Longwood Road


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The Longwood Road Story

My dad, WG ‘Pat’ Kirkup, bought the land at Longwood Road in about 1959.  At the time we lived in Littleton Street Walsall, over our photofinishing works, called Walsall Photofinishers – we developed the films for Boots and other chemists.

We bought the land at an auction at The George Hotel in Walsall, paying about ₤2,000 for it.  There was an old bungalow on the land – at the bottom of the drive and to the left, where we later built a fish pond.  There was a dirt drive leading down to the house, and another leading from the house to the bottom of the land.  There cannot have been main drains to the house, as we added those later.  We never intended to live in the bungalow, but to build a new house.

A couple of years later, my dad got compensation from the electricity board for the pylon – the electric wires swing out over the land when it’s windy, and they had to pay for that.  Not so much about losing the view.  I believe he got about ₤2,000, which he thought was a great deal.

He went to the Ideal Home exhibition in London about 1960, and came back with plans for the ‘American house’ and the ‘Canadian house’.   He worked on those for a while, and came up with a plan for a split-level house, drawn on graph paper.  He took that to an architect call Rendell, who lived on Mellish Road in Walsall, who refined the plan and did the necessary engineering specifications for the roof and deck.  Later there was some argument about his fee – he tried to charge us the full fee for designing the house, and my dad said he wasn’t having that, as the house was pretty much designed before the architect was retained.

Our first planning application with Walsall Town Council was turned down.  So my dad applied to London for that to be overruled.  He was a former photographer, but I never saw him take pictures.  But on this occasion he got a camera and tripod out, and took many black and white photographs.  We made sets of them in our D&P works for the planning application.  He must have been successful in the end, because later we started building.

We had what we called the ‘heavy gang’ to work on the house.  That consisted of me, often my sister Carol, Les Smith, my dad’s foreman from Walsall, who lived in Bloxwich Lane on the Beechdale, and Arthur Wickson, who also lived in Bloxwich Lane.  Also his friend Jack, and ‘Arty’, or Arthur Wickson Junior.  Arty later became famous as the owner of The Rock Garden restaurant in London’s Covent Garden, where Sting and others got their start. 

I spent every weekend and holiday in my teenage years working on the house, in all weathers – baking hot sun or freezing snow and rain.  I didn’t like it much of course.  Carol was also obliged to help with the work all the time she lived at home.

We started the house by getting a JCB to knock down the farm sheds, and rough out the two levels of the house, and the driveway curving round to the garage.  We had an optical level and measuring stick to measure and level the ground.  After marking out the foundations, or ‘footings’ as my dad called them, with string, we dug them by hand in the sandy soil.  It looked very good, and you could see the outline of the house – much bigger than we thought.

But that Saturday night it rained heavily, and when we went back to the site on Sunday morning, all of the footing trenches had collapsed and filled in!   So we had to dig them again, but twice as wide.  We had an old concrete mixer, probably bought for under ₤100, with a petrol engine.  With that we mixed all of the concrete for the footings, and later for all the drive.  We laid a concrete slab over all the lower floor, with cut-out concrete trenches for the forced-air heating ducts.  One runs diagonally under the playroom floor.


We hired a bricklayer called Len, and his mate.  They started with breeze blocks for the inside, and then York stone for the downstairs outside walls.  That was now beginning to look like a house!

We also hired a carpenter and his mate, once the huge beams for the balcony and the roof arrived.  After the deck was erected, someone dropped a big roofing tile onto the balcony railing, and made a big gash in the new wood.  The carpenter had to put a piece in – I am sure you can still see it today.

We kept the old bungalow for a while, as a ‘gang lunch room’, but then started to knock it down to reuse the old bricks.  All of the internal bricks used in the new house came from the old house.  Arty Wickson and Carol and I spent many weekends with ‘chippy’ hammers, chipping the old mortar off the bricks so they could be reused.  We kept the lunch room for a long time though – the rest of the house was demolished, so just that room remained.  Eventually we demolished that as well, and used the bricks for manholes, etc.

