Solihull’s first Meals on Wheels

On 31st October 1961, the first delivery from Solihull’s Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) Meals on Wheels service was made to 78-year-old twins, Annie and Ethel Blizzard. The sisters had served Solihull as greengrocers from their shop in the High Street but the Solihull News of 4th November 1961 said it was now their turn to be the customers.

Annie and Ethel Blizzard were born on 30th August 1883 and baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 4th November 1883. Their parents were Arthur John Blizzard (a gardener) and Sarah (née Sparkes) who had married at St Alphege on 10th June 1878. Arthur was living at Catherine-de-Barnes whilst Sarah was living at Copt Heath.

Arthur and Sarah had six children – Florence (1879-1952); Thomas (1880-1944); twins Annie (1883-1968) and Ethel (1883-1971); Arthur (1887-1961) and Harold (1898-1980).

At the time of the 1891 census, the family was living in Mill Lane, Solihull, with Arthur still employed as a gardener. By 1898, he had set up his own business and moved with his family to Solihull High Street where he was recorded in 1901 as living with his wife, Sarah, and three of their children: 17-year-old Ethel, 13-year-old Arthur (an errand boy) and two-year-old Harold. Arthur (senior) was described as a retail fruiterer, greengrocer and florist.

17-year-old Annie was not living at the family home, but was nearby in Drury Lane and was working as a nurse /domestic servant for Geoffrey and Jessie Martineau at Touchwood Hall.

Eldest daughter, Florence, who had left home to work as a servant in Moseley, married London-based dentist, Alfred Miller, in 1909 and moved to London.

Eldest son, Tom, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a gardener. He married Martha Lizzie Brearley at Quinton in 1904 and the couple moved to Llanstephan, Camarthenshire.

By 1911, Arthur and his wife, Sarah, were still in Solihull High Street. They were both working in the family business, as was their daughter, Ethel. 12-year-old Harold was still at school. 27-year-old Annie Blizzard was living in Old Hill, Rowley Regis and working as a nurse for a solicitor.

The girls’ mother died in 1915 and their father died in 1924. The twins took over the family business, running the High Street shop. There was a garden at the rear of the shop and if a customer requested a twist of parsley, for example, it would be freshly picked for them.

The youngest of the children, Harold, married Rose Garbett in 1922 and became a grocer. He had a shop in Land Lane, Marston Green by 1939.

In 1958 the sisters moved into a bungalow in Broomfields Close, Solihull but, in February 1961, Miss Ethel (the younger of the twins by half an hour) became ill, leaving Miss Annie to to walk or take the bus to Solihull to buy food for the week.

The Meals-on-Wheels service was intended to deliver meals to the homes of older people in the Borough twice per week. It was delivered, with some financial support from Solihull Council, by the WVS (which became the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) in 1968 and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) in 2013).

The first “helping” – roast pork and apple tart – was delivered to the Misses Blizzard by the Mayoress of Solihull, Mrs Olga Wall (1901-1997), watched by Kathleen Orton (1900-1990). Mrs Orton was an officer of Solihull WVS and the wife of John Orton (1897-1963) who was Solihull’s Education Officer 1946-1963. Mrs Mell, wife of Town Clerk, Maurice Mell, was also apparently in attendance.

Following the inaugural delivery, workers from the WVS toured the district in five cars, distributing meals to 57 people at a cost to recipients of 1s per meal. In the boot of each car was a “hot lock” unit carrying twelve main courses and sweets.

A blended then-and-now image, showing the location of the Misses Blizzard’s fruit shop (now the Cancer Research Shop) on Solihull High Street

Prices to customers were increased in 1964 from 1s per meal to 1s 3d per meal, with Solihull Council continuing to subsidise the service.

In October 1966, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that 100 people were facing a 40 per cent increase in the cost of their hot meals on wheels, received two days per week for a cost of 1s 3d per meal. The cost to the catering company – West Riding Caterers – was 2s, with the 9d difference paid by Solihull Council but there were fears that an increased cost to the caterers of 2s 6d per person would result in the extra 6d being passed onto the customer.

If you have any further information about the Blizzard family, or Solihull’s meals on wheels service, please let us know.

Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies

tel: 0121 704 6977

Further reading

The Origins of Meals on Wheels – Matthew McMurray (Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection)

© Solihull Council, 2021.
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