A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5, East Cuttlestone Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The civil parish of Great Wyrley, formerly a township and constablewick within the ancient parish of Cannock, lies mainly south of Watling Street except where the Wash Brook, the joint boundary of Cannock and Great Wyrley, crosses and recrosses the road for about a mile. It includes the district of Churchbridge which takes its name from the bridge carrying Watling Street over the Wash Brook, a county responsibility by 1830 when it was described as new. (fn. 1) The boundary with Cheslyn Hay on the north-west was readjusted under the Staffordshire Review Order of 1934. Little Wyrley (in the parish of Norton Canes, Offlow hundred), lies to the east, and Essington and Hilton (in St. Peter's, Wolverhampton, Seisdon hundred) to the southwest. The height of the ground varies between about 400 and 500 ft. The soil is light loam, (fn. 2) but much of the surface is coarse grassland, of uneven levels, consisting of the overgrown deposits from old disused collieries. The farms lie for the most part to the north-east, along the south and east borders and in Landywood, a hamlet in the southern part of the parish. The main road between Cannock and Walsall runs north to south through the parish, and there were two toll bars here by 1832. (fn. 3) The Rugeley, Cannock, and Walsall branch of the former L. & N.W. railway has a station a little over a quarter of mile north-west from the village. A branch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal terminates in the west of the parish at some of the disused pits of the former Great Wyrley Colliery and was itself no longer in use in 1956. There were 75 households within the constablewick of Great Wyrley in 1666, (fn. 4) and the population of the township was 227 in 1801. (fn. 5) By 1811, out of 82 families living in 82 houses there, 51 were employed in agriculture and 31 in trade, manufactures, or handicrafts. (fn. 6) By 1900 there were in Great Wyrley 'a few well-built residences and farmhouses, with a number of cottages', (fn. 7) but in 1951 the civil parish had 4,287 inhabitants and covered 1,644 acres. (fn. 8)
There was a camp for Polish ex-soldiers in Landywood from 1947 to 1951, with a mass centre served by a visiting Polish chaplain. (fn. 9)
Part of Cheslyn Common belonged from time immemorial to the freeholders and copyholders of Great Wyrley. (fn. 10) In 1668 some of this area was inclosed by agreement, (fn. 11) and the rents from the land inclosed were vested in the overseers of the poor of Great Wyrley. (fn. 12) In 1797, following the Act of 1792, the open and common fields, common meadows, and waste land of Cheslyn Common were inclosed, and to defray the cost of inclosing the area belonging to Great Wyrley, described as the Wyrley Side of Cheslyn Common and the Old Falls, part of the Old Falls was sold in 1793. (fn. 13)
Coal and ironstone mines in Great Wyrley were being worked by 1642. (fn. 14) In 1809 Moreton Walhouse of Hatherton leased a coal-mine in Great Wyrley for ten years to William Gilpin (fn. 15) who by 1817 had an edge-tool factory at Churchbridge (see below). Several pits were being worked by 1817, (fn. 16) although in 1831 only 87 persons from Great Wyrley, Cheslyn Hay, Cannock Wood, and Hednesford were engaged in mining. (fn. 17) By 1860 the Wyrley New Colliery Company (fn. 18) and by 1862 the Hatherton Colliery (fn. 19) were in operation, and the Wyrley Cannock Colliery Company, which had started before 1872, was working some seven or eight shafts before it closed down in 1882. (fn. 20) The Great Wyrley Colliery Company was in operation between at least 1872 and 1924, (fn. 21) and the South Cannock Colliery Company was working at Landywood in 1876. (fn. 22) In 1896 Messrs. W. Harrison opened a large pit known as Wyrley No. 3 which was still in use in 1956 (fn. 23) when there was also open-cast mining in operation on both sides of Landywood Lane.
