The Large Gardens of Wedderburn Road

A distinctive feature of all houses built in Wedderburn Road before the 1970s is the generous length of their gardens. This can be explained by the land having once been the fields called Barbers Hill and Barbers Meadow. The large oak trees that still stand at the end of the some of the gardens on the north side of the road might quite possibly be some that have survived as part of a field boundary since at least 1841 when the tithe map was drawn. Several residents have spoken about the line of great elms on the southern boundary that succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s. When the land was acquired for building about 1900, the area was divided into two with the road running down the middle. This meant each house built after 1901 had a long, sometimes narrow strip of land. Barbers Hill was originally an arable field so had been ploughed, but the new gardens would still have been quite a challenge to cultivate. Houses on the lower part of the road were built on some of Barbers Meadow, which had been used for pasture in 1841.

Allotments and Orchards

On the 1904 map large plots are named as Allotment Gardens on either side of the road beyond No 24.  Evidence from later maps and deeds show this same land had subsequently been planted with trees and from the number of fruit trees in the gardens of Staincliffe and No 41, and in the gardens opposite, the area had clearly been used as an orchard.

A snowy view of Wedderburn Road looking east, during the winter of 1947
A snowy view of Wedderburn Road looking east, during the winter of 1947

Households depended heavily on what could be grown and reared in their gardens. Vegetables were grown and many gardens had their own apple, plum, damson and pear trees. The fruit would be turned into jam or bottled and it was quite common for baskets of surplus fruit to be left at the front gates for passers-by. One of the young Wedderburn Road children, Rosemary, has recorded that her father had an allotment in Sherrards Green Road in addition to the garden at Kirkwood. She described how she would come back with him pushing barrows of potatoes and other vegetables as a means of overcoming rationing shortages. Her mother made up jars of salted runner beans and a range of chutneys.

Hens and Pigs

Many families kept a pig and hens. Chickens were very common and provided the family with eggs and meat.  Roy recalls his father killing the chickens and plucking them and the eggs were used by his mother to make her delicious cakes. Roy’s father also had a number of Tamworth pigs  which he kept on the land between Reg Malsom and No 43. This was the orchard land already referred to, with at least four large oak trees on the northern boundary that still drop copious amounts of acorns – food which pigs adore. Roy recalls some brick built pigsties on the land. The pigs were slaughtered by Mr Tummey, assisted by Roy’s father. A stun gun was used on each animal before the final slaughter which involved firing a rifle into the pig’s forehead. After the killings, a straw fire was lit to burn off the coarse hair from the pigs’ backs. Mr Tummey would butcher the pigs and some of the meat would go to Mr Kendrick, the owner of the land and the rest to Roy’s family.

The Slaughter House

The farm building that appears on the earliest map tucked at the back of the allotments on the south side, was another slaughter house, and was used as such for over 60 years. It was a single storey building and was used by Mr Tummey, the butcher from No 26. He kept his stun gun in the pantry at home and on Sunday mornings would go down to the slaughter sheds with two other butchers, Mr Spencer and Mr Mason. Jill Tummey, then a young girl, remembers taking along a tray of coffee to the men during the morning and then staying to watch the cattle as they were killed. Quite a few neighbours have recalled the movement of cattle and sheep down the road on a Sunday morning and seeing them herded into the field. Shots would ring out for quite some time. As Jill explained, there were no licences required for the slaughtering of animals in the 1940s and 50s. The Humane Slaughter Association had lobbied for improvements in the methods used to kill animals and the Slaughter of Animals Act was introduced in 1933. The Act required that a humane stunner must be used on all cattle and calves, and this regulation was adhered to by the local butchers. Presumably because the butchers who supervised the proceedings subsequently sold the meat at their retail premises, the standards and safeguards for making sure the meat was not contaminated were probably quite high. The smell in the road must have been awful some days though.

Horses and other livestock

Quite a few families had horses. Rosa remembers her father keeping a pony in their back garden, using a shed with double doors as its stable. A trap was kept in another outbuilding. Her family also kept chickens which roamed in the field next to them. Reg Malsom kept his horse, Dolly, for his milk deliveries and lower down the road, on the south side, the Daveys at Glascote owned another horse while a donkey was looked after by the Garfitt family, and could be heard braying most days. The Malsom family kept quite a few goats in their garden in the 1960s too. Sheep were often seen in the road, usually when they had wandered off the common. They belonged to a local farmer, Charlie Williams, who often got into trouble because of his sheep, especially if they devoured garden produce!