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!

Lichfield St. Michael’s – pictures held by William Salt Library

The William Salt Library holds a significant number of mainly late eighteenth and early to mid nineteenth century drawings and paintings of St. Michael’s church in Lichfield that show the development of the church over that period when significant rebuilding took place. For copyright reasons these cannot be reproduced, so in this post I have listed them all in chronological order; given a link to the web page for each picture that opens in a separate tab; and reproduced the text describing each picture. The intention is to provide a convenient platform to understand the development of the church and churchyard throughout the period concerned.

1732 ‘The South West Prospect of the City of Lichfield.’ Stretching from the west to St. Michael’s, an easterly suburb. With a key describing the important features. Inscribed with a brief history of Lichfield. Artists: ‘S. & N. Buck, delin. et sculp., [drawn and engraved].

19th of April 1746 ‘St. Michael’s Church near the City of LICHFIELD.’  Anonymous.

1760 – 1799 (c.) ‘St. Michael’s Church Lichfield, with the Arms formerly in the Windows.’ North view of the church, [apparantly adapted from V.142b.] The church is surrounded by drawing of 17 coats of arms, which used to be in the windows. Anonymous, [? Stringer.]

1769  ‘St. Michael’s Church, Lichfield, 1769.’ North view showing the clerestory, the north aisle and porch, and the three-staged tower and spire at the west end. Anonymous.

1760 – 1799 (c.) ‘Showing the tower and spire from a field to the west of the church. Artist: ‘E. B. pinx.,[painted].’

1784 ‘St. Michael’s Church in Lichfield, North (corrected to South.)’ One dormer window is shown over the south aisle. The tower and the south door (without a porch,) are also shown.’J. W. delin.,’ [drawn; John Wright, 1784]

1784 ‘An ancient monument in the chancel of St. Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing a recumbent figure under a cusped arch. artist: ‘J. W.’ [John Wright, 1784.]

1798 ‘St. Michael’s Lichfield, 1798.’ South east view showing the south door with no porch. The clerestory and nave are not shown owing to the high south aisle. There is also a high chancel with a row of top windows. Anonymous,

1800 – 1899 (c.) ‘Showing an old tomb called ‘saddle-back’ and dated 1674, with a distant view of Cathedral from the south east. Anonymous.

1805 ‘An Ancient View of the City of Lichfield. From a painting in the possession of the Revd. Henry White.’ West view showing the gate tower, St. Mary’s church with a spire, and St. Michael’s church on a hill to the right. ‘C. Pye, sculp., [engraved]’.

1824 ‘Font in St. Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing an octagonal font with shields on panelled sides, and fleurs de lis and roses below. One shield is marked W.C., 1669, and another with a cross flory between Maltese crosses. Artist: ‘J. B.,’ [John Buckler.]

1832 ‘St. Michael’s Church, Green Hill, Lichfield, Sketched 1832.’ Showing the church in a country setting, with people standing on a road in the foreground.’Robt. Noyes.’

1833 ‘North West (corrected East) View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing the east window, the chancel (with clerestory), the north aisle and porch, and the tower with a spire. artist: J. Buckler.

1838 ‘South West View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing the tower and the spire,

1841 ‘South East View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing the east window and the chancel (before rebuilding) with later [?vestry] addition to the south aisle. Artist: G. Buckler.

1841 ‘North West View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Chiefly showing the tower and the spire, also the north aisle and the porch. Artist: J. C. Buckler.

1841 ‘Ground Plan of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Shown before the extension of the south aisle. A south doorway is shown, but a north porch. Artists: J. C. and G. Buckler.

1841 ‘Interior View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, from the Chancel.’ Showing the pulpit, a reading desk, and some carved pews in the chancel. artist: G. Buckler.

1841 :Interior View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield from the north aisle.’ Showing a view across the nave, with box pews and a three deck pulpit. Artist: J. C. Buckler.

1841 ‘The North Porch of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ North view showing a crenellated porch, with two shields of arms and a canopied niche above, but without cross or letters. Artist: J. C. Buckler.

9th of September 1842 ‘North east view of the north porch with shields of arms and a canopied niche, but without cross. Anonymous, [A.E. Everitt.]

1843 ‘South East View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing a two-storey addition which has been made to the south aisle on the east end (with door) and a south door has been inserted in the chancel. Artist: J. Buckler.

1844 ‘South West View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing the tower and the spire, and the south aisle. Artist: J. Buckler.

1844 ‘North West View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Chiefly showing the tower and the spire, also the north aisle and the porch. Artist: J. Buckler.’

1844 ‘North East View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing a north north east view of the east window, the chancel (with clerestory), the north aisle and porch, and the tower with a spire.’J. Buckler.’

1844 ‘Interior View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, from the Chancel.’Showing a view of the Nave through the chancel arch (perpendicular style). The three pairs of colums seen are of cluster type, (the sides are rounded and should be hollowed.) artist: J. Buckler.

1844 ‘Lichfield, St. Michael’s.’ South west view showing the tower and the spire, also the south aisle. Artist: H. J. Noyes.

1845 ‘Porch on the North side of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ North west view showing a crenellated porch, with two shields of arms and a canopied niche above, also letters E and R, and a floriated cross above. Artist: J. Buckler.’

1846 ‘South East View of the New Chancel of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing the three lancet lights at the east end, and two on the south side. There is no door. Artist: J. Buckler.

1846 ‘Effigy on the North side of the Chancel of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ Showing a male with a long gown and hood, with long sleeves. His hands are as at prayer, his head is on a cushion and his feet on an animal. Artist: ‘J. B.,’ [John Buckler.]

1846 ‘Interior View of the Chancel of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield. Showing the interior of the new chancel, which has a stone groined roof, and lancet lights. In the north wall is a plain arch with an old recumbent effigy. Artist: J. Buckler.

1847 ‘East View of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.’ A three lancet window has taken the place of a five light perpendicular window, and the chancel clerestory has been removed. Artist: J. Buckler.

1858 St. Michael’s has a Perpendicular west tower and spire and the rest of the church is mostly Early English. It was extensively restored by Thomas Johnson of Lichfield in 1841-42. This is one of a series of watercolours of all the churches in Lichfield Diocese in Staffordshire, painted by Miss Theodosia Hinckes and Mrs Rebecca Moore for Lichfield Cathedral between 1857 and 1861. Reproduced by Kind Permission of the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral who retain copyright.

1950 – 1970 (c.) Most of the Church dates from 1842-43 and is by Thomas Johnson.

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.

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 Midland Tornado of 1545

Damage caused by the Birmingham Tornado


In the recently published book “Come wind, come weather” (Lichfield Press, 2021), Trevor James draws attention to the Midland Tornado of 1545 which caused very considerable damage along a very long storm track in Derbyshire. A description of the damage from that time is given in the Derbyshire edition of the Magna Britannia in 1817 and is reproduced below. In this short post, the nature of the storm will first be discussed and then we will make some estimates of the windspeeds that occurred, using modern damage scales. I will then address the question as to whether the event was actually a tornado, or some other type of wind storm.

