A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5, East Cuttlestone Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The civil parish of Cheslyn Hay, formerly an extraparochial liberty, lies two miles south of Cannock, and shares with it a boundary formed by the Wyrley Brook. To the east and north-east it is bounded by the neighbouring civil parish of Great Wyrley, the boundary between them having been adjusted under the Staffordshire Review Order of 1934 'to follow a more satisfactory line'. The soil is light, with a subsoil of gravel and sand. In 1940, when the land was held by many freeholders, the chief crops were wheat, barley, oats, and turnips. (fn. 1) The farm land is situated to the west and north-west of the village which lies mainly along the south-eastern boundary of the parish. There were ten persons chargeable for the hearth tax here in 1666. (fn. 2) Before the inclosure of 1797 Cheslyn Common had attracted numerous squatters who lived in mud huts there, but the opening of the mines in the district 'brought some respectable inhabitants to the place who established a plan for relieving the poor and . . . erected a Methodist chapel and Sunday school'. Thus by 1834 the liberty of Cheslyn Hay was 'nearly as civilized as its neighbours'. (fn. 3) The village, formerly known as Wyrley Bank, was in 1834 inhabited mainly by colliers and ling-besom makers, and then consisted of many cottages 'from the clay-built shed to the most convenient dwelling'. (fn. 4) The population was 443 in 1801, 2,560 in 1901, (fn. 5) and 3,130 in 1951. (fn. 6) The area is 823 acres. (fn. 7)
Thomas Leveson in 1636 secured the right to work the coal and lead mines in Cheslyn Hay and to use a road through the Hay and Cannock Forest. (fn. 8) In 1640 he granted to Andrew Giffard a rent charge of £48 on the coal-and iron-mines here for twelve years as the settlement of a debt. (fn. 9) In 1834 there was one colliery in Cheslyn Hay, (fn. 10) but in 1851 Edward Sayers, coalmaster, was working the Oldfalls and the Coppice collieries. (fn. 11) The New Colliery owned by Frederick Gilpin was in operation by 1868, (fn. 12) and by 1872 there were still the Old Coppice Colliery, worked by Joseph Hawkins, coalmaster, and the Oldfalls Colliery, owned by Bagnall & Sons Ltd. (fn. 13) A new shaft was sunk in 1877 at the Old Coppice Colliery, (fn. 14) apparently the only survivor of these three collieries in 1880, (fn. 15) and a further shaft was sunk c. 1920. (fn. 16) The output of the colliery in 1954 was only 180,000 tons a year owing to the complex geological structure. (fn. 17) The Nook and Wyrley Colliery, a smaller undertaking, was in operation from 1874 until 1949. (fn. 18) The other main industry since at least 1868 has been the manufacture of bricks and tiles. (fn. 19)
Thomas Leveson's attempt to inclose Cheslyn Hay during Henry VIII's reign was forcibly opposed by those with common rights there, (fn. 20) but 600 acres were inclosed by an agreement of 1668 between Robert Leveson and the freeholders and copyholders of Great and Little Saredon (in Shareshill) and Great Wyrley. (fn. 21) A further 311 acres of Cheslyn Common were inclosed in 1797 following the Act of 1792, 55 acres being sold along with the allotments on Old Falls in Great Wyrley to defray expenses. (fn. 22)
The original nucleus of the village appears to have been near the east junction of High Street and Low Street. In both these streets and in Cross Street are a few buildings dating from before the middle of the 19th century. The Red Lion Inn, a low brick house now plastered externally, is probably of the late 17th century. Many of the houses elsewhere were built in the early years of the 20th century. The fire station in Station Street, presented by Thomas A. Hawkins in 1908, (fn. 23) was sold in 1952 after a reorganization of the fire service (fn. 24) and in 1956 was being used as a garage. There is a council housing estate near the west junction of High Street and Low Street. A decontamination centre, standing west of the recreation ground, dates from the Second World War and was converted into a community centre c. 1950. (fn. 25) Two police houses were built in Station Street c. 1949. (fn. 26) The architecture of the Lodge Farm is treated below.
CHESLYN HAY, a division of the royal forest of Cannock, had passed by 1236 from the king to Bishop Alexander Stavensby (1224–38), who annexed it with other parts of the forest to the manors of Cannock and Rugeley (fn. 27) restored to him in 1230. (fn. 28) The king had recovered it by 1250 and retained the lordship until 1550. (fn. 29) The keepership of the Hay was farmed for 1 mark a year in 1236 by Robert Trumwyn who held the office like his ancestors before him, possibly since the reign of the Conqueror. (fn. 30) It descended with lands in Cannock, held by this service of keeping Cheslyn Hay, until at least 1590 (fn. 31) and remained in the Leveson family until at least 1621. (fn. 32) The annual value of the Hay was given as 100s. in 1293 (fn. 33) but as only 13s. 4d. in 1318. (fn. 34)
The king granted Cheslyn Hay to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, and his heirs in 1550. (fn. 35) His widow held it from 1554 until her death in 1555, (fn. 36) and in 1563 it was part of the possessions of their son Ambrose Dudley, (fn. 37) who had been restored in blood in 1558 and in 1561 given some of his father's titles. (fn. 38) In 1563 Ambrose granted timber from the Hay, and in 1569 land there, to John Leveson (fn. 39) who had an interest in the keepership (see above). (fn. 40) John's son Thomas, who succeeded him in 1575, (fn. 41) held free warren in the Hay in 1593 (fn. 42) and held both Hay and keepership at his death in 1594. (fn. 43) His son and heir Walter (fn. 44) was holding the Hay, with free warren there, at his death in 1621 when he was succeeded by his son Thomas. (fn. 45) A royalist colonel, Thomas died an exile in France, (fn. 46) and Cheslyn Hay, although sequestered along with his other possessions and sold by the Treason Trustees in 1652 to John Baker and Edward Stephens, (fn. 47) was held by Thomas's son, Robert, by 1655 (fn. 48) and was still in his hands in 1680. (fn. 49) Robert was succeeded by his daughter Sarah, wife of Charles Fowler of Pendeford (in Tettenhall, Seisdon hundred), (fn. 50) who was described as lord of Cheslyn Hay in 1711 (fn. 51) and whose granddaughter Sarah, coheir of his son Richard, married John Lane of King's Bromley (Offlow hundred). (fn. 52) The Lodge Farm mentioned in 1817 (fn. 53) was owned by J. N. Lane of King's Bromley in 1834 and 1851, when it occupied much of Cheslyn Hay. (fn. 54) The farmhouse is of brick, dating from c. 1800 and, with the farm, is now the property of the National Coal Board.
