These are just some of the famous, talented and occasionally notorious people born in or associated with Wolverhampton, making ‘the town on the hill’ such a unique and memorable place. If you have any comments, or want to suggest other people who might be included, please contact Wolves Beat
John Abernethy - Eminent surgeon John Abernethy (1764-1831) gave his name to the Abernethy biscuit. He was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School before being apprenticed to Sir Charles Blicke at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he became an assistant-surgeon in 1787 and founded the medical school of St Bart’s. He was elected principal surgeon in 1815 after being appointed lecturer in anatomy to the Royal College of Surgeons. His Surgical Observations on the Constitutional Origin and Treatment of Local Diseases (1809) was one of the earliest popular works on medical science. As a lecturer John was very successful and persuasive. The celebrity he attained in his practice was due not only to his great professional skill but also partly to his eccentricity, often treating his patients brusquely to the point of rudeness. He believed that a variety of diseases originated in a disordered state of the digestive organs, and that treating underlying maldigestion and dyspepsia was essential to restoring health. He consequently invented and gave his name to a coarse-meal baked item called the Abernethy biscuit, intended to aid digestion, that he promoted from 1829 until his death. A collected edition of his works was published in 1830 an a biography by George Macilwain appeared in 1853. John is also mentioned in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Purloined Letter.
Jack Addenbrooke - John Henry ‘Jack’ Addenbrooke was a football player and manager who spent his whole career with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Born in Wolverhampton in 1865, Jack was one of the founding members of the club (as St. Lukes F.C.) in 1877 while working as a teacher at St. Luke’s School in Blakenhall. He moved to Saltley College in Birmingham, but in 1883 joined Wolves as a player, playing as a forward in the reserve side but never making a first team appearance. In 1885 he was appointed as Wolves’ first-ever paid secretary-manager, guiding the side to FA Cup wins in 1893 and 1908 and runners-up in 1889, 1896 and 1921. He was awarded a Football League long-service medal in 1909 and his 37-year term as manager of Wolves remains the longest in club history. After overseeing the last of his 859 League and FA Cup games, he left the club in June 1922 due to ill health and died in his sleep three months later, aged 57. His record is all the more remarkable because five years of his career were lost to the First World War. Without the missing campaigns of 1915-19 he would have managed team on over 1,050 match-days. As well as playing in the League and FA Cup, Wolves also won the Birmingham Senior Cup, the Lord Mayor Birmingham Charity Cup and Staffordshire Senior Cup under Jack’s leadership in a total of 1,124 games - a record that is unlikely ever to be broken. A rare Wolves shirt worn Thomas ‘Tancy’ Lea in the 1921 FA Cup final was bought by the club for £6,700 in 2015 and will be displayed in the Wolves Museum at Molineux. The gold and black striped jersey was worn by the players in the first half of the game against Tottenham Hotspur held at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea. In the second half, because the players were drenched from the pouring rain so they changed into dry shirts which did not have badges. The match was the fifth of Wolves’ eight FA Cup finals and they narrowly lost 1-0 with a team that included Noel George, Maurice Woodward, George Marshall, Val Gregory, Joe Hodnett, Alf Riley, Tancy Lea, Frank Burrill, George Edmonds, Arthur Potts and Sammy Brooks.
Aethelflaed - The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to Aethelflaed as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and was born at the height of the Viking invasions of England. She married Ethelred, Lord of the Mercians, and after his death in 911 she ascended the throne and ruled until to her own death in 918. After King Alfred’s death, Aethelflaed’s brother, Edward, ruled Wessex. Facing another Viking threat, in 910, he and his warrior sister won a great victory at a battle near Tettenhall, paving the way for the Saxon reconquest of the Midlands. The Battle of Tettenhall (sometimes called the Battle of Wednesfield or Wodnesfeld) took place near Tettenhall on 5 August 910 when the allied forces of Mercia and Wessex scored a great victory, inflicting heavy casualties on an army of Northumbrian Vikings. Many thousands of Vikings were killed in what was the last major army invasion sent by the Danes to ravage England, which would soon be united under one monarch. The battle figures prominently in the concluding chapter of Bernard Cornwell’s novel, The Pagan Lord. Aethelflaed continued to build a series of ‘burhs’, or fortresses, to protect the kingdom, creating strongholds at Wednesbury, Bridgnorth, Tamworth and Worcester. Little is known about the warrior Saxon princess who saved the Black Country from the Vikings but, within six years of her death, Aethelflaed’s nephew would become the first King of England and, in 985, her granddaughter, Wulfruna, founded Wolverhampton.
Dachiya Atkinson - Britain’s youngest break-dancing champion became a worldwide internet sensation after the six-year-old Wolverhampton schoolgirl’s Youtube video went viral, receiving an amazing 2.8 million views within five days of being uploaded to the internet. The video shows Dachiya - whose stage name is Terra - impressing the judges at the Pro Chelles international dancing competition in Paris with her breathtaking routine of break-dancing skills. Dachiya attended her first dance class at the age of 18 months at Newhampton Arts Centre run by the group Transit Trixand. She could do head stands aged two and won her first competition in Bath, Somerset, in 2012, going on to be crowned ‘Baby Battle Champion’ in St Brieuc, France, later that year where she was up against competitors twice her age. Terra is part of Soul Mavericks, a London B-Boy dance crew, and with her older sister Damita she plans to enter more competitions. In 2011 they attracted the attention of Wolverhampton’s Goldie when he filmed a documentary about his early life in the city and watched them perform. The girls’ mother Jennifer is a university student, who also works at New Cross Hospital, and their father Dean began training Dachiya and Damita at the family home in Fallings Park. Watch Video
Richard Attwood - Born in 1940 in Wolverhampton, Richard James David Attwood was the son of a successful motor trader He started racing in a Triumph TR3 in 1960 and in 1963 he switched to Formula Junior, achieving international prominence by winning the 1963 Monaco Formula Junior race in a Lola entered by the Midland Racing Partnership. In 1965 he drove for Reg Parnell Racing in a Formula 1 Lotus-BRM in several Grands Prix, finishing sixth in Italy and Mexico, and drove for Cooper-Maserati before joining the works BRM team in 1968, taking a morable second place and fastest lap at Monaco behind Graham Hill's winning Lotus. Richard returned to Monaco in 1969 to finish fourth for Lotus. The following year he won the Le Mans 24 Hours race driving a Porsche 917 and took second place in the Nürburgring race the same year. He owned the Porsche 917 which Steve McQueen used in the film Le Mans, on which Richard worked as a stunt driver and adviser. He had the car painted to represent his Le Mans-winner and later cashed-in his ‘pension’ by selling the Porsche for £1 million.
