In my first week in my new role at MPHT, I was shown the estate by both Chairman Simon Stirling and Hall Manager Barbara. What a pleasure it was to be shown all the lovely green spaces, conservation areas, the two halls, tennis, bowls, rifle and skittles clubs. All so memorable for many reasons, history, heritage, community people, place.
It all stood out as a little piece of paradise.
But the one place that stood out to me for very different reasons was hidden behind an old-aged sage green door, paint peeling, an old rusty lock, a little bit gnarly and a little bit creepy, half hidden behind an overgrown hedge adding to the intrigue of what could behind that door?
Little did I know the old green door summed up the history of the cellar under the shop perfectly.
We all know those well worn clichés about old dark cellars, so imagine the shock, surprise, intrigue and delight when the creaky door opened and revealed its peculiar secret!
All over the darkly gothic painted walls left peeling after years left to the throws of history, were faded images of skeletons, ghouls, ghosts, devilish figures, coffins, flames’ and scary creatures of the night!
It was clear that once-upon-a-time this room was well-loved in its own creepy way, well used and well worn.
Someone had dedicated a lot of time to decorating it and even if their taste in art is not your taste, there’s no denying, it’s intriguing.
This was the place where Moor Pool teenagers of the 1960’s started the Coffin Club!
Mike Frost an original member of the Coffin Club and a life-time resident says: ‘With little to occupy us at the weekends and rainy Sunday afternoons lasting what seemed like an eternity, John, the son of the owners of the shop and post office, Mr. and Mrs. Mellard asked if he could use the cellar for a weekly meeting place for him and his friends.’
The teenagers were ecstatic when the answer came as a resounding yes!
So John along with his friends Melvin Upright, who was a bit of a beatnik and Alan Duffield, also looking for somewhere to hang out started the Coffin Club.
‘It bred an air of excitement and intrigue, a space for the local kids to call their own. We were ecstatic about it,’ remembers Mike.
The Coffin Club is not half as sinister as the name might suggest as Norma Mason who has lived on the estate all her life was also a founding member of the Coffin Club aged 14. Norma and Mike grew up together on the estate, playing Sardines, hiding in the alleyways all over the estate and enjoying the green spaces, gifted to all children growing up there.
Norma says: ‘There wasn’t much to do for kids our age to do, especially when we reached our teens. We didn’t want to do the kid’s stuff anymore.
‘You see, life was the estate, throughout all the resident’s lives and all generations on the estate adapted accordingly to their interests – skittles, bowling green, tennis, ballroom dancing, the Moor Pool Players are all part of the colourful and lively history of Moor Pool.’
And the Coffin Club was a short but memorable part of Moor Pool’s make-up.
Norma says: ‘I was about 14 when I started going to the Coffin Club, an exclusive and unofficial club. It was exclusive because there were just a few of us and we loved, it was precious, it was our place.
‘We went to work painting the walls with some navy-blue paint somebody acquired. Melvin, then got to work painting the ceilings and walls with his unique designs as he was very artistic.
They were brilliant dark images of coffins, skeletons, ghouls, fire and horned creatures and of course the skeleton in the coffin, hence the name the Coffin Club!
We were rebellious, but not that rebellious, we just wanted free reign of the walls, the floor to express ourselves anyway we wanted to.
With a small bench, an old kettle, some glass mugs, and a jar of Nescafe and a bottle of milk that was always sour on each return visit to the Coffin Club Normal took on the role of milk maid, always replacing the milk so everyone could drink coffee and chat.
‘The collection of our records was mostly jazz, where the uber cool Moor Pool teenagers jived, chatted many afternoons and evenings, discussing local bands, the local dances, planning their weekends.’ Says Norma.
We spent winters there when the weather was rotten and there was nowhere to shelter. It must’ve been freezing, but we can’t remember the cold. As teenagers I don’t suppose we felt it and we were always too busy dancing to care.’
Before the Coffin Club Norma and her friends would spend hours on the back steps leading up to the hall listening to the loud and dramatic music of the Ballroom dancing classes that ran weekly in the main hall.
‘We would sit on a Saturday afternoon the steps up our chins resting on our hands mesmerized by the sequins, the moves, the colour and drama. Seeing the ballroom dancers in full costume, gliding around the in circles, faces looking up to the ceiling, smiling broadly and in total sync was mesmerizing.’ Says Norma.
The Dance Circle was run by professional teachers, an eccentric couple, he had a handlebar moustache, and an open topped sports car. His wife was blond, with full make up and dressed glamorously even if she went to buy tea bags.
They even had half a ballroom built on the back of their house – it was fascinating!’
The main hall was always there’s and the Coffin Club was always ours!
Most weekends we would work out which dance we would go to where, they ran every week, St Peter’s…..South Street Methodist Church….Grove Hall….
It wasn’t just dances, there were live bands too. One of them was formed by a local lad called Denny Laine and his band was called Denny and the Diplomats.
Denny Laine went on to join the band Wings with Paul and Linda McCartney and played with them for ten years.
Norma remembers seeing Paul McCartney driving in a Rolls Royce along Park Hill and up Gordon Road on his way to visit Denny’s mum’s house. ‘We’d wave at Paul McCartney and he’d wave back!’
Denny, was a founding member of the Moody Blues and was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Mike remembers,
There was Teddy Boy gangs around that time, but the Coffin Club kept it’s distance from the gangs. It wasn’t like the Jets and Sharks or Montague’s and Capulet’s, but the Quinton and Smethwick Mob and the Harborne gangs – way back when.
When fights and scuffles over the border at the corner of Prince’s Corner might break out now and again.
As boundaries could never be in the balance!
Norma says, ‘When I met my boyfriend from Smethwick, it was like telling people I was going to run off with the circus, there was shock intrigue and surprise.
His friends thought he was going out with a snob from Harborne.
I never took him to the Coffin Club, it was long gone by then and we had all moved on. I think sadly by the time I had learnt to drive and I got a car I was off looking for adventures elsewhere, loving the new found freedom I had.
When Mike went off to university, he said goodbye to the Coffin Club and like Norma never returned.
‘I came back as a different person and I didn’t think about the Coffin Club much after that.’
The Coffin Club’s reign lasted for about four years and Norma and Mike can’t remember exactly how many members came and went.
So last week was the first time both Norma and Mike had returned to the Coffin Club, it was a rare treat indeed, just to watch their jaws drop and look round studying every bit of the cellar. It was as if they had been beamed back straight to the Coffin Club – more than 60 -years before!
Norma says: ‘It’s like a time capsule, like opening up an old Egyptian tomb only to discover all those wonderful memories – not artefacts! The memories flooded back, it was like I was there all over again – what a joy it is to see it again.
Mike was speechless for a while, eyes wondering into every corner, scanning every aged detail, studying the paintings and the room itself. ‘The bench was there… the record player here…., we danced along this bit,’ he pointed smiling broadly.
It’s almost like I had travelled there too – it was lovely moment to watch Norma and Mike’s faces gazing upwards, downwards and sideways.
So, who would have thought we had our very own modern day time capsule hidden away at MPHT, with all the lovely stories to accompany it, all those memories for all those teenagers of the time. It’s almost a shame to leave it and lock the door again.
Who knows, one day maybe someone out there might restore it to its former glory – the cellar with a not so creepy story!
If you have any memories or experiences you would like to share about the Coffin Club, please email Justine at firstname.lastname@example.org – Thank you.