It is a well known fact in Quarry Bank that many of its sons are the salt of the earth and one excellent example is John Robinson, born in Mount Pleasant some 90 odd years ago.
Before John was born Ann, his mother was left a widow with six young children, her husband having been tragically killed on the railway. Some time later she met Alfred Robinson and when he was offered work in Glasgow in a bedstead company she accompanied him there, taking the three youngest children, Ben, Lily and Ernest. As regards the older children, Ann went into service up north, William went to stay with an uncle in Sheffield and Albert stayed with his mother's brother in Watford. They travelled to Scotland on the train and to avoid paying for Lil wrapped her in a shawl and carried her. The guard observed drily "Bloody old face for a kid that young!"
Whilst living in Scotland young Ernest got a job delivering bottles of whisky on a push cart to eke out a living. He was admonished to 'always push the cart, never pull it - or the bottles will all disappear!'.
Alfred Thomas Robinson married Ann Rebecca Blewitt on the 14th July 1907 and they settled down at No. 10, Mount Pleasant. Just over 12 months later John was born, soon followed by Henry and then Sidney.
John well remembers life as a little lad. The house had no gas or electricity, of course, and one tap between 4 houses. All the rooms had red quarry tile floors, fire grates, and were lit by oil lamps. The house was roomy with 4 bedrooms, as they had the space above the wide entry. On the ground floor beyond the fode, and brewhouse/bakehouse and before the toilet was a 2 storey workshop, some of which was used to keep pigs in the first world war and later to stable Charlie Hollis's horse. Charlie was a local boatman.
The family lived in this house until John was about 10 when they moved across the road to next door but one to the Brickmakers Arms.
As a lad John was never idle. Money was earned fetching coal from Dews Coal merchants in the Delph and he regularly delivered to houses in Amblecote Road, particularly nos. 79 & 81 (still standing). For this he was given 2d a barrow. Next to Freda Price's paper shop was Dickens, the barbers, and every night and most Saturdays would see John lathering the customers. When required he would also fetch a pot of tea from Mrs. Homers, over the road. The only thing that kept John away was his beloved football and if playing for the school then brother Henry stepped into the breach. By the time he was 10 he was to be found on Sundays blowing the organ at the Wesleyan Chapel in their road. He had a very good voice, and at school was chosen to sing for the inspectors. He was also asked to join the choir at Christ Church. Joseph Bloomer was Organist and choirmaster at this time. However the £2 a year he earned blowing the organ was more than useful so he forfeited the chance to go in the choir---and naturally he could sing while at his job! Jim Shaw, a local plumber, was choirmaster and during the interval of a performance of The Messiah he called John to partake of the refreshments saying "Here's the most important person here tonight, without him blowing the organ you'd have no music". John asked to be paid monthly rather than annually, 3s 4d every 4 weeks, but when the new treasurer, Dan Warwick, queried the 13 payments, he decided to leave and changed his allegiance to Brierley Hill Church, where he joined the Men's Bible Class. F.A. Smith was the rector at this time; and John would be about 15.
Gaffer Hunt was Headmaster of Mount Pleasant School while John was a pupil there. He was good at his studies, but it was in sports education that he excelled, particularly boxing, athletics and football. On one special occasion having won the shield the whole football team was invited to a meal, cooked by Mrs. Hunt at The Mount, John Street Brierley Hill which was the family home. After leaving school John was in the Old Boys Team. As he grew up and cross country running became a favourite pass-time he joined Dudley Harriers where he did extremely well.
Young John often helped the school caretaker sweep up, clean windows, etc. for pocket money. Felix Penn, (whose wife made chain in Sheffield Street) was an ex serviceman from the first world war where he had been gassed. He was often unwell, and gradually John took over more responsibilities. It was the depression and Alfred was doing casual work at Roberts and Coopers, in Mill Street and when Gaffer Hunt offered him the job of caretaker, which he was delighted to accept, Felix Penn, by this time being too ill to continue. The caretaker’s job involved the whole family with Ann cleaning and John and his brothers helping in many ways. For instance, the coal and coke from Lunts had to be shovelled in after it was delivered. The boilers were never turned off in the winter and at 7am John would run over the road to feed them and put them on high before school commenced. During the day the boilers had to be checked and it was not an uncommon occurrence for him to be fetched out of class to deal with a problem and then last thing at night they had to be banked up. During the holidays the school had a general spring-clean, windows cleaned, woodblock floors scoured with soft soap etc. Mr. Robinson was happy in the job and loved the children, getting to know them all by name. He was interested in the use of herbs and one day asked a child to pick him some yarrow on her way to school. Next day he was inundated with lots of bunches collected from the hedgerows by his little friends.
