Molly Murray

I’ll just set that up. [Pause]. [Clears throat] [Pause] Good morning, my name’s Deborah Norrey, I’m recording for the History at Hobsmoor Probject [ph]. Today’s date is, Friday the third of November 2017 and I’m here with Molly Murray. Molly, can I please ask your name, your date of birth and where you were born please?
Er, my name’s Molly Murray and I was, er, born on the second of the eleventh 1942, a wartime baby, at one, back of ninety-five Porchester Street, Lozells, although I think it was really Aston.
And, how long were you, were you in Aston for, Molly?
Er, I was born there and we left when I was fifteen in 1957.
So, could you, just share a few of your childhood memories with us, of living there, please?
Yes, of course, yes. Er, well, when we moved up from the back-to-back houses, we moved into a council house in Garretts Green Lane. Er, we were known as ‘the kids from the slums’ when we first moved up there, er, so, er, we didn’t make many friends to start off with but of course, we soon started work. And then, er, lots of memories – catching the Fifteen B bus into town, to work, at the GPO as a telephonist. And of course, leisure times, er, were spent at Blakenhale, er, rock’n’rolling on a, a Saturday night, and then always, er, on Sunday we would go to the Tivoli Picture House. It was usually to meet boys, we didn’t really care what, film was on. And, er, of course I remember a, a lot about the Yew Tree, about the shops there because we, still had e, errands to run for Mum. Even though we went to work, we would go up to George Mason’s to get the groceries, er, in the days when there was a chair in there. So if a customer felt like sitting down and giving out the order, er, the gentleman or the lady who was serving, who wore white coats, would just get everything for us. Of course later on, er, you had Fine Fare, which was self-service, and Woolworths became self-service. And, the lots of shops that were there that have gone now – er, Radio Rentals, because people tended to rent a television then because they were quite expensive, and, erm… there was also a Wimbush’s the cake shop on the corner. In fact, er, Wimbush’s, er, they’re, the, the people who, er, er, originally owned and started off Wimbush’s, er, they had a house in Barrows Lane, which became St Bernards Grange. Er, but, yeah, I can remember later years, erm… when I started working at The Swan at Yardley, and many people will remember the old black and white timbered building. But when it was knocked down, and Ansell’s decided to build this great showplace, er, it was nothing like the old-fashioned timbered building where we would go for, er, our dancing, sometimes on a Saturday. Er, very often, and I was only sixteen at the time, we would have to really slap on the make-up to get in. Er, couple of Cherry Bs and we’d have a real good night. Er, Babychams occasionally, we just liked to twiddle the cherry and look sophisticated [Laughing], and watch all the bubbles c, er, coming to the top. But we had some lovely nights at The Swan at Yardley, but unfortunately, when they knocked it down, they didn’t build the new pub in the same fashion as the old, er, pub, which was a coaching inn for many years, erm, and it had a lot of history. But the new pub, er… it was massive. In fact, er, there were eight bars, I believe, when I f, when I started working there. And it did go into the Guinness Book of Records, of having the longest bar in Europe. Er, some of the rooms, er, that I remembered, they were all, er, furnished to match the name. So you had a Moroccan room, which was like sitting in the Kasbah. There was a Highland room, decorated with tartan, a Cygnet room, er, small, swans. And, there was also the Swan Lake Banqueting Suite, there was a French restaurant, there was a steak bar, there was the Silver Ring, which was mostly reserved for the gentlemen, er, with pictures of horses and jockeys all around. Er, later on, they had a cabaret b, er, bar and they also had a snack bar. So it was a great undertaking by Ansell’s and they spent an awful lot of money on it, it was a showplace. And when I started there as a waitress, well, I was r, I really, erm, jumped in the deep end because I’d been doing a little bit of waitressing, er, but I wasn’t prepared, er, to work in their French restaurant. To start off with, I didn’t speak French, but it didn’t matter because the restaurant manager was Polish, the waitresses were Irish, the chef had, er…
… came from Scotland and the other four chefs that were there were all Brummies. And although the menu was in French [chuckling], we never, ever, spoke in French or … wrote down any orders in French. And it was a very extensive menu, that was. Er, I can remember looking at it and I saw, I didn’t speak French and I remember looking at the bold print and I thought, ‘Oh yes, Les must be the chef’, because there was ‘Les fromages’, ‘Les ors dee oovers [ph]’, ‘Les potages’. Er, there was even a misspelling, it said ‘Les poissons’ with a double-s. And I was totally confused. And then I realised, underneath, er, all the menu, er, was written in French but underneath each dish was the English translation. And it was quite funny because you’d have local people doing their best to speak the language, just to prove that they could order in French. And I remember one man, he’d got a lady with him, whether it was his wife, his girlfriend or his secretary I’ve no idea, but he was obviously trying to impress. And he stood there and he was looking at Joe and he said, er, that was the restaurant manager, he said, ‘Now, mademoiselle would like cotiletties dee agnoo grilles [ph] and with it, she’ll have choox flooer a la cremy oo ah gratin [ph]’. And Joe said, ‘Oh ok’, he said, ‘lamb chops and cauliflower cheese’. Er, and that was the sort of things they had on the menu. Er, things like turtle soup, er, you don’t see that on the menu now. Er, snails, ‘escargots’, er, they had something called a creepy Suzette, which I later found out was a Crêpe Suzette and had to be cooked at the table. But I’ve got some really, really happy memories, mostly of The Swan at Yardley because, I must’ve worked there for a good, ooh, eight or nine years and they had lots of function theres. A lot of local people re, will remember going there for their, perhaps their dinner and dances, er, the firm’s, er, Christmas do. And, er, it, there were, other functions there. They would have ABA, er, boxing, bouts going on, er, Fleetwood Mac appeared there, some of the very early gigs were at the Swan. And there were lots of, lots of events and of course, the Swan employed a lot of people. And, even to this day, after all these years, I still meet up with, those of us that are left that worked at the Swan. Er, recently going, well, a couple a years ago, to the, to, er, Mrs Beecham, who was the manageress there, Mr and Mrs Beecham ran it. Er, unfortunately, Mr Beecham died a few years ago at the age of ninety-seven, er, but, er… just over twelve months ago, I went to Mrs Beecham’s 100th birthday party and we still talk about the lovely times we had at the Swan. Er, so, really happy memories.

