Some history on Walsall in the County of Staffordshire
The modern town is centred around an area known as The Bridge, a confusing name for many as there is no bridge and seemingly no stream or brook. What is now known simply as The Bridge was once Bridge Square, a 19th century development in which the stream was culverted. This shifted the centre of Walsall to the west of its original nucleus.
There was once a bridge over this watercourse, the result of several streams converging here. Some of these streams formed boundaries of the ancient parish. For example the Holbrook separated old Walsall from Rushall. This joined Ford Brook roughly beneath the development of Lichfield Street and Darwall Street, where the library would later be constructed. These two watercourses formed the Walsall Brook which flowed through the centre of the town to meet the Bescot Brook, and onwards to the River Tame. The streams started to disappear towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars and slowly vanished completely when mid-19th century development saw large houses, shops and post office being constructed. The name of Bridge Square seems to emerge in the early 1850s.
Digbeth and Park Street are two ancient thoroughfares that converge at The Bridge. The Walsall Brook once separated these two streets. When the level was raised during the wet season, the stream would overflow and flood the area, the older roads being lower than those of modern times. Local folklore has it that ladies would pay a small fee to be transported on horse across the sludge during times of flood. The property of the Lord of the Manor, there was once a corn mill in this area and the mill race would have added to what was something of a beauty spot.
Looking closer at the previous image, this shows the building housing the London City and Midland Bank beyond the statue of Sister Dora. This was the first building along Bridge Street. The extensive curve of the George Hotel buildings and shops later occupied the site of the bank. The offices above were occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and the chartered accountant Albert Law. The photographer was stood at the head of Bradford Street. The building on the right has survived as retail premises. The last time I was in Walsall the ground floor of the building was a branch of Vision Express and the offices above were used by an employment agency. At the time of this Edwardian photograph, the premises were occupied by Ennals & Co. Ltd., wholesale and retail drapers, hosiers and house furnishers.
This post-war photograph of The Bridge shows a very different scene from that of earlier times. The old George Hotel, a hostelry built by Thomas Fletcher in 1781, was replaced following its purchase by the Corporation in 1934. The building seen here was completed in 1935 but only survived until the 1970s. The replacement structure is a very poor substitute.
In front of the George Hotel is the statue of Sister Dora, the Yorkshire woman born as Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison. In 1864 she joined the Christ Church sisterhood and was sent to the Walsall Cottage Hospital to work as a nurse. She subsequently devoted the rest of her life looking after the sick and wounded in Walsall. Following her death in 1878, a statue by Francis John Williamson was placed in her honour during October 1886.
In this view the Edwardian photographer is positioned near the old County Court and pointing the camera along Bridge Street towards The Bridge. This side of the street has a few buildings that have survived. The twin gables and bay windows of Imperial Buildings can be seen near the middle of the photograph. At the far end, at The Bridge, the dome of the bank can be seen. This building also remains. However, the chemist's shop in the foreground, the premises of which curled around the corner into Leicester Street, has long gone. A relatively recent office block, with a branch of William Hill on the ground floor, stood on this corner when I last visited Walsall.
Whilst some of the buildings on the north side of Bridge Street remain, the story is very different on the opposite side of the street. This image is taken from the same position close to the old County Court. The buildings in the foreground were removed for a development similar to that for the old George Hotel in that a crescent-shaped frontage housed shopping. Bridge Street was reportedly created following an Act of 1766 it led from what is now The Bridge along this flat section and then up the hill to what is Ablewell Street. This allowed heavy traffic, such as waggons and coaches, to access the town along a hill with less gradient than that of the High Street.
Here one can see the inter-war development of what were known as the Leicester Buildings as they faced Leicester Square. The naming of the new development was settled at a meeting of the Property Committee in September 1932. Grey's actually started trading in the following month despite the building not being completed. The shopping development was designed by Messrs. Cooke and Twist of Birmingham, the practice responsible for the Hall of Memory war memorial on the corner of Broad Street and Easy Row. Largely of Portland Stone, the building's centrepiece was the clock tower. Lead and copper were used for this tower that has a square base, that turns to octagonal, and circular at the top. The builders were C. Bryant and Son Ltd. of Small Heath.
Grey's transferred to the Leicester Buildings from smaller premises in Bradford Street, a shop that they had occupied since 1900. Their new store within this mixed development was five times bigger. The branch manager at the time of moving was Mr. J. C. Nightingale. The large windows of the shopping floor were installed by Metal Casements Ltd., a local firm based in Ablewell Street. In the 21st century the ground floor was occupied by the Nationwide Building Society.