The event

From the Magna Britannia.

” At Darbie the 25th daye of June 1545.

“Welbeloved sonne I recomend me unto you, gevyng you Godds blessyng & myne. Son this is to sertifie you of soche straunge newes, as that.hath of late chauns,ed in thes p’ties; that is to wytt, apon Satterday last past, being the 20th daye of this moneth, on Say’te Albons day, we had in thes p’tyes great tempest. … wether, about xi of the clok before none: & in the same tempest, The dev[ill] as we do suppose beganne in Nedewood, wch is ix myles from Da[rbie]; & there he caste downe a great substance of wood; & pulled up by the rotts: & from thens he came to Enwalle [Etwall] wher at one Mre Powret [Porte] dothe dwell, & he pulled downe ij great elmes, that there was a dossyn or xvj loode apon a piese of them; & went to the churche & pullyd up the leade, & flonge it apon a great elme that stondyth a payer of butt lenghthes from the churche, &. … it hangyd apon the bowys lyke stremars; & afte. …….. tourned. …… & the grounsells upwards & some layd bye apon. ….. heape &. ……. that was apon viij bayes long he set it a…….. gge & the. …… ro[ots] sett upwards; & he hathein the same towne lefte not past iiij or v housses hole. And from thence he came a myle a this syde, & there grewe opon Ix or iiijxx wyllowes, & apon xij or xvi he hathe brokyn in the mydds, & they were as great as a mans body: & so he lefte them lyke a yard and a half hye: And from thence he went to Langley, wch is lyke iiij myles from Darby, & there he hath pullyd downe a great p’te of the churche, & rowled up the leade & lefte it lyeing, & so went to Syr Wyllam Bassetts place in the same [towne] & all so rente it, & so pullyd a great parte of it downe wth his. …..& the wood that growethe abowte his place, & in his parke he pulled downe his pale & dryve out his deare, & pulled downe his woods, & so[me] broken in the mydds that was xvj or xx loode of wood of some one tre. And after that he went into the towne to Awstens housse of Potts & hath slayne his sonne & his ayer, & perused all the hole towne, that he hath left not past ij hole howsses in the same towne. And from thence he went to Wy’dley lane, & there a nourse satt wt ij chylderen uppon her lappe before the fyre, & there he flonge downe the sayde howse, & the woman fell forwards ap[on the] yongechyl[dren] afore the fyre, & a piese of ty’ber fell apon her. …… & so killed [her] but the chylderen were savyd, & no more hurte, [and none] of the house left standyng but the chymney, & there as the house stode, he flange a great tre, that there is viij or x lood of wood apon it. And from thence he went to Belyer [Belper] & there he hath pullyd & rent apon xl housses; & from thence he wente to Belyer [Belper] wood & he hathe pullyd downe a wonderous thyng of wood & kylled many bease; & from thens to Brege [Heage] & there hath he pulled downe the chappyl & the moste parte of the towne; & from thens to WynfeldmaJ that is the Erie of Shrowseberys [Wingfield Park], & in the parke he pulled him downe a lytell…… & from thens to Manfyld [Mansfield] in Shrewood & there I am sure he hath done [no] good, & as it is sayd he hathe donne moche hurte in Chesshire &….. shire. And as the noyse goeth of the people ther felle in some places hayle stons as great as a mans fyste, & some of them had prynts apon them lyke faces. This is trewe & no fables, there is moche more hurte done besyds, that were to moche to wryte, by the reporte of them that have sene it; and thus fare you well.”

James is persuaded that the account is genuine, not least by the mention of the damage to the chapel at Heage. The church at Heage was indeed officially a chapel (dependent upon another church) at the time and there are records elsewhere that indicate it was rebuilt after the storm. James quotes a further source (Warkworth’s Chronicle) which again suggests strong winds in Cheshire and Lancashire on that day.

The personification of the event as the “devil” is of interest and may reflect both the belief that such events were demonically rather than divinely inspired but might also refer to the name of such events – indeed even today small whirlwinds are referred to as dust-devils or something similar.

The description allows the track of the storm to be determined quite accurately, and this is shown on the map of figure below. In all the track where precise damage details are given seems to have been about 40 km long at least.

The track of the event. Purple lines indicate the boundary of Derbyshire and the purple circle is Derby itself. Red circles indicate the places where damage occurred, and green arrows indicate the storm track

Wind speeds

On the assumption that we are dealing with an tornado here, rather than another type of windstorm (see below), is it possible to obtain estimates of what the windspeeds actually were? Tornado windspeeds are usually estimated by inspecting the damage that they cause, and then using a damage classification method to determine the broad range of wind speeds that would cause that damage. Two methods are commonly used – the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale developed in the US, and the T scale developed by the Tornado Research Association TORRO. Extracts from the damage descriptors are given below.

Enhanced Fujita EF Scale

EF2         49–60m/s      Roofs torn off from well-constructed houses; foundations of frame homes shifted; mobile homes completely destroyed; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.

EF3         60-74m/s      Entire stories of well-constructed houses destroyed; severe damage to large buildings such as shopping malls; trains overturned; trees debarked; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown; structures with weak foundations are badly damaged.

EF4 74-89m/s Well-constructed and whole frame houses completely leveled; some frame homes may be swept away; cars and other large objects thrown and small missiles generated.

TORRO T scale

T4           52 – 61m/s           Motor cars levitated. Mobile homes airborne / destroyed; sheds airborne for considerable distances; entire roofs removed from some houses; roof timbers of stronger brick or stone houses completely exposed; gable ends torn away. Numerous trees uprooted or snapped.

T5          62- 72m/s            Heavy motor vehicles levitated; more serious building damage than for T4, yet house walls usually remaining; the oldest, weakest buildings may collapse completely.

T6           73 – 83m/s          Strongly built houses lose entire roofs and perhaps also a wall; windows broken on skyscrapers, more of the less-strong buildings collapse.

To give some context, the Birmingham Tornado of 2005 (pictured above), one of the strongest in recent years, was classified as a T5 event.

It is immediately clear that these descriptions are very subjective and the classification of damage into a particular class is not straightforward. It is perhaps less clear that each of these scales is to some extent culturally dependent. The EF scale reflects North American building and vehicle types, and the T scale reflects building and vehicle types from the UK in the 1970s when the scale was first produced. Neither reflects building practice in the 1540s and neither were there any cars to be lifted up in that period!  Nonetheless, the description of 1545 can be used within these classifications at least in an approximate way. I would thus classify the 1545 event as borderline EF2 / EF3 or borderline T4/T5. These classifications give a wind speed range around 135 mph or 60 m/s. However,  Neaden, in a study of tornado risk for the HSE, based on the above description, assigns a category of T6 to the event, giving a wind speed of at least 73m/s. This again illustrates the subjectivity of the classification.

The T scale also gives a classification based on path length

T4 2.2 to 4.6km

T5 4.7 to 9.9km

T6 10 to 21km

T7 22 to 46km

On the basis of path length Neaden again gives a T6 classification, although the length as shown in figure 1 suggests a T7 classification. My view would be that the event should properly be categorised as EF2/EF3 or T4/T5 with an unusually long path length but the subjectivity of this assessment must again be emphasised.

