Let Everyone Know You Are Open For Business

Copy deadline is 9 April for May 2021 printed editions.

Let local people know you are open and working. We will be delivering our May editions of The Pioneer Magazines and Great Barr Gazette to 42,000 homes. Our magazines are hand delivered free to local people in Walsall and the surrounding areas.

People read our magazines from cover to cover and keep them for an average of two months.

We were one of the very few publications that managed to print during the first phase of the current Coronavirus crisis. We are determined to deliver news and information to local people when they need it most, and to support our local business community.

See our Bounce Back leaflet below or follow this link to see where we deliver. You can advertise with us from as little as £25 plus VAT.

Family Histories

We’ve responded to requests for help from two people looking to complete their family trees. One looking for help with Aldridge connections, the other Walsall.

Looking for information on Sgt Thomas Wilkes

Hilary Wilkes is looking for information about her grandfather – can you help?

Family History
Sgt Thomas Wilkes

Sergeant Thomas Wilkes, who served in the Staffordshire Regiment, was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Hilary knows little about him, other than he lived in Bloxwich Road, in Walsall, and was married to Helen Pearman. Before he enlisted, she believes he worked in a brass foundry and served in the Territorials.

During the First World War, Thomas’s battalion held out for two days at Delville Wood, after being shelled from three directions, but he was killed on 29 July, 1916. She understands his body was not discovered until 1931.

“According to the Staffordshire Regiment archivist, he was mentioned twice in the ‘Walsall Pioneer’ of the time,” she said.

“The references I have been given are:  27 Date 3/6/1916 and 93 or 43 date 15/9/1917. These may refer to him being in hospital and/or being gazetted with the Military Medal, which was announced in the London Gazette on 19 February, 1917.

“Unfortunately, his record card at The National Archives was destroyed in the Second World War, so I’d be thrilled if you could shed some light. To see a photograph of him would be amazing!”

Anyone who thinks they have any family information about him can contact Hilary at: hilarywilkes@virginmedia.com

Are you related to the Harvey family?

Family Tree Aldridge
Sam Harvey

Could you be related to Sam Harvey? Sam, who lives in Kilnhurst, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, has traced her family tree back to the 1830s, where the Harvey family lived in Aldridge.

Now she’s appealing to readers of The Pioneer to see if she has any relatives still living in the area.

She said: “I’ve been doing my family tree on and off for about 30 years, but when I was furloughed earlier this year, I had time to get back to it. Some of the family I’ve traced back to the 1500s in Alton in Staffordshire but I found quite a bit of information about the Harveys who lived in Aldridge.

“When all the restrictions are lifted, I’d love to come down and have a look round and visit the archives to find more birth, marriage and death certificates relating to my family, but in the meantime, I wondered if there are still any family in the area.”

So far, 51-year-old Sam has found Joseph Harvey, who was born in 1835 in Aldridge to John and Sarah Jane Harvey, and was followed by brother William in 1838. They had three sisters, Diana, born 1841, and Hannah, born 1843, and Emma, born in 1852.

In 1869, William, who is Sam’s great, great grandfather, married in Spalding, Lincolnshire, before settling in Kilnhurst, where family remains today.

Her searches have also found that Joseph moved to Lancashire before emigrating to Canada, where he died in 1922.

However, Sam believes that either William or Sam left behind three children – John (born 1858), William (1860) and Sarah (1864) – because these children were living with their grandparents in the 1861 and 1871 censuses.

Other searches show that William and Joseph’s sister Diana married a William Edwards in 1841 and she lived in the Pool Green area of Aldridge, while Hannah married James Meeks in 1843. Emma married Thomas Connolly in 1852 and lived in Keepers’ Cottage in Barr Lane West before moving to Handsworth, Birmingham.

The younger William, who stayed in Aldridge also lived in Dumblederry Lane, according to the 1871 census.

Sam also discovered that her great-grandfather Joseph, son of William senior, died in November 1916, in the battle of the Somme, while he served in the medical corps. A few months later, in April 1917, Charles Herbert, who was the Canadian son of Joseph senior, died in Vimy Ridge while serving in the Canadian Army.

