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 division of Walsall manor between two lords from 1247 until 1338 seems to have had little effect on administration, although in the 15th century the tenants were still divided for the purpose of certain customary payments into those of the Rous fee and those of the Morteyn fee. (fn. 1) The important division was that between borough and foreign; with the creation of a borough, apparently in the 13th century, the rest of the manor became known as the foreign. The borough became gradually more and more independent, a process doubtless helped by the lack of a resident lord of the manor from 1390. There seems, however, to have been no formal boundary fixed between the borough and foreign townships before 1814.
The lord was holding a court in the earlier 13th century and was enforcing the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 2) By the mid 13th century the lords held view of frankpledge; (fn. 3) in the earlier 14th century their twice-yearly courts leet (fn. 4) were probably held jointly. (fn. 5) There were separate three-weekly courts baron for the borough and for the foreign by the 1380s and separate courts leet for each by the earlier 15th century. (fn. 6) In 1491-2 the courts leet for the borough and those for the foreign were held on the same day; (fn. 7) probably that was the usual practice. They were held jointly by the early 19th century, and probably as early as the 1570s. (fn. 8) The courts sat in the guildhall at least in the 17th and early 18th centuries. (fn. 9) From at least the 1820s the leet was held at the George hotel. (fn. 10)
By 1834 the courts leet had been reduced to annual events. (fn. 11) They still sat annually in the mid 1860s, (fn. 12) but no later evidence of sittings has been found. (fn. 13) By the early 19th century the leet did little apart from appointing officials. (fn. 14) In 1806 it promulgated some market by-laws, (fn. 15) but no later examples of such activity have been found.
The court baron was probably in decay by the later 18th century. In 1620 the lord had abandoned his claim to heriots from the freeholders and copyholders of the borough and foreign; in the later 18th century the copyholders paid no fines or heriots but merely acknowledgements of a few pence each a year. (fn. 16) The inclosure of most of the common fields in the parish by the 18th century (fn. 17) removed another source of business. By the later 19th century the forms of manorial conveyancing, which required a meeting of the court baron, were employed if the steward was asked by the parties concerned to use them; but the court was simply a meeting of the parties at the steward's office. It continued to be held in that way until at least 1919. (fn. 18) In 1915 it was stated that the lord received no income or dues from the manor. (fn. 19)
By the 1380s, and presumably from the reunion of the manor in 1338, there was a single steward. In the late 14th and the 15th centuries Walsall was under the steward responsible for overseeing the Staffordshire manors of the Bassets and their successors as lords of Walsall, the earls of Warwick. (fn. 20) Subsequently the stewardship of Walsall seems to have become an honorific post: it was held in 1478 by John, Lord Dudley, and his son Edmund Dudley jointly, and in 1496 by Sir Humphrey Stanley, a knight of the body. (fn. 21) In 1585 the steward was a rising lawyer, Roger (later Sir Roger) Wilbraham, a relative of the lord; the courts were being held by his deputy, who was a local man, George Clarkson. (fn. 22) In 1616 John Persehouse of Reynold's Hall was steward. (fn. 23) By at least the 1730s the town clerk was acting as steward, and the two posts were regularly combined until the 19th century. (fn. 24) From the later 1830s the stewards were members of the Potter family, the solicitors who acted as Lord Bradford's Walsall agents. (fn. 25)
The lord's bailiff is mentioned in the earlier 13th century. (fn. 26) By the 1380s the bailiff of the manor was a paid permanent official responsible, under the steward, for the administration of the entire manor; the accounts which he rendered covered both the borough and the foreign. (fn. 27) The 1309 borough charter mentioned borough bailiffs as well. (fn. 28) It is not clear whether there was then more than one at any one time; by the later 14th century there was a single borough bailiff, apparently subordinate to the bailiff of the manor. He received no fee from the lord and held office for only a year.
The system was reorganized in 1397, probably by the officials of the marquess of Dorset, the new lord. The bailiff of the manor was thenceforth known as the bailiff of the foreign. (fn. 29) He normally acted as parker also. (fn. 30) Responsibility for income from the borough (mainly rents, perquisites of court, and market tolls) and expenditure within it was transferred to the borough bailiff, who began to account separately. (fn. 31) He continued to serve without fee, receiving no money from the lord except for his expenses, and, as before, held office for only a year. (fn. 32) From at least 1424 he was elected at the lord's borough court leet; (fn. 33) his election at the Michaelmas court is mentioned in the earlier 16th century. (fn. 34) Both borough and foreign bailiffs occur in 1585, (fn. 35) but the subsequent history of the offices is obscure. By the late 18th century there was a single bailiff of the manor, who was also known as the crier of the court leet and was apparently appointed for life or years; the post still existed in 1830. (fn. 36)
The leet appointed constables for the borough and for the foreign. The borough constable occurs in 1377, (fn. 37) the foreign constable in 1458; (fn. 38) in the early 16th century the former was apparently assisted by serjeants, also appointed by the leet. (fn. 39) Two constables were still appointed in 1866; by the late 1820s they were known as head constables, there being several deputy constables by then for both borough and foreign. (fn. 40) Goscote by at least the end of the 16th century was outside the foreign constablewick, forming a separate constablewick with Rushall. (fn. 41)
Other officials appointed by the leet were aletasters, flesh-tasters, leather-sealers, and pinners. Two ale-tasters were appointed at the court for the borough in 1424, (fn. 42) and the office of ale-taster for the foreign is mentioned in 1647. (fn. 43) From at least 1677 until at least 1853 the leet appointed two ale-tasters or clerks of the market for the borough; from 1737 they were known simply as clerks of the market. From 1816 they and the flesh-tasters apparently performed market duties as borough officials, although the leet continued to appoint them. (fn. 44) A thirdborough or ale-taster was appointed for the foreign in 1725, but the office had lapsed by the earlier 19th century. Two flesh-tasters were appointed for the borough from at least 1677 until 1844, (fn. 45) when the number was increased to three; three were still appointed in 1853. Two leather-sealers were appointed for the borough from at least 1677 until 1808, when a change in the law rendered the office obsolete. A pinner was appointed for the borough from at least 1677; the office still existed in the later 1850s, though it became difficult to fill. (fn. 46) A pinner was appointed for the foreign in 1725. In the early 19th century two pinners were being appointed, for Bloxwich and for Walsall Wood and Shelfield. (fn. 47) By 1839 the number had been increased to three, with separate Walsall Wood and Shelfield pinners, (fn. 48) and by 1853 there were four pinners for the foreign.