Thomas Attwood - Banker, economist, political campaigner and Member of Parliament Thomas Attwood (1783-1856) was a leading figure of the underconsumptionist Birmingham School of economists. As the founder of the Birmingham Political Union, he lead the campaign for the Great Reform Act of 1832. Born in Halesowen, Thomas attended Halesowen Grammar School before being moved to Wolverhampton Grammar School. He founded the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 as an organization to campaign for cities and large towns such as Birmingham to be directly represented in Parliament. This was foremost among groups lobbying the government for the passage of the Reform Bill to achieve their aim. After its success he became one of the first two MPs for Birmingham (along with Joshua Scholefield) in 1832 and held that position until 1839. Statues of him can be seen in Chamberlain Square and Highgate Park, Birmingham. Attwood Street in Halesowen was named after him and Birmingham City University’s ‘Attwood’ Building hosts courses on education and childcare.
Charles Aubin - Born in 1812, Charles Aubin was one of the country’s greatest locksmiths from the end of the Georgian period through to the mid-Victorian era. His early locks were made in Spicers building in Pountney Street, Wolverhampton, and he went on to become a major innovator whose influence can still be seen in products today. Talented. ingenious and supremely inventive, Charles maintained a high standard of workmanship and is famous for perfecting the technique of integral lever springs. His Aubin Trophy, constructed for The Great Exhibition of 1851, was nicknamed ‘the wedding cake’and stands three feet high. It has 44 different interwoven brass locks with corresponding keys which can be turned individually or simultaneously by the large key at its top. This wonderful creation brought Charles to the attention of many influential people, including pioneer American locksmith Charles Alfred Hobbs, who bought the Trophy for exhibition in his showroom, where it remained for 100 years. John Sutton Nettlefold and sons, who owned a successful wood screw business, provided the capital for Charles to build a lock factory at 25 Great Hampton Street, Wolverhampton, called the Guardian works, and installed him as their manager. He later moved to Liverpool, to work for the Milner Safe Company, where old locksmiths talked about the intricately detailed Aubin trophy and the inscription on it referring to Charles Aubin as ‘The Prince of Locksmiths’.
Babylon Zoo - Song-writer, musician, singer and record producer Jasbinder Singh ‘Jas’ Mann was born in 1971 in Dudley and later educated at Wolverhampton’s Pendeford High School, where he developed a passion for music. He formed his first band at the age of 15 with friend Adam Toussaint called The Glove Puppets. He joined The Sandkings, another local band with a strong following, in 1988 then left the because of creative differences to start his next project, the industrial/electro-pop rock band Babylon Zoo. In 1996 Levi’s used ‘Spaceman’, their first single, in a TV advert and it became the fastest-selling single in UK history, selling over 400,000 copies in one week. The record went to Number One in the UK charts (where it stayed for five weeks) as well as in 22 other countries and Jas pronounced himself a genius who would effortlessly rewrite the future of music. An album, The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes, recorded in his Wolverhampton studio, was followed three years later by the less successful King Kong Groover. In 2005, Jas announced that he would be issuing the new Babylon Zoo album, Cold Clockwork Doll.
Jono Bacon - Software developer and journalist Jonathan Edward James Bacon is a writer and software developer. He works at Canonical and helps lead the worldwide community of contributors who work on the Ubuntu family of distributions. Back in 1998, he built one of the UK’s first Linux websites, Linux UK. Since graduating from Wolverhampton University, he has become a prolific journalist and has written three books, including The Official Ubuntu Book. Jono has also been involved with helping charities and founded Wolverhampton Linux Users’ Group. He is the vocalist and rhythm guitarist in the ‘detuned chugging metal band’ Seraphidian, who record at Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton. In 2008, he started a new project called Severed Fifth that aims to produce music in his home studio and then distribute it in new ways. The first album, Denied By Reign, features heavy metal music and the second, Nightmares by Design, was released in 2010.
Ruth Badger - Businesswoman Ruth is best known as the 2006 runner-up in The Apprentice television programme. Determined and combative, she excelled in many tasks and thoroughly deserved to win but was clearly too much of challenge for Lord Sugar. Ruth was educated at Wodensfield Primary School in Wednesfield and at Our Lady & St Chad RC comprehensive school. She worked as a civil servant, barmaid and steward at Wolverhampton Wanderers FC before starting a career in the finance industry with GE Capital. Following The Apprentice, she presented her own Sky television show, Badger or Bust, which was also shown in Australia, America and New Zealand. She launched two new businesses and engaged in a string of public speaking appearances. Her firm Ruth Badger Consultancy is now based in Manchester but Ruth remains fiercely proud of her Wolverhampton roots. In 2014 she settled for substantial damages out of court after taking legal action against the owners of the News of the World after it was claimed that journalists hacked her phone and gathered information to use in a series of articles on her private life.
Chris Baines - Professor Chris Baines is a leading environmentalist as well as a gardener, naturalist, television presenter and author. He was one of the first people to become involved in the burgeoning urban wildlife movement and built the first ever wildlife garden at Chelsea Flower Show. His book, How to Make a Wildlife Garden, inspired many others to start gardening with wildlife in mind and his television series and book, The Wild Side of Town, won the UK Conservation Book Prize in 1987. Chris, who works from home in Wolverhampton, was presented in 2004 with the RSPB’s Medal of Honour for his contribution to nature conservation.
Peter Baker - Golfer Peter Baker was born in 1967 in Shifnal and currently lives near Wolverhampton. He learned golf at his father’s nine hole Himley Hall course and was taught by Sandy Lyle’s father, Alex. Peter won the Brabazon Trophy in 1985 and represented Great Britain & Ireland in that year’s Walker Cup before turning professional the following year. He was a consistent performer on the European Tour during the 1980s and 90s, with three tournament wins and a highest Order of Merit finish of seventh in 1993. Peter won the Credit Suisse Challenge twice and was one of Ian Woosnam’s vice-captains at the 2006 Ryder Cup.
Jack Bannister - Born in 1930 in Wolverhampton, John David Bannister is the current Talksport radio cricket correspondent, and was for many years a BBC television cricket commentator. He had previously played professionally for Warwickshire as a fast-medium bowler, taking 1198 first-class wickets in a career that lasted from 1950 to 1969. He played 374 first-class matches for Warwickshire, taking his astounding 1198 wickets at an average of just 21.91. He took five wickets in an innings on 53 different occasions and against the Combined Services cricket team for Warwickshire, he took all ten wickets in an innings for 41 runs - the best ever bowling figures in an innings for the county. During the 1995 England test match series in South Africa, Jack promised he would eat a piece of cardboard if South Africa won, which he eventually did. Following his cricket career, whilst working as a bookmaker in Wolverhampton, he was instrumental in setting up the Professional Cricketers’ Association and its pension scheme. When Jack died aged 85 in 2016, England captain Alastair Cook and his team paid their respects during the test match against South Africa.
