Willenhall History Society
Willenhall in 1842
Willenhall in 1850
Willenhall is situated between Walsall and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands of England. Today the town is rapidly changing Traditionally it has been a small industrial town famous for its lock and key industry including the famous Yale factory. There is a Lock Museum including an old lock workshop.
The centre of the town has retained a lot of its character as a market town and still has a thriving shopping centre in the streets centred round the market.
Willenhall is famous for its lock making and engineering factories. There were large industrial areas in the town, many of which became derelict as traditional industries declined. There are also new factories and warehouses being built, particularly at Ashmore Lake and Westacre Industrial Estates. Most recently the old industrial sites have been taken over by new housing, which has brought new life to run down areas around the town centre. There are ambitious new plans to regenerate the area with a lot of new developments.
The centre of Willenhall has a shopping centre and successful market and, although there are no large stores, there is a wide range of shops to cater for everyday needs. The main shopping streets have been pedestrianised and recently refurbished while maintaining the character of the town. The area around the Market Place has some fine Georgian buildings, which have survived well.
There is a wide variety of housing types in the town from older terraced housing near the centre to more recent developments of both council and private housing. Nearly half the houses were council built and these range from early council houses in Little London and Rose Hill, pre war housing near Clothier Street, more recent developments of multi storey blocks and low rise flats and houses at Noose Lane. Many people have purchased their council houses. Private housing covers a wide range of types and the major developments from the 1960s to 1990s have been on the outskirts of Willenhall, particularly to the north.
Willenhall is very mixed in character with housing and industry spread throughout the town. Much of the open space has been used for industry in the past but great efforts have been made to create pleasant areas in the town, particularly the Memorial Park.
Willenhall has excellent communications to neighbouring towns and the rest of Britain and Europe, being close to the M6 and Black Country Route. The main route through the town is the Walsall to Wolverhampton road which now by-passes the town centre along the Key Way and connects to the Black Country Route. The first "by-pass" was built in the 19th Century as New Road!
There are frequent buses to neighbouring towns and a new railway station may open on the railway (The original Grand Junction Railway of 1842) The Midland Metro may one day run through Willenhall as well.
Willenhall is very much its own town in spite of being merged with Walsall and Darlaston in 1966 and included in Walsall Metropolitan Boprough in 1974. In the last few years there has been more investment in the town with . Although administratively Willenhall is part of Walsall there are many links with Wolverhampton, which is equally accessible. portobello, originally part of Willenhall, is now administratively part of Wolverhampton.
Willenhall is a popular centre for shopping and the market is a big attraction. The streets around the Market area have recently been resurfaced and improved. The Memorial Park has also benefitted from improvements including a new bandstand.
The town of Willenhall has retained a lot of character with its Georgian buildings, attractive Memorial Park and historic associations. The people of Willenhall are rightly proud of their town and its history.
An extract from Pigott and Co's Directory of Staffordshire 1842
Willenhall is a populous and extensive village, township and chapelry, in that part of the parish of Wolverhampton which is in the southern division of the hundred of Offlow; 3 miles from Walsall, Wolverhampton and Wednesfield and 11 from Birmingham situated on the main road between the two first named towns, and a little to the east of the Grand Junction Railway, for which W illenhall is a second class station.
In Domesday Book this place is written Winehala, the Saxon word for victory, probably was so called from a decisive defeat of the Danes by Edward the elder, in or near the village, in 910 or 911.
The iron trade was first introduced in the reign of Elizabeth, and the manufacture of locks and keys is now carried on here more extensively perhaps, than in any other place in the k ingdom ; besides which, immense quantities of latches, bolts, currycombs, files. gridirons, chafing dishes, &c., for the Birmingham and Wolverhampton markets, as well as bits, spurs &c for South America , are manufactured in the greatest perfection.
In the neighbourhood are extensive coal mines : the upper stratum of coal here approaches so near the surface, that it is got in several places, by removing the earth (which, for a considerable extent, is not more than from eight to fourteen feet thick), when as they are termed, the coal ‘open-works’ appear. The upper stratum of coal is about three feet six inches; then occurs a stratum of fire-clay, &c., two feet six inches; under which is another bed of coal four feet thick : these two beds are both worked together. Six or seven yards lower is found another bed of coal, four feet thick, which is obtained in the ordinary way by shafts, &c.
Courts leet and baron are held at Willenhall annually ; and there is a court of requests, on three Mondays in every aIternate month, for the recovery of debts under £5.
The chapel of ease to Wolverhampton is dedicated to St Giles: the living is a perpetual curacy, in the presentation of the lords of the manor – but they cannot present it to any minister who has not first been approved by a majority of the inhabitants of the chapelry, having lands of inheritance within it. Elections for ministers are at times severely contested; the Rev. G.H. Fisher at this time enjoys the living. There are places of worship for Wesleyan Methodists in the village, and at Shatt Heath, a mile and a half north of it; and the Baptists have a meeting house at Little London, half a mile distant.
The chapelry contained, in 1831, 5,835 inhabitants.
An extract from Post Office Directory of Staffordshire 1850
Willenhall is a chapelry, railway station and town in the parish and included in the Parliamentary Borough and Union of Wolverhampton, in South Offlow Hundred, on the road between that town to Walsall, and its distance 2 1/2 miles east from the former, 3 ½ miles west from the latter place and 11 ¾ miles north west from Birmingham.
It contained, in 1831, only 5,834 inhabitants, but in 1844 the return shows the population to have increased to 8,695 with 1,980 acres assessed at £15,424. The inhabitants are entitled to vote for the borough of Wolverhampton. The North Western Railway passes through Willenhall under two lofty arches and there is a station.
The manufacture of the place consists principally of locks and padlocks of every description from the smallest kind to those more ponderous and massive for gates and prisons. The chief branches are brass and other padlocks, South American, rim, mortice, cabinet, Dutch, portfolio, trunk, door, dead, irongate and carpet bag locks; also bolts, latches, gridirons, keys, hasps, hinges, ferrules, files, snuffers, woodscrews, iron boats, bridle bits, cut nails, hooks, steel traps, box iron stands, vices and currycombs, for home and foreign trade. These are exported in large quantities by means of the Wyrley and Essington Canal passing through the town. There are varnish works, maltings, brass and iron foundries.
The church stands in the centre of the place, and is a very ancient building, the living is a perpetual curacy, value £350 per annum, in the presentation of the inhabitants, but the clergyman must have a licence from the dean of Wolverhampton, and be approved by the lord of the manor, the Duke of Sutherland; the Rev. George Hutchinson Fisher M.A. is the present incumbent. Here are chapels for Baptists and Wesleyans, and National, British and other schools. The town is lighted with gas.
Portobello, a hamlet belonging to Willenhall, is ¾ of a mile westward and was built since the opening of the railway to accommodate those employed on the line, but has been considerably increased, and is now inhabited by those in the same trade as at Willenhall. There is a Wesleyan Chapel.
This also applies to Little London, a spot ½ a mile northward, also to Short Heath, where is a Wesleyan Chapel. Lane Head, New Invention and Little Island, all included in the Parish of Willenhall, yet distinct places and some distance from each other. The neighbourhood abounds with collieries and ironstone mines.
Willenhall History Society Website 20.10.2009