Notable Madeley Characters: Jack Smart’s Memories – Characters I Have Known

Jack was one of the longest serving members of the Madeley Local Studies Group, a retired Mining Mechanical Engineer, who spent most of his working life at Madeley Wood Colliery, except for a spell in the RAF during WWII. Jack celebrated his eightieth birthday in July 2000. He had probably forgotten more about Madeley than most people have ever known.

Here he remembers local characters and personalities from the 1920’s onwards….

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Billy Roberts, Postman

Known to everybody as ‘Billy the Postman’, he was the only postman in the area for many years. The bicycle he used had a large flat carrier on the front to accommodate parcels which he strapped on, and a large bag for the letters which was slung around his neck and across his back. He wore a blue uniform with red piping and the jacket was buttoned to the neck. He worked long hours six days a week; he reported to the Post Office at about 5.00 a.m. to help sort out the mail for the various streets and roads, then deliver them, this took him up to dinner time around mid-day. After this he delivered the late mail up to about 4.00 p.m. People were very poor but at Christmas a copper here and a copper there gave him a few pounds. Those who could not give money offered a drink of home-made wine or beer, or perhaps a glass of port wine. Port was 5 shillings a quart bottle. He even delivered mail on Christmas morning.

Mr. Harold R. Shaw, Headmaster, Madeley Church of England School

Mr Shaw was headmaster for many years. A most respected man, he maintained absolute discipline, anyone doing wrong would be caned. He was a good musician, the school had one piano, so he taught us the singing aspect on his flute or piccolo; he used a tuning fork to give the note required. He was choirmaster at St. Michaels Parish Church, a committee member and at the time secretary and treasurer of the Madeley Choral Society. Every year the school had a festival on a certain Sunday. The whole school sang from the church balcony. The church was full and overflowing, many well known singers came as guests. The boys section of the school was on the ground floor with the girls on the floor above. Mr Shaw liked fishing and was interested in butterflies. He was known as ‘Gaffer Shaw’ – we touched our caps to him.

Doctor James McGavin, G.P.

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Dr McGavin

Dr. McGavin came to Madeley in 1949 and for some months worked for Dr. Mitchell. He eventually started a practice in the Vicarage grounds, a small brick building having just one room and a small passage that patients stood in. He lived for some years in a council house in South Drive, Madeley. Late in 1954 he had a house built in the grounds of The Furlongs, the curate’s residence. He built up a large practice and had to take on another partner. He worked very long hours, it was common to call at 6.00 a.m. and he would be in the surgery. He never turned anyone away even if they were not in his practice. He took great care of older people and it was known for him to bring their beds downstairs and even cut toe nails. Serious accidents at the pit would see him go underground, sometimes to fatalities.

He retired when he was in his seventies but then went to Uganda for two years, ministering to the sick, and sometimes operating by the light of a paraffin lamp. On his return to England he went visiting old people and other ex-patients.

Dr. McGavin had a faith which very few people could match, even though he had sad times, losing his daughter Jane when she was in her twenties and then losing his wife. We had the saintly John de la Flechere (John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley) here in Madeley, but I classify James McGavin as a saintly man on a par with Fletcher.

In 1998 Madeley Parish Council, in recognition of Dr. McGavin’s many years of service to the local community, and the deep affection felt for him by local people, named one of the main rooms of Jubilee House, their new parish building, “The McGavin Room”. At the time of writing (August 2001) Dr. McGavin is still living in Madeley and can be seen chatting to his many friends in the area.

Mr. R.N. Moore, M.B.E., J.P.

Mr. Moore had a shop at 53. High Street selling groceries and provisions. At the rear of the shop was a bakehouse making nothing else but bread and employing two full-time bakers. Bread was delivered to country districts. (No larger photo).

He could see the need for helping the old people and made visits to the the Poor Law Institutions (workhouses) at Shifnal, Wellington, Newport, Bridgnorth and Ironbridge and to hospitals. From 1923-29 in Madeley he visited old people in their homes. He rented the rooms at the , believed to be the first of its kind, was built in Park Avenue. This was open six mornings a week when the old could read newspapers, play dominoes and the ladies could knit and sew. When the New Town came the Rest Room was demolished and a new one built in Church Street.

When visiting Poor Law Institutions and hospitals Uncle Bob, as he was known, took sweets and packets of biscuits for everyone. At Christmas time he also took Christmas Cards. Each year a party was given for the sick from the hospitals. This is still carried on today by the present Rest Room committee. In the 1930s he hired horses and drays to take children from the bottom end of Madeley on an outing round the district, finishing with a tea.


