Migration to the western Black Country, 1800 to 1850

Industrialisation came rather late in the day in the parish of Kingswinford on the western edge of the Black Country (Figure 1). Although there was, in the eighteenth century, a long-established glass industry around the village of Wordsley in the south of the parish, and some shallow coal mining and iron manufacture around Brockmoor and Brierly Hill in the south east, it wasn’t until the first half of the nineteenth century that these grew in scale and spread northwards across the Staffordshire coal fields to utterly change the character of what was a largely rural area around Kingswinford and Pensnett (Figure 2). I have written on this process elsewhere – see here – in particular, in the context of the two Fowler maps of the parish that were produced in 1822 and 1840, which between them graphically illustrate this process of industrialisation.

Figure 1. Location of Kingswinford parish

Figure 2 Ecclesiastical Districts within the parish

These developments inevitably led to a major increase in the population of the parish, through migration from surrounding areas and further afield. The census population figures are given in Figure 3, and the growth is population is very apparent. It is the purpose of this short post to investigate where this increase in population came from. I use the data from the 1851 census that has been transcribed into digital form by Ancestry, for all 27,413 entries for the parish, which I copied and pasted page by page from the census returns into an EXCEL spreadsheet in order to carry out the analysis – a lengthy, mind-numbing process and not to be recommended.  This included name, area of residence, age and place of birth. This enabled all the entries to be sorted as follows.

Figure3 Population of Kingswinford parish 1801 to 1851

  • By age, and then grouped into 10 and 20 year age bands.
  • By residence, in one of the five “Ecclesiastical districts” within the parish that were set up as a precursor to these areas becoming parished in their own right later in the 1850s. Each of these corresponded to a number on census enumeration districts. These were in the old established industrial areas of Wordsley, Brockmoor and Brierly Hill, where there was significant industry in the late eighteenth century; in the areas industrialised between 1820 and 1840 to the north of the parish of Kingswinford village itself (which still retained large rural hinterland) and in the Pensnett area; and in Quarry Bank in the south east, where industrialisation took place in the decade before the census (Figure 2). Residents of the Workhouse in Wordsley was not included in the analysis.
  • By birthplace, defined as being within one of five regions – Kingswinford parish itself; the Black Country and Birmingham (the former as defined largely by the modern four Black Country boroughs); Staffordshire (excluding the Black Country regions); Worcestershire (excluding the Black Country regions); Shropshire (excluding the detached portion of Halesowen which was taken as part of the Black Country); and elsewhere – mainly locations in England and Wales, with a very small number from Ireland and Europe). Around 1% of the total population were not allocated a birthplace in the Ancestry transcripts, due to non-legibility of the written entries.

The most populous of the Ecclesiastical districts was that of Brierly Hill with 8800 inhabitants, followed by Pensnett with 4947. The others had populations of around 3000 to 4000 .  The breakdown by age decades for the entire parish population is shown in Figure 4, as percentages of the population of each Ecclesiastical district. All areas show similar trends, with around 50% of the population below the age of 20 (which was partly driven by the very large infant mortality). Figure 5 shows the birth locations for the parish as a whole, this time in 20 year (generational) age bands. The majority of the 0 to 19 year band were born within the parish or the surrounding Black Country (85%), but the situation is very different for the other generational bands, with only around 55% of the total being born in Kingswinford parish or the Black Country, with significant numbers being born in the three surrounding counties, particularly Shropshire, and around 10% of the total coming from further afield. This indicates that there had been significant migration, around 20 to 50 years before the census, which is consistent with the overall population growth shown in Figure 3.

Figure 4. Age breakdown of parish population

Figure 5. Breakdown of population by age and birthplace

This pattern varied somewhat across the parish, and similar results for each Ecclesiastical district are shown in Figure 6 for the old established industrial regions of Brierley Hill, Wordsley and Brockmoor; for the regions industrialised in the previous 50 years in Kingswinford and Pensnett; and for the Quarry Bank area industrialised over the previous decade. The figures for Brierley Hill, Brockmoor and Wordsley show slightly higher proportions of “local” Kingswinford and Black Country births for the older generations than the parish overall i.e. lower levels of migration. The figures for Kingswinford and Pensnett are very different, with local births for the adult generations below 50%, and only around 30% for the parish births. The proportion of Shropshire births, particularly in the Pensnett data is very large, of the order of 25 to 30%, mainly, as far as can be ascertained form the records, from the Shifnal / Oakengates area. In the newly industrialised Quarry Bank area the pattern is different again with 60 to 70% of local births and the main contributor to the rest coming from Worcestershire (and in particular those areas of the county close to the Black Country).

Figure 6. Breakdown of population for each Ecclesiastical district

The levels of migration from Shropshire into the Pensnett / Kingswinford area are of particular interest. It is to my mind likely that such levels would result in significant social tensions, and there is also some evidence of “ghettoisation” (if such a word exists). For example, there was a road in Kingswinford that was named “Shropshire Row” and the Shut End Primitive Methodist church seems to have chiefly served the migrant Shropshire population. This can be illustrated by a spatial analysis of the Pensnett census entries. The occurrence of a Shropshire birth entry was plotted against census entry number for the Pensnett enumeration districts (Figure 7). There can be seen to be regions on the graph that show high density of Shropshire births (around entry 3400, and entries 4000 to 4900). Cross checking against addresses from the census shows that these regions correspond to the new housing estates in the Hollies area, along the Turnpike Road towards Dudley. In these areas the percentage of those with Shropshire births is over 30%. Whilst this analysis is somewhat subjective, it does tend to suggest that a degree of concentration of the Shropshire migrant population did take place.

Figure 7. Shropshire births in the Pensnett census entries (vertical line shows register ntry with Shropshire birthplace)

There is one particular migrant group that, though small in number, might well have been quite conspicuous due to language and accent – the Irish. In the 1851 census returns there are 131 entries which register a birth in Ireland. These were mainly concentrated in Brierly Hill (69), Wordsley (35) and Brockmoor (20), i.e. the older industrialised areas, with very few in the Kingswinford, Pensnett and Quarry Bank areas. Of these 36 were under 20, 62 between 20 and 39, 30 between 40 and 59 and only 3 over 60, suggesting perhaps a more recent migration than other groups, mainly over the previous 20 years.

Now the analysis of both the wider parish population and those born in Ireland has not taken into account the Workhouse population, since this was the Poor Law provision for the entire Stourbridge Union, which was larger than the parish. However, in 1851 there were 260 Workhouse entries, 0.95% of the total parish population. 17 of those registered a birthplace in Ireland, 11.5% of the total Irish population – in other words those born in Ireland were significantly over-represented in the Workhouse population.

Finally it is worth noting that much more could be done – particularly in investigating the nature of migrant employment. However there is an issue here in that the census employment details have not been transcribed into digital form, and would need to be transcribed by hand from the original forms (some 30 or 40% of the total number of register entries). This would be an even more time consuming and mind numbing occupation than the one undertaken to date to get the data on which this blog is based. Maybe I will get round to this when I want for something to do. Then again, maybe I won’t.

Reflections on “The whole world a Black Country” by Matt Stallard

This is an article published in the Spring 2023 edition of the Blackcountryman, reflecting on an article by Matt Stallard in the previous edition

In the last issue of the Blackcountryman, Matt Stallard described the rather bizarre way in which the Victorians saw the Black Country as a horrific paradigm of environmental devastation that was uncomfortably close to home, whilst at the same time extolling those places elsewhere in the Empire which had taken the same path of industrial exploitation and were described as local Black Countries. Reflecting on our own Black Country he writes

In world-historic terms the Black Country has a rightful and still-underappreciated place as foundational when it comes to the engineering and scientific breakthroughs and forms of knowledge that were later transported in the minds and bodies of people … throughout the world; Dud Dudley, Thomas Newcomen, Abraham Darby, John Wilkinson and all the others, names and unnamed….

A proud legacy indeed, and one that resulted in major benefits for humanity, in terms of health and quality of life, but one that needs to be balanced against how this knowledge was used to cause significant environmental damage in this country and around the world. After a thorough survey of the developments of the various Black Countries around the world, driven by the process of colonialism tinged with classism, eugenics and racism, he concludes with the following more optimistic words.

For our region, placing our proud and truly world changing history at the centre of the most critical debates of our time has the potential to put us on the map in a positive, constructive way – where we dismantle those tangled, toxic legacies and write our own twenty-first century narrative, and map out new futures for our, and the many other Black Countries they imagined across the planet.

As I reflected on this article, another thought struck me. If the role of the Black Country was indeed foundational in the engineering and science developments that enabled the extraction of large quantities of coal which in turn fueled the Industrial revolution, with its legacies both positive and negative, then it has to be admitted that the current climate crisis, caused by climate warming fuel due to the greenhouse gases that result from the use of fossil fuel, also has at least some of its roots in the Black Country. This is not in any way to apportion blame or to lay the responsibility for the current crisis on those who live there now – the effects of fossil fuel burning on the climate have only become apparent in the last fifty years, and many of the current inhabitants of the area are descended from those who were as thoroughly exploited by the rich and powerful landowners and financiers as those held in slavery in the colonies. But nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that our region was instrumental in the causes of the present crisis.

