Maud Highfield is now in her nineties and vividly remembers life in Wolverhampton from the first world war to the present day. She lives quietly now and does not want to be disturbed, so if you do recognise her from these pages, please do not contact her. These memories were passed on to Ang Johnson in the course of many conversations. With Maud's permission Ang has written them down for publication here.
Early life and family
Maud Highfield was born in 1913. She had two older sisters, May and Doris, and a younger brother, Harry. They lived at No 3 Brown Street off Green Lane. Maud’s mother had been advised to move to this end of town, from the Cannock Road area, for the health of her children. The houses were lovely red brick and were built by a Mr. George Holloway who bought quite a bit of land bordering Green Lane. A lady who wanted a corner position, as she was a shopkeeper, bought No 1. Green Lane eventually became the Birmingham New Road which was officially opened in about 1924 by the Prince of Wales. Maud remembers seeing him pass by. During the second world war there was an Anderson shelter in the garden but it was not used as it was often waterlogged. Her grandmother lived in nearby Cockshutts Lane.
Maud remembers the many brick works in the area and a stack being demolished in the vicinity of Cockshutts Lane. In nearby Pond Lane was a mission hut belonging to St Luke's Church. Also nearby was a Jewish Cemetery behind high walls. Maud remembers seeing shadowy figures in dark clothing through the gates. It seemed rather mysterious.
Maud went to the Dudley Road School and enjoyed her schooldays there. There were very good teachers there. The lady teachers were single as they were expected to retire after marriage in those days. The Head Mistress was a Miss Winifred Cordon and class teachers were a Miss Church, a Miss Nicholls, a Miss Weaver and a Miss Moore.
Maud and schoolfriends were taken by Miss Church to the Wembley Exhibition in London in 1924. They went from the Low Level Station, walking through a subway to reach it. At the Exhibition they saw amazing sights. There was a Canadian Pavilion, a South African Pavilion and an Indian Pavilion. They saw giraffes, lions and ostriches. The African Pavilion had a Victoria Falls effect. Maud remembers being entranced by the scenes. She bought her Mother a cast metal teapot as a memento.
Later there was a Scottish Exhibition in 1937 which Maud also went to. There were Scientific displays etc.
Maud was a member of the school netball team who won the Cup and Shield in 1927. The game took place at the Molineux Grounds
Maud’s working life started at Isaac Millets in the town in 1927. They dealt in army surplus such as mess tins, waterproof ponchos and riding gear. Shortly after she started work there the premises they were in were being demolished to build new shops (Little Woolworths etc) so they were temporarily re-sited in pub premises at the top of Victoria Street overlooking Queen Square. The pub was not being used as a pub at this time. The stock was kept at the top of the pub and the shop was at the bottom.
Maud spent nine months with Millets when a job came up working for Radio Motors and Cycles, again in Victoria Street. The owner was a Mr J. V. Rushton but she was interviewed by a Mr Fenwick, who was the Secretary to the company. He was in charge of the cycle and motor cycle department and later became Fenwicks of Brickkiln Street.
J. V. Rushton was the pioneer of the Midland Gliding club which was situated at The Long Mynd. He was an enterprising man and a very good business man. There was a work shop at the back of the shop in Victoria Street and an open space, which came out into John's Street where he would sell caravans. He also had a room above the Central Arcade at the lower end where he would employ two girls to make radio sets. On one of the radios in the shop Maud heard Betty Nuttall (the tennis player) playing one of her matches.
In the cellar of the shop was a strong room, as it had previously been a bank. Coal was kept down there and two ladies came in to light the fires in the shop to keep the place warm. Also down there batteries were charged and there were carboys of acid.
Burroughs adding machines and Gledhill tills were used in the shop. There were beautiful display cases in the shop. Rushton’s sold Parlaphone and Eddison Bell records and Cosmos, Philips, Ecko and KB Pup radios and radio components. They also sold motor cycles, Ariel and Douglas, and Rudge Whitworth bikes etc.
Maud started work at nine. Her break times were a quarter of an hour mid morning, an hour and a quarter for lunch, and half an hour in the afternoon; but she was expected to work til eight in the evening and nine o'clock in the evening on Saturdays. Half day was Thursday. She would sometimes go with her sister over to Birmingham on her half day off as a treat. During the war Maud was expected to take part in fire watching, which she did one night a week at Priestley’s piano shop in the Queen’s Arcade. That shop was later sold to Murdochs.
Maud became proficient in all aspects of working for Radio Motors and Cycles. She came into contact with all the well known people who lived in the town, especially those who owned motor cars and needed all the accessories that the shop provided. A Miss Barker used to come in who was stone deaf and needed batteries for her ear trumpet - 5" x 5" batteries apparently. Miss Barker owned the stationer’s next to Lyons Tea Shop in Queen Square, lived in a large house in the Merridale area of the town and was known to go on sea cruises.
Another visitor to the shop was the Rev. Chown, Minister of Waterloo Road Baptist Chapel. He would purchase oil/silk ponchos and leggings which would keep him dry as he cycled around to minister to his flock.
