Post 159 Billy's Picture Book #9: The Price We Had To Pay

Billy’s Picture Book: #9 – The Price We Had To Pay


My pictures and stories I hope will illustrate the many changes which have taken place in Wolverhampton at various times particularly in relation to the street scene and general landscape.

If you recall in part 8, I was talking about the Plan of Public Works, but if you missed it, follow this link:

Billy’s Picture Book #8: A New Horizon

A Wulfrunian pilgrimage to a Civic Centre , standing today on “The long gone but not Forgotten Land”

The end of the 1950’s “Marked the beginning of a new era”

In the background  from left to right you see the Education offices or the Clinic, today out in front stands the mobile T.B. X-ray unit a regular visitor to the town in these smoggy times

Then we have the bit of spare parking space at the rear of Paternoster Row, then across the way to St Peter and St Paul’s Chapel adjoining Giffard house.

Across North Street on the old patch, the stall holders have the awnings up, the customers have all warm hats and coats on, this tells you the its cold and wet, and late in season, and without a plastic carrier bag in sight everyone carrying regular shopping bags, the age and makes of the vehicles in front of the church wall gives us the approximate date of 1959.

When you arrive at  the top of the patch, which fronts the church, on the right is a row of  flower Sellers with their  colourful array of seasonal blooms . The two Bedford vans parked alongside the pavement of  the Church belong to two of   these traders, who themselves and relatives have as well  these stall’s, many other pitches from which they sell  flowers around the town.

But for the  covered Market seen on the left and the market patch itself  the end was it had already been decided they were to be re-allocated  to a new site  on Brickkiln Patch, and the wish of the past Town Council for a central all accommodating Civic Centre. was about to gain momentum.

How did this story unfold?

The seeds were sown at the end of the last War to cultivate

A Wolverhampton of the future

Which included The proposed Wolverhampton Civic Centre

The new Wolverhampton Civic centre

From the minutes of the Wolverhampton Reconstruction Committee.

During the initial plans it was decided  St Peter’s Square was  the most appropriate situation for the establishment of a Civic Centre, particularly as its the traditional centre of the area.

In this connection it was interesting to report that many of the letters to the “Express and Star,” on the subject of “The Reconstruction of Wolverhampton”, advocated the removal of the Market Hall and Market Patch and land laid out as ornamental gardens or as a ceremonial approach to the new civic buildings.

(Not many from existing Wolverhampton market traders I would say.)

 Several letters also referred to the desirability of providing a Civic Centre and all such letters assumed the development of such a centre on the site now recommended.

 looking at the designs submitted I believe the majority of old Wulfrunians looked forward to this new beginning.

But as all those same Wulfrunians know by heart today first you get The Promise Then the Reality

The Promise and the Reality


Picture One: This interesting photograph from the mid 1940’s gives us a fascinating glimpse of the town centre as it might have been.

(1) A newly laid out North street  runs from left to right across the top of the Proposed Centre

(2) The mother church now faces west with a pleasant open space and laid out gardens in front of  a new modern town hall and the existing Civic hall.

(3) Note the gardens that are attractively laid out where the markets used to be. I think I could have lived with that.

Picture Two: The market patch laid out as a temporary car-park in the 1960’s

(1) looking at this cluttered but not unpleasant view taken from the steps  of St Peters after the Retail Market Hall had been  may have been lulled   into a false sense of well being, perhaps this is it,  there has been a change of heart.

 I believe,  most people  would have settled for keeping this open space and fine  view from the church of the existing Town and Civic Halls

Picture Three:  The Civic centre was well under way in the mid 70’s

(1) Ten years later the bulldozers were waiting, engines running and  shortly afterwards  work began on the new Civic Centre and its seen here in 1977 shortly before completion.

Picture Four:  The New Civic Centre. A decent building  in the wrong place. and what a price we had to pay for it.

This is  the £8 million project which was much berated by the towns ratepayers .

 It brought about the loss  of both the Victorian retail Market hall and the Edwardian Wholesale Market across the road from it.

I am sure most people would agree today, it would have been much more of a benefit to Wolverhampton, if the  Civic Centre had been built on Brickkiln croft and our market left were it was intended to be.

May 1960 and its the final day’s trading on the old market patch.

This patriotic market trader has taken advantage of the open markets final day of trading to create an imaginative and eye -catching display that perhaps attracted a number of extra customers.

The Union Jacks and the royal banners displaying the crown and that famous portrait of Her majesty have perhaps been packed away in the cupboard since the coronation seven years earlier, but now they have been taken out to mark another, rather sadder occasion.

The stars and stripes of the USA share a colourful spot in front of the stall, though the sign telling us Its the “Last Day” the reason for the flags being there, is obscured by the lady buying the fruit and vegetables. Tony Southall, the trader offers a good choice of fresh produce he has something to suit most tastes extra large oranges only 3d each whilst best bananas  were just 1/2d a pound – that’s around six new pence in todays money, he has some fine looking cauliflowers  and the potatoes a notice tells us ‘eat like jerseys’ at 6d a pound.

Notice, though, the lack of vegetables such as peppers, Spanish broccoli, and sweet potatoes that we take for granted today.

Memories last longer than dreams.

Once  upon a time it was just gardens, –  then in 1853 – up sprung a new Victorian Market – 120 yrs later it was a Car Park.

Today its the site of   Wolverhamptons New Civic Centre.

 But the ghosts of the past still haunt the patch here  on the western front for those with eyes to see!

They are the wraiths of the early old time market traders, great characters, hard working ,  they  had their own ethics, their own code of morals and behaviour, most, generous to a fault and   perhaps a few  not like those of the respectable world which surrounded them.

I see them today in my mind as I sleepwalk once again along those old forgotten  cobbled walkways..

Len Cookson, George Latham, Bill Goodhead, Jackie Goodhead, Eddie Taylor, Ada Caley, Doug Caley , Ada Caddick, Lizzie Hodgkiss, Edna Newell, Fanny Habberley Jimmy and Rose Nuttall, Mrs Lewis, Billy, Ronnie, Jimmy and Cissie Southall, Tony their  son, Emmie Green, Charlie, Mick, etc.. Ricca Chebbs, Joe Marsh and family, Sammy Lewis ,Horace Hall, Tommy Coyne, George Birch, Ginger Haynes, Tommy, Nellie, Dennis and June Brookes..

I miss them all and the life and times we  spent together around  Old North Street.

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One comment

  1. Fantastic bit of history. I’m glad the 1944 plans didn’t come to fruition. We’d have lost all buildings on North Street, Lich Gates and anything to the north of Queen Square, including the Tudor building that makes the rear of today’s Lych Gate Tavern.
    There were always better options I think. It’s a shame today that St Peter’s Square isn’t used more. Something to do with load bearing due to the car park underneath.

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