The deprivation of a post-war Birmingham suburb has been captured in a new book. Diane Parkes spoke to author Dot May Dunn.
When Dot May Dunn came to re-live her experiences as a health visitor in Aston in the 1950s she found the door hard to push open.
Her memories were vivid – but at times they were too painful to remember.
Still damaged by a war which had hit Birmingham hard, many families in the inner city were living in harsh conditions. Some faced the daily challenges of hunger, unemployment and disease, sometimes exacerbated by too much reliance on the bottle. Others had lost loved ones, and sometimes their sole providers, in the conflicts. And the results could be hard to take for a young idealist just out of medical school.
“It was a very tough and aggressive place to live,” Dot, who is now in her seventies, recalls. “That part of Aston had been left behind. It was only just after the war and people didn’t have anything. A lot of food was still rationed and there were people starving.
“Birmingham had been badly bombed and there wasn’t a lot of housing stock left so you would have people having to share houses. They would be living in one room in a big house. And there were the back-to-backs which backed onto factories.
“But the way people got through it was comradeship. They were proud people. There would be a lot of giving and taking and looking out for each other.”
A newly qualified health visitor, Dot was part of a team based at the Lancaster Street Child Health Clinic responsible for more than 1,000 families packed into a small area of streets in Aston.
Arriving in 1958, she worked with families around the Victoria Road, Park Lane, Clifton Road and Upper Thomas Street area – and admits there were challenges.
“I was always called Miss or The Welfare. We never used surnames, we kept our distance. You had to keep a distance. When you had 1,000 people in conditions that stressful you couldn’t afford to get that close to them, you would have disintegrated.
“There were times when you lost families. They moved or simply disappeared and you never found out what happened to them.”
Dot has used her time in Aston as the basis of a book Bread, Jam and a Borrowed Pram. Told in the first person, she has changed all of the names – including her own. In the book she appears as Dot Compton while she was actually Dot Walker when she lived in the city.