'Old Money' - Handsworth Wood Road
The Handsworth Wood Road was the chosen abode
Of the ‘Old Money' in Handsworth Wood.
Where substantial Victorian, Edwardian
And a few mock-Georgian
Red-bricked town houses solidly stood.
Recently returned from India's outposts,
Owners had their pillared gateposts
Surmounted by a carved-stone Lion or two.
Echoing the old Dominions,
They looked down on the minions,
Exactly as they were supposed to do.
Along here, status equated with the wrought-iron gated
Entrances, in grandiose Victorian styles.
All had walled gardens, privet hedged,
And neat gravel driveways, edged
Invariably, with crenelated terra-cotta tiles.
‘Box' hedging kept in good military order
The damp, mildewed earth border,
And the bush roses, guarded by fat bumble bees.
Whilst the old ‘Russian Vine' crept, and tried to entwine
The Lilacs, and the Monkey-Puzzle trees.
A heavy oak front door and patterned Minton tiled floor
In the lobby, was ‘des rigeur' in all but a few.
With ornate doorknobs cast in brass;
Art nouveau side panels of stained glass,
And a bell-pull that rang out down the hall,
Out of view.
There were attics and cellars, and pantries of course,
With cold terracotta flags still covering the floors.
But as feeble coal fires spat, and gas fires barely hissed,
Old wooden sash windows became drizzled in mist.
Damp seeped up the walls, turning wallpaper moist;
Dry-rot connived with woodworm to consume every joist;
Gale-force draughts found the gaps in windows and doors,
Curling any remaining linoleum
Clinging to dark brown varnished pine floors.
Out of favour; in decay; ‘Old Money' no longer held sway.
The houses were doomed as the occupants ‘downsized'.
As their cash ran short, residents were forced to resort
To developments they truthfully despised.
Apartments; student flatlets and second rate hotels;
And Ethnic Church Mission Halls, (thankfully without bells) .
Gone is the ‘Old Money' - faded into the scenes,
Replaced by young couples with enthusiasm,
But lacking the means
Of restoring these grand mausoleums to glories anew.
The past is the past - long since gone from view.
© David Shoestring
Notes: This is the first of two poems written ‘back-to-back' about Handsworth, where I grew up, and which having once been a village is now a suburb of Birmingham, England. Once upon a time Handsworth played a very important part in the world-wide Industrial Revolution, and Matthew Boulton's ‘Soho Foundry' established in 1762 once being the largest factory in the world, and his association with steam power and the engineers James Watt and William Murdoch well documented.
At one time we lived in an old three storey Victorian house on the Hamstead Road, almost opposite to the 11th.Century St. Mary's Church and which contains the tombs of many of Handsworth's more illustrious inhabitants, including the trio of Boulton, Murdoch and Watt.
Prosperity continued throughout the Victorian age, and many wealthy Industrialist families built large houses for themselves and their Managers in the rapidly expanding suburbs, which included Handsworth Wood, and the Handsworth Wood Road, which was the continuation of Hamstead Road en route to the deep coal mines of Hamstead village.
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