Cheslyn Hay was joined to Great Wyrley in 1846 to form the new ecclesiastical parish of St. Mark. (fn. 55) The mission chapel of St. Peter in Pinfold Lane was opened c. 1950 (fn. 56) in the former National school buildings. (fn. 57) One of the two cemeteries in the parish of St. Mark (fn. 58) is situated in Cheslyn Hay between Pinfold Lane and the Wolverhampton road and has a small mortuary chapel.
By 1907 the Cheslyn Hay and Wyrley Mission Station, served from Cannock, had been opened in Cheslyn Hay. (fn. 59) Known as St. George's Mission Hall by 1908, it continued in use until at least 1912. (fn. 60)
Methodism in this parish owes its origin to the opening of neighbouring coal-mines which drew to the village of Wyrley Bank (now Cheslyn Hay) 'respectable inhabitants' who in about 1788 built a chapel and Sunday school, (fn. 61) later belonging to the Methodist New Connexion. (fn. 62) The chapel was rebuilt on the old site in 1819 and in 1851 seated 250. (fn. 63) This chapel, now called Salem, was rebuilt in the High Street in 1855 and enlarged in 1898; in 1940 it seated 460. (fn. 64) A library of about 2,000 volumes was opened in connexion with this chapel in February 1924. (fn. 65)
A small brick building in Station Street with an almost illegible inscription above the door is probably the chapel and Sunday school dating from 1819. It is now used as part of a carpenter's shop. Salem Chapel is a large building with an imposing front of 1898, having two semicircular turrets and a scrolled parapet. The body of the building and the cast-iron railings date from 1855. The Sunday school, built in 1889, (fn. 66) stands immediately to the east.
In 1851 there was a smaller Methodist New Connexion preaching place near Wedges Mills, closely connected with the Wyrley Bank chapel, James Lawson being secretary to the trustees of both. This had been converted into a chapel in 1845, and seated 90 people, but by 1851 the congregation was small. (fn. 67) It had ceased to exist by 1872. (fn. 68)
Primitive Methodism was introduced into this area by David Buxton who, having come under the influence of Hugh Bourne at Ramsor (in Ellastone, Totmonslow hundred), invited him to Wyrley. Bourne first came there in July 1810 (fn. 69) and in succeeding years preached frequently in the neighbourhood. (fn. 70) Eventually, in 1848, a Primitive Methodist chapel was established at Wyrley Bank. (fn. 71) There were then 100 sittings, 70 of them free. (fn. 72) The present chapel, named Mount Zion and built in 1880, (fn. 73) lies in Cross Street and in 1940 seated 250. (fn. 74) It has a rough-cast front with pointed windows.
A British and Foreign Society school was set up in Cheslyn Hay before 1839 and received a Treasury grant of £100 a year. (fn. 75) In June 1840 it was transferred to new buildings. (fn. 76) It was still in existence in 1884 when it was receiving a parliamentary grant (fn. 77) but cannot be traced after this date. In 1880 it was run by a master. (fn. 78) Attendance in 1871 was about 74 boys and girls. (fn. 79)
Already by 1818 the Methodists had a Sunday school in Cheslyn Hay in which an average of 100 children were taught and which was supported solely by an annual sermon. (fn. 80) This was still a Sunday school in 1851, (fn. 81) but by 1868 this Methodist New Connexion school seems to have become a day school and was taught by a master. (fn. 82) It was again described as a Sunday school in 1884. (fn. 83)
The Primitive Methodists were said to have a school here for children of both sexes, supported by voluntary contributions and school pence, by 1876 and until at least 1880. (fn. 84)
A National school was opened in Cheslyn Hay in 1875 on a site in Pinfold Lane given in 1871 by Lord Hatherton. (fn. 85) It was in receipt of a parliamentary grant by 1882 when attendance averaged 101 pupils. (fn. 86) The school had been closed by 1892. (fn. 87)
In 1882 a board school was founded in Cheslyn Hay for 250 children, (fn. 88) and was enlarged in 1895. (fn. 89) Attendance in 1883, when the school was also in receipt of an annual parliamentary grant, averaged 209 pupils. (fn. 90) In 1909 the old National school buildings were leased to the Local Education Authority and were subsequently used as an extension of the council school to take 126 boys, attendance at the school in 1910 averaging 422 older children and 166 infants. (fn. 91) In 1925 they were found to have developed a serious crack, and in 1930 it was decided to vacate them immediately. (fn. 92) The boys' and girls' departments were amalgamated from January 1931 under the headmaster. (fn. 93) The schools have been reorganized as Cheslyn Hay County Primary School for junior boys and girls and infants. (fn. 94) They stand on a site adjoining the old National school buildings with their frontage facing Hatherton Street.
A school for educationally sub-normal boys and girls, the William Baxter School, has been maintained since 1951 by the Staffordshire Education Committee (fn. 95) in the buildings formerly occupied by the Isolation Hospital.