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Copyright © 2018 by Derek Mills


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DEDICATION


To members of the Mills and Bateman families

Past and Present

Young and Old



CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1 Wolverhampton’s Early History

CHAPTER 2 Rough Hills’ Early History

CHAPTER 3 Black Country or Not?

CHAPTER 4 The Cut

CHAPTER 5 Wolverhampton and Rough Hills, 1800 to 1850

CHAPTER 6 Iron and Coal Production in Wolverhampton

CHAPTER 7 The History of the Collieries and Ironworks In and Around Rough Hills

CHAPTER 8 The Mining Communities In and Around Rough Hills

CHAPTER 9 Mining Accidents

CHAPTER 10 The Railways

CHAPTER 11 The Decline of Mining and Ironmaking in Rough Hills and Cockshutts

CHAPTER 12 Industry

CHAPTER 13 Religion

CHAPTER 14 Schooling

CHAPTER 15 The Best Days of Our Life

CHAPTER 16 Sport and Leisure

CHAPTER 17 Wolverhampton and Rough Hills From 1850 to 1900

CHAPTER 18 Council Housing in Wolverhampton and Rough Hills From 1900 to 1914

CHAPTER 19 The (Original) Rough Hills Estate

CHAPTER 20 Wolverhampton and Rough Hills From 1918 to1939

CHAPTER 21 Life During WW2

CHAPTER 22 Wolverhampton and Rough Hills From 1945 to 1971

CHAPTER 23 Life On and Around Rough Hills

CHAPTER 24 Work, Rest and Play

CHAPTER 25 Wolverhampton and Rough Hills From 1971 to 2015

EPILOGUE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


A Town Map from 1946

(Photograph reproduced with the permission of Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies).




INTRODUCTION



In 1953, a shy 4-year-old moved with his parents from the warmth and security of life with his grandparents in Bushbury to start a new life in a new house on a new estate. We were the latest residents of Rough Hills Estate: a construction site, work in progress. We had shops, a pub and the promise of a new neighbourhood school and community centre. The lack of tarmac, street lighting and a bus service were dismissed as temporary inconveniences.

This was to be my home for the next 18 years: the focal point of my childhood and my transition into a young adult. Life’s experiences were played out in the houses, streets and neighbourhoods of Rough Hills against a background of national and global events like JFK’s assassination, Beatlemania and England’s World Cup victory.

In 2015, it was time to reappraise that estate, its history and the years I spent there.

As the project developed, my initial area of interest expanded to include the neighbourhoods: All Saints, its school and surrounding streets; Monmore Green with its railways and speedway stadium and Parkfields, the original ‘Rough Hills’ estate. The 1946 map shown earlier illustrates how these locations fit together in the south east area of the town. By including these neighbourhoods, I hoped a more comprehensive account of my experiences from 1954 to 1968 would become evident. The motives for my research were simple: a chance to revisit my memories of people and places, an opportunity to explore the history and identity of an area that played an important part in Wolverhampton’s industrial heritage. Ultimately, it was nostalgia: the desire to put on those rose-tinted glasses and to wallow in the past.

My initial research, based on books of Wolverhampton, revealed very little. The History of Wolverhampton by Gerald Mander is a wonderful book of its time but fails to mention the Rough Hills area by name. Chris Upton’s book on the town makes a fleeting reference as does George Barnsby’s comprehensive ‘History of Housing in Wolverhampton’. Both refer to the time in the 1850s when Wolverhampton Waterworks Company supplemented its supplies from Rough Hills. Concerns about its quality appear to have been confirmed by an alderman at a council meeting. When he added the water to his glass of brandy, he described how it immediately 'turned as black as ink'.

