A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 10, Munslow Hundred (Part), the Liberty and Borough of Wenlock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Willey was a small parish on the edge of the east Shropshire coalfield, 4 km. east of Much Wenlock and south-west of Broseley which it adjoined. (fn. 1) At various times coal and ironstone were mined and iron was smelted and worked on streams bordering the parish, but the industrial activity was not on a scale that altered the parish's essentially rural character. In the mid 19th century Willey was said to be a 'simple, prosperous village, almost feudal in its customs', (fn. 2) and in the 1980s Willey remained closely dependent on the WeldForesters, lords of the manor for over 350 years. From the Middle Ages the lords' parks, one medieval (the 'old park'), another 17th-century, and a third 19th-century, occupied a significant portion of the parish.
The parish was bounded on the west and south partly by Linley brook; (fn. 3) in 1620 the brook's western length was apparently known as Atherwell brook, (fn. 4) after the spring of that name, and in 1684 its southern part was called Smithy brook. (fn. 5) Willey was bounded on the east largely by Dean brook. (fn. 6) The northern part of the parish, occupied by the 13th century and until the 18th century by a park, (fn. 7) had no natural boundary; tributaries of Dean brook, the northernmost known as Hay brook, (fn. 8) cross it.
In the earlier 19th century the parish covered 1,397 a. (fn. 9) (566 ha.) and extended c. 4 km. from north to south and c. 2 km. from west to east. The highest ground, over 600 ft. (183 m.), is on the northern parish boundary and in the centre of the parish north of Willey Hall. The land falls to the streams on the south, west, and east, the lowest land, under 300 ft. (91 m.), lying near the site of Lower Smithies hamlet. (fn. 10) ern boundary of Willey old park, (fn. 11) where extensive outcrops of the Lower Coal Measures are overlain by spreads of sand, gravel, and boulder clay. Between the two faults shales and sandstone occur, shale also appearing south of the Willey fault. (fn. 12)
The highway from Bold to Willey was mentioned in 1316. (fn. 13) In 1618 the principal roads across Willey were those from Broseley via Barrow to Much Wenlock, which bisected Willey park, and from Broseley to Bridgnorth via the Dean and Linleygreen. (fn. 14) By c. 1680 the lord of the manor had closed the old Wenlock road (fn. 15) and made Cotbrook Lane the main Broseley–Barrow–Wenlock road; in 1618 that road, bounding the park, had been the bridle way to Swinney wharf on the Severn. (fn. 16) Its status was disputed in 1728. (fn. 17) In 1756 the road from Hangstree Gate, through Willey, to Bold, was turnpiked as part of a new route from Wenlock to Bridgnorth. By 1808 the road from Hangstree Gate to Broseley along Cotbrook Lane had been superseded by a new road on the north, turnpiked by 1827. The turnpike road ran partly on the line of the early 17th-century road from Broseley to Barrow and Wenlock and passed by the recently blown out Willey furnaces along a causeway across New Furnace pool. (fn. 18) The Round House, a crenellated brick tollhouse on that road, just inside Broseley parish, was perhaps built in the late 18th century as an estate lodge. (fn. 19) Soon after, when a new park was made, several roads were closed as highways and some of them abandoned: Cotbrook Lane, the road from Willey to Hangstree Gate, the road connecting this latter road to Cotbrook Lane, and the road running south from just west of Willey church. (fn. 20) The road leading south to the new mill in 1618 had probably gone long before 1838. (fn. 21)
Although no woodland was recorded in 1086, (fn. 22) later evidence suggests a well wooded, only partly cleared, estate. By 1300 the main elements of the later medieval landscape were present. The northern part of the manor was occupied by a park, while Rudge (or Ridge) wood covered much of the south-east. (fn. 23) Open fields occupied the centre, west side, and south end of the parish. Within them or on their edges were the small settlements of Willey, with the Hall and church in the centre of the manor, the Dean and Bold on freehold estates along the eastern and south-eastern boundaries, and Horsley east of Willey. (fn. 24) Other hamlets straddled the boundary, Hangstree Gate on the west, (fn. 25) Darley and perhaps Linleygreen on the east. (fn. 26)
The Black Death greatly reduced the hamlet of Willey (fn. 27) and possibly led to the desertion of Horsley and the incorporation of its open fields into others. (fn. 28) In the mid 15th century there were apparently hamlets at Willey, Bold, and the Dean, (fn. 29) but by 1618, (fn. 30) when Willey had about eight dwellings and the Dean four, there was only a chief house and mill at Bold. Darley, Linleygreen, and Hangstree Gate each had some houses in Willey in 1618, and new hamlets had appeared, perhaps in the 16th century, on Linley brook: Upper or Over Smithies, with about a dozen houses, stood at the south-west corner of the parish, with Willey furnace immediately north of it, and most of the houses there were on Shirlett common (in Barrow); Lower, Nether, or Willow Smithies, with about five houses, stood c. 1 km. east. Inhabitants of the Smithies hamlets presumably included coalminers and iron workers. (fn. 31) There were also a few isolated dwellings by 1618. (fn. 32)
Settlements at the Smithies declined after 1618. In 1805 several lettable houses remained there, (fn. 33) but by 1838 little trace of earlier settlement at the Smithies survived in Willey, although there were houses scattered over the adjoining part of Astley Abbots parish. (fn. 34) Hangstree Gate was cleared c. 1818 when the new Willey Hall and its park were constructed. (fn. 35) In 1838 (fn. 36) there was no settlement in the parish of more than about three houses and by the earlier 1980s only isolated houses and farms.
