16 Market Place

Keaton Barton was a recipient of one of the two High Street Stories commissions for artists under 25. He met with young people on Wednesbury high street and asked them what it means to them. Their answers revealed that Wednesbury is a place of hidden history that has lost many of its shops over the years; however, it still remains the same humble little high street. It provides for the basic needs of its residents, is a place to meet with friends and socialise, and is a source of income for some. Keaton found that the younger generation engage with the high street in similar ways, and have similar opinions on the area and one thing they definitely all agreed on is that the high street is in dire need of a McDonalds!

Scroll down to read poems by Linda Matthews and Richard Johnson.

To see more, and to read captions, click on the photographs.

Wednesbury Memories

by Linda Matthews

It was cold but fresh, as pictures were created by her breath when she exhaled. She could already smell malt brewing in the town’s brewery and taste the iron smelt in the air from all the local factories.

The girl pulled her rough woollen coat tighter, trying to stop the winds chill as she headed down Spring Head and into the Market Place to enjoy all the banter of the market traders setting out their wares ready for the day.  The tea shop where she worked as a waitress lay opposite the market.

 Like every day as she reached the corner, she stopped and looked up at all the buildings in the Market Place she knew so well. A long time ago her teacher had told her: "In every town you visit always look up at the buildings to see the heritage and beauty of the town, buildings keep memories of a town".

Wednesbury was a lovely town centre, populated by people that were proud of their heritage and with buildings that had grown from the fame of being one of the best stopping points on Thomas Telford's London to Holyhead road with lots of welcoming coaching houses for them to stay at.

As she walked into the tea shop she felt the warmth hit her cheeks and make them glow like cherries. The fumes of hot coffee brewing and fresh baking ready for all the regular customers of the day made her light-headed as she took deep breathes to replace the cold polluted air from outside.

Customers would sit and reminisce about times and people gone by, sharing gossip with other locals in their peer group.  The girl hung up her coat and attached the stiff, starched white cuffs and collar that made her itch to her black frock.

The white cotton apron tied around her waist with pretty frills and a large pocket to keep her notebook and pencil (and sometimes penny tips that customers would give her).

Today would be a busy day, a lot of people were in town to visit the market and share whispers and gossip about the visitor coming to town. Tonight, a big event in the conservative club meant they all hoped to see the famous visitor.

Tickets had been difficult to get but she was lucky; one of her regular customers had treated her to say thank you for a cake she had baked for his birthday. In preparation. her best frock had been pressed and hung on her bedroom door and she had the prettiest shoes that sparkled when she danced.

She did not know yet but tonight would be the night she would dance with the Prince of Wales in a little old town called Wednesbury. A Prince of Wales who was destined not to become king.

It would create a memory that she would share with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren many times over, telling them of the night she danced with the Prince of Wales. 

Magnet Mannequins

by Richard Johnson

Ever since I was a small boy I had very often found myself in awe of the smartly dressed life-like wax mannequins that stared out at me from behind the three large display windows of the Georgian building that was home to the traditional gent’s outfitters, known as The Magnet. Locals believed that the listed building had been home to an unbroken run of tailor’s shops since 1866.
It was on an unusually mild afternoon towards the middle of November in the year of 2017. that I found myself passing there on this occasion, but this time I experienced a very different emotion. It was a feeling of deep sadness and disappointment that descended over me, as suddenly as I had known fog come down at that time of year... the mannequins, that the owner used to stand amongst and dress identical to, had gone.

I thought back to a time many years before when I passed the shop with my mother and was reduced to tears when I saw the man in the window suddenly move, for it seemed to me that one of the figures had come to life.

Set out on the floor of the almost empty shop was the remaining stock which included shirts still in their packaging, a range of ties and some Peaky Blinder-style flat caps. There were a few men chatting with the owner as they browsed through the items of attire that were being sold off. I told myself that these people were either long standing customers who wanted to bid farewell to the tailor and thank him for his many years of service, or ones that had finally decided to go inside after years of anticipating whether or not to do so. Maybe they had hoped to bag themselves a last-minute bargain...  one that could serve as a keepsake to remind them of that era, perhaps.

If it hadn’t been for my mother always reminding me that it was an older man’s shop and therefore not one that should appeal to one aged in his twenties, I would have satisfied my own curiosity while it was still possible for me to do so. After all it was the shop itself rather than the clothing that fascinated me.

I found myself wondering what had happened to the mannequins... Were they donated to other shops?  Well… perhaps not, for they would look out of place in any other fashion store, a contemporary one certainly. They were made for that shop… surely? Did the retiree take them home with him? Maybe he hid them down the cellar!