Unfortunately, by 1974, that wonderful French menu with… oh, there must’ve been… I should say about 100 different dishes on there, erm…people tended to want to go to steak bars. So what happened was, er, the French restaurant became, er, less busy, and instead of having five chefs in the kitchen, it was whittled down to just a couple. And, uh… if we go forward from the sixties to 1974, the menu then, er, they just offered four, er, starters, four main courses and four puddings. Very plain, menu and written in English.
Er, so, we lived in, ooh, well, Mum and Dad, er, lived in Garretts Green Lane right up until they passed away in the late nineties. But, er, my brother w, I, obviously I’d left school, when we moved up there, but my brother went to Yardley School. We called it Harvey Road then, we did. And er… he had some lovely, happy times there, he really loved that school. And my own two daughters went to the same school, so I’ve got lovely memories of the school. I must say, there wasn’t quite so many things for the children to play with in school as there is now. And er, er, the, it was more, er, education, education from the minute they started school, whereas now, er, the education is more about playing for the first year. And of course, they didn’t have Reception classes. Er, when I say Reception classes, erm… [tuts] nursery classes I mean. Er, children nowadays, they, they go to a nursery class, er, part-time before they actually start, er, full-time education. And then they go into Reception but we didn’t have that, the c, children just started school at five. And you literally just took them, they didn’t even have, er, a period where they might only do a couple a days, they did the full week. Er, but they were really, really happy days so I’ve got very happy memories of Yardley.
So when you, in, when, how… when you first moved, I know you, sort of moved to Sheldon but you obviously, spent a lot of time in Yardley. What was your impression of coming from a back-to-back house to… a, a, like a t, completely different house and area?
Oh, it was absolutely, it was absolutely marvellous, to have a garden. Dad had always wanted a garden. Er, in the back-to-back houses, the best, the nearest we got to a garden was a window box. But when we got there, Dad was absolutely thrilled, not just a garden at the front but one at the back. And to have a bathroom. Er, we girls, well, there were f, there were two girls, two boys, there were four of us and Mum and Dad. And, er, to go from getting the tin bath out in front of the fire and, er, often getting into dirty water because, everyone… you just kept putting more hot water in and the, you went in order of age. Er, so I was third in line …and, erm… you never really had fresh water and when we first moved in, it was marvellously, it was an immersion heater but you could also get hot water from lighting a fire in the s, in the kitch, the back kitchen. And of course in the winter, it was no problem because we always had a fire but in the summer, the immersion heater was on all the time. And of course, we wanted to have a bath every night and it was absolutely lovely, we felt so clean. And, er, it wasn’t just that, it was the, breathing fresh air, because in the back-to-back houses, er, you would, erm… there’d always be the smoke and the fumes from the local factories, because of course, there were lots of factories years ago. In fact, there was a factory on nearly every corner. So, to come up to this lovely area and to walk ac, er, to catch the Fifteen B bus… I mean, the reason we spent such a lot of time, perhaps at the Yew, around a, and about the Yew Tree and The Swan, was because, er there wasn’t really any shops, in Garretts Green Lane or thereabouts, apart from little local sh, er, shops. So of course the main shopping area, er, was the Yew Tree and also, we would go to The Swan, you had Harding’s Bakery there. You could go up there on a Sunday night and buy a warm loaf … from the bakery. Er, we would have to walk up because we didn’t always have, er, the bus fare. But to c, come from a back-to-back house and to, to live in such an, a beautiful area as we, we th… well, we believed it was, and it certainly was, and parts of it still are. And not, Dad not having a garden, he really appreciated that garden, he really did. And er, very happy memories, really.
So how old were you when you left the back-to-backs?
Ooh, well, I got married quite young, I was ny… mm, just before my nineteenth birthday and I got married at St Thomas’, Church, which is opposite where we lived. Um, and that’s another story ‘cause Mother insisted on taxis. Instead of walking across the road, she wasn’t going to walk across the road and wait for the Fifteen bus to go past. So she wanted a taxi. And, er, because the church was fairly new, it had been completed that year, the year I got married, and I got married on St Swithin’s Day, when Mother got in the, er, taxi and told the taxi driver, well, they, he knew it was St Thomas’, Sheldon. Er, and Mum disappeared with the bridesmaids and she was so l, pleased to be in a taxi, ‘cause Dad never drove, she just loved the idea of being in a taxi, she was chattering away and never noticed the taxi driver was on his way to St Thomas’ Church, the Catholic Church in Church Road, corner of Horseshoes Lane. And then she realised, when she got to the Radleys [ph], they were going the wrong way and the taxi driver said, ‘Well, you did say St Thomas’’. And she said, ‘No, St Thomas’ opposite the house’. And the taxi driver, he was bewildered, he couldn’t understand why she had a taxi, he knew the church was there but he didn’t think for one minute that someone would want a taxi to cross the road. But of course the driver get, took her at least, took her up to St Thomas’. I was looking out the window, waiting for the taxi to come back with Mother and drop her at the church and, in the end, I walked across, she arrived after me. So, you, that, so, f… you know, nice happy memories, some of the funny things that, er, went on. But of course, the church was new in Garrets Green Lane and, erm… there was another church that we sometimes used to go to and I think, erm… I think it’s still there, it’s down in Hay Mills. Er… the, is it Corpus Christ? I’m not quite sure but there’s another church there, it lies back, it’s just before you get to Asda. Can’t remember the name of it.
Uh, St Cyprian’s.
St Cypriots, that’s the one, yes, not the Catholic Church. And that was hidden away, it was quite at the back. Er… sometimes we would go to the Adelphi Cinema… on a Sunday and, no-one ever, ever listened or watched the film. It was another place where the boys met the girls. And that’s the sort of thing… of course in those days, parents were a lot stricter, you had to be in at half ten, so most of your courting was done during the daylight hours. To be out after half ten was immoral, it was. We didn’t get, I don’t think we got our first taste of a nightclub until… well, I think I was, I was in my twenties before I went to, a nightclub, so…

and then of course later on, you had the, er, Cavendish, when they, er, er, reorganised The Swan, it, before Tesco’s, they had the Cavendish. Er, and that was, er, a nightclub and it had a sister club in the Birmingham, in Birmingham city. I think it was called, there was the Cavendish and the Dolce Vita. So those were the two nightclubs and, they closed at two o’clock in the morning, they didn’t sto, stay open all night. And that was another memory, later on, going to the Cavendish.