In 1293 the lords of the manor claimed the right to gallows, pillory, and tumbrel. (fn. 49) In 1396-7 a felon was tried before the steward and hanged, (fn. 50) and the existence in 1617 of a pasture called Gallows Leasow probably in the Bloxwich area gives some indication of the site of a gallows. (fn. 51) The lord remade the borough pillory in 1396-7 and provided a pillory for the foreign in 1414-15 and again in 1490-1. (fn. 52) A cucking-stool ('gumstole') was made for the foreign in 1414-15 and another in 1488-9. (fn. 53) New stocks were made for the foreign in 1487-8; they were probably at Bloxwich, where there were stocks in 1567 apparently near the church. (fn. 54) The lord paid for the repair of a pinfold in the foreign in 1490-1. (fn. 55)
By the earlier 17th century the parish was divided into borough and foreign townships. Each raised its own rates, had its own vestry meeting, and relieved its own poor. The borough vestry normally met at the parish church and the foreign vestry probably at Bloxwich chapel. There was also a parish vestry, meeting at the church. (fn. 56)
By the 18th century the borough churchwardens met the general parochial expenses in the first instance and claimed back half from the foreign. (fn. 57) The foreign wardens, however, did not always pay. In 1760 a parish vestry agreed that the borough wardens should try to recover the foreign share and promised to meet their expenses in so doing. (fn. 58) In 1796, 1809, and 1821 disputes arose over the foreign's contribution towards the cost of work on the parish church. (fn. 59) In 1830 the parish vestry approved a general church-rate instead of the usual separate rates. The foreign wardens refused to pay, and the borough vestry began legal proceedings against them. (fn. 60) Church-rates were also causing hostility between local dissenters and Anglicans by 1837, but shortly afterwards they ceased to be collected in Walsall. (fn. 61)
Poor-rates were another source of contention. Walsall's method of raising them was unusual. They were levied not according to the location of land but according to the occupier's residence. Thus if a man held land in the foreign but lived in the borough he paid rates to the borough overseers and vice versa. Outsiders paid to the borough. Neither borough nor foreign liked the system. The borough ratepayers would have preferred a general rate throughout the parish: the borough suffered more unemployment than the foreign and so had more poor to support; the ratepayers claimed in 1754 to be paying three times as much in the £ as the foreigners. The foreign ratepayers wanted to keep the two divisions but to rate by land and not place of residence since there was more rateable land in the foreign. (fn. 62) Various disputes arose, and in 1677 the borough and foreign concluded an agreement recognizing the independence of each but attempting to modify the rating system. (fn. 63) Despite further disputes (fn. 64) the old system apparently continued until the late 1740s. In 1752 the Walsall justices appointed four overseers for the whole parish. The borough ratepayers welcomed the justices' action, but the foreigners resisted. One of their retiring overseers, Samuel Wilks, went to prison rather than surrender his books to the justices, and three other foreigners secured a mandamus in 1753 ordering the justices to appoint overseers for the foreign. The justices refused. Despite another King's Bench judgement for the foreign in 1754, the justices continued their stand, and in 1755 no poor-rate was levied. At the beginning of 1756, however, the justices gave way, the previous system was reinstated, and separate overseers were appointed. (fn. 65) Disputes continued (fn. 66) and culminated in 1812 when the overseers of the foreign rated 64 borough residents who held property in the foreign. In 1813 the King's Bench declared the old rating practice illegal and enforced rating by land. It also ordered a boundary to be agreed between borough and foreign, and one was duly fixed in 1814. (fn. 67)
Churchwardens occur from 1405. (fn. 68) Since at least the earlier 17th century there have been separate wardens of the borough and of the foreign. It is not clear when that distinction began to be made; earlier variations in the numbers of recorded wardens may reflect the inclusion or omission of the foreign wardens. In 1462 there were two wardens of All Saints', but from 1466 to at least 1530 three usually held office. They were also known as the wardens of the high altar. By the early 16th century there were additional wardens of the other altars and chapels. (fn. 69) Two churchwardens occur in 1553, besides a chapelwarden at Bloxwich. (fn. 70) In the later 16th and early 17th centuries the recorded number of churchwardens varied from two to four. (fn. 71) The foreign wardens are first mentioned in 1634, when they were responsible for Bloxwich chapel. Earlier chapelwardens there may in fact have been wardens of the foreign. (fn. 72) Two wardens of the borough and one of the foreign signed the hearth-tax returns in 1666. (fn. 73) Since at least 1693 there have been four wardens, two for the borough and two for the foreign. (fn. 74) The vicar appointed one borough and one foreign warden by at least 1763. (fn. 75) Despite the reduction in the size of St. Matthew's parish from the 19th century four wardens continue to be appointed by the vicar and the parishioners. (fn. 76) Under the borough ordinances of the early 16th century the churchwardens, like the other wardens at the parish church, had to account yearly before the mayor on St. Catherine's day (25 November); by the earlier 18th century, however, they were accounting to the vestry. (fn. 77)
