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 lords of the divided manor held view of frankpledge by 1255, (fn. 1) and in the later 13th century the court leet, apparently held jointly for both parts, was meeting twice a year, at Michaelmas and Easter. (fn. 2) In 1293 the lords successfully maintained their claim to the view, infangthief, and gallows; although a jury also upheld their claim to waif, the Crown contested it but proceedings seem to have lapsed. (fn. 3) From at least the end of the 16th century (fn. 4) until the earlier 19th century there was only one meeting of the leet each year, in October. (fn. 5) In the late 16th and earlier 17th centuries the court baron was meeting every three weeks. (fn. 6) Lord Dartmouth, having acquired the manor in 1823, held courts leet and baron in May 1824 and April 1837. (fn. 7) The meeting-place by the earlier 19th century was either the Bull's Head or the Swan. (fn. 8) The officers appointed by the court from at least the later 16th century included the constable, one or more deputy constables, and two tithingmen or thirdboroughs. Until at least 1634 the tithingmen were often described as ale-tasters as well. From at least 1685 until 1804 two overseers of the field hedges were elected. The election of a pinner is recorded in 1685. (fn. 9) The constable was presenting his accounts to the vestry by at least 1679. (fn. 10)
About 1830 a pound, stocks, and whipping-post stood at the corner of Hollyhedge Road and Heath Lane opposite All Saints' Church. All three were then moved to a site in front of the Ring of Bells at the junction of All Saints Street and Church Vale. (fn. 11) The stocks and whipping-post were apparently taken away when the police force was established in 1840. (fn. 12) In 1970 the pound still stood, and the stocks were preserved in the grounds of the Oak House. There seems to have been a lock-up at Lyndon in the 18th century. (fn. 13) The inhabitants were in trouble in 1633 when it was reported at the manor court that the parish had no tumbrel or cucking-stool. (fn. 14)
Sandwell priory exercised a separate manorial jurisdiction over its estate. According to a survey of 1526 the inclosed demesne lands surrounding the priory yielded the profits of leets 'that there shall happen and . . . like liberties from a place called Horeston unto a place called Brend Oke'. Anyone succeeding to or buying freehold property within the lordship had to pay the priory a fine. The survey mentions no copyholders, but most of the freeholders owed suit of court as well as rent; two of them were also subject to the incidents of wardship and marriage and had to pay heriot as well as relief. (fn. 15) The Whorwoods too regarded their Sandwell estate as a manor. In a lease of land in 1608 Sir William Whorwood reserved a twice-yearly suit to his manor of Sandwell, (fn. 16) and other leases between 1639 and 1659 mention suit of court, suit of mill, and heriots. (fn. 17) It seems unlikely, however, that suit was ever exacted, (fn. 18) and during the 17th century the status of Sandwell as a separate manor was apparently being questioned by the lords of West Bromwich. In 1617 and 1619 West Bromwich manor court stated that Sandwell was within the manor of West Bromwich. (fn. 19) In 1617, however, quarter sessions ordered that the occupants of Sandwell Hall should thenceforth be free from liability for parish office since it was a manor-house and once the 'mansion house' of the priory. (fn. 20) By the later 17th century the owners of Sandwell were having to defend the rights which they claimed as manorial lords. At that time Brome Whorwood's steward erected brick-kilns on the waste near Sandwell Gate to test the reaction of the lord of West Bromwich manor; the steward was also claiming a separate manorial pound and rights of warren on that part of the Heath which lay within the bounds of Sandwell. (fn. 21) The lords of West Bromwich continued to press their claims after Lord Dartmouth had bought Sandwell in 1701. Dartmouth in fact believed that Joseph Shelton was doing so in order to give him a greater inducement to buy West Bromwich manor. (fn. 22) Soon after Sir Samuel Clarke bought the manor in 1720 the issue was tested at law. At the spring assizes of 1723 a tenancy was disputed: the defendant claimed to hold the property from Dartmouth on whose waste it stood, but for the plaintiff, who was Clarke's tenant in the same property, it was argued that Sandwell was not a manor and that Dartmouth therefore held none of the waste. Dartmouth could not produce any court rolls, and the plaintiff won. (fn. 23) A few months later Dartmouth was summoned to Clarke's manor court as owing suit and service for his Sandwell property. He did not, however, appear, (fn. 24) and Sandwell was still referred to as a manor in family settlements of 1755 and 1786. (fn. 25)