So was the Cavendish part of… when they re-developed the Swan in the sixties, and they did, all the new buildings and built Bakeman House…
Was that part of that development?
That’s right, it was, yes, yes. And in later years, er, I, er, changed my, erm, occupation and I, I began working as a community nurse. And a lot, of the patients, er, w, lived in Bakeman House because it was later converted into flats for the, I think it was the over-fifties or the over-sixties. So a lot of the patients, and there were some wonderful characters in Bakeman House. There was a lady there and she, she was more or less, erm… she w, she wasn’t too mobile. I wouldn’t say she was immobile, but she used to spend her time knitting Aran cardigans and sweaters, and she could knit one up in next to no time. She used to take orders for lots of the shops, and that’s how she spent her time. And there was a couple of elderly gentlemen and they used to, the, it, some of the flats had little balconies on the back, which faced the airport. And there was one gentleman and, er, I used to visit him and he used to say to me, ‘Now, if I’m not in, I’ll only be in the flat below, number so-and-so’, because his friend, who was more or less the same age, had a balcony. And they would sit on the balcony, have a coffee and watch [chuckling], er, the air, aeroplanes, er, you know, landing and wha… well, they couldn’t actually see them landing, but they watched them going over. And they would sit on the balcony, just watching the world go by. So there’s lots of happy memories of Ya…
of course one of the memories, as well, er, and I’m going back to the Swan at Yardley. The s, er… er, French restaurant overlooked the car park and also, it overlooked Painter’s funeral parlour, which is still there. And, it was never a nice outlook, I’ve gotta be honest. If you were sitting having a meal, you looked across and there was this corrugated shed, where I assumed, er, they kept the corpses. And it was never a very nice outlook, I thought. Especially if you were a courting couple and, or if you were elderly, you didn’t particularly want to be looking, at that sort of view, but that’s the view it was. And, er, but there were lots of characters, erm, at the Swan and around the Swan…
… because, of course everywhere now is so heavily, populated, the population’s grown and grown and of course the traffic as well. And when they first built the Swan Underpass, everyone wanted to use it. Uh, but then, people got a little bit tired of going down, and then over the bridge, and then up the other side. So you got everybody darting across [chuckling] the road, I think there were a few accidents to start off with, because of course the speed of the traffic’s increased.
So previously to the sixties re-development… what, what, how did you feel about them changing that area, and, and putting in the underpass and then building, th, the, you know, all of that new building there, compared to what was there previously?
Well, I don’t think it was that popular with the majority. I mean, I can’t speak for the majority but… erm… it was the fact that, there was, there were so many, er, smaller shops, c, there was a couple a corner shops and there was a little dress shop, er, a, one that sold babywear as well, and they were all terraced houses. And having come from the back-to-back houses, now those terraced houses, to us would’ve been fantastic if we’d moved into one. Er, they were very old, houses but they were full of character, the h, the whole area had character, ‘specially with The Swan there, that lovely black and white timbered building. If people were meeting one another, it would be, ‘I’ll see you outside The Swan’. And of course, er… to my knowledge, there was always a library there and that was well… supported. And I th, I, the, locals weren’t too keen. The Swan Market, the, the indoor market that they built, er, because e, eventually the Cavendish closed, it became a bingo hall and then you’d got, also got the indoor market. Now, that was popular, to start off with, and then, in the end, er, that sort of, died a death. But, generally, people felt that they’d more or less, er… it, it’s strange to say, you, when you regenerate, it’s like the back-to-back houses. You take the heart out of the place, and I think that is what’s really happened with The Swan, it’s progress. You know, more people, people need more t, you know, there’s, the needs are greater so you’ve got these great big supermarkets. And for the younger generation, that’s fantastic, they love it and of course, what they haven’t known they’re never going to miss. But for the older generation like myself, [draws breath], you miss that sort of, er, u…ni, uniqueness of an area. Er, it’s, when you look back at the Yew Tree pub, which is now the… I think it’s, is it… The Clumsy Swan? [Pause] Wh, where they got that name from, I’ll never know. But that pub had a beautiful bowling green, at the back and like a lot of pubs, in a lot of areas, the bowling greens have gone. And it’s sad, it was a hobby. Er, OK, it might’ve been, it wasn’t necessarily an old man’s sport… er, but it was lovely to sit out in the grounds, and watch, a really lovely game of bowls. A little bit like watching a cricket match if you lived further out, but, uh, it, it was, really lovely and course, things have to change, you realise that, it’s progress, er, but y, you do lose things. Probably, in generations from now when things have changed again in Yardley, the locals will be s, saying, ‘Oh, well, I remember when we got a, it was, there was a Wetherspoon’s there, er, and there was…’, well, there had used to be a, a, a, Braggs, Braggs the cake shop. Er, so, things change so quickly now. Er, years ago, th, it, there was change but it wasn’t so rapid as it is now. You’ll see shops open and close… and you suddenly realise, ‘Oh, n, e, I…’ I mean, I had a visitor and I took them to Yardley and they hadn’t been for twenty-odd years. And they said, ‘Oh, er, wasn’t that a, a butcher’s there?’, and I said, ‘Oh, well, it was but it’s been a so-and-so and a so-and-so and a so-and-so since then’. But they can only remember it as being a butcher’s but it’s changed hands so many times. Er, but years ago, they, the shops seemed to stay there forever, you know old names like, erm, George Mason’s, Radio Rentals, Woolworths, they always seemed to be around. But now, the area changes so quickly, shops change their frontages and… you know. But when they regenerate, er, anywhere, erm, there are going to be change, people are going to miss, how it used to be. Er, but I’ve got lovely memories of round there.
So, can I take you back to the S, the… original Swan building, the old black and white one.
Did you ever go in there yourself?
Oh, yes. I wasn’t old enough but I did go in.
Yes, [chuckling].
Could you, could you describe that pub, that… inn to us please?
