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In Full . . .

Village’s ‘keeper of order’

Posted on March 21 2012 at 11:19:24

Bill Oakley

Barnt Green has lost a real village character with the death of Bill Oakley at the age of 81, writes Anna Horton.

He was to be seen regularly either patrolling Hewell Road in his trademark cycling jersey and baggy bottoms or in Tony’s Handyman (sorting through their bins). 

Born in 1931, Bill grew up in Hewell Road, attending Blue Coat School in Harborne and Kings Norton Grammar School for Boys. He served with the Royal Engineers during National Service and was a highly skilled tradesman who worked at machine tool manufacturer HW Wards in Selly Oak, later moving to Hydrovane, Redditch. 

Bill was also an incredible cyclist, who was a life-long member of the Beacon Roads Cycling Club. From the 1950s to the late 1970s Bill was an active member of the club winning many races and titles – almost all achieved on a bike made of 531 steel tubing with a single fixed gear. A machine far removed from today’s carbon fibre, multi-geared, super lightweights. 

A typical race day for Bill meant getting up around 4.30am, riding up to 20 miles to race HQ with a loaded saddle bag and also lightweight wheels fastened to the front of his bike for a 6am start.

After a race it was not unknown for him to ride to a pre-arranged meeting for lunch with that Sunday’s club run and spend the afternoon riding with them.

As a racer he reached his full potential fairly late and on reaching veteran status, Bill improved his times across the board, setting many Beacon Club veterans’ records with rides that would be admired even under today’s conditions, including: in 1971 – 57.05mins for 25 miles; and in 1972 – 22.54mins for 10 miles.

His record, set in 1975, for cycling 404 miles in 24hrs at an event in Catford, still stands. Bill was also a lover of flowers and the countryside, a keen angler and member of Barnt Green Fly Fishing Club, and he enjoyed growing vegetables, but he particularly enjoyed orchids and was a very active member of the Birmingham and Midland Orchid Society for many years. 

Bill was also an avid collector of war memorabilia, which he researched thoroughly and became a notable authority, going to great lengths to identify the men and their deeds behind the medals.

To many an outsider Bill would appear brisk and blunt – indeed he was, but he was also so very honest and loyal. He was more comfortable giving than receiving.

As Bill’s neighbour said: “Bill was the keeper of good order in the small turning cogs and wheels of the intricate mechanism of village life.”

In memory of Bill, the shopkeepers and villagers are planning a bench in the village. Anyone wishing to make a donation may do so in Tony’s Handyman, Barnt Green. 

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