Now, it is clear that unless urgent action is taken, then the effects of climate change will be felt in a major way around the world, even within the Black Country. Whilst we will not be affected by the inevitable sea level rise, which is already underway and will continue for many decades whether or not action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, many low-lying areas around the world are facing inundation by rising water levels. Some parts of this country are most definitely at risk – I would very strongly advice about buying houses in the Fenland for example with or without flood insurance! But the Black Country will suffer in two ways – by consistent higher temperatures in summer, exacerbated by the urban nature of the Black Country leading to an “urban heat island” effect, where temperatures will be several degrees higher than the surrounding areas; and by the greater weather instabilities that can be expected, with higher winds and rainfall, which will be magnified by the significant elevation of the Black Country above sea level. No one will be immune.

Nut to return to Matt Stallard’s final observation, in the light of this legacy, what is the new narrative that we could write, the new future that we can map out? It has to be admitted that here I write in hope rather than expectation, but there is a potentially positive future in view, where the Black Country becomes a paradigm for adopting measures to mitigate the future effects of climate change internationally. The region still has a major engineering and construction skills base, that could be utilized in the production and installation of green energy products such as wind turbines and solar panels. In the nineteenth century, the Black Country was exploited for its underground wealth – could it now be exploited, for its much more environmentally friendly surface and aerial wealth. As I noted above, the Black Country sits on the Midlands plateau, 150m above sea level – an ideal location for onshore wind turbines. Although such turbines are currently something of a political hot potato, they do offer the prospect of significant amount of green energy. Similarly, there seems to me no reason why the huge stock of low-rise housing across the region should not be fitted with solar panels, and thus become a large-scale solar farm. Wind and solar energy are of course not continuous, and some sort of balancing energy source is required. The most efficient, and indeed most environmentally friendly, is the use of pumped storage – pumping from a low-level reservoir when energy is available and releasing the water to a lower level through turbines to produce energy at times of peak demand. Again, the topography of the Black Country is ideal for small scale pump storage schemes, with rapid drops to lower levels at the edge of the plateau – the long flights of locks on the Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Dudley canals testify to this fact.

In addition to becoming a paradigm for green energy production, the Black Country need to do something about its direct production of greenhouse gasses – through insulation of the building stock to decrease energy use, and through a move away from carbon fuel-based transport to transport powered by renewable means (usually through electricity) of through active travel – cycling and walking. Indeed, across the UK the transport sector is a major issue in terms of carbon emissions, being the one sector where carbon production is still increasing. This presents a major challenge to the Black Country, which is very much the centre of a car dependent culture. The development of the Midland Metro and light rail schemes, and the roll out of electric buses and electrically assisted cycles and proper cycle infrastructure, are hugely important in this regard. A move away from car-based transport would also have a major effect on more local environmental and medical issues such as poor air quality due to transport emissions (which is estimated to kill between 28000 and 36000 people each year nationally) and obesity due to the lack of exercise.

So, I would suggest it is possible to map out a future for the Black Country that acknowledges that at least to some extent, the issues over climate can be traced back directly to engineering and scientific developments in the region but positions itself as a region where its skills can be used to develop new methods for solving the issue. A fanciful, optimistic vision? Maybe, but perhaps one that is worth holding on to.

The Pensnett Canal and the Pensnett Railway


In canal histories, the Pensnett Canal is usually little more than a footnote – a short, one and a half mile private canal, often referred to by its owner’s name as Lord Ward’s canal, extending from the south end of Dudley tunnel with no locks or major engineering structures, to the Wallows to the south west, serving a number of iron works and mines on the way, from 1840 when it was built, through to the 1940s when commercial traffic ceased. What little there is to say about it is summarized in the definitive work of Hadfield (1), The Pensnett Railway by contrast, figures rather more prominently in railway histories, and indeed there are at least two books devoted to it (2), (3). Its origins can be traced back to the Kingswinford Railway of 1829, of Agenoria fame, with which it later merged, but it came into existence in its own right in 1843, again centred on the Wallows area, and eventually spread out across the southern Black Country, with more than 30 miles of railway, serving the mines and local industry in some form or other though to the 1960s.

In canal histories, one finds that the Pensnett Railway is rarely mentioned in any description of the Pensnett Canal, and similarly railway histories do not include the Pensnett Canal to any extent in the description of the Pensnett Railway. The history of both undertakings has thus been neatly compartmentalized. In this post, I will argue that this compartmentalization actually obscures something of importance – that both Canal and Railway have their origins in the same industrial and commercial needs and that the Pensnett Canal was conceived in part as a link in a much wider canal network that was never built to meet these needs. These needs were actually met in the construction of the Pensnett Railway, and indeed the initial construction was to a significant degree based on the abortive canal network proposals.  Thus, the histories of the two undertakings need to be considered together, and in what follows we will attempt to do this in broadly chronological order.

The Kingswinford Railway

Figure 1 Canals and railways in the Kingswinford area in the 1820s (dark blue lines indicate canals, dark brown lines indicate railways)

In the early / mid 1820s, the area to the south of Dudley, mostly in the large parish of Kingswinford, was undergoing significant industrial development (figure 1). Coal and iron extraction was already underway in the south of the area around Brierley Hill and Brockmoor and a number of iron works were in operation. The transport needs of these industries were met by the three canals that existed in the area at the time – the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal to the west, which offered an outlet for industrial products to the northern cities (via the Trent and Mersey Canal) and to the south and west (via the Severn). The Stourbridge canal to the south which allowed coal and iron products to access the Staffordshire and Worcestershire at Stourton, and via the Dudley Canal and the Dudley and Lapal tunnels gave access to the central Black Country area and the route to London.

However, as the decade progressed, coal and ironstone mining and iron manufacture pushed northward – to the mines and iron works of Corbyn’s Hall, owned by the Gibbons brothers (4), and beyond that to what would be the vast iron works of Bradley and Co in Shut End owned by James Foster (5). The Earl of Dudley’s Estate, which was the major landowner in the area was also beginning to develop significant mining activities in the Barrow Hill and Old Park areas. These concerns needed a reliable means of transportation for their products around the country. Discussions were held with the Stourbridge company to consider a branch into the area, but these came to nothing. The Dudley Estate, then took the matter into its own hands and conducted what was to become known as the Kingswinford Railway, which connected the Corbyn’s Hall and Shut End areas with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal at Ashwood Basin (figure 1). Most of the land was owned by either the Dudley Estate or by James Foster with just a small area owned the other major landowner in the area, John Hodgetts Hodgetts-Foley of Prestwood, with whom a lease agreement was concluded. It consisted of a 1 in 28 incline of 500 yards in length from Ashwood Basin which was followed by a largely level stretch of two miles, before another (Foster’s) incline that led to the Corbyn’s Hall area. A branch incline led into the Bradley and Co ironworks. The inclines were horse drawn, but the central section was operated by the steam engine Agenoria, about which much has been written (6). The line thus met the immediate needs and provided an outlet for the produce from the area, and also provided a steady toll income for the Dudley Estate.

Canal developments

Figure 2 Canals and railways in the Kingswinford area in mid / late 1830s (dark blue lines indicate canals, that were constructed, light blue lines indicate canals that never passed beyond the proposal stage, dark brown lines indicate railways)

Whilst the Kingswinford Railway addressed some of the issues, others remained. Perhaps the most significant of these was to find an outlet for both coal and iron products to the north and east. In the short term this issue was solved in the mid-1830s by the construction of quite lengthy tramways to the Stourbridge Canal Feeder branch from the Corbyn’s Hall area and from the Dudley Estate mines in the Barrow Hill area and from there products could be carried back to the main line of the Stourbridge and Dudley canals and the Dudley tunnel (7). However, such transshipment was expensive and time consuming and some better form of carriage was required. Thus in 1836 a new company, formed by some of the Stourbridge Canal shareholders, put forward for parliamentary approval a proposal for a canal from the feeder branch at Brockmoor (at its summit level of 356 feet above sea level) to Corbyn’s Hall and Shut End, then onward to Straits Green and Sedgley with a flight of locks rising to the Wolverhampton level of 473 feet above sea level, and then through a one mile tunnel to the Birmingham Canal at Bloomfield (figure 2) (8). This canal – the Stourbridge, Wolverhampton and Birmingham Junction – would thus give access for the products of the Shut End and Cotbyn’s Hall area to both north and south without transshipment from tramways. It was opposed by both the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Company and the Dudley company as it potentially offered a bypass from the south that avoided the Wolverhampton locks on the Birmingham canal at the junction with the former, and also offered a more direct alternative to the Dudley Canal and tunnel. The former put forward their own proposal for a branch from Hinksford to Gornal Wood near Oak Farm, with 13 locks rising 104 feet, which was supported by the Dudley Estate (9*). The conjectured route (following the course of the Holbeche brook) is also shown in figure 2.  The projected rise would have taken it to a height of around 320 feet, somewhat below the level of the Stourbridge, Wolverhampton and Birmingham Junction Canal. However, before parliamentary arguments could begin, it became clear that the Stourbridge Company could not raise the necessary finance, and the plan was curtailed and became a two-mile level canal from the Stourbridge to Shut End, with branches to Standhills and Bromley (the latter unauthorized) where it terminated. It was renamed the Stourbridge Extension Canal, and opened in 1840. As such it still served a useful purpose in allowing goods to be moved more speedily onto the Stourbridge Canal and then onwards, but it did not help with the issue of longer distance transport to the central Black Country and beyond.

