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Saint Mary’s in the Alder Village

June 20, 2017 in Aldridge, Features by Stuart Williams

St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century.

St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The settlement at Aldridge dates from at least the Anglo-Saxon period.  Known as ‘Alrewic’ or the ‘Alder village’, it was already a thriving little agricultural community by the time of Domesday Book (1086), some twenty years after the Norman Conquest.  Aldridge is listed in the Domesday survey as farmland held by ‘Robert’ from his lord, William Fitz Ansculf, who was a major landholder in theWest Midlands.  From this period Aldridge was part of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge, but Aldridge was subsequently granted as an inferior manor to a local family.

In the Middle Ages, the Manor was held by a number of important local families, such as the Hillarys and the Mountforts, who were associated withWalsall.  The Jordans, a family of minor landowners in medieval times had risen to the status of lords of the manor by the 17th century and by the late 18th century the manor was in the hands of the well-known Croxall family from Shustoke.

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory.

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory.

The parish church of Aldridge, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, was originally thought to date back to around 1250, but in recent years a charter has come to light at Stafford Record Office which, although undated, belongs to the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th.  This concerns Robert de Barr, with one witness being Drogo of Aldridge and the other Widon, parson of Aldridge.  It contradicts the theory that the church was founded by Nicholas de Alrewych (of Aldridge), a minor official of Cannock Forest whose family received the manor of Aldridge in the 13th century and took their name from the village.

The effigy in the chancel of the present church was formerly thought to be of this Nicholas de Alrewych, but it is apparently that of a 14th century priest, which makes it more likely to be Roger de Elyngton, a rector of Aldridge c1345, who founded a chantry chapel and was given a position of honour as a resting place.

The church, which has been altered many times, probably replaced an original wooden building.  The oldest part is the nave and chancel, with a 13th century chapel being added on to the north side.  This was soon extended to form the north aisle.  The western tower and a short south aisle were added in the 14thcentury.  Later, a gallery was built over the north aisle for the schoolboys and another across the belfry arch for the girls.

Box pews belonging to local families faced in every direction and there were almost no seats for the poor of the parish.  The ground floor of the tower was used as a vestry.

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldridge, c1920

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldridge, c1920.

The bells were cast in 1738, and the clock was installed by 1754.  The Rev. Jeremiah Finch Smith was the first Rector of Aldridge after Barr had been made a separate parish in 1849.  He was instrumental in restoring and improving the church in the 1850’s.  A new aisle and vestry were added, the galleries demolished and the nave opened into the lower part of the tower.

The old pews were taken out and new ones, later replaced in their turn, were installed.  They were apparently the first pews without doors to be installed in Staffordshire.  Extra seats were added for the poor.

The font was given in 1853 by Mary Ann Allport in memory of her parents.  In 1881 the church was lit by gas as a memorial to Edward Tongue.  A new vestry was added in 1975.

St Mary's Church, Aldridge, mid 20th century

St Mary’s Church, Aldridge, mid 20th century.

Saint Mary’s Church remains one of the finest and most interesting buildings in Aldridge, especially since so much else was demolished in the 1960’s.   It continues to form the historic centre of this ancient town, once the ‘Alder Village’.

Stuart Williams

In Old Willenhall Town

June 13, 2017 in Features, Willenhall by Stuart Williams

Market Place and Dr Tonks' Memorial Clock, Willenhall, c1904

Market Place and Dr Tonks’ Memorial Clock, Willenhall, c1904

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

Willenhall (then known as Willenhalch, Anglo-Saxon for ‘the meadowland of Willan’) was first mentioned in the eighth century, when King Ethelbald of Mercia signed a treaty there.  Domesday Book (1086) records ‘Willenhala’ as a very small settlement.

In the Middle Ages, Willenhall was a small agricultural village with a chapel, within the parish of Wolverhampton.  It was not until 1840 that Willenhall had its own parish church, St. Giles; the present church dates from 1867.