Fortunately, research in the 21st century is immeasurably easier thanks to the internet and deep inside the bowels of the World Wide Web I found valuable pieces of information which have helped to reveal a more rounded picture of Rough Hills and its surroundings. While confirming its importance in the first half of the 1800s as a centre for coalmining and ironmaking, the Web has started to reveal details of these enterprises: the succession of owners who operated these businesses, the mining communities which grew up in the area and the tragedies that inevitably transpired. It chronicles the rise and fall of the neighbourhood’s factories, such as John Thompson, which provided work and a social life for its employees for most of the 20th century. A sporting history going back to the 1880s has been uncovered which remarkably includes a successful world record attempt at the local running ground. The book looks at the area’s close involvement in the development of the country’s canal and railway networks and follows the landscape’s slow transition from pits and furnaces to housing estates and playing fields. It also explores the impact of religion, education and leisure on the lives of the people who settled in the area.

To complement these articles, I have included, where appropriate, my family’s involvement in events as well as my own memories of life in the 1950s and 60s: my formative years as described above. I have also been lucky enough to find a number of people who were kind enough to share their own memories, in some cases going back to the 1930s, and I formally pass on my gratitude to them in the ‘acknowledgements’ chapter at the very end of the book. To emphasise these two sets of recollections, I have put the relevant text in italics, with a grey panel for the contributions made by the general public and for milestones in the town’s history.

In an ideal world, I would have gleaned more information on the pre-1800 history of Rough Hills, acquired the legal skills to interpret the deeds that document land transactions in the 19th century and showed greater perseverance with the microfilm machines which taxed my eyesight and fortitude. It is appropriate at this point to thank all the staff at Wolverhampton Local History Archives (Wolverhampton City Archives) who displayed great patience with this project. The Archives comprise a vast and varied collection of maps, books, newspapers and other materials relating to the history of the city and it provided the majority of the resources used in this book.

I take full responsibility for the inconsistencies, mistakes and significant gaps in the book and encourage everyone who has an interest in the subject matter to draw my attention to them. It is hoped that future researchers of Rough Hills can now look beyond the notoriety of the water in the brandy. It ignores the significant contribution that Rough Hills has made to the transport, industrial and sporting history of the town. This book will attempt to redress these omissions and convince sceptics that Rough Hills deserves a more substantial place in the annals of Wolverhampton.




1


WOLVERHAMPTON’S EARLY HISTORY



No man is an island and the same is true of a Council estate. The story of Rough Hills estate will inevitably run in parallel with that of the city of Wolverhampton and the nation itself. Incidentally, as city status was not granted to Wolverhampton until 2000, the book will refer to the ‘town’ of Wolverhampton.

Much of Wolverhampton’s early history is shrouded in speculation. It may have been the site of an Iron-Age hill-fort but robust archaeological evidence has not yet been found. Following the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the fifth century AD, it probably became one of many settlements in Mercia, one of the seven Kingdoms that formed Anglo Saxon England, and inhabited by one of the many tribes that made up this kingdom. We have to wait until 985 before we find the settlement named as Heantune, the ‘High Town’. In an Anglo-Saxon charter of that year Aethelred, King of Mercia, grants ten pieces of land at ‘Heantune’ to Lady Wulfruna, a Mercian noblewoman. In 994, another charter records an endowment by Lady Wulfruna of land and possessions to a minster Church at Heantune. In recognition of her gift the name of the settlement was prefixed by Wulfrun. Despite the familiarity of this version of events amongst ‘Wulfrunians’, doubts exist among academics about the authenticity of these two charters, particularly the second one. More convincing evidence about the city’s early history comes from a royal charter dated around 1080 which refers to a church, dedicated at that time to St Mary, as ‘the church of Wolvrenehamptonia’. By the 15th century the church was dedicated to St Peter and, over time, the place-name evolved into its present form.

Although there are question marks about the validity of these two charters, there is no doubt about its Anglo-Saxon heritage. Wolverhampton provides a good example of a place-name conferred by Anglo-Saxon invaders. While hills and streams and other natural phenomena were allowed to retain their old British names (e.g. Barr, “a summit,” and Tame, “a flood water”), towns, villages, and other political divisions were very generally renamed by the Saxon conquerors. In many instances, the places were called after the personal names of their owners:

Bilston signifies “the town of Bil’s folk”.

Ettingshall was “the hall of the Etri family”.