Oh, it, it was absolutely, it was really, really cosy in there, because, er, the m, m, modern thing now is leather seats but these were all f, there was always fabric seats. Er, it was always seemed very dark in there, there was lots of wood. And it was always very noisy, it was always full because downstairs, they had, er, a concert. Er, I can’t remember what night it was on, er, th, they, oh, you’d have had a concert downstairs and usually a dance upstairs, but the concert downstairs, anyone who thought they could sing, er, er, would get up on a mike and after a few drinks, a lot of them thought they could sing. So there was lots of noise. And, I’ve gotta say, I never, ever saw any fights, or… y, you hear about, you know, people taking knives and drugs and things into pubs. There was none of that. Er, people got merry… and they’d come out singing at the end of the night. But never ever, er, any gun crime, knife crime or anything like that, er, and no drugs being passed around. And then the upstairs, we girls would all sit on these chairs, er, along the one, er, side, of the, erm, the dance hall. And it was nearly always live music, lots of rock’n’roll. They’d slow it down at the end, so perhaps a young man, who hadn’t had the courage to dance with you all night, would come across and ask. And if you were sitting there, er, and your friends had got up to have a last dance and you were on your own, you’d get up just to, not be left on your own, otherwise you’d be called a wallflower, [chuckling]. Er, but in those days, the, the, uh, the floor used to absolutely move with the rocking and rolling because there was contact then, when you danced there was contact. There was none of this handbags in the middle of the floor, and the girls dancing round them with the men round the edges just watching, till the end of the night. Erm, you got lots of dances, people would get up and rock’n’roll, they would have a waltz. And when you danced with someone, wasn’t, you, it wasn’t, because you fancied them, really. It was because you knew they could rock’n’roll, or they were a good quickstepper, or they could do a, a foxtrot, because that’s the sort of music we danced to. And we actually held one another, in a ballroom hold, not sort of hugging one another, you know, at the last minute, er, in, in what we used to call ‘the creep’, ‘cause the, the, the boys used to creep round in these great big crepe soles with the Teddy Boy jackets. And, no, they were wonderful times. And of course, the bars were the, erm, the old pumps. Uh, later on, the new Swan, had the very modern, er push-button measures, so if you were pulling, er, someone wanted half a pint, you pressed once. If they wanted a pint, you got a bigger glass and you pressed twice. But, years ago, er, the barmaids had wonderful muscles from … pulling the, erm, pulling pints. And they pulled a lot… and of course, the licensing hours, er, they finished normally at ten-thirty. It was very rare anything ever went over ten-thirty. In fact, I do believe they had to get a special license if they wanted a bar to stay open any later. And, there wasn’t, people might think, ‘Ooh yes, they used to drink in those days’. Erm, of course there wasn’t any drink and drive, rules then… er, laws, I should say. Er, but it was the duty in those days of the person behind the bar not to serve someone who they believed had had too much to drink. Er, and I don’t think that law applies nowadays, because people do g, go es t, go over the top. Er, a, as I say, I saw lots of merry people, and I was probably one of them myself, but never absolutely… drunk, you know, and in a fighting mood.
So did the old, the old black and white building, did it have, s, separate rooms? Was it just one room upstairs, one down?
Oh no, no, no. There was, erm, there was a gents-only bar, and there was what they called the Smoke Room, then you’d got your lounge, your concert lounge, then you’d got the, er, upstairs, er, dancefloor. But it was never really used as a hotel. Er… it, it, I, I believe, maybe 100 years earlier, going back into the, 17-, 1800s, it was probably used as a coaching inn and a hotel then, I think history says it was. But later on, er, it just became a venue, for dancing, singing, and drinking. Uh, I don’t ever remember them serving coffee there, and to my knowledge, I meh, I might be wrong, er, because, as I say, I was fifteen, sixteen when I, first, started going there, and my sister was older, she used to take me along. But I don’t believe, er, there was any facilities like a restaurant. But, you could always go in and on the bar, there would be a glass case, with, erm, ham cobs, beef cobs, er, pork pies and of course, you’d get your Smith’s crisps, with a little, er, packet of, er, a little blue packet with salt in. So they sold those sort of things, er, but to my knowledge, I don’t believe there was a restaurant… there, it wasn’t till they built the newer Swan. And of course, that was eventually knocked down and you’ve got the, Swan offices now.
When they pulled down the old black and white building, how did you feel about that?
It was sad, I thought, it really was. Because if they were going to have, er… if, if the intention by Ansell’s was to have a, a, a big pub there, why didn’t they keep the original building and just enlarge it? Because there was plenty of scope for that, because of the size of the new building.
Was part of them pulling, pulling that, that building down to do with the road development in the area, the widening of the road, was that a possible reason for that, d’you know?
I, I’ve got no idea. I think they just wanted to regenerate, but the thing was, if you bear in mind the amount of space that The Swan, the old Swan, er, the black and white timbered building, er, took up and the new building was, that was built on the same spot… that required a lot more land than the original building so they must have had the land. They could at least, have kept the front part of it, and built onto the, back and of course they also, er, had room for a huge car park. There wasn’t such a huge car park when the black and white timbered, er, building was there because, er, when we moved up there, in 1957, er, people… mm, mm, a lot of people, didn’t own cars. Most households have got two or three cars, if not more. So in those days, there wasn’t the amount of cars. People walked to the pub, or they, walked back. Ha, well, staggered back, some of them, but we never saw an awful lot of trouble, I’ve gotta be honest. And, and I said before, there wasn’t a, ri, any real violence in… there might be a few fisticuffs but, never knives and, and, guns and drugs and that sort of thing.
So when, when they, took the old pub down and then built the new Swan… what did you think of the new building and the new pub? Previously before you w, you worked there, what, what its look was like, its atmosphere.
Oh, it was so, it was just so… er… spacious. Er, there w, there didn’t seem to be, a, any real atmosphere because suddenly, er, people, it, it, b, the old black and white building, you had lots of locals going to it. Suddenly, with it opened up a whole new world, er, of, of new people going there. You got business people going into the restaurant, entertaining. Er, you’d got weddings taking place there, although there were wed, wedding receptions, erm, at the old Swan. But you, you got an influx of, people from outside the area, er, and, er, because it was so new, some of the people who went in the black and white, er, building, especially the men, they had their own seats, they’d been going there for so long. Well, they couldn’t do that in the new, it was all so new. Er, and, it, it wasn’t quite the same… it was interesting to go to and of course, the ballroom was so big there, they had, er, bands there playing, er, most Saturdays, and it, and course they also had functions there. But it was so much bigger, it wasn’t as cosy.