There were 2 villani and 2 bordars in 1086. (fn. 37) In 1327 the lady of the manor and 8 other householders paid to the subsidy. (fn. 38) After the sharp decline of the mid 14th century (fn. 39) the population had recovered by the mid 16th, when 18 men were mustered in 1542, and increased in the later 16th; the 1642 Protestation was taken by all 47 adult male parishioners (besides the curate and two churchwardens). (fn. 40) In 1676 the adult population was 90. (fn. 41) The parish had 163 inhabitants in 1801 and the number fluctuated little between then and 1951 when there were 136. (fn. 42)
George Forester (d. 1811) and his whipper-in from c. 1776, Tom Moody (d. 1796), made Willey famous in hunting circles. A pack was kept at kennels west of the Hall and at others at Kennel Bank (in Barrow) until Forester's death. (fn. 43)
Morris men danced locally in the mid 18th century. (fn. 44) No public house has been identified in Willey hamlet; in the later 18th and early 19th century there were alehouses at Hangstree Gate (fn. 45) and the Smithies. (fn. 46) In the 1930s the Foresters allowed the public to skate on Willey pools. (fn. 47) Willey and district village hall opened in 1948. (fn. 48)
MANOR AND OTHER ESTATES.
Hunning (Hunnit) held Willey in 1066 and 1086. By the latter date he held it of Turold of Verley, who in turn held it of Roger of Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury. (fn. 49) The earl's chief lordship was presumably forfeited by his son Earl Robert in 1102. (fn. 50) Turold's mesne lordship, like ten other of his estates, passed from his heirs to the fee held by the Chetwynd family under the FitzAlans' barony of Oswestry. (fn. 51) The FitzAlans' chief lordship and the Chetwynds' mesne lordship were last recorded in 1256, (fn. 52) and already in 1255 Willey was said to be held of the prior of Wenlock. (fn. 53) In 1338 Robert of Harley acknowledged that he held Willey by the service inter alia of carrying the prior's frock in Parliament, (fn. 54) a serjeanty that must have been invented when the prior was first summoned. (fn. 55)
Warner was perhaps lord c. 1115 and, if so, had probably been succeeded by 1120 by Hugh of Willey. (fn. 56) In 1180 Warner of Willey was lord. A leading figure in county government and undersheriff 1198–1200, Warner had been succeeded by his son Nicholas by 1231; Nicholas, similarly prominent in county government, was undersheriff in 1241 and dead by 1255. (fn. 57) He was succeeded by his son Andrew, a minor. Andrew died at the battle of Evesham in 1265; his estate was forfeited, and only in 1276 (fn. 58) was seisin delivered to William of Stapleton, whose son Philip had married Andrew's infant daughter and heir Burga. By 1283, however, Burga had married Richard of Harley (d. 1316), and thenceforward until 1618 Willey descended with Harley (fn. 59) (of which, with Willey, Joan of Harley was evidently still lady in 1410); (fn. 60) Willey, however, did not belong to the lord's son and heir 1462–75. (fn. 61)
In 1618 Sir Francis Lacon sold almost the whole manor or estate of Willey (fn. 62) to John Weld. (fn. 63) Willey formed the centre of a group of estates bought by Weld (kt. 1642, d. 1666), a rich town clerk of London. (fn. 64) His son John Weld the younger (kt. 1642, d. 1681), who like his father had to compound for his estates, (fn. 65) was succeeded by his son George (d. 1701) and George by his son, another George. The younger George (d. 1748) left the manor and estate to trustees for George Forester, son of his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Brooke Forester of Dothill; Elizabeth (d. 1753) was to have the profits during her lifetime. In 1774 George Forester (d. 1811) inherited Little Wenlock, and Willey descended thereafter with it and from 1821 with the Forester peerage. (fn. 66) G. C. B. Weld-Forester, Baron Forester, owned Willey in the early 1980s. (fn. 67)
In the Middle Ages the manor house probably occupied the same site as it did in 1618, just east of the church. (fn. 68) To it may have belonged a gatehouse that was in disrepair in 1438. (fn. 69) In 1618 the Hall, on a site terraced into the hillside, had three ranges around a courtyard open to the north. The central range was entered from the south by a two storeyed porch rising the full height of the building. Before the south side of the house was a walled court with a small construction, perhaps a conduit, at its centre and an early 16th-century octagonal brick building, probably a dovecot, on its east side. Another detached building, the day house (dairy), stood to the south-west, and the farm buildings were to the south-east. North of the house, on rising ground, was a small garden reached by a bridge over the road. (fn. 70)