Albert Bantock - Born in 1862 and educated at Tettenhall College, Albert Baldwin Bantock entered his father’s coal and iron trade firm of Thomas Bantock & Co after leaving school, becoming a partner in the business, which passed to him on his father’s death. Albert married Kate Jones, the daughter of a local politician and industrialist, was a councillor, a magistrate and a county magistrate for Staffordshire (as well as the High Sheriff of the county), a keen gardener, director of Tettenhall College and life governor of Wolverhampton General Hospital, Eye Infirmary and Women’s Hospital. He was the only mayor to return to office for three consecutive elections. His father, who co-founded Tettenhall College, had also been Wolverhampton’s mayor and served on the council for thirty-three years. Albert’s many contributions to civic life were rewarded with the Freedom of the Borough and when he died in 1938 he asked in his will that after his wife’s death, their home Merridale House (now known as Bantock House) and its grounds be given to the town. Composer Sir Granville Bantock, a friend of Sir Edward Elgar, was related to the Bantock family and often visited Bantock House. In 1905, Sir Granville succeeded Sir Henry Wood as conductor of the Wolverhampton Choral Society.
Frances Barber - The Wolverhampton-born actress has worked in many award-winning productions for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company and was nominated for a 1997 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as Goneril in Uncle Vanya. Frances has also worked extensively in BBC, Granada and ITV drama, appearing in programmes such as Mike Leigh’s Home Sweet Home, Inspector Morse, Hustle and Love in a Cold Climate. She starred in the Pet Shop Boys musical Closer to Heaven and was guest singer for the song Friendly Fire on their live concert at the Mermaid Theatre. Alongside her close friend Ian McKellen she appeared in the Old Vic’s pantomime production of Aladdin and again starred with him in King Lear and Chekhov’s The Seagull, which they performed in repertory at the New London Theatre on Drury Lane. Frances attended Bangor University, where she dated director and fellow alumnus Danny Boyle, and in 2006 she received an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Wolverhampton. Watch Video
Dora Barcroft - The daughter of W H Barcroft, former headmaster of St Luke’s School, Blakenhall, Emma Dorothea Barcroft was educated at the private Oxford Lodge School in Pennfields. After completing her education she remained at the school as part of the Staff, and later continued working in education with private pupils, teaching piano, voice projection, singing and theory. In the 1920s she travelled abroad, visiting Europe and Africa, where she stayed for two years in Kenya. In 1923 the BBC broadcast her composition, Africa Suite, and soon afterwards she joined the BBC in Birmingham to work as Organiser of Women’s and Children’s programmes for BBC Midlands. Responsible for an hour and a half of radio entertainment six days a week, Dora directed Woman’s Hour (actually thirty minutes long) for three years and from 1924 to 1935 she was ‘Auntie Dorothy’ on children’s radio. She also composed the signature tune, Arsinoe. In 1935 Dora left the BBC and opened a music studio in Queen Street, Wolverhampton, to give lessons in music and voice training. She also continued to compose music, including Liebeslied (Love Song), Songs of Elfin Town, Over the Garden Wall, O Fairest Rose and Yvonne. In 1957 she moved the studio to her home in Paget Road and died a year later, aged 72, with her funeral held at St Luke’s Church.
Steve Barnett - Born on February 19, 1952, in Wolverhampton, music executive Steve Barnett began his career as an agent in London in 1970, working for the Bron Agency and then for NEMS Enterprises, formed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. He became president of Epic Records and then Columbia, overseeing the release of albums such as Bob Dylan’s Modern Times and Together Through Life. In 2012 he became Chairman & CEO of the Capitol Music Group, the world’s fifth biggest label. One of Capitol’s top artists, Katy Perry, said of him, ‘It’s nice to have a head in there who knows what they’re doing... .He’s an incredible boss.’ Even though he lives five thousand miles away in Los Angeles, the former Codsall High pupil remains an ardent Wolves fan and continues to follow his team, listening to them through the radio and online. Steve returns to Wolverhampton to catch a game whenever he can and is proud to walk down Rodeo Drive in LA wearing his old gold and black shirt.
Joseph Barney - The eminent Wolverhampton-born artist and engraver Joseph Barney (1753-1832) was a son of Joseph Barney Snr., a local japanner. Joseph Jnr. became a partner of the Barney & Ryton, japanners, and started his artistic career painting flowers which were a popular decoration for japanned ware. He moved to London from around 1774, as in which year he received from the Royal Society of Arts a Silver Palette for a drawing of flowers. He studied with Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi and was much influenced by the work of Angelica Kauffmann. During his lifetime Joseph exhibited more than hundred artworks at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, their subjects ranging from fruit and flower pieces to religious, historic, literature and genre paintings, and a Gold Palette was awarded to him in 1781 for his historical drawings. He returned to Wolverhampton in about 1779 and married Jane Whiston Chambers at St John’s chapel, Wolverhampton. To support a large growing family, he started to collaborate with Matthew Boulton and his Soho manufactory, producing so-called mechanical paintings. His duties were to touch and finish in paint images of original figurative paintings which were mechanically reproduced on paper or canvas. Joseph’s mechanical paintings were bought by, among others, Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood. In 1784, Joseph paintied his second altar piece, ‘The Apparition of Our Lord to St Thomas’ for St Peter & St Paul’s Roman Catholic church. Between 1786 and 1793, he worked in London and took the post of the Second Drawing Master for Figures at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he remained until 1820 and became a Fruit and Flower Painter to Queen Victoria. Two of his early altar pieces, ‘The Deposition from the Cross’ and ‘The Apparition of Our Lord to St Thomas’, survive in Wolverhampton at St John’s Church and at St Peter & St Paul’s Roman Catholic church. Greatly respected by his contemporaries, Joseph Barney was described by Stebbing Shaw in his History of Staffordshire as a ‘native genius of Wolverhampton’. His fine pen and ink drawing of ‘A Blind Musician’ is in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery collection.
Stuart Baxter - Born in Wolverhampton and brought up in Scotland, Stuart Baxter played football with Preston North End, Dundee United and Stockport County. He is currently manager of Finland national football team.
