The Winchurches – last victims of the Flood Street slum clearance
WHEN writing anything about the so-called ‘Flood Street area’ of Dudley, which is now a large car park, I can’t help thinking of it with a wistful sadness.
It was here that so much of my latter childhood daydreaming was played out, and it stirs up all kinds of emotions, about people I had known in that onceneighbourly edge of Dudley town centre. It was once a thriving community of hardworking people who in the 1950s and early 1960s had their contented lives changed forever, with Dudley Council’s purge of the area, and this story deals with one such case of those traumatic, compulsory slum evictions.
It was a sad day for Harriet and James Winchurch. This somewhat nonchalant photograph shows a middle-aged lady shopkeeper standing on her well-worn doorstep. This was a threshold which I crossed many times, living with my grandparents Susan and Harry Woodall at number 49 Oakeywell Street, between 1943 and 1953.
The lady in the photograph was Harriet Winchurch, and she, along with her husband James, had been proprietors of this little ‘Noah’s Ark’ general store at number 58 Flood Street for more than two decades. If my aging brain box is working well, James always wore a brown cow gown and a flat cap, and was always puffing away at a cigarette.
But sadly when this now iconic photograph was taken in June 1963, I can only surmise it was to capture the final nail in the coffin of this gallant couple’s efforts to save their livelihood from the council’s slum clearance scheme. The note with the photo stated that their shop was ‘the last remaining building’ in the redevelopment area, and was awaiting demolition under the order which from my own personal knowledge had been in force since the autumn of 1953.
How precarious their situation was can be seen by a glance to the right hand side of her shop doorway, which shows a bit of rubble and derelict land which once housed a very popular ale house named The Good Fellows Arms, and which was jokingly named ‘The Legs’. The last proprietor of that pub, if my reseach is correct, was listed in the early 1950s as a Mr M.S. Wesson, and from photographic evidence the pub was still intact up to 1958.
But whether it was open for trading purposes in another matter, and I would welcome any feedback on the subject.
My other thought after 55 years is what happened to Harriet and James after their eviction, which must have been, at a guess, within a few weeks of that June 1963 deadline?
I wonder, did her Black Country grit spur her on to open up another similar shop, well away from the threat of Dudley Council’s bulldozers? In my heart of hearts I hope she did, and I wait in hope for any answers to my question.
Harriet Winchurch in the doorway of her shop, the last remaining building in the redeveloped Flood Street area
Harriet’s little shop at number 58 Flood Street, nestled between the Good Fellows Arms at far left, and Horace Broom’s former bicycle and wireless accessories shop.also note the gentlemen’s urinal which was attached to the old Dresscott Clothing factory at right