Deborah Norrey: Right, good morning, my name’s Deborah Norrey. I’m here today with Oliver Scott and Robert, and we are recording for the History at Hobsmoor Project. It is Monday the twenty-seventh of November 2017. And I’ll start, Robert, by asking you, can I take your name, your date of birth and where you were born please?
Robert Jones: Oooh! Er, [chuckling], Robert Jones, erm, I was born, thirteenth of July 1947. Where? Yard, er, Birmingham. Erdington, ac, actually. Let’s be more specific.
RJ: I, i, in the front room of, uh, a house in Erdington [laughing]… at home.
DN: Well, can you tell us a little bit about your childhood in Erdington please? What your house was like.
RJ: It was a semi-detached, it had a very long garden. Er, my father used to grow all the vegetables. We had, I remember, I had a, bit, at the bottom of the garden was a he-, hen house, and the hen house got knocked down and I was given that as a garden. And I used to grow vegetables myself, r, runner beans and everything. I still grow runner beans today, you know, even this year, runner beans. Er… I went to F, Fentham Primary, Primary, Nursery, then went to, er, [1:19] Road, School. Junior then Senior, yeah.
DN: Did you enjoy school, Robert?
RJ: Yes, it was lovely. We had to walk everywhere, there was no buses. When we went to the playing fields, they were up by Jaffray and it was a two-mile walk and when we went swimming baths, it was a three-mile walk. It was a long way.
DN: Kept you fit.
RJ: Yes, very slim, [laughs].
DN: And when you left school, Robert, and you started work, what did you, you go on to do?
RJ: I went to, ICI, IMI in Witton, er, er, did engineering apprenticeship. Became a draughtsman, but, er, decided then to go into teaching, so I went into, Saltley College and did, er, teaching, er, and training and then went to various schools and ended up doing adult ed.
DN: What made you decide you wanted to go into teaching?
RJ: I’d, er… [exhales]. It just ca, just happened, I just felt I wanted, to do it, something within me wanted to, move onto education, and of course, I’ve been doing it ever since. T, until I retired. And I’m still here talking to you about education so, it’s a life ambition, isn’t it?
DN: It is that. So, can I ask you, Robert, when you moved into the Yardley area?
RJ: It was, er, 1982, s, so that’s thirty-five years ago.
DN: And can I ask you, what your first memories of Yardley were?
RJ: Er, it was, seemed a very nice, compact little village area, so… plenty of shops, and, l, little local pubs and it was nice, yeah.
DN: Is that what, what, made you want to come and live in Yardley?
RJ: I think it was work, I, I, if I remember… m, correctly. ‘cause I went to… Sheldon School, teaching there. Yeah, I think that wa, that must’ve been it, but of course it’s such a long time ago, now.
DN: And, did you move into this house you’re in today, Robert?
RJ: Yes, yes, yes.
DN: So, looking around, c, can you tell me, has your street changed at all?
RJ: Only the lights, er, but everything, the lighting is different but everything else is exactly the same. The people have, sort of stayed as well. There’s very few people actually every move away from the Grove. It’s the same people v, year up, year up, year upon year. There’s quite a lot that’ve been here as long as I have.
DN: So when you moved into the Yardley area, Robert, can you, you… what sort of things did you get involved in?
RJ: Er… well… er… I, mm, ch, going back to photography, I s, was in, when I was at school, in the senior school, we had an after-school class and it was called photography. I had my first camera when I was about twelve, and so I joined, joined the photography group, a, after school. And it was in an old air raid shelter so we had a perfect dark room, [chuckles]. It was pitch black and, er, I’ve been doing photography ever since and, er, I joined Yardley Photographic Society. And then there’s also, I, joined the Yardley Conser-vation Society. Yeah, so that’s what I did. And went, and went to St Edburgha’s Church.
DN: So, when you joined the Photography, Society, Robert, did that… were you already going out taking photographs or was that part of you being part of the Photography Society?
RJ: [Chuckles], I’ve taken photographs, since I was ten, twelve, and I’ve been doing it all, every day of my life, I’ve always got a camera. Erm, I was taking a picture of Estelle Morris and she said to me, ‘Robert, where’s your camera?’ ans I did that, and my camera was under my coat and she smiled and nodded her head, [chuckles]. Yeah, so, I, I’ve always got a ca… I’ve got one in my pocket now. Do you wanna see the one in my pocket? [Chuckles]. I’ve got one, I carry one w, on me, everywhere I go. It’s a little one, as you can see when I get it out. It’s deep in my pocket. It’s well-worn, little Canon. It goes everywhere. Shall I take a picture of you afterwards? [Laughs]. I’ll get the big one from upstairs, though.
DN: [Chuckles] So, it’s obviously a passion of yours and you really do love, taking your photographs. Can you tell us a little bit about, what you have photographed in the Yardley area over the years?
