Some history on Wordsley in the County of Staffordshire
Although Wordsley has lost many of its old boozers, there are a couple of public-houses that make this a place worthy of further investigation. The old village of Wordsley once stood in splendid isolation but nowadays it merges with Kingswinford, Buckpool, Audnam, Coalbournbrook and Amblecote which may perhaps confuse visitors to the area. However, it is typical of the settlements in this western fringe of the Black Country in that it features factories, a few cottage industries, terraced houses, corner shops and a few buildings of distinction.
Situated just off the High Street, Wordsley boasts a very fine church that was raised by Lewis Veulliamy in 1829-30. Consecrated in 1831, Holy Trinity became the parish church of Kingswinford until 1846. Extensively restored in 1977 and 1981, it is certainly an impressive building. Featuring high arcades, galleries and flat ceilings, the building has a marvellous east chancel window of 1857 and the traceried side has windows with two lights dating from about 1300. The church interior has been altered in recent years, the most controversial being the removal of the choirs. Locals seemed to be divided on whether the building should be preserved in its earlier form or whether the church should move forward and make it more accessible to the needs of a modern congregation. Certainly there seems to be plenty of friendly volunteers who devote their time in maintaining the church. It is worth taking a look at Holy Trinity from the main archway which seems to be used very little these days. Looking at the building up the steep incline makes for a spectacular if somewhat daunting viewpoint.
Further along the main road towards Kingswinford there once stood a reminder of the Black Country's grim past. The old central building of Wordsley Hospital was a former workhouse. Its central block with two shaped gables and tower was built in 1904. The land on which it stands was originally called Stream Piece and owned by Thomas Downing. On 5th April 1776 he sold the land to the Earl of Dudley for £173.17s.0d. The original workhouse was administered by Kingswinford parishioners following the introduction of the Poor Law Reform Act in 1834. It became a Union Workhouse and took inmates from Kingswinford to the Birmingham boundaries including Stourbridge, Cradley and Halesowen. During the nineteenth century extra land was purchased and buildings added, fragments of which formed part of the hospital that survived until recent times. The former workhouse was used as a military hospital during both World Wars. Indeed, during the Second World War the Americans paid to have the annexe built for their wounded and it was they who introduced new plastic surgery techniques for which the hospital became noted.
Formerly called Audenham Bank, the old settlement of Audnam could justifiably, at one time, claim to be a centre of Britain's glass industry. It is home to the Redhouse Glass Works, once operated by Stuart and Sons Limited. The cone is the only example left in the region and one of only four in UK. Two others remain in the North and another stands in Scotland. The cone was built around 1790 by a local industrialist, Richard Bradley. Glasshouse Cones were built in the 18th century in an attempt to increase the draught through the furnaces. This cone was so effective, temperatures from the 12-pot furnace reached approximately 1000°C. It was last used for commercial glass production in 1936. It stands at 87ft and tapers from 57ft at the base to 10ft at the top. Around the furnace were the 'dog hole' for pot storage; the pot arch which pre-heated the fireclay pots; an annealing kiln; a metal room where the glass mix ready for the melting into glass was stored; a 'glory hole' where glass was reheated whilst being worked; a second 'glory hole' and another kiln; and the coal entrance to the kilns which connected to the canal.
The glass industry was established here because all of the raw materials required [coal, fireclay, sand and potash] were readily available in the local area. Indeed, the fireclay found here is quite exceptional and contains a high proportion of silica and alumina which does not easily crack in a furnace. Another key factor in the development of the industry here was the arrival of Huguenot glassmakers in the 18th century. The Redhouse Glassworks, where Stuart was based, was built in 1788. Red House Works made glass for windows but moved on to produce bottles and, from 1834, tableware. Cutting shops were built between 1852 and 1856. From 1871 coloured glass and high quality cut glass were made. Stuart and Sons occupied the site from 1881. Frederick Stuart had been an apprentice under successive owners. Stuart's son, also Frederick, bought Greenbank House in 1901. The business expanded to buildings over the main road. Although most of the original glasshouses have been replaced, the Redhouse still survives and is now open as a museum and heritage centre celebrating the tradition of English glassmaking.