During the holidays the brothers were called upon to cultivate the school gardens and grew all manner of vegetables.
Mr. Robinson was renowned for the excellent beer he brewed and young John often took some into school to help the teachers survive the day! Other pupils were conscripted into fetching bottles of stout at lunchtime. Young Fred Roberts was regularly used as bookie's runner during the long dinner-hour.
Woodwork was a very important subject for John. He enjoyed it, was good at it and, moreover, practically speaking it was very useful. After leaving school and going to work at the Jury he continued woodwork at night school -- four nights a week. Under the expert tuition of Mr. John Brookes he learned to make furniture, from sideboards to bedsteads. Much production was completed in the workshop at home. Everything had to be carried by hand and John remembers walking to Heath Fowlers in Dudley to buy four 4" table legs, taking them near Top Church to be turned and morticed and then on to the timber merchants for two lengths of wood 9' x 9". Just the long walk back home to Quarry Bank and he was ready to start work on another table!
John started work at the Jury when he left school at 14 making mounted forgings and later as an enamel fuser. During the war this was a reserved occupation.
With his many interests he somehow managed to find time to court Irene Thorneycroft. They met in Brierley Hill whilst out with mutual friends, and on Sunday evenings would meet after Church- John from Brierley Hill and Renee from Brockmoor. They didn't get engaged, saving every penny so that when they married (John was 26 by now) they were able to start married life in their own house. For this John purchased 500 sq. yards of land at the top of the Thorns at a cost of 5/- sq. yard. He made a contract with Frank Webb to build the House and with Sidney’s expert help as painter and decorator, his brother-in-law doing the wiring, and making the newell posts and mantles himself, he saved a significant amount. The cost of the detached house was just £425, this was in 1934. All the furniture for their new home was made by John. Henry and Sidney also benefited from his skills as carpenter, he furnished their homes too.
So John and Irene settled down to family life, though sadly they were not to be blessed with children. Renee worked as a glass marker at Webbs Crystal while John was employed at the Jury. The Thorns in those days was a quiet road with few houses. Hill's Farm was situated nearby, milk from the cows being delivered by the farmer's wife. During the war John cultivated land behind his garden, growing much needed vegetables and later bought this 100 yard stretch from the council.
After working at the Jury for some years John needed a change and, having read an advert. for employment at the MEB in the paper, applied for, and got the job. Initially this consisted of delivering accounts over a wide area. Soon however, he became a meter reader and because he drove was assigned isolated areas as far away as Claverley and Goldthorn Park, Wolverhampton. John remembers going to check disputed bills. One in particular he recollects with pleasure was a butcher who had been overcharged by more than £100 (this was the 1950s). Whenever he passed the shop afterwards the grateful shop owner insisted on giving him some of his best steak!
From early in his marriage he had worshipped at Brockmoor Church. He took a very active part in the life of the church and was eventually made Vicar's Warden to Ralph Payne, a post he loved dearly and held for 21 years.
And so the years rolled on and at 65 John retired from the MEB a job he'd never tired of, meeting allsorts of people from many walks of life. There was never enough hours in the day with church warden business, gardening. and his beloved woodwork.
Renee's mother lived with them during her declining years in Thorns Road to the ripe old age of 90.
After many happy years together Irene died leaving John to manage as best he could without his lifelong partner. The family were as good as gold but John was desperately lonely.
But John's many interests kept him going until, unfortunately, a bad bout of flu left him very weak with a suspected heart condition. This lasted 6 months and during this time Alice Evans, a widowed friend from church took care of him. John made a complete recovery and having grown weary of the traffic in the Thorns - so different from when he purchased the land 60 years previously - decided to move.
Alice's home had been a council house which John bought for her and it seemed the sensible thing for him to move there. Very sadly she too, died after a short illness and once more John was left on his own.
John is now 90 and still very active in both mind and body. His interests include walking, gardening, reading, the radio, and politics. He loves meeting with the local history group, where he takes a very active part. Many hours are spent in his workshop where he crafts beautiful jewellery boxes in old oak, mahogany or walnut inlaid with holly and lignum vitae and lined with satin.
John's philosophy of life is "Be good to other people and they'll be good to you but don't be afraid to stand up for your principles should the need arise." A true Quarry Banker!
Alfred Thomas Robinson.
Wedding of John and Irene.
Vicar's Warden at Brockmoor Church.
© M.P.L.H.G. 2012