In contrast, Monmore, as in Monmore Green, is a Celtic place-name which signified ‘the boggy mere’ in the tongue of the ancient Britons.

The original settlement of Wolverhampton was probably centred around the Church with a market held on a Sunday in the churchyard. Many markets developed out of the informal trading which would took place after church services. In 1258 a Royal Charter from Henry III for a weekly market was obtained by the Dean of Wolverhampton and it moved to an area nearby known at the time as High Green but better known today as Queen Square. The market was held on a Wednesday and its presence boosted the growth of the town so that by the 15th century Wolverhampton had become an important centre for the woollen industry. Raw wool was brought in from Wales and the borders, spun into yarn and woven into cloth in the town. The Borough coat of arms granted in 1898 includes a woolpack as a symbol of the wool staple or market formerly held in the town. Street names like Blossoms Fold and Farmers Fold in the town centre reflect this heritage: a ‘fold’ being the place where sheep were penned before or after going through the market.

Lock making, for which the town later became famous, had started by the 17th century and by the mid-18th century the prosperity of Wolverhampton was based on metal trades and mining rather than wool. The town was visited in 1754 by R. R. Angerstein, a Swedish industrial expert, who travelled around Europe reporting on the industries of each country. Wolverhampton received a good deal of his attention because it was described as ‘one of the three towns in England famous for the fabrication of iron and steel-ware’. He noted that it is ‘particularly renowned for all kinds of polished articles, such as buckles, watch chains, candle-snuffers, etc’. Wolverhampton’s position in the west of the midlands of England gave the town a dominant position in trade arrangements with Shrewsbury and central Wales, and it was as a trading as well as an industrial town that Wolverhampton developed faster than other neighbouring towns.

We can follow the development of Wolverhampton from 1750 thanks to a detailed map of the town engraved by Isaac Taylor. At this time metal trades dominated the town’s economy. Water power was non-existent and the main tool was said to be the file. According to Isaac Taylor, there were 7,454 inhabitants occupying 1440 houses. While the map shows a familiar layout of streets, most of the names were different. The centre of the town was High Green (the present Queen Square and part of Dudley Street) with 214 houses and workshops in and around the area. A dotted line on the map shows the old division of Wolverhampton into two manors, the Deanery to the west and Stowheath to the east. Running north from ‘The Roundabout’ at the western end of High Green were Goat Street and Tup Street (the present North Street) while continuing south were Cock Street and Boblake (the present Victoria Street). Beyond Boblake was Worcester Street. Running east of High Green was Lichfield Street which finished near the site of the present Princess Square. Nearby were Stafford Street and Rottons Row (Broad Street). These were already heavily populated and in time were to become the most notorious slum areas of Wolverhampton.

The Godson map and rate plan of Wolverhampton of 1788 shows that the town was expanding rapidly: the number of inhabitants had increased to 11,368 and the number of houses to 2270. Godson also identifies the main landowner in the town as William Pulteney of the Leveson-Gower family. The Levesons had prospered from the wool trade and now owned about 300 acres including much coal bearing land in the eastern manor of Stowheath which included the site of Rough Hills. In the 19th century, the family by marriage became Dukes of Sutherland, the largest landowners in the United Kingdom and responsible for the notorious Highland clearances in Scotland.

The Godson map reveals a few landmarks in the south east of the town that we would recognise. One is the Red Lion pub shown on an unnamed track we now know as Parkfield Road. Bilston Road is clearly shown and branching off it is a road named as Hell Lane. This road is known today as Ettingshall Road but the Hell Lane name persisted well into the 1800s, as we will see later.



2


ROUGH HILLS’ EARLY HISTORY



The Taylor map showed roads radiating outwards from the town centre. Worcester Street, Dudley Street and Bilston Street were clearly shown, directing travellers to the respective towns. The two roads leading to Dudley and Bilston formed roughly the west-east perimeters of the area we now identify as Parkfields and Rough Hills.

