A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Like nearby Hadley (fn. 1) the two Lawley manors were not wealthy in 1086, and the name-element leah suggests that they had been created by woodland clearance in a period not far distant. (fn. 2) The manors were taxed at only 1½ hide. The smaller had land for one ploughteam but had been waste for some time, was worth nothing, and had no recorded tenants. The larger had one team in demesne, with four serfs, and another team in the hands of a villein. Since 1066 its value had fallen from 12s. to 10s. (fn. 3)
Domesday recorded no woodland, but in the early Middle Ages waste and woodland probably covered most of the higher parts of the township, on the southern, western, and north-western sides, with arable lying lower down on the east and north-east. (fn. 4) The township lay within the forest jurisdiction of Mount Gilbert until 1301 (fn. 5) and assarting was therefore controlled. In the late 12th century the men of Lawley were amerced for 3½ a. of wheat taken into cultivation. (fn. 6) In the later Middle Ages there were at least two open arable fields, (fn. 7) Synders field (fn. 8) on the north-east side of the village, (fn. 9) and Wall field, (fn. 10) perhaps on the north.
By the early 16th century it had become profitable to inclose open-field arable for pasture. In 1512 a tenant inclosed and converted 18 a. (fn. 11) By 1589 the landlord had inclosed the woodland and had let parcels of it to tenants in severalty, some of whom used them as pasture. (fn. 12) There were eight farms in 1615, three large ones owing rents between £1 2s. 8d. and £4 11s. 4d., the others owing between 9s. and 14s. 10d. each. (fn. 13) The same number of farms existed c. 1712, mostly 'very small'. (fn. 14)
At least five farms were held by lease in 1615. The two oldest leases then in force, dated 1581, were for 60 years terminable on the life of the landlord, Vincent Corbet (kt. 1607). (fn. 15) By 1605, the date of the next oldest lease, the term was invariably three lives. All lessees owed 2 capons a year, suit of court, and heriot. (fn. 16) In 1639 a lessee had to carry a stack of coal annually from Lawley to Moreton Corbet, and within Lawley each tenant had to carry annually a quantity of mine timber proportionate to the size of his farm. (fn. 17) In the late 17th and earlier 18th century the farmers had both cereals and cattle, and the larger ones usually had sheep and a few pigs. (fn. 18)
In the early 19th century, as in the early 17th, there were three large farms: (fn. 19) John Williams's (187 a.), Lawley farm (140 a.), (fn. 20) and Lawley House farm (107 a.). (fn. 21) In 1806 the three other agricultural holdings were between 11 a. and 26 a. Lawley common (including Horsehay common), in the extreme south of the township, then consisted of the Great common (131 a.) and Emery's common (36 a.), on which the farmers had grazing rights proportionate to their holdings. Inclosure and division among the farmers was then considered, and by 1842 a 62-a. parcel of common had been added to John Williams's farm and 71 a. (in three parcels) were let to the Coalbrookdale Co. Other farmers, however, received nothing of the former commons, the rest of whose area consisted mostly of cottages at the margins. The township's woodland had been used up since the 17th century, probably for mining timber, and none remained in 1842.
After c. 1857, when the railway bisected the township, (fn. 22) the farms of the manorial estate were radically reorganized. (fn. 23) Thomas Jones's former holding at Lawley Bank (21 a. in 1842) was enlarged to comprise all other farmland east of the railway (including the Coalbrookdale Co.'s former holding) and became Lawley Bank farm (113 a. in 1910). Lawley farm thereby lost a small acreage east of the railway, but was greatly enlarged north and south (to 203 a. by 1910), mainly at the expense of the former Williams farm, whose remaining land (126 a. in 1910) was put into the Coalbrookdale Co.'s Horsehay farm, administered from Dawley parish. (fn. 24) Lawley House farm, which included 106 a. outside the township in 1842, was unaltered by boundary changes within Lawley, but by 1918 had 187 a. outside the township. (fn. 25) Of the four smallholdings of 1842, only Newdale farm (38 a.) remained in 1910.
At the beginning of the 19th century arable exceeded permanent grass by about 3 to 1 on Lawley and Lawley House farms, and by about 2 to 1 on the Williams farm. Wheat accounted for by far the greatest cereal acreage on the three main farms. No turnips were recorded but clover, peas, and vetches were used. (fn. 26) In 1842 the township's agricultural land (c. 616 a.) was equally divided between arable (c. 315 a.) and pasture (including former commons) and meadow. The division was in those proportions on the Williams farm, which by then included much former common; farther north, however, on Lawley and Lawley House farms, arable still exceeded pasture and meadow by more than 2 to 1. (fn. 27) In the later 19th century the area of agricultural land decreased only slightly and the reorganized farms did not share uniformly in the parish's movement towards livestock. (fn. 28) By the 1910s the arable proportion of the township's farmland had fallen to about 40 per cent but, in the north and centre, constituted about 80 per cent in Newdale farm and 69 per cent in Lawley farm. In the south arable formed only 34 per cent in the Lawley part of Horsehay farm and only 22 per cent in Lawley Bank farm, (fn. 29) and the Lawley part of Lawley House farm by then consisted almost entirely of pasture. (fn. 30)
In 1980 Lawley still had a high proportion of agricultural land (fn. 31) but Telford development corporation had designated most of the township for future housing, roads, and open spaces, with no industrial sites. (fn. 32) In the later 19th and earlier 20th century only Lawley Bank (straggling into Ketley township and Dawley parish) had had any appreciable concentration of shops and public houses, (fn. 33) and a little coalmining was then almost the only occupation outside agriculture.