Was it a tornado?

The question that then needs to be addressed is whether or not the 1545 event was a tornado or some other storm type – presumably one of the usual extra-tropical cyclones that pass across the UK quite frequently. Even in such storms there are known to be smaller tracks of major damage. In the 1987 storm for example there was a swathe of extreme damage to trees in a arc a few miles wide across the south of England. This was attributed to a high-level jet of wind sweeping down to ground level – a phenomenon know as a “sting jet” because of the scorpion tail-like cloud formation with which such events are often associated. 

The points that suggest the event was a tornado are firstly the existence of a coherent storm track, albeit significantly longer than would normally be the case, and secondly the fact that the event occurred in June, when extra-tropical cyclones are uncommon but tornadoes are. On the other hand, the point that suggest the damage was due to an extra-tropical cyclone is the reference in more than one source to concurrent strong winds in Cheshire and Lancashire. Indeed, wind speeds of 60 m/s have been measured in extra-tropical cyclones in the past – for the 1987 Burns Night storm for example the peak wind speed was somewhere around this value.

Referring again to the work of Neaden, his data indicates that between 1800 and 1985 there were around 10 tornadoes with a classification of T5 or higher in Derbyshire. This indicates that one would occur on average every 20 years or so. One would expect that most of these would have path lengths of a few kilometres and thus the effects would be localised – and in a rural county like Derbyshire not much damage might be recorded.

Now, one might expect that an extra-tropical cyclone with wind speeds of the order of 60m/s would only occur in lowland Britain once every 200 to 300 years – indeed the 1987 storm was assessed as having this return period. Thus they are very rare events indeed.

A comparison of the likelihoods of a T5 tornado and an extra-tropical storm with the same windspeeds thus suggests to me that it is most likely that the 1545 event was indeed a tornado with an EF2 / EF3 or T4/T5 classification, albeit with an unusually long storm track, but also that it was quite possibly embedded in a larger extra-tropical cyclone of some strength. However, as with any other historical phenomenon of this type, absolute certainty as to its cause is of course not possible.

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!

The Tiled House Estate

This post contains edited extracts from Kingswinford Manor and Parish, which gives full details of background sources etc.

The Tiled House Estate sat to the south of the Corbyn’s Hall estate, extending from Commonside in the east to the Standhills area in the west and Bromley Lane, the Bromley House estate and the hamlet of Bromley to the south. I speculate in KMAP that it may originally have been associated with the Corbyn’s Hall estate as part of the early enclosure of Pensnett Chase in the area. Against this is the evidence of the 1840 tithe map which gives a clear distinction between the Corbyn’s Hall estate, which was formally tithe free, and the rest of the land in the area on which tithes were levied. Whatever its origins, by the late 17th century, it was an established estate, based around the building that was known as the Tiled House – presumably because of its novel roofing material.

We first read of the Tiled House in 1688 when John Heydon made steel there using a novel process that involved the importation of Swedish Coal. Thus it seems to have been a place of industry from its earliest days. At some point in the 18th century it was occupied by Waldron Hill, father of John Hill who built the Wordsley Flint Glass House. During the latter part of the that century it was owned by the Mee family, and in 1760 Patience Mee, the widow of John Mee, leased it to Thomas Brettell. He was still in occupation in 1800. At this point the affairs of the estate become very complex, and one can do no better than quote the words of an exasperated cataloguer at Dudley Archives who writes the following in one of the most eloquent archivist entries that the author has had the pleasure to read.

A full description of the legal and equitable nightmare surrounding this estate between the 1790s and the 1840s is impossible. Many of the deeds are wanting. Suffice to say that a mother buys in the life interest of her bankrupt son and, in effect transfers it to his children, but leaves other actual and potential interests to be inherited by those grandchildren and her other children; the actual estates taken are the subject of litigation, particularly in respect of her eldest grandchild, Richard Mee like his father, who predeceases his father and leaves an infant daughter as his heir, whose husband eventually buys out most (all?) of the other interests and settles the outstanding charges on the estate. Other bankruptcies, insolvencies and imprisonments for debt just muddy the waters.

A court case of 1830 explains a little more. Patience Mee left the estate in the hands of trustees, with instructions to give her son Richard up to £50 a year from the proceeds (and no more!). The rest of the estate was to be used to provide for the education and upbringing of Richard’s three children, Richard, Sarah and John, during the life of Richard the elder. In 1830, Richard the elder was still alive, but John was the only one of the grandchildren still living, and although he was over 21, was arguing that because his father was still alive he was still entitled to support from the estate. He won his case.  Much detailed work is required to elucidate the complexities of the situation.

The Fowler maps of Kingswinford enable the boundaries of the estate to be drawn, and these are shown from the 1822 map in the figure below. There was little difference between the 1822 and 1840. Indeed, the plan produced for the unsuccessful sales of the estate in 1817 and 1825 show very similar boundaries. The particulars of the estate from the attempted sale of 1825 are included below, and illustrate the extent and nature of the property (and give an indication of how houses and lands were sold in the early 19th century.

The Tiled House Estate (purple) and Bromley Hall Estate (yellow) in 1822

In 1822 the entire estate was stilled owned by the impecunious Richard Mee, and Thomas Brettell was still in residence.  In 1833 and 1838, the elector’s lists indicate that it was occupied by John Dudley, who was a partner of the Iron Works on the Corbyn’s Hall estate. In 1840 the estate was in the hands of Trustees, Richard Mee having died some years previously. It is not clear who purchased the Tiled House Estate from the Trustees of Richard Mee, but certainly by the late 1830s William Matthews was in residence, and clearly came to own the estate at some point in the years that followed. Matthews died in 1871 and his estate passed to his son, Benjamin St John Matthews. However, William Matthews’ actual residence at the Tiled House was brief, and in the 1841 and 1851 census it is recorded as being occupied by Charles Woodcock, a Coalmaster. From sometime before 1861 till after 1891, the house was occupied by the family of William and Letticia Barlow. Barlow was a corn merchant and one of the founders of the New Connexion Chapel in Chapel St and remained an active member of that church and a Sunday School Superintendent for many years.

As with the neighbouring Corby’s Hall estate, the Tiled House estate gradually became more and more industrialised. Indeed, it would seem that both estates were operated as a unity, particularly during the ownership of William Matthews – see the earlier posts describing the Corbyn’s Hall estate, the mining activities in the area, and the development of the transport network.

The Tiled House area on the 1882 Ordnance Survey Map

The later development of the area can be seen in the large-scale Ordnance Survey maps. In 1882, what was to become Tiled House Lane was in formation, with the lane from Commonside down to the Tiled House itself being joined by Rookery Lane, now the bottom end of Tiled Hose Lane coming from Bromley. A long railway siding ran parallel to the lane on the Corbyn’s Hall side. This line had quite a fearsome gradient of 1 in 25, and it seems to me likely it was used to deliver coal to the Corbyn’s Hall works, with the trucks being lowered from the top of the incline by gravity and the empties being pulled back up by horses. The present site of Mullet Park was Tiled House Colliery Pits Number 19 and 20 (disused) and between Rookery Lane and the GWR railway line, there were Pits 17 and 18 (disused). At the top of the lane at the junction with Commonside there was a Brick Works. This being said, a number of the fields shown in the figure above were still in use for arable purposes.

