Into the 21st Century


Richard Wattis

A number of famous personalities have been born in Wednesbury. One of them, Richard Cameron Wattis became well known through his television character, Mr. Brown from the Sykes comedy series starring Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques.

Richard Wattis was born at 11 Hollies Drive in 1912 and spent his early years in the town. In 1916 the family moved to Walsall. He was educated at King Edward School in Birmingham, and later worked at his uncle's factory in Wednesbury; William Sanders & Company, manufacturers of electrical switchgear and fuses etc. in Ridding Lane. He worked there for a number of years until his acting career began in the mid 1930s. He became a household name, but sadly died from a heart attack in London in 1975.

Another personality, Jill Simcox was born in Brunswick Park Road on 1st October, 1935. The family later moved to The Squires, 5 Walsall Street. She was educated at Woodland Grange School, Wood Green Road, and become well known for her parts in the television series Emergency Ward Ten and Crossroads.

The well-known Coronation Street personality Audrey Roberts, whose real name is Sue Nicholls, also attended Woodland Grange School in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I must thank her ex-school friend Cora Hillman for that information.

One person who must be included here is Janice Nicholls who became a celebrity thanks to her television appearances on the popular music review programme Thank Your Lucky Stars in the early 1960s. She was born on 24th January, 1946 at 27 Moor Street, Mesty Croft. In the programme she was asked to vote on newly released popular songs, and became widely known for her catchphrase "Oill give it foive". She is married to another celebrity, Brian Meacham of Brian Gulliver and the Travellers.

A once well known gents' outfitters in Union Street, next to The George pub was Brooks Brothers.

The photograph opposite was taken in the shop in 1968.

Left to right:
Doug Cherrington; Ray Hill, the store manager; and Peter Powell.

Courtesy of Doug Cherrington.

Another photo taken in Brooks Brothers in 1968.

Left to right: Jean Ricketts, cashier; and Peter Clines.

Courtesy of Doug Cherrington.

Changes in the town

During the 1970s and 1980s much of the town's traditional industry disappeared because of the recession and the rise of cheap foreign imports. The town centre reflected the industrial gloom and became a former shadow of its previous self with many closed and run down shops. For sometime the area was full of industrial dereliction and the future looked very uncertain.


The Art Gallery and municipal buildings.

During the early 1990s the area around Leabrook Road appeared to revert back to the old coalmining days because the last of the coal was removed by open cast mining, on the site of the Patent Shaft steelworks and the old Lea Brook coal mines.

Over the text 20 years things changed beyond recognition. The long awaited Black Country New Road greatly improved the transport infra structure and helped to encourage the new industrial parks that have sprung up on the old industrial sites.

A wide range of industries can still be found in the town, many of them based on the old steel working skills. There are still factories producing steel tubes, including Newman-Monmore Tubes of Western Way, who will have been there for 60 years in 2008.

There are iron and aluminium foundries; factories producing presswork and steel fabrications; manufacturers of fasteners such as nuts, bolts, and rivets; metallurgical services; and also modern high-tech industries, the future now looks very bright.

The Town Centre

In 1970 the market moved to Camp Street where there is an undercover market and a traditional outside market. Market days are still on each Friday and Saturday and there is provision for 125 stalls. The old clock tower in the Market Place is now Grade II listed and so it has a  secure future.


The view from Church Hill looking towards Ocker Hill Power Station and Dudley in the early 1970s. Photo taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.


The Market Place.


Another view of the Market Place.


Union Street looking towards the Market Place.


Looking into Union Street from the Market Place.


Upper High Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Another view of Upper High Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

West Bromwich Building Society in the Market Place.

Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Some of the older houses in Prichard Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

The top of Union Street.

 

Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


The corner of the Market Place at the top of Union Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Miss E. H. Clark's drapers shop, 12 Market Place.


The Conservative Club in Walsall Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Purslow's Bakery in New Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Mounts Road. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Behind the shops in High Street. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

The old dilapidated shops have now either been replaced with modern buildings or refurbished. The latest addition is the £20 million Morrisons store which opened in November, 2007 by the market. Hopefully this will attract many more shoppers to the town and increase its prosperity.

The building of the Ring Road greatly improved the feel of the town centre, removing much of the traffic and also improving the access.


One of the new high-tech companies that were set up in the town was Matling, a member of the ABC group of companies consisting of ABC Couplers, Matling, Jet Lube, and Star Metal Stampings.
The Midland Metro which opened in 1998 has restored the old Great Western railway line, offering people quick and easy access to both Birmingham and Wolverhampton. If all goes well it will be extended to Walsall, Dudley and possibly Merry Hill. Similarly the new bus station offers good public transport services to much of the surrounding area.


Inside the Town Hall.

All of the old run down housing has now gone, having been replaced with many modern estates. The town has changed considerably during the last 30 years. Anyone returning after such a long absence would hardly recognise their surroundings. Hopefully the town will have a good future. It certainly looks that way.


   
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