The heritage of local businesses

 

 

One aspect of local heritage is the part that long-standing local businesses have played in the life of the area and in the minds of its inhabitants. In 2016 we are thinking of family businesses like Dennetts and Alders, both of which have a century of activity in Acocks Green. Some chains are also well remembered, like Woolworths, the Co-op, and Wrensons.

 

Jeffries Hardware, by Ian Jeffries

 "Jeffries", a single retail outlet is located on the edge of a busy shopping area in south Birmingham. We have been trading at our present location for well over 40 years and during this time have built up an enviable reputation for quality service and competitive pricing.

 

Ron Jeffries began the business in 1951 with a shop in Cattell Road, Small Heath shortly followed by a shop at 13 Hockley Hill, Hockley. These premises were both purchased from us by developers. The current branch at 37 Shirley Road was established in 1970 and the property purchased in 1972. This has been extensively developed over the years with two other properties being bought making a triple frontage unit. It still remains a family run business with Ron’s son Ian and daughter Nicola now at the helm.

 

We have always aimed to provide the best products at the best prices with the brightest smile to all our loyal customers.

 

My work in local development

Nearly twenty years ago, as I ran one of the longer established businesses in the village, I was approached and asked to set up a Traders Association to attempt to tie the Traders in the village together. The objective was to let the Traders work together to improve our Centre so improving business for the Traders based in Acocks Green working alongside the local community. The early days of the AGTA (Acocks Green Traders Association) did see many successes, you might remember we arranged to take out the old raised flower beds along the Post Office stretch, we also worked to introduce the now 50 strong radio link between businesses as well as organising the installation of the first street CCTV cameras with some advice from local Police. Sadly after some very successful years the AGTA became less active although did continue to operate.

 

In early 2008 Birmingham City Council placed a Town Centre Manager, Melinda Brown in the village who reinvigorated the Traders once again also involving local community groups. This new organisation was known as the Acocks Green Village Partnership. (AGVP). Things rapidly moved on with many changes and improvements to Acocks Green, the AGVP raising funds from many sources including BCC. 

 

The plan to form a Business Improvement District (BID) was voiced and this was a popular idea where businesses would put their own money and effort into improving the Centre. A period of consultation followed and the BID was voted in by local Traders in October 2011. The BID is a limited company controlling a budget raised from local traders of £500,000 over a five year period. The BID is now run by the Traders and employs a BID manager, Sandy Gianni as well as three other staff all working hard to improve your shopping centre.

 

I strongly believe that when you think back, the AGTA then the AGVP and finally the AGVBID have all worked well to improve our Centre. Many said that nearby developments such as the new Swan Centre and the opening of ASDA in Shirley would cause loss of trade and footfall in our village but I believe that as we keep working to improve our Centre this has not been the case.

 

The AGVP and the BID have been working with Birmingham City Council over some years on a project to improve the roads and pedestrian areas of the Centre and funding was allocated recently. I personally wonder if this would have been happening, certainly in the way it is, if we had not been seen to be helping ourselves and so have been supported by BCC. Work was completed for a new look updated Acocks Green in 2015, providing a far better experience for our shoppers and visitors.  I truly believe that Acocks Green is one of the best suburban high streets in Birmingham with a high percentage of unique Independent Traders and wish it to stay that way. We must all continue to work together to reach this aim.

 

Jeffries c. 1975 (Ian Jeffries)
Jeffries c. 1975 (Ian Jeffries)
Jeffries c. 1983 (Ian Jeffries)
Jeffries c. 1983 (Ian Jeffries)
Jeffries c. 1998 (Ian Jeffries)
Jeffries c. 1998 (Ian Jeffries)
Photographs by Ian Jeffries
Photographs by Ian Jeffries

 

 

Fred's Cafe

This popular cafe on the Green was started by Fred Cowan Senior around 1920. The business was continued by his son, also Fred, from 1938, when his father died. Fred Senior also ran a football team, the Avondale Football Club, which played on fields behind the shop now occupied by Archbishop Ilsley Technology College. Bus staff were constant users of the cafe, filling their billy cans with tea. The business lasted until 1977, when an amusement arcade took over the shop and Pearce's next door.  

