A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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The area that became the civil parish of Walsall Wood was originally a detached part of the foreign of Walsall. (fn. 1) It was 1,551 a. in extent (fn. 2) and lay on either side of the Walsall-Lichfield road to the north-east of the main area. In 1894 it became a civil parish within the urban district of Brownhills, (fn. 3) which in 1966 became part of the urban district of AldridgeBrownhills, itself taken into the metropolitan district of Walsall from 1974. The present article covers the history of Walsall Wood to 1974, except for the modern development of the northern extremity. That development is part of the growth of Brownhills (in Norton Canes and Ogley Hay) and is reserved for treatment in a future volume.
Walsall Wood was bounded on the west by Ford (or Clayhanger) Brook and on the south-east by its tributary Shelfield (or Shavers End) Brook and by Langley Brook. (fn. 4) The north-eastern boundary ran up Commonside (fn. 5) close to the Vigo Fault and along the southern side of Brownhills High Street, crossing it to form the northern tip of the area. Where the north-eastern boundary crosses the Walsall-Lichfield road, it was marked by a tree called Shire Oak; the tree was mentioned in 1533, and its remains were removed in the mid 1890s. (fn. 6) The area is situated on the Coal Measures, and the soil is chiefly marl and clay, with alluvium along the brooks. (fn. 7) The level of the ground rises from some 420 ft. at the confluence of Ford and Shelfield Brooks on the south-west to some 540 ft. at the site of the former Shire Oak. (fn. 8)
The area is occupied by three main settlements, Shelfield, Walsall Wood, and Clayhanger, each of them still physically separate. There is in fact much open country, notably in the north-west, consisting chiefly of farm-land and reclaimed land. As the name Walsall Wood suggests, the area was once a well-wooded part of Cannock forest. Much of it remained common or waste until the 19th century, but by c. 1600 encroachment had produced scattered settlement. (fn. 9) In 1619 there were 237 recipients of Mollesley's Dole and in 1661 387. (fn. 10) The population was given as 900 in 1837 and then consisted chiefly of nailers and chain-makers. (fn. 11) By 1851 it had reached 1,142, chiefly miners, although no mining had yet started in Walsall Wood itself. (fn. 12) By the 1850s the area was becoming more prosperous. In 1825 the population of Walsall Wood hamlet was said to consist entirely of paupers, and in 1845 the incumbent stated that he had 'only one person of independent property in the place'. In 1857, however, he surveyed the changes since 1825 and claimed that 'a new place is formed. A church has been built. . . . The mud and thatched cottages disappear. The old ragged inhabitants of a wild district drop off.' (fn. 13) The population had risen to 1,930 by 1861 as a result of the extension of mining in the neighbourhood and the opening of brickyards. (fn. 14) There was a notable rise during the decade 1871-81, from 2,077 to 3,242, attributed partly to the building of the railway; in addition Walsall Wood Colliery was opened then. By 1891 the population had reached 4,582 and consisted of shopkeepers, colliers, brick-makers, and a few small farmers. By 1901 it had risen to 6,492, an increase again attributed mainly to the development of coal-mining and brick-making. Having reached 7,116 in 1911 and 8,351 in 1921, it had dropped to 7,597 by 1931. It was 8,805 in 1951. In 1961 the population of the slightly smaller area (1,520 a.) covered by the two new wards of Walsall Wood and of Shelfield and High Heath was 11,519.
Shelfield was at first the main settlement. It probably existed before the Conquest since Domesday Book recorded a hide of land there; in 1086, however, the hide was waste. (fn. 15) Shelfield was an inhabited area by the earlier 13th century (fn. 16) and was called a hamlet in 1276. (fn. 17) It had its own common fields. (fn. 18) Its centre was at the junction of Mill Road, Field Lane, and Birch Lane; (fn. 19) Shelfield Lodge on the south side of Mill Road (demolished in 1961) was an 18th-century house incorporating the remains of a late-medieval hall house. (fn. 20) Mill Road continued north on the line of the present Ford Brook Road to join the road running from High Heath to Pelsall. (fn. 21) There was settlement at High Heath by 1576 when a cottage there was described as a recent encroachment. (fn. 22) By 1763 there were also cottages at Shelfield (later Birches) Green on the Walsall-Lichfield road, at Irondish to the north where the present New Street meets the main road, along Green Lane which runs north from the green, and at Coalheath to the south on the main road. (fn. 23) By 1775 there was a house at Shaver's End on the main road near the southern boundary, a site later occupied by Shelfield Farm (in 1974 commercial premises). (fn. 24) A house at the south-east corner of Birches Green on the site of the present Shelfield House Farm existed by the early 19th century and possibly by 1775. (fn. 25) Houses were built in the later 19th century in the triangle formed by Lichfield Road, New Street, and Spring Road (fn. 26) and towards the end of the century at High Heath along what is now the Coronation Road stretch of Mob Lane. (fn. 27) There is some housing of the period between the two World Wars, and after the Second World War Shelfield expanded greatly, with housing estates, both council and private, being built over the whole area between Mill Road, High Heath, Green Lane, and Ford Brook Lane, in the area south of Mill Road, and at Coalheath.