Plots and intrigues

Figure 3 Canals and railways in the Kingswinford area in 1839/40 (dark blue lines indicate canals, that were constructed, light blue lines indicate canals that never passed beyond the proposal stage, dark brown lines indicate railways)

Whilst the Extension Cana was in its final stages of construction in 1839, two events occurred. The first was the building of the Pensnett Canal from the Wallows towards the southern portal of Dudley tunnel by the Dudley Estate. There were developing mining activities in the Wallows area, so of itself this was a justifiable step (figure 3).  As it was on land owned by the Estate, no parliamentary approval was required. It was completed and in use by 1840. The canal was built on the Wolverhampton level of 473 feet.  The start of its construction is captured on the Kingswinford Tithe Map of 1839 shown in figure 4 (10). The channel at what was to become the south west end of the canal can be seen, together with the “Pensnett Engine” that was used to dewater mines in the area – and which may have been intended to be the water supply to the canal.

Figure 4. Extract from the Kingswinford Tithe Map of 1839 showing the early stage of construction of the Pensnett Canal and the Pensnett Engine at the Wallows. Note the direction of north.

Also in 1839, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal company revived their proposal of 1836 for a branch from Hinksford but extending somewhat further and ending near Hunts Mill (11*). This would have required more locks than the earlier proposal, to bring it to that point, which is around 350 feet above sea level – very close to the Stourbridge Extension Canal level.   If it again followed the line of the Holbeche Brook, it would thus pass a little way to the north of the Extension Canal. The Stourbridge and Stourbridge Extension companies were alarmed by this, as they could see that potentially this branch could link with the Pensnett Canal in direct competition to their route. It would seem that meetings were held, and the proposals were withdrawn.

However, it was soon to be shown that the worries of the Stourbridge and Stourbridge Extension companies were quite justified. In 1840 a proposal was put forward by the Dudley Estate for a canal that joined with the Extension Canal at Shut End at the Stourbridge level of 353 feet, then rose through 19 locks to the Wolverhampton level on the Old Park area, where it was joined by an extended Pensnett Canal (12), (13). It then passed through a tunnel before joining the Birmingham Canal at Tipton near the northern portal of the Dudley Tunnel. This would have served the Dudley Estates mining developments in the Wallows and Old Park area and would also have served the Estate mines in the Barrow Hill area.  Moreover, a direct connection with the proposed Staffordshire and Worcestershire branch would have been straightforward near the junction with the Stourbridge Extension Canal as they were on the same level.  But, as Hadfield (1) remarks, the time was past, and the newer more efficient railways were already beginning to make inroads into the area, and the scheme was never progressed. Had it done so, the canal map of the south western black country would have been very difficult.

The Pensnett Railway

Figure 5. Pensnett Railway proposals of 1843 (dark blue lines indicate canals, dark brown lines indicate railways that were constructed, light brown line indicate railways that never passed beyond the proposal stage)

Although the Stourbridge Extension Canal and Pensnett Canal were completed and came into use, the need for rapid transport of the produce of the area to the Black Country, Birmingham and beyond remained. This was to become less pressing however, as local needs for coal and ironstone were increasing at the same time as the output from the traditional sources in the Brierley Hill area were decreasing.  In particular the Level New Furnaces provided a ready market for the products of the Dudley Estate mines in the Barrow Hill area.  This led to the Trustees of the Dudley Estate commissioning F. P. Mackelcan to develop schemes for railways in the area (2). He proposed the following lines (figure 5)

  1. An extension from the end of the Kingswinford Railway and running to the Dudley Estate mines at Barrow Hill and Old Park via a one in seventeen incline.
  2. A branch from this line that went up the one in twenty-five Barrow Hill incline, passed underneath the Dudley – Kingswinford turnpike road and skirted the Fens pool to join the third line below.
  3. The upper line from the mines of the Old Park area, underneath the Turnpike Road, around the Fens Poll to the Wallows, and then to the Level New Furnaces and the top of the nine locks.
  4. A line uniting the end of the upper line and the end of the extension.

It is striking how much these proposals were influenced by the earlier canal proposals. Firstly, the extension of the Kingswinford Railway would have served the same function as the canal branch from Hinksford proposed in 1836 and 1839, connecting the mines in the Barrow Hill area with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. This proposal was not acted upon, as there were worries about the long-term stability of the existing Foster’s incline. Secondly the northern section of the upper line to Old Park (known as the “High lines”) follows closely the line of the extension to the Pensnett Canal proposed in 1840.  Thirdly the line connecting the extension to the upper line, which again was not built, would have followed the route of the 1840 canal proposals. Finally it should be noted that the designs were very much based on canal technologies – level stretches of track connected by inclined planes, and there were canal transshipment wharves at the Wallows and at the end of the Delph branch. Whilst the Pensnett Railway was to develop very much further in the area in a more conventional railway manner over the coming decades, its genesis in the various canal schemes of the late 1830s and early 1840s seems to be clear. The Pensnett Canal and the Pensnett Railway developed because of the same industrial needs and are best considered as different solutions to the same transport issues. Their history is inextricably tied together.


1. Hadfield C “The Canals of the West Midlands”, David and Charles, 3rd Edition, 1985

2. Gale W. K. V. “A history of the Pensnett Railway”, Goose and Son, 1975

3. Williams N. “The Earl of Dudley’s Railway”, The History Press, 2014

4. Grace’s Guide, https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Benjamin_Gibbons_(1783-1873)m  Accessed September 2022

5 Grace’s Guide, https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Foster, Accessed September 2022

6. Grace’s Guide,  https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Foster,_Rastrick_and_Co:_Agenoria , Accessed September 2022

7. Baker C J, “Kingswinford Manor and Parish”, https://profchrisbaker.com/kingswinford-manor-and-parish-new/ , Accessed September 2022

8. Dudley Archives “Plan of Stourbridge, Wolverhampton & Birmingham Junction Canal”, DE/6/12/3/26, 1836

9*. Staffordshire Records Office “Plan, book or reference and section of an intended navigable cut or canal called the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at or near Hinksford in the Parish of Kingswinford, County of Stafford”, Q/RUm/86, 1836

10. Staffordshire Records Office “Kingswinford Tithe Map”, Staffordshire Past Track, 1839

11*. Staffordshire Records Office “Plan, book of reference and section of intended cut or canal called the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Navigation at or near Hinksford, in the Parish of Kingswinford, County of Stafford, to a certain close of arable land called the Plain Piece near Hunts Mill”, Q/RUm/121, 1839

12. Dudley Archives, “Sections of Intended Canals between Tipton Green and Shut End and between Dudley and Coseley”, DE/6/12/3/37, 1840

13. Dudley Archives, “Plan of Railways, Canals and Roads between the Black Country and Birmingham”, DE/6/12/3/44, 1841

* At the time of writing (September 2022) I have not consulted these items in full, as Staffordshire Records Office is closed for refurbishment. I will do so as soon as I am able and make any necessary changes to this post. However, what I have written is consistent with the catalogue contents, and what is presented in (1).

The Petits of Ettingshall and Lichfield.

This post appeared in the April 2022 edition of the St. Michael’s church magazine. It is a selection from a number of earlier posts that discuss the Petits that can be accessed here and here.

The monument commemorating Louis Hayes Petit is very prominent at the front of the nave in St Michael’s, and recently a display board commemorating the life and work of his nephew, John Louis Petit has been erected in the graveyard close to the tomb of him and his siblings. But who were the Petit’s? In this short article I will give a brief history of the family from the time they first left France up to the death of John Louis and his siblings in the late nineteenth century.

The monument to Louis Hayes Petit in St Michael’s church

The first of the Petit family to arrive in England was Lewis Petit (1665-1720), a member of the ancient Norman family of Petit des Etans, who, with many other Hugenots, fled to England from Caen on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He served in the British army as an engineer, rose to the rank of brigadier-general and was appointed lieutenant-governor of Minorca from 1708 to 1713. He was later involved in the suppression of a revolt by Highland clans. He had two sons, John Peter Petit and Captain Peter Petit. The former married Sarah, daughter of John Hayes of Wolverhampton, the owner of the Ettingshall Estate near Sedgley, and they occupied the manor of Little Aston from 1743 to the early 1760s. John Hayes died in 1736, and left Ettingshall to his son, another John Hayes. This John himself died in 1745 and the estate went to Sarah and her sister, and thus ultimately to John Peter Petit. Ettingshall was a large, originally arable estate, that even at that stage was beginning to be exploited for its coal and ironstone reserves. It is from that estate that much of the Petit wealth derived.

