Walsall in 1859


Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis - 1859

WALSALL (ST. MATTHEW), a parish, and the head of a union, in the S. division of the hundred of OFFLOW and of the county of STAFFORD; comprising the 
market-town and newly-enfranchised borough of Walsall, 18 miles (S.E. by S.) from Stafford, and 118 (N.W.) from London; and containing 20,852 inhabitants, of whom 7395 are in the township of the borough, and 13,457 in that of Walsall-Foreign, into which numerous streets of the town have extended. This place is supposed to have derived its name, in various ancient records written Whaleshall and Walshale, from its situation in or near an extensive forest, resorted to by the Druids for the celebration of their religious rites, and in which the Saxons subsequently erected a temple to their god Woden, from which also the appellation of the town of Wednesbury, in the vicinity, is deduced.

In the early part of the tenth century, it was fortified by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred, and Countess of Mercia, probably about the same time as she built a castle at Stafford, and surrounded the town with walls. At the time of the Conquest, it was retained by William, and continued to be a royal demesne for nearly 20 years, till it was given by the Conqueror to Robert, son of Asculfus, who had accompanied him to Britain. In the time of Henry III., it was held in fee-farm by William Rufus, and it was subsequently owned by the Earl of Warwick, the "King-maker;" Henry VII. and VIII. afterwards possessed it, and the latter granted it to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, on whose execution the manor was conferred by Mary upon the Wilbrahams, from whom it has descended to the present owner, the Earl of Bradford.

Walsall is not connected with any events of historical interest: Queen Elizabeth, in one of her tours through the country, visited it, and affixed the royal seal and signature at Wakhale, on the 13th of July, in the 28th year of her reign, to a deed preserved in the archives of the corporation, containing a grant of certain lands to the town. In 1643, Henrietta Maria,queen of Charles I., remained here for a short time previously to joining the king at Edgehill; and Charles II., on his road from Boscobel to the coast, found an asylum at Bently Hall, about a mile distant. The TOWN is pleasantly situated on the summit and acclivities of a rock of limestone, and is watered by a small brook called by Erdeswick "Walsal water," which falls into the river Tame, a little below the town; it consists of several regular and spacious streets, in some of which are handsome houses of modern erection, many of them of a superior description. The environs are interesting, and contain some pleasant villas, and much beautiful and varied scenery.

The town is well paved, and lighted with gas, under the superintendence of the corporation, and amply supplied with water. A subscription library was established in 1800; and a handsome edifice, containing reading and news rooms, ornamented by a Doric colonnade 30 feet high, has been erected. The principal hotel, a very spacious building, has been enlarged and beautified at a considerable expense, and is adorned with a fine portico formed of pillars that once belonged to Fisherwick, the noble mansion of Lord Donegal.  The market is on Tuesday and Saturday; and fairs are held on February 24th: Whit-Tuesday, a pleasure-fair; and the Tuesday before Michaelmas-day, chiefly for horses, cattle, and cheese. 

The inhabitants enjoy several immunities by prescription: Henry I. bestowed upon them exemption from toll throughout England, and from serving upon juries out of the limits of the "borough and foreign;" and the guilds of St. John the Baptist, and of Our Lady, appear to have been ancient establishments, exercising various rights and privileges. The earliest existing charter of incorporation was granted in the 3rd of Charles I., and confirmed by Charles II. in the 13th of his reign; but the government is now vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and 18 councillors, under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; the borough is divided into three wards, and the number of magistrates is nine. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, Walsall was constituted a parliamentary borough, with the privilege of returning one member; the right of election is in the 10 householders of the parish, with the exception of a small detached part; the limits of the franchise comprise about 7080 acres, and the mayor is returning officer.

The recorder holds quarterly courts of session for all offences not capital; and a court of record, under the charter of Charles II., as often as may be requisite, for the recovery of debts above 40s., and not exceeding £20. The hundred court takes place here, for the recovery of debts under 40s., before a steward chosen by the high sheriff of the county; and the lord of the manor has an annual court leet, at which constables and other officers are appointed. The town-hall is a handsome, though rather ancient edifice, well adapted to its purpose. The common gaol, until lately a very small building, has been enlarged. The parish comprises about 7800 acres, of which about two-fifths are arable, and the remainder meadow and pasture.  

There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians, and two Roman Catholic chapels, one of which is a handsome edifice in the Grecian style.  Some almshouses, founded by John Harper, in the reign of James I., and endowed with land producing £40 per annum, were rebuilt in 1790, by the Rev. Mr. Rutter, then vicar, for the reception of six aged widows, among whom £10 per quarter are divided. Almshouses were erected and endowed in 1825, for eleven aged widows, to which purpose a dole of one penny, paid by the corporation to every person in the parishes of Walsall and Rushall, on the eve of the Epiphany, was appropriated. In the reign of Henry VI., Thomas Mollesley gave to the corporation a manor and estates in the county of Warwick, which now constitute part of their extensive possessions. There are also numerous charitable bequests for apprenticing children, and for distribution among the indigent. The poor law union of Walsall comprises 8 parishes or places, and contains a population of 34,274. On a farm belonging to Lord Bradford, near the town, is a powerful chalybeate spring called Alum Well, on the site of the ancient manor-house, of which the moat still remains. 


[Description(s) from The Topographical Dictionary of England (1859) by Samuel Lewis - Transcribed by Mike Harbach ©2020]