Each room was interesting but it was a case of, ‘Oh, which room shall we have a drink in… this weekend?’, or what have you. But you would go in there and you… it, you’d be, a, hard pressed to f, find half a dozen faces that you knew, whereas the smaller building, you… knew all the locals more or less. And erm… er, w, lots of people liked it, the younger generation, ‘cause I was young then. And I did like, I liked, particularly liked the Moroccan room, the theme of it. Er, having never been abroad, to go into what was, you know, s, like, like a harem sort of thing, and, er, I’m not saying it was all women. What I’m saying is, you know, the look of it, with all the, er, little c, the coving and the lovely lamps and everything, it was really beautiful, that was. And the, the room I liked best was the Highland room, it was smaller. Er, I would say it was the most popular room for the older generation. It was smaller and it was cosier because everything was done out in different tartans. So it, that had a lovely atmosphere. Each room, had a different atmosphere. You had the young people going in the Moroccan bar, you had the men, er, talking sport in the Silver Ring… some of them the older generation, w, sorting out, er… what they were gonna have a bet on that day, the racing and what have you. And then you’d have the Highland room at the back, which probably was the equivalent, of the old lounge. And of course, in those days, everyone smoked. Everyone did. Er, and that’s something I remember about the, old Swan, was the ceilings in there were always a dark, creamy colour; not from the paint but from the constant smoking. And even at the new Swan, on every table there was an ashtray. Even in the French restaurant, an ashtray, er, was put on every table. And it was something people just didn’t notice in those days. They, totally unaware of the… I suppose they got used to it. But the new Swan, wasn’t really, it, well of course, like everything, y, you, you, you can’t create an atmosphere that was.
Yeah. So [coughs], can you tell me a little bit about the Tivoli cinema, can you describe it to me, you know, and what it looked like?
Well, well the Tivoli ci, er, cinema, as I remember it… uh, of course the seats weren’t as comfortable… as, er, as they are nowadays, and, they were usually the s, the, the, uh, the type of seats they had were those that, that lifted up. You just touched them and they lifted up. And if you were, erm, if you were with a, a, boyfriend and he, he, he tried to put his harm, his arm around you and pull you to him, you’d lean on him but the, the arm would be digging in, the side of you. And you didn’t like to offend him by saying, ‘Ooh, do you mind taking your arm from there’, but it used to dig in. And of course, no carpet on the floor and it was all… er, it was quite plush in there, erm, as in the, er, th, the, sort of, er, decorating, the paintwork up the sides. And of course, er, you’d have the, er, the lady in the Box Office at the front issuing the tickets. There was nearly always a queue to go in, and then you had the, usherette would come round, in, in… you always saw two films, an A and a B film. And then you’d get the usherette walking backwards, two usherettes, one down each aisle, walking backwards with the ice creams at the interval. And if you were lucky an, er, er, lucky, your boyfriend might buy you an ice cream ‘cause we girls were only on half pay then. W, we, we didn’t have equal pay in those days. But the, most of the cinemas, er, the Sheldon, the Sheldon was a much nicer cinema than the Tivoli. Er, very, very plush, that was. You can see some of the photographs of it in one of Carl Chinn’s books. And that was very plush, it was, and it did have, as I remember, fabric seats. And, erm… but all the cinemas, they, it, the, because they were so, er, meh, took such a lot of money, er, when they were first built, er, they were… out of this world, they really were. Er, and I’m only, I’m talking about the fifties but going back when they were first built probably in the thirties, er, they were really, er, somewhere, it was an event to go to the pictures and they would queue ‘round the corner… they would. Er, but really, really, erm, whe, later on, of course, things went downhill and it was known as the local fleapit. And I, and getting back to the Swan restaurant, the French restaurant, there was actually a fillet steak, named after the cinema. And it was called Tornados [ph] Tivoli and it cost seventeen shillings and sixpence, which was a lot of money in those days. Because to use the restaurant, you had to p, spend a minimum of eighteen shillings. So if you paid seventeen and sixpence for your Tornados Tivoli, you had sixpence left to spend on vegetables and puddings. And your vegetables started at one and nine weh, and went up to four shillings. So you couldn’t really just go in there with the b, bare eighteen shillings if you wanted a steak. So things did change but the, erm, Tivoli Picture House was, I think, erm… I think most of the people in Yardley did their courting, couples rather, in Yardley did the courting in the Tivoli, The Swan or further down the road, erm, the Adelphi.
So, erm, yes, they, they were nice places when they were first opened up and they got everybody going. And, erm, and like the Odeons, as well. They were really plush. But of course, like everything else, er, fashions change, and you can go to cinemas now where they’ve got four or five screens, and there’s only half a dozen people watching the film. But then th, with the prices what they are, er … you can understand why.
Yeah. So going over the road now, to the, the Cavendish Club, which was built when the, The Swan was regenerated in the sixties, can you describe what that was like for us, please?
Very dark. Very dark, [laughing]. Really dark when you went in. Of course, there was always someone on the door, erm, in, er, er, evening suit with a dicky bow to greet you. Er, th, they weren’t called bouncers in those days, in fact, well, I s, I suppose they were just, they were just called Assistant Managers. But there, there was always someone to greet you. At the back of the Cavendish, there was, a, a beautiful restaurant and they did silver service food. And, er… during the, er, when you first went in, it, they would open round about nine o’clock. Some diners would go in a little bit earlier, and if you were having a, a meal, there were curtains, er, in, sort of, voile curtains, you could just see through. And when the show started, the food would be finished because, the cabaret would come on later on and whoever appeared in cabaret, er, they did the early cabaret at the Cavendish and went on to the Dolce Vita, for the later one. But when people had finished dining, they would draw the, curt, the, er, voile curtains back, so that they could see the show. And then there was the, lower level, er, was all tables and chairs, er… a, and, and, sort of little, er, mm… I suppose, not cubicles but, sort of, erm… I dunno how they’d describe them. They, you, you, you, you just have a little area to yourself and you’d sit there with your table, and you had, er, wine waitress service-
Would that be like booths, wha-?