The Tiled House area on the 1930 Ordnance Survey map

The situation had changed little by the time of the 1910 map, but by the time of the 1930 map shown above, the current Tiled House Estate had been built, together with the school near the Bromley end of the lane. Tiled House Colliery pits 19 and 20 had been replaced by Mullet Park, and large areas of dereliction can be seen to the north of Tiled House Lane in the Corbyn’s Hall area. This area is shown in the clip from a 1950s aerial photograph of Corbyn’s Hall shown below. This photograph is taken from over Corbyn’s Hall looking south over the upper end of Tiled House Lane, with Mullet Park in the background. The old industrial area north of Tiled House Lane is in the foreground. And here things become personal. I was brought up in Tiled House Lane in one of the houses shown in the picture, and Mullet Park and the broken ground to the north of the Lane were my childhood playgrounds. They bore little relationship to the agricultural estate of Richard Mee in the 1950s – and even less today!

Tiled House Lane in the 1950s

Transcript of Tiled House Estate Sale Particulars – 1825

TO be SOLD by AUCTION by BUNCH and JOHNSON at the Dudley’s Arms Inn, In Dudley, on Wednesday the 30th day of March, 1825, at 12o’clock at noon, in the following or such other lots as shall be agreed upon, and subject to such conditions as shall be produced at the time of sale:-

LOT 1. All that capital Messuage or Mansion House, with the malthouse, barns, stables, coach-house, granary, cowsheds and other outbuildings, fold-yard, plantations, garden and orchard thereto belonging, called the TILED HOUSE, situate in the said parish of Kingswinford and county of Stafford; together with the several closes or pieces of Land thereto adjoining, and occupied therewith, and containing the quantities following:-

House, Yards, Gardens, Orchard, Plantation and Rick-Yard5111
Upper Leasow, or Sheep Close4115
Lawn, Welling Croft and Pool813
Upper Shaw’s Field, including Road5331
Thurland’s End, including Road2339
Upper Wharrs831
The Hilly Close3039
Lower Wharrs6136

LOT 2. All those five closes of Land, adjoining together, and also adjoining the last lot, and fronting up to Bromley Lane, called by the names and containing the quantities following.

Dacey’s Hil808
Bradley’s Wharrs2223
Great Moor Field9338
Sling Hop-yard2139
Little Moor Field6225

LOT 3. A capital Meadow, adjoining the last lot, and communicating with the lane called the Greenlane, and called by the name of Moseley Meadow or Shoulder of Mutton Piece, and containing 12A. 1R. 25P.

LOT 4. A plot of Land, part of a close of land called Corbyn’s Hall Field, fronting the public highway leading from Shut End to Brockmore, containing in front 74 yards, and in the whole three roods and six perches.

LOT 5. Another plot of Land, also part of Corbyn’s Hall Field aforesaid, adjoining the last lot and fronting to the said public highway, containing in front 60 yards, and in the whole 3 roods and 18 perches.

LOT 6. Another plot of Land, also part of Corbyn’s Hall Field aforesaid, adjoining the last lot, and fronting the said public highway and also a private road leading to the Tiled House, containing in front next the said highway 38 yards, and next the said private road 80 yards, and in the whole 3 roods and 6 perches.

LOT 7. Another plot of Land, adjoin to the three last lots at the back part thereof, and also adjoining to the said private road, being other part of Corbyn’s Hall Field, containing in front, next the said private road 92 yards, and in the whole 2A. 2R. 8P. or thereabouts.

LOT 8. Another plot of LAND, part of a close called Tiled House Green, or Cox’s Croft, fronting the said private road, and containing in front 37 yards, and in the whole 2R. 23P.

LOT 9. Another plot of Land, other part of the said close called the Tiled House Green, or Cox’s Croft, also fronting the said private road, and containing also in front 37 yards, and in the whole 2R. 23P.

LOT 10. Another plot of Land, part of a close called the Upper Common Field, adjoining the last lot, and also fronting the said public highway, containing in front 67 yards, and in the whole 1A. 1R. 37P.

LOT 11. Another plot of Land, also taken out of the said Upper Common Field, adjoining the last lot, and also fronting the said public highway leading from Shut En to Brockmore, containing in front 67 yards, and in the whole 1A. 3R. 5P.

LOT 12. Another plot of Land, also taken out of the said Upper Common Field, adjoining the last lot, and fronting to the said public highway, containing in front 67 yards, and in the whole 1A. 2R. 21P.

LOT 13. Another plot of Land, adjoining the last lot, taken out of a close of land called Lower Common Field, and also fronting up to the said public highway, and also to an intended road 10 yards wide, and containing in front next to the said highway 69 yards, and next to the said intended road 94 yards, and in the whole 1A. 0R. 13P.

LOT 14. Another plot of Land, adjoining the last lot, also taken out of the said close called Lower Common Field, and fronting the said intended road, containing in front 94 yards, and in the whole 1A. 0R. 13P.

LOT 15. Another plot of Land, opposite to the last lot, also taken out of the said close called Lower Common Field, and fronting the said intended road, containing in front 72 yards and a half, and in the whole 1A. 1R. 33P.

LOT 16. Another plot of Land, adjoining the last lot, also taken out of the said close called Lower Common Field, containing in front 72 yards and a half, and in the whole 1A. 1R. 33P.

LOT 17. Two Dwelling Houses, with brewhouse, shops and gardens, fronting the said highway, and also the said private road leading to Tiled House,containing 1R. 20P. including the site of the buildings.

All the above lots are in the occupation of Thomas Brettell, Esq. of his under tenants.

The Mansion House is very roomy and commodious, and substantially built, and the out-offices and farming buildings are very extensive and convenient, and all the buildings are in good repair.

The whole of the Estate is freehold of inheritance, is in the parish of Kingswinford, and is distant about two miles from Dudley and four from Stourbridge.

Lots 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10,11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 are staked out, and the whole may be viewed by application to Thomas Brettell, Esq. upon the premises.

Further particulars may be known by applying to Mr. Badham, Solicitor, Bromyard: to the Auctioneers, or at the office of Messrs, Bourne and Sons in Dudley, where maps of the Estate as marked out in lots may be seen.

The Corbyn’s Hall Estate

This post contains edited extracts from Kingswinford Manor and Parish, which gives full details of background sources etc.

