You will find many a brave tale or heroic deeds when looking back across time. Over the years, some are big enough to become legend, but most are lost to the annals of history. To this end, this series is an attempt to remember bravery recorded in the news in historic Wolverhampton. Our first tale is a brave young man who tried to save his friend from fire.
James Bridges was born in Wolverhampton to Elizabeth and Thomas Bridges, a working class couple who were born and bred Wulfrunians. Thomas grew up in Salop Street and Elizabeth lived a short distance away in Townwell Fold. After meeting, the pair married at St Mark’s Church in February 1911 and lived with Elizabeth’s parents.
Thomas worked as a builder’s labourer until 1914, when he enlisted in the armed forces for WW1. Just over a month later, he was deemed unfit for service. Thomas was 34 years of age at the time, and physically fit in most senses; he weighed 140 lbs and measured almost 5′ 5″, which modern doctors would suggest was a healthy BMI.
However, listed on Thomas’ discharge was “myopic astigmatism”, a condition which causes blurriness of vision. Additionally, it can cause both long and short-sightedness. Thomas’ vision could be corrected by glasses, but it was not until after WW1 that soldiers were permitted to wear them. During the Great War, gas was still an ever-present danger, and spectacles would have obstructed masks.
A Place called Brickkiln
By the time of Thomas’ unsuccessful attempt to serve his country, he and his family had moved to an area in the ward of St Mark’s known as Brickkiln Place. To find the place today you would need to stand roughly around the back of the Jubilee Christian Centre (JCC). In the shadow of the flats that tower above you is where this story unfolded. The only real clue as to the area’s previous configuration is Hallett Drive, named after old Hallett’s Row.
Side note: In that area you will find the blue plaque in memory of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Attached to the wall of the JCC, you will find the memorial to Catherine Eddowes. If you want to find the details of this then you can use our blue plaques page: https://wolverhamptonsociety.com/blue-plaque-locations/
In 1933, this was typical of much of the town at that time, with close terraced houses and courts. Most had large families crammed into small dwellings. The Bridges had three children by 1914, but it would not be until 1925 that James, the brave boy of our tale, was born.
Hallett’s Row Area
The main route out of Brickkiln Place would have been Hallett’s Row. As mentioned earlier, the road is now long gone, due to the construction of the inner ring road. The row would have stretched from School Street, across the car park to the area that is now occupied by Hallett Drive and the high rise flats opposite Sainsbury’s. In 1933, the road would have faced onto the back of the Scala cinema. If you’re a younger person, you might remember this place as “Screamer’s” nightclub/bar. The cinema façade remained for some time, but the area is now occupied by The Way youth centre.
The Night in Question
On the evening of 16th October, 1933, young Jimmy was playing with his friend, Joyce Poole. The Bridges lived at number 7, Brickkiln Place and the Poole family were close neighbours, residing at number 4. Joyce was younger than Jimmy, at just 4 years of age, and the two had been playing in the nearby Hallett’s Row.
The pair found themselves in an uninhabited house on this sparsely populated street and inside was a fire. It is not clear from the newspaper reports whether the children set it themselves. Young Joyce lit some paper, holding it up against her pinafore dress. The dress instantly caught alight, engulfing Joyce in flames. James turned round and “tried to put out the flames with [his] cap and shouted for men to come and help“.
Jimmy’s pleas were heard by Joseph Platt, who lived at Compton Street, just around the corner. He arrived at the house to find the room full of smoke and it was initially unclear what was happening. Through the smoke, Platt could make out someone trying to put out flames. He found a coat on the floor, threw it over the figure and wrapped it tight, carrying Joyce out into the street.
Joyce’s father, Harry Poole, also came to help, and both were burnt trying to help the young girl. Joyce was then taken by car to the Royal Hospital.
Tragically, young Joyce passed away from the incident. She is recorded as dying of shock due to her extensive injuries and passed away some time after midnight. The Coroner recorded it as “Accidental Death”. Both Platt and her father, Harry, gave testimony at the inquest, as did the brave young man.
James stood on a chair with one hand in his pocket, one on the Coroner’s desk, both hands bandaged and his lower right leg in plaster. The Coroner, Mr A C Skidmore, remarked, “You tried to put out the flames and I think you behaved splendidly. “
Jimmy can be found in the 1939 census, with his family now in the Parkfields/Rough Hills area. He is already working at 14, as “General Labourer, Spring Washer Works”. Jimmy remained in Wolverhampton before passing away in 1988.
- The Birmingham Gazette, Thursday 19th October, 1933
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