Among works proposed by Weld in 1619 was the construction of a dovehouse and a new stable. (fn. 71) The dovehouse was perhaps that which stood south-west of the church in the early 19th century. (fn. 72) The stable may have been the gabled stone building adjoining the south side of the octagonal brick building in 1984. By 1674 a second walled court lay west of the stables and there was a small formal garden south of the church. In the 17th century a long brick stable range was built south of the stone stables, and in the 18th century a five bayed carriage house was added on the opposite side of what had by then become a stable court. The west (parlour) wing and perhaps other parts of the house were rebuilt or encased in brick in the earlier 18th century, (fn. 73) and the gardens were probably extended during that century. (fn. 74)
Following Cecil Weld-Forester's succession to the estate in 1811 a new house was built. The old Hall was demolished by November 1812, (fn. 75) though its service and stable blocks survived and were later converted to residential use. (fn. 76) Work began on the new site, 0.5 km. to the west, in 1812, and payments to the building workers ceased in 1820. (fn. 77) In 1822 the Hall was 'lately finished'. (fn. 78) The architect, Lewis Wyatt, had probably left supervision to a clerk of works. (fn. 79) The house stands on level ground overlooking the steep sided valley containing Willey pools and was enhanced by the creation of a new park. The gardens were improved in the early 19th century by the building of more walls and hothouses. (fn. 80) In the 1860s elaborate formal gardens designed by W. A. Nesfield were laid out around the Hall. (fn. 81)
The main part of Willey Hall is of Grinshill stone with a porte cochère on the north-west, a central bow with detached columns on the south-west, and an integral conservatory on the south-east. A lower service wing of sandstone joins the north-east side and beyond it there is a small service court. The principal rooms are arranged around a central two storeyed hall which has a double stair at one end and an open gallery round the first floor. (fn. 82)
Additions of 1874 were a billiard room on the east side of the house, an extension of the kitchens, and a detached game larder; the first two were demolished c. 1970. (fn. 83) The Hall had a gas plant by 1883 (fn. 84) and an electricity generator by 1910. (fn. 85)
There were two compact freehold estates on the southern and eastern edges of the manor. In 1566 Hugh Bayly, probably by descent from George Bayly (fl. 1493), (fn. 86) had a freehold in BOLD, which he left to his son Thomas Bayly (fn. 87) (or Baylis), who held it of the manor as 1/40 knight's fee in 1592 and 1620. (fn. 88) In 1610 the freehold comprised 127 a. (fn. 89) Baylis was probably succeeded by Richard Baylis, from whom Bold passed before 1628 to Walter Acton (d. 1641), whose son and heir was Edward Acton (bt. 1644, d. 1659). In 1661 Thomas Acton of Aldenham, Sir Edward's second surviving son (d. 1678), owned Bold, and Thomas's widow (d. 1684) held it for life. (fn. 90) Their eldest son Edward (d.s.p. 1707) probably held it and later his brother Thomas (d. 1734) had a 2/3 share. By 1755 that Thomas's son Edward (d. 1767) seems to have owned the whole. Edward's executors had it until 1780 or later. (fn. 91) Bold became part of the Forester estate in the later 19th or early 20th century. (fn. 92) Bold Farm is a 1½ storeyed building, perhaps 17th-century, cased in brick in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Possible owners of THE DEAN are recorded from c. 1230. (fn. 93) Thomas Corbet of the Dean died in 1538. (fn. 94) In 1618 the then freeholder, John Corbet, owned 104 a. there. (fn. 95) He or a namesake was dead in 1653, (fn. 96) and Richard Corbet of the Dean died in 1684. (fn. 97) Richard's son-in-law Richard Hartshorne (d. 1697), rector of Willey from 1687, (fn. 98) held the Dean, as did his son the Revd. R. C. Hartshorne (d. c. 1752). The son left his estates to Elizabeth Garrett, who married Jonathan Key in 1765. (fn. 99) In 1792 property comprising 99 a. at the Dean and a 15-a. allotment in Shirlett was said to belong to Keay & Co. Jonathan Key died in 1805 and in 1809 his widow Elizabeth and son John sold the Dean to Penelope Cartwright. (fn. 100) After Henry Cartwright's death in 1876 the Dean passed to his daughter Mrs. Elizabeth Penelope Ireland, who married John Hillman in 1879 and died in 1880. In 1910 the Dean (67 a.) belonged to her widowed daughter Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Sidebotham (née Ireland). (fn. 101) The house, called Little Dean Farm by 1966, when G. W. Chatham owned it, (fn. 102) is a timber framed 2½ storeyed building, presumably that described as new in 1631. (fn. 103)
Wenlock priory had c. 60 a. of demesne land in Willey park called 'Prior's Tongue', which was sold to Richard Lacon in 1537. (fn. 104) A chantry in Holy Trinity church, Much Wenlock, owned c. 6 a. in Willey. (fn. 105)
In 1086 there were 2 villani and 2 bordars at Willey, with 2 ploughteams; (fn. 106) the small numbers suggest that relatively little of the later arable land was then exploited.
