Wednesbury in 1817


Description from A Topographical History of Staffordshire by William Pitt (1817)


This town stands at a short distance from the source of the river Tame, five miles from Wolverhampton, and three from Walsall. It is a place of great antiquity; the name is Saxon, from Woden, their god of battle, and Wodensborough has been modernized to Wednesbury.

In the year 912, according to the Saxon annals, Duke Ethelred, son-in-law of Alfred the Great, and Viceroy of Mercia, died; and his wife, Adelfleda, continued to govern the kingdom with great wisdom. She fortified Weadesburg, now Wednesbury, in the year 916, and built a castle on the hill on which the Church now stands. A few traces of the foundation of this fortress are still perceptible. After the Conquest, it was demesne of the Crown. Henry the Second bestowed it on the Heronviles, in exchange for the town of Countsfield, in Oxfordshire, so that it is now a parcel of the honour of Woodstock.

In 1794, Thomas Hoo, Esq. who was lord of this manor, died without issue, and his estates went in the female line to Mrs. Whitby, and the Hon. Mrs. Foley. The present lord of the manor is Sir Joseph Scott, Bart, of Barr, in the right of Lady Scott, daughter of Mrs. Whitby.

The old manor-house, which is situated about a quarter of a mile N. E. of the Church, is now a farm-house. On the opposite side of the hill is a curious ancient house, called Oakeswell Hall, surrounded by high garden-walls and lofty trees: it formerly belonged to the family of Hopkins, but was purchased by Mr. John Howe, and is now inhabited by some of the family, who are Quakers.

The parish of Wednesbury has long been celebrated for its valuable mines of coal and iron-stone of excellent quality; and the inhabitants have the advantage of a general inland navigation, which has contributed to the prosperity of Wednesbury and its vicinity.

In 1811, the population of Wednesbury was 2806 males, 2566 females; total 5372: and since that period many new houses have been erected.

Wednesbury is distinguished for its numerous and valuable manufactures, the principal of which are, coach-harness, saws, trowels, edge-tools, bridle-bits, stirrups, hinges, nails, iron axletrees, woodscrews, a variety of cast-iron work, and though last not least, gun-barrels, and locks. The finest enamel paintings are likewise among the productions of its artists.

The coal in the neighbourhood, which is considered the best in the kingdom for the smith's forge, on account of its peculiar intensity of heat, is found in separate veins from three to fourteen feet in thickness, and is productive of an ample revenue to its proprietors. A peculiar species of iron ore is found here called Blond metal, which is chiefly used in the manufacture of nails, horse-shoes, hammers, axes, and other heavy tools. Reddish earth, called kip, is also found in the neighbourhood of Wednesbury, which is used in glazing vessels of different kinds.

Dr. Wilkes speaks of the wildfire which is discoverable in some of the old coal-pits near this town. "We have," says he, "long had a wildfire in the old coal-pits in Wednesbury Field. It breaks out spontaneously among the vast heaps of slack left in the coal-works, and which contains a great quantity of sulphur, and frequently smokes out through the surface, and acts upon the several strata, some of which are reduced to cinders. It hardens clay into what is called pock-stone, which is good for repairing the roads, or laying the foundation of buildings. Another kind of fire in these mines goes off with a tremendous explosion, driving every thing before it; but when the proper means are used, this is prevented.

"Mr. Savary, the original inventor of the steam-engine, set one of these engines down in Wednesbury, near a place called the Broad-waters, but the water was too powerful for his machinery, and he was forced to give up the undertaking: thus he had discovered a power sufficient to produce any effect, but was unable to form machinery for using it. This was reserved for afterages; but the world is highly indebted to him for the principle, since so highly improved, and so generally applied."

The most powerful machinery in the world for raising water has been erected in this neighbourhood at Oakenhill, by the Birmingham Canal Company, upon Boulton and Watt's application of Savary's principle.

The art of manufacturing iron with pit-coal being perfected, fur- naces are now very numerous in the vicinity of Wednesbury. They are plentifully supplied with the materials on the spot; and the utmost facility for the conveyance of the manufactured goods afforded by branches from the canal in all directions.

In the year 1742, when Lady Huntingdon sent John and Charles Wesley to Wednesbury, to preach the doctrine of Methodism, the miners and iron-manufacturers, who were then in a rather uncivilized state, rose in a mob, and broke the windows of the house where some people had assembled to hear the preachers. Some of the rioters being brought by a warrant before Justice Pershouse, he reprimanded the methodists. The minister of Wednesbury then joined with the magistrates, (according to Mr. Wesley,) and the mob was encouraged to persecute and insult the methodists, and all who joined them.

These riotous proceedings being noticed by Government, one of the Middlesex justices, in an interview with Mr. John Wesley, informed him, that he had orders from the King to do him justice, his Majesty being determined that no man in his dominions should be persecuted for conscience-sake. Thus by the beneficent influence of the Sovereign, the rioters were intimidated, and the spirit of persecution subsided.

Wednesbury Church is an elegant gothic edifice in the pointed style of architecture, situated on the summit of a bold eminence. The tower is handsome, and supports a lofty and beautiful spire. The interior is divided into a chancel, nave, and north and south aisles.

There are several monuments in this church, particularly of the families of Lord Dudley and Lord Harcourt, with several ancient tombs, the inscriptions on which are not legible. It is now a vicarage, in the King's books, and the gift of the Chancellor. The present vicar is the Rev. A. B. Haden.