Wednesbury Characters

I love coming across more writings from F.W.Hackwood.
He wrote about everything in Wednesbury, from Superstitions to Industry, Buildings to plagues, and even local characters.
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“There was about that time a hay and straw dealer in Trouse Lane, who having been deprived of one of his nether limbs, although his real name was the very simple one of William Taylor, could not escape the universal Wednesbury designation of PEG-LEG; while a namesake similarly afflicted was called CRUTCHY.

It is worth mentioning that less than a dozen years ago a race was got up in this town between a cripple who used a crutch and a wooden legged man.
The distance was a hundred yards, and the stakes £10 aside.
All the arrangements were made in true sporting style, and the wooden-legged competitor proved an easy winner.” Physical affliction it seems was one way to guarantee a nickname in ‘Ode Wedgbury’ …

“The loss of an upper limb conferred on one well-known worthy the name WINGY HADLEY.
His father and mother got their living as water-sellers, going up and down the streets of the old town with a water cart — a large barrel on wheels drawn by two donkeys — and selling this commodity at a penny or a half penny per bucket, according as it came from Stone Cross Well or Wednesbury Brook.

Wingy’s iron hook, which was substituted for his missing hand, was so dexterously used in ‘lading’ up the pails that he could always fill a cart in much less time than a man with two arms.
“When the era of waterworks came in Wingy became a hawker of fish, and he was the last man in Wednesbury to take advantage of the old law permitting the crying of fish for sale of Sundays.”

Old BONKER TURNER it is unnecessary to say much here.
He originally worked on the pit bank, but afterwards ‘jagged’ coal about the streets with a donkey cart.
His constant companion was a gander, which for years followed at his heels like a dog — Bonker and his Goose were always in evidence on market days.
During the cholera visitations of 1832 and 1848 Bonker was the only man who could be engaged to convey the dead to the church yard, a contract he ably fulfilled with the aid of a liberal allowance of brandy.
During that sad period his cart, followed by the faithful goose was slowly wending its way up and down Church Hill all day long, coffin upon coffin being stored in the church porch to await a wholesale burial service.”

“FITTY JACK was what in local parlance is called ‘rodney’, or an idle good for nothing.
He could always have a fit on the shortest notice — if it was likely to excite compassion.
Sometimes, however, he would dispense with the fit, and ask out right for an ‘odd un’, that is, an odd copper.
If he failed to get a penny, he was shrewd enough to say politely, ‘Thank thee! thee hast been a friend, and thee might’st be again.”
If he obtained a copper, he would sometimes display his gratitude by exhibiting his proficiency in the art of throwing, sending the penny straight into the air to an immense height and catching it again with marvellous dexterity.”

“SNUFFY JOEY was a harmless imbecile, formerly of Walsall, who wandered the streets in the sixties and made sport for the urchins. He was digustingly dirty, and slept in Mr William Hackwood’s loft at his stabling in Earp’s Lane. His life knew only one joy — that was snuff.

THE DWARF at the Talbot Inn, Market Place, outside the walls of which he was never seen.
This inn, the most ancient then standing in Wednesbury, was kept by a man named Armishaw, and the dwarf was a son of the house. He was good humoured and funny, and as such was an attraction to the customers; in knee breeches, an ample white apron, and a flaming red cap which usually covered his big head, he made a quaint picture as he stood in front of the great kitchen fire, basting ladle in hand, attending to the joint of the spit.

More to come ……

Update and more Wednesbury Character from Hackwood:

“Forty or fifty years ago (Aprox 1820’s) there lived in a cottage at Wood Green two eccentric brothers, by the name of Joe and Jack Bobb.
This worthy pair were elderly bachelors without female encumbrance, who found it convenient to share the expenses of one household, the management of which was undertaken by Joe, the elder.
“Joe, like many other men in Wednesbury at that time, accounted himself a gentleman of independent means, on the strength of possessing a bit of freehold property, in the shape of a few tumble-down cottages.
“Jack earned his living by the sweat of his brow, going forth to the daily toil of stone breaking; at which he was very expert, and finding fairly regular employment in the Town Yard, then situated in Ladbury’s Lane.
But the saving of any of his hard earned money was quite foreign to his nature.

“Both brothers were tall and slightly built; their faces were ruddy and of the dried apple texture, and though the set expression of their features was somewhat quaint, it gave but little indication of the unconscious humour within, or led one to anticipate from lips so lacking in curves those ‘cramp sayings’ which accompanied so many of their eccentric actions.”

“The brothers’ domestic arrangements were quite peculiar”, Hackwood says. “Each Saturday night Joe would bring home from Wednesbury market the week’s allowance of meat, always wrapped in a red cotton handkerchief.
The size of the meat would vary, depending on how much money Jack had contributed to it, but it was always the cheapest boiling joint available.
Whatever amount Jack could afford was matched by his brother, down to the farthing.

On Sunday morning the joint was boiled in a pot with herbs, along with a tied bag of split peas, almost the size of a pillow case. Once cooked, the meat was taken out and divided into two. Then each piece was split again, and sometimes again, till it was decided it was just big enough for one man’s meal.