Original St Giles' Church, Willenhall, c1865

Original St Giles’ Church, Willenhall, c1865

In 1666, Willenhall’s population was about 300.  In the 1700’s, however, iron and coal began to be fully exploited and the population increased dramatically.  The town grew up around Market Place and Stafford Street with many tiny streets crammed with houses, workshops and pubs. Read the rest of this entry →

Some Old Pubs of Bloxwich

June 5, 2017 in Bloxwich, Features, Pubs by Stuart Williams

The original pre-1834 Wheatsheaf pub, on what is now Field Road, Bloxwich, showing the landlord Mr William Purchase and a Bloxwich Peeler (policeman), about 1861. The present building is late Victorian.

The original pre-1834 Wheatsheaf pub, on what is now Field Road, Bloxwich, showing the landlord Mr William Purchase and a Bloxwich Peeler (policeman), about 1861. The present building is late Victorian.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The old English village of Bloxwich was always famed for its historic pubs, though sadly many have been lost over time.  We will consider just a few here.

The Royal Exchange, Stafford Road, 10 May 2009 (Stuart Williams)

The Royal Exchange, Stafford Road, 10 May 2009 (Stuart Williams)

Most Bloxwich ‘locals’ date from the late 1800s-1900s, when many ancient inns were swept away.  One exception is Bloxwich’s oldest surviving pub, the fine old Georgian ‘Royal Exchange’ in Stafford Road.  Built in the late 1700s the ‘Exchange’ was added to in the early 1800s when it was described as being on the ‘Short Heath’ (the village green, now Bloxwich Park).  Read the rest of this entry →

Remembering Old Rushall

June 1, 2017 in Books, Features, Rushall by Stuart Williams

Rushall Central Club and Coffee House, where the library now stands, 1930s.

Rushall Central Club and Coffee House, where the library now stands, 1930s.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The village of Rushall, near Walsall, is first mentioned in Domesday Book (William the Conqueror’s survey of 1086).

The name means ‘a place in marshy ground where rushes grow’.  Its first church was a chapel of Walsall, but the independent-minded lords of Rushall soon secured a parish.  In 1440 John Harpur rebuilt Rushall Church on the chapel-site next to his Hall.  It was rebuilt 1854-6, the old square tower remaining until 1867. Read the rest of this entry →

Walsall’s Grand Old Railway Station

May 11, 2017 in Features, Railways, Walsall by Stuart Williams

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

Back in the ‘good old days’, Walsall was adorned by a grand railway station, the heart of the town’s transport system.  The first railway line through Walsall –  the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Warrington – had opened in 1837, with a station at Bescot Bridge.  In 1847 the South Staffordshire Railway opened a temporary station in Bridgeman Place, linking with the Grand Junction line.  The Wichnor Junction line to Dudley opened in 1849, connecting with the Walsall section.  A magnificent new station building, designed by Queen Mary’s Grammar School ‘Old Boy’ Edward Adams, was built for the South Staffordshire Railway in Station Street. Read the rest of this entry →

Funeral of Jack Haddock announced

April 7, 2016 in Jack Haddock, News by Stuart Williams

Jack Haddock at Ryecroft in 2006 (pic Stuart WIlliams)

Jack Haddock at Ryecroft in 2006 (pic Stuart WIlliams)

Details of the funeral of noted Walsall local historian and photographer John Frederick (Jack) Haddock, who passed away recently, have now been announced.

The funeral will take place on Monday 18th April 2016 at Lichfield Crematorium in Fradley, Staffordshire.

All of Jack’s family, friends, acquaintances and members of the public wishing to pay their respects are welcome to attend.

The funeral party will leave from 78 Webster Road, Walsall, at approx 11.15am (TBC).

The service commences at 12.30pm.

In accordance with Mr Haddock’s wishes, there will be an opportunity at the Crematorium for those attending to make donations to Walsall Local History Centre. He requested no flowers.