The village's development was also, in part, due to the construction of the Stourbridge Canal from 1776 to 1779 which provided Audnam with a major transportation link for both raw materials and finished goods. Also in this location were the Ivy Mills. This business was recorded in Bentley's Directory of Worcestershire in 1841 where William and Edward Webb appear as farmers, corn millers and maltsters. The seed complex also extended across Mill Street where the last warehouse was built in 1895 and demolished in 1992. A few remaining coach houses and stables are occupied on Plant Street. Webb's family tomb is in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church.
The canal here was perhaps a little easier to construct than in other regions because of the readily available raw materials. It was carried out using sandstone, locally dug clay and manufactured brick. The cutting was dug, shaped, puddled and lined with a hard, water resistant, usually red brick. Blue brick or sandstone was used to edge the lock chambers. The preservation of the canal here including the 'drop' from Brockmoor [the Stourbridge Sixteen] makes this a must for any visitor. Locks 9 and 10 were originally a double lock known as The Staircase. It was replaced in about 1827 by the present arrangement but not before giving its name to Double Lock Cottage, the Lock Keeper's residence.
Alongside the canal is an old off-licence which, combined with a blacksmith's workshop, has served the passing boat traffic for around 200 years. This charming tiny settlement probably developed at the time of the canal's construction. It included a lock-keepers house and stables for the horses which pulled the boats along this difficult section of the canal. Today, the whole surrounding area and old cottages which line the lock system and pools here make it one of the most attractive areas of the region.
Dadford's Shed was named after Thomas Dadford Senior, the engineer who supervised the building of the canal between 1776 and 1779. A number of history books state that it was his son, Thomas Jnr, who was responsible for the canal. However, John Norris sent me a message about Thomas Dadford in which he said "He was employed on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, rising from 'Carpenter and Joiner' when first appointed in 1767 to resident 'Engineer' by 1773. In April 1776 he gave notice to the Staffs and Worcs. and offered his services to the Stourbridge Canal Co. He had been closely involved with lock construction and wrote in his application that "Experience as taught me every Imperfection of Locks; tharefore I should make your Locks mutch improved and to continue with little Repares or Indarance to your Canal ... " They were evidently impressed because he was appointed as the 'Principal Engineer Surveyor and Supervisor.' Dadford's Shed was originally used as a transhipment shed for the transfer of goods from road to water mainly by the Webb's seed business on Plant Street. It was given a new lease of life as a boatyard in 1995."
This Edwardian view of Wordsley must have been captured on elevated land in the Lawnswood area. It shows a very industrial scene with the cones of the various glassworks, along with chimneys galore in the background sprouting from factories in the Brockmoor area. On display in the Glass Museum there is a painting by Henry L. Pratt which was brushed from a similar spot in the mid-1840s. Naturally, there had been further development during the interim period, but many of the prominent buildings seen in this photograph were on the ground in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign. On the enlarged view I have labelled some of the locations to help those less familiar with this part of the Black Country.
Another elevated view of Wordsley, this time from Cooknell Hill. In contrast with the previous view, this shows a less industrial part of the old village with agriculture dominating the landscape towards the wooded ridge of Lawnswood. Balmoral Road, along with the small stubs leading off it, formed a boundary between the urban and rural fringe during the 20th century. Just about the only large green space nowadays is that of King George V Park. Using the nave of the church as a guide, one can follow a line into the fields to view Old Tack Farm. At the turn of the 20th century this was run by the Cheshire-born farmer John Sanderson, along with his wife Grace who hailed from Manchester.
Colour picture postcards were issued using this photograph taken in the early Edwardian years. Here one can see what was the lower section of the High Street. Most of the buildings seen here have vanished. Thankfully, the Rose and Crown public-house is still standing. Nothing of value has replaced the row of terraced housing with an end shop seen in the foreground. Wordsley Brook flowed under the road here. It is hardly noticed these days!
