those who didn't have the energy to move stayed in Dudley.
Great great Grandparents Joseph and Agnes Southall(nee Martin)  moved south to Selly Oak - finding a rental house at number 76 Exeter Rd, then a shift to number 33.
33 Exeter Rd.2010

In 1901 their daughter Hannah married Albert Edward Higgins who lived with his brother Ernest's family around the corner at 272 Hubert Rd. Alberts parents had come South from Belbroughton to Harborne where their background was also in the equally non-esteemed occupation of Nailing.

Materially, all the families were going up in the world!

Albert Edward Higgins, a Sand Blaster at the Cycle Works and Hannah Southall married at St. Mary's Parish Church in Selly Oak, and found accommodation at 104 High St. near the Bournbrook Hotel.

Tragically, Albert died of Tuberclerosis(T.B.) age 28.  Hannah was forced to take her two toddler sons, Albert and Harold, to her parents house at 33 Exeter Rd. At least she had the comfort of family in her bereavement no matter the cramped living situation.

Six years later Hannah is living across the road from her parents at number 26, remarried to Mr. Thomas Prime, Brass Casting Business owner, and given birth to two daughters. 
 Life was moving on and for her sons Albert Higgins and his brother Harold, Selly Oak would be their patch for the rest of their lives. As they grew up into men there was work opportunities, social and sporting activities, and room for advancement including buying their own home.
It was still very much a world that favoured men. Hannah's sister  Eliza had lived two doors down at number 22 since her marriage in 1909. 
Her children had been born there too but at the age of 60 her husband died. It was 1951 but she was served with an eviction notice.Women couldn't sign leases or be depended on to earn enough for the rent... Even though he was a child my father, Brian can remember the crisis Eliza faced as a widow with no rights in law. 
Her furniture and belongings were tossed out into the street. Eliza  was fortunate to have an extended family to help her. Thus the sisters Hannah and Eliza had experienced the same discrimination on the death of a spouse, one in 1905 the other in 1951. Again the resources of family remained a dependable safety-net, but obviously not everybody had this.

Kath at least would be able to rely on the generosity of her new parents-in-law of Exeter Rd until her and Brian were married and got a place of their own.
Albert  Higgins had bought his childhood home and the front upstairs bedroom became the birthplace for my war baby Dad in 1940 and his three siblings.
It was probably one of the last jobs for the local midwife who rode to her labouring clients on her bicycle. Going to hospital was seen as safer than home births.
I was born in 1963 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where Nan cleaned, so she got to see my head being pushed out into the coldest winter.

My mum wished she hadn't wrote down 'Catholic' on the hospital admission forms under 'Religion' but she was having her first baby...She saw the priest coming through the glass doors but couldn't get up to rush to the toilet in time, before he was at her bedside. 
On discovering that she had married a Protestant at the Birmingham Registry Office he made mum aware that in the eyes of God and his Holy Church the marriage was not recognised and so the baby she held in her arms was, in fact a 'bastard'.

My twin sisters had complications with Rhesus negative blood types so they went to Lordswood Maternity Hospital at nearby Harborne, and had to have complete blood transfusions. A Catholic Priest popped in to give the new-born babies the Last Rites even though Mum said she wasn't a Catholic, but when he asked where she was christened, she begrudgingly admitted in a Catholic Church!

They survived and thrived and were christened into the Church of England in St. Wulstans Church.

Brian buys his and his dad's childhood home for our childhood in 1965.
Alison and Debbie's  Christening party
As I see it, Kath's experience and innate sense of independence meant she had rejected the faith and doctrines taken on as a matter of course by the Catholic culture of a long line of mothers before her. 
As her daughters we would be saved from being captive to Catholic Church dogma and ritual which as far as she thought did more harm than good, and never shown any respect or love.

Whilst the early 1900's had attracted workers from surrounding Midland towns, post world-war two migrations resulted in Exeter Rd's  residents being mainly of Irish origin. Like Kath's Mother who married a Polish Catholic Migrant, Mary and Frank Materna lived across the road and rearing three girls. Frank was Polish and was a bus conductor and Mary was from Dublin. 
1975 Cousin Adam, I, sister Deb and neighbour Pauline.
on the wall Dad built. No.22 where Eliza used to live next to
Mr Leadbetters with the black door, now home to Mrs. Morris, a widow...
My auntie Sue was a babysitter for the Materna children and then when they grew up they babysat me!  We may have been the only Protestants in the street and St Wulstan's congregation was shrinking, but there was no sense of sectarian conflict. We were all united as neigbours from Exeter Rd.

Everybody knew Mums story about being brought up by the Sisters of Mercy and coming from Australia. She delighted in shocking our devout neighbours by her occasional blasphemy when they would be under her hairdryer or having a head full of rollers. 
Mum may have been in their prayers to come back to the Holy Catholic Church. She must have seemed Irish with her red eyes and auburn hair, and love of  a drop of strong drink! Even the Avon Lady brought her a gift of holy water from Lourdes thinking she was one of them.
Then there was the Priest who chased Mum up Tiverton Rd asking why he hadn't seen her at Mass? She protested she wasn't Catholic and said she wasn't Irish - her Mother was Scottish!

In 1973 around the time of the Birmingham Pub Bombings, I picked up the phone to a man telling me to look out of the window because he was going to throw a bomb through our window! They thought we were the I.R.A.
We discovered the next day, that the Evening Mail had reported a raid at a house further up and found home-made bombs and guns, but when reporting the person a typographical error was that the suspect was  26 Exeter Rd, and not age 26!

Transient students attending Birmingham University fill those small terrace houses now, creating a new set of memories of  living for a time in Selly Oak.
26 Exeter Rd. has loomed large in my dreams after I left there for a life in Australia at 14years so when I re-visited the site of my childhood, I couldn't help but go up my old entry to our back garden and feel like a giant stepping into a home for Lilliputians!
They built those houses to last. They built the whole suburb to house a vision of Municipal Socialism - and this was to effect my own political framework in the future. 
One doesn't easily forget the Cadbury sponsored free swimming pass, the dedication of Brown Owl and the public parks and libraries where my imagination was free to roam.

around the back of 26, in 2010 for a sneaky peek.
Many times I managed to climb into that window when
Mum wasn't home.

1969 With Auntie  Sue. She had my bedroom before me, where she ran a telephone wire her friend in the back-to-back house in background. This has been demolished.

1 comment:

  1. Your information is informative .Thanks for sharing .



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