John Peter and Sarah’s only son, John Lewis Petit (1736-1780) qualified as a doctor in 1767 and was physician to St. George’s Hospital from 1770 to 1774, and to St. Bartholomew’s from 1774 until his death. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1759 and was clearly regarded as a leader in his profession. He and his wife Katherine had three sons John Hayes Petit (1771-1822), Peter Hayes Petit (1773-1809) and Louis Hayes Petit (1774-1849), but clearly lacked imagination in the giving of names. Peter Hayes was a lieutenant-colonel of the 35th Foot and died of a wound received at Flushing in Holland during the Napoleonic war. Louis Hayes (he of the monument) became a barrister and, from 1827 to 1832, was MP for Ripon. He bought property at Yeading, Middlesex, and a house in Tamworth Street, Lichfield. After ceasing to be an MP, his remaining years were largely devoted to literary and philanthropic pursuits.

The eldest of the three brothers, John Hayes Petit (1771-1822) inherited the Ettingshall estate, but also followed an ecclesiastical career. He was ordained priest in Chester in 1798 and served a curacy at Ashton under Lyme near Stalybridge in Cheshire.  During his time there he married Harriet Astley of the nearby town of Dukinfield. Harriet was born in 1779 to the painter John Astley (1724-1787) and his third wife Mary Wagstaffe (1760-1832). John Astley had a colourful life, painting portraits of many 18th century notables, arousing strong passions of admiration (mainly in women) or distaste (mainly in men). His first wife was an unknown Irish lady who died in 1749. The second was Penelope Dukinfield Daniel (1722–1762) widow of Sir William Dukinfield Daniel, 3rd baronet, and a daughter of Henry Vernon, former High Sheriff of Staffordshire. John and Penelope were married with some rapidity after she intimated that the original of the portrait he was painting of her would be available if he wished. On Penelope’s death, and the death of his stepdaughter, Astley inherited the substantial Dukinfield and Daniel estates in Cheshire and was able to lead a life of some luxury and idleness thereafter.  Harriett was one of three sisters, known as the Manchester beauties, and her marriage to John Hayes would have brought him both a beautiful wife and a substantial supplement to his already considerable income.

In 1811 John Hayes Petit was appointed Curate of Donnington, and then in February of that year he was also appointed as a Perpetual Curate at Shareshill, to the north-east of Wolverhampton. Around 1817 he leased Coton Hall at Alveley in Shropshire from Harry Lancelot Lee, which was a very substantial property that once belonged to the Lee family. In 1636, Richard Henry Lee had emigrated to the US, and the family became rich through the ownership of tobacco plantations with a large slave population, and from whom the US Confederate General Robert E Lee was descended. It would not have been a cheap place to lease. After John Hayes Petit’s death in 1822, Coton Hall was bought by James Foster (1786 -1853), the very successful and wealthy ironmaster and coalmaster of Stourbridge.  After his death his wife Harriet and her unmarried daughters moved to the house in the house in Tamworth St, Lichfield that was owned by her brother-in-law Louis Hayes Petit.

John Louis Petit

John Louis Petit, the artist, born in 1802, was the eldest of  John and Harriet’s nine children. He inherited the Ettingshall estate on the death of his father in 1822, and also inherited the bulk of the estate of his uncle Louis Hayes Petit when the latter died in 1849. In total they formed a very substantial estate in the Wolverhampton area, that was being heavily exploited for coal, iron ore and limestone. He and his sisters also had a less tangible inheritance from his mother and his grandfather – the passion and the ability for painting and sketching.

After he graduated from Trinity College in Cambridge in 1825, John Louis Petit firstly pursued an ecclesiastical career being curate at St Michael’s in Lichfield from 1825 to 1828, under the Perpetual Curate Edward Remington, and then curate at Bradfield and Mistley in Essex from 1828 to 1834. During his time at St. Michael’s, the registers tell us he carried out 61 baptisms, 35 weddings and 163 funerals, as well as presumably leading the Sunday worship – a not inconsiderable load. He married Louisa Reid, the daughter of George Reid of Trelawny in Jamaica in 1828. The Reid family derived much of their wealth from slave plantation ns in Jamaica and the family received considerable compensation for their lost income when slavery was abolished in the 1830s.He gave up his post in Essex in 1834 and from the mid-1830s onwards he devoted his time to his painting and architectural criticism, and his story is told elsewhere. His artistic career is well described on the website of the Petit Society – http://revpetit.com/.

The Petit tomb in the churchyard hold the remain of John Louis and his siblings. The inscription reads

LOUISA PETIT sixth daughter of the Rev. HAYES PETIT deceased and HARRIET his wife. From a life of almost uninterrupted suffering which she bore with true Christian patience and cheerfulness she was released by a merciful providence on the 30 day of November in the Year of our Lord 1842 aged 30. Also of LOUIS PETER PETIT of Lincolns Inn, Barrister at Law, third and youngest son of the Rev. JOHN HAYES PETIT, and HARRIET his wife. He died on 28th May 1848 aged 32  years. PETER JOHN PETIT Lieutenant Colonel of Her Majesty’s 50th Regiment died February 15th 1852 aged 46 years. ELIZABETH HAIG daughter of JOHN HAYES PETIT born September 11th 1810 died July 5th 1895. Hic J acet quod mortal e est viri Reverendi JOHANN LS LUDOVICI PETIT AM, died 2 Dec. 1868 aet suae 67. EMMA GENTILLE PETIT born August 7 1808 died January 30 1893. SUSANNA PETIT died February 12 1897 aged 83.

The Petit Tomb

The memorial inscriptions in St. Michael’ churchyard in Lichfield


The churchyard of St Michael-on-Greenhill in Lichfield is one of the largest and possibly one of the oldest in the country and has long served as the last resting place of the people of the Lichfield parishes of St Michael and St. Mary. Unsurprisingly it is rich in grave memorial inscriptions that give a glimpse into the life and times of those whom they commemorate. This post will consider a number of aspects of these memorials, although space constraints mean it will inevitably be somewhat superficial and will leave much more to be said.


But first some context. The churchyard is effectively divided into two – the old (full and closed) churchyard around the church with an area of around nine acres, and the new churchyard to the west that is still in use, although space there is becoming limited. This post only considers the former. In the late 1960s, a major re-ordering of the old churchyard was carried out, prior to responsibility for it being taken by the local council. This involved moving many headstones into clusters and either grassing large areas of the churchyard for the purposes of maintenance or encouraging the growth of scrub and trees. This has led to it becoming something of a wildlife haven, with very many different species of plant and tree and it is highly valued as an outdoor resource by those who live locally. Before the re-ordering a survey was carried out of all the graves that were visible and 2084 graves were identified, and the names of those they commemorated were recorded dating back to the 16th century. In the 1980s the Birmingham Society for History and Genealogy carried out a major survey of all the monumental inscriptions in the graveyard, and transcribed 1562 inscriptions. Sadly, the effects of time have meant that many of the inscriptions identified in the 1960s and 1980s are now very difficult to read, and a considerable debt is owed to those who undertook the surveys and recorded the information for posterity. Indeed some of the inscriptions below can no longer be located due to the headstones being moved, and these surveys are the only record we have.

There is however some reason to think that the recorded graves and inscriptions represent only a small proportion of the burials in the graveyard. Between 1813 and 1905, there are 9128 entries in the church burial register. For the same period the 1960s survey identifies 1729 burials in 1099 graves and the 1980s survey of inscriptions identified 1623 burials in 1018 graves. Doubtless some burials and graves have been lost due simply to degradation over the course of the years – both due to the effects of the climate and to human action. With regard to the latter, pictures of the church from the 1830s in the William Salt Library show a number of gravestones that seem to have been done away with in the church rebuilding in the “gothic” style in the 1840s. The Victorian restorers were far from being historically sensitive. But the large number of recorded burials in relation to the number of graves does suggest that the major proportion were in unmarked graves, which is perhaps not surprising. This number of such burials was swollen by the fact that St Michael’s was the burial ground for Workhouse residents. Thus the grave inscriptions that we have only tell us something about the levels of society that could afford the services of a stonemason.

The nature of the inscriptions

The bulk of the inscriptions have a very simple biographical form – a dedication (In memory of / In remembrance of / Sacred to the memory of etc.) followed by the full name of the deceased, an indication of where they were from, a description of death (died / fell asleep, entered into rest etc.) and a date and age of death. A typical example is that of Maria Webster.

Sacred to the memory of MARIA WEBSTER of the City who died Jan. 16 1873 aged 78 years.

 This can be repeated a number of times depending on how many are buried in the grave or commemorated on the memorial, which is not necessarily the same thing. Apart from giving names and death dates, such inscriptions are not terribly informative. Where there are numerous burials in one tomb, the inscriptions can become very complicated. For example, those the Bird family tomb has the following set of inscriptions.

SUSANNA BIRD died October 28th 1754 aged 34 years. HENRY BIRD many years an Alderman of this City died November 1st 1783 aged 65 years. ANN BIRD wife of WILLIAM BIRD died May 28th 1778 aged 28 years. WILLIAM GUEST BIRD Esq member of the Corporation of Lichfield who died after an illness of two days in the Faith of Jesus Christ on the 5th day of September 1833 in the 46 year of his age at Margate in Kent where his remains are interred. Be ye therefore ready also for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not. SlJSANNA MARGARET SALT daughter of WILLIAM & ANN BIRD died November 28th 1851 . She was a Christian of rare excellence. WILLIAM BIRD of this City died the 9th of September 1817 aged 72 years. MARY BIRD relict of WILLIAM BIRD died April 7th 1821 aged 74.

