Walsall: Introduction

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A, 'Walsall: Introduction', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976), pp. 143-146. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp143-146 [accessed 14 June 2024].

A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A. "Walsall: Introduction", in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) 143-146. British History Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp143-146.

Baggs, A P. Baugh, G C. Currie, C R J. Johnson D A. "Walsall: Introduction", A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976). 143-146. British History Online. Web. 14 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp143-146.


The Growth of the Town, p. 146; Communications, p. 165; Manors, p. 169; Other Estates, p. 175; Economic History, p. 180; Local Government, p. 208; Public Services, p. 220; Parliamentary History, p. 225; Churches, p. 226; Roman Catholicism, p. 239; Protestant Nonconformity, p. 241; Other Religions, p. 249; Social Life, p. 249; Education, p. 254; Charities for the Poor, p. 266.

The Ancient parish of Walsall (fn. 1) consisted of a borough and a foreign. The two parts were incorporated as the borough and foreign of Walsall in 1627. A new borough of Walsall was created in 1835. It became a county borough in 1889 and part of a new metropolitan borough of Walsall in 1974. (fn. 2) The area known as Walsall Wood was a detached part of the foreign but was not included in the 1835 borough; in 1894 it became part of the urban district of Brownhills. (fn. 3) The ancient parish (including the 1,551 a. of Walsall Wood) comprised 8,324 a. The 1835 borough was 6,683 a. in area and was extended to 6,763 a. in 1876 and 7,480 a. in 1890 by the addition of parts of Rushall. (fn. 4) It was increased to 8,782 a. in 1931 by additions from the boroughs of Wednesbury and West Bromwich and the civil parishes of Bentley, Great Barr, and Rushall; (fn. 5) it was reduced to 8,780 a. in 1934 by an adjustment of the boundary with the urban district of Darlaston. (fn. 6) In 1966 it was extended to 12,990 a. by the addition of most of the urban districts of Darlaston and Willenhall and various boundary adjustments. (fn. 7) The present article is concerned primarily with the history of the area covered by the ancient parish, except Walsall Wood which is treated in a separate article. Some account of the areas added to the borough before 1966 is given from the time of their addition, but their earlier history is reserved for treatment in future volumes.

Walsall lies on the South Staffordshire Plateau on undulating ground that drops to 370 ft. in the south-west at Broadway West and rises to 539 ft. to the north of Bloxwich. (fn. 8) The limestone hill in the centre of the town, on which St. Matthew's Church stands at 491 ft., rises to 511 ft. at the junction of Sandwell and Windmill Streets south of the church; the ground falls away on all other sides of the church but rises again east of Ablewell Street to 497 ft. at the junction of Holtshill Lane and Charlotte Street. (fn. 9) Most of the parish is situated on the Coal Measures, but an inlier of Silurian limestones and shales runs east and south-east from the town centre. The drift is mainly boulder clay, but there is sand and gravel east of Bloxwich and in the south-west of the parish. (fn. 10)

Several streams flow through the area, and some of them formed the boundaries of the parish. (fn. 11) On the north-west the boundary followed Sneyd Brook, the lower part of which was known as Bentley Brook in the late 14th century and as both Bentley Brook and Park Brook in the 18th century. (fn. 12) It meets a stream flowing from the west in Bentley Mill Lane, and the united stream, known as Bescot Brook in the 18th century, (fn. 13) formed the southwestern boundary down to its confluence with the Tame near Bescot. The Tame and its tributary Full Brook formed the southern boundary and a stream called Scottes Brook the south-eastern boundary. The Holbrook formed the pre-1890 boundary with Rushall in the present Arboretum area. Clock Mill Brook formed the north-eastern boundary at Goscote and Essington Wood Brook the northern boundary by Yieldfields Hall. The Holbrook joins Ford Brook (fn. 14) under the site between Lichfield and Darwall Streets occupied by the central library and the Gala Baths. As Walsall Brook the united stream flows under the centre of the town and joins Bescot Brook close to its confluence with the Tame; a mill fleam runs off it near the Bridge and rejoins it below the site of the New Mills south of Wednesbury Road. (fn. 15)

Walsall Area, c. 1775

(scale about 1 inch to 1 mile)

