Dawley: Social and cultural activities

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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A P Baggs. D C Cox. Jessie McFall. P A Stamper. A J L Winchester, 'Dawley: Social and cultural activities', in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985) pp. 111-112. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp111-112 [accessed 23 May 2024].

A P Baggs. D C Cox. Jessie McFall. P A Stamper. A J L Winchester. "Dawley: Social and cultural activities", in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985) 111-112. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp111-112.

Baggs, A P. Cox, D C. McFall, Jessie. Stamper, P A. Winchester, A J L. "Dawley: Social and cultural activities", A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985). 111-112. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp111-112.


There were at least three alehouses in 1543 and from 1590, when they harboured illegal gaming and card playing, to 1619. (fn. 1) By 1753 there were 10 licensed premises and the number fluctuated between 7 and 11 throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. (fn. 2) Among the alehouses that existed by the later 18th century were the Wicket near the parish church (later the Old Wicket as distinct from the New Wicket near St. Leonard's church), the Dun Cow at Dawley Green, and the Finger on the Wellington-Worcester turnpike. Most early 19th-century alehouses lay along the major roads in the populous central part of the parish. There were three at Dawley Bank and at least four at Dawley Green in 1817. (fn. 3) After the relaxation of licensing laws the number of taverns increased and many beerhouses were opened throughout the parish. In 1851 there were 22 taverns and 15 beerhouses and by 1879, although the number of public houses remained stable, the number of beer retailers had increased to 28. Seventeen public houses and all but two of the beer retailers were in Great Dawley; Malinslee had one beerhouse only. By the late 1970s there were 18 pubs, inns, or licensed hotels in the area of the ancient parish, about half of them in and around central Dawley. The Ironmaster was opened in Telford town centre c. 1980. (fn. 4)

Controlling drink and drunkenness was difficult. In the 1790s there were unlicensed alesellers in Dawley, (fn. 5) and in 1820 the parish meeting circulated handbills, stating the laws against drunkenness, and appointed someone to superintend the conduct of alehouse keepers and their customers. (fn. 6) The strength of Methodism in the area was associated with the growth of a temperance movement in the late 19th century (fn. 7) and there was an Anglican mission to combat drunkenness in the Dawley Bank area in 1882. (fn. 8)

Dawley's wake was held on All Saints' Day in the early 18th century. (fn. 9) The wakes were last recorded in 1873, when they were held at the end of September. (fn. 10) There was a bull ring at Dawley Bank in the early 19th century (fn. 11) and cock fighting is said to have lingered on in Dawley until the 20th century. (fn. 12) Both horse and foot racing took place at Dawley Green in 1843. (fn. 13) By 1863 the annual livestock fair, held in June at Dawley Green, had become an important social event. The 'pleasure fair', as it came to be known, was recorded until 1895, and was followed by sports and games in 1876. Circuses regularly visited Dawley Green in the later 19th century. (fn. 14)

The Dawley Sunday Schools' Demonstration, held on August bank holiday Monday, began in 1876 (fn. 15) and was a notable annual event for nearly a century. Pupils and teachers from Sunday schools throughout Dawley walked in procession carrying banners, to converge on a field at the corner of King Street and Meadow Road, where an openair service was held. The groups then returned to their own chapels for tea and sports. (fn. 16) The form of the demonstration probably derived from Primitive Methodist processions to preaching places, recorded in the area in the 1850s, (fn. 17) and from annual Sunday school treats, which included processions in 1875. (fn. 18) In 1878 c. 2,500 children and c. 300 teachers from 15 nonconformist Sunday schools took part. (fn. 19) Later Anglican Sunday schools also participated. By the 1930s a flower show was held in the town park on the same day. After the Second World War the processions met on the playing fields at Doseley Road. (fn. 20) The demonstration declined in size in the 1960s as several Methodist chapels closed, and it last took place c. 1974. (fn. 21)

Numerous friendly and provident societies were recorded in Dawley after registration was introduced in 1794. (fn. 22) Many met in alehouses (fn. 23) but some sectarian societies met in chapels. (fn. 24) Some ironmasters encouraged the societies: in the early 19th century I. H. Browne and the Botfield brothers contributed to Malinslee Club, (fn. 25) possibly the friendly society formed in 1797 and held at Old Park Office (fn. 26) or that which met in 1835 at Lawley Bank. (fn. 27) The Coalbrookdale Co. established a medical and educational fund, to which its employees contributed, in the earlier 19th century. (fn. 28) A lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (Manchester Unity), formed in 1856, survived in 1937. (fn. 29) There was a branch of the Shropshire Provident Society 1853-1945. (fn. 30)

