This book provides a rounded account of the history of Dudley, beginning before the Norman Conquest. It traces the development of industry in the town, and shows how the lack of utilities, including water, hampered the nineteenth-century town, and forcing a section of the population into desperate poverty. Major historical treasures remain from this era, however, giving the opportunity for the growth of tourism in the present era. The Story of Dudley, compiled by an expert in the area’s history, weaves these events together into an accessible, interesting, and in-depth history of the town that is sure to delight residents and visitors alike.
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The Story of Dudley
By Edward Chitham
The History PressCopyright © 2014 Edward Chitham
All rights reserved.
PREHISTORY AND EARLY HISTORY
Saxons and Normans
The modern Metropolitan Borough of Dudley embraces the old parishes of Kingswinford, Oldswinford, much of Halesowen, large parts of Sedgley and fragments of other parishes, but at its heart is the old manor of Dudley (including the district of Netherton, arguably at one time a manor or submanor), with its two old parish churches of St Edmund and St Thomas. This was a borough in the thirteenth century, and it is this core Dudley with which we shall be concerned. Any view of Dudley town is dominated by the medieval castle, yet amazingly this ancient building and the hill on which it stands were not even in the same county as the rest of the town, being historically (so far as we have documentation) in the parish of Sedgley in Staffordshire, while the rest of Dudley was in Worcestershire. Castle Hill was a Staffordshire peninsula protruding into Worcestershire, but Dudley itself is an island of Worcestershire protruding into Staffordshire. These confusing boundaries will not be totally observed in this book, and we shall cross them occasionally in mentioning Wren's Nest (actually in Sedgley) and Pensnett Chase (divided between the two counties, to the confusion of at least one late map maker).
The old manor of Dudley, including Netherton, was bounded on the north-east by Tipton, itself part of the super-manor of Longdon; on the east by Rowley, divided into Regis and Somery; the wild area of Pensnett Chase, stretching in an arc from the south of Netherton to Barrow Hill (Kingswinford parish) and Holly Hall; and Sedgley to the north, which parish included fringe areas of land that was geographically part of Dudley, and was sometimes in contention with Dudley over these areas. The boundary on the north-east, east and south was marked by watercourses, but on the south-west could be more easily blurred. These brooks are often unnamed in documents, but the north-western one is sometimes Holbeache, the north-eastern one Stockwell, while the brook dividing Pensnett Chase (Dudley portion) from Rowley parish is mysteriously called Mousesweet at times, though also more simply the Bourne brook. These boundary brooks are by now insignificant, mostly mere runnels behind houses or factories, or even piped underground.
There is no doubt that Dudley boundaries, which probably date from about the tenth century, relate to different tribes claiming possession of tracts of land. Worcestershire was part of the lands of the Hwicce, with a principal settlement at Worcester, eventually defined and sanctified as a diocese. These men were racially Saxons, whereas the Staffordshire parishes were developed by men who are thought to be Angles and whose chief towns were Tamworth and Lichfield. Dudley, so far from the sea, and with its unproductive land, forms part of an area developed late, cut off from centres of civilisation by the wild waste of Pensnett Chase. But unknown to its early inhabitants, the ground beneath their feet held potential riches in the shape of minerals – coal, ironstone and limestone – which would one day make their descendants rich, but the countryside polluted. Today, little sign of mining remains, but there is still plenty of industry and a flourishing town, out of which the castle on its high hill rises anomalously. Both Castle Hill and Cawney Hill, the two separated by a valley, provide views for many miles over the countryside, and it is surprising that no Iron Age activity has been found on either of them. Cawney Hill, at least, has never attracted the archaeologists, so such habitation cannot be ruled in or out.
Prehistory of Dudley
Just outside the area which would one day become Dudley, 300 million years before these early inhabitants began to clear the forests, the sea covered Wren's Nest, eventually causing fossils to be created in the limestone: these sea creatures, called trilobites, made Wren's Nest famous. There were hundreds of species of these corals and gastropods, but they remained unrecognised until the seventeenth-century author Dr Robert Plot, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, mentioned them in his book The Natural History of Staffordshire in 1686.1 Similar fossils were found in the limestone caverns under Castle Hill, and a different kind of fossil occurs in coal measures, set down some 100 million years after the sea creatures lived. These geological phenomena were exploited in the mid-nineteenth century, after the visit of the Duc de Bordeaux in 1844 was featured in the London Illustrated News.
Dudley has no Anglo-Saxon charters and the early historical period has left little record except changes to the landscape and place names. Early eleventh-century Dudley was owned by an Anglo-Saxon lord called Earl Edwin. We know nothing further for certain about this landowner, and his land was confiscated after the Norman Conquest. At this time, Dudley was a village rather than a town, a state in which it would remain until the foundation of the borough by Roger de Somery III, apparently in the 1260s. Despite our lack of knowledge about this period, some clues from later times help us to reconstruct the nature of the manor which Earl Edwin owned and the barons descended from Fitz-Ansculf could survey from their castle on Castle Hill. (It is worth mentioning that Sedgley, where Dudley Castle was to be built, was owned by Leofric, a Mercian lord whose wife is the much more famous Godiva of Coventry.)