The name Walsall suggests a settlement of foreigners, that is Britons, or of serfs. (fn. 16) The 'Walesho' of Wulfric Spot's will in the early 11th century may be Walsall; otherwise the first known mention of a settlement is in 1159, when it was presumably on the hill by the parish church. (fn. 17) A borough had been created by the earlier 13th century. (fn. 18) There is also evidence of early cultivation about a mile to the west on the sandy soil in the area occupied by the 13th-century park and the manorhouse. (fn. 19) The other main settlement in the parish was at Bloxwich, a name suggesting a pre-Conquest origin. (fn. 20) Most of the parish lay within Cannock forest, a fact which influenced its early agrarian development. (fn. 21) Industrial activity was in progress by the 14th century when there is evidence of mining and iron-working. (fn. 22) Leland c. 1540 described Walsall as a little market town with a park, many smiths and bit-makers, and pits of coal, lime, and ironstone. (fn. 23) Much of Walsall's industry developed out of the requirements of horse transport, the production of horse furniture being followed by leather-working and rope-making.

There were 367 poll-tax payers in 1377. (fn. 24) In 1563 there were said to be 290 households. (fn. 25) In 1619 the number of recipients of Mollesley's Dole, by which everyone in Walsall on Twelfth Night received 1d., was 2,861 (1,622 of them in the borough) and in 1661 4,213 (2,241 in the borough); visitors, however, as well as inhabitants, were eligible. (fn. 26) The Compton Census of 1676 gives 1,360 adult conformists, 40 papists, and 200 Protestant nonconformists. (fn. 27) In 1773 the vicar reported some 1,500 houses in the parish, adding that there were 'no families of distinction but some gentlemen and several capital traders'. (fn. 28) The population in 1801 was 10,399 (5,222 of them in the foreign). (fn. 29)

Many changes were made in the central part of Walsall from the 1820s, with Lord Bradford, John Walhouse, and their successors acting as urban developers. It was stated in 1834 that Walsall 'ranks as the second manufacturing town in the county, as regards its population, and yields to none of them in beauty and elegance'. (fn. 30) In 1845 Lord Bradford's agent Peter Potter noted that the wealthier inhabitants were living in the central parts of the town but that in the area to the north-west the 'inhabitants were living in the central parts of the town miners and mechanics'. (fn. 31) The population rose sharply from the 1820s, from 11,914 in 1821 to 26,822 in 1851; the large increase to 39,690 in 1861 was the result of the extension of mining and ironworking in the foreign. By 1901 the population of the county borough was 87,464. Growth was particularly marked in the foreign; in the borough township there was a decline in the later 19th century. (fn. 32) By the mid 19th century the population included an Irish element, concentrated in the Blue Lane area; by the early 20th century there was an Irish settlement at Coal Pool. (fn. 33) It has been noted that 'the Irish have been the traditional scapegoats on whom Walsall projects its fears and frustrations'. (fn. 34)

Between the World Wars council estates became a feature of the landscape particularly in the northeastern part of the borough, and after the Second World War in the north-western part. (fn. 35) In the centre of the town there was extensive clearance in the later 1930s and after the war and redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s. (fn. 36) In addition reclamation of derelict land in the borough, largely for building, began after the war. (fn. 37) The population of the enlarged borough was 103,059 in 1931 and 118,498 in 1961. (fn. 38) By 1961 it included a number of immigrants, largely in the Caldmore and Palfrey areas; there were 625 born in India, 353 in Pakistan, and 478 in Jamaica. (fn. 39)

Notable natives of Walsall include John Edward Gray (1800-75), naturalist; Sir Harry Smith Parkes (1828-85), diplomatist, who was born at Birchills Hall; and Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859-1927), novelist and playwright, who was born in a house on the corner of Bradford Street and Caldmore Road. (fn. 40) Among other local worthies John Reynolds (16671727), writer of tracts and hymns, was assistant minister at the Presbyterian meeting-house from 1721 until his death; he was buried at West Bromwich. Josiah Owen (1711-55), author of sermons and anti-Jacobite tracts, was minister of the chapel in the late 1730s. (fn. 41) Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison (1832-78), otherwise known as Sister Dora, was noted for her work as nursing sister at the Cottage Hospital from 1865 to 1878. (fn. 42) Patrick Collins (1859-1943), amusement caterer, settled in Walsall in 1882 and later lived at Lime Tree House, Bloxwich; he was M.P. for Walsall from 1922 to 1924 and mayor in 1938-9. (fn. 43) Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), poet and man of letters, was the grandson of G. B. Stubbs, a town clerk; he lived from 1866 to 1869 in Doveridge Place and from 1869 to 1873 in Birmingham Road, and attended the grammar school from 1870 to 1872. (fn. 44)