You are invited to share this post as widely as possible.

For details and location of the crematorium, please click on this link.

For more information about Jack Haddock, please follow this link.

Jack Haddock memorial exhibition opens this Saturday

March 31, 2016 in Exhibitions, News by Stuart Williams

 

Jack Haddock, the two-wheeled time traveller (pic Stuart Williams)

Jack Haddock, the two-wheeled time traveller (pic Stuart Williams)

Following the passing of a local history legend in Walsall, Mr Jack Haddock, at the age of 89, we can now announce that a memorial exhibition in his honour will open here this Saturday 2 April 2016, at 10am.

The Two-Wheeled Time Traveller

Entitled The Two-Wheeled Time Traveller, the exhibition will be available to view free of charge during Walsall Local History Centre’s usual opening hours. The exhibition will run until 30 June 2016.

It comprises a range of exhibition prints of selected photographs from the Jack Haddock Collection, combined with a digital slide show on widescreen TV, as well as two exhibition cabinets of personal memorabilia and items related to Jack’s work and interests, especially local transport history. More pictures are also on show in our entrance area.

The Jack Haddock memorial exhibition

The Jack Haddock memorial exhibition

Jack, known to his mates as ‘Fish’ since Royal Air Force days, was a local historian, photographer and oral historian, and was active in recording and helping preserve the history of his home town from the 1950s until last year, when time finally caught up with him and he fell ill over a period of several months.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep at the Manor Hospital, Walsall at 6pm on 29th March 2016.

For more about Jack, please see our previous post: http://webwalsall.com/local-history-centre/?p=691

The Jack Haddock Collection

Walsall Local History Centre holds and preserves Jack Haddock’s collection of more than 5,000 local and historic (mainly transport) photographs and transparencies, as well as his historical notes, documents and memorabilia, the majority of which may be viewed upon request by visiting the Centre in Essex Street, Walsall.

Opening hours

Our opening hours are:

  • Monday   CLOSED
  • Tuesday   10am – 4pm
  • Wednesday 10am – 7pm
  • Thursday 10am – 1pm
  • Friday      CLOSED
  • Saturday  10am – 1pm
  • Sunday    CLOSED
More information

More information about the Centre can be found on our website:

http://www.walsall.gov.uk/localhistorycentre/

Legendary Walsall historian Jack Haddock passes away

March 30, 2016 in Jack Haddock, Local History, Obituary by Stuart Williams

Jack Haddock, the two-wheeled time traveller (pic Stuart Williams)

Jack Haddock, the two-wheeled time traveller (pic Stuart Williams)

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of a local history legend in Walsall, Mr Jack Haddock, at the age of 89.

Jack, known to his mates as ‘Fish’ since Royal Air Force days, was a local historian, photographer and oral historian, and was active in recording and helping preserve the history of his home town from the 1950s until last year, when time finally caught up with him and he fell ill over a period of several months.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep at the Manor Hospital, Walsall at 6pm yesterday, 29th March 2016.

A life well-lived

Jack was born John Frederick Haddock on 17th September 1927 in Hospital Street, Walsall. In 1928 his family moved into their new council house in Webster Road, Walsall, and Jack lived there ever since. In fact he was to become the longest-standing tenant of Walsall Council and later of Walsall Housing Group, a feat which was celebrated by WHG in 2013 by which time he had lived there for 86 years!  As a result Jack’s name was spread across the national newspapers as well as the local media, and WHG published a booklet about him and his home, entitled ‘The Home That Jack Built’, which can be downloaded from the page linked here.

Jack had a lifelong interest in transport of all kinds, road, rail and canal. Having studied at North Walsall School during the 1930s and the second world war years, he began work aged 14 at the Walsall Corporation bus depot on Bloxwich Road, Birchills, and stayed there for four years.