In the Middle Ages there were at least four areas of open-field land, each associated with a separate settlement. Dean (fn. 107) and Bold (fn. 108) fields adjoined those settlements, while at least part of the open-field land of Willey hamlet lay southeast of the hamlet. Horsley fields lay between Willey field, Rudge wood, and the road from Bold to Willey. (fn. 109) Bold may have had its own fields in 1384; 2 virgates were mentioned. (fn. 110) Meadow, some divided into strips, (fn. 111) was presumably concentrated on the streams bordering the manor. Horsley moor, mentioned in 1316, (fn. 112) was perhaps common for that settlement. In 1379–80 the lady of the manor paid pannage at Marsh manor court for 40 pigs. (fn. 113)
In 1446 the manor included 8½ virgates held by 8 tenants, while 15 minor tenants held c. 1½ virgate between them. The manor also had a tenant of 2½ virgates at Bold and another of 1 virgate at the Dean. (fn. 114) In 1587 tenements at Bold were held of the lord of Willey for rents and labour services, suit of court, and heriot. (fn. 115) All tenants of the manor were required to keep a dog in 1649. (fn. 116) A heriot of the best beast remained payable in 1684. (fn. 117)
By 1262 the prior of Wenlock had assarted 4½ a. in Willey. (fn. 118) The manor was in Shirlett forest until disafforestation in 1301, (fn. 119) and next year and in 1318 the Harleys were granted free warren there, evidently in amplification of a grant of 1283. (fn. 120) By the early 14th century there were two large woods in the manor, Rudge wood in the south-east (fn. 121) and, evidently, a wood in Willey park in the north. (fn. 122)
The park, mentioned in 1291, (fn. 123) was probably that denoted by nearby field names in 1426–7. (fn. 124) In 1537 Richard Lacon bought Prior's Tongue (c. 60 a.), Wenlock priory's demesne land within the park, (fn. 125) adding the land to his own part. By 1618 the park comprised 432 a. and occupied the northern third of the township. It contained two fishponds, the larger of them in the northern, heavily wooded part which also contained an inclosure around a lodge. John Weld, anxious to improve the park's profitability, noted in 1619 that stocks of deer, swans, fish, and bees might be obtained and horses bred there. Attention was also paid to the park's 3,300 timber trees. The lodge was rebuilt or enlarged in 1630. (fn. 126) By c. 1680 the park had shrunk, been largely cleared of wood, and divided into closes. (fn. 127)
In 1618, (fn. 128) besides the park (432 a.), the Willey estate included 391 a. of demesne in Willey and land at the Dean (70 a.), Rudge wood (62 a.), Willey Heald or Hill (fn. 129) (284 a.) in Barrow parish, the Upper Riddings and Swinney in Broseley and Barrow parishes, (fn. 130) and Posenhall (292 a.). Bold and the Dean freeholds were respectively 127 a. and 104 a., while 5 tenants in Willey each held an average of 33 a., and 15 smallholders had 22 a. between them. Apart from the glebe (c. 27 a.) and the Dean's fields, the open fields were largely inclosed by 1618, (fn. 131) but John Weld was still promoting inclosure c. 1620. (fn. 132) Willey had five fields: Mill field to the south-west, with Dean, Middle, High, and Thistly fields ranging east–west in a line north of the village. Farther east were Dean and Mill fields belonging to the Dean. Bold's fields had been inclosed, perhaps having absorbed Horsley's fields. (fn. 133) More openfield land had probably once lain south of Willey's Mill field. (fn. 134) A fourth part of the common of Rudge wood belonged to the Dean. (fn. 135) At least some hemp and flax was grown, (fn. 136) and bees were kept. (fn. 137) Cattle were commoned on Willey Heald, probably until the 1650s or later, (fn. 138) and in Rudge wood. (fn. 139) Inhabitants of the manor could fish Atherwell brook, but only in Rogation week. (fn. 140) In 1808 the 50-a. Rudge wood, where the freeholder and manorial tenants of the Dean continued to enjoy grazing rights, was inclosed by agreement. (fn. 141)
When Shirlett, including Willey Heald, was divided and allotted in 1625, John Weld, lord of Willey, received 410 a., and the freeholders and copyholders of Bold, the Dean, and Willey 300 a. (fn. 142) Weld inclosed much of his allotment in a new park, together with the former Thistly and Mill fields west of Willey. He also made more fishponds in his parks; they were managed at least until the mid 18th century. (fn. 143) Weld limed and manured his demesnes. Among other improvements which he considered in 1619 and 1631 (but may not have effected) were the irrigation of large parts of Willey's meadow and coppice land, the creation of a warren, sale of hay, rack renting, and the purchase of freeholds. Also in 1631 he considered letting out more demesne, which he found unprofitable in hand. (fn. 144)
The 17th-century contraction of the old park (as it became known) was perhaps partly due to John Weld's inclosure of a new park, probably between 1625 (when Shirlett was allotted) and 1631. The new park, c. 400 a., extended west from Willey church into Shirlett (in Barrow parish) where most of it lay; (fn. 145) it was at least partly walled with stone by the 1740s. (fn. 146)
Clover was sown on the Willey demesne by 1699. (fn. 147) In 1702 the demesne livestock comprised 12 cows, 110 sheep, 34 pigs, and 15 horses. Threshed crops comprised 60 bu. of wheat and rye, 5 of clean wheat, and 2 of white peas, worth £12 14s. altogether, while unthreshed corn and tithes were valued at £74. (fn. 148) Animals were kept in similar proportions on Bank farm in 1747: 20 horned cattle, 92 sheep, 10 pigs, and 5 horses. Seed and grain stock was then 200 bu. of wheat, 240 of barley, 150 of oats, and 140 of peas, and 7 cwt. of seed clover. (fn. 149)
On George Weld's death in 1748 the Willey estate, long mismanaged, was c. £22,250 in debt: (fn. 150) there was no account book, though over £1,000 was owed to servants, labourers, and tradesmen; there was no rent roll, and many tenants were badly in arrears, some holding land without a formally agreed rent. Rents totalled £342 a year, while 861 a. was in hand. Large sums were owed on bonds. Weld's agents had in some cases been lax or dishonest, for instance in the management of Willey's coal resources. (fn. 151) Economies were made, tenants in arrears distrained, and the estate improved by the investment of the maternal inheritance of Weld's son-in-law Brooke Forester (d. 1774). (fn. 152)
In the 18th century the old park was further altered: in 1757 the south-eastern part was let to the New Willey Co. for an ironworks. The lodge kept something of its original character: a dower house in 1758, it perhaps became the place where George Forester had his kennels. (fn. 153) Both the new park and the walk to the lodge probably survived until c. 1815 to be replaced by yet another park, 270 a. around the new Willey Hall, (fn. 154) which brought about some conversion of farm land. (fn. 155)
In 1828 the parish's farms other than Willey home farm, Bold, and the Dean, were Lodge farm (185 a.), Bank farm (144 a.), Dean Common farm (127 a.), and Dean farm (53 a.). (fn. 156) By 1810, as on much of the Forester estate, yearly renewable leases were in use; they included detailed land management clauses. (fn. 157) In 1831 Lodge farm lacked drainage and was overrun by the landlord's game, (fn. 158) and from the 19th century the Weld-Foresters carefully preserved the game on their estate. (fn. 159) In 1910 there were three farms of c. 160 a., three of c. 95 a., with twelve more holdings averaging 25 a. (fn. 160) The home farm and park grounds were kept in hand, and in 1922 Lord Forester and his son formed the Willey Estates Co., owned by them, to run the estate. (fn. 161)
In 1801 c. 28 per cent of the parish was arable, of which 46 per cent was under wheat, 27 per cent under oats, and 18 per cent under barley; there were also small amounts (in descending order) of peas, potatoes, turnips or rape, and beans. (fn. 162) In 1838 two fifths of the parish was arable, two fifths meadow or pasture, and one fifth woodland. (fn. 163) By 1867 there was about twice as much grassland as arable and the proportion later increased. The amount of woodland altered little. In the later 19th and earlier 20th century the proportions of wheat and barley increased at the expense of oats. Over the same period cattle and pigs increased steadily, and sheep declined sharply. Before the Second World War there was some intensive poultry keeping.