Part of the Green, early 1970s
Part of the Green, early 1970s

 

 

The post office

Early twentieth century postcards show Acocks Green's post office at the Dudley Park Road end of the row of shops leading round from the Green on the east side of the Warwick Road. In 1914 the post office moved onto to the Green, initially occupying only half of the premises it was in until the 1970s, when it had to move out for new shops to be built. A 1935 refurbishment had made it into a so-called Brighter Post Office. It flourished for many years nearer to Station Road amongst the new shops, but gradually the services it provided were reduced or replaced. In 2015 it became a small part of a new small W.H. Smith franchise on the other side of the Warwick Road. They themselves had been missed when they closed their branch in Acocks Green in the 1990s.

The post office facing the Green in the 1950s with its distinctive curved gable
The post office facing the Green in the 1950s with its distinctive curved gable

 

 

Wells Newsagents

Alfred Wells started selling newspapers at the station in 1911, then from Florence Road. He bought 1082 Warwick Road in 1921. His son Frank took over around 1968 and the business remained there until 1973, when they were forced to move out because the whole row was going to be replaced. Frank Wells moved to a shop on Shirley Road opposite the library, retiring in 1981. Wells were also postcard publishers.

Wells Newsagents in 1955 (Birmingham Libraries)
Wells Newsagents in 1955 (Birmingham Libraries)

The Co-op

The Co-op used to be a formidable presence in suburbs, offering a wide range of services including laundry, milk delivery and coal delivery as well as shop outlets such as grocers, butchers, fish, poultry, drapers, chemists, funeral services, clothiers, dry cleaners and electrical goods as individual shops. In Acocks Green they had a 'coal house' and a wharf at Yardley Road, but no dairy. The Co-op milk floats seen in Acocks Green came from the dairy on the Stratford Road in Hall Green. They opened a laundry north of the canal at Woodcock Lane North in 1939, saw it requisitioned for war purposes, and re-opened it in 1946. It finally closed in 1975, and a superstore planning application was rejected in 1977. In its heyday, the laundry had social and sports clubs. A warehouse for empty wine and spirit bottles was built on part of the sports ground, probably in the 1960s. An application to demolish and replace with industrial units was approved in 1981. John Salmon has kindly provided information about the laundry site:

 

"From memory the laundry co-existed with prefabs along The Vineries. They were demolished first in the 1970s, leaving open scrubland with the Co-op warehouse at the back. Then the laundry was demolished, with a planning application for a superstore turned down, I presume for access reasons. This left more open land with just an access to the warehouse, which was eventually shut. The initial housing development that followed would have been built in 1985, I know this as my then boss moved into Shawley Croft at the time. The warehouse was still there after the houses were built, but came down later or when the Vine Lane development was built more recently [from about 2005].

 

Dave Treadwell

for many years the laundry had a sports field at the rear of the main building, that stretched close to the Grand Union Canal, although, there was no pavilion building.

There was also a field type track that ran parallel to the canal that led to some business type undertakings.  This would be the made-up roadway that now leads to a bungalow and some business premises. Opposite was a large house [this was the Vineries, from which the Westwoods ran a market gardening business until the land was taken over for a Rover shadow factory, the house later being used for a time by the Co-op], that although considered empty for a number of years, was always thought to have an air of mystery and reckoned to be haunted by the local children.

 

John Salmon

 

I can confirm the mysterious house which must have been on the site of Acocks Green Demolition, my sister had a paper round in the mid 1960s and had to deliver there and talked of its spookiness. I used to have my car repaired in one of the garages based on Bridge Walk and remember having to negotiate the bungalow and the caravan storage area at the back. Just thinking about it now, it seems a strange place to put a bungalow, I wonder if it is self build, it leads on to a 'private' road' Lincoln Close' which is accessed off Lincoln Road North. I can remember the coal lorries coming from Lester Brothers in that area, whose office was on the bend of  Lincoln Road and the Avenue.  A quick search on the Durham Mining Museum website of all places appears to show that the company was established in 1938 although it may of continued an existing business. Interestingly they are still around and although I see the solid fuel lorries, I think they trade under a different name. They put in for planning permission to build houses at the back of the cottages on that bend, in the wharf area by the rail bridge not so long ago.

