Local and Social History Report for 2016

Meeting:   16th December.

This was our Christmas lunch event.  After we had enjoyed a super lunch, we settled back to sing some old tyme songs.  Our guest Anne accompanied us on the keyboard.  We listen to part of a poem written by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, in which she described the events on the Somme frontline during the Christmas day truce.  Our own resident storyteller then kept us spell bound with two of her stories, great.

Members showed that they remembered much about the events in the, all about the Fifties quiz.  A very happy afternoon.

Wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Happy 2017.

Meeting:  18th November.

This afternoon the group welcomed Dennis, U3A Military History group leader.  He did an excellent job of answering questions from the members about many aspects of WW1 and WW2.  We are so lucky to have such an expert to call on.  Subjects such as Army postings, medals, the significance of Death Pennies, Worcs battalions, War Grave Commission website, various protected occupations and the Bevan Boys. 

Another member told us about her childhood during the blitz in Southampton, a very interesting WW1 timeline poster was on display, and a Remembrance poem about the Railway workers in wartime was read out.  We heard about a soldier's travels around the world and how information was passed or not to the families back home.

Meeting:  21st October.

What a very nostalgic afternoon - full of memories of days gone by.

The recollections of a member starting work in her parents "Open all Hours" corner shop/off licence at the age of 15 in 1958; were at times hilarious as well as sad because such shops no longer exist.

Skills such as boning and rolling a side of bacon, storage of foodstuffs especially bananas, having to collect everything from a cash and carry, no van deliveries then.  Making evening deliveries to customers,  having worked in the shop for 12 hours; and dealing with the "odd" customers, like the one who everyday asked to buy just the top of a cottage loaf, and numerous times saying "Cheddar cheese", there was only one kind available!   Memories of biscuits in open tins, sweets in jars all having to be weighed out,  wines on tap out of plastic boxes and paperbags; all bought back memories and smiles.

Fast forward a couple of decades and we listened to the memories of an ex supermarket manager.  The tales of non honest staff, usually at managerial level were related.  Again another couple of decades on and more memories of  supermarket security and theft by another member.  So maybe somethings never change!

To put all the memories of shopping long ago into perspective, another member undertook a survey of all shop premises within the confines of the ring road of Kidderminster.  To our dismay we heard that 26% of shops were empty and if the number of discount and charity shops were included, that left Kidderminster with only 50% of occupied shop premises, and very few of them were independantly owed.   How sad! especially with the council having spent all that money on pedestrian areas, and now very few shops left for townspeople and visitors to visit.

With many pre-decimalisation coins on show, we realised that the lighter modern coins were kinder to our pockets and purses.

Meeting:    16th September.

It was the turn of Stourport on Severn to come under the spotlight at this meeting.

A brief history of the town was presented which was focused on the development of the Canal basins.  It was James Brindley who was responsible for the construction of the canal system in the town, including the design of the basin, wharfs, and locks.

The town grew rapidly from a population of 12 in the 1760s to 1300 in 1795.  Because of the business that the canals brought to Stourport, the town quickly attracted Parties of Ladies and Gentlemen to visit in their carriages, to partake in Water Parties - Regattas

But by the middle of the 1850s despite the opening of the Severn Valley Railway, the town was already in decline.  It is strange that the coming of canal life in Stourport spelt the end to Bewdley's wealth and the coming of the railway brought about the end to Stourport's prosperity.

A talk was given on the life of Aaron York, a Bewdley man who came to Stourport in 1775, he was built York House and brought much industry to the town, York street was named after him on his death in 1797.

We also heard about the beginnings of Stourport's carnival and river parade, a tradition that is still on the first weekend in September.

A walk around Stourport followed on the Sunday, viewing the many old houses, canal bridges around the the town.  Much interest was shown in the canal lock keeper's office and cottage that needed to be open 24 hours a day, in order to collect the tolls due on canal cargoes.

The renovated basins now add so much interest to the town and are providing many opportunities for tourism  in the area.

Meeting:   15th July.

This time the members focused on Bewdley.  Rose began by telling us about the history of the town and it soon became evident what a wealthy town and port Bewdley had been in times past.  So many wealthy and prominent people through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had links to Bewdley.  Whether it be through business or government connections of the day.

Cath carried the meeting forward by relating tit-bits of facts, gossip and real events that had happened in the past in some of the houses of Bewdley.

Margaret presented an illustrated talk about a Quaker missionary who lived in Bewdley for 30years, Watson Binns.  He undertook a life's work in promoting the work of the Society of Friends.  He was well connected to some very prominent people who were also Quakers, industrialists and socialites.  He was born in 1820 and died 1905 and lived with his wife Esther Lunt Wood.