In this view the photographer is stood in Leicester Square and aiming the camera in a north-easterly direction along Lichfield Street. The old County Court is on the left, with the Council House further along the road. Incredibly, for Walsall that is, the splendid building on the right has survived into the 21st century. Indeed, if it were not for the large trees that have grown to quite a size over the years, the scene here is very similar in modern times. The street itself, or at least this incarnation, was created following an Act of 1830. As the main road heading to Rushall and Lichfield, the 'boulevard' replaced Rushall Street and Dovegrove Street, the latter having been re-named Ward Street to commemorate Alderman William Ward.
Originally constructed to house a printers' office and studio with ground floor shopping, this late-Victorian red-brick and terracotta confection is quite a treasure, albeit a building that could be ordered via a catalogue. The architect mixed and matched Queen Anne and Dutch styles in moulded terracotta, topped with a mansard-like roof and wrought-iron decorative cresting. In recent times there was a branch of the TSB Bank on the ground floor before housing the Refugee and Migrant Centre. When this photograph was taken the ground floor was occupied by the confectioner and pastry cook John Jones who also operated a restaurant here. His first outlet was in Bradford Street but opened this business towards the end of the Edwardian period. Above the restaurant, on the first floor, there was a dental surgery.
The area immediately to the north-west of Lichfield Street is known as the Civic Quarter. This is an Edwardian view of a building known as the former County Court, though the story of law and order in this location is a little more complicated. The older part of the building, the Greek Doric-style edifice on the corner was built as a library. Work started in 1830 and was certainly well advanced by November 1830 on the newly-laid out street. Funding for the building was through public subscription with shares offered at £10, the total cost of construction being £1,600. Completed in 1831, the site was surrounded by neat iron palisading with a fine garden to the rear of the library.
The library became known as St. Matthew's Hall, the name being resurrected by Wetherspoon's, the pub chain taking over the building in the 21st century. However, the enterprise was a complete failure. The high cost of the subscription fees excluded much of the local population, with only the well-heeled being able to use the facility. Dwindling patrons precluded the acquisition of new titles and the undertaking was doomed to fail. Abandoned for many years, the building quickly fell into decay. The remaining shareholders voted to sell the building and it was acquired in 1847 by the solicitor Charles F. Darwell who, after some lengthy legal wrangling, paid the sum £620. His agent was the Birmingham architect Frederick Empson who may have been commissioned to restore the building in 1853.
By 1855, the County Court, which had been meeting in the assembly room in Goodall Street behind the Guildhall, moved into the restored former library. The building was not exclusively a court room and the interior was used by a number of organisations. For example, the beer-hating Walsall Temperance Society held regular meetings in St. Matthew's Hall during the late 1850s and early 1860s. The upper floor, part of which was lighted by a central dome, was used as a Freemasons' Hall. The building also hosted music concerts.
The needs of the County Court resulted in a large extension to the original hall. This is also occupied by Wetherspoon's in the 21st century. The 'new' County Court opened for 'business' in April 1869. Designed by Thomas Charles Sorby, the walls of the structure are of freestone, and the style of architecture being a mixture of the Ionic and Doric, the stone imparts to it a massive appearance and this was a building making a firm statement. This was where the law was laid down. The windows on the south or principal side of the building provided much light, the space between the windows in the first and second stories being filled with panels of polished stone. In addition to the main court room, there was a public hall, judge's, counsel, and jury rooms, vestibule and females' waiting-rooms, along with housekeeping rooms. The judge's seat was a handsome structure, the canopy being supported by beautifully carved brackets. The Court House was erected by Isaac Highway, a local builder.
Adjoining the Town Hall [not in view here], which was erected a little earlier, the Council House was built between 1902 and 1905. The foundation stone was laid in May 1902 by Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, the Danish-born German prince who entered the Royal Household when marrying Princess Helena, daughter of Queen Victoria.
The edifice was designed in the Baroque style by the Scottish-born architect James Glen Sivewright Gibson. The Mayor, Alderman Edward Thomas Holden, opened the building in September 1905. I believe that some of the Council House was still under scaffolding. There were detractors and critics of the building of ashlar masonry in Hollington Stone. Above the principal entrance the Coat-of-Arms were carved in walnut over the doors. On each side of the doorway are stone columns, with caps surmounted by pediment containing carved figures in relief. Above the figures are large caryatid, representing "Day and Night," carrying a curved pediment in the centre of which is a pedestal and niche containing a figure of "Justice" ten feet high.
