Join me on a pilgrimage to a Civic Centre, standing today on “A celebrated piece of 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.
Where outside here today stands the mobile T.B. X-ray unit, a regular visitor to the town in those smoggy times.
Across to the right, we now have parking space at the side of Paternoster Row, and across the way to St Peter and St Paul’s Chapel adjoining Giffard house.
On the old patch, the stallholders have the awnings up, the customers have all warm hats and coats on. This tells you it’s cold and wet and late in the season.
You will notice there is not a plastic carrier bag in sight, everyone is carrying regular shopping bags. The age and makes of the vehicles in front of the church wall gives us an approximate date of the late 1950s.
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 besides their market stall’s, other pitches in the towns busy streets, were they sell flowers on none market days (Dudley Street in particular).
Truly this scene so full of atmosphere is a sight for sore eyes. How could we let it go?
But for the covered Retail Market seen on the left and the market patch itself. The end was near, for it had already been decided they were to be re-allocated to a new site on Brickkiln Patch.
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 had been sown at the end of the last War to cultivate.
One – A Wolverhampton of the future.
Two – A Central 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 above 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 and the reality.
Four scenes of The Promise and the Reality
This interesting photograph from the mid-1940s gives us a fascinating glimpse of the town center 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.
The market patch laid out as a temporary car-park in the 1960’s
Looking at this cluttered but not unpleasant view taken from the steps of St Peters after the Retail Market Hall had been removed.
One 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 a fine view from the church of the existing Town and Civic Halls
The Civic centre was well under way in the mid 70’s
Ten years later the bulldozers were waiting, engines running, and shortly afterward work began on the new Civic Centre.
And its seen here in 1977 shortly before completion.
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 where it was intended to be.
The Final Curtain
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 It’s 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 today’s 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 – In 1853 up sprung a new Victorian Market in turn raised to the ground 100 years later to become a car-park.
Today its the site of Wolverhampton’s New Civic Centre.
But the ghosts of the past still haunt this 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, the majority of them, hard-working people, they had their own ethics, their own code of morals and behavior, mostly, generous to a fault.
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, and sons Billy, and Ronnie.
Not forgetting Jimmy and Cissie Southall, Tony their son, Emmie Green, Charlie, Mick, Ricca Chebbs, Joe Marsh and family, Sammy Lewis, Horace Hall, Tommy Coyne, George Birch, Ginger Haynes, Tommy, Nellie, Dennis and June Brookes… and many more