From age 18 he served in the Royal Air Force as a driver and mechanic, and after that worked in the metal trade, having his own small business manufacturing ornamental items. He never married, yet lived a simple but happy life and had hundreds of friends and probably thousands of contacts in his various interests.

A two-wheeled time traveller

Jack Haddock was a remarkable and proficient daily cyclist, and was rarely to be seen off one of his stable of touring  bicycles. In his heyday, he thought nothing of cycling fifty miles or more each day, and once did 17,000 miles in a year, wearing out three sets of gears! In fact, at one time he was the oldest customer of Russell Cycles in Stafford Street, Walsall, being a loyal customer there since his youth. In recent years, age and infirmity forced him to slow down and take it easy.

A superior snapper

A keen and skilled amateur photographer for decades, Jack recognised the need for recording the changing historic townscape and local transport, and from the 1950s he spent his life doing this with his camera.  He also became one of the first oral historians in Walsall to tape record local people’s memories, especially railwaymen, during the years when steam was giving way to diesel and electric. And last but not least he was a writer, making many copious notes about the areas of local history which interested him, and collecting relevant memorabilia.

Jack Haddock eventually published two books based on his memories, recordings and photographs: ‘Walsall Remembered’ (edited by Ruth F. Vyse of Walsall Local History Centre), Tempus Publishing, 2004 and ‘Walsall’s Engine Shed’, Railwaymen’s Memories 1877-1968, Tempus Publishing, 2006.

Thanks to Jack’s work, an enormous audio-visual record of Walsall during a time of enormous change has been preserved at Walsall Local History Centre, and the town owes him a great debt of gratitude.

Friend and historian

Jack was a great friend to Walsall Local History Centre and its staff for thirty years, and to the original Walsall Archives Service from the late 1970s. We often saw him several times a week, when he came here either to work on his growing collections or simply to chat about times past. As everyone who knew him will tell you, he was an absolute mine of information, with a remarkable memory right up to the end.

We are already missing Jack, he leaves a hole in the local history community and in Walsall which cannot easily be filled, and we are extremely fortunate that all of his local history work, especially his thousands of local, mainly transport, photographs are preserved for posterity here at the Centre. He absolutely will not be forgotten, by his legion of friends and colleagues in every community and by history itself.

Details of his funeral are not yet available but we will advise when we have this information.

Appeal for memories of Jack

Jack Haddock’s long-standing and close friend Rob Selvey is trying to gather memories of Jack throughout his lifetime, and even brief snippets will be welcome. Please email Walsall Local History Centre on localhistorycentre@walsall.gov.uk or leave a comment or memory below or on Facebook with your name if you would like to contribute anything.

Memorial exhibition

We are already preparing a Jack Haddock memorial exhibition, to be entitled ‘The Two-Wheeled Time Traveller’, and will make an announcement about this shortly.

Christmas Opening Hours Reminder

December 21, 2015 in News, Opening Hours by Stuart Williams

Xmas 2015 Ecard Meikle

The management and staff of Walsall Local History Centre would like to wish our visitors and readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Please note our Christmas and New Year opening hours as indicated below.

  • Thursday 24 December OPEN AS USUAL 10am-1pm.
  • Friday 25 December Christmas Day CLOSED.
  • Saturday 26 December Boxing Day CLOSED.
  • Monday 28 December CLOSED.
  • Tuesday 29 December CLOSED.
  • Wednesday 30 December OPEN AS USUAL 10am-7pm.
  • Thursday 31 December OPEN AS USUAL 10am-1pm.
  • Friday 1 January 2016 New Year’s Day CLOSED.
  • Saturday 2 January 2016 OPEN AS USUAL 10am-1pm.