If anyone believes they are related to Sam – or have more information about the Harvey family – please contact the editor at gill@pioneermagazines.co.uk and the information will be forwarded.

The Five Best Hidden Walks In The Local Area

Walsall Magazine
Holly Wood Nature Reserve, Great Barr

The Five Best Hidden Walks in the local area by SMALLHOUSEBIGTRIPS

Correction: This article was updated on 29 March, 2021 to clarify that much of the area of Great Barr Hall is privately-owned and cannot be accessed by the public.

As the New Year kicks in, resolutions for a healthier year begin. How about burning off your Christmas treats and starting 2021 walking around some fabulous local, hidden gems.

We at SmallHouseBigTrips have you covered with some of our personal favourites. But sshhh – remember, it’s a secret!

Great Barr Hall, Sutton’s Drive, B43 7BA

A hidden gem that even we didn’t know about until lockdown in March 2020. Much of the grounds of the Great Barr Hall estate is privately-owned with no public right of way. However, Sutton Drive and the land situated to the East of Sutton Drive are beautiful, public open spaces.

Holly Wood Nature Reserve, Whitecrest, B43 6EA

Enter the nature reserve through a magical gate where you will be greeted with 5 hectares of mixed broadleaf woodland and wet meadow. Trees to climb, a stream to paddle in and the largest blanket of bluebells in spring.

Park Lime Pits Nature Reserve, Rushall, WS4 2HH

A former limestone quarry in the woods, this woodland walk has a rope swing over one of the two clear pools, horses, walking trails and plenty of streams for little ones to paddle in.

For nature lovers, there are over 300 species of plants and it is the home to over 100 species of birds.

Cuckoo’s Nook and The Dingle, Walsall, WS9 0PQ

Cuckoo’s Nook is an ancient woodland over 400 years old full of acidic loving trees like holly, oak, birch and alder, winding picturesque paths and a sea of bluebells during spring. Step into The Dingle part of the walk and you enter an area surrounded by hawthorn, ash, beech and elder trees.

It is the perfect place to learn about geology as you enjoy your walk,through the woodland flowers, by the babbling Longwood Brook running next to the path.

There’s a rope swing and little bridges for children and keep your eyes out for the wishing tree which is decorated beautifully throughout the year. Recently it had Christmas lights, tinsel and other decorations.

Sot’s Hole Nature Reserve, B71 4DE

A fabulous circular route starting at Sot’s Hole Nature Reserve, walking through the ancient woodland, looking at wooden statues and various species of plants, leading through to Sandwell Valley Farm seeing cows and horses, before following the path all the way round back to the car. Fields, woodland and kissing gates. Make for some perfect exploring.

If you would like to follow our adventures, you can find us on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter

Beacon Farm: A Slice of Rural Life

Great Barr MagazineNestled at the foot of Barr Beacon is a place that could be described as Aldridge’s ‘best kept secret’ – but it is a hidden treasure that more and more people are discovering.

Beacon Farm, off Beacon Road, has been in the Lilwall family for generations, rearing cattle, breeding pigs and growing produce for local people. Peter Lilwall first took over the farm 35 years ago, after his uncle passed away.

“The buildings were derelict, but Peter spent three months living in a caravan on the site, repairing and rebuilding the place and getting it up and running,” says his wife, Pauline.

“We’ve spent the last 22 years extending and improving the farm to create what it is now.”

The result is a thriving working farm that also supports a number of businesses on the site, selling everything from restored furniture to bicycles – but it’s the farm’s own butcher’s shop that has developed a following of loyal customers who are willing to travel miles to buy quality, farm-reared meat.

“We rear cattle on the farm and breed pigs too – all fed on grain that we mill ourselves – which means that the meat we sell in our butcher’s shop is incredibly high quality,” Pauline said.

“Most of our trade comes from word-of-mouth, and people keep coming back once they have tried our produce.”

The butcher’s shop sells meat products, black pudding, bacon, pork pies, fresh eggs and pork to die for.

The farm also has a popular grocery business, selling vegetables grown on the site alongside fresh produce brought in daily from wholesalers.

The COVID pandemic has had a positive effect on the farm’s trade, bringing new interest in quality food.

