My mother had an uncle named Jonas Brown. He lived in a row of old houses known as Woodbine Terrace, which comprised one shop and nine houses; Jonas lived in the middle house. The 1911 census records the head of household was John Brown, widower; the others were children John, Alice, Hannah and Frederick, mother Rebecca (widow)(my great grandmother), and brothers Edwin and Jonas. Eight people occupied just four rooms.
This family seems to have met with considerable misfortune. Their father, Jonas (snr), had died in 1889 from a bronchial condition, another in my category of “miner’s disease”. From newspaper reports it is clear that they were short of money. John had suffered an eye injury, which kept him out of work, and Jonas had lost a leg in a mining incident.
In the days before the systems of welfare support introduced to the UK in the nineteen forties households with no one in work could soon find themselves in crushing poverty. The old age pension had been introduced in 1911, but help for people of working age came largely from charity. Local savings societies were set up as insurance to cover the cost of medical attention, or as limited insurance against unemployment. The Brown family was to require financial assistance from the townsfolk.
The Lichfield Mercury, 16 Feb 1912, reported: “A concert was given for the benefit of Mr John Brown of Woodbine Terrace, who has been unable to work for nearly two years owing to illness, was given in the Council Rooms … .” The same paper, 16 May 1913 reported: “Band Parade. — On Saturday afternoon the Brownhills Town Band (the official band of the 2nd North Midland Field Co. R. E.) paraded the principal streets … made collections for the benefit of Mr John Brown, jnr, of Woodbine Terrace, who has been incapacitated from work through illness for over three years … total £3 8s 9 1/2 d.
Applying inflation, from for example thisismoney.co.uk, suggests this would be worth £354.46 in today’s money. Today’s Express & Star, the Wolverhampton-based newspaper, reports that, according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the average annual income for the Walsall area, of which Brownhills is a district, in 2014 was £20,823; about £400 per week before tax. On that basis the collection raised about one week’s pay.
It was not all doom and gloom. The Lichfield Mercury again: ” A singing cointest took place on Saturday evening at the Brownhills Working Men’s Club … Mr Jonas Brown second”.
Lichfield Mercury 18 Dec 1925: “On Saturday last a collection was made at the Brownhills Working Men’s Social Club on behalf of a fellow worker named John Brown, of Woodbine Terrace, who has been unable to work for some time owing to an injury to his eye, when the sum raised was £3 5s 8d.”