 

Things that go bump in the Borough

October 28, 2015 in Article, Bloxwich, Ghosts, Walsall Borough by Stuart Williams

by Stuart Williams
The Old White Hart at Caldmore

The Old White Hart at Caldmore

Since Hallowe’en is rapidly approaching, and many of us enjoy a good scare at this season of the year, I thought that you, dear reader, might find this article intriguing…

Over the centuries, creepy tales of ghosts and ghouls, legends of mystery and imagination, and fragments of ancient folklore become inextricably intertwined with the history of every town, and whatever you believe about the origins of ghost stories, these old legends are firm favourites with those who like to tell tall tales by the fireside, ale in hand, long into the night.

The Old White Hart

There are a few particularly memorable local stories of the supernatural, perhaps the most popular of which relate to The White Hart.  The legendary home of the ‘Caldmore Ghost’ is a very old and picturesque house, later used as a pub, located on Caldmore Green, just outside Walsall town centre.

Now wonderfully restored for shared use, The White Hart is thought to date back to the second half of the seventeenth century, and was probably built by George Hawe (died 1679).  This remarkable listed building is the object of great local affection, despite the dark legends associated with it.  Since it was built it has gathered around it a shroud of many chilling stories, which may or may not be old wives tales.

The Caldmore 'Hand of Glory'

The Caldmore ‘Hand of Glory’

In the latter part of the nineteenth century The White Hart was renovated, and, during the work, a child’s arm was found hidden in an attic chimney. The arm has become known as the ‘Hand of Glory’, traditionally a hand cut from a hanged felon and dried in the prescribed manner.  Then, either by lighting the fingers themselves or using the hand as a candle holder, the Hand was supposed to stupefy any person seeing it, thus enabling a burglar to ransack a house without being caught.  It was generally believed that the flames could not be blown out by any ordinary person and that milk was the only liquid able to extinguish the candle.

This grisly object, which was for many years on display in Walsall Museum  (now closed), seems to be a medical specimen, dissected by a surgeon and injected with formalin to preserve it.  It certainly does not date from the time when the house was first built.  However, popular legend refuses to accept such a dull solution.

There are many other tales of haunted happenings, into modern times, and The White Hart has become known as the home of ‘The Caldmore Ghost’.  I present here for your interest a photograph taken in 1925 of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Clarke, allegedly ‘taking the pulse’ of this legendary spectre.

Dr. Clarke 'taking the pulse' of the Caldmore Ghost...

Dr. Clarke ‘taking the pulse’ of the Caldmore Ghost…

Sites of spooky speculation

Other subjects and sites of spooky speculation around the Borough include, of course, the old vicarage of St. George’s Church on Darlaston Green, the haunted Area Dispatch Office at Walsall Bus Depot, the spirited old lady at the Manor Arms in Rushall, the spectral West Highland terrier of Sutton Road, the cellar spectre at the ‘Memo’ in Bloxwich and the Ghost Train of the Leighs Wood Line at Shelfield!

St George's Church, Darlaston, c1970. (Alan Price)

St George’s Church, Darlaston, c1970. (Alan Price)

Saying “Boo!” in Bloxwich

Bloxwich is certainly the haunt of many a terrifying tale, and I well remember in my youth being told of the ghostly Flying Nun of Wallington Heath, who had supposedly committed suicide in the old fishing pool at the Convent there.

The former King's Arms, Wallington Heath, Bloxwich, early 1900s. (Walsall LHC)

The former King’s Arms, later convent, Wallington Heath, early 1900s

This story may derive from the alleged haunting of the Old King’s Arms, a former coaching inn on the site which later became the convent of St. Paul of Chartres, by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered at the inn. There are still a few older people in the neighbourhood who can well remember their parents hurrying past the spot or refusing to venture that way at night…

The former 1874 Bloxwich Police Station and Library, 2010. (Stuart Williams)

The former 1874 Bloxwich Police Station and Library, 2010. (Stuart Williams)

Then of course there are more recent reports of footsteps and mysterious figures seen upstairs in The Spring Cottage pub, Elmore Green Road, Bloxwich – or the beer-chucking spectre at the Memorial Club in Harrison Street!  Indeed, not many people know that the old part of the ‘Memo’, heavily modified externally in the 1970s, is Bloxwich’s first Branch Library, and second Police Station, in use from 1874.  The old house’s former cellar was used as a gaol cell, as the rusted hinges down there testify.  Is the spooky lager lout a former prisoner or spectral librarian causing a ruckus? Who knows…

Supernatural goings-on in Bloxwich have not been limited to reports of ghosts, though.

