Walsall Wood: Economic history

Pages 279-281

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

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Shelfield formed part of Cannock forest by the later 12th century, and the wood of Walsall was mentioned in 1199-1200. (fn. 1) The woodland was still extensive in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. (fn. 2) By 1843, however, 21 a. at Paul's Coppice and 6 a. at Goblins Pit were all that remained. (fn. 3)

Early clearance was presumably around the settlement at Shelfield. In 1086 a hide of arable there was waste. (fn. 4) By 1317 there were three common fields. Town field lay on either side of the present Field Lane and was bounded by Mill Lane, Ford Brook Lane, Coronation Road, Spring Lane, and Birch Lane. Another field, called Wadgreve or Wadgrene in 1317, Watgreave or Thorneyfield in 1766, and Thorn field by 1784, lay north of High Heath. A third, Rodbardesfeld, is probably identifiable with the 18th-century Pool field, which lay west of the heath and north of Coronation Road. All three fields were apparently still open in 1766 but had been inclosed by 1819. (fn. 5) The common fields, however, were small, and by the later Middle Ages most farm-land was probably held in severalty. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries farming was mainly pastoral, with stock consisting of cattle, sheep, and some pigs. Rye, oats, and barley were grown. (fn. 6)

By 1576 much of the waste round Shelfield had evidently been inclosed; it then consisted of three commons, Shelfield Green (later Birches Green), Colliers Ford Heath (probably the later Coalheath), and High Heath. At Clayhanger 160 a. of 'sterile ground' was held in severalty; the rest of the Walsall Wood area was one large common. Squatting on the waste, however, had already begun. A house and 4 a. at Walsall Wood and a cottage on High Heath were recent encroachments. (fn. 7) In 1617 a shop and 8 cottages stood on the waste; 6 cottages had been built recently. (fn. 8) By 1763 there were 124 encroachments at Walsall Wood, 11 at Coalheath, 10 at Green Lane, Shelfield, and Irondish, and one at High Heath. The waste, however, was still extensive. The southern commons, High Heath, Shelfield Green, Coalheath, and Moss Pit Green to the west of Shelfield, covered 37 a.; Walsall Wood and Clayhanger Commons formed a single stretch of waste of 504 a. (fn. 9) The part of Walsall Wood Common south of Lichfield Road was known by 1805 as Holly Bank Common. There were then some 218 encroachments; 25 were at or near Shelfield and the rest in the north, 99 being on Walsall Wood Common. (fn. 10) By 1843 the northern waste, though still continuous, had been further reduced; Clayhanger, Walsall Wood, and Holly Bank Commons covered c. 365 a. (fn. 11) In 1876 the surviving commons, altogether 350 a., were inclosed under an Act of 1865, partly for agriculture and partly for new roads and houses. (fn. 12)

The area of farm-land was greatly reduced to make way for housing after the Second World War. By 1974 four farms remained. Grange farm west of Green Lane consisted of 177 a. used for dairying and corn-growing. Dairy farm in Hall Lane, c. 70 a., produced beef, barley, and potatoes. Shelfield House farm consisted of 63 a.; 8 a. was under barley and the rest was used for dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry. Vigo farm was a 12-acre small holding. (fn. 13)

A windmill was built at Shelfield between 1744 and 1786, but its location is unknown. (fn. 14) By 1816 there was a windmill on the north side of Mill Lane, Shelfield, on the site of the present Shelfield mill; it was presumably the windmill occupied in 1814 by William Bacon. (fn. 15) It had been rebuilt as a steam corn-mill by the early 1880s and was worked as such until the mid 1930s. In 1973 the building was used as a factory by the Grafton Heater Co. (1960) Ltd. and the Pelsall Tool and Engineering Co. Ltd.; until a fire in 1953 part of the windmill had survived within the later structure. (fn. 16)