“During lockdown our trade in the butcher’s shop trebled,” Pauline said, “and now we find we have retained a lot of those new people.

“I think a lot of people didn’t want to queue in supermarkets to buy their food and, if you compare our meat to what you might buy in a large supermarket it really is superior. So I think the lockdown changed people’s shopping habits in a good way.”

Those changing habits have also introduced a new kind of customer to the delights of Beacon Farm.

“We have always had a lot of older customers – some have been coming here or 20 years – but we are now seeing a lot more younger people coming here too,” Pauline said.

“Young people these days care so much about what they eat, and I think they can see that the food we sell here is high quality.”

Throughout the pandemic, the farm has stuck to all the strict guidelines laid down by the Government, following hygiene rules, restricting the numbers of people in the shops at any time and practising social distancing.

All of this has been carefully overseen by staff who pride themselves on friendly, welcoming and homely customer service.

“People have been very understanding,” Pauline said, “they have been amazingly supportive.”

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Beacon Farm is its location – a slice of rural life right on the doorstep of the urban West Midlands.

The couple’s two sons live in Sutton, while their daughter lives in Little Aston.

“I think we get the best of both worlds living here,” Pauline said. “If I look out of any of our windows, the view is trees and countryside, but at the same time we are just a short drive away from Aldridge, Walsall, Sutton and Birmingham.

“I suppose that’s why people are often so surprised when they first discover us. We quite often get a new customer who says: ‘you know, I’ve lived around here all my life, and I had no idea this farm was here!’”

Thanks to the quality food they produce and the recommendations of loyal customers, it seems more and more people are discovering the secret of Beacon Farm.


Aldridge Shed Is Back In Business

Aldridge ShedAldridge Shed has opened its doors once more, albeit with Covid restrictions in place.

The Shed is part of a UK initiative which sees people from all walks of life coming together to pursue practical interests and hobbies.

Community and individual projects are undertaken with members sharing tools, skills and resources whilst enjoying the friendly social environment.

The thriving group from Aldridge meets on a regular basis to design, construct and repair various items, mainly from wood but also from other materials.

The Shed is currently open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with two sessions per day.

Attendance is currently by booking only so for more information visit www.aldridgeshed.co.uk or contact Barrie on 07985 188256.

Aldridge Rotary Virtual Dog Show

Aldridge Rotary Club Dog Show“Thanks to everyone who entered. This is the first virtual event for Aldridge Rotary and we’re pleased to announce that we raised over £100. All the winners received certificates and Stanley won a £10 nail treatment voucher for Dazzling Dogs in Aldridge.” The entries can all be viewed at aldridgerotary.org.uk and https://www.facebook.com/aldridgedogshow

The Rotary Club in Aldridge has been active during the lockdown. The club has continued to meet virtually on Zoom and is now also meeting again back at its normal venue, Druids Heath Golf Club.

Aldridge Rotary is a ‘service’ club, which is to say the members work together to help out locally and internationally, and make sure they have a lot of fun whilst doing this. Club President, Steve Johnson said he is “impressed and grateful to the people of Aldridge for their generosity and support”.

As well as lending a hand practically the club has raised and distributed some £11,000 over the last year. These are some of the good causes the club has helped: Acorns; St Giles; Walsall Heartcare; Support for disadvantaged children; Barr Beacon School Music Group; James Brindley Foundation; PPE for Manor Hospital; Flood relief; Community Defibrillator. Internationally, donations have been used to continue the programme of World-wide Polio eradication (a job almost done) and for loans, which assist individuals in developing countries (which has so far helped over 1000 people make a new and sustainable life).

Aldridge Rotary is looking for new members now and is open to everyone. Indeed, as President Steve says, “Make a difference, be part of something amazing, be yourself!”

Join Rotary: aldridgerotary@gmail.com and facebook.com/aldridgerotary

The New Chapter

Walsall Wood LibraryDo you remember what it was like the first time you visited a library as youngster – the rows upon rows of books with colourful covers?

Using your local library used to be a part of growing up, where you were introduced to the joys of the written word. With budget cutbacks and changes in reading habits, the traditional library is under threat – but a pioneering project in Walsall Wood is planning to change all that.