Broth Depending on the size of the joint the brothers bought, the meat would last to varying points throughout the week, but never beyond Wednesday evening. On a bad week it would only stretch to Sunday dinner.
That was where the broth and the peas-pudding came in.
The rest of the week would see the brothers Bobb eking out the watery, vaguely meat-flavoured remains of the pot until the following weekend, when they could look forward to another cheap joint of meat.

No housewife in the whole of Wednesbury’s history, wrote Hackwood, ever achieved anything greater than this …

“On Sunday, as soon as the peas had been boiled quite soft, they were turned out of the bag on to a large board — it was not exactly a paste board; as a matter of fact in was half of the undertaker’s board on which the last family corpse had been laid out and which careful Joe had appropriated.

With a big rolling pin he levelled the paste of peas to the same thickness al over the board from end to end, and then running a knife along a lath he used as a straight edge, he divided the pudding into squares with the utmost geometrical accuracy.
Thus was each day of the week till Saturday duly provided for; for every day, without fail, there was at least a basin of broth to warm up and to be supplemented with a cube of nourishing peas pudding.

“Jack the reckless and improvident, like many more of his type who worked hard all the week for a mere pittance, religiously celebrated the Saturday night in the revelry of drunkenness.
He generally arrived home about midnight very drunk, and not infrequently bringing with him a big beefsteak which he had purchased earlier in the evening, and which had collected the dust of every bar and tap room into which it had been carried by a drunkard’s persistence throughout the night’s orgie.

“And Brother Joe was always waiting, like a spider for a fly, for the erring one’s return; not a sign of anger or reproach on that crafty face for the delinquencies of poor thoughtless Jack.
“Helplessly sinking into his own tall-backed chair, on his own side of the fireplace, Jack would fling the much-soiled steak on to the table with a mumbled request that it be cooked for his ‘shuppper’’.

With an experience gained of many similar episodes sly Joe would proceed about the work without demur, and certainly without the least noise or bustle that would be calculated to disturb the slumbers of a weary brother.” Week in, week out, Jack would fall into the habitual sleep of the drunkard while his brother cooked the steak in near silence, presumably after giving it a bit of a rinse. By the time it was ready, cooked to perfection, Jack would be snoring loud enough to rattle the rafters, and Joe would quietly tuck in, not stopping until the whole morsel was gone.
But his devious work was not yet finished …

“Taking the empty dish in his left hand as a palette, Joe artistically painted the face of his sleeping and too confiding brother, daubing not only the mouth, but the cheeks and nose with grease, gravy, and mustard — especially mustard because of its vivid colouring. Then vigorously shaking Jack till he had roused him into a half-dozed consciousness, he would shout at him — ‘Now then! Bist thee gooin to bed tonight?’ ‘Aye,’ replies the bewildered Jack, ‘when I’n had me supper.’ ‘Supper? Why lad, thee hast had thy supper, hours and hours agoo.
But thee wast so rare and drunk at the time.
Just look how thee hast baumed the gravy and the mustard all over thy feaace!’ “And Joe would help the deluded sot to stagger to the looking glass.

It was a broken fragment of mirror glass of indescribable shape, nailed on the wall between the kitchen window and the door — where the reflection which met his view was supposed to be confirmation strong as holy writ.
But if Jack was hard of belief — and often the gnawing feeling of emptiness in the region of the drunken man’s belt gave the lie to the evidence of his chromatic physiognomy — Joe hurried him upstairs to bed without time for reflection or a chance of argument.”

And still Joe Bobb was not finished with his hapless sibling.
Giving him an hour to settle back into his inebriated sleep, he would creep into his room and rummage carefully through his pockets. Making careful note of the number of coins he found, he would then swap every one of them for another of lower denomination, reducing considerably the amount of cash in Jack’s pocket while making very little difference to its weight and jingle.

Every half crown became a florin, every shilling a sixpence, and so on down to the halfpennies which morphed into farthings.

Next morning, a hungover Jack would go downstairs to hear Joe complain about just how drunk he had been the previous night, and could only conclude that, just like every other weekend, he’d got through a fair bit more than he’d thought.
To make matters worse, Joe hadn’t even earned half the coins he’d used to trick his drunken brother, as Hackwood explains:
“At that point Wood Green Road was barred by a toll gate which stretched its stout white painted timbers across the highway from a little toll house situated near where the entrance to Myvod House now stands, with a side bar to catch the traffic along Brunswick Park Road, or Blazes Lane as it was then called.

“Early in the small hours of many a morning, just as the fist gleam of daylight was struggling up the eastern sky, Joe Bobb might have been seen eagerly peering about the roadway there, clad only in his shirt, just as he had risen from his bed.
“While all the rest of the world still lay soundly wrapped in the silence of slumber, Joe the early bird was diligently searching about for derelict coins — for it not unfrequently happened at night time that when the pike keeper had handed up the change to a driver, some of the coins would be dropped in the road and become irrecoverable in the dark.
And so from the vantage ground of his neighbouring cottage the ever-thrifty Jospeh sallied forth at daybreak regularly to search for this flotsam and jetsam of the highway — to which he doubtless thought he had a right — always regardless of the morning chill and the rudeness of a breeze which seldom failed to waft his shirt-tails with graceful freedom from his bare legs.”

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