The Bird tomb

However, some memorials contain more information. Some of this is an extension of the biographical, describing the role of the deceased or the nature of their demise. In the above example Susannah Margaret Salt is described as

a Christian of rare excellence

The biographical style is particularly common for military casualties. For example, that of James Henry Thorpe which is part of a larger family inscription

……..  Also of their youngest son JAMES HENRY THORPE, Sergeant 1st South Staffordshire Regiment who fell in action at Kleine Zonnebleke, October 26th 1914 aged 26 years……….

Instead of, or as well as, such biographical information, around 180 graves give inscriptions of a pious or religious nature. These are of three forms. The first, and earliest, is in the form of a verse (I hesitate to use the word poetry, since many of the inscriptions represent crimes against the English language!) such as that for Thomas Lee.

Sacred to the memory of THOMAS LEE who departed this life December 15th 1829 aged LXX. No flattering titles deck this humble stone. This verse is sacred to the truth above. Here lies exceed the character who can. An upright Mason and an honest man…

The second is a verse from the bible, often a verse used in the funeral liturgy – such as “In the midst of life we are in death” or “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”. The third type is a simple vaguely religious, but non-scriptural sound phrase such as “Peace, perfect peace”, “Rest in peace” or “Reunited”.

Interestingly these three types can be distinguished by the age of inscription. The bar chart below shows the raw number of each type of inscription in 25 year periods – the non-uniformity of the data is such that I have not attempted a more rigorous statistical analysis. It is clear that the verse form has maximum popularity between 1826 and 1850, the biblical text between 1876 and 1900, and the simple phrase between 1926 and 1950.

Inscription types by date

In what follows, we will first give a few of the more interesting examples of the “biography” type of inscription, and similarly give some examples of the verse form.

Biographic inscriptions


There are a number of biographic descriptions of soldiers’ lives – both those who died at an advanced age and those who dies on active service. Perhaps the most visited of the memorials is that of Trumpeter John Brown, who served in the Crimean War.

Near here is the grave of Trumpeter JOHN BROWN 1815—189B who sounded the trumpet for the 17th Lancers at the Charge of the Light Brigade, Balaclava 25th October 1854.

Trumpeter Brown Memorial

More details of Trumpeter Brown can be found here. A number of Lichfield soldiers were killed in the first and second world wars and these are memorialized both on individual gravestones and on the Commonwealth War graves memorial. These include the following.

….. In Ioving memory of FRANK STANDLEY BUTLER 1st/ 8th Royal Warwicks who fell in action in France August 17 1917 aged 20 years.

…… Also FRANK LARKIN his brother Lance Corporal 1st North Staffs. Regiment who fell in action at Ypres July 9th 1915 aged 31 years. Also of MERVIN GODFREY LARKIN brother of the above born September 22nd 1888 who fell in action in France March 14th 1917.

,,,,Also his brother L/Cpl GEORGE WOLFE 6th North Staffs. Regt who made the supreme sacrifice at Caen Aug 15th  1944 interred in Grand Aunay British Cemetry France aged 23 years.

It is hard to imagine how the deaths of two sons affected the parents of Frank and Mervin Larkin.

Civic officials

A number of civic officials are buried in the graveyard, including former Mayors of Lichfield. The memorial to Alderman Joseph Raby from 1916, Mayor in 1915 also contains memorials to his wife who dies in 1938 and to his son who died in action in an unspecified location in 1918.

In loving memory of Alderman JOSEPH T. RABY, J.P. , F. J . I. Mayor of Lichfield 1915—16 called suddenly to rest May 30th 1916 aged 62. Also HANNAH his beloved wife died April 22nd1938 aged 86. Also Pte. HORACE S. RABY beloved son of the above who died November 8th 1918 aged 26 years.

The memorial to Robert Bridgeman, a sculptor by profession, contains both his biographic details, a short non-scriptural phrase, memorials to the death of his son in the first world war; and also the memorials to another son who was also mayor, and to that son’s wife, and is a good example of how complex the inscriptions can become.

ROBERT BRIDGEMAN, Sculptor. Sheriff and twice Mayor of this City departed this life March 1st 1918 in his 73rd year. After life’s fitful journey may he rest in peace. ROBERT GEORGE BRIDGEMAN Serge. Royal Engineers killed in action in France Nov. 5th 1916 aged 24. SARAH ANN wife of JOSEPH HENRY BRIDGEMAN died April 18th 1948 aged 83 years. JOSEPH HENRY BRIDGEMAN twice Mayor and also Sheriff of this City died February 24th 1951 aged 80 years.

Church officers and clergy

A number of church officers and clergy have memorials in the churchyard, The oldest of these is to the father and the son both named William Clarke, long term clarkes of the church. The death dates assigned when the stone was restored in 1870 were 1525 and 1562, although I have argued elsewhere that this is probably a misreading and they should be a century later.

Here lyes the body of WILLIAM CLARKE who was clarke of this church 51 years and buried March 5th 1525(?) aged ??. Here lies the body of William Clarke clarke of this church 71 years who died September 26th 1562 aged 86. Restored 1870

The two churchwardens that are explicitly mentioned are George Andrews and William Treadgold, the latter being warden at St. Mary’s rather than St. Michaels. There are however others buried in the churchyard who are not so identified – for example William Durrad, Lichfield’s first Station Master.

In loving memory of GEORGE ANDREWS sometime churchwarden of this parish born December 31st 1828 died July 24th 1905. Also of CATHERINE ANDREWS his widow born April 20th 1826 died April 24th 1909.

In loving memory of EMMA wife of WILLIAM TREADGOLD who died April 2nd 1935 aged 75. Also of WILLIAM TREADGOLD Churchwarden of St. Mary’s, Lichfield, who died September 1st 1944 aged 81.

Four of the first five rectors of the parish are buried in the churchyard – Thomas Gnossall Parr, James Serjeantson, Otho Steele and Percival Howard. The inscriptions on the graves of Parr, Steele and Howard are given below. Only the names of the Serjeantson grave were recorded in the 1960s survey and tnis was not recorded at all in the 1980s.  The story of these rector’s is told elsewhere.

THOMAS GNOSALL PARR died March 13th 1843 aged 68. ANNE his wife died May 31st 1839 aged 61. ANNE PARR their eldest daughter died Aug…. 1862 aged 59. THOMAS GNOSALL  eldest son of THOMAS GNOSSALL and ANN PARR…years, incumbent of this parish  ………and Deans Vicar of Lichfield Cathedral died December 23rd 1867 aged 68. RICHARD PARR died at Worksop May 19th 1862 aged 56. WILLIAM SEPTIMUS PARR died at Welshpool June 16th 1862 aged 47. BENJAMIN  & EDWARD PARR died in their childhood.

In loving memory of OTHO W. STEELE died 25th May 1922 aged 83 years. Rector of this Parish 1893-1913. CICELY MARY ANDERSON daughter of the above born 11th June 1877 died 2nd Sept. 1972. HENRY STEWART ANDERSON, C.M.G. , R. A.M. C. born 15th April 1872 died 12th May 1961.

PERCIVAL HOWARD born 7 July 1875 died 16 October 1955. Rector of this Parish 1913—1947.


Of the different types of inscriptions, those in memory of children are the most poignant, and given the high incidence of child mortality up to the start of the twentieth century, the most common. A few illustrations are given below. The first, for Tabitha Morley, quotes a saying of Jesus, that refers to a dead child he brought back to life. The second and third record multiple childhood deaths in the same family.

Sacred to the memory of TABITHA the only and dearly beloved child of SAMUEL MORLEY Vicar of Warslaw—cum—Elkstone in this County and SARAH his wife. She died in her infancy 15th day of July 1861. She is not dead, but sleepeth.

In affectionate remembrance of the beloved children of JOSEPH and ANN ALLTON. JOSEPH who died June 12th 1855 aged 14 years. ELIZA ANN who died December 22nd 1856 aged 3 years 8 months and WILLIAM ALFRED who died June 7th 1862 aged 18 years. Also of three others who died in their infancy.

In memory of dearly beloved children of HERBERT & HARRIET LARKIN. AMY born October 24t  1872 died September 24th 1896. KATE ELLEN born September 30th 1877 died March 23 1897. WILLIAM HENRY born June 11th 1875 died April 8t 1876. FLORENCE born December 23rd 1878 died September 23 1879. LUCY DOROTHEA born September 21st 1885 died October 26 1886.


There are a number of other interesting biographical descriptions in the churchyard. Firstly that of Elizabeth Logan. Her story perhaps to be told more fully.

Sacred to the memory of ELIZABETH LOGAN who died February 28th 1878. Having acted with MISS NIGHTINGALE in the Crimea on her return she followed the profession of sick nurse for which she was eminently qualified by her skill and experience. A strong sense of duty and great kindness of heart. No one who witnessed her self—denying exertions in aid of suffering humanity could ever forget them. Well done good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

The Corfield memorial is at first sight a simple family biographical memorial, until one realizes that nearly all of them died on the same day. This was the result of a fire in a house on Breadmarket Street in 1871 (next to the Johnson House) that resulted in William Corfield, his mother, his wife and his four children all suffocating due to smoke inhalation. A large crowd attended the funeral and the whole incident was covered in detail by the press.