Between the first and second floor windows are panels carved in relief illustrative of the trades and manufactures conducted in county during this period, including mining, engineering, tanning, glass-blowing, shipping, etc. The artist for these works was Henry Charles Fehr. The tower, which rises to a height of 148 feet, is richly embellished with carved figures, heraldic shields, and topped with an octagonal stage with open arcaded belfry, surmounted by a richly designed crown.
One of the ancient streets of Walsall, Park Street radiates from The Bridge in a north-easterly direction towards Townend. Thought to have been developed as early as the 14th century, the name was first mentioned in 1462. Here the thoroughfare can be seen at the beginning of the reign of King George V. The photographer is stood in The Bridge. Lloyd's Bank still stands on the corner on the right of the photograph. A sign for Walker's Warrington Ales can be seen on the left. This was the New Inn, an 18th century tavern that traded close to the Three Cups.
Her Majesty's Theatre was an extraordinary building with an incredibly short lifespan. Opened at the fag end of Queen Victoria's reign, the ornate edifice dominated the top of Townend Bank. Designed in the French Renaissance style by Messrs. Owen & Ward of Birmingham and built by Messrs. Whittaker & Co. of Dudley, the foundation stone of this theatre was laid on August 18th, 1899. The exterior was certainly ornate but the interior was palatial. Featuring marble mosaics, the foyer became known as the Grand Hall, leading off which was a marble staircase to the circle.
Opening in March 1900, the theatre hosted a variety of plays, pantomime, musicals and variety in order to maximise patronage. Some films were screened within the theatre and it was converted into a cinema in 1933. The Associated British Cinemas chain took over the former theatre in March 1936. The company promptly closed the premises, pulled it down, and erected The Savoy, a new purpose-built cinema that screened its first film in October 1938. Known as The Cannon in later years, the cinema closed in 1993 and was demolished in 1995.
This view of Townend or Town End, whichever is preferable, is looking down Park Street. The Church of Saint Matthew can be seen in the distance. The photograph is undated but I would think it was around 1922, perhaps a little later but not by much. The view was captured from the roof of Seymour House, a building that still stands on the corner of Green Lane and Townend Street. The dome to the right of the photograph is part of Her Majesty's Theatre so one can see the roof of that building in the foreground. The tall building on the right just down from here was the Alexander Theatre on the corner of Station Street. The site was formerly occupied by Crooke's Music Hall but had become known as The Alexandra before the construction of a new theatre in 1889-90. The building would later be called The Grand. A dray is parked up on the opposite side of Park Street, probably during a delivery to the Swan With Two Necks.
I have zoomed in a little on the last photograph to show the shops facing Her Majesty's Theatre. Although a continuation of Park Street, these properties were at the start of Stafford Street. On the left of the photograph one can see the large premises of Elizabeth James Limited, ham and bacon curers and pork butchers. In the mid-Victorian period this business was run by Kidderminster-born Thomas James, along with his wife Elizabeth who hailed from Aldridge. They were formerly a little further out of town, though still in Stafford Street. It was Elizabeth, who as a widow, took the business forward. She relocated to these premises in 1883. As E. James Ltd., the enterprise was registered as a limited company in August 1911.
Next door to E. James Ltd., was a branch of the Melia grocery chain. The firm had branches in many other parts of the country. In the local area they had shops at High Street at Walsall, King Street at Darlaston, Market Street at Lichfield and Market Street in Hednesford. The business eventually amalgamated with the Home and Colonial Stores.
The shop next door was once the business premises of Robert Holyland, a pawnbroker and jeweller who also operated a loan office in Darwall Street. The Holyland family had occupied premises in this location for many decades. Robert Holyland had taken over the business of his father. He was educated at Willow House School, and later at Ware Grammar School in Hertfordshire, an institution popular with many prominent Walsall families. The name of the business may have remained after he disposed of the business in 1913. He developed his other business interests, including that of property owner. In the early 1930s he acquired the Priory Hotel in Park Street, a property he developed considerably. He was also a director of Field's Dairies on Blue Lane West and had an interest in the Shire Oak Garage. Following his death in 1939, it was reported that he "did much good by stealth, and, having a genuine sympathy with the poorer folk, was always anxious to help them privately in their need. To scores of folk in the back streets of Wisemore and the Green Lane districts he was a real friend."
This photograph was taken soon after the Corporation centralised all bus routes in a new station finished in 1937. Prior to this there were small terminals dotted around the town. The earlier photographs shows a terminal at The Bridge. There was another at Townend Bank for northern routes - this can also be seen in the photograph taken from the roof of Seymour House. During the early 1930s Darwall Street was used for buses heading towards Chasetown, Burntwood, Pelsall and Norton Canes.