The village of Walsall Wood had become the main settlement by the early 19th century. The name was in use by 1200 when the wood of Walsall was a distinct part of Cannock forest. (fn. 28) Squatting on the extensive commons was in progress by the later 16th century. (fn. 29) By 1763 there was a hamlet along the Walsall-Lichfield road, and there was also settlement at Bullings Heath at the junction of Green Lane and the present Hall Lane, at Goblins Pit further south in Green Lane, around the common to the south of the main road, and at Shire Oak. By 1805 the southern common was known as Holly Bank Common and the settlement on its south side as Vigo. In 1763 there was also settlement on the edge of Walsall Wood Common north of the main road: at Paul's Coppice (so named by 1805) on the west of the common and at Catshill on the north by the Chester road. A way ran over the common to Catshill, evidently approximating to the line of the present Brownhills Road and Lindon Road. (fn. 30) Coppice Road running up the west side of the common from Walsall Wood village existed by the earlier 19th century. (fn. 31) An Anglican mission was established in the earlier 1820s and a school was opened in 1825. (fn. 32) At the inclosure of 1876 roads were laid out, to some extent following or replacing existing ways: Holly Bank Road (now King Street and Beechtree Road) and the present Queen Street and Vigo Road along the south-western edge of Holly Bank Common, and the present Coppice Road, Camden Street, Lindon Road, Friezland Lane, and Brownhills Road over Walsall Wood Common. (fn. 33) In the later 1870s too Walsall Wood Colliery was opened at Paul's Coppice. (fn. 34) Development followed, particularly from the end of the century. (fn. 35) There are three large housing estates: on the west side of Salter's Road and dating from the period between the two World Wars, on the east side of the road and built since the Second World War, and around Friezland Lane and also dating from the post-war period. Houses have also been built on the north side of Queen Street and Vigo Road since the war, and building was still in progress in 1974. Since the war several small factories have been built around the junction of Hall Lane and High Street, and in 1974 an industrial estate was being built over the site of Walsall Wood Colliery.
Clayhanger in the north occurs as arable, pasture, and woodland in the later 14th and early 15th centuries; it was an extensive area of pasture in 1576. (fn. 36) By 1763 there was settlement on the west side of Clayhanger Common, which occupied the north of the area, and the present Clayhanger Road ran over the common by the early 19th century. (fn. 37) By the earlier 19th century the small village of Clayhanger was developing along what are now Bridge and Church Streets. A mission centre was opened c. 1872, and High Street was laid out as Caddick Street at the inclosure of 1876. (fn. 38) By 1878 the population was over 400. (fn. 39) A few houses (demolished by 1974) were built in Bridge Street between the railway and the canal about the end of the century, (fn. 40) and more were built in the village itself between the two World Wars. Since the Second World War a housing estate has been laid out to the south of High Street, and there has been some rebuilding on the sites of 19th-century houses.
Walsall Wood lies on the road from Walsall to Lichfield, turnpiked in 1766 as far as Muckley Corner on Watling Street. (fn. 41) A little beyond the boundary at Shire Oak the road crosses the old London-Chester road, (fn. 42) which as Brownhills High Street runs through the northern tip of the former parish. Shelfield bridge over Shelfield Brook, which occurs in 1576 and 1617, (fn. 43) presumably stood on the site of the bridge that carries the Lichfield road over that brook south of Shelfield. The lane leading from Shelfield to Aldridge, mentioned in 1324, (fn. 44) presumably followed the line of the present Spring Road and Stubbers Green Road. The road from Aldridge to Hednesford in Cannock via Walsall Wood is mentioned in the early 18th century, passing through the area apparently along the line of the present Northgate, Salter's Road, Brownhills Road, and Lindon Road to the Chester road at Catshill. (fn. 45)
The Wyrley and Essington Canal, opened in 1797, crosses the northern extremity of the area. About 1800 the Daw End branch was built from Catshill Junction south through Walsall Wood village to the Hay Head limestone quarries in Walsall. (fn. 46)
A railway was completed from Aldridge through Walsall Wood to Norton Canes in 1882, and a station was opened in High Street, Walsall Wood, when a passenger service was introduced in 1884. That service was withdrawn in 1930, and in 1962 the station was closed for freight also. (fn. 47) The Leighswood mineral branch was opened through the Shelfield area in 1872 from the South Staffordshire line at Pelsall to Leighswood Colliery in Aldridge; it was disused by the 1960s. (fn. 48) There was also a mineral line from the South Staffordshire line to Walsall Wood Colliery. (fn. 49)
Wakes were held, sometimes at Walsall Wood and sometimes at Shelfield, on the last Monday of Octo ber or the first in November between at least 1894 and 1913. (fn. 50) Walsall Wood's only cinema, the Electric Picture Palace in Brookland Road, had been opened by 1924; it still existed in 1940 but had been demolished by 1974. (fn. 51) A recreation centre at Oak Park, Lichfield Road, was completed in 1973. It includes a swimming pool, three football pitches, three tennis courts, two bowling-greens, and facilities for other games. (fn. 52)
A friendly society at Walsall Wood was registered in 1833. By 1876 there were six societies, including three lodges of Odd Fellows. (fn. 53)