RJ: Erm… [exhales]. Most at the pub, that, I did the Yew Tree pub, quite a lot, actually, ‘cause, erm… David Gilroy Bevan? The MP, he had a bus. And so I took a picture of the bus, then he asked me to take, everybody, all his, people, er, on, who were on the bus. So I got them up where the, er, as you get, th, onto the bus, all standing there, it’s a nice picture, and I’ve been taking, [tut] pictures s, of local people since… yeah.
DN: [Tuts] So that’s quite interesting you mentioned the Yew Tree pub there. Was that the old pub that was on the site?
RJ: Er, yes, it, er, Yew Tree House used to stand there and, erm, it was knocked down and they built the pub.
DN: Was that the old pub with the Rio at the back? The Rio Grand room at the back?
RJ: Yes it, but there was a bowling room as well.
DN: That’s correct, yes.
DN: So there was a house on that site before the pub?
RJ: Yeah. I’ve got a picture if you want?
DN: You’ve got a picture of the house, have you?
RJ: Yeah, one Canon Cochrane’s, I copied it. Taken, in the nineteen…twenties, before they built the pub. Knocked the, you know, they knocked the building down, and built the pub, built the pub. Of course, they knocked that one down and built what’s there. Yeah, I took, took a picture of Eric Bristow in there, with the darts, in the Yew Tree pub… [laughs].
RJ: Yeah, ‘Ask me a, ask me another’.
RJ: You’re not supposed to laugh, Debbie, [chuckles].
DN: [Laughs][Draws a breath]
RJ: You, I might, I’ll be asking you a question in a minute.
DN: [Chuckling]. So, [tut] you still continue to do that today, do you? Are you still part of the Photography Society?
RJ: No, I take photographs for other people, now, and I put some on my website, so… [tut] yeah, and on my Flickr stream. I’m always adding pictures to my Flickr stream. I took a sunset of, from, we went up to Asda… and I took a picture of the s, sun setting, and it had 14,000 hits overnight, [chuckles]. It’s amazing, photography. It’s a, it’s a global thing, photography, it reaches everybody, all over the world. I, I can put a picture up on, of Yardley and somebody in Brazil, and Vietnam sees it.
DN: That must be really interesting for you, though, to see how it ha, photography has developed over the years, since you started.
RJ: Oh, it, it, it’s, it, it, it’s, [exhales], a great thing for good, to be quite honest, photography at any level. It’s communications with all races, all religions, it’s lovely.
DN: So how did, do you still prefer to take a picture with an old camera with a thirty-five mil film, or do you…?
RJ: No… it’s all digi now. I’ve got a Nikon 5200, well, I’ve got two of them, and a Nikon, five… no, it’s D5000. The D5000, it’s an old, reliable camera.
DN: You get to take so many more pictures, though, with the digital camera, than you would’ve with a… a film camera, as in the fact that-
RJ: Oh, it, it’s… well, a digital camera, you can, erm… a digital camera does a lot more, than a film camera, the, it, the t, technology’s moved on. You can take more photographs and you’ll get more detail. And of course, it’s instant.
DN: Do you think that they… the pictures on a digital camera are as nice as the ones that you would’ve got off a… a film?
RJ: The quality varies slightly, but, er… it’s, it’s quicker, and there’s no pollution or anything, it’s all, done. I used to, when I used to take pictures and I had to po, send them off to the, local, p, paper… oh, did I tell you about that? I was on the, erm, committee, the Yardley Photographic Society, and I didn’t turn up the one week. And the local paper had asked, them, if they could provide a photographer at three o’clock on the Saturday afternoon, when they were extremely b, busy and they wanted somebody else to come take some pictures. And well, of course, in my absence, they nominated me, [chuckles]. So I. I g, I, er… I didn’t get paid at all for anything, but the, society got a free ad in the magazine. So it was lovely but, that’s how I started doing the local press, taking all sorts of people. And I used to have to d, do them in black and white. Develop them, in th, in the dark room I’ve got, print them out, wait for them to dry, then take them. Now, if I take anything for anybody, I just take a picture, put it in the computer and it sends it immediately. Nothing, goes within seconds or minutes of taking it. [Chuckles]. It’s impressive today.
DN: [Tut] It’s a changing world.
DN: You also mentioned that you were… on the conversation group. Can you tell us a little bit about the conservation group and what it does, please?
RJ: You’re a, now, is it, is it my, mine? That’s black and white. Is it my, my Clun Castle…? 7029, it’s just, just been restored back to mainline, going out next March on the mainline. Being rededicated at Tyseley, in the l, in the locomotive works.
DN: Is that-?
RJ: I, that’s one of mine. Th, that’s one of mine as well. That was in the Solihull Photographic Society, in, in an exhibition.
DN: Right, yeah.
RJ: That one.
DN: Nice picture.
RJ: It’s all black and white, I love black and white, still do. But you asked me something, [laughs].
DN: [Laughs] I was just asking you about the conservation group that you’re a mem, w, were a member of. Can you tell us a little bit how you became a member and also about, what they actually do for the area?
