IT’S long gone now, flattened in Worcester’s slum clearance either side of the Second World War, but there was a time when Merryvale was one of the most colourful areas of the city.

I suppose colourful is a kind way of putting it, because in reality it covered a very poor quarter with narrow thoroughfares and cramped, courtyard-style dwellings where families lived cheek by jowel with several sharing a single toilet. Merryvale and the adjacent Birdport and Dolday were largely swept away when Deansway arrived.

Twenty years ago Mike Grundy, who started this column and is Worcester’s godfather of local history, interviewed a chap called Gerry Wilkes, who had grown up in Powick Lane, which led off Merryvale east towards High Street via Bank Street.

His recollections of the area in the 1930s included some gems: "Day trippers came in charabancs to Worcester on Saturdays and Sundays and used the large parking area alongside Merryvale and in front of Hounds Lane School. We lads would tie empty baked bean tins to the bottom of our shoes or boots and dance for the charabanc trippers who would throw us ha'pennies or pennies for our trouble.

"Our parents would also send us with a pram to High Street, which was being widened at the time and where unwanted wooden blocks were piled up on the footpaths. These had been used for years to form roadside gutters and we would push some home for fire wood.

"There were regular visits with the pram to collect discarded bits of wood and old crates from outside the grocery store of Shuter & Flay in High Street. This timber was used to stoke up flames in the boiler of the outside communal wash-house where the women did their household laundry.”

Then there was the saga of the cow in the toilet. Gerry added: "Some Sundays, Smiths, the butchers in The Shambles, would drive cattle through Powick Lane, and there was one famous occasion when a cow ran up our entry and got its head stuck down the outside lavatory.

"My father and six others tried desperately to get it out, even tying a piece of rope round its neck, but it all proved in vain and in the end the entire toilet bench seat had to be taken up to free the cow's head."

At the heart of Merryvale stood Stricklands lodging house, which was notorious for its clientele of many strange characters. One of whom was at the centre of a great unsolved mystery.

He was a man who seemed to have two names. When he appeared before Worcester Quarter Sessions in 1889 on a charge of stealing £7 10s from a man in Stourbridge he called himelf David Robbins, but there was a strong suspicion by police his real name was David Evans, who a few years before had a left a box at Stricklands but never returned to claim it.

Police eventually opened the box to discover a considerable hoard, including gold and silver watches, gold chain pendants and bank passbooks with a total value of more than £1,000 – around £150,000 today. All of which was likely stolen.

When Robbins arrived in Worcester to face trial for the Stourbridge theft, he was recognised by the local chief constable, who knew him as Evans.

However Evans/Robbins maintained his denial and so he was sentenced to seven years penal servitude for stealing £7 10s while the valuables in the box remained unclaimed as the Great Merryvale Mystery.