Edwin Butler Bayliss - Born in Wolverhampton in 1874, Edwin Butler Bayliss was a prolific artist famous for his realistic and unsentimental paintings of industrial scenes in the Black Country, particularly the area around Bilston and Tipton close to the Hickman furnaces. One of eight children, he was the eldest son of local ironmaster Samuel Bayliss and spent his childhood in Finchfield and Tettenhall, where his family owned a large house in Wood Road, The Woodhouse. He joined his father’s manufacturing firm, Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss, but at twenty-seven he left to pursue his artistic ambitions. He painted works inspired by scenes from both his father's iron foundry and the steel works of Sir Alfred Hickman, who was a friend of his father. Edwin was originally self-taught, sketching in charcoal, pastel and water colour and painting mainly in oil. He was a prolific painter and His works have both local and national importance as they document the Black Country at the height of Britain’s industrial growth and his landscapes show how industry had a permanent impact on the local environment. A large amount of his work is held by Wolverhampton Art Gallery where a major exhibition of his work in 2013 illustrate his importance as one of the few 19th century painters of the industrial landscape. He depicts the Black Country as a smoke-filled and dangerous place to live and work, often showing figures silhouetted against a dull, grey sky and ravaged landscapes with blast furnaces and chimneys in the background. In contrast to these industrial scenes are his light and colourful seascapes of the Welsh coastline, featuring members of his family relaxing and playing on the shore. In the late 1930s Edwin and his family moved to a house in Woodthorne Road where they stayed until the early 1940s when the house was requisitioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. He later moved to The Beeches in Regis Road. The ‘Poet Painter of the Black Country’ lived most of his life in Tettenhall and died in 1950. An extensive exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 2013 included pictures of the Welsh coastline as well as industrial scenes and showed why his work is so celebrated.
Sir William Maddock Bayliss - Born in Butcroft, Wednesbury, this pioneering physiologist worked with Ernest H Starling and co -discovered hormones. The Bayliss Effect is named after him and he was awarded their Royal Society’s Medal as well as their Copley Medal and was knighted for his contribution to medicine in 1922. The Bayliss and Starling Society was founded in 1979 as a forum for scientists with research interests in central and autonomic peptide function. Sir William and Lady Bayliss took a great interest in the social issues of the time, including labour conditions of the workers in Cable Street, Wolverhampton.
Ann Beach - Born in 1938 in Wolverhampton, actress Ann Beach is a natural singer and was first heard on radio with the BBC Welsh Orchestra. She later joined RADA, then went on tour with Frankie Howerd in Hotel Paradiso. After joining Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East she created the parts of Rosie in Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and Miss Gilchrist in The Hostage. She also created the role of Barbara in Billy Liar and won bit parts in many sitcoms, including Steptoe And Son, The Rag Trade and most notably as Julia McKenzie and Anton Rodgers’ quirky next-door neighbour Sonia Barratt in Fresh Fields. She often appeared in children’s shows Rainbow and Jackanory and narrated the Fred Bassett cartoons for the BBC. She has been in numerous television series, including Rising Damp and Foyle’s War, and was a memorable Polly Garter in Richard Burton’s 1972 film version of Under Milk Wood. Ann married Canadian Francis Coleman and is the mother of actress daughters Lisa Coleman and Charlotte Coleman, who starred in Four Weddings And A Funeral and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and died aged only 33 from an asthma attack.
James Beattie - Starting with just £300, James Beattie opened the Victoria Draper Supply Store on Wolverhampton’s Victoria Street in 1877. The shop also provided a home for Beattie’s two assistants. The store prospered and by the end of the 19th century it was turning over more than £30,000 a year in sales, with a payroll of forty employees. A fire in 1896 destroyed the business but instead of re-building the former premises, James Beattie relocated on the opposite side of Victoria Street street. This larger store proved even more successful. The range of merchandise expanded and Beattie’s evolved into a department store which by 1914 had come to be the shopping focus for the middle classes of the west of the west Midlands and inhabitants in the adjacent rural area. Most of the present Beattie’s building dates from 1929. James Beattie remained in control until his death in 1934, when the next generation of Beatties joined the company in the form of the founder’s grandson. Despite becoming a public company in 1954, the family maintained control and James became chairman and managing director in 1961, marking the start of a period of growth as branches were opened in Birkenhead, Solihull, Dudley, Sutton Coldfield, Telford and Northampton. Beatties staff were not employees but ‘members’and management aimed to run the company ‘by consent, mutual respect and a sense of belonging’. The retirement of James in 1987 set the stage for a new period of growth for the company as it renovated its flagship Wolverhampton store at a cost of more than £3 million. New stores opened in Burton-Upon-Trent, Worcester, Aylesbury, Huddersfield and Birmingham. At the same time, the Wolverhampton site was extended to increase its presence on Victoria Street. In 2005, when it had 12 stores, the company was taken over by House of Fraser. The Birmingham branch closed and some in the group have been rebranded as House of Fraser, though the Wolverhampton store retains the name of James Beattie. Wolverhampton City Archives has a huge number of fascinating documents and photographs relating to Beatties from the 1870s to the 21st century.
Nigel Bennett - An accomplished theatre actor, Nigel Bennett appeared on the British stage for fifteen years before moving to Canada in 1986. He starred as the powerful and seductive Lucien LaCroix in the television series Forever Knight and his films include Narrow Margin and Legends of the Fall. Nigel has also co-written three fantasy novels.
Liz Berry - The acclaimed young poet Liz Berry was born and grew up in Sedgley and now lives in Birmingham. She inherited her love of literature from her mother, who worked in Wolverhampton libraries, and feels that the charms of her regional accent have either been mocked or ignored. ‘I wanted to reclaim the Black Country dialect as something beautiful to be treasured ... it is such a beautiful dialect, full of charm and surprise and wonder, but much maligned.’ Although there are many narrative or humorous poems which use regional terms to tell stories or relate a piece of local history, Liz wanted to use it in lyric poetry. Her outstanding debut collection of poems, Black Country, published by Chatto & Windus in 2014, was described in the Guardian as ‘writing of warmth, maturity and intermittent eroticism’. Her poems are written in dialect and come complete with translations for words unfamiliar to non locals, such as cut (canal), donny (hand) and yowm (you are). Black Country is a Poetry Book Society recommendation and an Observer Poetry Book of the Month, and was awarded the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. ‘Wench, yowm the colour of ower town: concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.’ Watch video
Gwen Berryman - Most famous for playing the character Doris Archer in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers from 1951 to 1980, Gwen Berryman was born in Wolverhampton in 1906. The only actress ever to play the part, Gwen was sometimes thought to suffer from an identity crisis between herself and the character, though she said, ‘In the studio and on the air I feel, act and think exactly like Mrs Archer, but once outside the BBC I’m Gwen Berryman and as unlike Doris as it’s possible to be.’ Television appearances included This Is Your Life and she wrote two books: Doris Archer’s Farm Cookery Book and Life and Death of Doris Archer. Gwen died in 1983 (three years after Doris) and a blue plaque commemorates her life at the house where she lived at 123 Goldthorn Hill.