It was following the moving of the old Blue Coat School on St. Paul's Street that facilitated the development of a new bus station. As can be seen here a large block for the Corporation Transport Offices was also constructed. Although rather shabby in the 21st century much of this development has remained, though the bus station lengths were completely rebuilt early in the 21st century.
Here one can see bus information and destinations from No.3 Platform of the new station at Walsall. The bus for Birmingham is in the next line. A small section of St. Paul's Church can be seen, along with some of the old buildings in St. Paul's Close. Dating from 1892-3, the church replaced an older structure that was built in connection with Queen Mary's School. In 1995 the re-ordered building was opened as a Christian Social Enterprise and place of worship. It seems a bit odd that the interior has shopping facilities but, apparently, these are committed to the Fairtrade and Make Poverty History movements.
This photograph of the bus station was taken after the Second World War. One of the main differences I notice are the destination and information boards. I am not sure what was wrong with the original signs? The canopy entrance to the arcade can be seen to the left. This was a controversial element of the bus station development as it resulted in the loss of some historic buildings in Park Street. It also became a popular breeding ground for the local pigeons who delighted on crapping all over the shoppers. For some reason the local children considered the new bus station as something of a play area. Boys would run in and out of the bus traffic. Action was finally taken in 1944 when 9 year-old Kenneth Benton, of Coalpool, was playing with a number of other boys in a chasing game when he ran off the pavement and collided with a bus that was drawing up into the Brownhills stand. He was killed almost instantaneously.
This photograph is looking along Bradford Street, traditionally the main route out of Walsall towards Wednesbury. The tram lines indicate that this was once a very busy route. There is a very early motor car parked up in the distance. On the left is the Turf Tavern which has sadly become a betting office. At least the building has survived. Indeed, a number of the buildings in this view have managed to make it into the 21st century. The tall structure a few doors from the Turf Tavern was the showrooms and premises of James Fenton & Sons, an emporium where the furniture was actually made by the firm in Walsall. This image dates from around 1907, the year in which the founder of this business died at his home in Mellish Road. It was when he was 21 years-old that he took over the business of Eli Pugh, cabinet maker of Park Street. Over the years he developed the business and had these premises built for the firm. James Fenton was a well-known amateur singer and performed in public in his prime. He became a valued member of the choir at St. Paul's Church. For some years he was also choirmaster at Cannock's Parish Church.
This view of Digbeth is looking towards The Bridge. This is a part of the town that has suffered from horrific redevelopment. Modern Digbeth could not be more bland. There is one fragment remaining from this view - the lower half or ground floor entrance to Victorian Arcade, a significant late 19th century mixed development that combined shopping, office chambers and assembly room. The Old Still, seen here on the left of the photograph was a dreadful loss to Walsall, one of the truly old taverns and one said to have been patronised by Samuel Johnson.
In the previous view of Digbeth the shop front of Lipton's can be seen to the left of the Victorian Arcade. Here we can see the store in some detail in a photograph that features a parade of the staff working in the shop during the late Edwardian period. Everything in the shop is looking tickety-boo and the staff look immaculate. This was a tea and grocery chain in which "retail was detail." The first shop was opened by Thomas Lipton in Glasgow. The growth of his empire was rapid and by the 1880s the business occupied over 200 retail units. The firm opened a branch at Walsall in the mid-1890s at No.1 High Street. The address of this store was No.38 Digbeth.
This photograph was captured from a position above the Victorian Arcade and looks along Digbeth and High Street, both sections of the thoroughfare forming the trading area of the traditional market. The shop on the immediate left is that of F. B. Wood at No.1. Shuffrey's at No.5 has that classic look of a well-stocked hardware store with many items dangling from the shop frontage. This business occupied this site for decades selling cutlery, tools and general hardware. The next shop was similar to Lipton's as the shop of Abraham Altham specialised in tea. This business was founded by the Burnley Baptist minister but the first shop was opened in Blackburn.
Back across the other side of Digbeth, this view also features the Old Still Inn. The shop on the left was empty at the time of this photograph. The premises would later be occupied by Harry Phillips, a fish and game dealer. Next door, but slightly out of view, was the Turk's Head, an old tavern where last orders were called in 1961. A branch of George Mason's traded next to the Turk's Head during the 20th century. At No.32 was the tailor George Charles Dean.
