On land leased to the council by The Duke of Cleveland in 1881, on the west side of town,which up to then had been the site of a former Racecourse a magnificent Public Park 50 acres in extent opened. it is now known as West Park.
Because of the popularity of West Park and to give the more industrial part of Wolverhampton an open green space, His Grace the Duke of Sutherland and Sir Alfred Hickman gave an equal 50 acres on the east side of town, and on this rough derelict land lying between Willenhall Road, Bilston Road, the Chillington Tool Works, and Stowheath lane
in 1896 The East Park, was laid out.
The above snip taken from John Steen’s 1884, original Wolverhampton Guide, shows the small area between Walsall Street, Bilston Street, and Commercial Road were at that time the street my Maternal Grandparents married and moved to Park Street, was then known as Cross Street. Its my theory that Cross Street was renamed to credit the opening of the new park close by.
So now we have set the scene let your imagination take you back to St James and St Matthews Parishes, where my mother would spend her childhood. She would tell me endless stories of life and times there. The following story recalls her Mother.
Julia Stevens, my grandmother, born on May 18th 1878 . The daughter of William Henry Worrall, a Boatbuilder, of Ward Street in Horseley Fields, Wolverhampton.
As I recall, she was a lady of small build, always dressed in black. very polite and well spoken. She had married my grandfather John Henry Stevens at St James Church in 1898,and although he would be a loving husband and father I always felt she didnÕt get the physical or financial support, she should have expected from him, during their 40 odd years together.
She was approaching sixty the year I was born, and I was just ten years old when she passed away, so I have just a few brief, but fond memories of her.
To me she always looked tired and out of breath it seemed the years of hard work, plus some bad experiences during her early married life and of course raising such a large family (she had ten children), had taken its toll.
Painful moments in her life…
Gran gave birth to my mother Mary her fifth child, and the fourth girl,on the 29th March 1910.
On this cold bleak March day a shocking experience awaited her. Grandad Stevens was at work whilst Florrie, her eldest daughter aged 10, was at home attending to her needs.
Early that morning while young Florrie was down stairs, boiling water on an open fire in their black leaded grate, she leaned over to grasp the kettle from the hook above the grate and her petticoat caught fire, without thinking she ran up the stairs to her mothers room hysterical and on fire, fortunately Mr Potter who lived across from them in Park Street, had just arrived home from his night shift at Perks & Son, Edge Tool Manufacturers, Commercial Road , heard the screams and rushed into the the house and into the bedroom , and with his heavy coat smothered the flames.
My poor aunt florrie spent the next seven weeks in Hospital and was badly scarred for the rest of her life.
You just imagine the anguish my nan must have gone through that day being in bed with a new born baby, unable to do anything to help the situation, and this being just two years since her first child a son Jack, died tragically at the age of 10.
Young Jackie Stevens came home from St James School a little late that Friday afternoon and when he sat down to tea he didn’t offer to remove his cap.
“Take your hat off, Jack while your at the table,”
and after some hesitation, he did, to reveal a shocking lump on his forehead.
Apparently he had fell whilst playing football in the street on his way home and struck his head on the kerb. They treated the injury as best as they could and left the final outcome in the hands of providence.
Jack seemed okay throughout Saturday although rather quiet and withdrawn. But on the Sunday morning he didn’t get as he usually did to sing in the choir at St James Church, and when nan went to wake him, she found him lying pale and still, for he had passed away during the night.
After all initial inquires had been made the cause of death was put down to concussion.
The following Tuesday the School Board man called to see why Jack hadn’t attended school the previous day (which was the way in those days). He approached nan, and enquired sharply,
“Where’s Jack Stevens? Why his he away from school?”
Nan calmly replied,
“He’s in the front room.”
When the school board man entered the room and saw young Jack laid out in small coffin, and upon hearing the story of this tragic accident he was so upset by his previous impolite manner, he broke down and cried.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t end of it. After the pain she endured through the trauma with Jackie and Florrie, another son Les, who, whilst working on the Railway during the war, would almost die in a railway accident, only just surviving, with the loss of one leg.
Now you would think that with her troubled filled life, she could have at least been allowed to pass away peacefully in bed when her own time came.
But no! This had to be another bad experience again for all concerned.
In 1926 Most of the older housing around Commercial Road came down as part of town housing improvements to be replaced by modern houses most of which still stand today.
The Stevens family and many of their neighbours from Park Street moved to Colliery Road part of the the Deansfield Road estate being built on a similar style to those being built at that time. at Low Hill.
On most Saturdays just after the War nan would catch her bus from St Matthew’s Church, lower Horseley Fields to do her weeks shopping in town, then as on most occasions as we lived near the town centre, she would call down to our house in Nursery Street for a cup of tea and a rest.
When she called, she would always be carrying two heavy bags full of shopping , and if I happened to be in the house at the time she was going home, mom would get me to carry her bags to the return bus home from the top of Horseley fields.
Her last Saturday visit would also be the day she died, and that day would cause extreme anxiety for us then, and for mom, the rest of her life.
Usually after nan’s visit, mom would stay on our step until gran and I reached the top of the street, then as always gran would turn and they would smile and wave to each other, it was the same thing every time.
But not this final day, something had been said, mom and gran did not part on the best of terms and when nan looked back to wave, mom had gone back inside our house.
I could tell nan was upset, by the sad look on her face, and her manner as we carried on up Stafford Street to the top of Horseley Fields and her bus stop for home.
We were later to learn that when she alighted from the bus, outside the Stags Head (seen here some twenty five years later on in the 70s), and turned left into Colliery Road, she struggled with her heavy bags as far as the gates to Eastfield School, where she stopped, paused against the wall, and with her hands still clutching the bags, collapsed and died.
“Her heart had finally given in,”
the doctor said.
She was sixty nine years old.
Mom still hadn’t recovered from the death of her father the previous year, and having upset her mother when they last parted, it caused her to have a nervous breakdown and this illness went on to plague her for the rest of her life.