RJ: Erm… Conservation Society meet on a s, second Thursday of every month, er, in the Trust School, which is next to Yardley Old Church, which is the black and white building. And, erm… I just went ‘cause I’ve always been, er, interested in conserving things and looking after the city. It’s a lovely city and, erm, a lot has been lost. Buildings and heritage but, so we must preserve it. So I joined that and, er… gradually became Chairman. Chairman for about fifteen, twenty years… as it goes, and, erm, Yardley Conservation, Society met, was formed in 1970. But the s, actual conservation area was, um, in 1969, and it was the first in Birmingham. And in 1972, it was lifted to Outstanding, and it, er… there’s a plaque, under a tree. It’s a pink, cherry tree, and it was planted by the children of The Oval School, and you’d s, it’s a c, little carving, it looks lovely in the spring, yeah.
DN: So what do they do to preserve the area then, Robert?
RJ: They… promote things and make sure that, erm, it, it looks as good as, or it can be. There’s new lighting going in and their bu, making sure that the old Victorian li, style lights are going round, the church. Yeah.
DN: And, what did you, when you were the Chairman of the, the group, was there anything particular that you s, uh, as a group, you managed to save something or protect something?
RJ: Well, we’ve protected, e, everything as much as we can. As a s, as a s… er, you might know, er, Henry VIII actually owned Yardley. He, actually, Henry VIII owned Yardley and he gave it to Catherine of Aragon as a divorce settlement. And Catherine of Aragon’s got her own door into the church, St Edburgha’s. It’s on the Stechford side, and you’ll see the pomegranate of, of Spain and the rose of England on her personal door. Mmm. But on her death, it went, reverted back to the Crown. [Chuckles]. You’re smiling at me again.
RJ: You’re not supposed to giggle.
DN: It’s ‘cause you’re so lovely.
RJ: And you’ll see, you will see the ridge and furrow still. And in the centre, there’s a copse, and that was a home to the med, the Al, a, a, Alt, Allestree [ph] family in the Middle Ages, it was moated… with the copse in the centre. It is protected as well ‘cause that was the, Middle Ages, and it hasn’t, it hasn’t been touched since.
DN: In the centre of what?
RJ: Ya, Yardley Old Park.
DN: Oh, right.
RJ: There’s, there’s, there’s a play area.
RJ: Next to the play area, there’s a big copse, and that was a home of the Allestree [ph] family in the Middle Ages.
DN: So you take, a, a lot of photographs… particularly over the years and what have you. Robert, can you tell us, what big changes you’ve noticed in Yardley, over the time you’ve lived here?
RJ: Er, the small independent shops have gone. There used to be three butchers. They all, people used to queue up to go into the butcher’s. There was a gents outfitters.
DN: Is this at the Yew Tree?
RJ: That was at the Yew Tree, yeah. Tha, that’s gone. Erm, the pub. That was, er, more community-based, with different rooms and people, used, y, w, quite a lot of people used to use it, and the bowls at the back. [Swallows] And, erm… the Co-Op sports ground. That used to be… I’m a, I’m a governor of the education foundation and we… gave, the Co-Op, the, Yard, the, the grounds there, so th, the ol, old sports ground, for, for, for, to take of the people of Yardley. And the Co-Op had it and they, safeguarded the land, and the children used to play football and everything on it. Then the Co-Op have, er… given it, well, not given it, sold it, to somebody else, who don’t care for it anymore. The children can’t play football an, on it anymore. They used to play football, and there used to be the, erm, cricket pavilion. I, I rememb, I remember taking, [chuckles], you’re t, going back into my mem, memory now. There was a, side from Mexico, cricket team? And it was, somewhere in Mexico, play, played at the, Co-Op football, grounds. And it was their centenary and they were touring this country, and they came to Yardley and had a game of cricket. I went to take some pictures. [Both laughing]. Yeah. Yeah, so, er, quite a community there, in the pavilion, in the Co-Op sports ground, [tuts] ‘cause there was football matches played on the three pitches. Birmingham s, Birmingham City, mm, for, eleven played an, s, another eleven for charity. Yeah. It’s all gone. [Chuckles], sad. I think they want to build on it, but… hopefully not. Hopefully people will protect it.
DN: And what other changes, in the area, from when you moved in?
RJ: Ooh, I, erm… we used to go to The, Good Companions on the Coventry Road, for a, a drink on a Saturday night ‘cause it was a nice community. They sold Brew XI, which I used to love, but that’s gone, like a, like everything else. And there was a lovely, Church Road, used to go from… The Swan to the Yew Tree. There was a lovely lot of buildings there, and by the Oaklands, and erm, that’s all gone. There’s a beautiful Tudor-style building, yeah. It’s a shame, really. Don’t [17:28] done that bypass round the edge. Yes.
DN: So, The Swan Cen, Centre itself has saw some major changes over the years, as well.
