Saturday, 3 March 2012

A (Very) Brief History of Walsall

Whenever I visit (or move to) somewhere new, I always try to learn something about it's history. It will probably sound incredibly flaky to most people, but it's the only way I know of connecting with a place. Until I know something of its past, I usually feel as if I'm just floating along the surface. I've lived in Walsall for almost ten years now, and during that time I've collected some interesting titbits about the area and its history. The information I've included here follows a route of sorts, and contains modern reference points. Hopefully, someone might read something they didn't know before.

If I've included anything here that's inaccurate, please let me know! All corrections and additions are welcome!

As with most English towns, the nucleus of Walsall was the church. St Matthew's Church (on the hill above ASDA) was originally called All Saints Church. Apparently, the name change occurred as a result of the fair that was licensed to be held in the church grounds on St Matthew's Day. There is a local belief that there are tunnels extending under the Church, which connect to The White Hart manor house in (Caldmore) and also to Barr Beacon. The belief is that the tunnels were used by priests during the Reformation and later by Royalists during the Civil War. However, I have my doubts as to the validity of this beliefs given the sheer distances involved. (Please correct me if I'm wrong though!)

There was once a densely populated area that surrounded St Matthew's, named St Matthew's Close. It was comprised of old houses, courtyards and narrow alleyways. This was demolished after World War Two, to be replaced by flats in the 1950s. There are Almshouses beneath the church (on Bath Street). The original building was erected during the Tudor Period, however the current structures were placed there during the Victorian period. There also used to be a graveyard beneath what is now the Bath Street Gardens.

Beneath the Church on the other side is Ablewell Street. This street dates back to the 13th Century and was referred to as Avalwalle, which is Norman and means 'Beneath the Wall'. The aforementioned wall comprised part of the defences that surrounded the Church and the settlement. If you look at the difference in height between the level of Lidl car park and the Church grounds, then you can imagine how formidable the wall must have been. The upper part of Ablewell Street was known as King Street, which is now included in the Springhill Road and Birmingham Road.

Heading down from Ablewell Street, you then reach Bridge Street. The road was cut in 1766 and was known as the New Road. It formed part of the main route from Walsall to Birmingham (much as it does today, really. The 51 still goes that way today). The old route to Birmingham went through Digbeth (the Market Place), then onto the High Street (where the Black Country Arms is), along Rushall Street (which runs past the top of The Hole in the Wall), and then joins Ablewell Street (the two roads meet at the corner of Flan O'Brien's Pub, which is opposite Warewell Street).

The old town 'Lock Up' used to stand on Ablewell Street, and part of the structure now forms the cellars of the shops around the Warewell Street area. (The old Police Station was on Goodall Street, not a million miles away from the Lock Up. The Old Court House was at the bottom of Bridge Street, and is now a Wetherspoons pub. So you can sort of see how they all connected.)

Warewell Street (there is now a car park beside it) used to have a well beside it. It also boasted a Saddlers Ironmongery Works.

My favourite street around the Chuckery area was probably Dark Lane. It no longer exists so it has an air of mystery to it! Dark Lane was a narrow cart track that ran from the Sutton Road (going up Ablewell Street, the Sutton Road begins at the point where the 77 route deviates from the 51 route), across the Chuckery and came out at the top of Holtshill Lane (this is the road that opens up on Lower Rushall Street, opposite the back of Morrisons). Lower Rushall Street was a major route both in an out of Walsall, and as a result boasted dozens of inns and coach houses.

Lower Rushall Street originally ran past the Chamber of Commerce and Kwik Fit (instead of running off toward the traffic lights). It then ran straight through the Hatherton Lake and then went on to Lichfield. (There used to be toll gate along this road, and was called the Butts Toll Gates. Its stood at a point that is now at the centre of the lake.) On the rising ground to the east of the lake (somewhere along Arboretum Road) was Reynold's Hall, a large manorial complex. Arboretum Road was a continuation of Persehouse Street, presumably until the construction of the Broadway. (The Broadway originally just ran from the Lichfield road to Rowley Street, and was called Denmark Road. It was extended a little in the 1890s, and this addition was known as Foden Road.)

The area around the Hatherton Lake was once owned by the Reynolds family, but by the 1550s the land had been transferred to the Persehouse family.

The Reynolds estate comprised a farm and a hall. The hall had three parlours, nine bedrooms, three garrets, a brew house, a dairy house, a malt house, a dove house and a coach house. As I said, this was around Arboretum Road. The last person to live in Reynolds Hall was Richard Persehouse. The estate then passed to his godson, John Walhouse. Walhouse passed over the hall in favour of constructing a town house. This town house was on Lichfield Street, and the Chicago Rock Cafe was actually a part of this building.

There is a glacial boulder in the park (it now stands beside the Bandstand). This glacial rock travelled from North Wales during the Ice Age and ended up in the Fulbrook area. It was moved to the Arboretum in 1925. This boulder was known as the Devil's Toe Nail, and it was believed that if it was ever broken, it was grow back to it's original shape and size. As a result of its name and reputation, local children were once reluctant to go near it.


  1. That's really great! About the only thing missing is the meaning of the town's name.

  2. Being an old 'un I was intrigued by some of your directions. I'm old enough to remember the days when directions to anywhere in a built-up area used pubs and churches as landmarks: "Turn left at the Rose & Crown, right at the Red Lion, past St Michael's" etc.

    Of course these were days when there was a pub on every corner (or so it seemed). If there's a satnav download somewhere which gives directions via pubs and churches I'll gladly turn the sound back on!

    In response to MEMDurand's comment regarding the meaning of Walsall, there are two possible meanings. While the suffix is Old English halh meaning 'nook of land', the first element is less certain. Undoubtedly this represents walh - although whether this is the personal name Walh or walh meaning 'Welshman' will likely never be known. Note that walh correctly meant 'foreigner', but to the Saxons the only foreigners in England were the Celts and when they ended up in Wales the term grew to name Wales and the Welsh.

    These and other Walsall names were explained in my Staffordshire Place Names (the book ignored the newly-formed West Midlands). Note this is hardly a promotion as the book has been out of print for at least ten years!

    Thanks for sharing

  3. Just noticed it will be exactly two years on Monday since your last post. Come on Emma, I'm sure you have something to say!