In memory of MARGARET CORFIELD age 81. Also of WILLIAM her son age 47 and THERESA MARY his wife age 35. They died January 14th 1873. Also of their children WILLIAM JAMES age 5 years and 5 months. MARY THERSA age 4 years and 2 months. JOHN aged 3 years and 1 month. ELLEN age 6 weeks. They died January 14th 1873. THOMAS died May’ 27th 1871 age 17 days.

The Corfield Grave

Family Groups

There are a number of family groups of graves in the churchyard. The most prominent of these are those of the Treadgolds, with thirteen burials in six graves between1894 and 1971, the Gilberts, with thirty two burials in nineteen graves between 1790 and 1904, and the Larkins with forty three burials in 18 graves between 1827 and 1977. These include the grave of Sidney and Eva Larkin, the parents of the poet Philip Larkin, who famously once said of Lichfield ‘God, this place is dull’.  Behind Sidney and Emma’s grave is the memorial to another Philip Larkin who died in 1878. The story is told that when the 18-year-old poet came across this gravestone, he was understandably perturbed and wrote to a friend, ‘I reeled away conscious of a desire to vomit into a homburg hat’.

Verse inscriptions

A number of verse inscriptions are given below. It is very easy to be rude about the quality of both the rhyme and the rhythm of these verses – and indeed I have been so above. But nonetheless they were chosen by relatives of those who are buried in the churchyard and must express at least something of what they wished to say.  So, whilst 200 years on, we may be amused by what is written, it is perhaps important not to be too critical and scornful.

Early deaths

A number of the verse inscriptions refer to early and sudden deaths – often as dire warnings for those who follow to prepare themselves for a similar fate.

Sacred to the memory of ANN RILEY who died October 28th 1838 aged 75 years. Also of ROBERT RILEY who died May 24th 1843 aged 81 years. Sacred to the memory of SARAH RILEY who died September 18th 1825 aged 28 years. Lost in the bloom of life lamented maid. Sweet by thy slumber in death’s dreary shade. And when thou leav’st thy lowly bed of rest. O may’st thou mount and mingle with the blest.

In affectionate remembrance of WILLIAM HITCHINS who died December 27th 1867 aged 21 years. He sleeps in Jesus. Also of JOHN HENRY HITCHINS who died October 5th 1869 aged 23 years. Weep not for me my mother dear. I am not dead but sleeping here. My end you know, my grave you see. Prepare therefore to follow me.

In affectionate remembrance of HARRY ALLEN MOONEY who died June 30 1883 aged 20 years. Death to me no warning gave. Therefore be careful how you Iive. Prepare in time make no delay. For no one knows their dying day.

Sacred to the memory of SUSAN daughter of WILLIAM and SUSANNAH ROGERS who died Feby 28 1843 aged 19. Also of two sons and one daughter who died infants. Ye, who with youthful steps, now lightly tread. O’er these green hillocks of the unconscious dead. Pause a few moments at this lowly tomb. And learn — an early death may be thy doom. Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM ROGERS who died July 29th 1864 aged 82. Also of SUSANNAH his wife who died April 3rd 1866 aged 83.

Husbands and fathers, wives and mothers

The verses for family members are often quite sad and reflective whilst describing the attributes of the deceased.

Sacred to the memory of JOHN HILL late of the Scales in this City who died April the 27th 1809 aged 66 By sudden death, he was deprived of life. Left years, son and daughter, and a faithful wife. Who mourn his loss and hope his sours on high. With Jesus Christ above the starry sky. His near relations do his fate bemoan. And to his memory have placed this stone.

In affectionate remembrance of WILLIAM BOOTH who departed this life April 5th 1876 aged 67 years. Dear wife and children do not weep. Whilst with the dead do sleep. A troublesome world I left behind. A crown of glory I hope to find.

In memory of ANN the wife of GEORGE GILBERT who died November 2 1824 aged 57 years. and of two children who died in their infancy. A faithful wife in silence slumbers here. A tender mother and a friend sincere. While living just, industrious and kind. A loss to all her friends she’s left behind.

Sacred to the memory of HANNAH wife of JAMES DABBS who died March 15th 1834 aged 48 years. A long affliction I do bear. Physicians were in vain. Till God did please to summons me. And ease me of my pain. Sacred to the memory of PHILIP SALT who departed this life January 29th 1823 aged 46. Also SARAH his daughter who died May 16th 1834 aged 23.

The seventeenth century graves of St Michael’s churchyard

The churchyard

The surviving grave monuments in St. Michael’s churchyard in Lichfield are mainly from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with only a very few from the seventeenth century still in existence. In the main this is simply the result of natural decay – the lifetime of stone inscriptions in the graveyard seems to be of the order of 250 years. And over the course of the churchyard’s 1500 year existence, graves must have been dug over existing graves on many occasions. But there are a few graves that probably date from the seventeenth century and we will we will discuss these in this post.

Figure 1 Grave locations

The locations of the graves are shown on the map in figure 1 which shows the old churchyard, closed to new burials, and the new churchyard to the east that is still in use (although filling up rapidly). It can be seen that the graves we are considering are all, unsurprisingly, in the old churchyard and located quite close to the church. A study of the dates of all the graves in the old churchyard, suggest that most burials up to 1800 were in the area to the immediate north, west and south of the church, and the large areas to the east began to be used from around 1800. The churchwarden’s accounts indicate that the churchyard was let out for grazing and for taking a hay crop through to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so this was presumably the main function of the eastern area before it was used for burials.

The Saddleback and Finney graves

Figure 2 The Saddleback grave

Returning to the graves, let us first let us consider those at the front (north) of the church. The first of this pair (A) is the unusual saddleback grave shown in figure 2 above. The inscription is very worn and the dedication of the monument can’t be read. This grave features in a nineteenth century drawing that is in the William Salt library and can be accessed from clicking the button above. That drawing gives the date of the grave as 1674, and with a little imagination this can be made out on the tomb itself. Apart from the date, it is the style of the grave that makes it so distinctive. It is a shame that the dedication is illegible.

Figure 3. The Finney grave

The dedication of the other grave to the north of the church (B) can however be distinguished (figure 3). This reads

Here lieth the body of Edward Finney the elder of this City Gente, who departed this life 1st May 1640 and the bodies of Michael, Thomas, John and Joyce, four of his children.

Pleasingly the historical records tell us a little more about Edward Finney. He was one of the bailiffs of the City of Lichfield in the 1620s and 1630s and was active in civic life. After his death he established a “bread dole” at St. Mary’s endowed with 1s. a month which still existed, as the Edward Finney Charity in 1715.

The Clarke grave

The third of the graves that we consider here has a particularly interesting history. This is the monument to William Clarke and his son, another William, two longed lived parish clerks. The Morning Chronicle of October 8th 1822 reports as follows.

In St. Michael’s churchyard at Lichfield an ancient tomb stone was lately discovered which had been buried in the earth a great number of years.  Upon it are deeply cut the following inscriptions.

Here lyes the body of WILLIAM CLARKE who was clarke of this church 51 years and buried March 5th 1525 aged 96. Here lies the body of William Clarke clarke of this church 71 years who died September 26th 1562 aged 86″.

The dates and longevity of those interred are remarkable. The Morning Chronicle notes that the elder William would have lived through the reigns of six monarchs, and the younger through the reigns of seven. The latter would have experienced the tumult of the Reformation and counter-Reformation that seems to have had a considerable effect on the fabric of St. Michaels. The inscriptions were still readable in the 1960s and 1980s when surveys of the churchyard monuments were carried out. It was also recorded in these surveys that the stone was “restored” in 1870. At the time of the earlier survey the monument was to the south of the church (C on the map) but was moved, probably more than once, in the churchyard re-ordering of the 1970s. Unfortunately it’s current location is unknown. There are one or two possibilities with very well worn inscriptions, and if I can make a positive identification I will edit this post and include a photo.

That is however not the end of the story. References to William Clarke can be found in the historical sources. In Harwood we read of a William Clarke who in 1662 gave Elias Ashmole information on monuments in the church that had been destroyed in the civil war and is described as having been  clerk to the parish for 65 years and his father had been clerk before him for 52 years. In the churchwarden’s accounts we read of a William Clarke (presumably the elder) being paid 8s for his year’s wages in 1580, and another William (presumably the younger) bring the custodian of church property in 1657. On the basis of these records, it thus seems to me likely that the death dates recorded in the Morning Chronicle, and “restored” in the 1870s were misreadings and were a century too early. If that were the case, the lives of the two William’s would have been even more interesting than supposed, with the elder being a small child in the initial iconoclasm of the Reformation, and living through the Counter Reformation, when the churchwarden’s accounts give a good description of the very catholic vestments and eucharistic tableware used in St. Michael’s. William the younger would have experienced the terrors of the Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration.