Jane Besemeres - Born in 1827, Jane Besemeres was a successful writer of children’s books and poetry. Her experiences as governess of a deaf boy (Rupert Arthur Dent) inspired her to write books entitled Picture Teaching for Young and Old and Hints for Teaching the Deaf and Dumb and to found the Church Mission to the Deaf and Dumb in South Staffordshire and Shropshire in 1886. Based in Bath Street, Wolverhampton, this provided spiritual instruction and visits to the sick at home, and encouraged pre-school training for children. In 1901, Jane also founded a Home for Deaf and Dumb Girls at 80 Compton Road, Wolverhampton. She remained a friend of the Dents after she left her post as governess and was a visitor with them at the time of the 1871 census. Jane died in 1905, aged 78, and is buried in Wolverhampton cemetery. The Dent family were represented at her funeral and donated £5 to a memorial fund.
Bob Bibby - Born in Scotland, Bob Bibby came to live in Wolverhampton in 1946 and was educated at St Luke’s Primary School and Wolverhampton Grammar School. As well as being an English teacher and educational consultant he has written the Tallyforth Mystery series of crime novels - Be a Falling Leaf, Bird on the Wing, and The Liquidator. The latter is set in Wolverhampton and opens with a football match between Wolves and West Bromwich, before the plot thickens. Bob’s travel books include the irreverent and amusing Grey Paes and Bacon, based on a fifty-mile walk around Black Country canals.
Ben Bilboe - Born into an Ironbridge family that travelled the fairs, Ben Bilboe settled in Bilston and became a leader of the Unemployed Workers Movement of the 1930s. He objected to the payment of poverty wages that were well below the trade union rates. These workings became known as ‘Poverty Bonk’. In 1933 he gave an inflammatory speech outside the police station in Mount Pleasant and was arrested, spending polling day in the police cells, from where he was duly elected to the New Town ward. Bilboe proved a militant councillor urging better housing and social services as well as championing the cause of rural workers. During the war Ben joined the forces, but was invalided out to become the Civil Defence Officer at Bridgnorth. After the war he returned to Bilston where he became mayor in 1947 and an alderman of both Bilston UDC and Staffordshire County Council. He remained totally committed to the poor and considered his Council work a full-time job and scraped a subsistence where he could. In 1951 he died suddenly at the age of 49 and his funeral was well attended, such was the respect he had achieved in the town. Bilboe Road in Bradley was named after the firebrand socialist and Black Country scholar Peter Higginson has claimed that the character of Bilbo Baggins in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit may have been based on the author’s observation of Mayor Ben Bilboe. Tolkien may have based the grim region of Mordor on the heavily industrialised Black Country area. In the Elvish Sindarin language, Mor-Dor means Dark (or Black) Land, and is sometimes referred to within the novel as ‘The Black Country’.
Paul Birch - Brought up in Croydon in the 1960s, Paul John Birch studied at Wolverhampton (where he completed his MBA) business school after working as a plugger for artists such as The Eurythmics, Steel Pulse, ELO, Barry Manilow and Genesis. In 1979 he founded Revolver Records and the label signed artists including The Stone Roses, The Scorpions, UK Subs, UFO, Diamond Head and Jane’s Addiction, releasing 4,500 albums such as Sister Sledge’s ‘Greatest Hits’ and Magnum’s ‘On a Storyteller Night’. The label has employed 500 staff during its existence, operated offices in Hannover, Germany, recording studios in Wolverhampton (1991-2001) and a press office in Notting Hill. Paul chaired The British Record Industry’s Education & Training Committee & International Committee 1990-2007. He created the British Record Industries export strategy to increase the UK share of world markets and served on the Phonographic Performance Ltd main board. He was then elected to both the main board of IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industries) and its European Executive Committee, becoming World Independent Representative before retiring in 2007. Outside his career, Paul has been a justice of the peace in the West Midlands since 1999, chairing the region’s victim and witness support unit. Secretary of FAIRTRADE Birmingham and a former governor of Wolverhampton Grammar School until 2007, he has lectured on international business strategy at many UK universities, including Wolverhampton. Revolver Co-operative was created in 2010 and is organised as an Industrial & Provident society with 50 members. Based in Wolverhampton, it runs in tandem with Revolver Records, which continues to operate as a limited company. The society is a ‘multi-stakeholder’ co-operative and supplies Fairtrade only certified commodities such as ground coffee under its Revolver World brand, into around 350 branches of The Co-operative Food. In 2015 it started exporting into Estonia and Poland. Some 25% of profits are reinvested into the producers’ communities to improve the lives of women and children through better health and education, and in the UK the co-operative works with charities including Action Aid. Paul, who lives in Wolverhampton with his wife and three children, is a practising Christian and the product range also includes Christian Aid merchandise. In 2015, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at a ceremony at The Grand Theatre from Wolverhampton University in recognition for his contribution to the record industry.
Edward Bird - Like Joseph Barney, Edward Bird (1772–1819) was an English genre painter born in Wolverhampton. The son of a poor carpenter, he was born at Cat Yard, Berry Street, and was educated at the free grammar school in Wolverhampton. He received no formal artistic training but developed his skills through an apprenticeship in 1785 at the japanning company, Rytons, at their Old Hall works. He began his career painting flowers on tea trays but his outstanding talent as an artist meant he was soon sought after by rival firms. By 1794 he was sufficiently established to move to Bristol to work as an independent artist and set up a drawing school. He pursued a career in portraiture, book illustrations, landscapes and church painting, becoming part of an informal group of artists known as the Bristol School. He always tried to depict human character or to illustrate moral or general truths. In 1809, he exhibited a genre portrait at the Royal Academy of an old soldier, Good News, and his popularity grew when the Prince Regent bought his painting, The Country Choristers, and commissioned Blind Man’s Buff. He created an impressive set of pictures showing the progress of the Bourbon restoration to the French throne after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 and his works also include the Field of Chevy Chase and the Day after the Battle, which is considered his masterpiece. Edward was appointed historical painter to Princess Charlotte, elder daughter of George III, in 1813 and two years later was elected a full member Royal Academy (the first, and so far only, Wolverhampton-born artist to achieve this honour). Plagued by ill-health and unable to paint in the last year of his life, he died in 1819 and was buried in Bristol Cathedral after more than 300 people followed his coffin through the streets. Edward Bird was loved and admired by artists and patrons alike and was one of the most financially successful artists of his time. Wolverhampton Art Gallery owns 19 of his oil paintings, making this one of the finest collections of his work.