RJ: It’s quite a s, ha, yes, I… [chuckles]. There w, the, in the old markets, there was a, somebody outta Coronation Street, he was in love with somebody else and he came and opened the market, and course I went round taking pictures. And to think it’s all flattened. I w, I was just, er, going through some photos last night, and er, [swallows] I’ve gotta give a t, a talk at the BMI, in February, an, and I, and I was doing Birmingham past and present. And I was looking, a, for Yardley, The Swan, ‘cause it had changed, and I found some photographs of them knocking it down. And then, I found one, where it’s totally flat, and just a pile of rubble, yeah. Amazing what happens.
DN: So… the –
RJ: I might have …
DN: – Coronation Street character, was that… was he opening the markets –
DN: – at Swan Centre?
RJ: Yes, yes, yes. And peop, oh, and Larry Grayson went to The Swan as well. I hadn’t got my camera that day, that’s why I carry a camera round with me all the time. He was there, I said, ‘Hello!’And he, he said, ‘Hello, chuck’, sort of thing. Yeah, Larry Grayson was in there, it was lovely.
DN: Can you d, can you describe the Swan Centre to us, the old Swan Centre, Robert, with the m, the markets?
RJ: Well, they were very small cubicles which people had. The Swan Trio, ‘cause I always used to get my sh, shoes repaired there. I used to like leather sol, sole shoes and I still do. And er, there was three of them moved to Acocks Green, and he’s still there, in Acocks Green, repairing shoes, and th, they are as well, the jewellers and the wool shop. But there w, there was, like, like the Birmingham markets. The, the, the open market at the bottom, ‘cause they’re pretty similar. Yeah, and the smaller shops, it was, very, sixties-style, it was, architecture was of the sixties. But this is… I’m not allow, I won’t say th [chuckles], I’ll get into trouble if I think, I say what I think of the other one. But it, it’s, erm… I think it’s not as nice as the, the old market, the new one.
DN: Do you think that the new centre has, has sort of changed the atmosphere, of the area, or the community?
RJ: Well, it’s, there’s so much land being used. There’s car parks and everything and… I s, they wh, they um… cut some beautif, cut some beautiful oak trees down. [20:10 IA] was looking at them last night and I’d, I’d taken all these photographs of the oak trees flattened, big, why it was the Oaklands. And fortunately, they’re planting some new ones, which is good, and bulbs and things to re, recover. But they, they were ancient oaks. It was a s, shame to see them go. Yeah.
DN: So… here’s a question for you, Robert.
RJ: I hope it’s not too difficult, y, er, er, if I can answer it.
DN: How many photos do you think you’ve taken over the years?
RJ: Thousands and thousands and thousands. I, erm…
DN: Do you keep all your photos?
RJ: Yes. I’ve got them all, ever since I started. I’ll show you upstairs in a minute, of them all. I went to, I was going to leave them to th, to the, either Birmingham Cathedral, and Church of England, or Birmingham Library, or City Council, but there’s a, quite an archive. I’ve got, I did, er… they, in the vestry of the church, at St Edburgha’s, they w, drew a curtain back, nobody had been there for years, and there was five bo, boxes of glass slides. And, they were Canon Cochrane, he was, the Vicar of Yardley from twenty-three to forty-seven, and his family owned a, door company. And he travelled round, taking the photographs for the brochures, with them. So, he went to America, Canada, Sou, South America, on the royal visits, and erm… he went, them, I’ve got some pictures of, I’ve copied off the glass, from the Holy Land, in 1895, in service, on Calvary. These were all on glass which I st, literally copied everything along with Les’ help. He held them for me, then I would s, wait for the light to get right, and I, re-photographed everything. It’s amazing, yes, yeah. And it’s funny but he… was the Vicar of Yardley ‘til 1947 and that was the year I was born. And he was a keen photographer, yeah. And it’s, it’s a, a, the photographs he took were on glass plates. They were in these long wooden boxes, I’ll sh, I’ll show you one, and er… they travelled, from, Middle East, by land, sea and then by rail to Sn, Birma, old Birmingham Snow Hill station. They went, they’d taken off there, and taken to developers in blu, ber, Bull Street, and not one was broken, it was just marked, ‘Glass, Great Western Railway’, on the box. And none were br, nothing was broken. Care, [chuckles], yeah.
DN: Coming back to Yardley, h, how do you feel that, the community has changed in the area?