By the late 18th century there were Upper and Lower water mills at the Smithies, on Linley brook, originally used for grinding corn. In 1793 the Upper mill was let to Thomas Turner and used in connexion with his Caughley porcelain factory. (fn. 166) The mills were let to Blakeway, Rose & Co. from c. 1800 to 1822, to James Pearce 1822–4, and to John Rose & Co. 1824–42. (fn. 167) At least one of them stood immediately south of Bank Farm, at the southern tip of the parish, and was used in the late 19th and early 20th century as a sawmill. Before 1956 the sawmill moved to new premises south of Willey hamlet. (fn. 168)
There were two mills at the Dean in 1312. (fn. 169) There was a water mill at the Dean in the 17th century (fn. 170) and a windmill belonging to it by 1755. (fn. 171) Dean mill last ran as a corn mill c. 1757 when the New Willey Co.'s ironworks was built nearby. (fn. 172)
There were several water mills in 1618 apart from that at the Dean, (fn. 173) but few lasted long. Harper's mill stood on Linley brook north of Upper Smithies; it was in disrepair in 1684 (fn. 174) but perhaps worked in 1711. (fn. 175) South of Upper Smithies stood the 'new' mill, also mentioned in 1631 (fn. 176) and perhaps converted to a cottage by 1654. (fn. 177) South of Bold Farm stood Bold mill, mentioned in 1557, while another mill stood on the southern boundary of the manor, at the Hammer in Astley Abbots. White mill, working in the late 17th century, has not been located. (fn. 178)
Coal and ironstone mining.
In 1446 four men, one occupying a virgate in Willey, held a pit each (paying 6s. 8d. a year each) in Willey coal mine. (fn. 179) Sir John Weld (d. 1666) sought to exploit Willey's minerals, particularly those under the old park and Rudge wood, and to send them out via the Severn: by 1631 he had begun to bore, dig pits, and make wagonways there. He was equally concerned to prevent John Corbet from getting coal at the Dean and carrying it away. (fn. 180) Coal was dug at Dean Corner, 1 km. west of the Dean, in the late 17th and early 18th century (fn. 181) and was probably the old park coalworks that produced 1,081 wagonloads of coal in 15 months in 1728–9. (fn. 182) In 1730 coal from the old park was sent out via the Benthall and Hill rails. (fn. 183)
Richard Knight's lease of Willey furnace from 1714 included the right to mine ironstone for it on Weld's estate in and around Willey. (fn. 184) Under an agreement of 1757 the New Willey Co. was to be supplied for 41 years with 5,000 tons of clod coal and 1,880 dozen of ironstone a year from the Foresters' pits in Willey, Barrow, Broseley, and Posenhall. (fn. 185) Under a new agreement of 1759 the company undertook the mining itself; in Willey the park (presumably the new one) and the area 500 yd. round Willey Hall were excluded from the lease. (fn. 186) Presumably also excluded was Dean Corner, where John Bell and John Thursfield had leased the coal from George Forester in 1758. (fn. 187)
In 1804 the New Willey ironworks closed and the company ceased mining on the Forester estate. (fn. 188) In 1813 a partnership called Jones & Mytton (by 1814 Jones, Pott, & Mytton) began to mine coal on Forester land. (fn. 189) Mining continued in the northern part of Willey until the mid 19th century or later, but after the closure of the New Willey works it was probably on a very limited scale. (fn. 190) In the 1940s there was opencast coalmining at Rudgewood, Willeypark Wood, and Horsleymoor. Further opencast mining, primarily for fireclay, by Coalmoor Refractories (Horsehay) Ltd., began west of the Deerleap, at the northern tip of the parish, in the late 1950s or 1960s. Mining there was taken over in 1983 by Coal Contractors Ltd. (fn. 191)
It was probably in Willey that John Forest held a forge in 1503–4 for 26s. 8d., (fn. 192) and the smith pool was mentioned in 1537 and 1553. (fn. 193) Some ironworking took place in Willey park, (fn. 194) but bloomeries were probably concentrated on Linley brook where, in 1618, stood the settlements of Upper and Lower Smithies and their cinder heaps. (fn. 195) Generally there seems to have been much ironmaking in the area by the mid 16th century. (fn. 196)
Before John Weld bought the manor in 1618, and perhaps c. 1594, (fn. 197) the bloomeries were probably largely, if not entirely, superseded by a blast furnace on Linley brook, north of Upper Smithies. It stood below two ponds, the upper c. 200 m. long. In 1618 the furnace was held by John Slaney, (fn. 198) who had been making iron in Morville since 1599 or earlier; (fn. 199) he had probably left the Willey furnace by 1620. (fn. 200) Before 1631 Weld had rebuilt it. (fn. 201)
In 1673 it was let to Philip Foley for 21 years, but next year Foley assigned his lease to Lord Newport (as guardian of his son Thomas Newport) and three other partners. In 1681 a new partnership was formed between Thomas Newport and others. (fn. 202) Some pig iron from Willey was sent to Wytheford forge (on the Roden) in 1687–8. (fn. 203) In 1696 the partners in Willey furnace were also partners in ironworks at Leighton, Longnor, Sheinton, and Upton Magna. (fn. 204) Richard Baldwin had the furnace in 1710, when he bought the crop of a coppice in Ruckley and 500 more cords from Sir Edward Smythe, the wood to be cut in 1711. (fn. 205) In 1711 George Weld undertook to lease the furnace for 14 years from 1714 to Richard Knight. (fn. 206)
