A Frank Discussion

I’m a big fan of place names that actually mean something, rather than the pretty but ultimately empty kind that are sometimes embraced by developers. The authors of one of my all time favourite books ‘England in Particular’ have this to say on the subject,

“Names carry resonances and secrets. Respect local names and add new ones with care. It is not good enough to call a new estate Badger’s Mead when the badgers have been destroyed.”

Recently there was a notice in the Lichfield Mercury that the name ‘Halfpenny Lane’ had been assigned to a new development off the Walsall Road (1).  If streets, buildings, etc, are to be name after local people, then I think its important to know who those people were and what contribution they’ve made to that place. The following information was very kindly provided by Colin Halfpenny, son of Frank and Mary Halfpenny.

Frank Halfpenny was born on 11th September 1897 in Goldenhill, Stoke on Trent. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Marsdon and Sons, a tailor and outfitting firm in Newcastle under Lyme. Between 1916 and 1919 Frank served in the Staffordshire Yeomanry as a signaller, spending time in Egypt and Palestine.

This photograph was sent to me by Ron Myatt of the Great Wyrley Local History Society. Ron and I had a chat about it – we understand that it shows Frank Halfpenny whilst serving in WW1, but the identities of the other men are unknown. If anyone can help, Ron and I would be very grateful!

On his return, Frank was appointed manager of John Key and Sons Tailors and Outfitters  in Market Street , Lichfield and lodged with the Misses Arnold of the Coffee Shop on Church Street (opposite to the vehicle entrance to Wintertons Saleyard). He was a keen sportsman, playing football and cricket for Lichfield teams. In 1923, Frank was appointed theMidland Area Representative for D Gurteen and Sons, clothing manufacturers of Haverhill, Suffolk. On New Year’s Eve 1924 Frank married Mary Emma Tayler.  Both were lifelong Methodists holding active posts both in the Lichfield Church and on the Lichfield and Tamworth Circuit. Eleven years later, Frank purchased Mr B T Sadler`s drapery and ladies outfitting shop opposite the Johnson Statue in Market Square

At the 1935 AGM of the cricket club Sam Brown (the father of Cuthbert Brown who published several books on growing up on Beacon St) the Treasurer told the members that the club finances were very low and that a method of raising them had to be found.  Frank offered the club a cup to be played for with an annual competition, this was agreed to and the competition was started amongst local village clubs in 1936. This has been played for every year since then and is thought to be the oldest 20×20 competition in the country. He was also a member of several bowls clubs, the allotments association and the City Institute where he enjoyed a game of billiards or snooker.

In 1936 he was elected to the City Council and became Sheriff in 1938. At the same time his father in law, Councillor F M Tayler, (later to become Alderman and a Freeman of the city) started his second year as Mayor. Many people will know the photograph of Frank maintaining the tradition of the Sheriff’s Ride in 1939, accompanied by Sam Ashley who at 70 years of age had followed the ride each year from when he was 7 years old.  Sam had walked to Four Oaks and collected the horses then rode to Lichfield , round the city boundary, back to Four Oaks and walked home again. The following year, Frank presented Sam with a copy of this photo. Sam replied that the day had always been a pleasure all his life and he had always enjoyed it, noting that ‘there were not above three people alive who went round when he was a boy and he hoped to go on as long as he could’. During the War Frank was also a prominent member of the ARP and spoke all over the Midlands for the Ministry of Information on national security, instructing Home Guard units on signalling.

Frank was a member of many committees and was Chairman of the Lichfield, Tamworth and Sutton Coldfield Hospital Committee for a long time and was also elected onto Staffordshire County Council. He was a magistrate on the County Justices Bench and Mary his wife was on the City Justices Bench. In 1965/6 Frank was elected Mayor of Lichfield, and after his death on May 12th 1966 , his wife Mary took his place as Deputy Mayor for 1966/7. Mary Halfpenny he was then appointed Sheriff in 1968 (when Ena Millard was Mayor) and became Mayor in 1971.

Mrs Halfpenny is on the front row of the above photograph, fourth from left. Until writing this I have to confess that I had assumed that the lane had been named after Mr Halfpenny, but clearly Mrs Halfpenny was also an active member of the community, and so perhaps the name should commemorate both of them? The photo was very kindly sent to me by David Shaw whose father John Shaw is sitting on the second row (second from left). In a nice bit of synchronicity, John wrote wonderful local history books, one of which is about the street names in Lichfield!

Colin Halfpenny also provided this photograph taken outside Christ Church Boys Club in 1939, when the Duke of Gloucester visited. It shows Cllr Halfpenny (the Sheriff), his father-in-law Cllr Tayler (the Mayor), and the chairman of the Youth club committee (name unknown, possibly a local bank manager?) with the Duke.