Corbyn’s Hall in the late 19th century

The Estate up to 1780

I have described the Corbyn family in an earlier post here. They occupied a large parcel of land in the centre of the manor of Kingswinford, that may have originally been allocated by John de Sutton II, 1st Baron Sutton of Dudley, to William Corbyn on his marriage to the former’s daughter Felicia de Sutton around 1350. On this land they constructed the large house that became known as Corbyn’s Hall. The extent of these lands doesn’t become clear however until the Corbyn family sold the estate to John Hodgetts in 1680. Two early maps exist – from 1703 and 1754 which show estate boundaries very similar to those of the Fowler Map of 1822, shown in the figure below. The map shows the Kingswinford to Dudley Road running from east to west, with the junctions with Tansey Green and Commonside to the east of the area, The estate occupied a large parcel of land that extended south of the Kingswinford – Dudley Road to what was to become Tiled House Lane, and from Commonside in the east to the Standhills area in the west. It sloped quite steeply from the east down to the valley of the Dawley Brook. The brook and its feeders seem to have been landscaped into a series of pools. The land then rose again towards Standhills. The maps also give the field names from 1822. Small changes occurred in these names from the earlier maps also, with corruptions / changes creeping in as the names were passed from generation to generation – for example Mansell’s Meadow in 1704 and 1754 (then in the Corbyn’s Hall Estate) has become two fields in the Tiled House Estate in 1822 – Moreley’s Meadow and Shoulder of Mutton, the latter name being descriptive of the shape of the field. The different colours of the field indicate the two different owners of the estate in 1822 – William Hughes to the west of Dawley Brook and the Gibbons brothers to the east.

The Corbyn’s Hall estate from the 1822 Fowler Map

The Gibbons era – 1780 to 1840

The Gibbons family were originally from the Sedgley area, and developed a significant banking and industrial concern in Bristol, Kingswinford and Wolverhampton by the late 18th century, headed by the three brothers – Thomas (1730-1813), William (1732-1807) and Benjamin (1735-1832). In 1779, the family purchased the Corbyns Hall estate, which included Shut End House.  In 1814 Benjamin made over the Level furnaces and other industrial plant to his nephews – John (1777-1851), Benjamin (1783-1873) and Thomas (1787-1829) in return for an annuity and ownership of the Corbyn’s Hall Estate. The three younger Gibbons brothers were declared bankrupt as bankers in 1816, in the slump following the Napoleonic Wars, pulling the iron business down with them. Fortunately, the elder Benjamin, as a preferential creditor, was able to take control of some of the iron and coal interests and save the family firm from total ruin. The younger Gibbons brothers continued to develop the Corbyn’s Hall Collieries and Blast Furnaces, which were built by them about 1824. The Gibbons brothers were major innovators in terms of iron production, and the hydraulic lift at Corbyn’s Hall furnaces could raise around 500 tonnes of raw material a day to the top of the furnaces. The Book of Reference for the 1822 Fowler map lists Benjamin as proprietor, but many of the fields were rented to others. There is a reference to two pairs of coal pits, machine office, engine, tool house etc., in a field to the south of Shut End House. Corbyn’s Hall was occupied by Michael Grazebrook, who also leased a number of the surrounding fields.  Benjamin senior (1735-1832) occupied a house on Commonside, whilst the younger Benjamin (1783-1873) occupied Shut End House.

The elder Benjamin died in 1832. In the 1830s the Electoral Registers indicate that the younger Benjamin and brother John were living at Corbyn’s Hall. In 1833 Shut End House was occupied by Henry Bradley, the business partner of James Foster of Shut End.  In 1838 much of the estate was leased to William Mathews and John Dudley, ironmasters, for a period of 63 years to 1901. Benjamin however continued to live in Corbyn’s Hall and is recorded as being there in the Book of Reference for the 1840 Fowlers Map and the 1841 census. The 1840 Fowler map shows considerable changes to the estate, with the Stourbridge Extension Canal dividing it in two, with a branch from the canal serving the Corbyn’s Hall furnaces. That Book of Reference indicates that by then, whist the estate was still owned by the Gibbons, it was almost fully leased to Matthews, Dudley and Co. The Corbyn’s Hall furnaces are listed, as are three coal plus three (iron) stone pits etc., and the mines to the south of Shut End House are also referred to.  A William Gibbons, Benjamin and John’s cousin, is recorded as living at Shut End House. A portrait of Benjamin from the 1860s is shown below.

Benjamin Gibbons (1783-1873) in the 1860s (National Portrait Gallery)

During the Gibbons time at Corbyn’s Hall, there were major developments in the transport infrastructure in the area.  The figure below shows three large scale scale maps of the region, that show the transport links on the 1822 Fowler map, the 1832 Ordnance survey map (the original of which was at 1 inch to the mile) and the 1840 Fowler map. In 1822 this area was ill-served by transport links, and industry was clustered around the Stourbridge Canal main line and its Fens Branch and thus to improve the accessibility of this area, Lord Dudley and James Foster of Foster Rastrick and Co. opened the Kingswinford Railway in 1829. This ran from a new basin at Ashwood on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, up a 1:28 incline to a level section from the top of the incline to just north of Kingswinford village. From there it ran up another inclined plane with a gradient of 1:29, known as Foster’s incline (A) to a final level stretch in the Corbyn’s Hall area (B). The railway carried coal traffic from a number of mines along its route, and pig iron and iron products from the works of John Bradley and Co. (owned by James Foster) at Shut End (C). It also probably carried limestone from outside the area to the works. It is perhaps best known for its main means of motive power – the locomotive Agenoria, which was built by Foster Rastrick.  A fuller discussion of coal mining activity in the area is given in another post here.

There can also be seen to be an extensive series of tramways in the area, almost certainly worked by horse-power, man-power and, where possible, gravity. The major tramway ran from north of the Kingswinford Railway (D), which it seems to have predated as the latter crossed it via a bridge, through Corbyn’s Hall Iron Works (E), where there were a number of loops and branches, and then on through Bromley to a wharf on the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal (F). This tramway was owned by the Gibbons and was used to take coal and iron from their mines and works on the Corbyn’s Hall estates. This involved some sizeable cuttings to keep its gradient constant and a tunnel beneath what is now Bromley High Street. The second tramway ran from the top of Foster’s incline (G) into the Shut End works (C) (see below), whilst a third ran from Lord Dudley’s mines in Shut End (H) to another wharf on the Fens branch (I). Finally, there was a shorter tramway from south of Bromley (J) to a third wharf on the Fens branch, some way to the west of the others (K).

By 1840 the Stourbridge Extension Canal had been built in close association with the Stourbridge Canal Company – indeed half of the members of the Extension Canal Committee were also on the corresponding committee of the Stourbridge Canal. The major shareholder were Sir Stephen Glynne, resident in north Wales and the owner of Oak Farm Iron and Brick works, James Foster, owner of the Shut End works and Francis Rufford, a clay merchant. The canal ran from a junction on the Fens branch to Oak Farm, just off the top of the map of Figure 3.2c where it served the Oak Farm works and the Shut End works.  There was a short branch into Corbyn’s Hall (L) that removed the need for the tramway system. Indeed, the main tramway, from Corbyn’s Hall to Bromley, was purchased by the Extension Canal Company under the terms of the Extension Canal Act. As far as can be ascertained from the 1840 map, this tramway was by then in a fragmentary state (M), although the long stretch through Bromley to the Fens branch still existed. The other tramways outlined above were also still in existence, with some extra branches and quite possibly some route changes. It can thus be seen that, even within the two decades between the Fowler maps a complex tramway system was developed and discarded in the Corbyn’s Hall estate. Without the use of the interim 1832 OS map, this would not have been picked out.  Another Extension canal branch left the main line and ran to the Standhills House area (N). In the 1840 Reference this is referred to as the new branch and there is no evidence for industry in this region in 1840. It seems likely that this branch was built as a precursor to the opening of mines in the area.