Before 1733 the furnace was again let to Richard Baldwin. That year Richard Ford and Thomas Goldney, the senior Coalbrookdale partners, took over the lease, perhaps because the expiry of Newcomen's patent allowed them to respond to an increasing demand for ironwork. (fn. 207) Ford died in 1745 and his son Edmund took the furnace. (fn. 208) From 1733 the furnace was coke-fired and used Willey coal, 762 tons in 1752 and 1,002 tons in 1753. Among its products was pig iron for the Bristol market. (fn. 209) At times the water supply may have been inadequate, and in 1757, when the iron trade was depressed, Ford and Goldney did not renew their lease of the furnace, then in disrepair. (fn. 210)
In 1757 the New Willey Co. was formed by Brooke Forester, who had four of the ten £1,600 shares; another partner was the ironmaster John Wilkinson. Although the company took over the old furnace and works and was to use them until 1774, it immediately began to build the New Willey works 2.5 km. to the north, on Dean brook, near four fishponds that the company was allowed to use; (fn. 211) much of the timber for the works came from Willey. (fn. 212) Warehouses were built (fn. 213) and railways laid. In 1757 the Tarbatch dingle railway in Broseley was extended to link the New Willey Co.'s works with the Severn. In 1759 a second track was laid alongside the first, and the lines continued to serve the works until the late 18th century. (fn. 214) The works also had access to the river via the Benthall and Hill rails and rail links to mines. (fn. 215) Probably from the start a Newcomen engine returned water to pools above the works. (fn. 216)
By 1759 the company was supplying pig iron to the Stour Valley forges, and by the end of the century Willey itself had one of the country's principal forges. From the outset armaments were an important product: in 1759 shot and swivel guns were made, and in 1761 shells, shot, cannon, and pig iron worth £8,000 awaited sale in London. Joseph Hateley, engineer, was demonstrating a steam engine at the works in 1761, and by 1762 steam engine parts were being made. (fn. 217)
Wilkinson gradually gained a controlling interest in the company and by 1774 was sole lessee of the works. (fn. 218) Pig iron from Horsehay was then used there. (fn. 219) In 1774 Wilkinson patented a machine for boring cannon, in which the solid casting rotated round a stationary boring head. A similar one was already in use at Woolwich Arsenal and Wilkinson's patent was revoked in 1779 after a challenge by the Board of Trade. In 1776, however, Wilkinson adapted his machine to bore cylinders for Boulton & Watt's new engines. The second engine so produced was installed at Willey in 1776; it was the first ever to blow a blast furnace directly. (fn. 220) There were then apparently two furnaces at Willey, each making over 20 tons of pig iron a week. (fn. 221) A second Boulton & Watt engine, perhaps converted from the Newcomen engine of 1757, was installed in 1777 to return used water to the pools. In 1788, without Boulton & Watt's licence, Wilkinson built a third, rotative, steam engine at the works to power the boring mill. (fn. 222)
Wilkinson introduced iron boats on the Severn. The first, a barge-type vessel, was made at Willey in 1787. Apparently, however, there were problems with the design, and most Severn barges continued to be of wood. (fn. 223) Iron piping, some for export to France, was made in the late 18th century. (fn. 224) Production was probably in decline c. 1799; by 1796 and still in 1803 only one furnace was in blast, and Wilkinson gave up the works in 1804. The forge at least was later worked by the Foresters until the 1820s. (fn. 225)
From before 1618 until the later 18th century or later clay was dug and bricks and tiles were made in the parish; (fn. 226) many were used in Willey Hall, the lodge, and the Foresters' other estate buildings. (fn. 227) From the 1740s or earlier to the 1770s or later pipe clay and potting clay were dug in the old park, probably for use in pipe works and potteries at Benthall and Broseley. (fn. 228)
Before 1631 John Weld unsuccessfully dug for limestone in Willey. (fn. 229) In the late 18th century there were probably coke ovens at the New Willey works, and oil or tar may have been a by-product. (fn. 230) In the early 18th century trades in the parish included those of wheelwright, ship's carpenter, and cooper, attesting the continued role of woodland in the local economy. (fn. 231)
Willey owed suit to Bourton hundred in 1369 (fn. 232) and probably in 1568, (fn. 233) but in 1634 the lord of Bourton hundred agreed that Willey should be subject to John Weld's court leet of Marsh (in Barrow), (fn. 234) and Willey afterwards presented there regularly. The commonest presentments were for assize breaking and for erecting cottages on the waste. In the 1630s there were pound, stocks, and butts; (fn. 235) the stocks were mentioned again in 1712. (fn. 236)
