Over the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of memories of Lightwoods Park. They were collected at the Park Open Day on 13th November, 2010 by local resident Sally Taylor and they really are a fascinating collection. Because the memories were often repeated by different people, Sally has collated them into a single narrative.
Feel free to add some memories of your own in the comments.
No. 4 I Remember…. The Bandstand, Birds, Bowling & Boating
On any nice day in summer the park would be full, especially if there were bands playing. Local bands like the Mitchell & Butler band or other breweries’ bands like Banks’ would play. The Salvation Army were often here as well, especially in the 1960s. Performances would start at 12noon after church on Sundays. We would bring our chairs from out of our houses and sit with our picnics enjoying the music.
I’ve read that the Birmingham City Police Band played in the 1920s and 1930s and I even have a childhood memory of John Pertwee being here to open or perform something, in the early 1950s. I’d love to find out why he was here.
When I was a kid I loved the aviary that was on the right hand side of the house, the bus station side. I think it was the aviary that made the park such a good day out really. In the late 1940s I would get so excited about feeding the birds, even though the park keeper would tell us not to! There were exotic birds; beautiful budgies and there was a parrot – or was it a cockatoo, I’m not sure. It spoke anyway! We would spend ages trying to get it to say stuff. I remember other small animals too, like rodents and rabbits. It was such a great day out in the school holidays.
The bowling green…
Now, Lightwoods the Bowling Green was quite different. Us kids weren’t allowed near it for a start, and for good reason. It was one of the best in the country. It was immaculate. The men’s green was right in front of the house and there was a women’s green on the other side near the band stand. I remember local elderly people sitting outside the house waiting for their turn to play Crown Bowls. Only 15 years or so ago I remember the green being sacred ground for Bert, the keeper.
My mother was a member of the bowling club, it was a really successful team in the 1970s and 1980s, in the South Birmingham league. They had a long season, with at least weekly events and competition. There were two separate club pavilions for the men and for the women. And we mustn’t forget the putting green. That was kept just as pristine, our boys would always play there after Sunday lunch.
In 1948 my brothers and I used to come to the pool to sail our wonderful model yacht. There were lots of children who used to do the same. We used to paddle in the summer as well – the only other option was Bourneville Lake, which was pretty far away. So it was great to have Lightwoods to play in because we lived so close. We were here because my grandfather had been a tram driver on the Hagley Road and he came to live here in 1901 because Bearwood was the terminus. There were always loads of children, from further afield as well, playing around about the pool. I’ve got such fond memories.
My favourite memory of the park is probably paddling, especially on a really warm summers day. Although you did have to watch out for broken glass. I fell in one time. I couldn’t swim and, just my luck, managed to fall in the deep end! I was alright though, I was taken to the gardener’s hut to dry out because they had a cast iron stove in there!
We would come for picnics by the pool as well because we were so far from the seaside. I was a single mum with seven children and I needed a place like this to bring them. It was like coming to the country from town, being able to play on the grass and in the water.
No. 3 I Remember…. The Shakespeare Gardens
The Shakespeare Garden was a quiet haven. The flowers and plants were all chosen because they were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems, I always liked that. I especially remember lots of fruit – so many peaches! And plums too. I can see them now, in the corner that we used to call ‘the walled garden’. The peaches looked so good, so delicious. We weren’t allowed to pick them, but we wanted to.
There was a pond as well, I think it’s still there. It was brimming with goldfish and maybe carp as well, I’m not sure. It was wonderful to see all the fish! There was a proper little iron fence all around it. When we were little sometimes we would slip into the garden without our parents and I think the gardener would keep a watchful eye on us if we were near the pond.
The paths and little hedges were great fun for toddlers to play around and somehow it managed to be such a restful place too, especially for mums needing some peace and quiet. It was like a safe haven for all different kinds of people. Parents with young children would come here, and older people, and courting couples as well – although in the old days sometimes you had to wait your turn with the girl you were courting, for a bench to become free!
No. 2 I Remember…. The House
Lightwoods House Cafe
Do you remember the cafe in the film Brief Encounter? With the wooden counter and original wood floors? Well that’s what our cafe was like. It was quite romantic really! We’d go for ice-cream usually or sometimes biscuits and lemonade. They sold tea and coffee too, of course. I remember sticky buns as well, you could always go and get a sticky bun with your coffee.
I remember having to stretch to reach the high wooden counter. On one end there was a big glass dome full of cakes and buns. At the back there was a big copper urn. And there were shelves at the back with Lyons tea advertised on the mirror. It’s the sound of the chairs I remember as well – screeching on the wooden floor.
The cafe was at the bandstand-end of the House, I think the door to the cafe was on the left hand corner. I never knew what was upstairs though. And of course the war put the kibosh on it for us; we weren’t allowed out so much or so far, in case the air raid sirens went off and we had to get home quickly.
Sons of Rest
In the house there was a place where retired men could meet called the Sons of Rest. From the 1950s I remember they had their own building just next to Lightwoods House. It was a wooden construction and unfortunately it burnt down in the early 1990s. But while it was there it was really lovely for older people. My grandfather and my Dad were both members. The only rules were that you had to be a man and retired. It was for anyone in this category, blue or white collar workers, it didn’t matter.
It was a place for the men to meet with friends to play snooker, darts, or whist. There were outings too, which the wives could join, and an annual meal I think. It got retired men out of the house and away from their wives! I remember when I was little peering up through the windows and watching them play dominoes…
Rest and play for soldiers
In the First World War the house was used as place for soldiers to recuperate, including Frank Bodnam who later became a Smethwick Councillor. Wounded soldiers would come here to rest and be looked after and there are records of local people being very generous, donating gifts to the soldiers.
In the Second World War the Americans had a base very near here on a local factor site. Despite being told, apparently, by a commanding officer, not to ‘mess’ with the Ladies, I remember them trying pretty hard to get dates with our sisters! My older brothers and I used to ask the Americans for gum or candy and they would give it to us if we agreed to get our sisters to meet them at the gates of the park later on. We never did that though – we just made sure we went to a different soldier the next day! Some people must have liked them being here though – there’s one postcard found that reads : “And this is the Lightwoods. The soldiers have all gone now. Worse the luck!”.
No. 1 I Remember…. Park People
We used to come here for a picnic or to hear a band play at the bandstand. I think people would come to escape the toil, danger and routine of factory life. They came to re-create ourselves mentally and physically, to rejuvenate.
The park seemed more community-based then, from before WWII up until fairly recently when it started going downhill. Children came here to grow up. Their childhood was bound up with the park in many ways. Take Sydney Davies for example. He was a local lad, only 16 when he signed up to fight in the First World War. He told me the story of marching towards German machine guns and guess what he thought about to keep himself going? Lightwoods Park.
There were some real characters who used to look after the park as well. They’d keep it nice – and keep us in check! Keepers or wardens or whatever they were called, and gardeners too. I remember getting chased by the warden many times when I was naughty, when I was about 8 or 9 years old – that would have been about 1975. I particularly remember Bert, he was almost famous around here. Everyone knew him because he ran the putting and looked after the Bowling Green. Right up until the 1980s he looked after it. He commanded so much respect – he had a real authority and us kids would do what he said! I remember a man called Harry Beard as well. He would cut the Bowling Green grass on a Saturday morning.
The park was so well kept, I think that’s partly why people would come from all over – Hockley, Winson Green, Cape Hill. On a bank holiday there would literally be hundreds of families playing, eating and socialising.
Ok, so now add your own if you wish….