I was searching through my collection of local photographs the other evening when I came across this award winning study of the Black Country’s violin-playing tramp Harold Thompson. A classic image of the region.
It was taken in 1961 by the late Express & Star photographer Peter Garland.
The picture was back in the news more than 30 years later as the cover image for a best-selling book on old photographs.
Thompson was a former member of the Brierley Hill Orchestra, who later tramped around the Brierley Hill area for nearly 40 years.
Now straightaway this evocative picture of Harold in this unusual setting brought instantly to mind our own man of the road, Josef (Fred) Stawinoga, who lived for quite awhile amongst us here in Wolverhampton. Especially when I realised It was coming up to October 2012, the fifth anniversary of Freds death.
So what do I recall of Fred.
The dictionary states a tramp is a person with no fixed home and usually little or no money who travels about on foot.
But did those three points really apply to Fred? Because he could always be reached close to St Johns in the Square, apparently he had money in his account when he died it was just that he chose not to use it. and although there were times he walked the street he never travelled far.
I briefly came in contact once with Fred in the early 1980’s, I was managing a local pub close by in Chapel Ash, when from an upstairs window one winter evening I saw him being confronted by some youths I went down and assisted him on his way.
Later I spoke with some of the regulars who told me that few facts were known about him, but he was thought to have been detained in a Russian prison camp at the end the Second World War and eventually came to Wolverhampton in the 1950s.
Apparentley he worked at Stewarts and Lloyds steelworks in Bilston and one day did not turn up to work. The next his colleagues knew he was pushing a pram with all his possessions and had grown an ankle-length beard.
In the early days Fred lived in this shed in the churchyard and passed the days working around St Johns Church and the adjacent Streets keeping them clean of rubbish.
He would be seen out and about out in all weathers clearing leaves in the Autumn. and snow in the winter.
He was never paid for any of the work he did he was just a faithfull servant to the community.
Unfortunately for Fred, the shed was removed by the new vicar in the early 1980’s. So with his accommodation gone he moved to the multi-storey car park near the markets, were he found a hole under the stairs, but was later moved on by the police.
Fred finally lived the rest of his life in the centre of the adjacent dual carriageway, firstly in a tent first made up of sheets of tarpaulins, and later when this was found to by unhygenic he was given a brand new tent by a caring council.
Fred died on the 29th October 2007. The next day a statement made from a member of the Council said:
Over the years Mr Stawinoga was someone the community took to their hearts and provided with a lot of support, even though it was extremely difficult given his circumstances and background, he gained everyone’s respect and the city’s social services supported him in a way that was sensitive to his wishes. It did attract criticism from outside the city but we did not treat him as a social problem.