The inhabitants of Walsall were described in the mid 1520s by one of the lessees of the manor as 'light persons suddenly moved to affrays and insurrections'. He accused three townsmen of threatening to set 400 men on him armed with clubs known as 'Bayard and his thousand colts' and to rouse the townsmen by ringing Bayard's bell. (fn. 45) During the Civil War and Interregnum the corporation tended to support the Parliamentarians. (fn. 46) Henry Stone, mayor in 1638-9, was active in the county on the parliamentarian side and was governor of Stafford from 1644 until at least 1651. The gentry of the foreign were royalist in sympathy, but they retained some influence on the town council, while Mark Antony Caesar Galliardello, who was employed by Henry Stone in 1651 and became town clerk in 1657, had been a royalist in 1643. The town was not garrisoned for either side during the war. In July 1643 Henrietta Maria passed through Walsall on her way from Lichfield to King's Norton (Worcs.) and is said to have stayed at George Hawe's house in Caldmore. In May 1644 the parliamentarian army under the earl of Denbigh stopped at Bloxwich on its way to besiege Rushall Hall and was quartered in Walsall during the siege. Denbigh returned for a time to Walsall after the indecisive fight at Dudley on 11 June 1644. Riots were frequent in the 18th century, and during a riot in 1750 George II was hanged in effigy on Church Hill. There was further rioting during the reform crisis of 1832. (fn. 47)