A vestry clerk occurs by 1769. (fn. 78) By the earlier 1820s he was salaried, (fn. 79) and in 1824 he was also paid to collect church-rates and keep the churchwardens' accounts. His successor in 1825 was also surveyor and assessor of rateable property, superintendent of church repairs, and clerk to the select vestry. (fn. 80) There was a parish clerk by 1588 (fn. 81) and a sexton by 1653. (fn. 82) A bellman of the church occurs in 1515. (fn. 83) In 1771 the vestry voted him a salary as dog-whipper. (fn. 84) There were two dog-whippers by 1797 and three by 1801; from that date they were known as beadles. (fn. 85) From at least 1865 there has been a tower-keeper. (fn. 86)
The constables appointed by the manor court were accounting to the vestry by the late 17th century. (fn. 87) There was a lock-up at Bloxwich which in 1836 the parish assigned to the borough police. (fn. 88)
By the mid 18th century two or more highway surveyors were appointed for the borough and two or more for the foreign. (fn. 89) By the 17th century the corporation maintained the streets of the town. (fn. 90) By 1768 the rest of the parish was divided into four highway districts, each with two surveyors; the borough township formed one district and there were three for the foreign—the area covered by Wood End, Townend, and Caldmore, the Bloxwich area, and the Walsall Wood area. By 1834 a fifth district covering Coal Pool and Goscote had been formed out of the Bloxwich district. (fn. 91) The borough vestry, besides appointing the two surveyors for the borough township under the Highway Act of 1835, appointed a salaried assistant surveyor in 1838 who was also to collect the highway rate. (fn. 92) The Bloxwich district had a board of surveyors by 1856. (fn. 93) All roads passed under the control of the corporation when it became an urban sanitary authority under the Public Health Act of 1872. (fn. 94)
By the earlier 17th century there were four overseers of the poor, two each for the borough and the foreign. (fn. 95) In the 17th century the mayor administered much of the relief. (fn. 96) There appears to have been an assistant overseer for the borough in 1781, (fn. 97) and from 1789 until 1802 there was a third overseer for the borough, who was also vestry clerk. (fn. 98) In 1802 he was appointed assistant overseer and was paid a salary. (fn. 99) In 1799-1800 there were three overseers of the foreign, one of them being also 'governor of the poor'. (fn. 100) In 1822, under the Sturgess Bourne Act, a select vestry was set up for the borough. (fn. 101)
By the earlier 17th century the main form of relief was weekly doles of 3d. to 8d. (fn. 102) The corporation helped the poor to pay their rent and provided medical care. (fn. 103) It subscribed to Stafford General Infirmary from its opening in 1766 and to Birmingham General Hospital by 1803. (fn. 104) In 1812 the vestry arranged for the vaccination of poor children. (fn. 105)
Poorhouses, apparently situated in the Ditch, were maintained by the corporation between at least 1648 and 1723. (fn. 106) In 1717 the corporation acquired for the poor three houses near the top of Hill Street charged with a payment to the organist at the parish church. (fn. 107) A vestry meeting agreed in 1727 that a workhouse should be built, and by 1732 the corporation had either converted or rebuilt the Hill Street houses as a borough workhouse, which was leased to the vestry. (fn. 108) By 1752 there was a workhouse for the foreign on Chapel (later Elmore) Green in Bloxwich. (fn. 109) In the mid 1770s the borough workhouse had accommodation for 130 and that at Bloxwich for seventy. (fn. 110) The borough workhouse was enlarged in 1799, but in 1813 it was stated to be 'very inconveniently situated on account of the difficulty of conveyance to it'. (fn. 111)
In 1733 and again in 1740 the parish vestry appointed a committee to be governors of the new borough workhouse. (fn. 112) By the early 1750s there was one governor. (fn. 113) The borough vestry appointed a full-time paid governor in 1761. (fn. 114)
The Walsall poor-law union was formed in 1836, covering the parishes of Walsall, Aldridge, Darlaston, and Rushall and the townships of Bentley and Pelsall in St. Peter's, Wolverhampton. The borough elected four of the nineteen guardians and the foreign six. (fn. 115) The union workhouse in Pleck Road was built in 1838; (fn. 116) its remaining buildings form part of Manor Hospital.
A borough had been established at Walsall by the earlier 13th century when the lord of the manor, William le Rous (d. 1247), granted the burgesses quittance from every service, custom, and secular demand except tallage. In the same charter he granted them extensive pasture rights but reserved pannage. He limited fines for breaches of the assize of bread and ale to 6d. a time for the first three offences. The burgesses were to pay an annual rent of 12d. for every burgage, and when a burgage was offered for sale the lord had the right to buy it at 12d. below the highest offer received. The burgesses paid 12 marks for the charter, which probably dates from c. 1235. (fn. 117)
In 1309 Sir Roger de Morteyn and Sir Thomas le Rous, the lords of the divided manor, extended the privileges. (fn. 118) The new charter discharged the burgesses from tallage and pannage, further reduced fines for breach of the assize of ale, and excused such fines altogether between Christmas Eve and Candlemas and during the fairs. Disputes between burgesses which could not be settled otherwise were to be settled in the court (presumably the manor court) by two men of the court. The burgesses were to be impleaded for offences committed in the town before the bailiffs of the borough and no one else, and only the bailiffs could distrain them. If the burgesses' cattle were impounded for trespassing on the lord's corn or pasture, the damage was to be assessed by two men from the town and two from the foreign and by the lord's bailiff; if they could not agree it was to be assessed in the lord's court by two free men of the court. Free passage was granted for manure, wood, and other necessities along certain streets. Anyone taking a burgage had first to come to an agreement about the liberties of the town with its community (communitas).