Mr. George Poole, Saddler, Cobbler, Leatherworker

George Poole

George and his wife kept a shop on the corner of Court Street and High Street. If one wanted any news, it could be had at the shop. When a pair of boots or shoes was taken in for repair, George would say ‘they will be ready on so and so’. When you went for them he would say ‘I have just started on them’. George would have articles on the shelf for years. He would stitch leather footballs, mend inner tubes, shopping bags, handbags and tennis racquets. He also did a lot of work for making detonator cases, horse collars and straps. Mr. Joe Ravenscroft worked part-time repairing the collars. The shop, which Mrs. Poole looked after sold boots, shoes, clogs and plimsolls. He carried on the business until the New Town came and the shop was demolished.

George always had a motorbike and sidecar and on Saturday nights he and his wife went camping.

He retired to a bungalow in Mayfield, Madeley. He had been so used to people that he would sit for hours on a wall watching people going up and down Park Street.


Joseph Lewis, (‘Tiger Joe’), Strongman

Tiger JoeJoe and his wife lived in house in an alleyway at the side of the buildings opposite the Three Horseshoes club room. Joe spent many years with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment and a lot of years in India (he had a daughter named after a place in India – ‘Mudross’!). He was a powerful man – so strong he once carried a steel shaft weighing about 6 hundredweight from Madeley Market Station to Blists Hill. Some men had been sent to help but he told them to balance it on his shoulder.

When in India he had a tiger for a pet. It scratched an officer’s child and he had to get rid of it. The skin of the tiger was said to be the drum head of the KSLI regimental band.

He worked for some time at the Meadow Pit next to Madeley Cricket Club. Coal was sent down a tramway to the loading point on the canal at Blists Hill. When working on the surface he used to shout to Blists Hill ‘Coal for the Brickalhole’ (Thomas Legge’s brickworks at Blists Hill) and could be heard clearly from a distance of nearly a mile. (Our photo, left, shows Joe on the right with Billy Lewis, at the Blists Hill pithead in 1936.)

He was out of work for many years and he spent many hours sitting on the steel circular seat around the gas lamppost opposite the chemist’s shop next door to the Commercial Inn in Park Avenue. If someone invited him to have a drink in the Commercial it would be pint of beer and he would drink it in one gulp.

At the start of the 1939-45 war, Joe came to work on the screens at Kemberton Pit. I was with him and Billy Lewis, who kept the All Nations pub, on LDV (Local Defence Volunteers – ‘Dad’s Army’) duty at Halesfield Pit Mount once a week until I was called up. He told me of many of his exploits: one in particular was to fight a bear. He said he thought the bear was going to squeeze the life out of him!

‘Coddy’ Smith, Fishmonger and Greengrocer

He kept the shop next to the Fletcher Methodist Church in Court Street. He was a grumpy, morose man. Midweek and weekends he came around the houses selling fish and vegetables from a flat cart pulled by a horse. The children used to shout “Coddy Smith sells fish, 3 ha’pence a dish”.

Arnold Dodd, Policeman

PC Dodd

Mr. Dodd was the Madeley bobby for many years. He was a powerfully built man. He did not have fixed hours; in fact he was really on call 24 hours a day. The Police Station was in the High Street opposite the Madeley rent office. The house had been a pub at one time, called the Cooper’s Arms. He was keen to catch the poachers. He knew that a lot of the local poachers lived at the bottom end of Madeley near the Miners Arms pub.(‘The neck end’)

We played football and other games in the street but when we saw him we disappeared. Madeley was basically a law abiding place, in fact most people never locked their doors at night.

He retired to keep a shop in Court Street which was previously a pub called the Hearts of Oak. During the 1939-45 war he lost two sons – both of their names appear on the at the end of Russell Road.


Crimea Plant, Chimney Sweep

Crimea PlantCrim, as he was known, had a full time job sweeping chimneys in the area. His charge was 2 shillings and sixpence. The soot was carried out in buckets and put in piles in the garden. After the soot had lain for a couple of months or so, it was spread on the gardens – soot around roses stopped black and green fly.

He did some poaching and had one or two encounters with Bobby Dodd.

Jack Fletcher, who kept a butcher’s shop in Court Street, opposite the Anchor pub, bought dead sheep and Crim would get in the cart and make a noise like a sheep so that people thought they were alive – he liked a bit of fun.


Ben Thorne, Pig Killer

Most houses in the district had pig sties. Some people kept fowl in them and others had pigs. Those who kept pigs would have any scraps and potato peelings from neighbours and supplement the feed with meal. Ben would take a bench to the house, the householder would have the cast iron boiler in the wash house ready with boiling water. Ben went to the pig sty and put a noose around the pig’s neck and lead it down the path to the bench. All the time the pig squealed. He lifed the pig on to the bench, put it on its back and then cut its throat. The hot water was used in shaving the pig’s hair. The neighbours who had given scraps received a piece of pork, we lads had the bladder and played football with it. Ben’s charge was ten shillings and a piece of pork.

