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Joan McTighe

Burglars, Curtains and Lions


Joan McTighe was born and bred in Bilston and she has spent most her life there.  She has given us three stories from her life.

The Beneficial Burglar

When Joan was a little girl at the Holy Trinity Catholic Infant Schools in Oxford Street, sometime towards the end of the 1920s, the school was broken into and the burglar stole £4 - 7s, which the children had collected for their Christmas treat.  This nasty deed was reported in the Express and Star, as a result of which 22 people sent small sums, either to the newspaper or to the school or to Father Sprague, to make good the loss.  These sums eventually mounted up to £8 - 11s, nearly twice what had been stolen.  Joan wrote a letter to the Express and Star:

Dear Mr. Editor
Last Friday when the burglar broke into our school and stole all our Christmas tree money, we were very sad indeed as we thought that Father Christmas would have to pass by our school.  But we must say a very big thank you to the kind gentleman who told all about the wicked burglar in the Express and Star and another big thank you to all the kind people who read it and sent our teachers money for the Christmas tree.  We are all quite happy again now and hope all those people will have as happy a time at Christmas as we shall have on Friday week.  
Yours grateful little friend, 
Joan McTighe.

This letter was duly published - with a note that the Express and Star reporter concerned had received an invitation to the children's party. There was also a photo of Joan but, unfortunately, it is too faded to reproduce. 

The Office Curtains

I was employed at Phoenix Glassworks in the 1940s, dealing with recording oven breakages. As a timid 16 year old I did my best to do my job without attracting undue attention.

The senior management at that time were Sir Lionel Smith-Gordon, Mr. Gemmell (who was American and sometimes arrived in uniform), Mr. Gardner and Mr. Wilson.

Our offices were very modern in design, with clear glass above panelling to allow in as much light as possible. One day, Mr. Wilson came into our office and spoke to Miss Jenkins and told her she could have the next day off. We were all very surprised to hear this until the reason was explained to us. He had several rolls of curtain material and lining, together with the measurements, and said she could have the day off to make up the curtains. Miss Jenkins said she was very sorry but she could not sew. The other staff members were approached, Miss Harbourne, Mrs. Bathurst and Miss Tate-Bradley. All of them regretfully declined saying they had never made up curtains. Then, looking round the office, Mr. Wilson espied me trying to keep my head down. "Right then, Miss McTighe, it looks as though it's up to you". I tried to protest but he said "Come along now, I'll drive you home with this cloth".

My mother was absolutely shocked when I told her what the situation was. She had never attempted anything like that before and felt unable to cut into this expensive blue/beige material. At this I became extremely worried, fearing that I might lose my job if I did not get the curtains made up. Mother suggested going to see a neighbour who had a machine and, thankfully, she undertook to sew the curtains. It took her, an experienced machinist, at least two days to complete the task and my Mother had to pay her into the bargain. I was then able to breathe a big sigh of relief and kept my job.

In fact, the curtains were still hanging at the windows when I eventually left Phoenix to go to work at the garage which Mr. Gardner had opened in Oxford Street - but that is another story.

The Circus Lions

Gardner's Garage in Oxford Street, Bilston had been set up by a Mr. Gardner, who had been a senior manager at Phoenix Glass. While Joan was working for him the circus came to town.  Joan does not remember whose circus it was but does well remember that Mr. Gardner allowed them to use the land at the back of his garage to house all the circus animals. 

Feeding a Lion CubThis is Joan at her desk in her office feeding a lion cub.Fedding LionAnd this is the lion tamer feeding a full sized version

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