Development of Canals, Railways and Tramways in the Shut End and Bromley areas

William Matthews

As noted above, from 1838 much of the land and the industrial concerns at Corbyn’s Hall had been leased to William Mathews and John Dudley, ironmasters, for a period of 63 years to 1901. William Matthews was born in Hagley in 1796 and in his obituary from 1871 we read the following.

He acquired a minute knowledge of all the practical details and the successive improvements in the manufacture of pig, iron from the South Staffordshire ores, as well as a very extensive acquaintance with everything relating to the iron and coal trades of that district; and was constantly consulted upon all matters affecting these interests. He took an active part in the promotion of various railways in the district, especially the Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, of which as well as of the South Wales Railway he was a director..

In 1860 he read a paper to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on the South Staffordshire Coalfield, with particular reference to Corbyn’s Hall. It is clear from that paper, that he was much more than a simple entrepreneur, but rather he possessed deep knowledge of the nature of the coalfield and the working methods – and was able to write about them fluently and lucidly. A copy of one of the figures from that paper, showing the fractured nature of the seams below Corbyn’s Hall, is given below, and gives some indication of the difficulties that would have been involved in extracting the coal.

Section through Corbyn’s Hall showing coal seams from Matthews(1860)

In 1842, Matthews and Dudley seem to have bought at least part of the Estate themselves for a sum of £9995. The Matthews / Dudley partnership was dissolved by mutual agreement in 1846, and the estate passed fully into the hands of William Matthews. John Dudley (1807-1861) was a member of the Tipton Dudley family. He was a grandson of Thomas Dudley who was the last resident of Shut End Hall. It seems that he emigrated to New Zealand and the breakup of the partnership with Matthews night have been to facilitate this move.

From then on, for the next 50 years, the lease of the Corbyn’s Hall estate was held by a number of industrialists. These are given in outline in the  Table below – taken from Graces Guide for Corbyn’s Hall. The plan with the lease of 1847 is interesting in that it shows the land that has been spoiled by industrial activities – and indicates that any holder of the lease would be required to make it good. These intentions never seem to have been acted on.  The regularity with which the lease changed hands would suggest an inherent lack of profitability. 

The most notable event to occur during that period was the major boiler explosion in 1862. The Chelmsford Chronicle gives the following account.

A fearful boiler explosion occurred at about six o’clock on the 27th ult. at the Corbyn’s Hall Malleable Iron Works (Messrs. Blackwell and Sparrow), situated about two miles from Dudley, which resulted in the death of four men and serious injuries to about ten others. The exploded boiler was about 30 horsepower and was heated by the flues of the puddling furnaces. At six o’clock number of men were at work in the puddling furnaces, when a fearful explosion took place. The roof of the furnaces was immediately broken through by a mass of falling debris, and the whole place presented a scene of wreck. The bodies of four men were speedily found in the debris, all of them being employed at the works. Ten or twelve others were found to be seriously injured, some of them so seriously that no hopes are entertained of their recovery. The cause of the explosion at present remains a mystery.

The inquest revealed that the boiler had run out of water before the explosion. Those who died were Thomas and George Hudley, Daniel Mason and Ezekiel Newnman (puddlers), Joseph Harper (a fireman) and Morris Christopher, a labourer. The person in charge, Mark Simpson, was absent from the building when the accident occurred, which seems to have not been an unusual occurrence.  He was duly charged by the coroner with manslaughter and tried at Stafford Assizes, but the charges could not be proved, and the judge ordered the jury to acquit him.

1847Lease by William Mathews of Edgbaston esquire to William Malins of Mansion House Place, London and George and Charles Rawlinson of Newton Nottage, Glamorgan, iron and coalmasters, of the Corbyn’s Hall estate, 4 blast furnaces with foundaries, casting houses and related buildings (with specified reservations), and thick coal/ten yard coal, heathen coal and brooch coal, and ironstone, etc., etc. plus other adjacent lands and minerals (specified), for a term of 56 years
1849Corbyn’s Hall and Tiled House estates offered for lease (to 1901 and 1863)
1853Lease to Samuel Holden Blackwell of Dudley of a mill, forge and premises
1853Lease by the Trustees of the will of William Hughes of Kingswinford, gentleman, to William Mathews of Edgbaston and George Hickman Bond of Tiled House, parish of Kingswinford, coalmasters and co-partners, of coal and ironstone under the Ketley Estate for a term of 14 years
1862Lease of mill and forge to Henry Sparrow of Woodfield House, Wordsley for 6 years
1867Lease to Paul Robinson of Sedgley, Staffs., coalmaster, Gabriel Jones of Kingswinford, coalmaster, George Glaze of Brockmoor, parish of Kingswinford, ironfounder & Daniel Parsons of Pensnett, same parish, engineer, of mines under Tiled House Estate
1868Agreement with Samuel Hingley of Cradley, Staffs., ironmaster for an annual tenancy of the Corbyn’s Hall Estate, with plan and detailed schedule of buildings, fixtures and machinery
1869Agreement with Hingley for renting number 1 Blast Furnace
1870Lease to Hingley of ironworks at Corbyn’s Hall for 7 years
1872Lease to Benjamin Williams, Benjamin Williams the younger and George Williams, all of Kingswinford, iron manufacturers, of the ironworks at Corbyn’s Hall, for 7 years
1903Sale to Caleb William Roberts of Stourbridge, Worcs., colliery proprietor, of the Tiled House and Common Side Estates, parish of Kingswinford and mines under 97a of land there

Leases of Corbyn’s Hall and associated estates

The Corbyn’s Hall Iron Works.

GWR and Pensnett Railways are indicated by black and brown lines respectively, and the Corbyn’s Hall railway by purple lines. Old mine shafts are shown as open circles, and the major residential properties as filled triangles.

By the time of the next major mapping of the area for the 1882 Ordnace Survey map, Corbyn’s Hall had an internal railway network for the transportation of coal and iron products to and from the canals and other railways that surrounded it. The situation in 1882 is shown in the figure below. It can be seen that there are two iron works. The original one was to the east of the Canal, near to Corbyn’s Hall itself, and is marked on the 1882 map as disused, but was clearly still in situ.  The new works was to the west of the canal, so we probably here have a picture of the transitional situation. The map also shows the major residential properties of Corbyn’s Hall itself, by this time becoming increasingly derelict; the Tiled House and Shut End House. Many disused collieries can also be seen, from where the original raw material was obtained in the 1820s and 1830s. The Corbyn’s Hall railway itself is a complex set of interlinked lines serving the immediate needs of the old works and providing connections to the Corbyn’s Hall branch of the Stourbridge Extension canal and the GWR Kingswinford Branch. The Tiled House branch of the Pensnett Railway (in brown) can be seen in the bottom right of the figure, ending in a set of sidings. The gradient of this branch is severe, at about 1 in 25, and there is no indication of an engine house anywhere that could provide motive power for hauling full trucks up the branch. It thus seems sensible to regard this branch as being to supply the needs of the Iron Works for coal and ironstone, rather than taking away finished products, with trucks descending the branch by gravity (but with brakes!) and empty trucks being hauled up the branch by horses. It can also be seen that the Corbyn’s Hall railway provides a somewhat convoluted connection between the Pensnett Railway and the GWR in this region.

