Story collector: Donna Roberts

Photographer: Lauren Simmonds

I started off as a carpenter at 14 on Old Park Farm, they run the lime pits ready for the bricks and we used to have the cows there and the milk round, it was a Mr Taylor and we had a cow fall in one of the lime pits. Of course lime burns, I was only 14, to milk that cow it was a terrible job. It was obviously sensitive, you know being burnt, but you’ve got to milk them. So the reason they put a ring in a bulls nose and anything like that, they’ve got nerves in there. They call them barnacles which clip on, but he couldn’t afford them barnacles. I used to have to stand with the cows head, with my fingers up her nose and squeeze whilst they milked her. We’d do a bottle of milk, them big bottles with a cardboard stopper, that was a job I hated, then take the milk out on the round on the cart. I used to take the horse to be shoed, there was two black smiths one was down in the bottom of Stafford Street and one in Gornal, I have an idea the shed is still there. The difference between the two blacksmiths was one used to shoe them cold. He’d have a cold shoe and nail it on the horse, the other one used to get the shoe hot and burn it in, they don’t feel it but they are a better fit obviously but it was more expensive. It’s strange, you go down the north way now, my niece lives down the north way, and it’s all houses now, it was a lane.

When you finish school completely you’ve got to find a job. Times was hard during the war but we survived and did well and when leaving school apprenticeships were strong then and I believe in them. I went to a firm in Church Field Street which was Thomas Payne, they’d got a carpenters and joiners shop. We improved, when my apprenticeship had finished I went as an assistant contract manager with another firm called Edmunds. Then I became small contracts manager, they were a big firm. But then I packed it in and we went to work on our own me and my friend. We used to fit wardrobes and things like that, gradually improved and we did kitchens, I was a director of a kitchen company when I retired at 65.

My wife was taken ill and I nursed her for nine years. I decided to retire and have a rest which I did and we went on a cruise and we went on a couple of holidays but suddenly she had a stroke. So I had look after her, there were a couple of strokes actually in the end. But we’d done it all and got the T-Shirt. We were married 54 years, a long while. To be a Mason you’ve got to have a sense of humour. We used to have a great sense of humour, we’d have a joke and I’d say I’m going to have an affair and she’d say well who’s going to do the catering? You know, we’d got a sense of humour together.

What started my voluntary, I retired and there’s the Tenants and Residents Association. I decided to go to a meeting, I hadn’t been to one so I went round. We were in the church hall and the council guy was sitting there and said we haven’t got have a chair and the treasurer was about to retire, will somebody volunteer to do the chair. We all sat there and one of the chaps over the road said, that would suit you wouldn’t it. I used to go to Europe and places like that for my job like, so I did and I started and I’m still doing it and that’s got to have been nearly ten years now. One thing leads to another and they asked me to join the Regeneration of Netherton so I started and took over there as chair person. Then the police asked me to go to their meetings as an independent advisor so I joined the police, well not joined them but you know what I mean. Then Netherton and Woodside was awarded £670,000 or something like that off the lottery fund which was to be spent in our area. It’s a deprived area so I got interested in all the meetings and it kept my brain active. There was a guy there and I said to him one day, we’ve got a piece of wasteland at the back of us it used to be an old garage site. It’s a nuisance, the kids used to play on the back, it’s all over grown with trees and rubbish and I said is there any chance of having any money. We were awarded £10,000 to create an allotment on this bit of land. It’s just finding people interested enough to do it, there’s no “no” in my book. Once it got going I handed it over and they formed their own committee. 

I come back from our big day, I’ll have been there from 6am to 7pm at night and we’ve cleared everything away and I come down here. It’s a wonderful feeling to help people, you get more pleasure out of helping other people. I like to see people enjoy themselves and to give more than to receive. It’s difficult but I try my hardest to get volunteers. If I didn’t volunteer what else would I do?


Johns Story -
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