History of the local area
Life in Brocton in the 1940s –‘ 50s
It is a cold wintery day at the beginning of February 2013 and I have been invited into the home of Roger Turnpenny and his wife, Gillian, who now live in Sawpit Lane, Brocton. Roger has lived in Brocton all his life and we spend a pleasant hour travelling down memory lane to look at the stories behind the pictures taken when he was a child. Roger lived with his family at White Lodge, Chase Road, now the home of one of our Parish Councillors.
As we have just been having problems with the ice and snow in Chase Road making life difficult for the residents who live there it has to be remembered that these problems are not new and were just as apparent sixty years ago. In those days the quarry was in full production and Roger recalls the lorries from there sliding sideways down Chase Road on the ice and snow, probably made worse by Roger and his friends sledging down thereat weekends and compacting the snow into hard ice. Lorries often got stuck sideways across the road and regularly hit the black and white cottage at the bottom.
Snow drifts on Chase Road and in the village would be four to six feet in places and could last from October to March. Local residents would dig a pathway about 3 feet wide to get around the village. Roger’s mother and friends would borrow the children’s large home-made wooden sledges and walk to Stafford and back to get provisions because the two local shops were unable to get deliveries due to the snow.
The Chase Road Quarry provided work for local people and Roger remembers one particular employee, Sammy Brown, who lived in a converted 20ft x 10ft wooden garage situated in the garden of the Old Post Office on the side of Chase Road. He had a cast iron stove in the middle for cooking and heating and used to throw his tea leaves from his billy can out of the door and across the road. There were always tea leaves stuck to the road and sometimes they would only just miss passers- by.
Sammy Brown operated the large diesel engine pump that pumped water from the stream in Sherbrook Valley, (the concrete foundations can still be seen by the stream today), via a pipe to the quarry. He would walk up to the quarry and then be taken by lorry to the shed in the valley where he would operate the pump all day. Roger had a mate, Barry Snape, whose father was a foreman at the quarry and sometimes they used to go on the lorry with Sammy Brown and fish for trout where there was a large deep sump by the stream.
When the quarry had finished for the day the diggers would be left at the top of the sloping roads down to the quarry so that they could be jump started the next day. Roger and his mates would go up and let the brakes off and have a joyride down the hill, until the local bobby, Ron Brammer, lay in wait one evening and that was the end of that!
Barry Snape was one of a family of about eight who used to live in what was no more than a shed on stilts where the garden centre/nursery is now at the top of Chase Road. In those days there was quite a community of people living in similar dwellings (some were wood and some just corrugated tin) in that area. Roger believes a lot of the dwellings were from the WWI camps on the Chase. The Snape family had a very large Irish wolfhound and very often it used to go missing for days, returning home dragging a deer when everyone would eat well for days.
Occasionally the dam (just up the road from the nursery on the left hand side) used by the quarry to store the water after washing the gravel would burst and all the water and slurry would run down the valley and flood into Brook Lane and onto Pool Lane leaving a sandy beach for many weeks.
One of Roger’s earliest memories is of military tanks (made at English Electric Co) lined up outside White Lodge waiting to be tested in the Oldacre Valley area. Another was of prisoners of war, presumably from the camps still being used on the Chase, working on the side of Walton Lane cutting the grass verges. They would have wooden toys for sale that they had made. Roger’s mother bought him a table tennis bat shaped toy that had four pecking birds on it worked by strings.
Interestingly, as Staffordshire County Council prepares to excavate the replica of the Messines Ridge, site of one of the most famous battles of the Great War, which was built on Cannock Chase, Roger believes that he and his mates were probably some of the last people to see the model village still reasonably intact and complete. It was built by prisoners of war using house bricks and concrete. The model church had a pocket watch on the tower to simulate the actual church clock. Roger was told it was a model of a village where some of the pows lived. The location of the model village was difficult to find in those days, being surrounded by gorse and brambles and it was their secret. (The site was between Chase Road and Freda’s grave where the picnic tables are now. Roger believes that in the 1950s someone attempted to move the model to a new site somewhere and wrecked it in the process.
The Chase was, for Roger and his mates, their back garden. They would wander far and wide all day when not at school and built dens, sometimes underground, from wood and bracken. Old pram wheels were like gold and much sought after to make trucks/carts. Roger’s dad, James William Edwin, was a radio amateur, call sign G3CP. He built all his equipment from ex-war department equipment. He had masts and aerial wires all across the garden and no doubt with the location high on the Chase he managed to contact other radio hams world wide. He had a shed (shack) in the garden and spent most evenings transmitting from there much to the disgust of Roger’s mother who would be in the lounge trying to watch TV on the Pye TV set but father’s transmissions would cause massive interference with the TV so it would be normal for mother to open the windows to the garden, get a stone or brick and hurl it at dad’s shed. His face would then appear at the window and much verbal abuse would be exchanged between the two of them. Roger’s friends who were there at the time thought it was hilarious but to the family it was just the norm!
In remembering these earlier times and looking at the photographs of White Lodge and the surrounding fields, the thing that struck me was the amount of housing development that has taken place, swallowing up every available piece of open space in such a relatively short period of time. Yet, despite this development, the various “problems” the residents of the village faced in those days still remain in some way. The disruption caused by ice and snow, particularly in Chase Road, the problems with traffic in Chase Road, not today the continual rumble of the quarry lorries but the visitors to the Chase. Flooding in Pool Lane. Go carts and sledges have been replaced by “joy riders” and mountain bikes. Archaeologists and Historians continue to search for and discover the stories of earlier times the Chase still has to offer, and perhaps the thing we should be most grateful for, the fact that the wide open spaces of the Chase are protected so that they can still provide that big back garden that previous generations enjoyed and future generations can continue to enjoy and hopefully appreciate.
If you have enjoyed reading of Roger’s experiences and you have photographs and/or memories of your time in Brocton we would love to share these with you.