Express & Star

When town's illuminations were cancelled because they attracted too many Black Country folk

Ask anyone south of Watford to describe a resident of our region and the straw poll will reveal age-old prejudices.

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1954 Illuminated Floral Arch

An inordinate number of individuals still have visions of Aynuk and Ayli characters. Men with cloth caps who keep racing pigeons and dine on faggots and grey paes. Men who quaff Bovril.

Our accent has long been lampooned.

Television has enforced the stereotype, with characters from our area often portrayed as dim-witted, often the brunt of jokes in sitcoms and TV ads.

In fairness, Brummies suffer the same negative PR.

Here, we are more enlightened and cosmopolitan. We know Cockneys don’t strut around in Pearly King and Queen outfits when their shifts as chimney sweeps are over.

John Plant and Alan Smith alias Aynuk and Ayli

We are used to the barbs and misconceptions because Black Country residents know how to laugh at themselves.

But one slight against this region went well beyond the pale. It remains a slap in the face fuelled by anti Black Country sentiment and snobbery.

This is the untold, near forgotten story of one of the greatest Midlands attractions axed because it drew too many visitors from Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall and the surrounding areas.

Today, such an action would be headline news on television, internet news sites and in newspapers. There would be vox pops, with the public asked would you want someone from the Black Country living next door?” MPs would have their say. Lenny Henry would speak out.

1954 Illuminated Floral Arch

Back in the 1950s, the decision to end the Leamington Spa Lights – a neon extravaganza staged at Jephson Gardens that attracted 500,000 visitors – on the grounds of pure prejudice caused barely a ripple. In fact, some whispered: “The residents have a point.”

Councillors ruled Black Country folk were not wanted in the Warwickshire royal spa town of Leamington. They were harming its profile.

In a council meeting where necklaces jangled in a show of frustration and men became increasingly hot under their winged collars, one member announced: “Jephson Gardens was born to be a great lady, not a good time girl.”

Fairy Castle 1955