The existence of a croft in Shelfield called Bloomers Parrok in 1402 (fn. 17) may indicate early ironsmelting. A bloomsmithy stood on Shelfield Brook west of the later Shelfield Farm in 1576, (fn. 18) but nothing further is known of it. There is evidence of light metal-working in Shelfield and Walsall Wood from the early 18th century. In 1715 two Shelfield buckle-makers and a stirrup-maker were mentioned. (fn. 19) A button-maker of Walsall Wood occurs in 1729, (fn. 20) and a maker of tinned stirrups in 1813. (fn. 21) Chain-makers occur throughout the 19th century, mostly specializing in heavy chains. There was one chain-maker in 1813, (fn. 22) and from at least 1834 to the later 1840s Henry Homer was making chains in Shelfield. (fn. 23) At Walsall Wood there were five chainmakers in 1834, all members of the Jackson family, which continued to dominate the local trade until the 20th century. William Jackson, who abandoned the business at the beginning of the 20th century, was the last chain-maker in the area. A hame-maker occurs in 1860. Nailing was also practised by the earlier 19th century. There were 5 nail-makers in 1860, and 4 nailers were assigned land when the commons were inclosed in 1876. The last nail-maker, Abraham Harrison, gave up the trade between 1892 and 1896. Between 1904 and 1908 John Grainger began making boilers in Shelfield; the business closed between 1932 and 1936. (fn. 24) There was an iron-foundry in Beech Tree Road for some time before 1952 when it was taken over by Stephen F. Butler & Co. Ltd., who converted it for use as an aluminium foundry. Butlers moved to Lindon Road in 1958 and to Brownhills in 1964. (fn. 25) Several other metal-working firms set up factories in Walsall Wood and Shelfield after the Second World War, and at least 16 were still in business in 1974. Products included presswork, tools, rivets, wheelbarrows, refrigerator equipment, aluminium castings, dies, punches and drills, metal windows, and steel fabrications. (fn. 26)

The abundant Etruria Marl at Walsall Wood has been used for brickmaking from at least the 18th century, though the largest works in the area have been just over the parish boundary in Aldridge. Bricks were made on the manorial waste at Shire Oak in 1775. (fn. 27) By 1843 there was a brickyard east of Birches Green at Shelfield owned by John Stokes, (fn. 28) and in 1858 one Brawn made bricks, tiles, sewage pipes, and drain-pipes at a works in Shelfield. (fn. 29) The Walsall Wood Colliery Co. opened a brickworks at Paul's Coppice in the late 1870s, (fn. 30) which apparently closed at some time between 1916 and 1937; (fn. 31) most of the buildings had been demolished by 1938. (fn. 32) By 1882 Clayhanger Brickworks had been opened on a site adjoining the Wyrley and Essington Canal; it evidently made red bricks. It was advertised for sale in 1896, but was disused in 1901. Though it seems to have been in production again c. 1904 it had evidently closed by 1910. (fn. 33)

Walsall Wood overlies that part of the concealed Cannock Chase coalfield which is bounded by the Vigo and Clayhanger Faults. (fn. 34) The existence of coal there was suggested in 1777, and in 1841 Lord Bradford's agent urged that trial shafts should be sunk. (fn. 35) Mining did not begin, however, until the 1870s. In 1873 Lord Bradford granted a lease to a consortium and sinkings were begun at Paul's Coppice close to the Daw End branch canal. The lease was assigned to the Walsall Wood Colliery Co. in 1876. (fn. 36) The Deep Coal was reached in 1877 at 1,677 feet, the shaft being the deepest in the Cannock Chase coalfield. (fn. 37) Production began in 1879. (fn. 38) In 1899 the colliery was producing up to 4,000 tons a week, (fn. 39) and c. 1955 it employed 660 men underground, working three seams. (fn. 40) It was closed in 1964. (fn. 41) In 1974 the buildings were occupied by Brownhills Motor Sales Ltd. and by Effluent Dispersal Ltd. which used the workings for waste disposal; the rest of the site was being developed as an industrial estate.

Since the Second World War several light industries have been established in Walsall Wood and Shelfield. In 1974 there were a clothing factory and a factory producing timber-framed buildings in Coppice Road; two leather-goods works and an electrical washer and gasket factory in Hall Lane; an organ-building works in Walsall Road; and an electrical-appliance works at Shelfield Mill.