Maud also remembers serving a Lady Laura Long, who was a house guest at Himley Hall. She required a cycle, which she insisted on riding up and down outside the shop to Maud’s consternation. She was beautifully dressed. She said she would have the cycle and paid some time later - as the gentry usually did. Interestingly weekend guests at Himley often went to the Queen’s Picture House.
Rushton’s was taken over in 1930 by Halfords, who already had a shop in Dudley Street. Maud stayed on. Halfords sold carbide lamps in silver and black japanned finish. They sold Raleigh bikes, Apollo and Durable but not Hercules. They also sold Ever Ready Batteries.
During the war Mr Rushton started to sell his own Rushlite Batteries through Halfords shop. Mr Rushton’s firm was run by Mr Malec in Temple Street. The manufacture of enough batteries in Wolverhampton in wartime was vital. A cart would be hired from the Star and Garter to bring them round to Halfords shop. Mr Rushton also had an anodising factory on the Birmingham New road.
Around the town
Maud remembers Bedford Williams shop in Victoria Street - a lovely shop which sold ladies’ wear and haberdashery etc. Norman Bedford Wiliams had two daughters, Marjorie and Nora. Nora married Bill Povey of Povey's next to Halfords.
A Mr Shevlof, who was a friend of Dave Miller the Jeweller, owned a lot of the shops in the Central Arcade, among them a gent’s outfitters which was the top right hand corner shop as you walked into the Arcade from Dudley street.
On the left hand side of Central Arcade was Knight’s the Florist, then Suzanne wedding dresses. Further down on the left was a photographer's, then a pub with lovely stained glass windows, then Rochelle Hairdressers and, lower down, Mulliner’s. On the right, quite a way down, was Rosenshine's, who sold dress material etc. Before their shop was a door which opened out into a field off the Arcade.
In the Queen’s Arcade on the left was Jaeger, then a milliners, then Madame Clarke’s Corsets. Also in the Arcade was a newsagents called Lees, who also sold fancy goods. He had a round magazine rack outside his shop.
There was a grocery shop in the town called Milias but Maud's mum favoured Liptons. On Snow Hill was a music shop called Ling’s.
On special occasions a band would play on the balcony in the Central Arcade. The plaster work was gold and cream and looked very elegant.
Mr Powell, who ran Beatties’ restaurant, later became owner of the Regent Restaurant above Halfords shop. There was a door to reach it between Halfords and Yarnold’s.
Povey's was on the corner of Victoria St and Farmers Fold. There was a Garfield’s corner bakehouse with corn stacks on the corner of Cleveland St and Worcester St. Henry Start's Bookshop was opposite the Copper Kettle in Victoria Street. His brother had a second hand bookshop in King St.
There was a shop called Easthope's, who sold boots and shoes, and Whitehead's the Printers were on the corner of Garrick Street and Castle Street.
The HMV shop in Cleveland Street had private cubicles for you to listen to your favourite music.
Tony Clarkson of the Furniture Stores on Snow Hill married F.A.Gill's (the butcher's) eldest daughter. Mr Hudson of Hudson's leather shop married Nellie Gill and a Claverley farmer married Mary Gill. Heir brother was Fred Gill who took over the family business.
Family, Friends and Social Life
Maud’s grandfather worked at Chubb's in Temple Street. He had to go to London to work for a time then came back to Wolverhampton in 1898. When he eventually retired he would go to collect his pension in a top hat.
Maud’s family also worked in the town. Her brother went to the Art School and then to The Engraving Company in Gatis Street, Whitmore Reans. Finally he went to Kenrick and Jefferson in West Bromwich as a manager. He also lectured in Birmingham. Maud has beautiful drawings of his. Her eldest sister, May, went to Barford and Newitt's (the printers) and worked in their shop in Queen Street. Her other sister, Doris, was a cashier at George Masons (the Grocers) in Dudley Street. Her father worked at Clyno motor cycles and Star cycles before moving to Sunbeam. Then he went to work on tanks at Grantham during the War.
Maud remembers well many friends from those days. The Corkindales (Gents Outfitters) lived in Seisdon and met at the Bell Inn in Trysull. They bought Maud a glass serving dish to mark a special occasion. Other friends who met there were a Mr Sparrow who was in steel and later lived in Orton Lane.
Another businessman was Edward Thomas Pickton who dealt in powder - Kesel guer for Aga - talc and Diatomite.
Social life in those days involved going to Dennis Loveday's School of Dance in Worcester Street with her sister May. This was next to the Scala picture house. They learnt Modern and Old Time dancing. They also went to dances at Beatties, which were private special dances. The restaurant, overlooking Victoria Street, was converted for these dance evenings. There were also dances at the Star and Garter and the Victoria Hotel. There were also factory dances and Whist Drives held at the Baths Assembly Rooms. Dances also took place at the Palais de Danse in Temple Street.
Maud remembers her father saying he went to see John Philip Sousa (a well known American Composer) at the Corn Exchange(Agricultural Hall) in 1901. A well known pianist at the time in Wolverhampton was called Goldie Killen. Maud also remembers a Madam Gale Kurchie a world famous singer
In 1970, after 35 years of service with Halfords, Maud received a silver casket which she treasures to this day. She eventually retired in September 1973 after completing almost 40 years of service. She received gifts and a bouquet to commemorate the occasion.