This is a similar view to the last photograph except it was captured at ground level. This is the terraced row fronting the High Street with the adjacent Rose and Crown. The board above the pub's entrance shows that William Morgan was the licensee at the time of the photograph. He was publican between 1892 and 1899. Another element of the image illustrating that it is a Victorian image is the absence of tram rails along the High Street. The infrastructure for the tramway was laid from 1900. It is not that obvious from this photograph but the shop on the end of the terrace, particularly the upper floor, had to be rebuilt following a fire in March 1899. It was in the early hours on a Sunday morning that Police-Constable Leese, a Wordsley bobby on the beat, was passing the premises when he saw smoke issuing from the door of the premises. He instinctively pulled down a shutter which caused the flames and smoke to burst through the window, scattering the glass in all directions. He had a lucky escape and roused the neighbours to help quell the fire until the arrival of the crew from Stourbridge Fire Station. Deploying their manual and steamer, the fire was mastered in about twenty minutes though it was reported that the first floor had been completely demolished, and the walls outside were blackened.
Also dating from the late 1890s, this photograph shows the western side of High Street with shops opposite the Rose and Crown. These shops have not survived, though some more modern units are trading on the corner of Kinver Street. Just in the top-left corner of the image is a part of the red-and-white pole of the hairdresser Mary Kempson. She went into this occupation following the death of her husband Joseph. The couple had married in 1890. There are boots hanging from the shop fascia, perhaps made by James Warrender who had been based here. That may be Mary Kempson stood on the doorstep with the straw hat. Prior to her marriage she was named Mary Atkinson Clements. The shop next door was run by her father-in-law William Collins Kempson who had traded as a draper for a couple of decades. His premises were once a little further up the High Street. Beyond the opening for Kinfare Street was a very old building with a Dutch gable. This structure is embroiled in myth and legend as many claim that King Charles II stayed here for provender and victuals during his flight from the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. Note that the old building had an extension which, in later years, was used as a shop. I think that this part of the building once housed the toll collector on the turnpike road from Stourbridge and Wolverhampton. One of the last couples to collect the tolls here was John and Mary Ann Larcombe, both of whom hailed from Devon.
This view of retailing on the High Street was to the north of Kinfare Street as the road went up an incline. Lo and behold, where most of old Wordsley has been demolished, these buildings have survived. There is no name visible on the tall buildings these days but in this photograph a signboard showed that the block was known as Alexandra House. I am not sure of the exact date for this photograph. I have marked it c.1895 but it could be a little earlier. The first shop on the left was the premises of the druggist and chemist John White. This shop would later be occupied by Sydney Smith, also a chemist. Next door was the elderly grocer John Wright who was also a retailer of wines and spirits. The next shop was the earlier draper's shop of the aforementioned William Collins Kempson. In May 1880 17 year-old Elizabeth Hobson, of Brettell Lane, was charged with stealing four yards of velveteen from these premises. This was one of two counts of theft for which she appeared in court. Pleading guilty, she was fined 40s. on each charge. This was an extraordinary amount for petty theft. Following his move to different premises the shop of William Kempson was occupied by the ironmonger Mary Ann Elcock.
This is a close-up of the people stood in front of the shops seen above. The man in the foreground is well dressed and is either a dude or a local clergyman. His hat is typical of such a person. In fact, apart from the bumpkin in the light waistcoat and grotty trousers, most of the people are fairly well turned out. The board outside the grocery store of John Wright shows that he was an agent for W. & A. Gilbey, the wines and spirits firm founded in 1857 by brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey. The shop at the end was a bakery and confectioner's shop that, in the early 1890s, was run by member of the Johnson family. The man in the apron may be Richard Johnson. His father, Benjamin, was a teacher of a middle class private school. A sign on the first floor seems to suggest that there was an office, an agency for the Lancashire Insurance Company. In later years Benjamin Johnson was recorded as an insurance agent and parish clerk. The large residence just beyond these shops, as seen in several of the photographs above, was Bank House, home of William Henry Stuart, glass manufacturer. His parents lived in The Mount, a grand residence accessed via a drive next to the bakery. When his father, Frederick Stuart, died in April 1900, he moved into The Mount. In subsequent years Bank House became the Wordsley & District Conservative and Unionist Club and was known as Churchill House.
This shows the same row of shops but from further up the hill. The cone of the White House Glass Works can be seen in the distance. In what I believe was the former toll house, Edith Whitehouse, along with her mother Hannah Gill, was operating a butchery business. Indeed, many of the family were involved in the business where slaughtering also took place. The chemist's premises of Sydney Smith was still included in the 1911 census. This row would later have a bank sub-branch in later years. The grocery shop had been taken over by Wordsley Cash Stores and the confectioner was now Annie Guy. William Bolton had succeeded to the insurance agency. Another office was used by Alexander John H. Richardson, the Poor Rate Collector, though he lived nearby at No.8 New Street.