Booths, yes, that’s it, the… and, er, so there’s some booths round the sides then there were tables all round the, er, the stage. And, er, the wine waitress would come to you and take your order. You could go to the bar and get it yourself, er, but they had wine waiters there to take your orders. And if you weren’t eating in the restaurant, er, in this area, you could order, the, er, what was very popular, a basket meal, a meal in a basket. Chicken in the basket, scampi in the basket and I think they did sausages, er, in the basket and they would bring it to the table. And er, you’d watch a show. Uh, the only boring part about that, was, that, er, for the first, erm, hour… I th, I think, actually, I… might be wrong when I said they opened at nine. You could get in there earlier, but all they played was background music, you had a, a DJ playing music and it seemed to go on forever before the star came on. And I remember seeing Georgie Fame there, and the Blue Flames, and, er, the New Seekers and, The Tremeloes, Norman Wisdom. Lots of, the, you know, the old stars. It was really a lovely night, it finished bang on two, er, but I do remember it was always very dark. And, in actual fact, w, er, working at the Swan across the road, sometimes, er, when we finished work, if we were working in the evening on a Saturday in the restaurant, you’d finish at about half-ten and you’d nip across to the Cavendish. And it was like a cross-pollination because the staff from there would sometimes pop across to the Swan for a drink, before they started work, and we would go across there, to the nightclub for a drink after we’d finished work. Er, so… er, er, but the only thing was, I remember… ‘scuse me. I went in there, I knew one of the managers in there, and I went in, er, one day… erm, during the day. And I forget what it was for, I th, I think it was, I went with someone for an interview. She was a little bit shy and I, and the m, the manager had said, ‘Ooh, er, come across at such-and-such-a-time’. And, er, sh, I went over with her and I went in the daytime, and it looked absolutely dreadful, in da, in, in, inside. It looked so seedy and grubby because imagine, all those people smoking and everything. And yet at night, with all the low lights and little… they had these little lantern lights on the table. Er, and, the, the place used to get packed out, it did. And, er, it looked really seedy, it just didn’t look the same, er, same atmosphere as at night. And there was always that smell … of alcohol and tobacco, the mixture. Well, you got that in The Swan, as well.
How long did the Cavendish was it open for?
[Draws breath] ooh… it was open a good few years, it became Bloomers after that and it was just a disco… er, l, like a, it was a nightclub but it, well, w, when the discos bec, came, fa, er, erm, popular… I, I’m not sure how long, it was there a good while, I would say at least [Draws breath] ten years. In fact, erm… I, I think the demise of the Cavendish and The Swan, the new Swan that is, they, they both started to go downhill… the s, and fashions change, people move on to other things. The disco, became, and it must’ve been quite costly booking these, stars and running the place. So eventually, er, it became, er, a disco and then later on of course, erm… bingo.
So can you tell us, Molly, how you came to work at The Swan?
Oh my goodness, that was quite by accident. [Draws breath] oh, [chuckling]. Erm, I, I’d been a GPO telephonist and I’d been doing a part-time job as a waitress at the, erm, the mini restaurant on, the corner of New Street, the Rotunda building. And, The Swan had opened up and I thought, ‘Ooh, I’ll, it’s nearer to home, instead of coming to the city centre’, because when you work in the city centre, you get your wages and you spend them, with all the shops. So I thought to myself, ‘Well, I, I won’t have quite so much travelling to do, I’ll see if there’s any vacancies’. So when the new Swan opened, I went there to see if there were any vacancies. Hadn’t been open a few months and I’ve spoke to the manager there and I always remember, it was a Mr Beecham. I told him I, was a waitress and a telephonist and he said, ‘Ah, we’re looking for a waitress in our, er, restaurant’. And, er, I said, ‘Oh’, I said, ‘yes, I’d be interested’. And, he asked me a very funny question, he said, ‘Can you handle a spoon and fork, chick?’ So I thought he meant… er, y, when you have pudding, when I served pudding at the mini restaurant, I always gave them a spoon and a fork if it was apple pie or, as the customers would ask for, ‘a slice of gat-ux’. [Coughs], we weren’t into French then. I would give them a fork. Er, and at home, we never had forks with our pudding, we only ever had rice pudding, on a Sunday, with a blob of jam in it if we were lucky. So I thought, ‘Well, he must mean, do I know how to serve a pudding?’ I said, ‘Of course I do!’ Well, he gave me the job, and I started the next week, after working a week’s notice, ‘cause that’s all you had to do in those days. And, I, I was shown this French menu, which I described earlier. Well, I nearly passed out. And when I saw the other waitresses serving food, using the spoon and fork, I realised what the boss meant. And I’d said, ‘Yes, I can do it’. And believe you me, I had a very traumatic time that first week, getting the hang of it, and practising on, Dad at home, serving his tea with a spoon and fork. I’ve gotta, [chuckling]… he did lose his rag with me the one night. He says, ‘I’, he says, ‘My dinner’s getting cold while you’re doing all this. Is this job worth it?’ Well, it was in the end ‘cause I did enjoy working there. And as I say, I made some lovely friends and we’re still in touch, those of us, that are still alive, we still meet up for coffees.
And how old were you when you started there, Molly?
Er, I was twenty… let me see. Erm… twenty-f… twenty-five.
And, and had you, ‘cause you’d got, you said you got married at nineteen.
Had you got a family by then?
No, er… it, er, when I was nineteen, I wasn’t working at The Swan, it was… erm… [draws breath] er, I was, yes, I was twenty-, just before my twenty-fifth birthday. Erm, and I’d got, er, two little girls by then. And, they were, they’d start, well, the one who was already at school and then the younger one had started school ‘cause she was, er, it was her fifth birthday. So, I was able to work there because the hours suited me at lunchtimes. I would drop them into school, at, erm, Harvey Road as we called it then, it’s, I believe it’s called Yardley now. And, I would drop them into school, and, I would have to, er, catch the bus back ‘cause at that time, I was living just off Garretts Green Lane. [Draws breath] And then I would get ready, go to The Swan for eleven o’clock and finish at three and walk down and meet them from school. So the hours suited me, it was really, really good and in fact, during the school holidays, they were very good at The Swan. It wouldn’t happen nowadays. I would sometimes, er, if I’d got a day when Mum couldn’t have them, er, I’d take the two girls into The Swan, er, with painting books, etcetera, and, they would sit in the Cygnet Room. And they absolutely loved it because the chefs would be taking them little titbits in – ice creams, all sorts of things. Er and all, er, they got quite used to eating nice food, [chuckling], they did. And they loved it and on Christmas Day, I always had to work Christmas Day, that was the only thing, because they had, er, great big, erm… er, the, the, erm, a great big function room there. And it was always full on Christmas Day, and we used to go in and serve the Christmas lunch. You were only there, really, just over two hours, and they laid a little, buffet on for the staff, before we started work. And then, er, we, we usually finished, we laid it up a couple a days before, got it all ready, so we knew we hadn’t gotta go in and lay it up. Er, and people had Christmas lunch there, so it was really good. And then my two girls, if they went up with me on Christmas Day, er, because a lot of the staff children went into the little Cygnet Room and they all played together. And Father Christmas came to the children in the ballroom and then the staff, the children of the staff went in there as well. So it was a lovely, friendly place to be.