All of this information about Bewdley was brought to life on a town walk on Sunday.  It is amazing how much of Bewdley has remained since the 17th century.  The town was certainly the place to be, so much wealth and business going on, largely influenced by the trade that the River Severn bought to the area.  Bewdley will long be associated by the number of public houses and churches in the area for over 300years!  A great town to explore!

Meeting:  17th June.

Anita started us off down memory lane, with a collection of objects from the 1950's, and music from that era.  Soon all the comments were:  " I had one of those"  We used to read this"  I used one of those"  "Look how cheap this was"  Curiosity was raised by a little Goss pottery cauldron, with a transfer printed Kidderminster coat of arms and a quote from Hamlet as decoration; it was stamped on the base "Boots Cash Chemist.  More info needed on that little item! 

Items from comics, magazines, catalogues gave rise to happy memories and a lot of laughter.  We talked about smoking as teenagers, collecting Green Shield stamps, cigarette coupons, making hand made articles, the toys we had, the books we read.

We talked at length about our earliest memories which were all very different but very happy!

Doreen was relieved that Kidderminster folk were not resentful when "migrants" from Birmingham and the Black Country descended into Kidderminster in the 1960's/1970's.  In fact as the town was booming at that time there was plenty of work for everyone, and the large estates that were being built at the time in Franche, Marpool and Offmore brought more wealth to the town.  The infrastructure seemed to cope very well with the influx of new families.

Another lovely afternoon full of happy memories, why is it that we can all remember that far back but cannot remember what we did last week!

Meeting:   20th May.

A lovely afternoon spent listening to members' memories of working in the different carpet factories.  Sometimes two or three generations of families working together.  We heard how the carpet owners really looked after their workers, providing outings and other varied social events.  Although there appeared not to be much loyalty to the to the firm you worked for, it was an acceptable practice for female workers to change jobs quite regularly.

The members explained the types of work carried out by the different workers, the pickers, the setters, the creelers, the dyers and the weavers.   These memories, photographs and tales provided the insight into the carpet trade which will add more interest to our visit to Kidderminster's Museum of Carpet in June.

Doreen spoke about a very different side of the carpet industry.  She worked at the town's Employment Exchange on Castle road.  For many years over the decline of the carpet trade, the staff there were responsible for paying out short-time working benefits, redundancy payments, as well as trying to persuade other employers in the town to take on carpet workers via various government schemes.

As now, the government then tried hard to massage the unemployment figures. Disabled workers were moved onto Incapacity benefit, married women were not counted in the figures, nor were workers who went on re-training schemes.  Things haven't changed!!

Meeting:   15th April.

A member from another U3A group spoke to us about the Communication preparations that were developed in the Drakelow Tunnels, should they have been needed in the event of a nuclear attack in the Cold War years.  We were all relived that no such attack had materialised.

Rickie presented a very detailed and moving talk about her work experiences in Social Housing.  She covered many aspects about the history of Social housing and how successive governments had dealt with the issues and the lack of suitable properties.

Issues surrounding Homelessness were explored, resulting in members realisation that there are many varied problems on being a tenant, many of which are not the tenants fault.  Government changes in housing benefit, loss of the Fair Rent Act, the high mortgage deposit needed to buy property, the high rates now charged by landlords, lack of social and housing association property all contribute to the ongoing, increasing problem of homelessness.

Meeting:   18th March.

The members watched a DVD, "The Kidderminster Story" which looked back on the history of the town 1300 years ago.  It looked at the physical changes that had taken place  and at the outstanding events in the town's history.  Including the English Civil War that tore the town apart, the 19thC weavers riots and the impact of the two World Wars.

Members also heard a potted history of the town and heard the stories of some of the famous residents throughout the years. Especially interesting was the story of Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African prince of Zoara and freed slave.  Who while living in Kidderminster between 1760-1770 wrote his autobiography.  The work turned out to be the first slave narrative in the English language to be published.

The meeting was followed up with a walk around the most historical part of the town, on Sunday morning.

Starting in Brinton's park the members looked at the town's memorial Garden, heard about Richard Eve's life and viewed his lovely monument decorated with Victorian tiles and details of his life.  Along Park lane and the rare black and white dolls houses, past the Round Wharf Estate and onto admire the picture above the door of the Castle Inn.

The front of the swimming baths, now apartments, have retained their original frontage, facing the untouched long run of Brinton's warehouse building.

Members were surprised to see the giant Tulip tree planted in the 17thC in the grounds of Caldwell Tower.   Our walk ended with looking at some of the burial plots of former town residents as well as hearing about the Non conformist chapel within the burial grounds.  A number of War Grave headstones made from Portland stone were found in the grounds.

A walk made more interesting with hearing members memories as we went along.  A few secrets came out of what members got up to in their earlier years!!   Even where one member had her first kiss!    No comment!

Visit to Kidderminster Town Hall

Members were treated to a talk by Tim Morris the organist for the town and St Georges church.  We heard the William Hill organ being played.