The School of Art and Technical Institute faced the row of shops. It was a fabulous building that was allowed to slowly decay before it was finally pulled down at the turn of the millennium - but not before thieves pilfered the terracotta panels and iron gates! The building went up in two stages, the first stage being completed in 1899. An extension was opened in September 1907. Designed by the Stourbridge-based architect Thomas Robinson and built by Mr. G. Meanley, the official opening of the original institution took place in February 1899 by the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire. He was presented with a key by the architect. This was supplied by William Douglas of Stourbridge and of silver gilt, in Elizabethan style. In the centre it bore a stag's head centring a shield, surmounted by an earl's coronet, with a tazza above. The post-opening bun fight was held in the Council Schools.
Just before heading up the hill, we can look at the properties between the Rose and Crown and the School of Art and Technical Institute. In this post-war photograph the shop was retailing a combination of cigarettes, newspapers, comics, sweets, ice-cream and a bit of grocery.
This view was captured from almost opposite Church Road and shows the shops that traded opposite the church and schools. This is a section in which many of the buildings have survived. The gates to the left of the photograph have gone, forming a drive-in to Church Garage which was run for many years by a bloke called Trevor. He lived in a house to the rear of the garage and workshop. In the 21st century the building to the left, Trinity House, is occupied by Farmer & Son, funeral directors. J. Vernon Kendrick acquired this firm in 1955, the business having been founded in the 19th century.
With an extension to the frontage, the premises to the right of the aforementioned gates, has been occupied by a dental surgery in the 21st century. Here in 1905 it was the post-office. The photograph was taken early in 1905 as the main story on the newspaper billboards states that "Lord Curzon Resigns." It was in August of that year that the Conservative politician resigned his position as Viceroy of India. During the late Victorian era and into the Edwardian period the post-office was run by the Northwood family. Widow Sarah Northwood was sub-postmistress for many years. She had been married to the builder William Northwood, brother of John Northwood, the noted cameo glassmaker and the man responsible for the famous Portland Vase for Philip Pargeter of the Red House Glass Works. When Sarah Northwood died in 1899 her daughters, Eleanor and Emily, took over the running of the post-office. Also living on the premises was their brother William who followed in his uncle's footsteps by working as a glass designer and decorator.
Another view of the post-office, probably captured later in the Edwardian period. Two post boys are stood on the steps of the shop. Perhaps the bicycle was used by them, though there is no carrier or pannier rack. In the 1911 census and within a 1912 trade directory the sub-postmistress was recorded as Gertrude Northwood, the middle name of Eleanor. Perhaps she preferred her middle name? Her sister Emily remained as assistant and the sisters employed Cassie Simpson as a clerk.
The post-office was clearly a popular subject for photographers of the area. This view was captured in 1917. One of the headlines on the newspaper billboards carries the headline "Lloyd George's Great Plot." It was in 1917 that Alice Ann Wheeldon, the suffragette and anti-war campaigner, along with her daughter, Winnie, and son-in-law, Alfred Mason, were tried with conspiracy to murder the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. In addition to running the post-office the Northwood's were stationers and retailers of gifts and toys. The window display also features picture postcards on sale.
Next door to the post-office was the large emporium of the draper Edwin Whitney. Born in Weobley, Herefordshire, the son of a tailor, Edwin Whitney enjoyed a very successful career in Wordsley. He went from one shop to occupying three units in a row, employing a small army of people and provided careers for many of his children. He was assisted in the business by his wife Christiana. Two post boys have snuck in to photobomb the image that shows a young man on the doorstep. This is possibly Walter Whitney. Edwin Charles Witney died a wealthy man in July 1924, following which, his wife teamed up with long-serving employee Emmanuel Powell, and traded from Cot Lane as clerical outfitters. This was a highly successful line of business established by Edwin Whitney after supplying a cassock to Holy Trinity Church across the road. The firm developed an international order book of ecclesiastical customers.