Some of the factory buildings now occupied by Messrs. Wm. Gilpin Senr. & Co. (Tools) Ltd. at Churchbridge were erected in 1806 by William Gilpin (d. 1835), and edge tools were being manufactured here by 1817. (fn. 24) Industrial cottages immediately to the south also date from his time. Discarded grinding stones form the foundations of a building near the bridge. A tall stack erected soon after Gilpin's death and forming a local landmark was demolished in 1933. (fn. 25) Until recently the Churchbridge works housed a steam-engine made by James Watt. (fn. 26)
There was a steam mill near the north end of Walsall Road c. 1843, owned by Thomas and Edward Hick and held by John Hall. (fn. 27)
At Moat Farm two sides of a rectangular mcat are still in existence, indicating the site of a medieval house. The farmhouse is a T-shaped brick building dating from c. 1700; an outhouse carries a keystone inscribed with the name Thos. Lycett (fn. 28) and the date 1758. Wyrley Hall, about 400 yds. farther west, is a stucco building dating from the early 19th century. The almost continuous buildings on both sides of Walsall Road are largely late 19th- or 20thcentury in date. At the corner of Norton Lane are some earlier buildings, one of which was formerly a smithy. An outbuilding there, probably of the 17th century, is a timber-framed structure with brick panels. White House Farm, on the opposite side of the road and in 1956 in process of demolition, is a brick building with a date stone of 1711, bearing the initials T F C. In Norton Lane and in the east of the parish generally the farm buildings are derelict.
There are several isolated buildings in the western half of the parish dating from before the 19th century. Landywood Farm incorporates two bays of a timber-framed house, probably of the 16th century. The walls are of close studding, now covered externally with brickwork and plaster. At the south gable-end a massive chimney has an original stone base. Internally there are indications of an open truss between the bays at first-floor level. This has chamfered timbers and curved braces. Later additions to the house include a single-story kitchen with an open roof, probably of the 17th century, and brick wings to the north and west. Part of one of the outbuildings is timber-framed. In Dunduck Lane a row of three cottages has some exposed timberframing, but the range has been largely rebuilt or refaced with brickwork. Fishers Farm is a late-17thcentury brick house with diagonal shafts to the gable-end chimney. Here, as in the case of most of the old buildings in the parish, the brickwork has been strengthened against subsidence with iron tierods.
There are council housing estates at Hilton Lane and between Bentons Lane and Wharwell Lane, the latter including prefabricated houses. In Landywood Lane and at Moat Farm and Wyrley Hall are small caravan sites.
The Secondary school in Station Road was built in 1939. The Working Mens' Institute in Walsall Road, used for a time as an extension of the elementary school, (fn. 29) is a building of variegated brick dating from 1870. (fn. 30) Harrison's Club, built c. 1900 in Wharwell Lane by the colliery owners, is now the property of the National Coal Board. (fn. 31)
The overlordship of GREAT WYRLEY remained with the Crown apparently from before the Conquest (fn. 32) until at least 1487, (fn. 33) but by 1542 it had passed to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, of whom the manor was then held by fealty and a rent of 4s. (fn. 34) The manor continued to be held of the lord of Cannock at this rent until at least 1842. (fn. 35)
Before the Conquest land in Great Wyrley seems to have been already attached to the office of keeper of the royal forest of Cannock, held then and in 1086 by Richard le Venur (or the forester). (fn. 36) The land then descended with the office and Richard's estate in Chesterton (Warws.) to his daughter Margery, wife of William Croc, (fn. 37) and, by 1130, to their son Walter Croc. (fn. 38) Walter seems to have been succeeded by William Croc, who was either his son (fn. 39) or his brother (fn. 40) and who, having granted all his rights in Wyrley to Radmore Abbey, became a monk there c. 1150. (fn. 41) By 1155 the monks had abandoned Radmore for Stoneleigh (Warws.). (fn. 42) The custody of the forest seems to have been in the sheriff's hands from at least 1164 to 1174, (fn. 43) but the land at Great Wyrley may have passed to William Croc's