Records of Willey court baron survive for a dozen or more years scattered between 1421 and 1684. (fn. 237) Some 15th-century courts were called 'great'. (fn. 238) Suitors included some from Broseley (probably Upper Riddings and the Woodhouse), Posenhall, and Swinney (in Barrow). (fn. 239)
Willey had highway surveyors c. 1595, (fn. 240) and by 1658 a constable, a surveyor, an overseer of the poor, and a churchwarden; their appointments were reported to the Marsh court, where the first two were sworn in. (fn. 241) Willey remained a highway authority until 1889. (fn. 242)
Out relief was given in 1737–8. (fn. 243) In 1812–13 £128 was spent on permanent out relief for 17 adults; in the next two years just over £100 a year was spent relieving 11 poor. (fn. 244) In 1828 the Willey overseers were tenants of a cottage to house paupers. (fn. 245)
The parish was in Madeley poor-law union 1836–1930, (fn. 246) Madeley rural sanitary district 1872– 89, and the Barrow ward of Wenlock municipal borough 1889–1966. (fn. 247) On the dissolution of Wenlock M.B. in 1966 Willey civil parish was absorbed into Barrow C.P., in Bridgnorth rural district 1966–74 (fn. 248) and Bridgnorth district from 1974. (fn. 249)
Willey church's earliest fabric appears to be 12th-century, (fn. 252) and it was probably in the early 12th century that its status as a chapel in Holy Trinity parish, Much Wenlock, was reasserted. (fn. 253) The vicar of Holy Trinity had cure of souls in Willey in 1324, (fn. 254) and Willey's great tithes belonged to Wenlock priory as appropriator of Holy Trinity. They may have made up most of the value at which Willey church was assessed, which was £5 6s. 8d. in 1291 and 1535 and £6 13s. 4d. in 1379. (fn. 255) An annual pension of 7s. was payable to the priory from Willey church by 1323. (fn. 256) After the Dissolution the great tithes passed to the lord of the manor, who in the 1630s gave them to the incumbent as an endowment. (fn. 257)
The lord of the manor's advowson of the chapel was challenged by the prior of Wenlock in 1214 and 1233. (fn. 258) The lord presented in 1304, (fn. 259) but perhaps not alone, for by 1323 the lord presented first to the prior, who then presented to the bishop. (fn. 260) The prior's advowson was exercised by the king between 1337 and 1395, while the priory was in his hands as an alien house, (fn. 261) and was last mentioned in 1412. (fn. 262) The lord's advowson continued during that period (fn. 263) and remained in being after the surrender of the priory in 1540. (fn. 264) The chaplains, though sometimes styled rector before the Reformation, had only small tithes in 1535. (fn. 265) Following the gift of tithes in the 1630s the living became a rectory, but the church remained dependent on Holy Trinity until 1661 when burial rights, which the vicar of Much Wenlock refused in 1547 (fn. 266) and for which John Weld had hoped in 1619, (fn. 267) were conceded. (fn. 268) In 1822 the rectory was united with the perpetual curacy of Barrow, (fn. 269) which rectors of Willey had served since the late 17th century. (fn. 270) In 1976 the church was declared redundant and was appropriated to Lord Forester as a private chapel, and at the same time the parish and benefice of Linley with Willey and Barrow were created. (fn. 271)
The rectory was worth £44 c. 1708. (fn. 272) In 1755 the tithes, at least of the Foresters' demesne, were compounded for. (fn. 273) By 1801 the rectory had 26 a. of glebe in Willey, a 5-a. allotment in Shirlett (in Barrow), common in Rudge wood, and Easter dues and all tithes. (fn. 274) In 1818 it was worth £120. (fn. 275) In 1838 the rector's tithes and Easter dues were commuted to £252 10s.; 60 a. in Willey old deer park, said to be the land bought from Wenlock priory by Richard Lacon in 1537, was then claimed to be tithe free. (fn. 276) The combined living was worth £311 2s. 6d. in 1851, comprising £274 from tithes, £37 from the glebe, and 2s. 6d. fees. (fn. 277) Most of the c. 30 a. of glebe was sold in 1947. (fn. 278)
In 1618 and 1674 the glebe house stood north of the church. (fn. 279) In 1736 George Weld built a new brick rectory south of the village. (fn. 280) Enlarged to plans by Griffin & Weller of Wolverhampton c. 1859, (fn. 281) it remained in use until 1972. It was occupied by St. Aidan's College, a centre for religious studies, from c. 1973 to 1976 and was sold to Lord Forester in 1977. (fn. 282)
Medieval chaplains may not have resided at Willey as the benefice did not have cure of souls. The first known incumbent was Adam of Wheathill, acolyte, inducted in 1276. (fn. 283) Philip of Harley, incumbent between 1324 and c. 1357, was a son of the lord of the manor. He became steward of Wenlock priory's manors c. 1344, and in 1352, when he was also vicar of Eaton-under-Heywood, was placed in joint charge of the priory during war with France. (fn. 284) While Wenlock priory was in the king's hands only two chaplains continued for five years or more: Hugh le Yonge (1360–77), a royal clerk and prebendary of St. Mary's, Shrewsbury, (fn. 285) and his successor John Hervy (1377–83). (fn. 286) Between 1383 and 1392 there were eight chaplains. (fn. 287) The only known graduate before the Reformation was Richard Talbot (1411–12), (fn. 288) brother of Lord Furnivalle and later archbishop of Dublin and chancellor of Ireland. (fn. 289)