I mean it, th, that area has all changed again now.
Yes, yes, it has.
So you’ve seen quite a lot of change in the time that you m…
… from, when, when you moved, you were about fourteen, did you say?
So, how do you feel about the new changes [chuckling] again, in that area?
Well, I think… [exhales], mm. I think the biggest thing is, is the fact that w, er, we lived in a council house, we were given a council house. And I mentioned the garden earlier on and I’ve got to say, when we moved up there, Dad couldn’t wait to keep that, look after that garden. Everyone looked after, well the majority, looked after their gardens. Because a lot of the people that moved into those council houses had lived in back-to-back houses and they appreciated having a garden. And also, the Council were very, very strict. They would come along and, it, c, we, it wouldn’t happen n, happen nowadays but then, and I can remember it, they did it… for years and years, they would send a rent-man to collect the rent ev, every week, regular. And I never ever remember the rent-man being mugged or anything. Er, I can’t ever remember an occasion, even in Aston, pe, they, they used to come round and collect the rent. They used to collect the rent. Now, if there was anything, er, not quite right, untidy about your house or your garden… they would tell you to get it cleaned up, get it sorted out, keep your garden tidy, otherwise, you’d be told to quit, simple as that. And when I go th, al, al, you know, a, a, along a lot of the, er, streets and roads, going into the city centre now, I can’t, understand why people have to throw s, litter about, they have to throw, I… I’ve seen mattresses [Draws breath] thrown out, gardens unkempt. And I, I think it’s sad because… you do create your own environment. In the back-to-back houses, I’ve gotta say, [chuckles] although there wasn’t running hot water, people s, actually scrubbed their doorsteps, they were quite proud, of having, er, a clean doorstep. And when they talk about the slums, that is a terrible name. People were victims, er, of, of the, really, the factory owners who… where, where, the, these houses, the back-to-backs, were built for the factory workers. Cheap accommodation, close together, you just walked out the door, a factory on every corner. What did they need? A bedroom, an attic and a living room. And water, didn’t have to be hot water. Outside lavatory and a brewhouse. And that’s what they… i, if you were born into it, not much you could do about it, so when you did get a house, er, like the house in Garretts Green Lane, beautifully kept. Beautifully kept, like the back-to-back houses were if you went inside them. You got the odd one that was untidy, but if you have a look in Carl Chinn’s books, at some of the photographs, of the streets, the back-to-back s, erm, in the back, by the back-to-back houses, you don’t see much litter.
There might be a pile of horse manure but it doesn’t stay around for very long, ‘cause people tended to, if they got a little bit of a patch, they’d try and grow vegetables. And if you looked at the children’s shoes on a lot of the school photographs that you see, they’re all, you might only have one pair of shoes, but they were polished. And when I, when I, er, when we moved to Sheldon, everyone s, looked after their gardens, everyone. And they were proud of their environment. And people came out and swept in front of their house, it, it doesn’t take a minute. You cleared the snow away in front of your own house. And I know it’s, by law you can’t do it anymore in case people slip, which is stupid, but… the h, a lot of the houses, whether it’s because they don’t have a rent-man coming round checking… er, you know, that everything’s be, I don’t know. But there doesn’t seem to be the pride anymore that there was then. So, that’s the biggest change, that I’ve seen and of course, er, it has to be said, erm, there’s been a great change in the, in, the, er, er, amount of, er, people from different countries that have moved to the area. Er, there’s a great change there. And, erm, it, it’s a different culture, it, it’s something that we all have to accept, you know, thi, this is a big world and we’ve all gotta get on together. Er, but different cultures… and it’s gotta be, I’ve gotta be honest, most people like to, erm, w, we all like to think we can integrate, but I think you do like to stick to your own cultures. And it’s very difficult not to, we’ve got our way of, of going on and everyone, else has got theirs and w, you have to accept that, and all try and get on together. But there’s been so many changes now. I mean, I think it’s good for the little ones, growing up, erm, that, you know, they’re sort of, living in this diversity, l, l, you know, it teaches them t, er, to be… erm, [tuts] to accept, that this is, uh, uh, you know, the world’s getting smaller and we’ve all gotta live together. But at the same time, I think we’ve all gotta respect each other. And, and, you know, if you’re given a house, like we were given that house in Sheldon, and, as I say, you know, we, we shopped and we, more or less, were educate, well, my, er, two younger brothers, in, in Yardley. Erm… it, you’ve gotta take pride in it. Because you are, you, y, you do create your own environment, at the end of the day.
Well, Molly, that’s been really interesting speaking to you and I’d really like to say, to thank, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Oh, you’re welcome.
Would, is there anything you would like to add before we finish today?
Ooh, I don’t know, I’ve gone on a bit, haven’t I? [Laughing]. Erm… no, I can only say, say that, you know, they were very, very happy days. Er, because there’s an old saying: what you’ve never had, you’ve never missed. And then wh, when we moved up there and we, living in such a nice area, er, Mum and Dad often used to say, ‘If only it couldn’t, it could’ve happened earlier, we could’ve moved earlier,’ when we children were little. ‘cause I was fifteen, my sister was seventeen. Er, my younger brother was only five so he, appreciated it m, more than… well, he w, he wouldn’t, he, he wouldn’t remember, er, he’d… probably we appreciated it more because he grew up, more or less, with a bathroom, and a garden. We didn’t. So Mum and Dad, erm, always wished that we could’ve moved earlier… Really, I don’t think, erm, I, I, I wish we’d moved any earlier ‘cause I loved the school I was going to in Lozells, and I wouldn’t have wanted to start a new school in Yardley or Sheldon. Er, ‘cause as I say, I’d only got three months to do when we moved up there. Er, and I’d got n, n, no intention of going to another school for three months. So, erm, uh… very happy times.
So did you travel back to Lozells to finish your schooling?