son William who was fined for a forest offence in 1170 (fn. 44) and subsequently hanged. (fn. 45) The king gave his lands, with his sister Margery in marriage, to Robert de Brok (fn. 46) who by 1175 was forester of Cannock. (fn. 47) He was dead by 1194 and was succeeded by a Peter de Brok who became a monk (fn. 48) so that in 1195 the lands and forestership passed to Hugh de Loges, husband of Robert de Brok's daughter Margery. (fn. 49) In 1198 Hugh was found to be holding a carucate and a half of land in Wyrley by the service of keeping the forest of Cannock. (fn. 50) He was still living in 1215. (fn. 51) His wife Margery seems to have survived him, (fn. 52) but by 1224 their son Hugh had succeeded her. (fn. 53) In about 1246 this younger Hugh was imprisoned and deprived of office and lands for poaching venison within the forest, (fn. 54) but, on payment of a fine, his lands, including Great Wyrley, were restored to him, though for life only and without the forestership. (fn. 55) Before his death in 1268 Hugh had become feeble-minded and unable to manage his own affairs, (fn. 56) and by 1265 his son Richard, either in his own right or as his father's guardian, was holding some land in Great Wyrley which he then forfeited for his part against the king in the Barons' Wars. (fn. 57) He was taken back into the king's peace early in 1266 (fn. 58) but did not redeem all his forfeited lands until after Michaelmas 1272. (fn. 59) In 1275 Richard, deeply in debt, was licensed to let his lands at farm, (fn. 60) but by the beginning of 1277 his manor of Wyrley was in the king's hands for his default against William de la More. (fn. 61) William had possession of the manor from at least 1279 (fn. 62) until early in 1293 when Richard recovered seisin. (fn. 63) He died at the end of 1293, holding what was described as the hamlet of Great Wyrley of the king by serjeanty, and was succeeded by his son Richard. (fn. 64) When this Richard died in 1300, he held in Great Wyrley of the king by grand serjeanty 4 acres of meadow worth 1s. an acre, rents from land, messuages and cottages of 11 free tenants (30s. 1½d.) and 21 customary tenants (37s. 11¾d.), and proceeds of the two great courts attended by free tenants and of the three-weekly courts for the customary tenants, valued at 20s., in all £4 12s. 1¼d. (fn. 65)
Richard's heir was his daughter Elizabeth, aged four, (fn. 66) but his lands in Great Wyrley were assigned in dower to his widow Elizabeth (fn. 67) who in 1320, with John de Saundrestede, her second husband, was holding 100s. rent in Great Wyrley. (fn. 68) When she died in 1337 she was said to be holding 60s. 10d. in rents there by the service of giving a barbed arrow to the king whenever he passed through Great Wyrley on his way to hunt in Wales. (fn. 69) Her heir was John de Warrewyk or de Loges, the son of her daughter Elizabeth and Nicholas de Warrewyk. (fn. 70) In 1342 John was found to be holding by petty serjeanty, giving one barbed arrow whenever the king came to hunt in Cheslyn Hay. (fn. 71) An inquiry in 1343, when John was licensed to entail Great Wyrley on his son and daughter-in-law John and Isabel, showed that there was no manor-house or capital messuage, no dovecot, orchard, mill, or demesne land there, but that the rents from free and customary tenants were worth 66s. 8d. a year and the perquisites of courts 3s. 4d. (fn. 72) The younger John seems to have died without issue before his father who was succeeded in 1349 by a daughter Eleanor, wife of John de Peyto. (fn. 73) The lands, tenements, and rents in Great Wyrley had then fallen in value from 100s. to 60s. because of the pestilence and the poverty of the tenants. (fn. 74)
When Sir John de Peyto died in 1396 he was holding a messuage and a virgate in Great Wyrley. (fn. 75) His son and heir William (fn. 76) settled the manor in 1406 on himself for life, with remainder to his son, William Peyto the younger, (fn. 77) and was dead by 1408 when the custody of his lands and heir William was given to John de Knightley the younger. (fn. 78) William was presumably of age in 1415 when he and his prospective wife Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Fraunceys, were jointly enfeoffed of the manor. (fn. 79) Sir William was taken prisoner at Dieppe in 1443. (fn. 80) He and his wife, here named Katherine, having in 1446 mortgaged their manors including Wyrley, (fn. 81) in 1449 obtained the king's licence for such mortgages so as