According to the 1872 Post Office Directory, the Church Schools, or National [Trinity] School was erected next to Holy Trinity Church in 1836. Certainly, local builders were invited to tender quotes for the construction work in July 1835. The plans were available for inspection at the Old Wheatshef Inn further up the High Street. Tenders were also invited in the same year for the construction of a rectory.
In this view the photographer was stood between the Church Schools and the premises of Edwin Whitney in order to point the lens up the High Street. It is a busy scene with plenty of traffic, though not in comparison to today's logjam of cars. The 'Cat' junction is awful nowadays, particularly when the schools turf out. The background here is dominated by the New Inn, a structure to tempt the thirsty traveller on the old turnpike or those trundling along on the tram in later years. The first road junction seen here is that of New Street, a thoroughfare first developed in the mid-19th century and extended when Ryder Street was formed as part of a post-war housing estate development. In the Victoria era the shop on the south corner of New Street was occupied by Edwin Whitney's brother Henry who, along with his Oxfordshire-born wife Elizabeth, operated a grocery store. Following his death in December 1895 his son, also named Henry, continued the business. Marrying Lydia Cooper, he was still running the shop when this photograph was taken.
Here, one can see the bakery and confectioner's shop that operated on the north corner of New Street. This is a calorific emporium much missed by Wordsley folk. The shop remained relatively unchanged throughout the 20th century. Fronting New Street, the old bakehouse to the rear was only demolished in 1997, only to make way for car parking spaces. During the inter-war years the bakery was operated by William Collyer and his family. However, here in earlier times the business was run by the baker and pastry cook Richard Johnson. Perhaps one of the women inside the store was his wife. I see that those two post boys have managed to photobomb another scene which also features a policeman.
To paraphrase the advert, the door of this building does what it says on the tin. This was the headquarters of D Company, 1st Volunteer Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. Edward George Webb, who commanded the South Staffordshire Militia, was instrumental in the construction of this building. It was opened on October 17th 1884 by the Earl of Dartmouth. After the opening a public luncheon [tickets were 3s.] was held in the hall, following which there was a concert that featured a number of vocalists with the "Celebrated Birmingham Glee Union." The drill hall was not exclusively used by the volunteers as the building was a valuable meeting place for other meetings and events. It was also used for a variety of concerts, some of which were fundraisers for restoration works on Holy Trinity Church. In 1905 D Company moved their headquarters to Brierley Hill and the Drill Hall was acquired by the Richardson family as a memorial to Martha Haden Richardson, resident of Wordsley Hall who died in 1906.
With re-roofing and other refurbishments, these buildings next to Richardson Hall have survived. In the 2020s there is a café next door to the former drill hall. In former times there had been a saddler's shop along here. This section of Lawnswood Road was formerly known as Prestwood Road.
In 1999, when it was possible to walk around a school without being arrested as some dodgy nutter, I was enchanted by a sculpture trail laid out in the grounds of Belle Vue School so had a wander along the path. I took the photographs below in September 1999, not too long after the trail was laid out. I was using a very early digital camera so the images are a bit grainy. I can remember that the USP of the camera was that it could take photographs at whopping 1MB pixels, though the high setting allowed for only 13 images on the memory card. Consequently, these were taken at a lower setting in order to capture more images. Some of the sculpture trail has survived but a number of the pieces rotted away or were simply removed. Hover over an image to flag up a little detail on the works.
"An accident occurred at Wordsley, Staffordshire, on Wednesday, by which two lives were lost. Opposite Wordsley Church runs a high wall
belonging to the executors of a gentleman named Purish, which was backed up by a loose kind of soil. The heavy rains appear to have sapped the mortar, and this, coupled
with the high winds of Sunday, brought down a portion of the wall on that day. On Wednesday, another part of the wall fell while many persons were passing. Immediately
afterwards, a youth named William Green was picked out of the debris with a crushed head, his brains being scattered on the road. Life was, of course, gone. Two
other lads, named Joseph Collins and Harry Poole, were severely injured. It was at first thought that no one else had met with harm; but when the soil
and brickwork were turned over, the crushed and lifeless body of a girl was found. Her name was Selina Collins, and was the sister of the lad Collins."
"Fatal Occurrence in Staffordshire"
The Scotsman : February 6th 1869 Page 2