  • 1. S.H.C. ii (1), 94; v (1), 178.
  • 2. S.R.O., D. 1287/1/2, survey of Walsall manor, 1576, m. 13; D. 260/M/F/1/8, ct. of recog. and survey, 1617, p. 34.
  • 3. W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Walsall, nos. 2617, 2667.
  • 4. V.C.H. Staffs. iv. 38, no. 7.
  • 5. B.M. Harl. MS. 2131, f. 13 (a 17th-cent. MS. giving Wadgrene, perhaps in error); Fink, Queen Mary's Grammar Sch. 245 and front end-paper; S.R.O., D. 351/M/B/ 209; W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Walsall, nos. 2689-90, 2702-5, 2711-18, 2732-48, 2750-7.
  • 6. L.J.R.O., wills of Thos. Fletcher (proved 7 Jan. 1582/3), Wm. Bettes (8 June 1608), John Byrche (3 Mar. 1612/13), inventories; admins. of Rob. and Wm. Launder (30 May 1617 and 25 Jan. 1627/8), inventories.
  • 7. S.R.O., D. 1287/1/2, survey of Walsall manor, 1576, m. 13.
  • 8. S.R.O., D. 260/M/F/1/8, ct. of recog. and survey, 1617, p. 6.
  • 9. S.R.O., D. 1287/8/2.
  • 10. D. 1287/1/37, Walsall cottages 1805; W.C.L., box 21, no. 10.
  • 11. W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Walsall, nos. 2559, 2577, 2709, 2731, 2800, 2842, 3002, 3068.
  • 12. S.R.O., Q/RDc 106; 29 & 30 Vic. c. 29 (Local and Personal).
  • 13. Ex inf. the farmers (1974).
  • 14. It is not mentioned in L.J.R.O., B/V/6/Walsall, 1744, but occurs ibid. 1786. It is not shown on Yates, Map of Staffs. (edns. of 1775 and 1799).
  • 15. B.M. O.S.D. 212; Homeshaw, Bloxwich, 152. A Wm. Bacon was miller at Shelfield in the 1860s: P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1860; 1864; 1868).
  • 16. Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1884); Walsall Observer, 24 Apr. 1953; ex inf. Mr. G. Allsopp, Shelfield Mill House (1973).
  • 17. W.S.L., D. 1798/94.
  • 18. S.R.O., D. 1287/1/2, survey of Walsall manor, 1576, m. 10.
  • 19. Assizes 4/18, p. 237.
  • 20. Lond. Gaz. 7-10 June 1729.
  • 21. Pearce, Walsall, 169.
  • 22. Ibid. 158.
  • 23. White, Dir. Staffs. (1834); P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1845). He is not listed in White, Dir. Staffs. (1851).
  • 24. White, Dir. Staffs. (1834; 1851); P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1845 and later edns.); Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1884 and later edns. to 1936); S.R.O., Q/RDc 106.
  • 25. Ex inf. Butler Foundries Ltd., Brownhills (1974).
  • 26. Walsall Chamber of Commerce & Ind. Dir. 1974/5; Kelly's Dir. Merchants, Manufacturers, and Shippers (1947; 1952; 1953); Kelly's Dir. Manufacturers and Merchants (1966); P.O. Telephone Dir. Sect. 227: 1971.
  • 27. S.R.O., D. 1287/1/2, survey of Walsall, 1775.
  • 28. W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Walsall, no. 2927.
  • 29. R. Hunt, Memoirs of Geol. Surv., Mineral Statistics of U.K. for 1858, ii (1860), 83. The works of Joberns & Arrowsmith listed ibid. 85 as at Walsall Wood was presumably on its later site in Aldridge.
  • 30. Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1880); O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LVII. SE. (1887 edn.).
  • 31. It occurs in List of Quarries . . . for 1916 (H.M.S.O. 1917), 526, but not in Kelly's Dir. Building Trades (1937).
  • 32. O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LVII. SE. (1921 edn., revised 1915; prov. edn., revised 1938).
  • 33. Ibid. (1887 edn., surv. 1882; 1903 edn., revised 1901); S.R.O., D. 682/22; List of Quarries, 1904, 405. It does not occur in List of Quarries, 1910.
  • 34. V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 71-2; G. Barrow and others, Memoirs of Geol. Surv., Geol. of Country around Lichfield, 16, 94-6, 165; Geol. Surv. Map 6", Staffs. LVII. SE. (1921 edn.).
  • 35. S.R.O., D. 1287/6/14, R. Holmes to J. Bradfield, 13 Aug. 1777; D. 1287/18/26, business corresp. 1840-2, P. Potter to Lord Bradford, 4 Aug. 1841 and plan.
  • 36. Ibid./18/31, business corresp. 1873, Potter to Bradford, 13 Oct. 1873; D. 570/6, lease of 29 May 1937; Walsall Observer, 3 Oct. 1873.
  • 37. Ex inf. N.C.B. (1973); Barrow and others, Geol. Country around Lichfield, 45; S.R.O., D. 1287/18/31, business corresp. 1877, Potter to Bradford, 5 Dec. 1877.
  • 38. D. 1287/18/31, business corresp. 1878, Potter to Bradford, 5 May 1878; ex inf. N.C.B.
  • 39. S.R.O., D. 570/6, Walsall Wood pit costs 1898-9.
  • 40. Colliery Guardian, Guide to the Coalfields (1956), 325.
  • 41. Walsall Observer, 7 Feb. 1964; ex inf. N.C.B.