Joan Blackham - Born in Wolverhampton in 1946, Joan Blackham is a prolific character actress and supply teacher, including special needs. She studied at the New College of Speech and Drama in London and was recognised early in her career as a comic talent, featuring in many sitcom series, notably as Podge Hodge in To The Manor Born, John Thaw’s home help Fiona in Home to Roost and Jemma Redgrave’s mother in Cry Wolf. Kenneth Williams chose her to play Fay in his production of Loot at the Lyric Hammersmith which then transferred to the West End. Other theatre credits include the original West End cast of Calendar Girls, King Lear (for the RSC) and Jane Eyre (for Shared Experience). TV appearances also include Midsomer Murders, Judge John Deed and Inspector Morse. Films include Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Plenty, The Sweeney and The Knot. Joan recently finished shooting in Kiev for the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in Battle for Sevastopol. She was a board member of Women in Film and Television UK and co-produces script-reading sessions for its Writers Group.
Sue Blane - Susan Margaret ‘Sue’ Blane was born in Wolverhampton in 1949 and studied costume design at Wolverhampton College of Art as well as at the Central School of Art and Design in London. In 1971 she met Tim Curry at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, where they were both involved in a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids. In 1973 she designed the costumes for The Rocky Horror Show and would go on to design other Rocky Horror productions, including the 1975 Broadway version and the film. She also created the costume designs for the sequel, Shock Treatment. Since the Rocky Horror Picture Show was released, fans have been recreating the designs as part of the cult audience participation. A common sudience ‘callback’ at Rocky Horror showings plays off the similarity of the name ‘Blane’ to the word ‘blame’, so when a character in the film says someone is to blame, audiences shout, ‘No, Sue’s to Blane!’ Sue also designed the costumes for Jonathan Miller’s The Mikado at the English National Opera and other opera credits include David McVicar’s Carmen for Glyndebourne, Keith Warner’s Lohengrin for the Bayreuth Festival, Lulu at the New National Theatre, Tokyo, Disney’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Berlin): Love for Three Oranges (Opera North/ENO); Three Musketeers (Young Vic); Capriccio (Staatsoper, Berlin); Guys and Dolls (RNT); Into the Woods (Old Vic / West End); Porgy and Bess (Glyndebourne) and La Fanciula del West, with Plácido Domingo (La Scala, Milan). Her many production design credits include The Relapse, voted Best Design by What’s On readers, (RNT), The Nutcracker and Alice in Wonderland for the English National Ballet; Midsummer Night’s Dream (Royal Dramaten Theatre, Stockholm and RSC; Cabaret (Donmar Warehouse); Sylvia (Birmingham Royal Ballet); King John, The Learned Ladies, and Antony and Cleopatra all for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Barber of Seville (Scottish Opera); The Duenna and Thieving Magpie (Opera North); Christmas Eve (ENO) and Lee Miller (Minerva Chichester). Her designs also feature in a new ballet for English National Ballet based on Oscar Wilde’s novella of The Canterville Ghost. She was nominated for a 1997 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for her design of English National Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland and a BAFTA nomination for Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract. Her current designs can be seen in Dance of the Vampires in Vienna, directed by Roman Polanski. Sue has been one of the Europe's leading theatre and film costume and set for over 40 years and received an MBE in 2006.
Royston Blythe - One of the UK’s most in-demand hairdressers from clients, celebrities and the media alike, Royston Blythe made a name for himself with his creations for fashion shows, wedding hair, education and stage work. He established his Wolverhampton salon in 1989 and his partner Nick Malenko makes up the other half of the renowned Royston Blythe brand. Together they have led the salon to international acclaim and their work has been seen on the London catwalks alongside top designer Christian Lacroix, at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, and on a host of stars of film and television, ranging from pop singer Katy Perry and model Abbey Clancy to actors Mickey Rourke and Antonio Banderas. One of the company’s stylists is personal hairdresser to the Queen. Nick and Royston have won many awards, including - with Sophie Beattie - Midlands Hairdressers of the year at the 2016 British Hairdressing Awards.
Ranjit Singh Boparan - Billionaire ‘chicken king’ Ranjit Singh Boparan left school at 16 with few qualifications and began working in a Bilston butcher’s shop at the age of 11. He started the 2 Sisters group in West Bromwich in 1993 and since then the business has grown phenomenally to become the country’s second largest food production company, acquiring the Harry Ramsden fish and chip shop chain and Northern Foods, which makes Marks & Spencer ready meals. The privately-owned business turns over £3bn a year supplying poultry and red meat to clients such as Asda, Morrisons, KFC, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, British Airways and Harrods. It has factories in Scunthorpe, Smethwick, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, employing 24,000 people. Ranjit and his wife Baljinder, who also have property interests, have a fortune of £1.3 billion and top the list of the richest Asians in the West Midlands. Ranjit never gives interviews but is described as a very hands-on owner-manager in the traditional Asian style.
Thomas Bratt - Known as The Portobello Poet, Thomas Bratt was born in 1852. His father was from Ettingshall and worked as an engineer and Thomas went on to become a prolific writer of verse, often inspired by local scenes and important events of the day. He married Lucy Maria and lived at the Gough Arms, 20 High Street, Portobello, before moving to a greengrocer’s shop at 84 High Street. Lucy Maria died in 1927, inspiring Thomas’s poem ‘In loving memory of my dearly beloved wife’ and her husband died two years later, after which his son Horace continued running the family shop. Thomas’s works include The Battle of Tettenhall, The Twenty Trees, and The Willenhall Fire Brigade. As well as recording major world events and happenings in his native Willenhall, Thomas wrote about royalty, local football teams (The Wanderers Song - English Cup Final 1893) and more than 90 sonnets about the natural world, including verses about insects, birds, sea creatures and prehistoric mammals. Much of this prolific Black Country bard’s work was thought to have been lost but his great grand daughter, Alice Bratt, has discovered over 17 volumes of handwritten poems that have been handed down within the family, as well as many letters of thanks sent to him by grateful recipients of his work, including royalty and heads of state.