The references to the bailiffs of the town and to the community show that by 1309 the borough enjoyed some form of self-government. By 1377 there existed an assembly (consilium) of burgesses, a mayor, a constable, and a bailiff. That year an assembly ordained that a burgess should be admitted only if those officers and twelve other burgesses were present. The same assembly also ordained that anyone revealing the counsel of the burgesses should be fined. (fn. 119) Such assemblies continued to meet at varying intervals of years to admit new burgesses. By the mid 15th century, however, the mayor alone seems to have been responsible for admissions: the assemblies then met to receive from him the list of burgesses whom he had admitted and his account of admission fees, or burgess silver. (fn. 120) Such accounting became annual from at least the late 1490s. (fn. 121) The portreeve who occurs in the later 1390s as annually appointed and responsible to the borough bailiff for the market toll was presumably the mayor; he occurs again in 1424 as elected at the manor court. (fn. 122) There was a steward by the late 15th century: Sir Humphrey Stanley, admitted a burgess in 1461, had been appointed steward of the town by the king by 1485 and occurs as high steward at the beginning of the 16th century. (fn. 123) In 1501, when the Crown held the manor, the borough was leased to the mayor, bailiff, and burgesses for 50 years. (fn. 124)
The group of twelve burgesses mentioned in 1377 may have been the forerunner of the council, called the Twenty-five at first but subsequently the Twenty-four. (fn. 125) An ordinance made c. 1500 by the high steward, mayor, and Twenty-five imposed a fine on any member of the Twenty-five who failed to attend meetings; thenceforth the divulging of council business was to result not only in a fine but in expulsion. A dispute between members was to be settled by members who were not involved, and failure to abide by their decision was to lead to expulsion. A further ordinance, apparently made in 1501-2, stipulated annual accounting by the retiring mayor before the new mayor on St. Clement's day (23 November). It also provided that anyone 'misordering' himself against the steward, under-steward, mayor, bailiff, the other officers, or any of the Twenty-five was to submit to correction by the mayor, officers, and Twenty-five or else be expelled from the town. (fn. 126)
A more comprehensive set of ordinances was drawn up apparently between 1510 and 1520. (fn. 127) They mention the appointment of mayor, bailiff, constable, and serjeants at the Michaelmas meeting of the manor court and show that the council of Twenty-four was a self-perpetuating body, not elected by the burgesses at large. (fn. 128) They provided for a meeting of all burgesses, presumably once a year, to swear obedience to the mayor and officers and to assist in the good government of the town. Absentees were to be fined, and persistent absentees were to lose their burgess status, regaining it only on payment of a 10s. fine. There was a repetition of the earlier regulations governing the conduct of members of the council (although reinstatement of anyone expelled was permitted on payment of a fine) and the punishment of those who resisted the officers. Fines were levied not by the mayor but by the bailiff. Retiring mayors were to account on St. Clement's day (fn. 129) before the mayor and at least five of the Twenty-four. If the new mayor was negligent in the matter he was to be fined, as was the retiring mayor if he was not ready with his accounts.
To be admitted a burgess a candidate had to pay a fee and swear loyalty to the town and its officers. Fees varied from 6s. 8d. to 2s. in 1377, but normally they were either a full fee of 6s. 8d. or a half fee of 3s. 4d. (fn. 130) It is not usually stated what governed the amount paid. Residence was a factor: one of the candidates in 1377 lived in Rushall and had to pay 6s. 8d. because he neither lived in the manor of Walsall nor held land there. (fn. 131) Occasionally in the early 17th century a burgess's son and heir was admitted free, (fn. 132) while in the 16th century at least a man who married a burgess or a burgess's daughter and heir was admitted for 3s. 4d. (fn. 133) Women, however, were rarely admitted; a spinster was admitted in 1568 and a widow in 1593, both for 3s. 4d. (fn. 134) Bachelors paid 3s. 4d. by the later 16th century. (fn. 135) The performance of a special service could lead to a reduction. (fn. 136) The ordinances of c. 1510-20 laid down that burgesses should pay half their fine at the time of admission and the other half when the mayor admitting them went out of office. Any burgess who had not paid his fine by the time the retiring mayor rendered his account was to lose his burgess status and to be readmitted only on payment of a fine. (fn. 137) There are several instances of the enforcement of the ordinances in the later 16th and early 17th centuries. (fn. 138) Burgesses continued to be admitted until at least 1619, (fn. 139) but the charter of incorporation of 1627 made no provision for common burgesses.
In the course of the 15th century the guild of St. John the Baptist became closely involved in the government of the town. (fn. 140) By 1426 the guildhall had become the meeting-place of the assembly of burgesses and thereafter continued as the town hall. (fn. 141) On three occasions in the later 15th century the retiring mayor is described as accounting for the burgess silver before the guildsmen, and in the earlier 1540s the masters of the guild attended accounting sessions. (fn. 142) The guild in turn was subject to some control by the town authorities. (fn. 143) In addition, from at least 1502 the wardens of the craft guilds were fined if they failed to account to the mayor on St. Clement's day or St. Catherine's day (25 November). (fn. 144)
Although the development of the borough was at the expense of the manorial jurisdiction, the lord of Walsall retained some control through the manor court where, as already mentioned, the mayor and other officers were appointed each Michaelmas. No friction is recorded before the 1520s. Indeed in 1512-13 Robert Rushton, the bailiff of the foreign and one of the two lessees of the manor, was admitted a burgess. (fn. 145) Trouble came after the manor was leased to William Gower and Robert Acton, officials of the king's chamber, in 1524. Within about a year Acton was complaining in Star Chamber that leading townsmen were withholding lands, rents, and services, felling timber in the park, and hunting there, and that when he had objected they had threatened him. (fn. 146)
Relations with the Wilbraham family, who secured the manor in the 1550s, seem to have been good at first. At Michaelmas 1579 the retiring mayor presided at the manor court. (fn. 147) In 1589 Thomas Wilbraham leased the High Cross to the town out of 'love' for the inhabitants, and in 1594 and 1595 he acted as intermediary in transactions between John Persehouse of Reynold's Hall and the borough. (fn. 148) In 1610, however, his son Sir Richard was claiming heriots, reliefs, and fines from property in the borough, even though a survey of 1576 had stressed that burgages were exempt from heriots. The dispute lasted ten years. In 1620 Sir Richard compounded with the freeholders and copyholders of the borough and foreign, acknowledging that the burgage holders owed him only 12d. a year for each burgage and suit of court, with no heriots. (fn. 149)
Initially all or most of the borough's income probably came from fines and admission fees. Two keepers of the treasure were elected at the assembly of burgesses in 1426, and money was handed over to them 'from the treasure in the box'. (fn. 150) The early16th-century ordinances laid down that after the retiring mayor had paid over the burgess fees 'and all other duties' to his successor, the money and the burgess roll were to be placed in the burgess box and the box put away 'in the treasure coffer' until the next accounting. (fn. 151) The box or the coffer is probably the box mentioned in 1524 by Robert Acton in the course of his dispute with the borough as 'a common box called Bayard's Box, in the which be great sums of money purposely for the same box gathered to maintain their evil doings'. (fn. 152) One of them may be identifiable with the town chest, which occurs from the 1650s as the repository of corporation muniments. (fn. 153)