RJ: Erm… there’s certain bits of it that, well, like, erm… at St, n, St. [23:14 IA] going to the churches, I, erm… yesterday, what day is it? No, Saturday, I was down the URC Church, taking their Christmas, fete, and, er, the community is good. M, the small pockets of chu, the churches are very good. And then, last Thursday… I was at the Friendship Club, which they meet every Th, yeah, I think it’s every fortnight. And, er, Anne Havard [ph], she asked me to project her slides for her, and there was over fifty people in the room, at this, ah, an afternoon. M, most of them quite elderly but, er, the community came out. And so but, and, and this would happen at all the churches. I gave a ta, ta, s, talk to, the church in Waterloo Chapel, in Waterloo Road. There was not, not even ch, I didn’t know it was, lit, little church, it looked like somebody’s front door when you’d gone in, it’s only s, tiny. And I went through, I was very impressed, and I thought, they said, er, ‘I brought my laptop’, I said, ‘I bought this’, she said, ‘Oh, we’ve got an overhead projector, Robert’. I thought, ‘Ooh, the first one I ever, first time that anybody’s ever said that to me’, [chuckles]. And we, we were in er, but yeah, it was, it was lovely. I had to put it there, and they said, ‘Here you are, Robert’, and I just put the [24:36] in, and it was on this huge screen [chuckles]. And then there was twelve of them, twelve or fourteen, sat in front of me and I just showed them pictures of Yardley, [chuckles]. I’ve gotta go next year as well, now, [laughs], yeah. It’s amazing. They said, ‘Do you have any old, old pictures of Yardley?’ When I did the one for you at the library, with the History Society, there was… they, I said to you, ‘How many people do you normally get?’ and you said, ‘Thirty’, and there was over sixty. I think you had to get the one final chair out of the kitchen or somewhere, so everybody could sit down, we were searching for chairs! It’s lovely, yeah.
DN: Yeah. Yeah, I think commu, Yardley has a, a, a great community spirit –
RJ: Oh yeah, yeah.
DN: – about it.
RJ: There’s, th, it’s something… it, it’s slightly fragmented, it will come together when necessary but it, eh, it’s a lovely place to live. It’s like m, oh when is it? Two weeks ago? We went down, the children planted the oak trees to replace the ones that’ve been cut down. Yeah, and th, the councillor’s throwing the s, s, s, seeds. Yeah, it was lovely. The wildflower seeds, yeah. They do a lot of good… they really do.
DN: So, what, what do you like about living in Yardley, then?
RJ: The heritage. It’s, it’s, when you think… it dates back to nine-seven-two, and when the monks from Pershore Abbey came and planted a cross in a glade, ‘cause Yardley was all woods, in, in the centre of the ground, and that’s where Yardley Church comes from. So, the building itself s, dates from the twelfth century, the one that’s there, the, the… oh, and, and I didn’t tell you. The Gracewell family, there’s been a lot of good families in Yardley. The, he, there’s a monument in… Yardley Great Trust, we have Gracewell House, and we have Gracewell Gardens. The care homes are named after the families, and er, inside, there’s a monument, to the Gracewell family. And we, oh, and we uncovered… one of the vicars, the Gracewell f, and I think they’d come to see that. But, and when t, the red carpet was taken up, they found the tomb of one of the Greswolds, 1753? And, er, he’s buried there. So the Gracewell family from America, who live over there, ca, came to see it, but we didn’t know they were coming. Fortunately, I was in, the g, the church, taking pictures of Birmingham Cathedral Choir, doing a concert, and they suddenly, they were sitting there. And we thought, ‘We haven’t seen you before’, then they introduced themselves. Robert and, Senior, Robert Junior, Greswolds, and they came to look at the tomb. And, the streets in America are named after the Gracewell, family, and Yardley. Yeah, Yar, Yardley, there’s district, districts in America are named after Yardley. Yeah, it’s true they told me all about it. It’s incredible to think that, isn’t it? And I was sitting at the back of the church, taking photographs the one day, and a family came from Norway, to look round Yardley Church, yeah. They all do, visitors from all over the world. [Chuckles].
DN: Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it?
RJ: Yeah. Yardley’s n, Yardley is better-known away from this country, than in this country. And Yardley should be, has a proud, proud history, yeah. Even the guy that founded, er, Lloyds Bank, was born in Yardley. In, the, he-, heritage goes on and on and on. Yeah.
DN: So, is there anything you don’t like about Yardley, Robert?
RJ: [Draws breath], that’s a good question. It’s getting, more traffic, [laughs]. It, it, it, it, if you go to the Yew Tree, it’s difficult to… to dr, get anywhere ‘cause the traffic is gridlocked all the time. So w, we g, we walk and then… and course, I’m of the age I’ve got a bus pass. So, er, I use the bus. Mind you, you can take… went to, had to go to the, where was I going? To the Cathedral, and then it took me two hours, on the bus from Yardley, to get to town. It was terr, horrific. I had to be there, fortunately, for quarter past six, and we arrived in town at six o’clock. That’s the trouble today, that’s the bit I… find difficult. ‘cause it used to be very quiet, and when you di, drive down the hill… to turn onto Barrows Lane, you used to gently, but now you have to wait about, ten minutes to get out, yeah. And of course, the seventy-three is gone, don’t like that. And the fifty-nine, don’t like that, [chuckles]. They should bring them both back. Well, they’re trapping the old people. ‘cause the seventy-three used to go up to b, er, Old Square, and people in, in Church Road, in wheelchairs, he used to take his wife, as an outing. And she’s w, housebound in a wheelchair, and, and there’s n, and now the bus doesn’t go there anymore, so they’re, they’re trapped. All the old people round, that area, are trapped ‘cause they can’t get to town. The one lady used to get the bus to town, the seventeen, and go into Marks & Spencer’s, do her shop and then get the bus back. Now she can’t get there. They don’t think about the poor people. The public transport needs improving. Yeah. I’ve had my gripe, that’s all, that’s all it is.
