A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Agriculture. Stirchley was within the royal forest of Mount Gilbert until 1301 (fn. 1) and probably contained uncleared woodland well into the medieval period. The wood of Stirchley, which survived in the early and mid 13th century, lay in the north-east along the boundary with Shifnal. (fn. 2) In the late 12th and mid 13th century the inhabitants cleared woodland to bring new land into cultivation, (fn. 3) and the names Brands ('land cleared by burning') and, near Holmer, Stockings ('a clearing with stumps') probably record this process. (fn. 4) A major reduction of the wooded area occurred after 1277 when the monks of Buildwas were licensed to assart 60 a. in Stirchley, probably when establishing their granges. (fn. 5) Timber and coaling wood were supplied from the parish for the Old Park ironworks (in Dawley) in 1789-90 (fn. 6) but by the 19th century little woodland remained: in 1811 there were 42 a. of coppice in the parish (fn. 7) and by 1838 only 23 a. of wood survived, mostly in Randlay wood in the north. (fn. 8)
Stirchley's open fields do not seem to have been extensive in the 16th and 17th centuries. Most open arable land lay in the west, between Mad brook and the road to Dawley, in a field known in the 17th century as the common field towards Dawley, but there were other small areas of open cultivation in Cross furlong, immediately south of the village, and in the Lower field, east of Mad brook beside the road to Shifnal. Inclosure occurred by exchanges of strips between the owners of Stirchley Hall and Grange farm in 1611, 1695, and 1716, (fn. 9) but unfenced strips of glebe survived into the 19th century. (fn. 10)
Most land in the parish was held as inclosed permanent grassland from the 16th century, or earlier, until the 19th century. The pastures in the south belonging to Stirchley Hall had been inclosed by c. 1540, (fn. 11) and most of the glebe consisted of similar 'several' leasows in the 17th century. (fn. 12) Most of the field pattern that survived into the 20th century had probably been established by the end of the Middle Ages.
The name Stirchley ('pasture for young bullocks'), (fn. 13) the numerous 'leasow' field names, (fn. 14) and the lack of evidence for extensive open fields all suggest that livestock farming played an important part in the parish economy. In the later 16th century the value of Grange farm was given by stating that it supported a herd of 80 cows, an expression suggesting that it was a dairy farm. (fn. 15) In the early 19th century the acreage under crops increased from only 221 a. (26 per cent of the parish) in 1801 (fn. 16) to 542 a. (65 per cent) by 1839. (fn. 17)
Between 1867 and 1938 the percentage of agricultural land in Stirchley under grass rose from under half to 90 per cent. By 1965 it had declined back to its 1867 level. Between 1867 and 1965 the number of cattle kept rose markedly; sheep declined proportionately. Pigs retained their popularity. Wheat usually accounted for two thirds of the cereal acreage, barley and oats being the other cereals usually grown. Between 1867 and 1965 the amount of vegetables and roots grown commercially declined to an insignificant level. (fn. 18)
Sources: P.R.O., MAF 68/143, no. 14; /1340, no. 6; /3880, Salop. no. 236; /4945, no. 236. From the 15th century or earlier until the 19th century most land in the parish was in a few large holdings. In 1341 Buildwas abbey kept a third of the parish in hand, (fn. 19) presumably as its two granges, both of which, with the cottages in the village that belonged to them, had been let on long leases by 1500. (fn. 20) In the 17th and 18th centuries there were four large farms in the parish: Stirchley Hall (208 a. in 1777), (fn. 21) to which most of the glebe was also let in the late 18th century, (fn. 22) Grange farm (285 a. in 1777), (fn. 23) Holmer (c. 97 a. in 1826), (fn. 24) and Brands (c. 123 a. in 1832), (fn. 25) which was separated from the Grange estate c. 1660. (fn. 26) Another smaller farm was amalgamated with Stirchley Hall in 1801. (fn. 27)
During the 19th century the Brands estate was fragmented into three holdings: Holmer House farm, a smallholding of 17 a. established in the 1830s; (fn. 28) Lower Brands farm (54 a.), which was separated in the 1860s; (fn. 29) and the remaining 53 a. farmed from the original farmstead, subsequently known as Upper Brands farm. (fn. 30) By 1907 83 a. of the Grange estate was farmed as a separate holding, from the farmstead at Mount Pleasant. (fn. 31)