James Brindley - Born in Derbyshire in 1716, James Brindley lived much of his life in Staffordshire and became one of the most important engineers of the 18th century, often referred to as the ‘father of English canals’. He was the overall supervisor of the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal linking the East coast via the River Trent with the West coast via the River Severn. The first earth was dug in the first week in September 1766 in Wolverhampton at Compton lock - the highest level of the canal - and the actual construction of the canal was given to Brindley’s pupil, Thomas Dadford. In 1767 a number of prominent Birmingham businessmen, including Matthew Boulton and others from the Lunar Society, considered building a canal from Birmingham to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal near Wolverhampton, taking in the coalfields of the Black Country. James Brindley was commissioned and proposed a largely level route via Smethwick, Oldbury, Tipton, Bilston and Wolverhampton to Aldersley. The first phase of building was between Wednesbury and Birmingham and in 1770 work started towards Wolverhampton. On 21 September 1772 the canal was joined with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Aldersley Junction via 20 locks (increased later to 21 to save water). For the first time, coal and iron from the Black Country could be exported in bulk throughout the country and to the world, creating the industrial revolution. James Brindley died a few days later and was buried at St James Church in Newchapel, Staffordshire. Soon afterwards, the Shropshire Union Canal was linked to the Staffs & Worcs at Autherley Junction, half a mile from Aldersley, creating an important waterways crossroads. The canals were dug by hard-living navigators (‘navvies’) using only picks, shovels and wheelbarrows to create these remarkable engineering feats. A good worker could shift 20 tonnes of earth a day and was paid well.
Peter Broadbent - Inside-forward Peter Broadbent was one of the classiest footballers ever to play for Wolverhampton Wanderers, rated alongside Bert Williams and Billy Wright. Dover-born Peter was a master of the body swerve and many fans regard him as the greatest ever to wear the club’s colours. He joined as a 17-year-old and within a month was in the first team. During his Wolves career (1951-1965) Peter scored 145 goals in 497 appearances and was a part of the all-conquering team that won the First Division title in 1954, 1958 and 1959, and the FA Cup in 1960. He was the scorer of Wolves’ first ever goal in European competition in the European Cup in 1958, and played seven times for England. His superb ball control and skills left opposition defenders baffled and at a loss and he was considered the best inside-forward in the country. Unfortunately, his England appearances were restricted by a policy of not selecting too many players from a single club (Wolves already had Billy Wright, Ron Flowers, Bill Slater and Denis Wilshaw). In his autobiography, George Best said he was a Wolves fan and that Peter Broadbent was the player he most admired. After leaving Wolves, Peter went on to play for Shrewsbury Town, Aston Villa, Stockport County and Bromsgrove Rovers. He successfully ran a greengrocers shop in Halesowen, lived in retirement in Codsall and died aged 80 in 2013.
Thomas Bromwich I’Anson Bromwich - Mathematician Thomas John I’Anson Bromwich was born at Queen’s Square in Wolverhampton, in 1875. His father John was a woollen draper from Bridgnorth. Thomas’s parents emigrated to South Africa, where in 1892 he graduated from high school. He attended St John’s College, Cambridge, where in 1895 he became Senior Wrangler and was a lecturer . From 1902 to 1907, he was a professor of mathematics at Queen’s College, Galway and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1907, he returned to Cambridge and again became a Fellow and lecturer at St. John’s. He was a vice president of the Royal Society in 1919 and 1920. Thomas worked in both algebra and analysis and G. H. Hardy called him ‘The best pure mathematician among the applied mathematicians at Cambridge, and the best applied mathematician among the pure mathematicians’. He is best known today for justifying Oliver Heaviside’s operator calculus, part of which involved using a contour integral to do an inverse Laplace transform. This particular contour integral is now often called the Bromwich integral. Other topics he investigated include solutions of the Maxwell’s equations, and the scattering of electromagnetic plane waves by spheres. He also investigated, and wrote a book on, the theory of quadratic forms. He died in Northampton in 1929, by suicide.
Norman Brook, Baron Normanbrook - Educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, Norman Craven Brook was Secretary to Cabinet (1947-62), Joint Permanent Secretary to the Treasury (1956-62) and chairman of the BBC in 1964. As Sir Norman Brook, he advised John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, to end his affair with Christine Keeler.
Me’sha Bryan - Singer, actress and vocal coach Me’sha Bryan was born and grew up in the Deansfield area of in Wolverhampton, where her parents still live. She attended the Grammar School from 1994 to 2001 and while still a 15 year old student there she beat more than 3,600 young people to earn a place in the National Youth Theatre’s production of ‘Creation’. Me’sha has been singing professionally since the age of 16 and her studio career began as a resident session vocalist at London’s Stanley House Studios where she recorded demo tracks for Kylie Minogue, Victoria Beckham, S Club 7/Juniors, The Appletons, Gareth Gates and Jennifer Ellison. She is also a voice over artist having provided voices for various radio ads, Nivea TV advertisements and children’s story books. As well as studio work, Me’sha has performed live all over the world touring with artists including Bryan Ferry, Beverley Knight, Russell Watson, Donovan, Heaven 17, Roxy Music, Groove Armada, La Roux, Chicane, Lisa Miskovsky, Roy Wood and The Counterfeit Stones. She performed at Live 8 in 2005 and at Wembley’s Concert For Diana, as well as on many TV shows such as Later with Jools Holland, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, BBC 6 Music sessions, Manu Katché’s ‘One Shot Not’ for French TV, Die Ultimative Chart Show in Germany. She also has vast experience in musical theatre and has performed in many touring and West End shows including The Little Shop of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz, Ragtime, The Lion King, the Paradise Lost studio cast recording, and two shows for Sir Trevor Nunn; Gone with the Wind and Porgy & Bess. An accomplished songwriter, she has been a vocal coach on The Voice UK and has performed several times on BBC radio. Me’sha featured on Channel 4’s ‘Location, Location, Location’ (she and partner Darren now live in Coseley) and has supported Bryan Ferry on his ‘Dylanesque’ world tour as well as Sandi Thom at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton. Her excellent debut album, ‘Maybe Today’, can be purchased via her website and Amazon. ‘Wonderful voice.’ - Debbie Harry.
Steve Bull - Stephen George Bull MBE was born on Tipton’s Moat Farm estate in 1965, attending Wednesbury Oak Primary School and Willingsworth High School, where he excelled in the football team. After playing for Tipton Town and West Bromwich Albion, Steve joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1986, playing for the same club until his retirement 13 years later and breaking no less than four Wolves goalscoring records. ‘Bully’ became the all-time leading scorer with 306 goals in competitive games (250 of them in the Football League, also a club record) and became their highest scorer in a single season when he reached 52 goals in competitive games during the 1987–88 season. He also scored a club record of 18 hat-tricks, making 464 league appearances for the club and 561 appearances in total. He was also capped 13 times for England, scoring five goals. Steve stayed loyal to his club, despite interest from the likes of Coventry City and Newcastle United, and retired as a Wolves player in 1999. Known to his fans as ‘Bully’, Steve’s rapport with supporters and passion for the game are legendary Also called the ‘Tipton Skin’ for his trademark closely cropped haircut, he received an MBE for services to Association Football. One of the main stands at Molineux is now named after him, he was one of the first inductees into the Molineux Hall of Fame, and he was given the Freedom of the City honour in 2018. Like many Wolves players from around the country, Steve and his family chose to stay in Wolverhampton when he retired - a tribute to the town and its inhabitants. As an adopted Wulfrunian he has put a great deal back into the city via the Steve Bull Foundation.