At this time, Coventry was the principal town in the West Midlands, and several Coventry residents owned land in Dudley during medieval times. In a rent roll of 1541 the Throckmorton family are in possession of a messuage (house) named 'ye Hall-house', and with this we may link the very ancient name of Hall Street (sometimes Hall Lane). The hall can be located where eventually the Phoenix glassworks stood, approximately at the south side of the present junction of Trindle Road, Hall Street and King Street. Near this for many years was the pinfold or pound, where stray animals would be kept until their owners could fetch them after paying a fine. In the dip in the road to the south was Waddams Pool, located just where we might expect a medieval fishpond to be. An ancient track, frequently referred to in court rolls, ran from the south side of the glassworks (which were not built until the eighteenth century) to what is now Birmingham Road through the Lord's Fields. This track crosses Hall Street and becomes what we now know as King Street.
Hall Street, still without any known name, divided just beyond this point, with one branch continuing through present-day Churchill Precinct, becoming New Street and leading past the priory (which was still to be built at the period we are considering) and forming the route to Tipton by means of a low-lying, muddy valley. The other branch was long known as Back Lane but is now King Street. This turns north near St Thomas' Church and leads to Wolverhampton. Very slight traces of this route remained on maps until it eventually became Stafford Street. In the other direction, Hall Street was part of an ancient track, even to this day known further east as Portway. This old market road provided a route via Dixon's Green, across the hills to Whiteheath and Rowley, eventually to Birmingham (probably to Coventry). It can be seen that the likely site of the medieval Hall House was the centre of the system of tracks, and that this area, with St Edmund's Church, formed the nucleus of the village which must have existed before the foundation of the borough.
There is one more interesting point which may support this suggestion. Between what is now Priory Street (earlier called Sheep Fair and The Horsepool) and modern High Street, the eighteenth century recognised as Moat Close. This can only mean that a moated house occupied a position between The Horsepool (on the site of the former 58 trolley-bus terminus) and what is now High Street. Once the market had arrived, with the burgages lining it and its extension beyond Stoney Lane (Stone Street), there would have been no room for a moated house. The moated house must have been part of 'village Dudley' before the present High Street was driven through fields from the castle to Queens Cross.
No doubt this small village already had its open field system. One of the fields must have been Porters Field, which in one late document is written as Potters Field, suggesting a possibility that this may have been where the local ceramicists obtained their clay. Pottery making was very necessary in medieval times, but was a considerable fire risk and was often banished to the edge of settlements, as it was in this instance. To the south of the old manor was a field which later appears in documents as Peaks Field; this seems to be a name later extended to Peacocks. We have no written evidence about whether there was another field to the north, but the matter will recur when we deal with the foundation of the borough. The manorial mill was presumably the one which eventually became Castle Mill, reached by the track already mentioned which led to Tipton. If these geographical suggestions are correct the site of the present market place may well have been part of the open field eventually called Greystone, or land attached to the moated house already mentioned. All these features existed before the lords of Dudley Castle laid out their planned borough.
Dudley is built on a ridge, which caused a difficulty: water supplies, though not far away, were meagre, and this was to prove a severe hazard in later times. What sufficed for a small village was little use to a developing industrial town. In the Middle Ages, watercourses flowed to the south of what became King Street and through fields towards Netherton, while on the other side of the ridge, a few hundred yards away, small streams ran down towards the present Birmingham Road, where there was another moated house, then across a rabbit warren towards Tipton. This water would eventually reach the North Sea via the Tame and Trent, while the water from the south-west of the Dudley ridge ended up in the Severn. There were wells dotted throughout the early settlement, but not nearly enough to supply the large town that would eventually grow here.
St Edmund's Church
We can be sure of only one building being erected in Anglo-Saxon Dudley: the church of St Edmund, King and Martyr. This was not, of course, the present-day brick building, and we have no exact knowledge of the appearance of the first church – it may well have been wooden.
St Edmund was an East Anglian saint, connected with Bury St Edmund's, but there were a few dedications to him in the rest of England, notably at Exeter. After the Norman Conquest, dedications to St Edmund ceased. Very shortly, the dynasty of William I would bring a governing elite of Norman nobles to England, including one Ansculf and his son, William Fitz-Ansculf, to Dudley.
Dudley in Norman Times
The Domesday Survey, written in 1086, tells us that after Earl Edwin, William Fitz-Ansculf holds 'Dudley, and there is his castle'. As he also held Sedgley, there could be no hindrance to his founding Dudley Castle in the next parish and county. During the previous twenty years, a motte was built overlooking St Edmund's Church. This was an enormous mound of earth, excavated from surrounding fields by Anglo-Saxon labour, and it was on this that Dudley's earliest castle was built. The mound still exists, with all later castle buildings being set on it also. No record of the nature of the first buildings has survived, though later Normans built with stone and some of their work does remain. The earliest parts of Fitz-Ansculf's building could have been constructed of wood, and there are marks of walls within the bailey (the courtyard adjoining the motte, also marked out and fortified during Fitz-Ansculf's rule) which have not been excavated.