The Miesson grave

Figure 4. The Miesson grave

It must be admitted that the final grave we consider here (at D on figure 1) can’t be shown to belong to the seventeenth century, but it certainly has the look of something that old, and as we will see if of some interest (figure 4). Up till recently, this was the fairly simple chest tomb of Elizabeth Miesson and William Miesson . Recently the tomb has collapsed, and the inscribed end pieces placed on top of the remains, with the broken lid to one side. These are not particularly easy to read, but do confirm the names. A web search on Ancestry reveals there were several folk with these names in Lichfield around 1650 to 1750. The memorial to Elizabeth indicates contains the name of the city, rather inelegantly spread over two lines, as LICH and FIELD i.e. with a spelling mistake. The tomb could well have been a source of some embarrassment!

More Black Country pictures of John Louis Petit

In an earlier post I discussed the two pictures of John Louis Petit shown above, and attempted to identify both the subject and the location from which they were painted. The title of the left hand picture, from the 1830s, suggests it shows mines in Wolverhampton, possibly on the basis of the two church towers in the background. I argued however, on the basis of the orientation of the towers and the location of the coal field that this was unlikely and that another location should be sought – perhaps to the west of Dudley, although this was very conjectural. The right hand picture from the 1850s is entitled Spring Vale Iron Works, and after examination I have no reason to doubt that attribution, and on the basis of the tithe map of the area, was able to identify a location from which it was painted, on the edge of John Louis Petit’s Ettingshall estate in Sedgley. Wherever they were painted however it does seem to me that their main significance lies in the fact that they are early representations of Black Country coal mines and ironworks and are of historical importance in that sense.

Since wring that post however, two other industrial scenes by Petit have been sent to me and they are shown below. Thanks to Philip Modiano of the Petit Society for permission to use these here. They are both believed to come from the 1830s. The first shows an ironworks in the distance, framed by a much more rural location. My best guess for this is that it is again a representation of the Spring Vale Iron Works, or perhaps the nearby Parkfield works seen from the western side of the Ettingshall estate at a location on the headwaters of the Penn brook (which leads into the Wom brook, and then into the River Smestow).

The second picture shows another ironworks, but this time with four furnaces rather than the three of Spring Vale. The position of the two churches in the background, the one with the spire and the one without, again matches St Peter’s and St John’s in Wolverhampton and their relative position suggest that the picture was painted from the south east in the Bilston area. The level of details it shows is remarkable. The furnaces themselves can be clearly seen, together with quite detailed depictions of ancillary buildings in the foreground. It would be interesting to know what was the function of these buildings. There are perhaps impressionistic indications of tram tracks and a canal basin in the right foreground, although this is very conjectural.

One of the many things that intrigue me about the work of Petit is its breadth that ranges from the type of scene in these pictures to his more usual output of sometimes quite idyllic churches. I wonder if he saw, in the size and functional architecture of blast furnaces, the same grandeur that he perceived in may of the churches that he drew, an, in his mind at least, the stark differences between churches and blast furnaces were not as significant as the similarities.

Kingswinford Junction 1949

Figure 1 Location sketch

Kingswinford Junction was the point at which the GWR line to Wombourne and Wolverhampton left the GWR main line from Stourbridge Junction to Dudley and Wolverhampton – see the figure 1 for a sketch map showing the location and figure 2 for a detailed Ordnance Survey map from the 1930s. . It was situated between Brierley Hill and Brettell Lane stations (A and B on figure 2). There was also a very extensive set of sidings (C) at the junction that served as a major freight marshalling yard- see the figure above. Traffic through the yard was controlled from two signal boxes – Kingswinford North (D) and Kingswinford South (E). The latter can be seen in the photo in figure 3 from the 1980s (taken from here).

Figure 2 1930s OS map of Kingswinford Junction

Figure 3 Kingswinford Junction and South Box in the 1980s

This brief post describes the services that ran through the junction in 1949, just after nationalization of the railways. It is based on a working timetable for that year that can be found on the Michael Clemens Railways website. As such it gives a snapshot of a busy railway location at a crucial point in the history of the railways.

The main passenger service through Kingswinford Junction was the Wolverhampton – Dudley – Stourbridge Junction stopping service with around 14 trains in each direction, the number varying slightly by day of week and direction. The trains departed from Wolverhampton Low Level calling at Priestfield, Bilston, Daisy Bank and Bradley, Prince’s End, Tipton, Dudley, Blowers Green, Round Oak and Brierley Hill, and passed through Kingswinford Junction before calling at Brettell Lane and Stourbridge Junction. The journey time was around 45 minutes. The timetabling was irregular i.e. not at fixed times past each hour, which seems odd to modern eyes, but such timetabling was common practice at the time.  Some trains were extended to Kidderminster or Worcester in the south and Shrewsbury, Crewe or Chester in the north. In addition there was one through Wolverhampton to London Paddington train each day, leaving Wolverhampton at 6.50am, calling at the local stations mentioned above and passing through the junction at 7.29am. It then called at local stations to Worcester, then at Evesham, Moreton in the Marsh and Oxford before arriving at Paddington at 11.30am. The return journey left Paddington at 1.45pm, passing through the Junction at 6.18pm and arriving at Wolverhampton at 6.57pm. There was also a single daily service from Stourbridge to Birmingham via the local stations to Dudley and Great Bridge, in the morning and the return trip in the evening. Most Birmingham passengers would have changed at Stourbridge Junction or at Dudley and Dudley Port.

There was very extensive freight traffic through Kingswinford Junction and sidings. This traffic was of different types. Some trains simply passed through, mainly using the Kingswinford branch between the Junction and Oxley sidings in Wolverhampton. These included several daily workings from Worcester to Crewe and from Rowley Regis to Ellsmere Port and from Hollinswood in Shrosphire to Stourbridge Junction and Worcester.  There were also occasional through freight workings along the Dudley to Stourbridge Junction line through the Junction, generally with local freight services, which in the main served the steelworks at Round Oak.

The main function of the sidings however was as a marshalling yard, receiving trains from yards around the country and reforming the wagons into trains for onward journeys to other yards. It had daily services to and from Birkenhead, Crewe, Didcot, Morris Cowley, Scours Lane, Swindon and Tavistock Junction, and it can thus be seen that it was integrated into a national web of interlocking freight services. The marshalling activities would have been extensive and would have taken place throughout the day and night.  It can be seen from the map of the sidings that there were exits to the north and the south, and thus trains that continued their journey along the main line to Dudley or Stourbridge would have had a straightforward route out of the yard. There were 15mph speed restrictions at both exits. However, some trains that began their journey in the sidings used the Kingswinford branch – specifically those to Birkenhead and Crewe. The operation of these trains would have been complex as there was no exit / entry to the sidings from the north to the Kingswinford branch, so the train would have to have been shunted too or from the long siding by the main line towards Brettell Lane and then reverse in the other direction. The large height difference between the branch and the sidings, visible in figure 2 would have been a complicating factor.

The Working Timetable also contains details of “Bank Engine” duties. These were the timetables for specific locomotives that assisted trains where required (such as for the movements out of the yard described above); delivered freight brought to the yard by other trains in the immediate vicinity (eg. to Round Oak, or Cradley); or shunted trucks at various local sidings etc. An example is given in Figure 4 below for such a locomotive with duties primarily on the Kingswinford branch, including shunting and collecting trucks from Bromley (private sidings); Pensnett (the collieries in the Shut End area) and Baggeridge Junction (from the Pensnett Railway branch to the colliery). Train speeds on the branch were low – 10 to 15mph in general with only short stretches where 25mph was allowed.

Figure 4 Bank Engine Schedule

The branch briefly had a passenger service from 1925 to 1932, which served a number of halts along the line. Two of these – Bromley Halt next to the Stourbridge Extension Canal and Pensnett Halt are shown in figure 5 – the former from the 1930s and the latter from the 1950s. There were signal boxes at both Bromley and Pensnett that were still manned for part of the day in 1949.

Figure 5 Bromley Halt and Pensnett Halt

Finally, the question arises as to what type of freight traffic passed by and through the yard. Here the Working Timetable is not terribly helpful, as most trains are simply referred to by the generic term “freight”. But occasionally the entries are more explicit – such as a Worcester-Crewe train for “perishables”;  Ellesmere Port to Rowley Regis with fuel oil and the return Rowley to Ellesmere service was for empty oil tanks. There were also specific sidings in the yards for specific customers – David H Pegg, Harris and Pearson firebrick works in Brettell Lane and Marsh and Baxter’s. The latter was used for the transport of pigs to the bacon factory just to the east of the sidings – indeed there was a “pig” tunnel from the sidings, under the approach road and to the factory along which the animals were driven.

The OWWR Kingswinford branch 1854

The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWWR) was authorised by Parliament in 1845 and was built in stages over the next few years as money became available. In the Black Country, the main line of the railway went from Stourbridge Junction to Dudley and thence to Wolverhampton. This was completed in 1853. The Kingswinford branch left the main line at Kingswinford Junction, in between the passenger stations at Brettell Lane and Brierley Hill. The route then passed through Brockmoor and Bromley to the north west, and then followed the eastern bank of the Stourbridge Extension Canal from Bromley to Corbyn’s Hall (figure 1). It then diverged from the line of the canal and followed a northwards line several hundred yards to the east, crossing the Dudley to Kingswinford Turnpike Road and the line of the Kingswinford Railway before curving westwards around the terminal basin of the canal at Oak Farm, and coming to an end at Oak Farm Iron Works. Just before the westward curve there was a branch to Askew Bridge on the Himley Road.  It seems to have been completed to Bromley by 1858 and to Oak Farm and Askew Bridge by 1860 and the route was broadly as authorised by parliament. The OWWR merged with other companies to become the West Midlands Railway in 1860 and in 1863, this in turn was absorbed by the GWR. In 1875 a short link was constructed near Askew Bridge to link to the Pensnett Railway, and in later years this was to be the source of much traffic onto the line from Baggeridge Colliery. Over 60 years later, in 1925, the branch was extended to Wombourne and Wolverhampton, mainly as a freight route, but for a while between 1925 and 1932 it boasted a passenger service calling at a number of halts and stations along the line.