Yes, I did, yes. And in those days, er, w, w, when we first moved, and I, we’d only got, I’d only got three months at school, we moved in the, er, July, and of course, the school holidays, you broke up for school holidays, I went back to Lozells Street School in September and finished in the December and started work in the January. Well, er, what you had to do, if you lived a distance from the school, you could have tokens, to use on, on, as, er, on the bus, to get you to school. But the stipulation was, you had to live more than three miles from the school before you got tokens, and you had to go to the Council House in Birmingham to apply for them and prove that you lived more than three miles. So when you think that they expected your child to walk three miles to school and back… in 1957… and you get, you hear the kids now, ‘Ooh, Mum, I missed the bus and I had to walk three bus stops’. Y, you know, you have to giggle because you only got tokens if you lived three miles away. So I, for the last three months, I would leave home at a quarter to eight on the Fifteen B and then, get off and walk, in, in the city centre, walk across, er… it used to stop outside Rackham’s and then I would walk across and catch the Sixty-Nine bus, to Lozells. And, I wouldn’t get back, ‘cause we used to go to school till four o’clock in those days. So, I would be back home about five thirty. And I did that for the last three months. But it was worth it, [laughing].
[Chuckling]. Oh, I think that’s a great way to finish, Molly. So can, again, can I take, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Oh, you’re welcome, you’re welcome.
Thank you.
So, did, just, just mention that again, about the… the Wilsons family.
Oh, the… oh. Erm, a l, a lot of functions that we had at The Swan were for, erm… uh p, people who lived locally. Erm, for instance, in Hay Mills, there’s a caravan site and, I believe it was owned by the Wilsons fairground people. It, m, might still be owned by them because the caravans are still there, along with a great big house, which I call, erm, Dallas. Because it has that appearance [chuckling]. And, er, we used to have functions, at The Swan, er, funerals, er, and get-togethers for the fairground people. And sometimes, you would have, because it was such a big place and they had a lot of functions there, sometimes you would be serving, a, a lunch, a, a wedding breakfast in one room, with a lovely happy atmosphere, and then you’d have to shoot in the other room and serve a funeral party. S, and you never knew who was going to walk in that door. And the f, the, I’ve got to say, the circus people and the f, and the fairground people, did use The Swan for functions. And the outfits they, er, wore were absolutely beautiful, er, er, n, n, o, not unlike, when you see the programme on telly about the gypsy weddings. Uh, absolutely out of this world, they really did. We used to just stand there, you know, and look in awe at them, [chuckling], we couldn’t believe some of the outfits they turned up in. But real characters. Er, in fact, w, when I worked on the district in Yardley, when I was nursing, I used to visit a lady, er, that lived in one of the caravans, on the fairground, the, erm, the residential site, erm, in Hay Mills. And she had been a bareback rider with Chipperfield’s Circus and she was ninety. And she was a real character and one day I went to visit her on. Halloween, er, day, Halloween… well, it w, it wasn’t Halloween night, it was during the day. And when I walked in, her name was Milly, and I said, ‘Morning Milly’. She said, ‘Oh, hello there’. She said, er, ‘Would you do me a favour before you do anything else?’, and I said, ‘What’s that, Milly?’ She said, ‘I’ve got some cloves of garlic here. Would you put one in each corner of the caravan?’ So she was superstitious about [chuckles] keeping the spirits or whatever away, and that’s what I had to do, and she was real character, she was. And she told me a little story, and I didn’t really know what she was on about. She said, erm… I didn’t know who the people were she was talking about. She said that when she, w, erm… er, worked, in London, and I think she mentioned Bertram Mills Circus. Sh, er, she was, sh, she used to, erm, a couple a little girls used to come and watch her, called Margaret and Elizabeth. And they would come backstage and they wanted to stroke the horses and see the horses. And their mother was called Elizabeth and I said, ‘Really?’, and she said, ‘Yes’. She said, ‘It was, of course, the Queen Mother and the, er, the Queen and Princess Margaret when the children were little’. And, I thought, ‘Well I, what a wonderful story’, and a few weeks later, it was her birthday. Erm, and it must’ve been her ninetieth birthday, it was around about… and I went in this one day, she said, ‘Look, there it is’, and she pointed to over a, she’d got this little electric fire with a shelf. And there, on the shelf, was a birthday card from Her Majesty the Queen Mother to Milly. [Pause] And now, that’s a lovely memory. [Chuckling], in the middle of Hay Mills, there’s this bareback horse rider who’s getting a, a birthday card on a regular basis from the Queen Mother. You know, it’s absolutely, you know, all, in and around Yardley, you never know what history there is, until you ta, and I’m someone who talks to people. Especially older people because, if you don’t talk to older people, you’ll lose those memories. Er, I know sometimes, you tell the kids things and they start pretending to play a violin and, ‘Oh, here we go, the good old days’. Er, but they don’t realise, if you don’t talk to people and get these things down on paper, erm, it’s forgotten. And it’s part of their history, it is.
Just one question then, Molly [chuckling]. If you had to go from one room to the other, I take it you had a uniform [chuckling].
Oh yes. Oh yes, we use-, we wore black and white, the old, the old-style uniform. The white cuffs, the white collar. You w, you didn’t change your uniform, but you changed your face. Because you’d be coming from a real happy mood into a sombre mood, where, you know, it was a funeral. Er, and all sorts of, I mean, I could tell stories, the things that used to happen. The accidents, you know, in the catering trade. Er, some of them funny, you laugh afterwards. You know, when the chef knocks over a pot containing 100 portions of hot boiling custard and you’re all walking through the doors as it’s swimming across the floor, [chuckling]. And your feet are just sticking in gloopy custard. All sorts of things. And all chefs do their fair bit of, erm, bucking and frolicking, for want of, er, a better phrase, [laughing]. And I’ve heard a lot of that in my time, and you could be offended at the time, but you realise it’s part of the heat of the kitchen, when, and things do go wrong on many occasions. Er, uh, you know, you might have, the chef might be doing a sauce for a, a salmon and, it might, it might happen that it might split. When a sauce splits and suddenly goes all… well, resembles something that you might spew up on a Saturday night, erm… and he has to start again, well you can imagine, he’s, he’s, you know, it’s for 100 or 200 people and he’s gotta start again. Erm, so although he does a fair bit of bucking and froli, he, frolicking, it’s all forgotten afterwards, no-one falls out. It’s part of the industry, I’m afraid. But if the waitress was to s, use that language, to the customers, then she’d be out the door, but people like Gordon Ramsay get away with it. You know, but there you are, but some wonderful times.
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