 

Ann Clarke has also supplied information and drawn a map (see below):

 

The building was parallel with Woodcock Lane, but set back, having a frontage of garden area and rear access for the delivery vans. It had a large brick chimney, standing at the side of the building, towards the canal. Also, over a number of years, sparrow hawks were known to have nested at the top of this chimney. After demolition this area of land was left open for some time, up until the recent new houses being built. In addition, when this land could be accessed, an excellent crop of blackberries could be harvested. The Laundry was some fifty yards from the Canal Bridge.

 

Some interesting comments about the area can be found here:

http://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?threads/woodcock-lane-bridge-grand-union.17161/

 

There were several clusters of shops, sometimes owned by different Co-operative Societies or Groups. The earliest were between Dudley Park Road and Station Road on the Warwick Road, from the mid-1920s. They opened their 100th branch in a new building on Fox Hollies Road in November 1929. This still has a Co-op presence in the form of funeral services, and has a shop in the row, but not a Co-op: it is a Polish foodstore. There was a Co-op pharmacy round the corner at 9 Olton Boulevard East until recently. That branch of the Co-op's activities was sold in 2014 to the Bestway Group, and the businesses are now branded as Well Pharmacies. The Co-op had three shops on Yardley Road (63-67) by 1930: by the mid-1950s they were in six out of the eight units in this row of gabled shops north of Douglas Road. There was another site right at the end of Olton Boulevard East. After the Co-op left, it became, rather aptly, the Boundary Club, and then Zorba's Greek restaurant. The shop at 344-6 Gospel Lane is now a Nisa branch, and there was another site at Lakey Lane near the Gospel Oak.

 

In 1962 they opened a new row with flats above on the Warwick Road opposite the Red Lion; the opening ceremony was ruined by heavy rain! Unfortunately, Safeway opened a supermarket next to the Red Lion in 1982, and the Co-op's own supermarket went into decline. The space is now occupied by Wetherspoons, which opened in November 2000, and Poundstretcher, but Co-op Travel lives on in the row. A supermarket appeared on the Green (where Wilkinsons is now), following Co-op Retail's purchase of 101 Lo-Cost stores in 1994, but it closed. Following the purchase of the Alldays chain in 2002, the Co-op reappeared opposite the library. Having left there, a surprising move in 2011 was to save the Gospel Oak pub from demolition by turning it into a small supermarket. There are many interesting photographs on Flickr, found when searching for Co-op and Acocks Green. There is interesting and useful information associated with the images.

 

Brian Wilkinson has written an evocative piece about Acocks Green around 1944. Below is an extract about the Co-op:

 The Co-op used a system of tubes which worked on a vacuum. These sent money from the shop assistants up to a cashier who sat behind a glass window. The change if there was any would be returned to the assistant via this tube and they would hand it back to my mom with a smile and say thank you. I was fascinated by this marvel of wires and tubes.

 

Below is a historical slideshow of Co-op premises. Thanks to Linda and Tony Chew for permitting the Society to display these evocative images. Please note: all images in this slideshow are copyright and may not be taken from this website and used elsewhere without specific permission from the owners.

Area around the Co-op laundry (Ann Clarke)
Area around the Co-op laundry (Ann Clarke)

 

 

Corporation Gas and Electric Departments

The city used to run these services, and some people would have preferred it if municipal control had continued. The gas service started here in the 1920s, and the electrical around 1935. They were replaced by regional boards just after the war. The city's motif can still be seen high on the facade of the former electrical shop. The Birmingham Municipal Bank branch dates from the early 1920s, and the city sold the bank to the TSB in 1976.

Corporation Gas and Electric services, 1961 (Birmingham Libraries)
Corporation Gas and Electric services, 1961 (Birmingham Libraries)

 

 

W.N. Dixon

He had several businesses in Acocks Green, and was such a presence that some humourists said the area should be re-named Dixon's Green. For example, Logan-Dixon was a couple of doors south of Dennetts, and was a gents' outfitters, and there was a shoe shop north of Oxford Road. Dixons eventually occupied three units in the Alder row. An earlier version of the shop front below stated in large lettering:

 

"Why go to town? Save time, trouble and money at Dixons Birmingham's best fashion store"

 

He also had shops in other towns. Energetic and enterprising, he ran all the shops himself, and continued to work into his eighties.

One of Dixon's shops, in the Alder row, 1982 (Mike Wood)
One of Dixon's shops, in the Alder row, 1982 (Mike Wood)