By the end of the 17th century the vestry had emerged as the main organ of local government. (fn. 26) Meetings were open to all ratepayers, (fn. 27) but attendances were usually small. Sixty-seven people are recorded attending a meeting held at the parish church in April 1735 and concerned with the provision of a workhouse. Fiftythree of those present opposed the use of a levy for any other purpose than direct relief of the poor, while fourteen supported its expenditure on a workhouse. Similar numbers attended further meetings on the same subject in June and July. (fn. 28) The figures are by far the highest for any meeting in the vestry records. The meeting-place was normally the church or the workhouse, but occasionally parishioners' houses, including the Swan, were used; in the later 1780s a vestry room was built at the church. (fn. 29) A vestry clerk, whose duties included the keeping of the parish accounts, was appointed in 1823. In 1824 he was voted a salary. (fn. 30)
There were two churchwardens by the earlier 16th century. (fn. 31) In the late 17th and earlier 18th centuries both seem to have been chosen by the vestry at its meeting in Easter week; from 1736 the minister normally chose one and the inhabitants the other at the Easter vestry. (fn. 32) A paid parish clerk occurs by the late 16th century. (fn. 33) In 1800 he was appointed by the vestry, (fn. 34) but at a visitation 30 years later it was stated that the minister appointed him. (fn. 35) A beadle was appointed by the vestry by 1788. (fn. 36)
By the early 17th century there were two highway surveyors, apparently appointed by the parish but responsible to the manor court. (fn. 37) They were nominated by the constable at a December vestry meeting from at least 1679 until 1691. (fn. 38) In the 1820s the vestry appointed a salaried assistant surveyor. (fn. 39)
There were four overseers of the poor in 1599 (fn. 40) but only two in the mid 17th century. (fn. 41) Two then remained the usual figure. By 1740 each overseer held office for six months, but this was stopped in 1780 when the vestry ruled that 'it will be better for the parish for the overseers to go hand in hand through the year and not divide the time'. (fn. 42) In 1708 a salaried overseer was appointed, (fn. 43) and the use of a paid official was repeated periodically during the 18th century, notably from 1718 to 1733 when there were apparently no other overseers. (fn. 44) In 1789, alarmed by the great increase in the rates, the vestry appointed a paid standing overseer to scrutinize strictly all applications for relief. (fn. 45) From at least 1772 the governor of the workhouse acted as an assistant to the overseers, particularly in the collection of the rates; a paid collector was appointed in 1788, but the governor was again acting as collector between at least 1803 and 1828. (fn. 46) By 1833 the poorrate was being collected with the other parish rates by a salaried collector. (fn. 47)
The parish was stated in 1599 to be 'overcharged with poor to the number of threescore and more', (fn. 48) but it was in the later 18th century that the number of paupers increased sharply. In 1789 the vestry referred to 'the numerous increase of poor' in the parish, (fn. 49) and at the beginning of October 1798 there were 39 in the workhouse and 243 in receipt of outdoor relief. In June 1817 the numbers were 72 and 444, but in February 1820, during a period of great distress, 1,950 were receiving parish relief. In March 1832 there were 57 in the workhouse and 490 on out-door relief. (fn. 50) Badging was resolved upon in 1766. (fn. 51) In 1772 the governor of the workhouse was given the duty of visiting families who became chargeable as a result of sickness 'so that the overseers may not be imposed upon'. (fn. 52) In 1775 attention was given to the removal of 'out-parishioners', and in 1780 and 1783 it was stressed that no money raised for poor relief was to be spent outside the parish. (fn. 53) It was also ordered in 1780 that no relief was to be given outside the workhouse except in cases of sickness, accident, or old age (70 and over). The aged, however, were not to receive more than 6d. a week unless they had been 'industrious and careful in their youth'; 'disordered incurable people' were to be taken into the workhouse. (fn. 54) From at least 1773, on the other hand, the vestry paid a doctor to attend the poor, (fn. 55) and in the early 1780s it agreed to subscribe to the newly built Birmingham General Hospital so that paupers could be sent there. (fn. 56) The arrangements of 1789 for scrutinizing all applications for relief have been mentioned above. In 1810 it was ordered that all receiving parish relief were, if capable, to attend at the workhouse with their children for inspection, (fn. 57) while in 1816 anyone keeping a dog was banned from parish relief; in fact all who kept a dog were to be compelled to pay parish rates. (fn. 58)
In the 1690s the poor may have been set to work making nails for the profit of the parish, (fn. 59) but there was then no workhouse. In 1716 the vestry agreed to build houses for the poor on land known as the Poors Land, (fn. 60) presumably for use as poor-houses. It established a workhouse in 1735, although there was strong opposition from one section of the inhabitants who even went to law on the matter. (fn. 61) The building was a former nail warehouse in the present St. Clement's Lane. (fn. 62) An extension was agreed to in 1768, and in 1771 the vestry ordered the conversion of the stables to provide more accommodation. (fn. 63) Further extensions were necessary in 1774, (fn. 64) and in 1777 the building was said to accommodate 100. (fn. 65) In 1791 the erection of a boundary wall with spikes on the top was ordered to prevent the inmates from getting out. (fn. 66) A committee set up in 1814 to consider the need for a new workhouse found the existing building completely unfit, but plans for a new building were not carried out, apparently for lack of money. (fn. 67)
