Tributes to popular Black Country historian Terry, 81

Family tributes have been paid to Terry Price, one of the Black Country's foremost historians, who has died at the age of 81.

Terry Price at at Wesley Methodist Church , West Bromwich, for the launch of his final book, West Bromwich Reminiscence, in October 2019
Terry Price at at Wesley Methodist Church , West Bromwich, for the launch of his final book, West Bromwich Reminiscence, in October 2019

On a bitterly cold December morning in 1953, 15-year-old Terry Price boarded the 7 o'clock bus, where the smell of thick tobacco smoke took his breath away.

After a few hours cutting steel in a cold, draughty workshop, he had learned a major lesson in life – that the grown-up world of work was not quite what he had been expecting.

But that first day at work also taught him something else that he would appreciate in later life – that every one of those sights, sounds and smells would become important moments in the future history of his beloved Black Country.

Terry Price with some of his old photographs

Terry has died at the age of 81, after suffering a heart attack at his home in Lilac Avenue, Walsall.

His wife Beryl, who was with him when he died on Saturday, spoke of his love for the area's past.

"He was a good husband, who put his heart and soul into his history," she said, adding that he was a good friend of another well-known social historian, Professor Carl Chinn.

Terry Price, right, with his friend Professor Carl Chinn at the launch of one of his books

To say that Terry found his first job unfulfilling was something of an understatement, and he lasted a fortnight before landing a role at Burtons the Tailor, where his duties included brushing down suits. He quit after four days.

His next job, as an office clerk at a cardboard box works went a little better, but not much. He lasted a week.

Yet despite his youthful restlessness, Terry would enjoy a colourful career based around his two great passions – the technology behind televisions and radios, which was growing at breakneck speed in postwar Britain – and a fascination with the social history of his home town of West Bromwich.

A biography written by his niece, Emily Withers, told how it was not until he landed his sixth job in sixth months that the teenage Terry found his niche in life.

Terry Price at at Wesley Methodist Church , West Bromwich, for the launch of his final book, West Bromwich Reminiscence, in October 2019

After finding work as a trainee radio repairman, he eventually became divisional manager of the Visionhire group. But while the job was based in Gloucester, Terry couldn't tear himself away from his home town, and would instead commute each day.

As a young man, he was a keen motorcyclist, but a job at Dudley-based Clifford Radio allowed him to learn to drive in the company van.

As his work saw him beginning to travel more, his strong Black Country accent presented difficulties, forcing him to modify the way he spoke. At the same time, he took the opportunity to educate his new employees how to 'spake proper', explaining the difference between the Brummie and Black Country dialect.

After turning down the role of technical director at the company – it would have meant leaving West Bromwich – he instead took early retirement at the age of 50 to concentrate on his other great interest, the history of his home town.

Terry Price and then MP Tom Watson by the memorial to West Bromwich-born film star Madeleine Carrol

During his retirement, Terry campaigned for – and part paid for – a commemorative stone to 1930s and 40s film star Madeleine Carroll in West Bromwich town centre to mark the centenary of her birth in 2007. He also arranged for blue plaques – again part-funded by himself – to be installed at the two homes in the town where she lived with her parents.

In the mid 1970s he began collecting picture postcards of the Black Country and Birmingham, which he began showing to local groups in exchange for donations to his local Wesley Church. As these events became more popular, he created a series of slide shows, which in 2000 led to a contact from a publisher about producing his first of nine books depicting the history of Great Bridge and West Bromwich, raising thousands of pounds for charities.

The Walsall postal address of his family home on the Yew Tree estate was a constant source of irritation, as he considered it to be within the historic boundaries of West Bromwich.

“The Post Office doesn’t seem to go on the historic town boundaries,” he remarked in a 2006 interview.

Terry Price receiving his BEM at Birmingham Council House

Terry was born in 1938 in Great Bridge – which the Post Office now considers to be Tipton – and joined the West Bromwich Junior Civic Pride Association as a child in 1951.

Explaining his love of local history, Terry explained: “The appeal is the nostalgia of how places used to be, buildings and shops.

“Traditional town centres are disappearing fast, they are knocking down the old buildings, the little shops we all used to frequent.

“People remember buying ice cream as a child, or going to play in the local park. “We previously used to consult and talk to the shopkeeper, a lot of the shopkeepers’ children are in the school photographs because they went to school with the local population.

Terry receiving his BEM at Birmingham Council House

“The shopkeepers used to live on the premises, it’s all big concerns now.

“Nowadays, even if you do have a small shop in West Bromwich or Wolverhampton, the shopkeeper is probably living miles away."

Terry's funeral will be at Sandwell Valley crematorium on June 12, but only close friends and family will be allowed due to social distancing rules. Beryl said she hoped to hold a celebration of his life later in the year.

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