In time landed property became a more important source of income. The town estate, which in 1626 produced rents of £38 from Bascote in Long Itchington (Warws.) and £29 from Walsall and Rushall, (fn. 154) can be traced back to 1441 when Thomas Mollesley of Walsall leased Bascote manor to ten feoffees, to two of whom he granted it in 1451. It was later alleged that the land was granted to the use of the town of Walsall. Although no such limitation is recorded the estate was charged later in 1451 with the payment of Mollesley's Dole in Walsall. One of the feoffees, William Lyle, was sole lord from 1452 to at least 1466, but whether or not as a trustee is not clear: from 1468 feoffees for St. John's guild were lords, and a claim to the estate by Lyle's son John failed in 1514. The feoffees remained in possession after the suppression of the guild, and in 1556 the mayor and 'his brethren' were said to be lords of Bascote manor. (fn. 155) Since it was concealed guild property their title was insecure, and the Crown granted all or part of the estate to speculators in 1564. (fn. 156) Although the grant was not effective it eventually obliged the town feoffees to take steps from 1586 to 1592 to secure their possession. These measures created a second set of feoffees, but a new feoffment of 1607 included representatives of both groups. (fn. 157)
By then the feoffees also held property in Walsall and Rushall, of which the nucleus was chantry land and land belonging to St. John's guild, some of it appropriated by the town council after the suppression and some acquired in 1565. Other property had been bought in 1556, 1602, and 1605, and more was bought in 1614. (fn. 158) Much of the local property had been sold by c. 1660. (fn. 159) The Bascote estate was sold in stages between 1840 and 1918; the last manorial court there held by the corporation was in 1888. (fn. 160)
Between at least 1619 and 1685 the rents of the estate were received by the high warden, apparently the successor of the guild wardens; he then paid them to the mayor. It is not clear whether high wardens continued to be appointed thereafter; the mayor may have received the rents directly. (fn. 161)
In the early 17th century the borough claimed to be a corporation by prescription, (fn. 162) but probably the dispute with Sir Richard Wilbraham suggested the need for a new charter. (fn. 163) By will proved in 1627 Nicholas Parker of Bloxwich left £100 for the purchase of one, (fn. 164) and later that year a charter was granted incorporating the borough and foreign. (fn. 165)
The charter appointed a mayor and twenty-four capital burgesses. The mayor was thereafter to be elected from among the Twenty-four every Michaelmas, and the Twenty-four were to be self-perpetuating. The mayor was to be fined if he refused the office, and he could be removed by the Twenty-four for misconduct. Provision was made for a deputy mayor. (fn. 166) The only qualification for election as a capital burgess was residence in the borough or foreign. Capital burgesses had life-tenure but could be expelled for misconduct. They and the mayor were exempted from jury service outside the borough and foreign unless they held lands outside. There were to be a recorder and a town clerk, chosen by the mayor and Twenty-four, sworn by the mayor, and holding office during the corporation's pleasure. The mayor was empowered to appoint and swear two serjeants-at-mace. A commission of the peace was granted, with the mayor, his immediate predecessor, the recorder, and the two senior capital burgesses acting as justices. A court of record was established consisting of the mayor, the recorder, and the town clerk. The corporation was empowered to buy and dispose of property worth up to £20 a year. Two fairs a year with a court of piepowder were granted and previous market rights confirmed. The rights of the lord of the manor were safeguarded, while the jurisdiction of the county justices was preserved in cases of felony.
The main constitutional feature of the corporation's history in the mid 17th century was the set of fifteen ordinances of 1647. (fn. 167) Five dealt with the election of the mayor and with the penalties to be imposed on a mayor who refused to serve or failed to present his accounts on St. Clement's day. A retiring mayor forced to serve a second term by his successor's refusal to serve was to be allowed to keep the fine due without accounting for it as compensation for the 'trouble and charge' involved in a second term. The other ten ordinances dealt with penalties to be imposed on members of the Twenty-four who were absent from meetings and the walking of the fairs, who divulged the secrets of the corporation, or who failed to serve on the jury at quarter sessions when required.
The charter was exemplified in 1661. (fn. 168) Commissioners appointed under the Corporation Act of 1661 visited Walsall three times in 1662 'to purge the corporation' and replaced the recorder and fourteen capital burgesses. Nine of the burgesses had been mayor; among them was the parliamentarian Henry Stone, described in 1662-3 as a 'violent Presbyterian'. (fn. 169) None the less there remained a group in the corporation described in royalist circles as disaffected in contrast with 'the loyal party'; by July 1663 it was trying to secure a new charter which would free Walsall completely from the authority of the county justices. (fn. 170) In 1668, however, when the Privy Council ordered the strict application everywhere of the 1661 Act, the town clerk gave an assurance that all was well in Walsall. (fn. 171) The feoffees of the town lands, however, did not come within the jurisdiction of the commissioners, and many of the purged members of the corporation remained feoffees and so in control of most of the corporation's income; friction duly resulted. (fn. 172) The purge of 1662 left the foreign with a predominance among the capital burgesses. By 1676 the borough was again dominant, and in 1678 eighteen of the Twenty-four were living in High Street, Rushall Street, Newgate Street, and Church Hill. The rivalry of borough and foreign, however, cut across party lines in that there was a strong Tory element among the borough burgesses as well as among those of the foreign. (fn. 173) The only constitutional change of the period came in 1676 when an ordinance was passed by the council providing that the mayor needed the consent of the Twenty-four to spend more than £5 (except on necessary poor-relief) and to lease lands. (fn. 174)
In 1680 John Cumberlege, the retiring mayor, dispersed the Michaelmas meeting of the capital burgesses before a successor was chosen. (fn. 175) The meeting had been a heated and protracted affair because of disputes over the borough charities, and Cumberlege was stated to have had to leave because of illness. He thus remained mayor, but he failed to act during the ensuing year. In the summer of 1681, therefore, the attorney-general brought a writ of Quo Warranto against Walsall, and by November the corporation had offered the king its submission and petitioned for a new charter or the renewal of the old. The attorney-general then advised the Privy Council that the charter was forfeit and recommended the grant of a new charter once the old had been officially surrendered. The inhabitants of the foreign petitioned against incorporation with the borough in the new charter, which, they claimed, just a few of the borough inhabitants were trying to secure. Another petition from the foreign requested incorporation with the borough but with at least an equal number of magistrates. The petitioners pointed out that several charitable gifts belonged to the borough and foreign jointly and claimed that unless the foreign had a voice in the corporation its numerous poor were unlikely to see much of the charities. They accused the borough of wanting a new charter mainly because the magistrates of the town themselves held the charity lands at very low rents. They also took the opportunity to stress the disaffection of the borough and the strength of nonconformity there in contrast to the loyalty and good quality of the gentlemen of the foreign.
