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,  Accessed September 2022

5 Grace’s Guide,, Accessed September 2022

6. Grace’s Guide,,_Rastrick_and_Co:_Agenoria , Accessed September 2022

7. Baker C J, “Kingswinford Manor and Parish”, , 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 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!

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.