The origin of the Rough Hills name is far from clear with one popular assumption that it arose from the mounds of cinder heaps in the locality. The area does not appear to be mentioned in documents until the early 1700s, by virtue of a deed dated 9 July 1725. This covers the ‘mortgage by demise of a parcel of land by the name of Rough Hills in the manor of Stowheath’ involving five named individuals:

John Wishaw of Lad Lane, London, mercer.

John Preist of Cheapside, London, mercer.

Henry Price of Wolverhampton, ironmonger.

Thomas Turnpenny of Wolverhampton, tobacconist.

Paul Stubbs of Wolverhampton, founder.


Figure 3: The No. 30 bus stop – close to the site of Rough Hills Furnaces in the early 1800s.


A ‘mortgage by demise’ referred to a temporary transfer of property in order to secure a loan of money.

Despite this apparent existence, it does not make an appearance in the Isaac Taylor map of 1750 referred to earlier. Nor is it named as such in Godson’s 1788 map. The south east corner of the town is shown as an expanse of empty parcels of land. Many tracks and some roads are visible but few are identified. There are isolated signs of industry with furnaces marked on the site of the Dixon Street playing fields, an area where the Wolverhampton Ironworks is labelled on maps of the 1800s. A furnace is also shown a little further to the south east, around the present Cheviot Road/ Rough Hills Road area, seen in the photograph. A short length of canal is marked coming off the Birmingham Canal towards these particular furnaces. Slightly north are indications of a settlement but it is not deemed worthy of a name. In contrast, a small isolated settlement named as Cockshutts is shown on the map, well to the west of the furnaces, with no obvious industrial activity around it. Its legacy remains today as Cockshutts Lane. Originally forming a continuation of Green Lane (the present Birmingham Road) onto Parkfield Road, it now sits anonymously behind Thompson Avenue. No one is sure about the origin of the Cockshutts place-name. According to John Freeman’s Black Country Stories and Sketches, the name derives from the huts, the Cocks Hutts, in which fighting cocks were kept. This seems a likely explanation as the area is not far from the cross roads known as Fighting Cocks after the pub which once stood there. Alternatively, and just as likely, the name arose from the cock shut, a name for a strip of land at the head of a field.


Figure 4: Cockshutts Lane - a road to nowhere.




3


BLACK COUNTRY OR NOT?



It was said in the early 1800s that in this part of the West Midlands ‘there was a colliery in almost every field’. Even as late as 1873, a Mine Inspector reports that ‘they (collieries) may be said to spring up very much like mushrooms; they are here today and gone tomorrow’. By then, this area had become known as the ‘Black Country’. The introduction of the term is often attributed to Elihu Burritt by way of his 1868 book “The Black Country and its Green Borderland”, but bearing in mind that two years earlier, the 30 July 1866 edition of the Birmingham Daily Gazette was already referring to the ‘ironworks of the Black Country’, this credit may not be justified.

There are two related explanations for this ‘Black Country’ term. One says that the name arose from the abundance of coal in the ‘ten-yard seam’, the legendary bed of coal made up of ten or more distinct but closely packed layers. Others say it was because of the smoke from the many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges. The Royal Commission report for South Staffordshire in 1842 on the Employment of Children in Mines contains the following description of the area, ‘No one who has ever passed between Birmingham and Wolverhampton during the night ever can forget that scene. The blazing fires on every side, from the coal burning upon the ground in the process of conversion into coke, the blazing fields of bituminous shale and indurated clay, the flames proceeding from the chimneys of the great towers of the iron furnaces, present an impressive and even awful prospect, to which nothing usually seen by mortal eyes can be compared.’