Called ‘The New Chapter’, a new community-based library is now taking shape thanks to the efforts of a team of like-minded volunteers.

Based in a former dance studio opposite the Baron’s Court Hotel in Walsall Wood, the library will be the latest addition to a venue which is fast becoming a new community hub for the area.

“The whole thing came about because the Navy Cadets decided to take on this big unit for their meetings,” said 41-year-old Lee Wadlow, one of the people behind the project.

“It’s a fantastic space, which used to be a dance studio, and the cadets realised it was much bigger than what they needed, so we decided to open it up for more community groups to use, to make sure it was used to its full potential and help cover the costs.”

After the cadets got their new home ship-shape, they have welcomed all kinds of new users. It is regularly used by play groups, a gaming club, a karate school and even a Spiritualist medium.

There are plans to eventually get a licence to hire out the venue, which has a capacity of 180 people, for events. An application for charitable status could also be on the cards.

But the ground-breaking plan to create a vibrant new library at the site will be a big step in making it a true hub for the whole community.

“It’s something that is needed,” Lee said, “and the response we have had from the community has been incredible.

“Beverley Ricketts, who is one of the team on the Action Group behind the project, raised the point that some children don’t own any books or have easy access to them.

“Because of cuts to library services and school funding, children are less likely to experience books in the same way as previous generations, and we wanted to do something to put that right.

“But it’s also about creating a more vibrant library environment, which is more fun, active and less stuffy. We want to have visits by authors, popular characters and storytellers. Some local teachers have also said they would like to get involved to support children as they discover the books.

“And, of course, we will also be catering to adults and older people to provide the books they would like to read. We want this to be a library for everyone.”

After appealing for help, hundreds of books of all kinds have been donated. Brownhills company Laptop Trader has donated computers while Aldridge’s Best Bind have provided rugs for the venue. Volunteers are building bookshelves. The New Chapter, which only a few weeks ago was suggested in a meeting, is now coming together thanks to a huge community effort.

“We had our first delivery the other day of 600 books – really great quality books too – and members of the public have donated hundreds more,” Lee said.

“There’s a very determined team of people behind this who really want to see it succeed. We decided at the start that we would form an Action Group, not a committee, because we wanted to get things done rather than sit around talking about what we could do.”

Lee hopes the community hub and library will help provide an outlet for the energies of young people in the area.

“People often say that there’s not enough for young people to do these days,” he said. “When I was a kid there were youth clubs that you could go to, where you could do things for free, meet your friends and generally find a more constructive thing to do with your time than walking the streets.

“We really hope that all of this will provide Walsall Wood’s kids with somewhere they can go like that, whether it’s through the Cadets, the library or one of the other groups that use the site.”

Plans for Walsall Wood’s new library has already been noticed in other communities, and Lee believes the idea could be repeated elsewhere.

“The social aspect of a community library can benefit all kinds of communities, from places like Walsall Wood to small villages,” Lee said. “If The New Chapter works here then it could be rolled out anywhere. Who knows, pretty soon we could be working on Chapter Two!”

Get involved!

  • Pop in for a coffee and use our library/hub
  • Spare time? Volunteers are most welcome
  • Suggestions? If you have ideas for fund raising or how to include all areas of our community, we’d love to hear from you.

Contact Petty Officer Stroud 07594 284399

Great Barr Comp – The Largest In The Country, The Fondest Memories …

Great Barr CompGreat Barr Comp was, until 2009, the largest single-site comprehensive school in the country with over 2,400 pupils on roll. We spoke with John Slatford, a pupil at the Comp (now an academy) in its early days, and here he shares his memories. His time there helped him forge an exciting science-based career that took him all over the world so, now aged 74 and still living locally, he recalls why it was ‘such a great school’.

“My first knowledge of the existence of Great Barr Comprehensive School was in 1957. I’d passed part one of the 11-plus at my junior school in Turfpits Lane. That brought with it a choice for my Secondary education.