The charter was surrendered, and early in 1683 negotiations for a new one were in an advanced stage. Various people then brought their influence to bear against a new grant, notably Thomas Lane of Bentley in St. Peter's, Wolverhampton, Sir Francis Lawley of Spoonhill in Much Wenlock (Salop.) and Canwell, (fn. 176) one of the 1662 commissioners, and John Persehouse of Reynold's Hall. In addition 500 to 600 inhabitants of the foreign petitioned the king against the granting of a charter. The Privy Council heard both sides in May 1684, and the king then ordered the Law Officers to find out the views of the substantial inhabitants. They reported in December that well over two-thirds of the ratepayers of Walsall parish were opposed to a new charter. The king thereupon ordered that none should be granted.
The previous October, presumably to secure the town lands in anticipation of such a decision, the three senior feoffees had made a new feoffment to seventeen others to the use of the three. By the beginning of 1685 Sir Francis Lawley and John Persehouse were leading an attack on the governors of the grammar school and the feoffees of the town lands, accusing them of misusing their revenues. In January 1685 the two parties on the former corporation entered into an agreement to abandon all strife. (fn. 177) The cost incurred by one of the parties in the recent attempt to renew the charter was to be met out of the revenue from the town lands, and the cost of meeting the new attack and of any future attempt to secure a new charter was to come from the same source. One of the capital burgesses was appointed treasurer or receiver of the rent. Finally, in 1688 James II restored the charter, which remained in force until 1835.
Troubles next arose rather from indifference. (fn. 178) In 1704 an ordinance was made stipulating that any tenant of town lands who refused to accept election as a capital burgess was to be ejected. There were only twelve burgesses (including the mayor) in September 1731. Only eight were present at the election of the nine new burgesses on the 28th, although the retiring mayor had sent the serjeants-at-mace to fetch the missing members. The nine included William Persehouse, the first of his family to be a capital burgess since 1650; the next day he was elected mayor. A dispute with the town clerk followed, and a court order of 1733 vindicating the clerk and removing the new burgesses of 1731 directed that the number of burgesses was to be filled up; in the event the order was not fully carried out. In 1804 there were only fourteen members of the corporation, and it was not until its last years that the corporation was up to strength. (fn. 179) There seems also to have been some reluctance to serve as mayor, an office which could prove expensive. In 1741 an ordinance provided that anyone who served more than one term was to receive an allowance for the two entertainments due at Michaelmas and on 5 November. (fn. 180) It in fact became common for a mayor to serve more than one term, though not usually consecutively. Administration seems to have been slack. In 1696 it had been found necessary to pass an ordinance requiring the mayor to hold quarter sessions under pain of a fine. William Persehouse stated in 1733 that Matthew Stubbs, the town clerk, was lazy and obstructive and that the recorder was non-resident and had not attended the court of record for years.
An ordinance of 1702 ordered the annual appointment of a treasurer from among the capital burgesses to handle all expenditure except the sums of up to £5 which the mayor was allowed to spend. Fines were authorized for refusal to act and failure to account. The ordinance was repealed in 1704, and although re-enacted in 1707 it seems to have been ignored. (fn. 181) By the early 1770s there was financial confusion, but some improvement followed, perhaps as a result of the admission of eight new burgesses in 1773. (fn. 182) Mayor's accounts were kept systematically from that year under the supervision of the town clerk, who also became the salaried receiver of rents from the town lands in 1789 and in effect acted as treasurer. The mayor no longer accounted on St. Clement's day; indeed for a time it was the practice to audit two years' accounts together, often some time after the period concerned. From 1795, however, the mayor accounted annually at a special meeting of the council in September. (fn. 183) A more lucrative leasing policy was adopted for the town lands, and the annual rental of £230 in 1773-4 had reached over £500 by 1803-4 and nearly £840 in 1833-4. (fn. 184) Most of the corporation's income came from its estates, and it levied no rate. (fn. 185) In the earlier 19th century, however, its right to apply the income from the Warwickshire property for general corporation purposes was persistently, though unsuccessfully, challenged. (fn. 186)
Several of the corporation's responsibilities passed to the improvement commissioners established under an Act of 1824. They consisted of the mayor and capital burgesses, the recorder, the town clerk, the vicar of Walsall, the headmaster of the grammar school, the steward of the manor of Walsall, the churchwardens, and the overseers of the poor, all ex officio, and 46 others with a property qualification of £1,000, nominated by the Act. The body was self-perpetuating. The area for which the commissioners were responsible was the borough and the built-up parts of the foreign adjoining it. (fn. 187) In fact they were unable to raise enough money to carry out their work, even after levying the maximum permitted rate in 1826. As a result the corporation became involved in expenditure which should have been met by the commissioners. (fn. 188)
The corporation in its last years was not unenlightened. Its shortcomings, as the Report of the Municipal Corporations Commission pointed out, (fn. 189) lay rather in the poor public relations of a self-elected body.