Now whilst researching a quiet different topic, I came across a remarkable document on the Michael Clemens Railways web site – a pdf of an 1854 document that was presumably laid before parliament with proposed alterations of, amongst others, the route of the Kingswinford branch, at a time well before it was built. This route is also shown on figure 1. It diverges from the authorized route at Corbyn’s Hall, crosses the Extension canal and then follows a north westerly route several hundred yards to the west. This would have crossed the Dudley-Kingswinford Turnpike Road close to Kingswinford village, and then cross both the main line of the (then) Kingswinford Railway and Bradley’s incline that ran into the Shut End Iron Works. It would then have passed just to the west of Becknell Fields Farm and, before curving to the east and approaching the Oak Farm works from the west i.e. the opposite direction from what was eventually built, before coming to a terminus a few hundred yards to the east of Askew Bridge on the Himley Road.

Figure 1. The Kingswinford branch of the OWWR.

The red solid line shows the branch as authorised and built. The red dotted line shows the alterations proposed in the 1854 documents. The blue line shows the Stourbridge Extension Canal and its branches. The green lines show roads – those running left to right are (from top to bottom Dudley Rd/ Himley Rd (in top corners), Stallings Lane, Kingswinford to Dudley Turnpike and Bromley Lane. The road running from bottom to top is the Stourbridge to Wolverhampton Road.

The route would thus have reached much the same destinations as the one that was actually built and might be thought of as no more than an interesting option. However, two aspects of the document are of considerable interest. The first is that the proposed alteration branched close to Becknell Fields where the line turned to the east, with the branch continuing in a north westerly direction across fields before coming to a terminus at Himley Church and Rectory at the junction of the Wolverhampton and Dudley Roads. There were never any mineral resources in that area, so the branch would have served no purpose in this regard. However, Himley Hall, close to the church, was the home of William Ward, 11th Baron Ward and later Earl of Dudley. Indeed, Ward was one of the promoters of the OWWR and for a while in the early 1850s was its chairman. It seems to me that we can here see the justification for the proposed route alterations – to effectively provide a personal line to Lord Ward’s residence. The proposals however clearly failed to persuade parliament, whatever may have been the political influence of Baron Ward.

The second point of significance is some of the incidental detail shown on the map of the route. For example, in the Bromley area, Bromley Hall is shown as being on Bromley Lane to the west of Bromley Bridge (where the road crosses the canal). It seems that there were two properties that were sometimes called by this name, one to the west and one to the east of the bridge. This shows that in 1854 at least, the name was associated with the former, which is elsewhere referred to as Slater’s Hall. On the Fowler Map of 1840 (which was also the tithe map), the old Corbyn’s Hall furnaces are shown to the east of the Canal, and the area to the west is still arable with ornamental pools. The railway map shows, for the first time I believe, the location of Corbyn’s Hall new furnaces to the west of the canal, with the ornamental pools still surviving to some extent (but probably highly polluted by that stage).

But perhaps the most significant is the detail of the layout of the Oak Farm Iron works, and its associated railways. This is shown in figure 2 below. In the 1840 Fowler Map, the Oak Farm area is essentially rural, and thus the works developed massively in the period between 1840 and 1854. The map shows what I believe is the earliest representation of the layout of the works and is of some historical significance. The existence of an internal works railway system is particularly interesting which may at the time have led to the terminal basin of the canal.

Figure 2. The Oak Farm Works in the 1854 document

The Pensnett Victoria Saxhorn Band


In an earlier post on Football and Cricket in Victorian Pensnett, I discussed the activities of the Pensnett Victoria cricket team. I mentioned that there were a number of press reports for another Pensnett Victoria – the Pensnett Victoria Sax-horn Band, which seems to have been active in the late 1860s and early 1870s, or at least their activities were reported in that period. In this brief post, I will present the information that we can find about the band from press reports of the time. Whilst this information isn’t particularly extensive, some of it does give a vivid picture of the social life in Pensnett at that time. To illustrate this, after reviewing the band’s activities, I will present two verbatim reports of occasions when the band played, that show how at least some in the Black Country enjoyed themselves at the time.

Procession and carnivals

But first to the general activities of the band. We read about it being involved in the Temperance movement – leading Temperance societies to a large gathering of several thousand people at Aston Park in 1863, and playing at some public Temperance lectures in the New Connexion chapel schoolroom (St James’ Methodist) in 1865.  A regular venue seems to have been the grounds of Pensnett Vicarage where they played on the evenings when the grounds were open to the public and at the Annual Horticultural and Flower show in the late 1860s. The band played for other church events – the Sunday School “treat” in the Parsonage grounds in 1868, and the Sunday School Christmas Party in the Bell School Rooms in 1870.  They also played at celebrations after weddings, such as the one organised by the manager of Himley Fire Brick works when his son was married at the Stag’s Head in Wall Heath in 1868, and other fetes and carnivals – Dudley Fete in 1869; Wordsley Institute Flower Show and Glass Exhibition at Prestwood Hall in 1870; Cradley Heath in 1871 and Droitwich in 1872. On the last occasion the Pensnett Victoria cricket team was also in action, playing (and losing to) Droitwich C.C. Sometimes they were referred to as the Pensnett Brass Band, and sometimes as the Pensnett Brass and Reed Band. The Director of the Band is named occasionally as Mr. S. Smith. The only possible match I can find in the1871 census for Pensnett is for a Samuel Smith, born in 1820, who lived with his family at a house on the High Street. His profession is given as an (unreadable) Engineer. For the 1861 census he lived in Tipton and is described as an Iron Roller. So perhaps here we have a skilled industrial worker with a passion for music. It would be nice to know more about him.

Opening of the Pensnett Parsonage Grounds to the Public

As noted above, some of the press mentions of the band are of interest as much for what they show about the nature of Pensnett life as much as for what they tell us about the band itself, and I will present two here. The first of these is from the County Express of July 13th 1867.

It affords us much pleasure in stating that the energetic and deservedly popular incumbent of Pensnett, the Rev C J Atherton, has generously thrown open his beautiful grounds to the public, under certain restrictions. The parsonage grounds are open every alternate Tuesday evening, and the public of all denominations are admitted by ticket. The grounds were opened for a second time on Tuesday evening last, and, judging from the number of respectable people who attended, the parsonage grounds bid fair to become an “institution” in the locality. The Pensnett Victoria Sax-horn band has been “specially retained” to play on the nights the grounds are open, and several members of the excellent choir also kindly add to the entertainment of the visitors. The grounds occupy a most picturesque situation, and are laid out in a most beautiful manner, nature and art being most judiciously blended. The visitors have the option of listening to the dulcet strains of the band, indulging in innocent pastimes on the lawn, or, if they choose, they may ramble at will under the foliage of the park trees, or luxuriate in the many convenient rustic seats in the dell. We are sorry to learn that some thoughtless young people abused their privileges by dancing on the lawn, a mode of amusement which had been forbidden by the incumbent, while others behaved even worse, and wantonly destroyed many beautiful flowers by pulling them up at their roots. Such conduct of course ill repays the kindness of the incumbent and it is the duty of all who visit these delightful grounds to do all in their power to check such reprehensible practices. We perceive that the annual Cottage Flower Show and Horticultural Fete will be held in the Parsonage grounds on the 23rd inst. As the grounds are a great attraction in themselves, the show cannot fail to prove successful.

I have written on the career of Charles Atherton at length elsewhere – see the papers and presentation at the bottom of the Historical Studies page. At this point he would have been in his first few months as the Perpetual Curate of the parish. The report gives some details of the Parsonage grounds – which would have been very different from the rest of the area which by this time was becoming quite heavily industrialised. On the rather verbose prose used in the report, I make no further comment, other than to say that I for one am hardly surprised at the reprehensible actions of the Pensnett youth of the 1860s!

The choir trip to Rhyl

In the County Advertiser of 7th August 1869, the advert shown above was prominently placed. It gives details of an extensive choir / band trip to the seaside, with many concerts and performances packed into the three days. There were obviously sufficient numbers from the locality who wished to travel to make it worthwhile to hire a special charter train. Clearly the contacts, friends and family of the various performers were quite numerous. and widespread in the area. The route the train took is interesting to railway nerds (i.e. like me)- it would have travelled from Dudley to Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Gabowen, and then onto the long-vanished GWR line to Lllangollen and Corwen, before taking the (similarly vanished) LNWR line through Denbigh to Rhyl. There, the Pensnett Victoria band were well occupied indeed – it is to be hoped that the band members managed to have a little relaxation!