In 1547 land in Willey worth 2s. a year, given for lights in the church, passed to the Crown. (fn. 290)
In the 1680s the rector of Willey began to hold Barrow in plurality. Long incumbencies were common. (fn. 291) Robert Ogdon (d. 1680) was also rector of Broseley. (fn. 292) In 1662 he travelled thence to preach every third Sunday at Willey. (fn. 293) Francis Wheeler, rector 1680–c. 1686, became archdeacon of Salop in 1684. (fn. 294) Joseph Barney, 1698–1727, lived at Barrow school in 1716. There were then two Sunday services, one with a sermon, and communion five times a year. (fn. 295) Dr. John Fayle, rector 1740–78 and rector of Beckbury from 1754, employed curates for Willey. (fn. 296) Morgan Jones, rector 1778–1817, was also rector of Hughley 1804–13. He employed curates for Willey, and was described by George Forester as a saucy 'black Tom'. (fn. 297) In 1801 there was a midday service, with sermon, every Sunday and communion on five feast days. (fn. 298) Michael Pye Stephens, 1817–22, was a sporting parson and also a magistrate and amateur medical practitioner. (fn. 299)
In 1851 the church had 85 seats, 25 of them free; 70 people attended the fortnightly service. (fn. 300) G. T. O. Bridgeman, antiquary, writer, and second son of the 2nd earl of Bradford, was rector 1852–3. (fn. 301) His successor Dr. Thomas Rowley, rector 1854–77 after a distinguished headmastership of Bridgnorth grammar school, employed curates. (fn. 302) During W. H. Wayne's long incumbency (1878–1921) the church was restored and a new burial ground for Willey and Barrow consecrated at Barrow in 1881. (fn. 303)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, so known by c. 1740, (fn. 304) is built of rubble and ashlar and has a chancel with north organ chamber and south chapel, an aisled nave, and a west tower entered by a west door.
Nave and chancel are 12th-century and windows (possibly reset) of that period survive in the south wall of the chancel and north wall of the nave. The broken bowl of a possibly Norman font lies in the churchyard. There is a late medieval window in the north wall of the chancel and there were others of similar date in the north wall of the nave. (fn. 305)
By the 17th century a south chapel had been added at the junction of chancel and nave; it may have been built for the Welds, whose pew it was by 1736. (fn. 306) The tower was rebuilt in 1712; (fn. 307) its shape and diagonal buttresses suggest that it is modelled on a 14th-century predecessor. In 1716 the church was said to be in good repair. (fn. 308) Extensive repairs were probably undertaken c. 1777. (fn. 309) By 1821 the south chapel had been replaced by one parallel to the nave which was entered from the south and served as Lord Forester's pew. There was then a west gallery. (fn. 310)
In 1880 A. W. Blomfield restored the church at the expense of Alexandrina, widow of J. G. W. Weld-Forester, Lord Forester (d. 1874). (fn. 311) Blomfield's main additions were north and south aisles, each incorporating a quasi-transept. The more elaborate south aisle has a memorial chapel to Lord Forester (d. 1874) at its east end and a raised pew for Lord Forester's family in the quasi-transept at the west. At the east end of the north aisle is an organ chamber. A west gallery was removed from the nave and a west window inserted in the tower. Plaster was stripped from the walls inside and out and ceilings removed. The largely 17th-century pulpit, reading desk, sanctuary chair, pews, and panelling were incorporated into new furniture. A possibly 18th-century communion table is encased in the altar frame. In the sill of a mullioned two-light window in the western part of the south wall of the nave is an oval bowl hollowed out as a font or piscina; it has a wooden cover, possibly 18th-century. There is another font, perhaps an 18th-century composition of medieval fragments. There are several memorials to the Welds and Foresters, the earliest to Sir John Weld (d. 1666) and his wife (d. 1668). At the west end of the nave are Queen Victoria's arms carved in wood.
There were few alterations in the century after 1880, though the east window was made by Morris & Co. in 1933. A paten given in 1895 was added to plate of the 17th and 18th centuries. Two bells were added in 1880 to two of 1618 and a third of 1726.
Children have attended Barrow school since the 19th century or earlier. (fn. 317) Anne Wright kept school at the Dean c. 1670. (fn. 318) A day school begun in 1831 had 10 boys and 13 girls in 1835. (fn. 319) In 1869 there were two private schools. (fn. 320)
The poor's stock, begun by 1668, stood at £60 in 1777 when £40 of it was lent to the parish for church repairs, the interest to be paid to the poor. (fn. 321) The interest, never distributed, was in 1802 consolidated with the principal. Again the interest seems not to have been distributed, and the whole stock was lost by 1820, when there was nevertheless a longstanding annual distribution of £5-worth of corn by the farmers.
By will proved 1687 (fn. 325) Francis Wheeler, rector, left 10s. a year to be paid by the ministers of the two Bridgnorth churches and distributed in bread or cash. The charity survived in 1975. (fn. 326)