Our Century

An horrific tale of deprivation

Queen's visit
The Queen steps into a waiting limousine on her St George's Day visit.

"You've never had it so good," Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the nation in what was the quotation of 1957. Try telling that to the family whose story was outlined to shocked readers in the January of that year.

The horrific tale of urban deprivation and hardship was outlined at Mid Salop magistrates' court in Shrewsbury by an inspector of the NSPCC who visited the property in Monkmoor Avenue.

And a doctor, in what must have been the under statement of this or any other year, said that a one and two-year-old child found at the property could have suffered hardship.

At the house they found an unguarded fire with in the living room with a pile of rubbish on the floor nearby.

In a corner stood a 3ft bed with broken springs, a rotten mattress and a dirty bolster.

There was an old army greatcoat on it and the rest of the bedclothes were filthy.

The father of the two children said that his wife had given birth to a premature baby in that room which had since died. He had been unable to get any medical help and had had to deliver the baby himself.

His wife had then been rushed to hospital and he was left to care for the two remaining children himself.

The only food in the house was one crust of bread, a small quantity of butter and a little sugar and condensed milk although an empty beer bottle was found on the premises.

Electricity supplies had been cut off and the only furniture in one of the bedrooms was an empty bucket.

In another under statement the 27-year-old father and his wife told the court: "We are in a terrible mess."

But they were told by the magistrate to "pull themselves together" and had their two children taken into care.

Queen's Cinema
The interior of the much-loved Queen's Cinema in Queen Sq was ripped out in 1957 to make way for a Ballroom. But by 1969 that, too, was closed and the site was incorporate into the Lloyd's Bank building.

Baby dies in West Brom fire: The West Midlands awoke on September 14 to the news that three separate fires had brought death and destruction to the region.

In West Bromwich a domestic fire claimed the life of a ten-month-old baby. In Bilston a house was totally destroyed.

But the most spectacular fire was at Bridgnorth where the warehouse of S E & A Ridley in Mill Street was gutted. Thousands gathered to watch the blaze and police and specials were drafted in to control the throng.

Flames leaped high into the air above the warehouse and could be seen from the other side of the River Severn. Local homes were evacuated and firemen from eight towns fought for two hours to bring the blaze under control.

The losses were astronomical for the time: 300 tons of grain and machinery worth 12,000.

From Paris to the Midlands: There was a right royal St George's Day welcome in Dudley and North Worcestershire as the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited the area for the first time since her accession to the throne five years earlier.

It was a case of yesterday Paris, today the West Midlands as the tireless monarch breezed into Hagley Station for the start of their day in the region.

Some camped out from 5am in the morning in the hope of catching a glimpse of their sovereign who was described as looking radiant in a pale turquoise outfit.

Her tour included Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Dudley, Brierely Hill and Stourbridge with Oldbury described as looking "particularly beautiful" in the spring sunshine.

Said a contemporary report: "Particularly eye-catching in this amazing transformation from a smoky Black Country town centre into something approaching a horticulturalist's dream were four bowers of heavily scented flowers and potted plants which surrounded the grey stone war memorial.

Surprise as W'ton ladies miss out . . . Wolverhampton, a town "noted for its smart women" according to fifties fashion gurus, raised eyebrows for all the wrong reasons when not one person from the town was nominated for a BBC TV programme to find the best dressed ladies of the Midlands.

The unwanted distinction, which led to much soul-searching at the time, was one it shared with the similarly-sized Leicester which only managed one nomination.

Every other part of the Express & Star's circulation area was well represented.

"Wolverhampton women, you're slipping," declared Margaret Lawson at the time.

"Your dress sense must have deserted you or can it be that you only watch commercial television?"

Brighton Tories hear of rivalries: One of the Black Country's favourite - if mythical - characters Aynuk broke new ground when he took party in the closing stages of the Tory party conference on local government in Brighton.

His sponsor was Alderman J W Jones, chairman of Oldbury and Halesowen Conservative Association, who asked the Minister for Housing and Local Government for assurances that towns would be able to retain their individual characteristics under planned reforms.

Halesowen and Oldbury were as different as chalk and cheese and the two communities hated the sight of each other, he claimed.

There was a Black Country character called Aynuk, he told his bemused audience of Conservatives from the home and shire counties, and there was another well-known Midland figure called Marlene created by the Wolverhampton actress Beryl Reid.

He shuddered to think what would happen if they ever married and had children and the same was true of any proposed marriage between Halesowen and Oldbury.

Roy Williams
There were chickens to feed, buildings to explore, fields to wander and pigeons to take potshots at...

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