“I dismissed the idea of Grammar school with what I considered its narrow arts-based curriculum as my interest was the sciences. Luckily a teacher at my junior school was aware of a ‘new type of school’ that had just been built locally. He thought it would be ‘ideal for me’

“So I sat and passed part two of the 11-plus at Great Barr Comp itself – a school which was otherwise just outside my ‘catchment area’. Prior to sitting the exam, we were given a tour of the school which was mind-blowing as I’d never seen anything like it before!

“I started in September 1958 in class 1.2 with Pat Tullet as my Form Teacher. All the pupils were assigned a House. Mine was Priestly. The other Houses were Boulton, Fry and Nightingale. The curriculum was varied, and for the first time I had to listen to the teacher and write down what she said or copy it from the blackboard.

“Once I moved to the second year we were put in a form and a ‘set’ for various subjects. Internal exams in all subjects were taken three times a year. This meant every pupil had a bespoke timetable of lessons depending on ability. My interest was science which was so well catered for – eleven specialist laboratories!

“Very special about the school was the after-school activities.  I joined the Photographic Club, Film Club, History Society, Rambling Club and Visual Aids Society. This meant staying on at school until about 9:30 every evening. We were allowed two hours to do our homework in one of the science laboratories, which suited me. I was also in the Cross Country Running Team and ran for the school at weekends. Luckily there was a disused quarry across the road from the Comp used for cross country running practice. The Rambling Club took place each month on a Sunday and we were only allowed to ramble if we had the proper equipment.

“As one of three pupils recruited for the Visual Aids Society I was taught how to use and maintain the school’s projectors and to show films to the various clubs. We had an active Drama Department and we’d put on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas – giving me a lifelong love of their music and comedy.

“During the six-week holiday a group of boys would be taken Youth Hostelling in Britain and Switzerland. I was lucky enough to go on holidays to the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall.

“Two of the pupils at Great Barr Comp during my time are now world famous. Steve Winwood the musician and Martin Shaw the actor. All in all, it was a fantastic school. I hope today’s pupils appreciate what it offers and that it is still as good as when I was a pupil, back in the 1950s.”

** Great Barr Academy say they will be ‘welcoming students to its brand-new 6th Form Centre in September’.

Read the article in our online edition of Great Barr Gazette here.

September Editions Now Available

Great Barr GazetteOur September editions are dropping through letterboxes throughout the local area. If you have not yet received yours don’t miss out.  You can read all three of our local editions right here.

Find out what happened to the Streetly Phone Box in our Villages edition. We’ve introduced a new Social Media Diary page. It sums up what’s been going on on our Facebook and Twitter pages over the past few weeks. See if you got a mention!

Each edition is full of local news and community initiatives. This month Dr Ron Daniels an intensive care doctor at Heartlands and Good Hope offers encouraging and balanced advice on the current Coronavirus situation.

Happy reading and thank you for helping us to do our bit to help our local community.

Campaign To Save Phonebox

Streetly Magazine
Anne-Marie Goodchild (second left) joins locals wanting to save the phonebox

A Streetly woman has launched a campaign to save one of Britain’s iconic red telephone kiosks.

Anne-Marie Goodchild spotted a notice inside the 1950s kiosk in Burnett Road, Streetly, from BT, which said that it was to be removed because it was no longer economically viable.

“I’ve always liked our red kiosks as they are a real symbol of Britain, so when I saw the notice I wanted to do something to save it,” she said.

She hopes the phonebox, which is believed to date back to the 1950s, will be adopted by Staffordshire County Council – it sits just inside the Staffs border, despite being in Streetly – and that it could be transformed into a community asset, such as book exchange.

In just a couple of weeks, Anne-Marie got BT to promise that it will not remove the kiosk while she speaks to councillors about the adoption, which will cost it just £1, and establish how it will be maintained.

“At first we thought it was in Walsall, and the council was keen to support adopting the kiosk, but it quickly became clear that it sat in Staffordshire, so I’m hoping that because there are already adopted ones in Shenstone and Wall that the council there will be willing to save this one,” she said.

Once the plea about the phonebox was posted on the Streetly Community group page on Facebook, a petition was raised to save it and more than 500 people have signed it.

“We’re still in the early stages of the campaign, but I’m hoping that we can get the council on board quickly and then we can look at how we put a committee together to maintain it,” added Anne-Marie.