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Black Country Society visit to Provision House

A report by Dave galley

In 2006 I took over co ordaining the BCS walks from Doug Winterborn. We usually have at least five in the summer season, perhaps we missed a few with the covid but one way or another that must be around 80? The one thing I am not very good at is sending reports for the magazine and now the web site. Any road up perhaps this year I will give it a go. Is it OK to make New Year resolutions in May?

The 2023 season started last night (3rd May) with a visit to Provision House, a charity in Dudley which helps people who are given accommodation but have very little idea where to start furnishing and turning it into a home. Thanks to Ned Williams for this one. It was built as and remembered by some as the Dudley Co-operative Society Emporium. As most of us know Co-Ops is one of the subjects that Ned has researched and written books on. He contacted me suggesting that it could make an evening visit as part of the walks programme and he would throw in a short talk as well.

Well just the job for early May as part of the tour included a rooftop visit to admire the view.

Like all the walks there is no telling how many will turn up but this was a good turnout of between 30 and 40 members and visitors. The street level entrance is a charity shop where I was introduced to Mark and Nick our hosts, some members had already gone up the flight of stairs where the tour was starting and tucking into tea and biscuits. We split into two groups, our group made its way up the original staircase the shoppers would have used going from floor to floor now stripped of their fittings. In places where it was possible to see what went into the construction when and how the building was put up, vertical RSJs and beams. It was fitted out with air conditioning which was quite new at the time, I always thought Dudley was notorious for being cold.

Of course all these sort of stores had their lifts and this was no exception alas no longer working and very, very expensive to restore but a great story of the engineer who came to quote for it, when he saw it he was on his phone to his office describing what a gem of antiquity it was.

So out onto the roof and the view and not a bad night too, little bit hazy. St Thomas Church next door on one side and on the other Kates Hill and Dudley castle which reminded me of the talk we had on James whale who was born on Kate hill and finished up in Hollywood producing the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movies which included film clips of Frankenstein’s castle which was never had in the book but just happened to look like the view of Dudley castle James would have seen from Kates hill. On the roof is an art deco simple looking building a bit like a fancy bus shelter with no windows which can be seen from the road and inside is a tripod to support the pole that flew a flag.

We passed the other group as we went down and they were going up. We were taken to the floor where the main work of the charity takes place which is to supply and furnish empty properties for people who have been allocated accommodation. Apart from the furniture stored already to go there was also workshops for restoration and training opportunities for those seeking to learn the skills of furniture restoration? There was a volunteer working restoring a hundred and fifty year old table though I suspect he had come in especially because of our visit and very grateful for him to do this. It was like the Antiques Road Show meets The Repair Shop as we had Shane, another volunteer, walking round with us, he too was a carpenter by trade so between them it was quite informative.

Shane showed us some of the surplus woodwork he’d collected from alterations being done inside St. Thomas’s Church and the interesting anonymous pencilled writing on the back of panelling. An interesting piece about Noah Hingley standing in the 1874 general election.

Then it was back for more tea and biscuits and Ned’s talk on the Dudley Co – Operative society.

A good start to 2023. Walks Programme and a charity that hopefully we may be able to support in some way.

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