Monday, 1 June 2009

I’ve been to Bilston today

Not immediately the sort of thing you’d choose for a particularly warm and sunny day off but the Dowager Mrs. Jelf wanted to go to the Market and – truth be told – I rather like the place.

It’s not for historical or aesthetic reasons, you understand. Yes, I’ve taken people on walking tours of the place but at first sight anyone visiting Bilston will surely think of it as a post-industrial town with an abundance of cheap shops and pierced and tattooed inhabitants. However, appearances can be deceptive.

Unlike its ludicrously over-hyped near-neighbour West Bromwich, it does not labour under the misapprehension that it is the shopping equivalent of Milan, Paris or even Oxford Street. It gets on with doing what it does.

Stan’s does the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted (not that we went there today).

It still has a lively market with real bargains and friendly stallholders.

And there are real, useful things on sale. Birmingham or Solihull might have more high fashions and trendy coffee bars but in Bilston you can still get a washing up bowl for 50p. It’s like Poundland on acid.

It has a sense of being an old-fashioned “real town”, with a focussed High Street, free parking, lots of bus (and tram) connections and – if you look carefully – some interesting old buildings.

Since 1966, Bilston has supposedly been part of Wolverhampton. It certainly doesn’t feel like it, for the very good reason that it is not. It is Bilston. The town’s old coat of arms carries the motto Fideltitate et Industria Stat Bilstonia, “By Faith and Industry, Bilston endures”. Long may it continue to do so.

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