DN: [Chuckles] [Coughs]. So another, question for you, Robert.
DN: Which I’m not sure you’re gonna be able to answer.
RJ: Oh, I don’t know.
DN: But do you have, a favourite photograph that you’ve taken?
RJ: [Draws breath] hmm… that’s very diff, [tut] difficult, er, I’ve taken so many. I couldn’t give you an answer for that. You seen that?
DN: So… other changes in the area since you’ve been here, R, Robert, is, one of the, the changes was-
RJ: Ah, there is one. I’ll show you. Talk amongst yourselves for a minute.
RJ: I hope I find it. My favourite, favourite. It’s a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Birmingham Cathedral, that is my absolute favourite. He was looking at the Burne-Jones windows. I’ll show you whe, when we’ve finished. But er… I was at the Cathedral taking photographs of, erm… the, his visit and, er, the Archbishop of Canterbury came out, in his underrobes, and went up towards the, the altar and Burne-Jones windows, and he just stopped and started looking round, like that, just in, intensely at these windows. And I took his photograph several times and it’s absolutely wonderful. That’s, that’s my favourite. Really is, it’s a wonderful photograph. You have to see, I’ll show you when I find it. Yeah.
DN: So,[tut] have you got any other Yardley memories that you’d like to share with us, Robert?
RJ: Not off-hand, but er, oh, the Queen. She, she o, she came to, that’s why I’m thinking about trains now [chuckles]. She came to, arrived at Stechford and then opened Old Brookside for us, in 1981, Yardley Great Trust. And, I didn’t take the picture but I’ve copied the ones that were there. But I think that, that’s nice to think, the Royal Family actually come, and visit Yardley and support the people, here, yeah. I think that’s wonderful, that the, Queen actually made, you know, came and visited Yardley.
DN: Did you meet the Queen?
RJ: No. I, I’ve seen and photographed her at other times, but I di, I’ve never actually met her. I, erm, the other thing that was nice, is, [32:42] my students’ work. We had to do an, an, a, adult education teaching. The, erm, we were asked, er… we were given s, some old photographs of Yardley, and asked if we would do the modern interpretation, for an exhibition at Blakesley Hall. The Blakesley Hall, had just opened and the big hall was there. So I asked my, my, m, my, my manager and they were happy for me to do it. And, er, we did it, then I thought, well… we could do, do a photographic interpretation, some, some lights, which was part of their curriculum. And so we had three photographs – the original, th, that I, that I, the city had provided, the s, the modern interpretation, of the students, then their in … creative work. And, er, that went all up. And it was supposed to be up for a year, Duke of Gloucester opened it, took some, he planted a tree, he must be a keen gardener. He planted a tree right in front, he didn’t half give it some welly, putting it into the ground [chuckles] so it was nice. And er, it was so popular, it was up for another year, so it was up for two years, the students’ work, I was delighted. Yeah. Th, I, Irene De Boo was there, said, ‘Robert, people spend, over twenty minutes going round’. Normally, they’re not, you know, a few minutes, they walk in and walk out. But she said they spent over twenty minutes, half an hour with everybody. Yeah, it was nice. It’s nice to think they, the childr, you know, the students did it, and achieved all that.
DN: How long did you, do your adult education teach -?
RJ: Fifteen, fifteen years. It was nice ‘cause, er… I was at, just doing the one class at the time. I had, er, my own, ma, main students, but I als, always had to have, somebody with special needs, with me, to integrate them into society. And I would do, it, they would fill my whole class with, everybody joined in, and after the end of the class, I had half an hour to do the one-to-one, each, so that was really nice. It was nice to see, it lovely to see people blossom. They’re so wonderful, got so much talents, and you just op, c, turn the lock, [clicks fingers], like that and, and they blossom, it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to teach.
DN: Do you still, do… will it, was it just hobbies that they were coming to learn for or did some of them actually…?
RJ: Oh, edu, education [35:08]. We were t, teaching, er, Level 1 City & Guilds, Level 2, then they went to an NCQ, ne, another qualification. But the exam board used to come from… Shrewsbury, the City & Guilds man, and tell me what he wanted, and who did it, and the City & Guilds used to, go through everything, and everything was fine, yeah. I used to love it. Wouldn’t have missed a second of teaching, never, ever. It was wonderful.
DN: So you’ve been around, for a while now, taking various photos of various events, that have gone on in Yardley –
DN: – over the years.
DN: I’ll bet you’ve had some fun.