Fitz-Ansculf's baronial territory stretched through vast tracts of the Midlands; he also held other swathes in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and beyond. The whole group of manors was called 'The Barony of Dudley'. These links across many parishes, even to the home counties, became important when subsequent lords decided to make Dudley into a town. It is at this point where a glimpse of Fitz-Ansculf's character comes to light: he was in dispute over the manor of Selly (also called Weoley), and this manor was bought before 1066 by one Wulfwin, a Saxon lord. On his deathbed, Wulfwin wished to pass the manor to his wife, and after her death back to the church. Anyone who tried to take it should be excommunicated. Fitz-Ansculf didn't care, and took it.
The family of Ansculf originated in Picquigny near Amiens, and were not therefore true Normans but Picards. It is said that the name Picquigny was a test word for Anglo-Saxons, because they could not pronounce it, and this was still the case up to the sixteenth century. Historians are not sure why the next generation to hold Dudley Castle and manor were the Paganels (variously spelt); it is thought possible that Fulke Paganel married a daughter of Fitz-Ansculf, but there is no precise record that he even had a daughter. Fulke held all Fitz-Ansculf's former possessions, including Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire.
The Domesday Book further states that Dudley had one hide, and in demesne one carucate, and there were three villeins, ten bordars and one smith with three carucates. There were two bondmen and two miles of woodland. Both hide and carucate are measurements of ploughland, while bordars are small farmers of land on the periphery of the estate. It is quite impossible to locate any of these features in eleventh-century Dudley, and hard to guess exactly which woodlands are meant. Within the next centuries many trees, especially oaks, were cut down for building within the area, but these were all from Pensnett Chase or, as it is more frequently known, Penniak (though this description includes Woodside, much of Netherton and Dudley Wood).
Either Fulke or possibly his son Ralph is thought to be responsible for rebuilding Dudley Castle in stone. Norman work remains in the gateway, with the inner and outer arches both exhibiting architecture recognisable as Norman. An arch of Norman type in the buttery has been partially unblocked. It is clear, however, that Dudley never had a square donjon tower like a number of other Norman castles. After 1106, castles were being demolished rather than reinforced, and we must therefore guess that the new building at Dudley came twenty or so years later, when civil war engulfed England and parts of France. In 1138 the castle was besieged by an army of King Stephen, against a garrison holding it for Empress Matilda. By this time Ralph Paganel had married a daughter of Earl Ferrars of Tutbury and succeeded his father. The siege failed, which suggests that the gateway and other fortifications not now remaining had been built by Ralph as he saw wartime returning. A later document states that Ralph also wished to found a monastery, but did not live long enough. This pious task was left to his son, Gervase.
The precise date of the foundation of Dudley Priory is not known, but is thought to be in the 1150s, certainly no later than 1160. The priory site is low-lying, well watered by streams which rise on the north side of the ridge, near what is now Dudley town centre. These were needed both to provide a source of water for cooking, washing and sanitation, but also to dam for a moat and fishpond. An area round the priory site, as well as a tranche of other lands away from Dudley, was given to the monks by Paganel. It is clear that this Cluniac foundation depended on St Milburga's at Much Wenlock (though not necessarily from its beginning), and the endowment included the churches at Sedgley and Northfield, as well as other churches far from the Midlands. Both Sedgley and Northfield were to have close relations with Dudley in the future; a main road out of Netherton is still called Northfield Road. Most importantly, the priory, dedicated to St James, was also given the churches of St Edmund's and newly founded St Thomas', in 1182. At some point Wombourne was added to the endowment, with its chapel at Trysull, also including Seisdon. There was also a not very clear link with Sandwell Priory, which was founded at about the same time. Sandwell Priory continued to hold land in Dudley until 1526.5
Gervase Paganel reaped the reward of his father's support of Matilda. Her son Henry, who was later to become King Henry II, visited Dudley Castle in 1153–4, the year before his coronation. Among his actions there was the signing of a deed, describing him as Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Earl of Anjou, and granting to the church of Wolverhampton the same liberty that was held in the time of his grandfather, King Henry I. Gervase Paganel signed the deed as one of the witnesses. There is so little left of the Norman parts of the castle that we cannot know what Henry saw as he looked round the rebuilt bailey, but in any case it did not last long. Gervase eventually turned against Henry, joining his rebel sons, and twenty years after Henry's visit, by royal edict the castle was slighted, that is demolished, apparently to the ground. Weeds, bushes and rubble remained on the desolate site for almost 100 years.
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Table of Contents
Introduction and Acknowledgements,
one Prehistory and Early History: Saxons and Normans,
two The Later Middle Ages,
three Tudor Dudley,
four The Seventeenth Century,
five The Early Eighteenth Century,
six The Later Eighteenth Century,
seven Before Victoria,
eight Dudley in a Sea of Mud,
nine The Later Nineteenth Century,
ten Edwardian Expansion,
eleven Looking Backwards and Forwards,
twelve Brave New World,
appendix Dudley Burgages,
Abbreviations and References,