On the publication of the commission's report in 1835 the mayor resigned and supported the cause of reform. There was also a local petition to the House of Commons in favour of reform. (fn. 190) Under the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act the borough and foreign were replaced by a new borough divided into three wards, Bridge, St. George's, and Foreign, with six aldermen and eighteen elected councillors. (fn. 191) The detached portion of the foreign comprising Walsall Wood and Shelfield was not included in the new borough. (fn. 192) At the second council meeting, on 1 January 1836, the previous mayor was chosen mayor and a new town clerk and a treasurer were appointed. Council meetings became public towards the end of 1836. (fn. 193) A borough rate was levied for the first time in 1839. (fn. 194) The 1835 Act transferred the powers of the improvement commissioners to the new corporation, but the Walsall Improvement and Market Act of 1848 (amended in 1850) created a new body of commissioners consisting of the mayor and council and three elected members from the part of Rushall parish adjoining the town; their area of responsibility was the built-up part of the borough and the adjoining part of Rushall covering Ryecroft, the Butts, and the Lichfield road area as far as the later Buchanan Road. (fn. 195) The corporation took over the commissioners' sanitary powers in 1872 and their remaining powers in 1876. The part of Rushall in the commissioners' district, 94 a. in extent, was added to the borough in 1876; it had been part of the parliamentary borough from 1868. (fn. 196) The court of record established in 1627 ceased to sit in 1847 when a county court district centred on Walsall was formed. (fn. 197)
Walsall became a county borough in 1889. (fn. 198) In 1890 a further 617 a. were added from Rushall, covering the Coal Pool Lane and Mellish Road areas and the area south of Aldridge Road; the district was already part of the parliamentary borough, with which the county borough then became coextensive. The three wards were replaced by eight (Bridge, Birchills, Bloxwich, Caldmore, Hatherton, Leamore, Paddock, and Pleck), with eight aldermen and twenty-four councillors. (fn. 199) In 1931, when the borough was again enlarged, two new wards were created, Harden and Palfrey, and the size of the council was increased to 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. (fn. 200) An eleventh ward was created in 1959 by the division of Bloxwich into East and West, increasing the membership of the council to 11 aldermen and 33 councillors. (fn. 201)
In 1966, as part of the reorganization of local government in the West Midlands, the borough of Walsall was extended to include most of the urban districts of Darlaston and Willenhall and parts of the county boroughs of West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, of the boroughs of Bilston and Wednesbury, of the urban districts of Aldridge, Coseley, and Wednesfield, and of the parish of Essington. Parts of Walsall were transferred to West Bromwich, the new urban district of Aldridge-Brownhills, and Cannock urban district. (fn. 202) In 1974 the county borough became part of the metropolitan district of Walsall, (fn. 203) which was granted borough status by letters patent of 1973. (fn. 204) In 1972 Walsall became the seat of a crown court. (fn. 205)
Before 1910 party issues did not normally obtrude in Walsall municipal politics and there were not many contested elections. (fn. 206) The Liberals, however, had had a majority on the council for a long time, and in the local elections of 1910 there was a marked rivalry between Liberals and Unionists. A Socialist had been elected to the council in 1888 and held his seat for three years; otherwise the few early workingclass representatives were in alliance with the Liberals. In 1912, however, several seats were contested by the Labour party, and in 1913 the first Labour councillor was elected, in Pleck ward; a second Labour member was returned unopposed in 1914. Labour greatly strengthened its representation in the years between the two World Wars, but that led the Conservatives and Liberals to develop an anti-Labour alliance; the Labour party was also weakened by internal dissensions. The first woman to be elected was the secretary of the Walsall Women's Unionist Association, who won a seat in Paddock ward in 1911.
Labour won control of the council in 1945. Its majority, however, was narrow, and when it lost a seat in a by-election later the same year the council became evenly divided between Labour and Independents. (fn. 207) The Independents won control in 1947, retaining it until 1954. (fn. 208) They won it back in 1956 and lost it again for a year in 1958. (fn. 209) The Labour and anti-Labour groups became evenly balanced in 1962, and Labour took control in 1963, retaining it by a narrow majority on the enlarged council of 1966. (fn. 210)
By the 15th century the hall of St. John's guild in High Street was used as the town hall. The assembly of burgesses met there by 1426, and the mayor presented his accounts there later in the century. (fn. 211) After the suppression of the guild the building was appropriated by the borough. (fn. 212) Between at least 1652 and 1837 the premises were leased out, with the exception of the hall itself and other rooms used for corporation business. (fn. 213) From at least 1769 the rest of the property was used as the Green Dragon inn (known as the Dragon by the end of the 18th century). (fn. 214) The hall was used for a variety of functions. It remained the normal meeting-place of the corporation in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 215) By at least the later 17th century the borough and manor courts were held in the guildhall. (fn. 216) It was apparently used for mayoral banquets by the earlier 16th century, and in 1566 it was stated that marriages and church-ales were customarily kept there. (fn. 217)
The medieval building included a hall and probably one or two cross-wings. Reused timbers of the 15th or earlier 16th century survived in 1973 in the roof of the 18th-century west wing; they suggest that the latter was preceded by a timber-framed wing of the same width, with a chamber of two or more bays open to the roof. The wing was probably two-storeyed; a buttery mentioned in the mid 16th century was presumably on the ground floor. (fn. 218) The first floor was apparently reconstructed in the later 16th or earlier 17th century: moulded ceiling beams of that period survived in the building in 1973. There was a kitchen by 1483 (fn. 219) and a parlour and court solar by 1631. (fn. 220) The solar was probably the room in Walsall called the court chamber where the manor court was held by 1621. (fn. 221) It was probably over the parlour where by 1661 there was a chamber used for council business. (fn. 222) The chamber and parlour may have been in a cross-wing at the east end of the hall. A room called 'the chequer', presumably the treasury, was repaired in 1639-40. (fn. 223)
A new room was built over the hall in 1768-9, (fn. 224) and there was also a second parlour next to the hall by 1769. (fn. 225) The lessee of the Green Dragon was then required to rebuild the inn within five years with a sashed front, a parapet, and a stone cornice. (fn. 226) The whole complex is said to have been rebuilt c. 1773. By the end of the 18th century the guildhall was of brick with two wings and a recessed front on High Street approached by a flight of steps. The hall itself was in the centre block; the east wing contained the mayor's parlour, and the west wing formed part of the Dragon inn. Courts were then held in the hall, and the corporation met in the mayor's parlour. The plan was asymmetrical and probably followed that of the earlier building. (fn. 227) A bay window was added to the front of the west wing apparently at some time between 1783 and 1817. (fn. 228)
In 1865-7 the centre block and east wing were demolished and replaced by a brick and stone building of two storeys and a basement. It was designed by G. B. Nichols of West Bromwich in an Italianate style and contained a council chamber, a mayor's parlour, a court wing, corporation offices, cells, and stores. (fn. 229) Between 1884 and 1888 the offices were transferred to a building on the corner of Bridge and Goodall Streets acquired by the corporation from the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Light Co. in 1876. (fn. 230)
The Council House in Lichfield Street was built in 1902-5. It is a building of Hollington stone designed in a Baroque style by J. S. Gibson of London and includes a hall, a council chamber, committee rooms, and offices. (fn. 231) It is surmounted by a tower containing a carillon bought under the will of J. A. Leckie (d. 1938) and hung in 1953. (fn. 232) An organ was placed in the hall in 1908. (fn. 233) New civic offices were begun in Darwall Street in 1973. (fn. 234)
The guildhall continued as a magistrates' court, (fn. 235) but in 1973 work began on a court building in Stafford Street to replace it. (fn. 236) The Dragon inn ceased to be used as an hotel between 1908 and 1912 (fn. 237) and in 1973 was occupied by the offices of the clerk to the justices.