Hugh the smith had a forge c. 1180. (fn. 34) Fields called Smithy Pool lay near Lawley village. (fn. 35) At Newdale the Coalbrookdale Co. seems to have started a small and short-lived foundry in 1759. (fn. 36) Some ironworking jobs were available in the 19th and 20th centuries on the borders of the township, for instance at Lawley Furnaces (fn. 37) and Horsehay. By 1957 (fn. 38) the Birchfield Foundry Ltd., iron founders, were established near Lawley Bank station. The works employed 44 in 1964 (fn. 39) but closed c. 1968. (fn. 40)
Coal and ironstone seams lay near the surface on Lawley common, at Lawley Bank, along the Little Wenlock boundary, and at Newdale. (fn. 41) The lord of the manor had mines in 1589 (at 'Coalpit Bank', (fn. 42) perhaps Lawley Bank), 1639, (fn. 43) and 1677. (fn. 44) Ironstone may have been sent to Coalbrookdale furnace in 1685. (fn. 45)
In 1705 Robert Burton leased all coal mines on the manorial estate to Gabriel and Roger Cleaton. By 1712 they had apparently raised several thousand stacks and were working near the Flat leasow (fn. 46) in the north. (fn. 47) By 1755 the Lawley Co. was supplying coal and ironstone to Horsehay ironworks. (fn. 48) In 1759 Robert Burton leased minerals in the manor to Thomas Goldney and Abraham Darby (II). (fn. 49) Large quantities of coal and ironstone went to Horsehay in the 1760s and 1770s, (fn. 50) and in 1793 coal was being sent to Coalbrookdale. (fn. 51) In 1806 the Coalbrookdale Co. had the mineral rights on Lawley common and Joseph Reynolds & Co. those around Newdale. (fn. 52) Active pits lay mainly on the north side of the common and at Lawley Bank. (fn. 53) In 1853 the Coalbrookdale Co. bought the mineral rights with the manorial estate. (fn. 54)
On the Forester estate the coal, ironstone, and clay were leased from 1818 (fn. 55) to the partners who in 1822 opened Lawley furnace nearby. (fn. 56) In the 1820s this Lawley Co. was selling some of the Clod coal to the Ketley Co. (fn. 57) but in the 1840s was using most of the coal at its own furnace. (fn. 58) In 1847 the Coalbrookdale Co. became lessees of the furnace and mines, (fn. 59) and in the half-year to March 1856 raised c. 10,000 tons of coal and c. 5,300 of ironstone from the mines (partly in Little Wenlock parish). (fn. 60) Lawley furnace closed c. 1870. (fn. 61)
By 1882 mining had almost ceased; there were over thirty abandoned shafts. Remaining pits on Lawley common and at Newdale (fn. 62) were closed by 1901. (fn. 63) Nevertheless by 1909 (fn. 64) C. R. Jones & Sons were lessees of minerals near Lawley Furnaces at the Lawley colliery, partly on the manorial (fn. 65) and partly on the Forester estates. (fn. 66) They bought the Lawley colliery minerals from those estates in 1911 (fn. 67) and 1919 (fn. 68) respectively. The Wrekin Coal Co. operated the colliery in 1941 (fn. 69) but the mines were shut by 1958. (fn. 70) The minerals elsewhere on the manorial estate were sold, when it was broken up in 1911, to the purchasers of the several lots, (fn. 71) and small-scale mining continued at Lawley Bank (fn. 72) and Lawley common. (fn. 73) The last mine near Lawley Bank closed c. 1954. (fn. 74)
Opencast mining was in progress near Lawley village in 1957 (fn. 75) and ceased c. 1960. (fn. 76) Between 1973 and 1975 opencast working on 113 a. at Lawley common yielded c. 300,000 tons of coal for power station use and destroyed old shafts and tips in preparation for building. (fn. 77)
Slag from Lawley Furnaces was used for road material in the 1920s. (fn. 81)
From c. 1936 John A. Greenwood and Kathleen M. Ball produced high quality lead figurines in Spring Village, Horsehay. Miss Ball continued to paint figures there until 1952, and Greenwood moved to Scarborough in 1959. Production was mainly of military figures for sale, but special commissions ranging from single figures to major exhibition dioramas were also undertaken. (fn. 82)