After the estate was leased by Matthews and Dudley, both the 1840 Fowler Directory and 1841 census indicates that Benjamin Gibbons continued to live at Corbyn’s Hall and his cousin William and his family in Shut End House .  By 1851, the situation had reversed with Benjamin living at Shut End House with a solitary housekeeper, and William’s widow and family living in Corbyn’s Hall itself. By 1861, Shut End House only has a housekeeper present and Benjamin is living near Stourport. He was later to move to the Leasows in Birmingham and then to Halesowen where he died in 1873. 

After the Gibbons moved out, Corbyn’s Hall then found a variety of uses. In 1861 it was occupied by M. H de Summercourt (originally from Paris) and his family, the Manager of the Ironworks. By that time a considerable community, presumably of estate workers had come into existence around Corbyn’s Hall, and the new Corbyn’s Hall St and Corbyn’s Hall Lane are recorded in the census. In 1871 the occupation is not clear, as the hall was not specifically identified in the census returns. In 1881 there was again record of a community of sorts around the Hall with a set of houses called Corbyn’s Hall cottages, and the offices of the old Corbyn’s Hall Ironworks (to the east of the canal) were also used as a family residence. Corbyn’s Hall itself was occupied by the families of John Wilkinson, a timber merchant, and David Greenway, a coalminer. In 1891, it seems to have been subdivided still further. Corbyn’s Hall cottages still existed, but there was also a Corbyn’s Hall Villa and an Old Corbyn’s Hall.  John Wilkinson and his extended family and servants lived in Old Corbyn’s Hall, whilst at Corbyn’s Hall villa we find Thomas Brown and his family, an Inland Revenue Officer. There thus seems to have been an effort to make as much accommodation as possible, with the old house now providing for the local professional class. Around this time the house became increasingly derelict (see the picture at the top of the post) and was eventually demolished in the early twentieth century.

In the twentieth century, the Corbyn’s Hall area retained some industrial activity (as indeed it does to this day) but became largely residential in nature. A discussion of some aerial photographs of the area taken in the 1950s, is given in another post.

The Black Country pictures of John Louis Petit


The landscape artist and architectural critic John Louis Petit (1802-1868) painted a small number of scenes of Black Country activity during his career. In this post I look at two of them, one depicting mines at Wolverhampton, and the other the Spring Vale Furnaces at Bilston. I do not consider their artistic merits – indeed I would be quite incapable of doing so – but rather I will discuss the scenes the paintings portray and the locations from which they might have been painted.

Mines at Wolverhampton

The picture Mines at Wolverhampton is shown above and is reproduced by permission of the Petit Society. On the Petit Society website, it is captioned

c1830-35, 15x20cm, watercolour on paper, private collection.

The main feature of the painting is the pair of pits showing the scaffoldings of the “Rattle Chain”. This is a very early representation of such mechanisms. The nature of the structure between the scaffoldings is not clear but could perhaps be some sort of furnace or processing plant. The grim reality of the destruction of the surrounding countryside by spoil from the mines is also very apparent in the foreground. The figures of two mine workers wearing brimmed hats can also be seen. Nothing by way of safety equipment was provided and there were may injuries and deaths, which were simply regarded as part of the costs of the operation.

In the background there are two churches shown, one with a tower and one with a spire. It is from these churches that I guess the painting finds its title, because at first sight they would seem to show the Wolverhampton churches of  St. Peter’s to the left with the tower, and St. John’s to the right with the spire. The former was a favourite subject of Petit. However, this placing of the churches suggest that the scene was painted from the west of Wolverhampton, as St. Peter’s is to the north of St. John’s. This however is not possible, as there were simply no mines in this region – indeed the boundary of the south Staffordshire coal field is to the east of the town – see the picture below from the Coal Authority website that shows mine openings in the Wolverhampton area.  Indeed, if the picture does show Wolverhampton, it is painted from either the south east or the east, and there are no church pairs that match from that direction. We are left with two possibilities – either the artist added the church towers to a scene painted from elsewhere to contrast the old and the new (which of course as a painter he was perfectly at liberty to do), or the painting depicts a scene from elsewhere. In terms of other locations, I can find only one other location in the vicinity from which a church tower and spire could be observed – somewhere to the west of Dudley where St. Edmund’s and St. Thomas’s churches are so aligned. This would give a location for the pits somewhere in the Gornal area, which would be quite possible, being close to Petit’s Ettingshall Park estate. However, if this were the location, one would have expected Petit to have skewed the scene slightly to show Dudley Castle, which would be just off the left of the current picture. There may however be alternative possibilities that I have not identified in the Wolverhampton area.  Reader’s thoughts would be very welcome.

Mine openings around Wolverhampton – From Coal Authority website

Springvale Ironworks, Bilston

This picture appears in the book “Petit’s Tours of Old Staffordshire” and is again reproduced with permission of the Petit Society. It is believed to have been painted in 1852 or 1853 and to depict the Springvale Ironworks at Bilston to the south of Wolverhampton. It clearly shows a number of blast furnaces and other industrial buildings. In the foreground there is the depiction of a small housing settlement. The land here is greener than in the Wolverhampton painting, but still broken, looking as if it had been used for some extraction activity. The horses walking along the foreground track again give the contract between the old and the new. In the background we can see the chimneys of the Black County and perhaps, just to the left of the furnaces, a depiction of a church tower.

After some investigation, I am led to the conclusion that the painting does indeed show the Springvale works, although there is perhaps another possibility I will consider below.  In my view the painting is clearly looking east – there are too many chimneys etc in the background for a westerly view which would look out over more open country. There are two detailed maps of the area available for the relevant period – the Tithe Allocation maps of Sedgley and Bilston of 1845, and the large-scale Ordnance Survey map of 1882. Sketches prepared from both these maps are shown below. The track running north to south on the left of the sketches is the current Spring Road, and that running across the top of the sketch is the current Millfields Road. The church shown is the original Holy Trinity, not the current building. The painting shows what is referred to as the left hand “Iron Works etc” on the 1845 map and “Spring Vale Furnaces” on the 1882 map. The building in front of the furnaces is Spring Vale Iron Works on the 1845 map and Spring Vale Foundry on the 1882 maps. The maps only show the ground plan of what was in existence at the time they were produced, so the details of the furnaces and other buildings cannot be seen. Also of course all the buildings, with the exception of the furnaces, were ephemeral in nature and would be regularly modified and replaced. The canals and railways that can be seen on the maps are not visible on the painting – they would have been low lying and obscured by the topography. Most ironworks in this region were situated close to the canal which was used for both bring in raw materials and taking out finished products.