Bob Fleming, Honorary Freeman and retired Mayor's officer  presented an excellent tour and talk about the history of Kidderminster's political side.  We were able to look at all the past mayor's portraits and and view their names on plaques dated back to the 17thC.   We also saw the Charter that was granted to the town by Charles 1st.

The members then had the privilege of meeting Mrs Rose Bishop, Mayor of the town.  She gave us a great insight into her year as mayor,  she will have carried out upwards of 800 events throughout her year.  We saw her in the mayor's robes complete with her chain of office so heavy and so warm!   The members were impressed with the way she had approached her year in office, treating it as a civic duty not a political one.  The protocol surrounding the mayor's duties is very complex and an efficient Mayor's officer is a must!

Finally members got to sit on the Judge's chair, stand in the dock and witness box and sit on the jury's seats in the very austere scary courtroom.  I don't think any member had actually been in the dock but a few had served as jury members!    An excellent interesting visit.


Meeting:  19th February.

Thank you to Anne, Stella and Pauline for presenting an excellent insight into the care and lifestyles of the mentally and physically disabled children and adults living in Lea Castle Hospital, throughout the 1970's, 80's and 90's.

The transition from institutional life to living out into the community by the patients was very interesting.  The professionalism of the staff contributed so much to making Lea Castle Hospital so well regarded around the country.

Coincidences are still happening at these group meetings! members meeting old school friends,  college and workplace friends.  What a small place we live in!!


Meeting:  15th January.

Another super meeting.   Cathryn gave us an insight  of the Nurse training required in the 1960's; where discipline, rules and regulations were priority, but still patients were well cared for.  Just imagine life in a hospital without any disposables!!  Glass thermometers to be cleaned, proper towels, full cotton uniforms all to be washed in boiling water, instruments to be sterilized in "fish kettles" on the ward by the nurses.  Never mind the measuring of the sheet turndowns and hospital corners all with the patients sitting beautifully against the plumped up pillows, with openings all facing the correct way, before Matron and doctors did their rounds!!

Then from the sublime to the ridiculous, Neil gave us an insight of what it  was like to be a resident of the Kidderminster Workhouse. Where if the door was left open inmates would be running away.  Conditions were harsh, overcrowded, hard manual labour expected, all with never enough to eat.


Meeting:  18th December.

What a super lunch we all shared today.  Thank you to all of you for bring the most appetizing  donations of food.

The afternoon just got better when one of our members, Alan, gave the most interesting talk about his life as a Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths.  The history of the Registration Service as we know it today was fascinating.  The talk included some sad stories, some happy and some just unbelievable!!!   Thank you Alan, from us all.


Meeting:   20th November.   Thank you for the messages of appreciation sent to me following this afternoon.

A great number of members contributed to this meeting, which reflected on WW1 and WW2.  You shared with us the experiences of family members, many sad but some happy.

The collection of medals, photographs, service records, personal letters on display were all very poignant.  I hope in years to come families do not have cause to add even more memories to these collections. 

I know some of you have questions that you would like to be answered.  During next year's progamme we will try to answer some of your queries to help in some cases, complete a story.

Following on from October's meeting, Maureen brought in a photograph of Anna as a little girl with her mother and father, which she had never seen before!


Meeting:  16th October.  We enjoyed a super meeting, starting with Anna showing us the contents of her Mom's sewing box which was very revealing.

This was followed by the members talking about the sewing and household items they had brought to the group.  This is a group that is going to be full of nostalga and memories!!!

By kind permission of Anna:

Two members found they had a connection to Anna's mother Vicky.  On leaving Burlish Camp after WW2 Vicky went to lodge with the parents of Maureen.  Chris remembers being taught to sew by Vicky.

By kind permission of Maureen and Dale, a fascinating coincidence:

There were 2 brothers born 1854 and 1860 married 2 sisters born 1860 and 1857.

John Gwynne to Mary McGilvray and Robert Gwynne to Jean McGilvray both in Stirling Scotland.

Robert and Jean Gwynne relocated to Kidderminster from Kirkcaldy with the Victoria Carpet Co.

 John Gwynne and his wife Mary, remained in Scotland.

Maureen's great grandfather John Gwynne

Dale's great grandmother was Jean Gwynne

so Maureen and Dale are 3rd cousins and although having known each other for 50 years had no idea they were related!!!    That's social history!!!


Meeting:  18th September.   WOW!!!! I was overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge and interest shown by the members present.   Thank you to all who attended.

Forget outside speakers, we have enough enthusiasm and knowledge from the members to be able to produce our own speakers on such a wide variety of subjects for months to come.

We will be covering areas such as Schooldays,  Places of Work,  Houses,  Social Life in our areas,  Family history,  Postcards, Photographs etc  the interests are endless.