A library and reading room in High Street, recorded from 1856, was known by 1870 as the Literary Institute. (fn. 31) It was managed by a committee, whose secretary was latterly the headmaster of Langley Board School, and it contained c. 3,000 volumes by 1900. It seems to have closed c. 1907. (fn. 32) A second reading room, on Bank Road, known as the Dawley Bank Institute, was recorded from 1909 to 1917. (fn. 33) Dawley was the only urban district to be served by the county library service established in 1925. The county opened a local library centre in the town c. 1927. (fn. 34) A full-time, professionally staffed branch library, the first in the county service, was opened at Dawley in 1949. (fn. 35) The original premises, the former Congregational chapel off High Street, (fn. 36) were replaced by a prefabricated building in King Street in 1973. (fn. 37)

A public park and recreation ground was opened in 1901 on a 2-a. site between Dawley National School and George Street, given to the town by W. S. Kenyon-Slaney and H. C. Simpson. (fn. 38) Tennis courts and a bowling green were made there in 1922. (fn. 39) Part of the site had previously been a cricket ground, apparently given to the parish in the mid 19th century. In 1886 R. C. Wanstall, vicar of Dawley Magna, proposed, apparently in vain, that it be levelled and converted into a recreation ground by the unemployed. (fn. 40) Similar schemes to provide recreation grounds by using the unemployed were put into effect between the World Wars. Part of Horse Leasow, a site levelled in 1927, was used as a children's playground, (fn. 41) and a pit mound at Dawley Bank was levelled and converted into a playing field c. 1930 under the direction of Edward Parry, vicar of Malinslee. (fn. 42)

The first hall for social purposes was the Town Hall in New Street, built as a temperance hall in 1873. (fn. 43) It passed to the urban district council and was let for public meetings, concerts, and dances in the 1920s. (fn. 44) After the Second World War users included Roman Catholic and nonconformist groups. (fn. 45) After the First World War the Memorial Recreation Hall in King Street was built. (fn. 46) In 1928, when the building was used by the Dawley Child Welfare Society and as a school clinic, management passed from the War Memorial Committee to the U.D.C. (fn. 47) In 1980 the premises were used by Dawley Social Club. The former Congregational chapel off High Street was used as an assembly room in the early 20th century. (fn. 48)

In 1913 the Town Hall was occupied by the Royal Windsor Variety and Picture Palace. (fn. 49) It did not survive the First World War. The first purpose-built cinema was the Cosy cinema in Burton Street, which opened c. 1921 (fn. 50) and closed in 1956. (fn. 51) The Royal cinema, King Street, opened c. 1938 (fn. 52) and closed as a cinema in 1961, (fn. 53) but bingo was played there nightly in 1980. A playhouse in New Street, recorded in 1929, (fn. 54) was evidently short-lived.

The only newspaper produced exclusively for the Dawley area was the Dawley Observer (from 1968 the Telford Observer), founded by a young journalist on the designation of the new town in 1963. Published from a terraced house in Chapel Street, it appeared weekly until 1972. (fn. 55)

A strip of open land, centring on the Randlay valley along the ancient boundary between Dawley and Stirchley, was designated as a central town park for the new town in 1971; by 1980 it included a sports complex, exhibition area, openair theatre, and tram line. (fn. 56) At Hinkshay, at the southern end of the park, a field-study area was opened in 1970. (fn. 57) Telford Horsehay Steam Trust was founded in 1975 to preserve steam locomotives. It rapidly acquired several. (fn. 58)