Notes:
(1) I can’t think whereabouts this is and am a little reluctant to go and look as with my poor sense of direction and the labyrinthine nature of the estate I always struggle to find my way back out again! Does anyone else know?
(2) Thanks so much to Colin, David and Ron for providing the above information and photographs.
(3) Information on presentation of photo to Sam Ashley taken from Lichfield Mercury archive
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Multi Story Huts

A while ago I wrote about the old scout hut in Leomansley, triggered by the chance discovery of an old girl guides badge in Moggs Lane (does anyone call it by that name these days I wonder? I’m going to try and resurrect it – it’s much better than calling it ‘the lane that runs past Martin Heath hall towards the football pitches’). The hut is believed to have originally been a cadet hut, from one of the first world war training camps on Cannock Chase.  There is a fantastic section on the Staffordshire Pasttrack website regarding the training camps, including a description of the huts themselves. After the war, many were sold off to towns and villages for use as village halls, workshops, and here in Lichfield, a youth club.

Colin Halfpenny sent me two photographs featuring his father, Frank Halfpenny, and other civic dignitaries welcoming the Duke of Gloucester to the hut in Leomansley in 1939. At the time it was being used at the headquarters of the Christ Church Boys Club on the Walsall Rd but was eventually taken over by the 6th Lichfield Scout Group. The hut was replaced by a new building in 2009.

Cllr Frank Halfpenny (the Sheriff of Lichfield), Alderman Tayler (the Mayor) and the Chairman of the Youth Club Committee stand on the steps of the hut with the Duke of Gloucester in 1939.

The Mayor, the Duke of Gloucester, Mrs Ballard, Mr A.N.Ballard (the Town Clerk), the Sheriff (Mr Halfpenny), the Sheriff`s Lady (Mrs Mary Halfpenny)  and the Mayoress

I have also started to read about Brindley Heath, where the abandoned huts of the military hospital were taken over by the West Cannock Colliery Company, providing homes for miners and their families until the 1950s.

Imagine the stories held within the walls of these simple wooden buildings – those of thousands of men, who called them home (possibly for some their last) as they trained for life, and in far too many cases death, in the trenches abroad.  Once peace was restored, there were new chapters in the stories of the huts themselves, with each one put to a new use amongst a different community.  As the centenary of the first world war approaches, I wonder if any of them are still around in our towns and villages, or have they all now been replaced?

With thanks to Colin Halfpenny for the photographs.

Edit: One of the huts may have been used at Snibston in Leicestershire, as a temporary residence for the Vicar whilst he waited for his new vicarage to be built. Also it appears that the memorial hall and men’s club at Glascote, Tamworth was also a former army hut.

 

Refusing to Bough Down

I didn’t spend as long as I normally do at the Bower yesterday, but I did wander around the busy streets, catching the end of the procession on Dam St, and I was glad to hear that the day had been a success. Something that I’ve always been interested in is the traditions associated with the event and today I found an interesting story from the 1950s about one of those customs.

At dawn on Bower Day in 1952, some of the male residents of Lower Sandford St were gathering elm branches near to Beacon Farm, on the edge of what is now Beacon Park. Apparently every year, for as long as anyone could remember, the boughs had been cut from the trees and used to decorate the houses in ‘Old San’ as the street was known. However, as the men gathered the boughs, a police officer arrived and instructed them to stop, on the orders of the Town Clerk and the Estates Committee of the City Council, as it had been reported that in previous years the trees had been damaged.

The residents of ‘Old San’ were angry that their ancient privilege was being threatened and sent a message back to the Town Clerk and the Mayor, Cllr. C Bridgeman, that if no further boughs were allowed to be cut, then those that had already been collected would be used to barricade Sandford St and prevent the Bower Procession from entering. As tensions rose, the Town Clerk and the Mayor arrived at the scene and gave their permission for residents to continue collecting boughs, providing that no trees were damaged in the process. The boughs were then used to decorate the houses of old Sandford St along with bunting, balloons and slogans, with prizes awarded for the best decorated properties.  One lady, born in Sandford Street in the late nineteenth century, told the reporter that when she was younger the boughs had been taken from the old brook near the Bowling Green Inn. In her opinion,  “When ‘Old San’ finishes, so has the Bower”.

What’s also interesting is that the incident seemed to awaken a fighting spirit within Sandford St. At the start of June, a committee was formed following a outdoor meeting held on some waste ground in the street. With Mr Frank Halfpenny, the former City and County Councillor, as chair, the committee asked Lichfield City Council to address not only the issues that had arisen during Bower Day, but also other matters affecting them. The wanted Sandford Street to be regularly swept and cleaned, the sites owned by the council on the street, described as being in a ‘neglected and disgraceful condition’ to be ‘cleaned up, fenced in and, at the earliest possible opportunity, built on’ and recreation facilities, such as a playground to be provided in the park. The committee also planned to organise the street’s coronation celebrations for the following year, and to send parcels to local men serving in the forces.

I usually watch the Bower procession from outside the Police Mutual on Queen St, not far from Sandford St. As far as I know, the houses are no longer decorated and I’d be interested to know more about this tradition and the Sandford Street community, who clearly had their own strong identity within the city.

Source:

Lichfield Mercury Archive