Although the term ‘Black Country’ is entrenched in the culture of this part of the West Midlands, Burritt’s ‘definition’ of its location would now be discredited. In his opinion, it lay within a 20-mile radius of Birmingham Town Hall to include, bizarrely, the towns of Kenilworth and Warwick. Nevertheless, he would only ascribe Wolverhampton as ‘the border town of the district’. In contrast, Samuel Griffiths, in his 1872 Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, considered Wolverhampton as the capital of the Black Country. While the capital is now widely recognised as Dudley, the exact boundaries of the Black Country have always been open to interpretation and indignant argument. In his 1980 book, British Coalminers in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History, John Benson lists six mining towns of South Staffordshire but does not even include Wolverhampton. To traditionalists the Black Country is the area where the coal seam comes to the surface, so West Bromwich, Oldbury, Blackheath, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Bilston, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesfield and parts of Halesowen, Wednesbury and Walsall are included. Wolverhampton is excluded despite the fact that ‘The Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain’ of 1858 records 26 collieries in Wolverhampton. While not as high as the 59 in Bilston, it exceeds the number in neighbouring areas like Tipton. Indeed, we will see in a later chapter that in areas of Wolverhampton like Parkfields, Cockshutts and Rough Hills, the mining of coal and ironstone and the production of pig iron became well established enterprises supporting mining communities in the surrounding areas. While there is a clear case for the westernmost and agricultural parts of Wolverhampton to be ignored, the historical occurrence of both iron production and coalmining in this south eastern part of the town justifies putting it firmly within the Black Country.




4


THE CUT



The Godson map of 1788 also shows the Birmingham Canal, the Cut, running to the east of these furnaces. Until the 18th century this part of the town would have been predominantly agricultural. The plan to build the canal was first discussed at a public meeting in Birmingham on 24 January 1767 held by a number of prominent Birmingham businessmen, including Matthew Boulton and others from the famous Lunar Society based in that city. The canal would extend from Birmingham to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal near Wolverhampton, taking in the coalfields and furnaces already established in the area. The eminent canal engineer James Brindley was commissioned to set out a route and came up with one, largely level, passing through Smethwick, Oldbury, Tipton, Bilston and Wolverhampton, finishing at Aldersley. An Act of Parliament to allow the building of the canal was passed on 24 February 1768 and construction of the Birmingham Canal began in the same year. The canal opened in stages from the Birmingham end and in 1771 the Wolverhampton section opened. The canal was then joined to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal at Aldersley via a flight of twenty-one locks. Termed ‘the extension’, it opened in September 1772, a few days before the death of Brindley.


Figure 5: 'Miller's Bridge' on Dixon Street.


The canal measured 22 miles and 5 furlongs and followed the contours of the land as far as possible, with deviations by way of wharves and basins to factories, workshops and collieries. The photograph shows the canal making its way underneath the bridge, known locally as Millers Bridge, on Dixon Street. Not only did it create a change in the landscape it also provided a strategic transport system for raw materials and goods. A clause in the 1768 Act entitled ‘owners … of Coal-mines, Ironstone, Limestone or other Mines, lying within the Distance of One Thousand yards from the Canal (to) … make Railways, cuts or … or roads to convey their minerals to the said Canal’. Once established, it became a major factor in the industrial growth of the Monmore Green and Rough Hills areas spawning numerous factories, workshops and foundries along its banks. South of Bilston Road bridge, one short basin served the Mitre Works east of Eagle Street. In the last section, south of Cable Street, two short basins served the Victoria Iron Works and Chemical Works respectively.

The Birmingham Canal was one of many that made up a dense network across the country. A canal boat pulled by one horse could carry thirty tons and the system proved a great economic success with private industrialists using the network to move raw materials and products around the country. For a time, canal companies were seen as a worthwhile investment. As late as 1836, local coalmasters and ironmasters such as John Turton Fereday from Monmore Green colliery were looking at ways of reducing journey distances and freight charges by putting their name to a proposal to create a new ‘line of canal conveyance’ between Birmingham and London. Unfortunately for these investors, railway mania was soon to sweep the country and by the middle of the century the railway network was transporting goods faster and in far larger quantities. The majority of the canal companies struggled to compete with some bought out by the railway companies. This was not the case with the Birmingham Canal Company which bucked the trend by sharing with the London to Birmingham Railway Company (later known as the L.N.W.R.) the cost of building the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stour Valley Railway (later known as the Stour Valley Line). As part of this arrangement, it created rail interchange wharves for the deliveries and collections of goods and raw materials.