to raise William's 'intolerable ransom'. (fn. 82) In 1451 and 1453 Great Wyrley was mortgaged to Drew Barentyn and others. (fn. 83) In 1454 Sir William and Katherine conveyed it to their son John and his wife Eleanor, daughter of Robert Montfeld, with reversion to themselves. (fn. 84) John died in 1487, holding the manor, then worth £7, of the king in chief as 1/15 knight's fee. (fn. 85) John's son Edward died on 14 September within a month of his father's death, without having entered upon the inheritance, and left a son John, a minor. (fn. 86) In 1527 John settled Great Wyrley on himself and his wife Margaret (fn. 87) and died in 1542, when the manor was said to be worth £11 a year. (fn. 88) Margaret held a life interest in it, but in 1544 her son John Peyto conveyed his reversionary interest to James Leveson of Wolverhampton and Lilleshall (Salop.), a merchant of the staple. (fn. 89) James was succeeded by his son Sir Richard Leveson, who died in 1560, (fn. 90) and was succeeded by his son Walter. (fn. 91) Walter was succeeded in 1602 by his son Richard, (fn. 92) who became Vice-Admiral of England in 1604 and died in 1605 without lawful issue, (fn. 93) survived by his wife Margaret, daughter of Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham and Lord High Admiral (d. 1624). (fn. 94) His lands passed to Sir John Leveson of Halling (Kent), (fn. 95) whose son Sir Richard succeeded soon after November 1615 (fn. 96) and died childless in 1661. (fn. 97) The lands passed, through Sir Richard's niece Frances, wife of Sir Thomas Gower, to their son, Sir Thomas Leveson-Gower, (fn. 98) and then in 1689 to his uncle, Sir William Leveson-Gower, (fn. 99) whose son John, later Baron Gower, succeeded in 1691. (fn. 100) He died in 1709 and his great-grandson George Granville, created Duke of Sutherland in 1833, (fn. 101) was holding the manor in 1834. (fn. 102) The 5th Duke held it in 1927. (fn. 103)
A customary court for the manor of Great Wyrley was being held by 1300. (fn. 104) Its records survive from at least 1721 until the 20th century, with extinguishments of manorial rights down to 1934. (fn. 105)
Great Wyrley paid 3s. a year in frithsilver to the lord of Cannock by 1298. (fn. 106) By 1341 it was sending two frankpledges to the leet court of Cannock (fn. 107) and remained within the leet until at least 1805. (fn. 108) The manor was paying frithsilver of 1s. to the lord of Cannock between at least 1762 and 1769. (fn. 109)
In 1284 'the wood of Great Wyrley', having passed out of the hands of Richard de Loges, presumably with the manor, was held by William de More. (fn. 110) Both Richard and William were presented before the forest justices in 1286 for making new destruction of the woods at Wyrley, (fn. 111) the vill being within the forest of Cannock. (fn. 112)
A mill in Wyrley was granted to the abbey of Radmore by Henry Duke of Normandy in about 1153. (fn. 113) Ralph the Miller, of Wyrley, occurs in 1283 (fn. 114) but there was no mill here in 1343. (fn. 115) Brown's Mill, apparently in Great Wyrley, is mentioned in 1837. (fn. 116) In 1834 and 1851 there was a corn-miller at Churchbridge, (fn. 117) and there was still a miller in the parish in 1880. (fn. 118)
A church was built and consecrated as a chapel of ease to Cannock in 1845, (fn. 119) and in the following year Great Wyrley was joined to Cheslyn Hay to form the district chapelry of Great Wyrley. (fn. 120) The perpetual curacy, a titular vicarage since 1868, (fn. 121) is in the gift of the Vicar of Cannock. (fn. 122)
The parish church of ST. MARK is a stone building in the Early English style dating from 1845. It consists of nave, chancel, aisle, porch, and combined vestry and organ chamber. There are graded lancets at the east end, a window with plate tracery at the west end, and single lancets elsewhere. On the east gable of the nave is a bell-cote containing one bell. Electric lighting was installed in 1928 (fn. 123) and a new reredos in 1939. (fn. 124) The Lady Chapel at the east end of the aisle and the vestry screen date from 1945. (fn. 125) In 1956 a stone pulpit was provided, and alterations, including new choir stalls, were still being made to the chancel.
With two exceptions the churchyard was cleared of gravestones c. 1950. (fn. 126) The present cemetery, opened in 1897, (fn. 127) is approached from Station Street, Cheslyn Hay, and has a small mortuary chapel.
The vicarage stands to the south-west of St. Mark's Church.