By the 1850s the county court met in the assemblyroom in Goodall Street behind the guildhall. The offices of the court occupied part of the ground-floor of the former library building on the corner of Lichfield and Leicester Streets by 1855. The court itself moved into the building in the 1860s, and a large extension, including a court-room, was opened at the rear in 1869. (fn. 238)
There was a gaol at Walsall by 1498. (fn. 239) By 1589 the High Cross in High Street was used as a place of punishment; it is probably identifiable with the house of correction which was leased to the county in the 17th century. (fn. 240) There was a town cage in the 17th century. (fn. 241) The charter of 1627 granted the corporation the right to a gaol in the borough with the mayor or his nominee as the keeper. (fn. 242) It was situated in the successive town halls. (fn. 243) Early in the 19th century it consisted of two rooms and three dungeons; it was cold and damp and had no court, sewer, or water. The gaoler received fees instead of a salary. (fn. 244) The gaol was rebuilt in 1815, and immediately afterwards a house was built for the gaoler. (fn. 245) Still part of the guildhall, the gaol consisted of six cells round a small yard below street level and was described in 1833 as damp and lacking space for exercise. The mayor as keeper was then appointing a salaried deputy gaoler, usually one of the serjeants-at-mace; by 1836 the police superintendent was acting as deputy. (fn. 246) In 1836 the county magistrates agreed to house prisoners from Walsall in Stafford gaol upon contract, and the agreement took effect in 1837. (fn. 247) The gaol was replaced by a lock-up which formed part of the police station built in Goodall Street in 1843. (fn. 248) Prisoners serving sentences of a week or less were being kept there in 1861, when it was recommended that they too should be taken to Stafford. (fn. 249) In 1864 the borough council successfully petitioned for the removal of Walsall gaol from the schedule of prisons closed under the Act of 1865. (fn. 250) A gaoler was still being appointed in 1872, (fn. 251) but no further evidence has been found that Walsall gaol was used other than as a lock-up after 1861.
What were probably the borough stocks are mentioned in 1534, (fn. 252) and by 1662 they were kept at the High Cross. (fn. 253) There were foot-stocks at the bottom of the steps up to St. Matthew's in the earlier 19th century. (fn. 254) Stocks stood in front of the guildhall from 1847 to 1854. (fn. 255) Foot-stocks are preserved in the Arboretum. A new pillory was paid for by the mayor in 1704. (fn. 256) A borough whipping-stock and a cuckingstool occur in the 17th century. (fn. 257) A scold's bridle, or branks, was bought by the mayor in 1617-18 and was apparently replaced by another in 1654-5. (fn. 258) Plot noted the Walsall bridle with another at Newcastle-under-Lyme as 'an instrument scarce heard of, much less seen'. (fn. 259) A bridle is preserved in the borough museum. (fn. 260)
A pound at Walsall occurs in 1361-2, (fn. 261) and there was one in the foreign by 1490-1. (fn. 262) Although the pinners were manorial officials, (fn. 263) responsibility for pounds in both the borough and the foreign evidently rested with the corporation by the 17th century. In 1612 the mayor accounted for the making of a pound at Townend, presumably on the east side of Stafford Street where one stood in the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries. About the end of 1861 it was replaced by a new pound in Freer Street by the pig market. (fn. 264) There was also a pound at Bloxwich by 1639 when the mayor accounted for the cost of making a pinfold there. (fn. 265) It presumably stood at the south-east end of the village where the street-name Pinfold survives. There was still a pound at Bloxwich in 1849. (fn. 266)
The copper matrix of the first known common seal (fn. 267) is round, 1⅝", and bears a shield of arms: quarterly, France Modern and England, ensigned with a coronet of five fleurs-de-lis. The arms are flanked by two lions addorsed sejant guardant with tails flory interlaced in base. Legend, black-letter: SIGILLUM COMMUNE MAIORIS ET COMMUNITATIS VILLE DOMINI REGIS DE WALSALE. It presumably dates from between 1487 and 1553, (fn. 268) and it was still in use in 1865. (fn. 269) By 1867 a new cast-iron seal-press with the same device and legend had been adopted, differing from the old seal in minor details of design. (fn. 270) It was still in use in 1973.
The insignia include two maces made in 1627-8 under the terms of the 1627 charter. Each is silver, parcel gilt, 21¼" long. The mace-heads are surmounted by coronets and bear the badges of Charles II, which were engraved in 1660. It seems probable that the maces had been altered during the Interregnum and that the arms of Charles II replaced the state arms of that period. (fn. 271) The mayor's chain is of gold and was presented by the council in 1875. (fn. 272) The gilt badge bears the device of the common seal with the legend BURGUM DE WALSALL CHARTIS VETERUM REGUM FUNDATUM.
A set of twelve clubs with carved heads, two halberds, two pole-axes, and a bill were displayed at the guildhall by the end of the 18th century. (fn. 273) In 1969 they were transferred to the central library. They have been traditionally identified with Bayard's Colts, clubs mentioned in the earlier 16th century as kept in the town hall and carried about the town on ceremonial occasions. The bill dates from the 15th or 16th century and the pole-axes from the 16th century; the halberds are of the 17th and 18th centuries respectively. Most of the clubs seem to date from the 17th century or later, and one of the heads is dated 1712. It has also been suggested that the clubs are mummers' staves.
Lists of mayors, town clerks, and recorders to 1835 are printed by E. J. Homeshaw, The Corporation of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall (Walsall, 1960). (fn. 274) A complete list of mayors from 1835 to 1974 is given in Metropolitan Borough of Walsall: Council Year Book 1974-75. (fn. 275) Town clerks both before and since 1835 are listed on a board in the ante-room of the council chamber.