RJ: [Laughs], yeah, I’ve met a lot a few people. Erm, ‘cause with, w, the, well, doing them for the paper, they’d send me out but, erm, I took, John Major with David, David. Then Estelle Morris arrived as the new MP, took over and she became Deputy Secretary of State for Education, then Secretary of State for Education, so I had a lot, of, photographs with Estelle. And the one, time, we had to go to, er, Lea Hall. There was a, a job centre for disabled people, and she, we, we, I’m, normally when you go, I was, wen, went with the editor that day, and we sat there. And normally you get a press pack. There was only him and I. And we thought, ‘This is very odd’, and then David Blunkett came, with her, and the dog Lucy, lovely black dog. And we, we too, and I took photographs of them there, and then she became Secretary, s, actually Secretary of State for Education. I met quite a few of the cabinet ministers, met Tony Blair, photographed him. He, he, you know the club next to the library? He went there, did a, made a speech. Yeah, and I s, stood with the press pack at, near the end, end, and it was like the other end of a football pitch, you couldn’t… n, with ordinary cameras, you could never get a picture. But as he came out, I got some nice pictures, got a nice one with h, him and Estelle.
DN: So what paper was that you worked with, Robert?
RJ: It was the, [swallows] [37:27] Publishing. It was a Gazette series, they had sixteen titles, so they… [swallows] you know, they t, took over sixteen titles. I took photographs for… [IA 37:40] Gazette, Sheldon Gazette, and Yardley. They were just very local but yeah, it was very nice. And course, th, the society got free adverts, which helped to b, continue to boost, er… all their, yeah, membership, keep it going. Yeah, it was very nice.
DN: Does that photography society still, exist?
RJ: Oh yes, it’s still going, yeah. Yes, it’s, that’s every Tuesday night, it’s… excuse me. It’s upstairs in the Trust School. But it, it, it’s very topical, they have inter-clubs with other clubs and other societies, competitions and things like that. But it, yeah, it, it’s a good community thing.
DN: So, you managed to photograph some famous people over the years, Robert, but you’ve also managed to… to photograph a lot of the local community, that live here in Yardley.
RJ: Oh, yes. I, I get asked… mm, well, my Flickr stream is, photobob.uk, cause everybody says, ‘Can you want, d’you want a photo, Bob?’ I said, ‘Yes please’. So it’s, ‘D’you want a photo, Bob?’ So it’s, that’s where photobob comes from. So, ‘D’you want a photo, Bob?’ ‘Yes’. So, I, I, off I go and take pictures of, people at the local fetes and, doing things. I took, used to take the children with the football matches, and when th, their little trophies and wh, medals, yeah. Hundreds of those, s, Cockshutt Hill School, everything, it was lovely. I used to follow Estelle Morris round the classrooms. I still do that for, the library at, er, the… Glebe Farm? They have, and, er… this is, this is going back to Yardley Conservat, Yardley Great Trust. We’d give a grant to, to the South Yardley Library, and to… Glebe Farm Library, for education, for s, the reading challenge. And then I’d go and [swallows] take the photographs of the community, children, b, rea, and, and with their rewards and things like that. It’s wonderful. It, y, you record history, you walk with history. You have this absolute privilege of recording it. Yeah, and course we did. Yeah, that began this year, the disco, with all the li, flashing lights and the kids love it, yes. And me, get some sp, special l, lovely photographs with all these colours, yeah, nice.
DN: Yeah, it’s a lo, it’s, it’s… it, it is, you are, I agree, you are recording memories and you’re recording history, as well.
RJ: Well, i, if, if you go into somewhere, you take a p, go into Birmingham especially, you take a picture of, of buildings, week later it could be gone, and it’s gone, yeah. This is it. I remember taking, back, by, opposite the Bull Ring. I was getting on the bus to t, driving past, there used to be an [40:26 ice room] on the right. It’s gone, it’s flattened. It just disappears. It, it’s, s, as simple as that – buildings there, today, go past it another day, it’s gone, it’s flattened. And course, all the pubs have gone, so there, there’s more building than ever. It’s strange to think that Woolworth’s has gone and it’s a pub, William Tyler. You ever been in? You’ll have to go in, ‘cause it’s r, d, dedicated, to the Ty, W, Will Tyler. His kiln is inside, a model of it, and, and the map each side of the, of the, of the kiln, of, of the Middle Ages, of the district of Birmingham, Yardley, the old areas of Yardley, the names. Yeah, there, there’s a modern interpretation of, Catherine of Aragon, on tiles, in memory of, recognition of Will Tyler. Yeah. But it’s strange, you sit there, and you l, having your lunch, and you think, ‘This…’, you think, ‘That’s, used to be Woolworth’s and that’s where the tills were, and that’s where they had the, all the DVDs on the wall’, you know. And you think, ‘Oh, yes…’, it’s strange to think how, how things change, yeah.
DN: Yeah. It, it’s quite strange, as well, when you think about all the pubs that we’ve lost in the Yardley area over the years.