In 1787 Thomas Poynor's house in Great Wyrley was certified as a meetingplace for Independents (fn. 130) but no permanent place of worship was erected. In 1822 the house of Joseph Ault was certified as a Dissenter's meeting house. (fn. 131)
The first Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in Holly Lane, Upper Landywood, in 1846, and had 100 sittings. (fn. 132) In 1858 a new chapel, seating 200, was built adjacent to it. This was a rectangular brick building with round-headed windows and a gabled porch. (fn. 133) The old chapel was used as a Wesleyan day school until a new one was built adjoining the chapel in 1867. (fn. 134) After the day school was discontinued the old chapel was used as a Sunday school. By 1923 the buildings had become dilapidated, partly owing to the colliery workings, and by 1919 the Sunday school had been closed. (fn. 135) A new chapel on the corner of Shaw's Lane and the main Walsall road, Lower Landywood, was built in 1925 at a cost of £2,500. (fn. 136) It is a large red-brick building with a stone Perpendicular-style window above a single-story entrance block. In the meantime the old chapel had fallen into ruins which were finally obliterated by reconstruction of the ground after mining operations. (fn. 137)
In 1815 the house of Thomas Reeves was certified as a meeting-house (fn. 138) for Primitive Methodists. (fn. 139) The chapel in Streets Lane, Upper Landywood, dates from 1906. (fn. 140) It is a red-brick building with a halftimbered gable and a small porch. Another congregation of Primitive Methodists, after meeting at various houses, used a small chapel (now converted into a house) at Newtown, Essington. (fn. 141) In 1920 a wooden hut was erected in Jacobs Hall Lane, Landywood. In 1927 (fn. 142) a new chapel was built on the same site with its frontage to the main Walsall road. It consists of a chapel, vestry, and south porch and is built of rustic bricks with stone Perpendicular-style windows.
The National school at Great Wyrley was built in 1849 near the churchyard and was attended by about 100 children. (fn. 143) It was supported by Lord Hatherton and other subscribers (fn. 144) and, by 1880 at least, partly by small weekly payments from the pupils. (fn. 145) In 1860 the school first received a government grant. (fn. 146) The average attendance in 1866 was 82, (fn. 147) and in 1871 66 boys and 52 girls. (fn. 148) It had been closed by 1884, (fn. 149) and in 1956 was being used as a parish hall. It is a single-story building with lighter brick diaper ornament, leaded windows, and a gabled porch. The steeply-pitched roof has a central bell-cote and a timbered gable. The former teacher's house adjoining it is of similar style and materials.
A Board school (mixed) was built in 1882, the average attendance then being 160. (fn. 150) It was enlarged in 1906. (fn. 151) By 1910 the premises were unsatisfactory and the school managers were instructed to reduce numbers by excluding children from other districts. (fn. 152) In 1930 attendance averaged 249 boys, girls, and infants. (fn. 153) Owing to overcrowding, temporary premises were hired in 1938 in Great Wyrley Working Men's Institute. (fn. 154) The school is now Great Wyrley County Primary School. (fn. 155)
A Wesleyan school connected with the chapel at Landywood was built there in 1867 (or 1868), (fn. 156) and by 1880 was staffed by both a master and a mistress. (fn. 157) In 1884, however, it was described as a Sunday school. (fn. 158)
A council school was opened in 1908 at Landywood, with six classes for 350 children. (fn. 159) In 1930 the average attendance was 322. (fn. 160) This is now Great Wyrley, Landywood County Primary School for Boys and Girls and Infants. (fn. 161)
Charities for the Poor
Humphrey Short of Great Wyrley at some date before 1786 gave a rent charge of 10s. on a close there to be distributed at Christmas to the poorest inhabitants of Great Wyrley who were not in receipt of parish relief. (fn. 162) At some time before 1786 Ann Greenshill gave 5s. and Alice Greenshill 13s. (both charged on land in Shenstone parish), to be distributed in bread every alternate Sunday to six poor widows or poorest inhabitants of Great Wyrley. (fn. 163) By 1823 these charities, along with those of Alport, Wilson, and Goldsmith, were distributed to the poor of Great Wyrley generally on the first Friday in January, in sums varying from 3s. to 1s. 6d. (fn. 164) They were no longer paid in 1956. (fn. 165)