Charles Howard-Bury - Soldier, explorer, accomplished naturalist, brilliant writer and Conservative politician, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury DSO, DL, JP was born at Charleville Castle, Ireland, in 1881. He joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1904 and was posted to India, where he went travelling and big game-hunting. In 1905 he secretly entered Tibet without permission and his travel diaries show his keen powers of observation, encyclopaedic knowledge of natural history, and linguistic ability (he was fluent in 27 languages). He served with distinction as a frontline officer in the First World War and in 1921 he was the leader of the Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, when he found many footprints at high altitude and later pronounced that the tracks ‘were probably caused by a large ‘loping’ grey wolf’. His sherpas said that they were the tracks of a ‘metch kangmi’ (meaning ‘filthy snowman’), which was mistranslated as ‘abominable snowman’. Charles Howard Bury was awarded the 1922 Founder’s Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his leadership of the expedition and that same year he was elected to parliament as Conservative for Bilston. He lost his seat in 1924 but returned to the House of Commons in 1926, when he was elected for Chelmsford. Howard-Bury died in 1963, aged 82. He never married, and left his house at Belvedere to his friend Rex Beaumont.
Tommy Burton - Jazz musician, entertainer and raconteur Thomas William Burton was born in Hartshorne Street, Bilston, in 1935, and always remained a Midlander. He began taking piano lessons at the age of eight and later learned to play clarinet and alto saxophone. He made his professional debut aged 15 on the back of a truck at Bilston carnival with a local band, Pete Young and his Chitterling Twisters. He later joined Johnny Fenton and the Fentones as band pianist. While serving in the RAF in the 1950s, Tommy led several unit dance bands and made his first broadcast with Humphrey Lyttelton before forming his own group, Thunderfoot Burton’s Celestial Three. With the arrival of rock-and-roll, he started the Ravemen, featuring his own vocals and guitar, and played to packed houses around the Midlands. In the 1960s, he fronted the Tommy Burton Combo, playing tenor and soprano saxophones. At the end of the decade, he returned to jazz piano, with the Sporting House Quartet, taking on the mantle of his musical hero, Fats Waller. His mastery of the demanding Harlem-stride style was complemented by his ability to mimic the cheerfully arcane vocal style of his mentor. A consummate entertainer with a rich local accent, risqué sense of humour and thirst for the odd pint of bitter, Tommy played at jazz clubs and festivals, was a radio performer and did a long stint on BBC televisions’s Pebble Mill At One. He was a sell-out attraction for nine successive new year’s eve shows at London’s 100 Club and for six years in the 1970s he was the publican at the Lord Raglan in Wolverhampton. He regularly visited New Orleans, where he enjoyed the respect of many old-time musicians and often performed at Fritzel’s Jazz Pub on Bourbon Street. Tommy died aged 65 in 2000, after recovering sufficiently from a stroke to play piano in his last gigs at the Upton-on-Severn and Bude jazz festivals. Watch video
William Butler - Born around 1815 in Ettingshall, William Butler first traded as a beer retailer in Priestfield in a modest set-up with a shop run by his wife Hannah. William brewed beer at the rear of the premises and sold beers from a cart in and around Ettingshall. His brews became increasingly popular and by 1861 William Butler employed ten men. In 1871 he went into partnership with Thomas Russell and traded as William Butler and Company. As sales increased the company moved in 1873 to a marshy seven acre site bordering Grimstone Street at Springfield, which had an abundance of clean water from a natural spring, called the Cull Well, which fed Smestow Brook. The company built a new brewery with maltings, cooperage and stables and started production the following year. Helped by its location close to the canal and railway lines (a Great Western Railway siding was extended to the site), the brewery could trade outside the local area and production increased from 400 to 1,500 barrels a week. William Butler died in 1893 while on a visit to America for the benefit of his health, and bequeathed £10,000 for the benefit of the inhabitants of the borough. ‘Five thousand pounds are to be devoted to providing a branch public reading room, and the interest on the remainder is to provide music for the public parks. William’s sons had by then joined the company and the eldest, William Bailey Butler, took over the firm. W. B. Butler acquired a large number of small local breweries as well as the 42 public houses of the larger Bloxwich and Cannock Breweries, William Blencowe and Co, Eley’s of Stafford and Clarke’s of Wellington. The company continued to expand up until the late 1950s, becoming one of the largest brewers in the Midlands. However, they themselves were taken over in 1960 by Mitchell’s and Butler’s, who kept the Springfield Brewery open until brewing ceased around 1990. Plans to develop the site as a retail park with the old buildings retained as landmarks ended when a fire destroyed much of the site in 2006. After being empty for 24 years, Springfield Brewery was taken over by the city’s university to become the West Midland Construction University Technical College for 600 students. The School of Architecture and the Built Environment will be based in the former brewery itself. Half the late Victorian structure will be preserved with the other half replaced by a striking new building.
Frances Butt - The youngest of ten children, Frances grew up in Wolverhampton. All the family played instruments and fooled around singing while washing up. Frances wrote short classical and jazz pieces as a child, but never imagined it possible to write ‘for real’. In her teens she played keyboards and sang backing vocals with punk band Self Drive, borrowing keyboards from and jamming with reggae band Weapon of Peace. During a happy career in the film business she met and married producer/director Bill Butt and they settled in Bristol. Frances started writing music again: 10 years of TV soundtracks followed, mostly for wildlife films – one of which resulted in the jazz suite Calls Of The Wild. After writing her first song ‘Sometimes’ in 1999, she collaborated with Jimmy Galvin and the Pindrop Band before releasing her first album ‘I Wonder’ in 2005. ‘The Girl From Wolverhampton’ album was released in 2008.
Stephen Byers - In a controversial career, the former Labour Party MP and Cabinet Minister was involved with the Phoenix Consortium takeover that led to the collapse of MG Rover. His political adviser, Jo Moore, sent an email suggesting that the September 11, 2001 attacks made it ‘a very good day to get out anything we want to bury bad news’. In the MPs’ expenses scandal it was reported that he claimed more than £125,000 in second home allowances for a London flat where he lived rent-free. He was also caught out by Channel Four’s Dispatches programme describing himself as a ‘cab for hire’, offering to lobby his parliamentary contacts for a payment of up to £5,000 per day.
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