After the purchase of almost all the parish by the new town development corporation during the 1960s little land remained in agricultural use. By 1979 no farms survived in the area of the ancient parish, almost the only productive land being Telford development corporation's central nursery at Grange Farm, where from 1971 an 8-a. site produced plants for landscaping purposes. (fn. 32)
There was a mill 'below the garden' in Stirchley c. 1240 (fn. 33) and two mills were mentioned when the vill was granted to Buildwas abbey in 1247. (fn. 34) One mill was recorded on the abbey's property in Stirchley in 1291. (fn. 35) One of the mills probably stood immediately south of Mount Pleasant, where a field named Mill hill or Windmill field was recorded in post-medieval sources. (fn. 36) Remains of pools and floodgates that survived at Holmer in the 19th century suggest that there may have been a mill on Mad brook at that point. (fn. 37)
Stirchley remained an agricultural community until the beginning of the 19th century when coal and ironstone mining, iron founding, and brick making were started in the northwest quarter of the parish within reach of the Shropshire Canal. Industry came to Stirchley as a result of a partnership between I. H. Browne, owner of most of the parish, and the Botfield family, the Dawley ironmasters who had established collieries and ironworks on Browne's Old Park estate in Dawley in the late 18th century. William Botfield had rented 20 a. on the western edge of Stirchley by 1800, (fn. 38) and he and his brothers Thomas and Beriah took leases of cottages in the parish for their workmen from 1803. (fn. 39) In 1811 they took a lease of 487 a. of the combined Stirchley Hall and Grange estate from Browne, (fn. 40) thus gaining access to the minerals under most of the north and west half of the parish. Between then and c. 1840 they established collieries, ironworks, and a brickworks on their Stirchley royalties. Beriah Botfield, who succeeded his father Beriah and uncles, did not renew the lease in 1856 and the land, mineral rights, and plant were leased to the Old Park Iron Co., (fn. 41) which continued the industrial operations in Stirchley until it was wound up in 1871. (fn. 42) By 1900 mining and ironworking had ceased. A chemical works, occupying one of the former ironworks, flourished until 1932 and brick making and the crushing of furnace slag for road metal continued until the 1960s. The following account treats each industry separately.
The top of the productive Middle Coal Measures lay c. 143 metres below ground level in Stirchley. (fn. 43) The earliest mining recorded in the parish was the sinking of a shaft by William Botfield early in 1811 in the west, (fn. 44) probably at the location known as Stirchley New Work c. 1815 and Stirchley pits in 1840. (fn. 45) By 1815 the damaged land around the colliery and coke hearths extended to 4 a. (fn. 46) The Botfields consolidated the area under which they could mine by taking a lease of mineral rights under 17 a. of glebe in 1814 (fn. 47) and buying some scattered fields from Lord Darlington in 1826. (fn. 48) By 1822 four pits appear to have been in production, (fn. 49) and by 1840 (fn. 50) there were five collieries in the parish: Randlay pits, sunk in 1820; (fn. 51) Cuxey's Wood pits, sunk 1834-5; (fn. 52) Forge pits, sunk 1825-6; (fn. 53) Grange colliery, probably opened by 1833; (fn. 54) and the original shaft at Stirchley pits. The extent of seams that could be worked was restricted by the Limestone fault, east of which the coal lay deeper: in 1843 an attempt to mine coal near Mount Pleasant was abandoned on encountering the fault. (fn. 55) After the Old Park Iron Co. was wound up in 1871 the mines were leased to the Wellington Iron & Coal Co. Ltd. in 1874 (fn. 56) but by 1879 had reverted to the landowners, the Cheney family. (fn. 57) By 1881 all the pits except Grange colliery had been closed. (fn. 58) Despite the lease of mineral rights to Alfred Seymour Jones of Wrexham in 1893, Grange colliery was closed in 1894. (fn. 59)
Coal and ironstone were not afterwards mined from shafts in the parish but the deep seams under Lower Brands and Holmer House farms south-east of the Limestone fault were mined from Kemberton colliery in the early 20th century. (fn. 60)