Despite their positive impact on local industry, canals regrettably became linked with drowning accidents. The stretch of the Birmingham Canal around Rough Hills was no exception with local papers such as the Staffordshire Advertiser reporting a number of incidents. In 1834 Mary Ann Murray, aged 8 or 9, was sent to collect water from the canal but fell in and drowned. Two youngsters Catherine and William Higgins drowned in the canal by Rough Hills colliery in 1836 while playing among some boats. Edward Allen, a sixteen-year-old youth, died near Rough Hills bridge in 1868 while bathing with a friend. Some deaths may have been linked with excessive drinking, as in the case of William Trevitt in 1862, while others remained unsolved. The canal was reported in newspapers as being 5 or 6 feet deep, much deeper than we were led to believe, and on one occasion provided the scene for a distressing suicide cum murder. On the 16 June 1885, the Birmingham Daily Post reported the disturbing deaths of Edith Jones, aged 4, and her mother Ann. Witnesses saw Ann, with Edith in her arms, standing by the side of the canal at Rough Hills before jumping into the water. When the bodies were retrieved from the water, Edith was already dead but Ann was alive and taken to hospital. Before she died the following Sunday, the newspaper reported that she said to her husband, “I don’t blame you for this. It is my son that has caused this. They have left us in our old age to work for ourselves. I wish I had begged from door to door with my child before I had put her in the water.” The jury at the Bridge Inn, Ettingshall returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ against the mother.

In contrast, generations of local youngsters adopted the canal or ‘cut’ as their adventure playground. George Cartwright who was born in Dixon Street in 1938 remembers the area where the canal ran under the Rough Hills railway bridge, near what is now D’Urberville Road.

George was one of many from the area who learned to swim there. Brian Hall from Parkfield Grove also made the trek to the same spot in the summer.

George Paddock from Thompson Avenue used the same area for swimming and remembers altercations with the bargemen.

The ‘narrow’, referred to by George Cartwright, was not the remains of a lock, despite its appearance. Instead it was a gauging point used to slow down the commercial narrowboats so that a toll based on the weight and type of cargo could be collected. A cottage by the ‘narrow’ functioned as a tollhouse. The photo alongside shows a modern day narrowboat making its way along the ‘gauging narrow’. The old cottage has been modernised and is out of sight on the right hand side.

This was the first genuine adventure playground for our ‘gang’ from Cheviot Road. It introduced us to ‘dares’, rites of passage invented by ourselves or passed on by older groups. One of the ‘dares’ was to jump the ‘narrow’ but I cannot remember anyone of us even attempting the challenge – the consequences of failure were too awful to contemplate and we were more than happy to watch others have a go. It is sad to find that this particular rite of passage would not even be a possibility now: the land on the estate side is completely overgrown, curtailing any run-up.


Figure 6: The 'Cut' narrow.


Our attitude towards the canal was in marked contrast to that of George Cartwright and his friends. We treated the canal with respect if not fear. None of us had yet learned to swim. We had no older brothers who were confident in the water and could look after us. Although there were rumours that the canal was actually very shallow, we dared not put them to the test. Even on the warmest day the water would not tempt us in. Our other concern was leeches. Our phobia probably originated from watching films such as ’The African Queen’. To relieve the boredom of waiting for the next train to arrive, we made our first attempts at angling and occasionally caught tiddlers of an unknown variety. When we first found a leech on a fish, it freaked us out. No more angling for us.


Figure 7: The scene of our 'dare'.


Another of the ‘dares’ was to walk under the railway bridge along a narrow ledge, a shortcut from one side of the train line to the other. We were more confident, even complacent, about succeeding at this one, despite the potential fall into the canal. Unfortunately, during one of our afternoons of trainspotting, one of our ‘gang’, Ronnie Bagnall, fell in. Most of us panicked and ran back to the safety of Cheviot Road. A few minutes later, someone came back and told us that Ronnie was alive and had climbed out of the water. Greatly relieved we tried to carry on as normal. Mrs Bagnall must have suspected something was amiss and came out of her house to ask where her son was. We said we were not sure, which was true if not a little misleading. Later we were to learn he had stayed down by the canal waiting for his clothes to dry out but the British summer was not doing Ronnie any favours so he eventually gave up and walked home to face the music. We had already disappeared. After standing in the street in silence and embarrassment for a short time, we made our way home and waited for the uproar that was to follow.