RJ: Oh, they’ve all gone, yeah. They were, they were community centres, yeah. And, and Ray’s Wallpaper, that’s gone. I took a picture of him, closing, pulling the shutter down, inside all the wallpaper, inside, he was just, signing everything off and I was inside taking pictures. And he said, ‘Clash, crash, bang, wallop, it’s going’. At the Yew Tree, though, a closing down sale and a newsagent, Core News [ph], has gone. There won’t be any shops left soon. The one across the road, next to the chemist, th, that’s closed as well. So there’s only the one butcher’s left… and, er, yeah. It’s sad to see all these, places go. ‘cause all these p, people are losing their jobs and you’ve gotta feel sorry for them and their families. You know, they’re, just before Christmas and they, they’re, made redundant, it’s horrible to think. Really is.
DN: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today, Robert?
RJ: No, it’s fine. I’ve, it’s been very interesting, actually, enjoyed it. I, and I didn’t know what to expect but, er, I haven’t gone on too long, have I?
DN: Not at all.
RJ: Ah, he’s shaking his head. One, the one on my right is shaking his head, and, he’s been quiet all the way through, tha, that’s why you haven’t heard him but he is there. I, I assure you he’s there, he’s grinning now.
DN: Do you want to ask anything?
Oliver Scott: Hm?
DN: Would you like to ask anything?
OS: Anything else, erm…
RJ: Here, I, I’ve woken him up, [laughs].
OS: I’m letting Debbie do all the interviewing.
OS: Erm… I don’t think there’s anything else to ask at the moment but there might be some things you might want –
RJ: Can –
DN: – to come back to.
RJ: C, can I just, I’ve just seen a photograph over there. We opened, the garden, that garden for the community. The, erm, the widows come, and they, they sit in the garden, have a garden party every summer. The Yardley Gardeners had one this year, so the, er, th, the back garden. We had over… because it’s the Yardley Gardeners’ thirtieth anniversary this year, er, we had a garden party, and ac, Canon Andrew came from the Cathedral, t, to bless and to m, m, meet people, which was lovely.
DN: Where’s the Yardley Garden?
RJ: Gardeners? They meet, er, every… where are we?
DN: Is that at the, the Trust house as well?
RJ: No, no, the URC Church. Da, dag, Digbeth in the Field church –
DN: [whispers] oh yes.
RJ: – down the bottom. Did you know about that?
RJ: Shall I t… ohh, well, how long have you got? [Chuckles] Er, it, it was donated… mm, Digbeth in the Field, used to be in the, in town, in the d, in the dig, centre in Digbeth, o, one opposite the bus, garage, the big civic centre. And, er, the f, everybody there, the community were moved out to c, Chelmsley Wood. But before that, they fr, people, Al, Alt [ph] brothers, who owned the land in Yardley, donated, it to the, to the people, to the Church, i, in city. And they used to come out by trams, t, down the wa, down the ch… they called it the, the, the lane, s, full of cherries and everything, to their church, their field where they used to play. Got the pictures of that as well, [laughs]. Yeah, that’s why it’s called Digbeth in the Field, ‘cause it used to, it was from Digbeth, but the church moved out, to where it is. Do you wanna know about St Thomas’, Church? It was bombed, in the Second World War, and the, it’s now a peace garden, in the city centre.
RJ: And then the one in… is it Garretts [ph] [45:15]? Is fifty years old. Bishop David, went and commemorated it. But that then is the new church, and it was, it’s there ‘cause the old one was bombed during the war, and it’s now a peace garden with a message of peace from all round the world, which is wonderful. [Pause]. I’ve finished, [chuckles].
DN: There’s a lot…
RJ: We’ll be going on for hours otherwise. [Chuckles]
DN: Mm, there’s a lot g, that goes on, on your doorstep sometimes, that people don’t realise. And I think with you… being such a big part of this community, which you are and doing your photographs, I think you really bring that out –
DN: – into, into the worl, not just into the Yardley area but into the world. As you were saying, your photos get seen everywhere now.
RJ: It’s… yeah.
DN: And that’s something special.
RJ: I, thank you, I, I think it’s wonderful to share what I do with everybody, for them to see, to share.
DN: And I think that we’re very lucky that you do want to share them, Robert.
RJ: Thank you, it’s l, wonderful, of you –
RJ: – to say that, thank you.
DN: And it’s very true.
DN: So I’d like to take s, time, ju, just to thank you now for, allowing us to talk to you.
RJ: Oh, it’s a pleasure.
OS: Thanks, Robert.
RJ: Thank you.
DN: And we’ll go and have a look at-
RJ: It’s quite,
DN: – some of your pictures now.
RJ: Yeah, it’s, it’s quite an honour and a privilege to have been asked, so thank you.
DN: Oh, you’re very welcome, it’s been, it’s…
OS: It’s nice.
DN: … been very interesting, thank you very much.
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