From 1845 Tithe allocation maps – blue indicates canals; brown roads or tracks
From 1882 Ordnance Survey map – blue indicates canals; brown roads or tracks

The position from which the picture is painted can be more precisely defined. A sketch from the 1845 map showing a wider area,  is shown below and indicates the likely position – at the road junction to the top left, where the name (presumably of a pub) is given as the Fighting Cocks. This is at the junction of the current Parkfield Road with the Dudley / Wolverhampton  Road. The 1845 map indicates a cluster of housing at this point. Interestingly the1882 map shows the latter road is the course of a tramway, and this might also be the case for the 1845 map, although tramways and roads are not always distinguished on these maps. If this were the case then the horses in the foregrounnd might be pulling wagons along the tramway. The ground also dips from this site towards the site of the ironworks as in the painting, although it is difficult to compare modern topography with that from the 1850s as most of the land is “made ground” of one sort or another. The painting position sits just outside John Louis Petit’s Ettingshall estate, although he did not live there, so one can conjecture that the picture was painted on a trip to the estate to conduct whatever estate business was required with his agent and tenants.

From 1882 Ordnance Survey map – blue indicates canals; brown roads or tracks; black dotted line – from painting position to furnaces

As noted above, there seems to be a church tower in the background, although this is far from clear. If this indeed is the case, then this depicts St. Bartholomew’s at Wednesbury. This church has a tower and a short spire, which was even shorter in 1853. Perhaps just a hint of this spire can be seen in the picture. The position of the church in the picture does however give confidence in the deductions of the painting position as the alignment is very much as expected given the position of painting.

As mentioned above, there is however another possibility for what the picture shows. It is possible that it depicts the Parkfield Furnaces, shown on the maps above. The reasons for thinking that this might be the case  are firstly that one might expect these furnaces to be shown on the left of the picture if the painting position is as suggested, secondly that on the 1882 map there is a long building in front of the furnaces that could be that shown on the painting, whereas no such buildings are shown the vicinity of the Spring Vale Furnaces on either map. Against this suggestion is the fact that the Parkfield Furnaces do not seem, from the maps, to have been on the same scale as those at Spring Vale. On balance my feeling remains that the picture displays the Spring Vale Furnaces.

The Ettingshall Park Estate of John Louis Petit

I have shown in an earlier post that the painter and architectural critic John Louis Petit (1802-1868) was a major landholder in the West Midlands in the nineteenth century. In this post I want to discuss in a little more detail what was perhaps the major estate that he  owned – the Ettingshall Park estate in Sedgley, to the south of Wolverhampton.

The extent of the lands owned by Petit in Ettingshall in the 1840s are shown on the map below. The estate boundaries are taken from the Tithe Allocations and are superimposed upon the 1882 Ordnance Survey map of the area. The estate was in the north of Sedgley parish, just south of the Wolverhampton boundary and the holding was 413 acres in total. It is centred on Ettingshall Park farm and lies west of another large estate – that of Ettingshall Hall. Note that part of the northern boundary is shown as a dotted line, as it is hard to locate the precise boundary on the 1882 map because of variations in the topography due to mining.

The Ettingshall Park estate. (The lands owned by John Louis Petit in the 1840s are outlined in red, and those owned by Louis Hayes Petit in green. Black triangles – collieries; red triangles – ironstone pits; green triangles – lime works; purple squares – iron works; blue circle – Sedgley Beacon

We first read of Ettingshall Park in 1581 when it was amongst the lands restored to Edward Sutton, 4th Baron Dudley, by Queen Elizabeth following the downfall of John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland who had taken over the estates through some morally dubious financial interactions with Edward’s father John Sutton, the third Baron. The fifth Baron, another Edward, sold the Estate to Charles Cornewallys of Norwich in 1597, and by 1604 it was either occupied or owned by one Thomas Marsh, styled as a gentleman. At sometime in the next century the Estate passed to the Hayes family. John Hayes appears to have been the Steward of the Dudley estate in the 1710s and 1720s and is referred to in various documents as being from Wolverhampton, and again styled as a gentleman. His son, another John, was in 1733 at the Junior Temple in London. John Hayes the elder died in 1736, and left Ettingshall to John the younger. This John himself died in 1745 and the estate went to his sisters. One of these sisters, Sarah was by then married to John Peter Petit, the second English generation of the Petits, and living at Little Aston.   It then passed down the Petit family, as is described elsewhere. The Petits did not occupy it however, and it was leased to others – in the early years of the nineteenth century to Dudley Bagley, from 1808 around 1820 to Samuel Fereday, Ironmaster, and then to his son Dudley Fereday up to the late 1850s.

From at least the end of the seventeenth century, Ettinghsall Hall was occupied by the Homers, who exploited the estate for its coal reserves. By 1780, the mining works had encroached up the estate to such an extent that it was no longer fit to be a gentleman’s residence, so Richard Homer sold it and moved to Bromley House in Kingswinford, which they also exploited and eventually reduced to colliery waste. The Gibbons family of iron and coal masters were also near neighbours in the eighteenth century.

But now let us return to the map of the estate shown above. In the 1840s it formed a coherent block of land surrounding Ettingshall Park that was owned by John Louis Petit. A small block at the south of the estate was owned by his uncle and former MP, Louis Hayes Petit. Most of the land, even at that stage was arable or pasture. There were a small number of collieries to the north west, and two lime workings at Round Hill and Beacon Hill. However just beyond the estate heavy industry was beginning to encroach, with the Spring Vale Ironworks to the north east and the Parkfields iron works to the north. The former was served by basins from the Birmingham Canal (as indeed were most ironworks in the area). The underlying 1882 Ordnance Survey map shows a similar situation in the south of the estates, with most of the field boundaries being identical to those on the tithe map, but in the north mining activities have completely eliminated the fields (and indeed makes the estate boundary difficult to determine) and indeed many of the roads shown on the tithe map. In effect the area of mining in the 1880s came right to the edge of the South Staffordshire Coal Field.

Although John Louis owned the land, he leased it to others. The central area around Ettinghsall Park Farm was leased to Dudley Fereday as noted above, with smaller agricultural plots leased to Edwin Dixon, William Fletcher and Edward Jay. The mines and pits were operated by George Jones, John Neve and Coo, or the Parkfields Company who operated the nearby ironworks. Essentially we see here, as in so many places in the western Black Country at this time, the transition from a farming to an industrialised way of life.

As noted above Louis Hayes Petit owned some land to the south of the Ettingshall estate. This encompassed the highest point in the locality at Beacon Hill. It was on this hill in 1846 that the Beacon Tower was erected, which still stands if in a somewhat dilapidated state. The Sedgley Local History society attributes the building of this tower to “a local landowner, Mt Petit”, although it might have been used for astronomical observations by Lord Wrottesley a well-known Staffordshire amateur astronomer. Whether this was John Louis or Louis Hayes is not clear, but perhaps we have here the architectural critic dabbling in architecture himself, if only in the construction of what can probably fairly be described as a folly.

Sedgley Beacon