Keith Bracey: Bearwood Born and Bred
We love hearing about the history of Bearwood and what it used to be like living here so when Keith Bracey sent us his ‘Happy memories of a ‘Bearwood Lad’ and ‘Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods’, we couldn’t wait to read it and share it with you.
“I have been associated with Lightwoods Park since 1958 when I was wheeled round the park in my pram as a ‘babe in arms’. I was born in St Chad’s Maternity Hospital further up the Hagley Road towards Birmingham, which is now an office block housing the West District NHS office, and was brought home by my Mom and Dad Les and Dorothy Bracey who had used Lightwoods Park in the late 1930’s before the Second World War when the Merrimans moved up from back-to-backs in Dugdale Street, Winson Green to Poplar Road in Bearwood.
Poplar Road runs from Sandon Road up to Bearwood Road and the ‘King’s Head’. The ‘King’s Head is the old Bearwood Coaching Inn which survives to the present day. It has been reinvented as an up-market bar and restaurant. My Dad Les Bracey played darts for the Kings Head and snooker in the snooker club under the patio at the back of the pub.
I was taken as a baby to 67 Three Shires Oak Road, to a flat above one of the first Chinese Takeaways in Birmingham, The ‘Chop Suey Bar’ which still exists in Three Shires Oak Road today. My Mom Dot Bracey worked at the Midland Red Bus Company which was the biggest employer in Bearwood.
The ‘Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company’ (BMMO) had its headquarters in Rutland Road, Bearwood, where their main garage was situated. Dot worked in the office as a comptometer operator and was taken there by her mother Gwen Merriman when she was 14 for a job My Mom worked there for 14 years until she was 28 when she fell pregnant with a child which was stillborn.
I came along in 1958 when Dot was 30 and she gave up work to look after me and my brother Richard and sister Gillian who came along in 1962 and 1964 My Mom and two Aunties Maureen and Jannette Merriman would walk me in my pram up Poplar Road, across Bearwood Road near to the King’s Head traffic junction and through the main entrance to Lightwoods Park in Adkins Lane, near to Bishopton Road where locally-born film actress Julie Walters lived with her parents. Julie went to school at Holly Lodge Girls Grammar School in Smethwick and worked as nurse at the world-renowned Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Selly Oak Birmingham, which nowadays treats wounded soldiers from Afghanistan.
I remember the aviary at the park entrance with its budgerigars and cockatoos and cockatiels and being walked as a toddler by my aunties through The Shakespeare Garden….I also recall the toilets which were at the back of Lightwoods House, near the entrance to the Shakespeare Garden being very dark and forbidding and smelling awfully!
Lightwoods House was quite run down at that time in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s but was still an imposing building. The clock never worked at that time, I do remember that!
I would be wheeled in my pram down to ‘Anneka’s Playground’ so-named because in the 1980’s or 90’s TV personality and presenter Anneka Rice presented her TV programme ‘Challenge Anneka’ from Lightwoods Park which led to a remodelling of the playground and the conversion of the old concrete-floored boating lake into a BMX Bike and Skateboarding Park, which still exists today. There were also two tennis courts adjacent to the children’s’ playground.
From there I would be pushed in my pram up though the park across Galton Road and through the park extension and out of the little avenue at the right-hand end of the extension across the road at Lightwoods Hill and into Warley Woods for more perambulation in my pram.
I remember chasing squirrels through the woods when a little older walking in the woods as a toddler….and later when I was a teenager I would let our Jack Russell dog Tina off the leash so that she too could chase those ‘pesky varmints’ as Elmer Fudd from Bugs Bunny’s cartoon at the time ‘Looney Tunes’ called them!
I spent many happy hours in Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods as a child from Bearwood. I lived in Willow Avenue off Sandon Road where the Number 6 Birmingham Corporation Bus had its terminus. The Birmingham Municipal Bank had a branch there which helped Les and Dot, my parents, buy their first house in Willow Avenue.
My gran and grandad Arthur Lewis Merriman and Gwen Merriman and my Mom’s sisters, my Aunties Jannette and Maureen Merriman lived a 10 minute walk away in Poplar Road, Bearwood, on the Smethwick side rather than Birmingham….I always consider myself a ‘Brummie’ rather than a ‘Black Country Boy’ probably as a result of my schooling at George Dixon Grammar School in City Road, Edgbaston, where I played rugby and had a marvellous time as a teenage boy in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. I went on to play rugby for the Old Dixonians Rugby Club for over 30 years, where I met my wife Mary.
The Old Dixonians Rugby Club celebrates its centenary in 2013 being founded by old boys of the school in 1913 and still playing today 100 years later. The rugby club is to hold a ‘Grand Centenary Dinner’ at the Botanical Gardens in Westbourne Road, Edgbaston on Saturday September 14th 2013 to which anyone involved with George Dixon School (as it is known nowadays) or the rugby club is cordially invited to help the club celebrate ‘100 years of Old Dixonians rugby’
I went to George Dixon Junior and Infants School in City Road and walked a mile and back to school each day. I passed my 11 plus and proceeded to George Dixon Grammar School as did my brother and sister Richard and Gillian, who were also walked through Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods in their prams and as toddlers.
All three of us would go to Lightwoods Park to play football. My sister Gill was the apple of my Dad Les’s eye and was a bit of a ‘tomboy’ often playing football and cricket with her two sports-mad elder brothers. I was an Aston Villa fan, my brother an Albion fan and my sister supported Blues, so we had all shades of opinion in the Bracey household and many an argument.
My Dad Les Bracey was born in Aston and went to Summer Lane School, leaving at 14 to work in The Gun Quarter carrying shotguns to the Proof House. He and his Dad Wilfred Bracey were both Aston Villa fans and brought me up to be the same. My Dad first took me to Villa Park as a 4 year old in 1962. We would travel on the number 11 ‘Football Special’ Birmingham Corporation navy blue and cream liveried bus from the Kings Head in Bearwood all the way to Villa Park in Trinity Road, Witton for games.
Richard, my brother and I used to catch the Midland Red Bus from Bearwood Bus Station near the park entrance on Adkins Lane to Lewisham Road in Smethwick and walk to The Hawthorns to watch West Bromwich Albion play in the 1970’s when ‘The Baggies’ were one of the best teams in the land, regularly beating Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool teams of the time. Even though the Albion were the nearest of the local football clubs to me I retain my support for ‘Historians FC’: Aston Villa Football Club to this day”