John Taylor, Verger & Sexton

John TaylorThe Sexton’s job was in the Taylor family for about 60 years. John was a Deputy at Kemberton Pit and when a funeral was due to take place on the following day he would have a wash and his dinner when he came home from work and then go to the graveyard to start digging the grave. He worked until the grave was nearly finished and then get up at 3.00am to finish it. Funerals were late – even up to 6.00pm.

He was finishing a grave alongside the path near to the church using a storm lantern for light. Men who worked at the clay pit at Blists Hill used that path as a shortcut and then went down a field, over the railway line. This particular morning he had nearly finished when he heard footsteps. Just as they came near to him he put the lantern over the top of the grave and said “What time is it?”. They never stopped to speak but turned back and ran home. They thought it was the Resurrection Morn!

He would stoke up the boiler fire down a number of steps at the rear of the church. He always carried a pit official’s yardstick with him and one Saturday night at about midnight he saw an apparition. A white figure loomed up. He spoke to it several times and eventually struck at it with his stick and in a flash it disappeared.


Mr. James Owen, Surface & Underground Farrier

Jim was known as ‘Spitty Owen’. He worked for many years at the Madeley Wood Company’s Kemberton and Halesfield pits. He had a hearth in the blacksmith’s shop on the surface where he made shoes for the underground ponies. He had patterns of each pony’s shoes hung up in the shop. When he went underground to the stables he very often rode in the cage alone. The winding engine man would know this and would lower the cage just a short distance below the surface and then the young chaps would come to the pit top and shout ‘Spitty Rot Ear’ (I think a pony had bitten a piece out of his ear at some time). Jim would strike the side of the cage with his hammer.

In the mid 1930s The largest of the two stables was in the pit bottom, each pony having his own stall and with a 50 gallon barrel of water between two ponies. The smaller stable was about a mile from the pit bottom.

Before going underground Jim made a cup of cocoa using the water that had been circulating in the tuyere and into the tank at the back of the hearth. It was dirty and had scum on the top. He liked a bet on the horses and the football pools. One time he said he had won the pools and he bought a packet of cigarettes and gave them away, but the win was all in his imagination. He used to come to work in a morning coat (a ‘smack-me-tail’). It must have been 50 or 60 years old – it was actually green with age.

He dared not come the shortest way to the pit because the chaps at the screens shouted ‘Spitty’, so he came down High Street, down to the Cuckoo Oak and then up Cripples Hill and across the fields to Kemberton Pit. Every night he went to the Barley Mow in Court Street for a jug of beer. On his way home children would see him coming and shout ‘Spitty’. He would put the jug down and run after them, meanwhile someone would have a drink from the jug. He was really harmless – if you passed his house in Victoria Road on a warm summer’s evening, the door would be open and you could hear him playing hymns on a harmonium.

George Boden, Blacksmith

George took over the blacksmith’s shop at the bottom of the High Street opposite the Foresters Arms. He could and did shoe horses and ponies besides general and agricultural blacksmithing. When the horses at the pit became less numerous, George would come and shoe them from time to time. He went to the Walker Technical College (known today as ‘TCAT’- Telford College of Arts & Technology) to learn oxy-acetylene and electrical welding to keep up with the times. He remained at work until the New Town took over and his shop was demolished to make way for the roundabout at the bottom of Madeley High Street.

(Our photo shows George outside his smithy in 1967, shortly before it was demolished – click for a bigger version)

A few weeks before he died, George, with his wife Nellie and daughter Corrine, came to the Local Studies Group open evening at the Fletcher Memorial Methodist Church. He enjoyed it immensely. I spoke to him afterwards and reminded him of when he used to come to Kemberton Pit to shoe the ponies. He said “Jack, I used to shoe a big horse all round for seven shillings and sixpence, and now it’s thirty two pounds”).

The Stodd Family, Drapers, Ironmongers & China Dealers

The three Stodd brothers, Charles, Clifford and Fred, had a large drapers shop opposite the Anstice Working Men’s Institute. Charles was in charge of that shop with two lady assistants. He sold everything from that shop – wool, ladies’ and gents’ clothing, all home items. Cliff and Fred ran the ironmongery and china shop just down from the Royal Oak public house (see modern photo – right). They never willingly cut a customer. If you went in for a tin of paint and there was a choice of one at sixpence and the other at ninepence a tin Fred would say ‘I should have the sixpenny one: It’s just as good as the ninepenny one’.

Click for a bigger version.

They were staunch Methodists and Charlie played the organ at the Fletcher Methodist Church. They were looked after by a sister, none of the family ever married.

I would like to see the Madeley of the present and the future having the character and integrity of the past generations.

Jack Smart