Ironworking was started in the parish c. 1826 by the Botfield brothers. Blast furnaces were built at the south end of Randlay reservoir (or Randay pool) (fn. 61) and a forge and rolling mill were opened probably c. 1828, west of the Shropshire Canal on land purchased from Lord Darlington in 1826. (fn. 62) The blast furnaces were leased with the mining royalties to the Old Park Iron Co. after Botfield's lease expired in 1856. (fn. 63) After the company was wound up in 1871 the furnaces were leased in 1874 to the Wellington Iron & Coal Co., which failed in 1877. (fn. 64) The furnaces passed back to the owner of the site, Edward Cheney, who kept them in blast for a few years, but they were shut down by 1885. (fn. 65) The forge and rolling mills, which were Botfield's freehold property, were sold by Beriah Botfield's trustees in 1873 to the Haybridge Iron Co., (fn. 66) which rebuilt the works in 1876 and established a nail factory on the site in 1874 or 1875. (fn. 67) The nail factory was sold to John Maddock in 1876; (fn. 68) he moved his operations to Oakengates two years later (fn. 69) but nails continued to be made at Stirchley for a few years under different proprietors. (fn. 70) The factory had closed by 1885 (fn. 71) but the adjacent forge and rolling mills continued to be operated by the Haybridge Co., the rolling mill closing finally c. 1900. (fn. 72)
The use of the drift burden of boulder clay and the marls of the Upper Coal Measures for brick and tile making coincided with the exploitation of other mineral resources by the Botfields. The brothers were manufacturing bricks in Stirchley in 1808-9, (fn. 73) possibly in a field south of Stirchley village, later called Brick Kiln leasow, where disused clay pits were still visible in 1980 and where there appear to have been buildings c. 1815. (fn. 74) There was a second Brick Kiln leasow north of Upper Brands. (fn. 75) Randlay brickworks in the north, which continued to manufacture bricks until 1964 or later, had been established by the Botfields by 1838. (fn. 76) In 1893 the Haybridge Iron Co. leased the works to George Wilkinson, who formed, with Adam Boulton, the Randlay Brick & Tile Co. (from 1939 A. Boulton & Co.). The partners bought the works and c. 40 a. of surrounding land in 1898. (fn. 77) Clay was obtained on site from an extensive pit, which was enlarged after the purchase of more land in 1905 and used until 1969. (fn. 78) In 1964 the brickworks employed 91 (fn. 79) and the three kilns produced c. 300,000 bricks a week. (fn. 80)
The site of the former furnaces was leased in 1886 to Thomas Groom, the Wellington timber merchant, who transferred his Wrekin Chemical Works to Stirchley on obtaining the lease. The chemical works extracted wood naphtha and tar from timber supplied by the Grooms' yard at Wellington and converted the residue into charcoal. Acetate of lime and sulphur were also manufactured. (fn. 81) Groom's successor, George Wilkinson, bought the site in 1904 (fn. 82) and the works closed in 1932. (fn. 83)
The extensive slag mounds that surrounded the former furnaces were exploited as a source of aggregate for road building and concrete manufacture from the 1890s. The mounds south-west of the Wrekin Chemical Works were leased in 1893, and purchased in 1907, by H. C. Johnson, a Wrexham quarry owner, who had built a slag crusher on the site by 1901. (fn. 84) The industry expanded during the 1920s when most of the slag mounds in the parish were acquired by Tarslag (1923) Ltd. and the Bilston Slag Co. (1924) Ltd. (fn. 85) By 1925 there were four slag-crushing plants in the parish, (fn. 86) the largest being Tarslag's works, employing up to c. 130 men, which both crushed the slag and coated it with tar and bitumen. Tarmac Ltd., which succeeded the Bilston company, also manufactured 'Vinculum' concrete walling blocks at Stirchley from c. 1925 to c. 1935, and Tarslag operated a short-lived concrete plant there as well. Impurities and the variable quality of the slag led to the closure of the works. (fn. 87) By the Second World War most of the slag mounds had been exhausted and Tarslag's crushing and coating plant closed in 1941. Tarmac continued to remove slag from Stirchley for processing elsewhere until c. 1964. (fn. 88)
The new town development corporation bought the derelict industrial land on the west side of the parish in 1967 and 1969. (fn. 89) Ten years later few buildings remained there except the chimney at the site of Stirchley furnaces, built in 1873 (fn. 90) and preserved as an industrial monument in part of Telford's town park.