A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Communications, p. 106. Growth of Settlement, p. 107. Social and Cultural Activities, p. 111. Manors and Other Estates, p. 112. Economic History, p. 115. Local Government, p. 125. Public Services, p. 126. Churches, p. 127. Roman Catholicism, p. 130. Protestant Nonconformity, p. 131. Education, p. 133. Charities for the Poor, p. 135.
The industrial parish of Dawley in the heart of the east Shropshire coalfield became an urban district in the 19th century and the centre of a new town in the 20th. The ancient parish contained 2,790 a. (1,123 ha.) in three townships: Malinslee (862 a.) in the north-east, Great Dawley (997 a.) in the centre, and Little Dawley (931 a.) in the south-west. (fn. 1) The urban district was enlarged to 3,259 a. (1,319 ha.) in 1934 by the addition of parts of Priorslee, Stirchley, and Wellington Rural civil parishes. (fn. 2) In 1966 Dawley U.D. was extended to 9,461 a. (3,829 ha.) to coincide approximately with the area that had been designated as Dawley new town in 1963. Madeley, (fn. 3) the remainder of Stirchley, and parts of Benthall, Broseley, Kemberton, Oakengates, Priorslee, Shifnal, Sutton Maddock, Little Wenlock, and Wellington Rural C.P.s were added to Dawley, and 12 a. (5 ha.) at Hollinswood were transferred to Oakengates U.D. (fn. 4) This article treats the history of the ancient parish of Dawley only.
Dawley was a compact area c. 5 km. in length from north-east to south-west and c. 2 km. wide, on the central plateau of the coalfield. The highest land was along the parish's north-western edge, where the ground rises to 208 metres above O.D. near Dawley Bank. The land falls gently to the south-east in Malinslee and Great Dawley townships, but in Little Dawley relief is more marked. Horsehay dingle bisects the township, and the parish's southern boundary followed Loamhole and Lightmoor brooks, which flow through deeply incised valleys to converge at the head of Coalbrookdale. Elsewhere the parish boundary did not follow marked physical features, but Dawley was contained on the northwest by a watershed that separated streams draining to the Severn and the Weald Moors, and on the north-east by the Randlay valley.
Most of the parish was underlain by the Coal Measures. Only in the Horsehay and Little Dawley areas, where Lower Carboniferous sandstones and Little Wenlock basalt outcrop, was there a lack of workable seams of coal and ironstone. Productive Middle Coal Measures lay near the surface along the north-west edge of the parish from Old Park to Heath Hill, and in the south at Lightmoor. East of the Lightmoor fault in Malinslee and Great Dawley the seams lay deeper, under siltstones and sandstones of the Upper Coal Measures. The drift cover is mainly boulder clay, but glacial sands and gravels occur around Moor Farm in the south of the parish. (fn. 5)
The small hamlets and scattered farms of a wood-pasture economy were transformed from the 16th century by the haphazard growth of industrial workers' cottages as mining and, later, iron making engulfed the parish. In Great Dawley, probably always the most populous township, the centre of settlement had shifted by the late 18th century from the hamlet by the church to the straggling industrial settlements of Dawley Green and Dawley Bank. By the mid 19th century High Street, as Dawley Green came to be known, had gained most of the features of a small town, to which the outlying industrial communities at Horsehay, Dawley Bank, Old Park, Dark Lane, and Hinkshay looked. Most land in Great Dawley and Malinslee was scarred by the extractive industries; only in the western half of Little Dawley did a predominantly agricultural landscape survive. When the pits and ironworks closed in the later 19th century Dawley began to stagnate and decline. Until after the Second World War the parish suffered unemployment and the industrial legacies of sub-standard housing and landscape dereliction. Dawley underwent a transformation, social, economic, and environmental, from 1963 when it was included in the designated area of Dawley (from 1968 Telford) new town.
The community of industrial workers that grew in Dawley during the Industrial Revolution had many characteristics typical of mining areas of the day. The Dawley cottagers' 'irregularity and disorderly behaviour' were noted in the mid 18th century. (fn. 6) The miners were at the mercy of the coal masters and the notorious sub-contractors called charter masters, (fn. 7) and rising food prices in the late 18th and early 19th century led to a succession of riots. (fn. 8) The most serious in Dawley were the Cinderhill riots triggered by a reduction in wages in 1821, when 3,000 colliers confronted troops on a slag mound near Old Park. Two rioters were killed when troops opened fire and one of the leaders was later executed. (fn. 9)
Notable natives included Samuel Peploe (1668- 1752), the son of a Little Dawley farmer and bishop of Chester from 1726; (fn. 10) Capt. Matthew Webb (1848-83), the son of a Dawley physician and the first man to swim the English Channel (in 1875); (fn. 11) Albert Stanley (1862-1915), born at Dark Lane, the son of a Primitive Methodist miner and eventually leader of the Cannock miners and M.P. for North-West Staffordshire; (fn. 12) and Edith Pargeter (b. 1913), the novelist, who also published under the name of Ellis Peters. (fn. 13) A monument to Webb, in the form of a drinking fountain, was placed in High Street in 1910; (fn. 14) it was moved in 1956 (fn. 15) but returned to near its original position in 1980. Among characters of local note was William Ball (1795-1852), the 'Shropshire giant', a 40-stone shingler at Horsehay ironworks. (fn. 16)