The governor of the workhouse appointed in 1772 was paid a salary of £20, (fn. 68) but in 1784 the vestry decided instead 'to set the poor in the workhouse by the head by the week' at the rate of 2s. each. (fn. 69) In 1788 the governor complained that this was too low because of the number of inmates who were not well enough to work, and the sum was duly raised to 2s. 3d. (fn. 70) A new governor was appointed in 1789 at a salary of £15 with 'all reasonable maintenance, meat, drink, washing, and lodging' and maintenance for his young son if he wished. (fn. 71) The governor appointed in 1803 was given a salary of £40. (fn. 72)
The West Bromwich poor-law union was formed in 1836, from the Staffordshire parishes of West Bromwich, Wednesbury, and Handsworth and from Oldbury, Warley Salop, and Warley Wigorn in Halesowen (Worcs.). (fn. 73) The parish workhouses at West Bromwich and Wednesbury were retained and enlarged; the West Bromwich workhouse as a result had accommodation for 140 paupers. (fn. 74) In 1844 Lord Dartmouth described it as 'a disgrace to the place', (fn. 75) and there was an unsuccessful scheme for building a workhouse at the Cronehills in 1854. (fn. 76) In 1857, however, a new union workhouse was opened in Hallam Street; it was an extensive red-brick building designed by Briggs & Evoral. (fn. 77) The surviving buildings form part of Hallam Hospital. (fn. 78) In 1872 the Walsall and West Bromwich poor-law unions opened the Walsall and West Bromwich District Schools for pauper children, housed in an Elizabethan-style building at Wigmore designed by S. E. Bindley of Birmingham. It was closed in 1935. (fn. 79)
With the rapid growth of the town in the 19th century the vestry was no longer able to provide adequate local government. In 1853 the vestry itself appointed a large committee to promote an Act establishing a local board of health for the town, (fn. 80) and in 1854 the West Bromwich Improvement Act set up a body of 16 improvement commissioners (13 elected members and 3 magistrates). (fn. 81) The commissioners' powers were extended by Acts of 1855 and 1865. (fn. 82)
In 1882 the parish was granted a charter of incorporation as a borough. The council consisted of 6 aldermen and 18 councillors, and the borough was divided into six wards—Sandwell, Lyndon, Hill Top, Greets Green, Town Hall, and Spon Lane. West Bromwich became a county borough in 1889. (fn. 83) In 1918 two new wards were created, Lyng and Tantany, and the council was increased to 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. (fn. 84) A ninth ward, Barr, was created after the acquisition of part of the urban district of Perry Barr in 1928; it was represented by one councillor. (fn. 85) The number of wards was increased to 11 in 1952 when Lyndon was divided into three, Hateley Heath, Friar Park, and Charlemont; the number of aldermen was raised to 11 and the number of councillors to thirtythree. (fn. 86) The borough was granted a commission of the peace in 1888 and quarter sessions in 1890. (fn. 87)
In 1966, as part of the reorganization of local government in the West Midlands, the borough of West Bromwich was extended to include most of Tipton and Wednesbury with parts of Birmingham, Smethwick, Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Coseley, Bilston, Walsall, and Aldridge; parts were transferred to Birmingham and Walsall. (fn. 88) In 1974 West Bromwich became part of the metropolitan borough of Sandwell. (fn. 89)
The council had a majority of Conservatives, Liberals, and Independents until 1946. (fn. 90) The first Labour councillor, however, was elected before the First World War, for Spon Lane ward, and the first Labour mayor was chosen in 1934. (fn. 91) Labour took control in 1945 and retained it until 1961. (fn. 92) The Conservatives were then in control for two years, although from 1962 the two Independents on the council held the balance. (fn. 93) Labour regained control in 1963, retaining it until 1967. (fn. 94)
The town hall on the corner of High Street and Lodge Road was built in 1875. It is of brick and stone in an Italian Gothic style with a large tower and was designed by Alexander & Henman of Stockton-on-Tees (co. Dur.). (fn. 95) An organ was presented in 1878 by Alexander Brogden, the first M.P. for Wednesbury, West Bromwich then being part of that constituency. (fn. 96) The town hall was altered in 1905 to provide more offices and a committee room, (fn. 97) and in 1924 the reading room of the former free library building next to the town hall was converted into a council chamber. (fn. 98) The law-courts in Lombard Street West were built in 1890-1 to the designs of Wood & Kendrick of West Bromwich. (fn. 99)
The insignia of the former borough include a gold mayoral chain presented by Lord Dartmouth in 1882 and a silver mace presented by Reuben Farley, the first mayor, also in 1882. The borough seal is circular, 2½ in.; it is dated 1882 and depicts the arms of the borough. Legend, humanistic: THE SEAL OF THE MAYOR ALDERMEN & BURGESSES OF THE BOROUGH OF WEST BROMWICH.