5


WOLVERHAMPTON AND ROUGH HILLS, 1800 TO 1850



Industrialisation


In an attempt to monitor the population of the country, to discover whether it was increasing or decreasing and also incidentally to establish the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, decennial censuses were introduced in 1801 in England and Wales. From the returns the population size was estimated to be 9.4 million. Wolverhampton was by now the largest town in the area with a population of 12,565 with 2,344 houses and 3,087 families. This was made up of 6,207 males, and 6,358 females. The wool trade was still taking place on open fields but these were now few in number and much employment was now based around the diverse trades associated with the metal industry. Only 125 worked the land compared to 3,356 employed in trades, and 9,084 involved in other work.

As well as using census returns, the growth of towns such as Wolverhampton during the 1800s can be monitored by other means. Trade directories were published by a number of people such as William White from Sheffield. His 1834 History, Gazetteer and Directory for Staffordshire gives a comprehensive review of Wolverhampton and also includes a complimentary portrayal of the town: ‘Though not remarkable for the beauty of its streets and buildings, and though seated in the heart of the great midland mining district, the town is salubrious and very picturesque’.

It has even been suggested that by the late 1830s Wolverhampton had become a fashionable place and visitors to the racecourse on the site of West Park may even have included Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Confirmatory evidence has not been found. Indeed, the following description by a young Princess Victoria on a visit to the town in 1832 reads, ‘We have just changed horses at Wolverhampton a large and dirty town but we were received with great friendliness and pleasure’, making this suggestion all the more unlikely.

An 1835 map by Lt Robert Dawson showed that while housing was concentrated in the town centre, surrounding the centre were situated a small number of settlements. Some names such as Compton, Oxley and Aldersley are familiar while others like Tunstall have presumably evolved into Dunstall. Rough Hills makes an appearance on the map and is prominently marked in the south east of the town although one is unable to make out its boundaries.

More informative data about settlements like Rough Hills became available following the release of the 1841 census records. This was the first census to ask individuals specific questions about their occupation and whether they were born in the county. Evidence could also be gleaned from government reports published during this period. In his 1840 evidence to the Poor Law Commissioners, Doctor J. Dehane from Wolverhampton makes the point that: ‘The larger portion of the population is employed in the coal and ironstone mines in the neighbourhood, in the iron works, and in getting up, principally in their own residences, a variety of articles in the iron, brass and tin trades.’ In his Report to the Commissioners on the Employment of Children and Young Persons in the Iron trades and other Manufactures of South Staffordshire written in 1841, R. H. Horne describes Wolverhampton as ‘extremely rich. It is not only rich considering its size, but even when compared with much larger and populous towns and cities, such as Birmingham’. Its population of 36,382 in 1841 put it tenth in the ranking of British towns by population.

The town’s wealth was based on the manufacture of all kinds of metalwork and Horne drew attention to the proximity of coal and iron ore. Tin toys, hinges, locks and screws, made from iron, tin, steel and brass, were some of the diverse products made in the town for export. One particular trade for which Wolverhampton and its neighbouring town, Bilston, became world famous was japanning. Items made of tin plate and papier mache such as coal scuttles and trays were decorated with lacquer and varnished.

Despite the scale and quality of its products, initially there were surprisingly few large manufacturers. Horne remarked on the numerous workshops hidden away in passages and courtyards around the town centre with few craftsmen advertising their trade. He also noted with dismay that the majority of children over the age of 8 were already employed in these workshops, working long days of up to 13 hours, lacking education and in many cases suffering malnutrition and ill treatment. The productivity of these workshops created great wealth for the ironmasters and factory owners with some on average worth over £100,000. Their lifestyle, however, was in marked contrast to those of the working-class members of the town.


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