Mini Biographies of Quarry Bank
Gwen Harris (nee Willetts)
Why did I choose Gwen ?
She is a life long friend - her family were neighbours when I was growing up and I looked upon them as an extended family. My moms shop was on the opposite corner of Queen Street and New Street. Her mom was my 'Momma Willetts'. Gwen's paternal grandparents kept the Red Lion Pub in Maughan Street and then moved into the White Horse in New Street. Her father Issachar Willetts played bowls for the White Horse and won a gold medal in 1924, and is in the photograph that was proudly displayed on the pub wall until the fire in 2005. Mr Willletts worked in the wages office at Ernest Stevens - Judge works, Cradley Heath.
Her mother was Agnes Cook of Wrights Lane, Old Hill, who worked at Perry's Pen works in Birmingham, making pen nibs, before she married Issachar. After her marriage she moved to the White Horse, and later the Willetts moved to 123 New Street, where Gwen was born in 1929.
Gwen attended Quarry Bank Infant School, Quarry Bank Junior School and then the Girls School in Coppice Lane. Gwen left school at the age of 14 to work at Ernest Stevens - Judge Works with her friend Margaret. Mr Richards the Foreman said "come and see what Issachar has bought we, two bxxxxy little rabbits !" (because Gwen and Margaret were so small). She worked in the wrapping shop - one of 'Ernie's Angels.' The enamel ware that came from the enamel shop was wrapped in brown paper. The older women wrapped the large cooking pots - they had lids and a handle over the top (she cannot remember what they were called). Work was from 7 am to 5 pm, and she ran to work along New Horse Road (now Forge Lane) and over the footbridge to get to work before the bull because she got an extra half crown as a good time keeping bonus. She had a pound note in her first wage packet, and was given one shilling for pocket money, but when she had her time keeping bonus she was allowed to keep the half crown but her mom would then have the pound note for her house keeping.
The older women cooked breakfast, you took your own food, egg, sausage, bacon, bread, and they would sit on bales of wood wool to eat and wash it down with a cup of tea. When it was someone's birthday the women would take the ingredients to make a birthday cake - give Gladys sweet coupons and she would buy Cadburys chocolate to cover and decorate the cake.
The wrapped goods were then sent to the packing shop and sent all over the world. Sometimes after work Gwen would collect me from the day nursery in Lowmer? Town.
During the Second World War the family used the air raid shelter underneath New Street Chapel. The beds were always made up ready to use and when the land mine was dropped the warden said that they were not to go home to fetch anything, but her older brother Ron went to fetch their dog Gyp. They were evacuated to relatives in Holly Bush Road in Cradley Heath. Her Dad, an ambulance driver in the Civil Defence, was on duty that night and had no idea where his family had gone. The Head Quarters were at Mount Pleasant where the glass show room is now, and he had to sleep there sometimes.
Mr Willetts was also secretary of the Liberal Club in Quarry Bank High Street, and for that he was paid a pound a week. He saved the £52 to take his family on holiday each year. They went by car, or motorbike and sidecar depending on what he was 'doing up' at the time. They either went to Weston, Rhyl or Barry Island, and later on Kingsland, Herefordshire was a favourite place.
She met Don Harris at a dance at Brierley Hill Town Hall. They went to the Fair in the interval and after the dance he walked her home. They were married at Christ Church, Quarry Bank, in 1953 (I was a bridesmaid) by the Reverend Larkin, he was dressed in his RAF uniform and dog collar. Horace Hadley made the wedding cake.
Mrs Willetts died of Leukemia not long after Gwen and Don were married, so she had to look after her father, her older brother and her new husband. After leaving the factory Gwen went to Brierley Hill Market, where she worked for the next 39 years. During that time Gwen and Don moved to 121 New Street which was attached to my mothers shop, and lived there until the property was condemned in 1984. Gwen and Don now live in Charles Road.
P.S. Mrs Willetts made pikeletts in the winter at Horace Hadley's Bakehouse. (Down the big entry behind Winnie Hadley's shop). On Friday nights I stayed overnight at 123 after having pigs feet, pork bones or pickled herrings for supper.
When Gwen's brother Ron was younger he said that when he grew up he would have Annie Shaw as his cook. She kept a cook shop down New Street.
Gwen now lives in a house built on land I used to wander over with Mr Willetts and their new dog, Pat. We often heard the bull from the Judge Works so we knew when Gwen would be making her way back home.
© M.P.L.H.G. 2014