  • 1. S.R.O. 327, boxes 4-5, ct. r. of 1543-1609; S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 254.
  • 2. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcels 255-9, regs. of alesellers' recognizances 1753-1828.
  • 3. Ibid.; S.R.O. 2224/1.
  • 4. S. Bagshaw, Dir. Salop. (1851), 377-8; P.O. Dir. Salop. (1879), 312-13, 355; P.O. Telephone Dir. (1976), sect. 303 (YP), 144-51, 186-7; local inf.
  • 5. Q. Sess. Rolls, 121, 128, 130.
  • 6. S.R.O. 1560/5, 24 July 1820.
  • 7. S.R.O. 3038/11/1; 3298/17-18; 3840/13.
  • 8. Below, Churches.
  • 9. B.L. Add. MS. 30316, f. 6.
  • 10. S.R.O. 4139, 29 Sept. 1873.
  • 11. S. Mostyn Jones, Baptist Church, Dawley (Wellington, 1946), [5].
  • 12. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 191-2.
  • 13. Shrews. News and Cambrian Reporter, 16 Sept. 1843.
  • 14. S.R.O. 4139, passim.
  • 15. Wellington Jnl. 12 Aug. 1876.
  • 16. Ibid.; local inf. (in possession of the archivist, T.D.C.); J. McFall, 'Educ. in Madeley Union of Salop. in 19th Cent.' (Keele Univ. M.A. (Educ.) thesis, 1973), 25 and n. 1.
  • 17. S.R.O. 2533/130, 14 Dec. 1857, 25 Apr. 1859.
  • 18. Wellington Jnl. 7 Aug. 1875.
  • 19. Ibid. 10 Aug. 1878.
  • 20. Local inf.; S.R.O. 2732, Demonstration programme, 1964.
  • 21. Inf. from Mr. J. Cadwallader, Ketley Bank.
  • 22. Friendly Socs. Act, 33 Geo. III, c. 54, s. 2. Twenty-two socs. were reg. in Dawley 1794-1841: S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 285, friendly socs. reg.
  • 23. Registrar of Friendly Socs. List of Friendly Socs. in Co. of Salop, 1793-1855 (H.M.S.O. 1857; copy in S.R.O.).
  • 24. e.g. Prim. Meth. friendly soc., meeting in chap. at Lightmoor: S.R.O. 2533/130, 8 Dec. 1862.
  • 25. M.U.L., Botfield papers, cash bks. 1804-15, passim.
  • 26. List of Friendly Socs. in Co. Salop (1857).
  • 27. Below, Lawley, intro.
  • 28. Below, Educ.
  • 29. List of Friendly Socs. in Co. Salop (1857); J. Jones & Son, Dir. of Wellington & Dist. (1937), 142.
  • 30. S.R.O. 436/6720, p. 66; /6733, p. 31.
  • 31. P.O. Dir. Salop. (1856), 43; (1870), 47.
  • 32. Ibid. (1870), 47; (1879), 312; Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1885- 1909).
  • 33. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1909-17); S.R.O. 4044/77, p. 36.
  • 34. S.C.C. Salop. Co. Library: 1st Ann. Rep. (1927; copy in S.R.O.); S.R.O., DA 8/100/2, p. 165.
  • 35. R. C. Elliott, 'Development of Public Libraries in Salop.' (Loughborough Univ. M.A. thesis, 1970), 94-6 (copy in Salop. Librs.).
  • 36. Wrekin Light, June 1968, 3 (file 1967-9 in S.R.O. 2732/PM/352-70).
  • 37. Inf. from Salop. Librs.
  • 38. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1905), 80; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Salop. XLIII. 6 (1927 edn.).
  • 39. S.R.O., DA 8/100/1, pp. 301-2.
  • 40. S.R.O. 1952/114-15.
  • 41. S.R.O., DA 8/100/2, p. 66.
  • 42. S.R.O. 2732/PF/1-74.
  • 43. Date stone; A. Lester, Fifty Years (1896), 16 (copy in S.P.L.).
  • 44. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1905), 80; S.R.O., DA 8/100/1, pp. 9-10, 382.
  • 45. Below, Rom. Cath.; inf. from Mr. D. Bickerton, pastor, Telford Full Gospel Ch.
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1922), 84.
  • 47. S.R.O., DA 8/100/2, pp. 143-4.
  • 48. S.R.O. 4044/77, p. 21; inscr. over doorway.
  • 49. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1913), 87.
  • 50. Ibid. (1922), 84; S.R.O., DA 8/100/1, p. 92.
  • 51. S.R.O., DA 8/100/6, p. 843; /100/7, p. 1962; DA 34 (S.R.O. 3279/1), Cosy file, letter 25 June 1956.
  • 52. S.R.O., DA 8/100/4, pp. 293, 301, 312; Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1941), 87.
  • 53. S.R.O., DA 8/100/7, pp. 1991, 2433; DA 34 (S.R.O. 3279/I), Royal file of 1956-61, letter 18 Dec. 1961.
  • 54. Kelly's Dir. Salop. (1929), 88.
  • 55. Copies in S.P.L., I.G.M.T. Libr., and Madeley branch libr. Cf. Shropshire Jnl. 29 Dec. 1972.
  • 56. Inf. from the archivist, T.D.C.
  • 57. Dawley U.D.C.: A Story, 1966-1974, [14].
  • 58. Shropshire Star, 24 Mar. 1983; B. Duckett, Telford Tour by Rail (n.d.; copy in S.P.L.).