Plan of Walsall, 1679


  • 1. This article was written between 1972 and 1974. The help of the following is gratefully acknowledged: Mr. J. A. Galloway, chief executive and town clerk, and his staff, especially Miss Olive Brookes; Mr. F. N. Bowler and Mr. F. H. Lamb, successive directors of the libraries and museum services, and their staff, especially Mr. A. J. Mealey, Mr. M. A. Mosesson, and Mr. K. F. Brown; and Mr. L. Harper, churchwarden of St. Matthew's, and others named in footnotes. Thanks are also due to the Earl of Bradford for making his archives readily available.
  • 2. See pp. 209-11, 215, 217.
  • 3. See p. 275.
  • 4. O.S. Area Book: Walsall (1886); Walsall Red Book (1877), 77; Census, 1911; below p. 217. The area of the borough is given as 7,480 a. in Census, 1891, 1901.
  • 5. Census, 1931; Walsall Corp. Act, 1930, 20 & 21 Geo. V, c. 170 (Local).
  • 6. Census, 1931.
  • 7. County Boro. of Walsall: Council Year Book 1966-7; below p. 217.
  • 8. O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LVII. SW. (1887 edn.), LXIII. SW. (1889 edn.).
  • 9. Ibid. LXIII. SE. (edns. of 1890 and 1903).
  • 10. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift and solid, sheets 154 and 168 (3rd edn.).
  • 11. For the boundaries see S.R.O., D. 1287/1/2, survey of Walsall manor, 1576, mm. 11-13; ibid., ct. of recog. and survey, 1617, p. 18 (printed by Willmore, Walsall, 439-41); Pearce, Walsall, 223-6; L.J.R.O., B/A/15/Walsall, map; O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LVII. SW., SE., LXIII.
  • 12. S.R.O., D. 641/1/2/32; B.M. Eg. Roll 8472; Act for repairing roads leading from Sutton Colefield Common to town of Walsall . . ., 21 Geo. II, c. 25; Pearce, Walsall, 223.
  • 13. Act for repairing and widening road from Muckley Corner to Walsall and Wednesbury . . ., 6 Geo. III, c. 99; Pearce, Walsall, 221; S.R.O., Q/SB, A. 1781. The stream flowing from the west and Bescot Brook are among several streams which have been called the Tame: see above p. 1 n. 9.
  • 14. Erdeswick Staffs. 399-412, calls Clock Mill and Ford Brooks Walsall Water. The lower part of Ford Brook was also called Hammerwich or Hambridge Forge Brook: Pearce, Walsall, 223; H. Jacob, Plan of Boundary Line between Township of Boro. and Township of Foreign of Walsall (Birmingham, 1816; copy in W.C.L.). Part at least of Butts Rd. was formerly called Homebridge (or Hambridge or Hammerwich) Forge Lane or Homebridge Lane: W.C.L., QSM 1/322; W.S.L., D. 1798/551, e.g. nos. 14, 61, 195, 485; S.R.O., D. 351/M/B/207.
  • 15. S.R.O., D. 351/M/B/207; O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LXIII. SE. (1890 edn.); Walsall Observer, 13 Sept. 1957; below p. 185. The united stream was called the Holbrook in the 1286 description of the bounds of Cannock forest (S.H.C. v (1), 166-7), the brook of Walsall in 1310 (Walsall Records, 31), and the town brook in the 16th and 17th centuries (S.R.O., D. 260/M/T/1/1a, deed of 10 Nov. 1513; Glew, Walsall, 121). It is given as Ford Brook by O.S. Map 1/10,000, SP 09 NW. (1972 edn.). The name Walsall Brook was in use by the late 18th century: Aris's Birmingham Gaz. 1 Sept. 1766; S.R.O., Q/SB, A. 1781.
  • 16. Eng. Place-name Elements (E.P.N.S.), ii. 242. This also suggests (p. 243) that the second element is hall, 'a hall' or 'a farm-house'. E. Ekwall, Concise Oxford Dict. of Eng. Place-names (4th edn.), gives the derivation of the name as 'W(e)alh's halh or valley'.
  • 17. See p. 169.
  • 18. See p. 212.
  • 19. Ex inf. (1974) Mr. and Mrs. S. Wrathmell, who have excavated the manor-house site for Walsall Local Hist. Soc.
  • 20. See p. 161.
  • 21. See p. 180.
  • 22. See pp. 189, 192, 194.
  • 23. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, v. 23.
  • 24. S.H.C. 4th ser. vi. 1, 10.
  • 25. S.H.C. 1915, p. lxxii.
  • 26. W.T.C. II/31/1; II/13/49; below pp. 266-7. Not all the figures given in Homeshaw, Walsall, 4-6, are correct.
  • 27. W.S.L., S. MS. 330, p. [371].
  • 28. L.J.R.O., B/V/5/1772-3.
  • 29. V.C.H. Staffs. i. 324.
  • 30. White, Dir. Staffs. (1834).
  • 31. S.R.O., D. 1287/12/3, P. Potter to Lord Bradford, 1 Dec. 1845.
  • 32. V.C.H. Staffs. i. 324; Census, 1861; below p. 149. The details given here from 1881 are taken from the Censuses; they exclude Walsall Wood and cover the twiceenlarged borough.
  • 33. See pp. 161, 241; W.T.C., Street Cttee. Mins. 184951, 1 Dec. 1849; Cason, Blakenall Heath, 42.
  • 34. Cason, Blakenall Heath, 42.
  • 35. See pp. 163-5.
  • 36. See pp. 149, 161.
  • 37. See pp. 164-5, 221.
  • 38. Census, 1931, 1961.
  • 39. Ibid. 1961; below pp. 156-7, 249.
  • 40. D.N.B.; S. Lane-Poole, Sir Harry Parkes in China (1901), 3; J. K. Jerome, My Life and Times, 10-12.
  • 41. D.N.B.; A. G. Matthews, Cong. Churches of Staffs. 121.
  • 42. Jo Manton, Sister Dora; below p. 222.
  • 43. The Times, 9 Dec. 1943; Walsall Observer, 26 Feb. 1971; Express & Star, 1 Feb. 1971.
  • 44. My World as in My Time: Memoirs of Sir Henry Newbolt, 10-28; Woodall, Walsall Milestones, 65.
  • 45. Willmore, Walsall, 90; below pp. 214, 220.
  • 46. For this period see Homeshaw, Walsall, 34 sqq.; Willmore, Walsall, 304 sqq.; S.H.C. 4th ser. i, p. xxii; Cal. Cttee. for Money, iii. 1415; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1644, 177-8, 235.
  • 47. Below pp. 223-4; Walsall Records, 8-29 (2nd nos.).