The Bloxwich Wishing Tree
The Old Bull's Head and Wishing Tree, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927. (Billy Meikle)

The Old Bull’s Head and Wishing Tree, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927. (Billy Meikle)

More than once I have referred to the story of the Bloxwich Wishing Tree which once stood near the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road. Both Billy Meikle, writing in 1938, and later fellow local historian E. J. Homeshaw, who published his book The Story of Bloxwich in 1955, recorded versions of the following tale of the old Bull’s Head, the events of which Meikle dates to about 1906.

Samuel Moseley, a coal miner, sat drinking in the kitchen of the Bull’s Head one day, when his wife Margaret came to remind him that it was time he was preparing for work.  She told him the time but he paid no heed to her warnings.  In fact he told her that he did not think he would go to work that afternoon.  Margaret left the Bull in a towering rage and when she got to the door she cursed him and wished that the Bull would fall on him and bury him.

According to the story, she only got as far as a nearby tree, where she repeated her wish and suddenly the roof of the Bull’s Head fell in with a great crash!  Everything in the upper rooms including the furniture was smashed, but both the old kitchen and Samuel Moseley escaped unscathed.  When Mrs. Moseley saw the roof fall in according to her wish, she took to her heels, ran all the way home and fell down in a dead faint!  Henceforth, the tree beneath which she was granted her wish became known as ‘The Wishing Tree’, and was held in great awe.  Today, it even features on the top of “The Bloxwich Tardis”, a public monument to Bloxwich in steel and cast iron erected on Elmore Green in 2007.

Bloxwich Carnival Ambassadors at The Bloxwich Tardis monument in 2013 - the gold Wishing Tree is on top (pic courtesy The Bloxwich Telegraph)

Bloxwich Carnival Ambassadors at The Bloxwich Tardis monument in 2013 – the gold Wishing Tree is on top (pic courtesy The Bloxwich Telegraph)

The present Bull’s Head pub, closed in August 2007 and badly damaged in a suspected arson attack in 2009, today lies empty and forlorn, its roof and other parts of the building left unrepaired and reminiscent of the now-legendary falling in of the roof believed to have been caused by Mrs Moseley’s unwitting curse upon her husband.

I’ll conclude this article by returning to that story and quoting a spooky poem from the book ‘Ghosts & the Folklore Around Barr Beacon’ by Andrew Perrins, sadly now out of print:

Ballad of the Wishin’ Bush

Sum airty years ago in Bloxidge town,

A tale told there is so well known;

About a quaint ode wishin’ tree,

By th’ Bull’s Yed for all to see.

Now a local blade, he did enjoy,

A pint or two upon the sly,

In that said pub within th’ town,

Those quarts ov ale, ‘e drunk ‘em down.

Now ‘is wife she was so much vexed,

In fact, she was a touch perplexed,

To know ‘er bloke went astray,

Drinkin’ each nite an’ ev’ry day.

She med a wish so th’ tree would fall

Upon ‘er spouse to stop ‘im all,

From a drinkin’ in that wretched pub,

A curse she uttered upon the shrub.

But th’ tree, it missed an’ ‘it th’ inn

Uzby escaped by th’ thick ov ‘iz skin,

Now th’ wife, she took it all to ‘art,

An’ on that day she did depart.

‘Em say th’ bush’s growin’ still,

So do mek a wish if yoh will!

Whether all of these tales are the result of ghostly materialisations and spectral shenanigans or can simply be put down to the effects of some other kind of spirits, who can say?

I for one keep an open mind, especially at Hallowe’en…

Stuart Williams