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Days of parties and festive grottos.

Byline: Carl Chinn

RAY Timms' late father-in-law, Walter Cleaver, was the man who brought magic into the lives of tens of thousands of Brummie youngsters.

Walter was the man responsible for the wondrous Grotto at Lewis's where we found the one true Father Christmas.

Ray wrote: "Behind the scenes of the Grotto was months of preparation and work by Walter and his young assistant Roy.

"Their workshop was in a shed situated on the roof of Lewis's along with the Pet's Corner. The first of his Grottos was produced between April and December 1948 for which he received a payment of pounds 500. This had to include the wages for Roy and any materials that were needed. It was 'Lewis's Circus comes to Town'. In 1950 the theme was 'Billy and Barbara in Dreamland' for a fee of pounds 750.

"Walter was a designer and modeller and in his early working life he worked at the Austin and later BSA as a gun barrel straightener/ setter. He was working at Armoury Road when the factory was bombed in November 1940. He told his son Chris that the bomb went through the roof, through all of the floors to the basement where it exploded. This caused each of the floors to collapse bringing down the machinery and trapping or killing the workers below.

"He spent the rest of his war years working for the Royal Navy in Willenhall, servicing guns - 20mm cannon and .5 calibre machine guns.

"It was in the years immediately after World War II that he became self-employed, working on the Grottos and producing theatre props for the Alexandra Theatre. He also produced props for Astley's who were a costumiers and theatrical shop in Broad Street, just below Five Ways.

"My wife tells me of the hours they spent, evening after evening, producing false noses, her particular operation was attaching the shearing elastic.

"It was during this time that he produced the 'Mouse Town' at Dudley Zoo - another visit for the children at that time.

"In his later years he was a modeller for Radiation, producing preproduction model gas cookers. After work he spent many hours either in his workshop, among his tools or painting at his easel. He could turn his hand to anything, a true Brummie. He died in 1989.

"Little did I know that, when I visited the Grottos with my younger brother and sisters in the late 40s, the man who had produced the animated figures was to be my future father-in-law."

Photographs courtesy of Ray Timms I HAVE vague memories of Our Nan, Lil Perry (nee Wood), taking me and Our Kid, Darryl, when were little to a Christmas Party at her works.

I think it was at Benton and Stone's in Aston, where she worked for many years.

I haven't managed to find a photo, but can recall the din of excited youngsters packed along trestle tables that seemed to stretch the length of the room.

However, I did come across this photograph of a Christmas Party which we went to at the Sheldon Ivy Leaf Memorial and Royal British Legion Club on the Coventry Road in Sheldon. I am on the front left and Darryl is third from the left. We look as if we were about seven or eight.

We went to the party there because Our Aunt Win, Our Nan's sister, and her husband, Uncle Bert Martin, had joined the Ivy Leaf soon after it opened when they had moved to the Cranespark Estate in the early 1950s. Aunt Win was a wonderful aunt and had knitted us the jumpers we were wearing.

RICHARD Scott has sent in this his photo which, he writes, "was taken about 1950, possibly at the Conservative Club in Kingstanding, in the days when entertainment was put on for the children around Christmas time. Whilst you cannot see the entertainer, he was a magician. Clearly he was bemusing the children with his tricks. This is evident from the face of my wife, Carole Gorman.

She is on the extreme left as you look with her hand to her mouth. She was about six when this was taken."
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Dec 24, 2011
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