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When all the world seemed to be in Stafford

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: July 06, 2014

Sam Perry's shop232

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IF ONLY cameras had been as plentiful during the war years as they are today . . . what a rich fund of pictures would have been captured of never to be forgotten scenes.

That thought came to mind when interviewing retired policeman Brian Turner a few years ago when he talked about his boyhood days spent in one of the many Stafford pubs which thrived in those years.

Brian recalled how his family moved into the Star Inn on Stafford‘s Mill Street along with his mother and sister (his father was serving in the Army at the time) to join his grandmother Mary Summers, the licensee.

“I used to sit in the window and watch armed forces pass by. Their shoulder flashes showed they came from all parts of the world, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Jamaica, the Netherlands and Canada,” said Brian. It seemed to young eyes that the whole world had come to his doorstep.

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But perhaps even more glamorous were the American forces billeted in what was then the new technical college on Tenterbanks. “It was wonderful to walk down Cherry Street and look down into the basement and see the cookhouse and relish the smells coming from below,“ he said.

Stafford was a popular meeting place for servicemen and women, some from Drake Hall, Seighford, 16 MU, Wheaton Aston, Church Eaton, while others were billeted at Stafford’s YMCA.

The younger population shared Brian’s experience of having the American forces throw cigarettes, chocolate and candy from their upper windows and often asked local lads, such as Brian, to act as go-betweens, taking their messages to their local girlfriends.

The rarest sight was that of a US convoy of black soldiers passing through South Walls and halting by the River Sow. “It caused quite a stir at the time,” said Brian. If only we had pictures?

No one living in wartime Britain at the time could escape the reality of a military presence including an ack-ack site at the junction of the track from Bagnall’s works to Stafford Castle and the track from Newport Road where Stafford Rugby Club had its first ground.

Another reminder of Britain’s involvement in the war came for those, who like Brian, witnessed tanks made at Siemens works being tested in what seemed a large bath near the Crinoline Bridge.

Back at the pub, Brian regularly watched his grandmother emerge from the pub’s cellar carrying a long-handled enamel jug filled with Butler’s ales destined to fill the pint glasses which were eagerly consumed by service personnel and locals alike.

The pub once stood on the site later occupied by Black’s menswear and had served the local population since the mid-19th century and adjacent to William Horton's shoe factory at the rear of Chetwynd House (later the town’s main post office and now a restaurant).

The Summers family were the Star Inn licensees for 20 years leaving the pub in 1952 only to see it closed within three years and demolished in the late 1960s.

Brian’s family had moved to the Star Inn from their Sheridan Street home as war clouds loomed and memories of that old neighbourhood included Reg Horn’s wooden shop which sold virtually everything. Other traders included Brown’s shop on the corner of St John Street in Cambridge Street and Kidman’s off-licence which survived selling only sweets and beer.

The Star Inn proved a haven for the Turner trio but the accommodation was cramped with two uncles and two aunts living there in addition to Brian’s grandmother and her daughter, Mary Ellen Summers.

Locals using the pub included Mr Rothwell who stood on the corner of Mill Street every night selling newspapers and there was a postman called Mr Cook.

One of Brian’s tasks was to fetch cigarettes for the pub from tobacco wholesalers Browns who occupied premises which later became the photographic studio of Bertram Sinkinson, Mark Jewels' solicitors, now Sheppards solicitors.

Mill Street itself had a fair representation of traders including Parker’s fish shop - it’s still going - Sam Perry’s grocery shop on the corner of Church Lane, Hall’s butchers’ shop, Tooth’s shop, with Bert Daley, keeper of the Coach and Horses on nearby Mill Bank.

John Connor, in his recent books on Stafford's alehouses, lists the history of the Star Inn noting that it first came into the ownership of orthodox brewery - Eley’s of The Green - around 1898 ownership passing to the Wolverhampton-based William Butler brewery in 1928, though Eley’s continued as leaseholders.

Yes, if only we had more photographs we could faces and buildings to all these names and faces.

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