This is an effort to chart the growth of Walsall Wood, towards the turn of the last century. At this time, the village was growing; the expansion (I hesitate to use the word ‘wealth’) that this created shaped the community forever, and left a legacy that forms the major part of our community history. Here, reader and top blog contributor David Evans uses census data and other resources to analyse the community he loves and grew up in.
In 1881 Walsall Wood was an expanding, vibrant community.
The population of Walsall Wood grew from 2077 in 1871 to 3242 in 1881 , the coal mine had started production in 1879, a railway line was soon to be opened, in 1882. (source; British History Online: Walsall Wood). The village was changing forever. The census for 1881 is a good guide to see how major changes were happening, and this census, in particular shows that perhaps for the first time, each household had been given a form to fill in and hand back to the enumerator, who was a man named Henry Tobias Spittle. In his introduction for this section of the census ‘Staffordshire/ Walsall foreign/ Aldridge/ district 12’, the good man Henry has listed his journey and route through the village. There are some interesting road names. Commonside, nowadays called Camden Street, Birmingham Road (Brownhills Road from Friezland Lane to Streets Corner), Occupation Road (Beechtree Road), Cemetry (sic) Road (Brookland Road), Hollinders Lane (now Queen Street and Vigo Road), Holly Bank (which only has a few houses then), Castle Road. He names the settlement ‘the Vigo’, but lists it as just ‘Vigo’. Henry also lists an Accommodation Road, whose location is unclear.
I wanted to see how the High Street in Walsall Wood was changing. It seems that very few shops existed at that time on the opposite side of the road to the church, where the shops are today, but on the St. Johns side of the Lichfield Road, from the Horse and Jockey to the Coppice Road, these trades and business had set up:
A dress maker from Worcester; a Prudential Insurance agent, from Great Bridge; Old Mr Stephen Green, aged 75 and born in the village, was the rent collector; there were a butcher, a pavior, a shoemaker from Clay Cross; a grocer from County Mayo, Ireland and there was a burnt out house where all had perished. Jacksons and Whitehouse were chainmakers and blacksmiths in the High Street, there was a printer from Hanley, a colliery clerk from Bristol,and the landlord of the Red Lion was Richard Smith, from Tamworth. The next-door cottage, Yew Tree Cottage had lost its teacher who had previously occupied it, and now a farm labourer lived there.
So where were the local school’s teachers?
The two 22 year old schoolmistresses were lodging with eldery Mr. and Mr.s Shore in Coppice Road. Also in Coppice Road there was a land and house agent from Woodchester, Gloucester; a grocer, an engine driver from Pontypool whilst Abraham Harrison, the village’s last horse nail maker, was busy at work and his neighbours Mr Belgrave and son were blacksmiths.
In Commonside (nowadays Camden Street, leading to the canal) there was a boat builder, carpenter, fireman (I think he set the explosive charges in the coalmine) and four boatmen, born in St Pancras London, Oxfordshire, West Bromwich, and Sodom, which was near Wolverhampton, apparently. There was also a strange listing of four dwellings on the same site: another Fold! Birmingham Road boasted a carter from Churton, Salop, two other carters and a boat loader, and a Mr Lees, earthenware dealer, from Blythe Bridge.
The part of Lichfield Road from Streets Corner to Coppice Road had a publican (perhaps at the nascent Royal Exchange?), a coach trimmer, a schoolmaster,and four excavators from Salop, Oxfordshire, London. A Mr. Brown was a victualler (but where was this pub?)
There was a travelling fair in the village at the time. Perhaps it was somewhere near the Boot Inn, which would nowadays be about where Boatmans Lane meets the Lichfield Road.
Mr Hollinder and his large family lived, logically enough, in Hollinders Lane. Occupation Road is most interesting. There was the local constable, George Alldritt and his wife living in the Police House. He appears in a later census living by the Traveller’s Rest Inn, by the canal! There is a cordwainer in Occupation Road, a manager at a lime works, a builder and a lime burner… all local people. The Vigo workers are mainly coal miners or brickmakers.
Meanwhile, in ‘Lichfield Road, back’ i.e. from Shire Oak back down the hill as far as Boatmans Lane but on the opposite side of the road to the church, we have a retired lead miner from Shropshire (Stiperstones mines, perhaps?), a labourer in a chemical works, a Primitive Methodist Minister visiting someone, a greengrocer, a carpenter, a traveller named Zachariah Beddow, born in Horseley Heath, Staffordshire. There’s a bootmaker, a grocer/butcher (Batkin, which is now Roadrunner, opposite the old school) and some more excavators, four of them, single men. These chaps possibly lived in the old house by the railway, where the railings are now; there’s a blacksmiths, drapers and a publican Mr Cherry ( Traveller’s Rest, now the car sales lot opposite Hall Lane junction, I think [I was under the impression the Travellers Rest was on the site of the Health Centre – Bob], yet another grocer, a boot and shoe dealer and Mr. Dabbs the butcher.
It seems that the Coach and Horses was not yet open or built, and surpisingly one other pub may be missing – either the Travellers Rest or the Boot. The numbers don’t add up. And the Hawthorn Tree Inn,(Drunken Duck) opposite the medical centre, has not appeared on the scene as a public house.
Where did the influx of miners come from?
A lot were local Walsall Wood men, chiefly in Occupation Road, High Street by the church, and in Coppice Road, for example. But there is an increasing quantity of young miners, some of who have settled and have young families. They come from the Black Country towns, but there are many who came from great distances;-
Swan Village, Prince’s End, Kingswinford, Shardlow (Derbyshire), Middleton (Warks) Holly Hill, Oakham; quite a few labourers from Melton, Killsborough, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Swineford, Balleywaron and Dublin in Ireland, and other miners from Devonshire, Broseley, Winchester, Stockport, Ashby, Dedington, Yale, Gretts Green,Eastwood (DH Lawrence’s home town) a David Evans from Chell (!), Fryford, New Delavel, Merville, Leek, Hanley, Hinton Blewell, Uttoxeter, Preston View (Hereford) and Marlpool.
In Coppice Road a Gipsy, Seth Boswell, born in Radnor, lived with Susannah Lee, another Gipsy born in Alvechurch, as his neighbour.
There was no nurse, midwife or doctor listed in the village. There was no baker, no undertaker, no chemist, no tailor, no mention of the Post Office or telegraph clerk, if there was one at that time.
The parts of the village south of the canal, Hall Lane, Bullings Heath and Green Lane, appear in another census district, as do Lindon Road and Friezland Lane, part of Catshill, Brownhills at that time.
The village was beginning to burst at its seam. Young miners were arriving, some had settled and started families, many houses had miner-lodgers, and soon a railway would open up and the production at the coal mine, and at the brickworks, could escalate. And the social conditions at that time? Drinking water was from shared wells, no mains sewerage system. The burial records for the village make sad reading. Infant mortality was very high.
To be continued…
David Evans, September 2012