Tuke and Bell of Lichfield designed the sewer system, and we had to build a pump house at the bottom of the ground, so we made that a stables building as well, for my sister Carol’s horse.  She designed the stables, but never moved her horse in – ‘Bracken’ lived at the Walsall riding stables.  We dug the trenches for the drain pipes by hand – all the way diagonally across the lawn from the garage, to the pump house.   We had a JCB dig the big hole for the sewer pump, and then ready-mix concrete to build the thick base to the sump.  I don’t know why we didn’t use ready mix for the long driveway, but mixed every foot of concrete by hand.  Ready mix was probably much more expensive.

We had to build the drain line from the pump house to the main sewer, half way up the drive, before the drive concrete could be installed.  We built that trench by hand too, and the necessary manholes, with a JCB just to get the trench up the ‘big bank’.  The manhole halfway up the drive was completed and inspected, then we could break into the main sewer line.


We finished concreting the driveway – a long and arduous task.  Each twelve foot section was planked off, fore, aft and sides.  We filled it with concrete, then leveled the concrete with a ‘tamping plank’.  The wood between the sections was left in place, and you could still see it years later.

In addition to our old petrol-driven concrete mixer, we had the ‘Brott’.  This was a little gardening truck, petrol driven and started with a pull-handle, used to haul bricks, rubble and everything else. My dad called it ‘the bogey’.  I was in charge of the bogey – my first vehicle!


In the lounge we had ‘bamboo’ wallpaper, and built a hinged bar in the corner by the archway – my dad’s pride and joy, as he invented it.  It looked like a bookcase from the front, but then hinged open to reveal a bar.  On the back wall inside the bar was a hidden compartment, with bamboo wallpaper covering it, to hide things in.   There was a York stone fireplace covering the whole of one wall.  The nook on the right was built to house a huge brass vase – one of two that we had.  We sent them away to Walsall to get polished, and they were stolen, so we never got them back.


Things looked really good, and I hoped we were finished.  But then my dad decided he wanted a swimming pool.  On the 8mm movie, there he is, pick in hand, marking out the kidney shape.  We had a JCB dig most of the hole, then finished it by hand.   We built concrete walls to the pool, and then tiled the walls and floor.  That was difficult as the tiles were one inch square.  They came on foot-square sheets, but you had to grout the whole sheet.  We built the pump house, and to hide it, a wide York stone bench with a back.  The bench didn’t last very long – in my dad’s next building phase, we built a sauna and changing room in place of the stone bench.  We then decided that the pool was too cold, and built tall glass walls around it, with an overhanging top.  It was still open to the elements at the top.


Next we worked on the garden – lots of rock gardens at the bottom of the drive, with three fish pools, and another rock garden beside the pool.  The rocks came on a big truck from Sutton Coldfield and we hauled them into place by hand.   We laid a lawn in front of the house, and later extended that over what had been ‘rough ground’ almost to the bottom of the land.  That took a bit of mowing, and we had several lawn mowers, including a ride-on mower.  We had a gardener called Norman, from Clifton Campville, and a vegetable garden on the right side of the drive to the bottom of the garden.


At the bottom of the ground, in front of the pylon, for some reason we dug a big rubbish pit, and put our rubbish in there, including many loads of film backing paper from Walsall Photofinishers, our business.

My sister Carol got married from the house in December 1964, so I know the house was finished by then, though maybe not the many pool and garden additions.  I would have been 17 then, so my years 13 through 17 were pretty much spent on the house.

Longwood Road

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The old house, with farm sheds.
Putting in the footings for downstairs. Old concrete mixer on the right.
Concrete base now in. Note cut-out channel for central heating duct.
Starting on the upstairs, with some of the deck completed. That's me carrying bricks.
Scaffolding in place for the upstairs. York stone finished downstairs.
The pool pump house under construction.
Garden now in place, and ornamental ponds.
View from the rockery.
We installed the curved steps down to the pool - all dug out and concreted by hand.
Kitchen with Moffat oven and hob - very modern for the time.
Lots of stainless steel in the kitchen.
The guest bedroom, with fitted furniture.

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