One Child Beneath the Banner

My Grandad, Bill Hughes (Born in Wood Street, Tipton in 1903) as I remember him.

An interlude for you today, as I put down the butterfly net and turn once again to local history.  And a lazy way for me to blog – I am posting excerpts from an out-of-print issue of the Black Country Bugle from 1987 – from an interview with my Grandad, Bill Hughes…  Doing this for my brother Adrian (yes, readers, the one who broke my telescope!) who asked for the text of the article when he saw a photo of it.  Adrian, I know you don’t remember Grandad because you were so young, but this is for you…

From Jazz Bands to Chrysanths – Bill’s Been a Cast-Iron Performer!

I’ve never been idle’ is the proud boast of Mr Bill Hughes, of Tipton.  One of eighteen children, raised in Wood Street, Tipton, Bill couldn’t afford to let the grass grow under his feet.  He was a foundry worker for fifty years, a jazz band organiser, a prize chrysanthemum grower, and is still a home-made wine expert. Quite a varied cocktail of activities and pastimes, which has added interest and colour to his long life, which began 84 years ago.

[ Not long before he died, Grandad gave me the last bottle of wine he ever made – a sweet Damson Wine – I have been dabbling in wine making this year, and under my kitchen counter as we speak is a demijohn of Damson Wine, ready to drink in the Summer.] 

Grandad with his famous ‘single-moulded cups’, which now reside in a display cabinet in my Uncle’s House in Boca Raton.

Bill worked for fifty years at Chatwin’s Foundry, Tipton, retiring just twelve months before the firm closed, in the late sixties.  He started as a trainee moulder, and finished up as foundry manager.  One of his proudest reminders of his early working days is an example of moulding which few, if any, could emulate.

He recalls, ‘Our then managing director at Chatwins, Mr Keith, asked me if I could devise a way of moulding in anuminium two cups, with saucers and spoons, joined by a cast seven-link chain.  This I managed to do.  It was all cast complete, and when he showed it to some of his business associates from other firms, I believe that they were suitably impressed, as they had never seen anything done like it before’.

My Great, Great Nan Mary Agnes Webster, and my Nan Mary Agnes Hughes, and her mother (and uniform maker) Mary Agnes Sampson between and behind them. The image is from a photo of the Tipton Catholic Church trip to Holt Fleet in the 1920s.

Another vivid recollection that Bill has of his working days relates to Chatwin’s Jazz Band, which he ran during the war years.  ‘It was fantastic’, Bill told us, ‘… it was a real family effort, involving my late wife, Mary, daughter Eileen and son, Steve.  My mother-in-law, Mrs Agnes Sampson, was a great help too, making all of the costumes, plus the big banner.’ 

[Love this! Fantastic to find out such details about ancestors, when you normally only know dates and names!  Even better finding you have something in common!  Wonder what my Great-Grandmother would think of my sewing, knitting, etc?]

Our banner was carried by two men, with two children holding the cords at the rear, with another two at the front, and one child beneath the banner.’ Said Bill.

Chatwin’s Sunbeam Jazz Band, ca 1930, with Grandad standing on the far left.

The band practised on the firm’s premises, and provided Chatwin’s with a great deal of publicity.  Sadly, as interest in these bands began to wane after the war, they folded up, much to Bill’s disappointment.  He always regretted that he never kept any photographs of the band… [Not sure if Grandad ever got to see the photo above, which my Uncle Steve gave to me in March.]

The Jackpots (Dad is on the far right) sometime in the ’60s. Regulars at ‘The Caves’ in Dudley and ‘The Three Men in a Boat’ in Walsall.

Despite the demise of the jazz band, the Hughes household was never far-removed from music of one form or another, and by the early sixties, bill was again giving encouragement to another group of young musicians – The Jackpots. They were made up of local lads, including lead guitarist, Peter Hughes, Bill’s son.  ‘The Jackpots were a very talented group’ said Bill.  ‘They practiced in my home, and I gave them all the backing I could.  There manager was Stan Bates, of Lower Gornal, and other members of the group included Tony Bradley (bass), Jeff Merchant (singer) and Ritchie (drums)‘.

No, Bill, you ‘ve never been idle – and Tipton has undoubtedly been a happier and more colourful place because of it! *End.

Some of my old band photos, album covers and polaroids.

I also wonder if Grandad would be pleased to know that music has been in our family for another two generations – I was in a folk band in Walsall for a few years in the early ’90s, and in a band all through university, both of my brothers are accomplished musicians.

Gary had a brief career as a singer/songwriter and singer for a punk band (okay maybe not Grandad’s cup of tea) and Adrian is allready passing on his amazing drum skills to his 2-year old son.

I would love to hear from anyone who remembers the Jackpots, so if you were around Walsall in the sixties and have any photos, etc, please do get in touch.  In the mean time I’ll leave you with this recording of the Jackpots…

listen to ‘The Jackpots’ on Audioboo

…and this photo of my nephew (and Grandad’s Namesake) Benjamin William Hughes on drums…

Benjamin William Hughes (age 2) on drums!

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