Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.
Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again, Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.
One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’ humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.
Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?
If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?