A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES.
As almost everywhere in the coalfield the alehouse was an integral and ever present part of the community. There was an alehouse at Ketley Bank in 1613, and three at Oakengates in 1618- 19. (fn. 1) Four were licensed in Wombridge parish in 1753 and six in 1805; they probably lay in Oakengates. (fn. 2) In the earlier 19th century the number of public houses grew as the town expanded, and in 1846 the Methodists noted that on reckoning Mondays the Oakengates pubs were frequently crowded. (fn. 3) In 1856 there were sixteen public houses and eight beer sellers in Oakengates, those figures remaining roughly constant until after the First World War when the beer sellers began to be closed. There were fourteen public houses in 1941. There were two public houses in Priorslee by 1856, (fn. 4) two were open in 1983.
Oakengates wake took place in early October in 1801-6, the focus of activity being the pubs along the main street. (fn. 5) Bull baiting was among the more notorious entertainments, and the county's last baiting was reputedly at the 1833 wake. (fn. 6) As late as 1870 colliers' daughters who had spent the summer working in market gardens around London would traditionally return for the wakes, some with dowries. (fn. 7) Horse and donkey races and athletic competitions were held south of Pain's Lane in the mid to late 19th century during the wakes, (fn. 8) then usually held in early September during the annual works' holiday. Like Oakengates Saturday night market, a leading social and commercial attraction throughout the district, the wakes did not survive the Second World War. (fn. 9)
Fairs, probably during the wakes, took place on the Green until the construction of the Wellington-Wolverhampton railway across it c. 1849, and thereafter at the other end of Oakengates in Owen's field. There were four fairs in 1850, and an annual funfair visited Oakengates until c. 1980 when it moved to Donnington. (fn. 10)
Neither cock fighting nor bull baiting was confined to the wakes. In the early 19th century bulls were regularly baited on Sundays in Oakengates and before 1810 miners from Oakengates and Ketley regularly spent a week cock fighting at the Bull's Head inn at Rodington. (fn. 11) Cock fighting persisted locally until the 1850s or later. (fn. 12)
By 1808 there was a brotherly or friendly society at Oakengates, perhaps that which met in the Leopard public house in 1823, (fn. 13) and there were several societies at Ketley Bank. (fn. 14) The Ancient Order of Foresters was well established in St. George's by 1875 and had links with Ketley Bank Primitive Methodist chapel. In 1903 a new Foresters' Hall was erected on the south side of West Street near the junction with Stafford Street. (fn. 15) In 1898 the 51 members of 'Earl Granville' lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (Manchester Unity) met at the Bull's Head, Oakengates. (fn. 16) For many years after its foundation in 1938 the Uxacona lodge of freemasons met at Wombridge. It subsequently moved to Wellington. (fn. 17)
Attempts to form a Chartist association in Oakengates in 1842 were apparently unsuccessful. (fn. 18) In 1883 and 1888 the Oakengates Gladstone Liberal Club met, and between c. 1909 and c. 1917 the Oakengates Liberal and Labour Club was active. (fn. 19) Between c. 1913 and c. 1926 there was also an Oakengates Unionist Club. (fn. 20)
A mechanics' institute was erected in 1855, (fn. 21) and in 1877 an Oakengates Literary Institute was meeting. (fn. 22) The Priorslee Institute was recorded between 1913 and 1941. (fn. 23) A county library book centre opened at Oakengates in 1930. (fn. 24) About 1951 the former Baptist chapel in Stafford Road was converted into a county branch library; it closed in 1975 when new premises in Limes Walk were acquired. (fn. 25) There was a circulating library at Ferriday's in Market Street in 1937. (fn. 26)
The Wolverhampton owners of the Shropshire Examiner published the paper weekly in Oakengates from 1876 to 1877 when it merged in their Midland Examiner and Times. (fn. 27)
In 1871 Priorslee cricket club shared a professional bowler and groundsman with the Shifnal club. (fn. 28) Oakengates Town Football & Sports Co. Ltd. ran a football team between c. 1926 and 1937, probably playing on Owen's field. (fn. 29) In 1927 the Miners' Welfare Fund was responsible for levelling a pit mound at the junction of Hartshill and Hadley roads, on which a public recreation ground opened. (fn. 30) A bowling green, football pitch, and tennis courts were among the facilities there in 1983. There was a bowling green at the George Hotel in West Street early in the 20th century. (fn. 31) Facilities in 1983 included football pitches at Oakengates Leisure Centre, the Oakengates 'outpost', and Priorslee. (fn. 32) Pigeon keeping remained a popular hobby, as it had been throughout the century. (fn. 33)
A large temperance meeting place, the Coffee Palace, served Oakengates between c. 1895 and c. 1913. (fn. 34) Oakengates Community Hall, provided in the late 1930s by the Charlton Mound committee, was taken over by the urban district council in 1948-9. (fn. 35) In 1962 Oakengates Old Folks' Rest Centre opened; it was also hired out for meetings and social gatherings. (fn. 36) Oakengates town hall, seating over 900, was opened in 1968 and from time to time provided a stage for entertainers of international reputation. It was the chief venue of the Wrekin and Telford Festival from its inception in 1974. The festival, under the patronage of the distinguished cellist Paul Tortelier, rapidly became renowned for the quality of the visiting artists and for the organizers' policy of encouraging participation by local amateur groups. (fn. 37)
The town's first cinema, the Picture House, opened in 1912 above the market hall. It was superseded in 1923 by the Grosvenor Cinema, which closed in 1967. Another early cinema, the Hippodrome, occupied what became Maddocks' offices in Station Road. (fn. 38)