This post-war photograph shows the market on Digbeth and High Street. Notice on the left that some of the business mentioned in the older photographs are still in evidence, displaying great continuity of trading. Further along on the left a sign can be seen for the Talbot Hotel. The thoroughfare is thronging with Walsall shoppers in search of a bargain amid the market stalls. The earliest right to hold a market in Walsall was granted in 1220 by the Crown to William le Rous, or Ruffus, who held the manor. The early markets were held on Monday but moved to the following day in 1417 by which time the market-place had been firmly established at the top of the High Street. A market cross had been erected by 1386 and was replaced by a market house in the late 16th century. Known as High Cross House, this was rebuilt by the town council in 1692 but demolished in 1800 after it was deemed to be an obstruction to traffic. A more compact market house, adjoining the steps up to the church, was constructed in 1809 but this too was removed in 1852.
This is the 'top' end of the High Street looking towards St. Matthew's Church. The old church was dedicated to All Saints. A place of worship was mentioned in 1200. The building was rededicated to Saint Matthew in the 18th century. The building was considerably changed in the early 19th century when the nave was largely rebuilt by Francis Goodwin. The spire was rebuilt in 1669 and replaced a century later, a period when the tower was reduced in height. Inside the church there is an effigy of Sir Roger Hillary that dates from 1399.
Dating from around 1924, this is a Super Sentinel steam lorry that had been purchased by the Castle Brick Company. The lorry looks pretty new in that it is not covered in the mud of the brick works. Although the manufacturer was originally based in Scotland, this model was produced after the company moved to Shrewsbury as the Sentinel Waggon Works  Ltd. I believe this was a 6 ton wagon. On the side panel it states that the top speed was 12 miles per hour and, with a trailer, this was reduced to 5 miles per hour. The flatbed is stamped Skinningrove, England so this section must have been produced by the Skinningrove Iron Company Limited in North Yorkshire.
The Castle Brick Works was located to the east of Hawies Bridge on the Wyrley & Essington Canal between Birchills and Leamore. The site was just to the north of the Staffordshire Iron Works. At the time of this photograph the Castle Brick Works was owned by J. Griffin Jones & Co. The address of the firm was Upper Green Road, Birchills, Walsall.
When I acquired this photograph it was sold to me as a 1950s image. However, looking at the windows of the neighbouring house they appear to be taped up for protection against a bomb blast during an air raid in the Second World War. Indeed, the licensee's name above the door is that of Edward Mason who kept this off-licence in Walsingham Street throughout the 1930s with his wife Ada. As a private house, the building in an area known as The Chuckery, was still standing in the 21st century. Both Edward and Ada Mason were born in Walsall. Earlier in his career Edward had, like his father Horatio, worked as a carpenter. He married Ada Dexter in 1898. By the end of the Edwardian era the couple were running a general dealer's shop in Goodall Street. Looking further back, at the end of the Victorian era, this off-licence was kept by the Hawley family.
This Mitchell's and Butler's off-licence was located at 63 Rutter Street, a thoroughfare in the Caldmore area of Walsall. The old properties in this street have largely gone, replaced with modern housing. The licensee here is Margaret Cecilia Hick... the last part of her surname being obscured. She has many of the popular brands in the shop window, including Cape Ale, Sam Brown Ale and M&B Family Ale, along with some products from Bass and Worthington. The latter suggest a date of early 1960s for the photograph.
This building still stands on Wednesbury Road at Pleck in Walsall. In 2021 the premises was occupied by Rahman Brothers, retailers of Halal Meat, Fish and Vegetables. The premises was also home to the Bright Tuition Centre. The name above the door shows that Joseph Chadbourn was the licensee. A slightly different spelling was used in a newspaper article in which Keith Chadburn was reported to be leaving for Indonesia in January 1960 to take up a position as a flying instructor on behalf of Fairey Aviation. The former pupil of Queen Mary's Grammar School learned his flying in the Fleet Air Arm, aboard H.M.S. Ark Royal. He joined Fairey's on completing his service, and worked for a year as a flying instructor at Maidenhead. In his new role he was to teach Indonesians to fly Fairey Gannets.
"Yesterday, at the Guildhall, before Messrs. S. Cox [Mayor] and H. Highway, Thomas Dyass, an Irish labourer, was brought up in
custody, charged with being drunk and assaulting Police Constable M'Caffray. It was shown that on the night of Wednesday last, the constable was called into the
Albion Tavern, Wolverhampton Lane, to turn Dyass out of the house. The constable asked him to leave, but he refused, and struck the officer in the face, knocking him
down. Dyass then ran to the fireplace, and picked up a crane, with which he attempted to strike the officer, threatening to break his head. The prisoner was prevented,
however, and taken into custody. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment, with hard labour; the Bench expressing a determination to protect the police in
the execution of their duty on all occasions."
"Drunk and Assaulting a Police Constable"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 27th 1864 Page 4