Willenhall History Society
Shops in Willenhall
The Market Place
1904 1960s 2009
The Market Place has always been the centre of shopping in Willenhall. The market itself now takes place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, though the traditional Market day has always been Wednesday.
Here is the Market in action in 2000.
The Market is not covered by an ancient charter but appears to have started in the nineteenth century as Willenhall grew in size. Originally livestock would have been sold in the Market place - there are still arched entries into the Market Place which were used to bring them in.
Until 1851 the name Market Place does not appear on censuses, this area of the town was part of Wolverhampton Street. The numbering system was introduced at the same time and fortunately has stayed the same until today. Number 1 Market Place is now the HSBC Bank and the numbers run all the way round up to Lloyds and back to Number 46 opposite HSBC - Suni's General Stores.
The plan is from 1918 and as can be seen, virtually all the buildings are the same today.
The main feature of the Market Place, then and now, is the Memorial Clock, erected in 1892 in commemoration of the life of Doctor Tonks, a popular doctor in the town who ministered to the medical needs of all classes of people and played a major role in the social life of Willenhall.
For more about him and the story of the clock look at
Doctor Tonks and the Memorial Clock.
At the bottom of the plan is New Road, built in the 1820s. Until this date the Market Place was the main thoroughfare through Willenhall. To the south, past The Dale House, was Bilston Street leading to Bilston and beyond.
Cross Street led to Walsall and Birmingham.
To the north and west, at the top of this plan, were the main roads to Stafford, the county town, and Wolverhampton.
The oldest building in the Market Place is the Bell Inn, which was rebuilt after the Great Fire of Willenhall in 1659. There are still some older timbers in the present building, which is unfortunately out of use at present.
Next to the Bell is 33, Market Place, another old building dating back to the days when affluent people had their houses in the centre of Willenhall.
Most of the rest of the buildings in the Market Place were probably built as shops. In the Nineteenth Century, when they were built, the shopkeepers lived above and behind the shops, even the most prosperous ones!
Looking at the buildings today, it is easy to see that, above the shop fronts, the buildings have remained similar in their appearance from outside. Over the years many had fallen into disrepair, but recently work has been done to refurbish the upper storeys, fit new windows, and convert the buildings into living accomodation again, but as flats, not for the shopkeepers.
The shops themselves have mostly changed a lot, both the types of shops and in their appearance, but Willenhall is lucky that the buildings and the shopping centre still exists. It is protected as a Conservation Area, so should be safe for the future.
This photo, taken in the early 1900s, shows a splendid row of shops along the Market Place.
Easily visible are Wolversons, Maypole and Edward Grey. All the shops have window displays and some have an arcade outside, while others have blinds.
In the 1901 Census this part of the Market Place had a Butcher, Bookshop, Coffee House, Painter and Photographer, Grocer and Wine Merchant, Pork Butcher and a Draper.
There was also a pub, the Talbot, slightly to the left of this picture.
In the 1892 photo of the clock inauguration is Fairbanks, a dealer in foreign spirits and wines with offices for George R.Fairbank on the first floor. The other photo below is celebrating the coronation of George V in 1911. In the backgound is Constables Clothiers. the crowd are sitting above the Central Cafe, advertising Refreshments, coffee, cocoa and Bovril, milk at 2d per glass, chops and steaks from the grill, mineral waters. For entertainment there is billiards and bagatelle and the useful facility of a lavatory. There is also a tree in front of the cafe, somewhat surpisingly.
By the 1960s this part of Market place has different shops, but is otherwise much the same.
In the photo can be seen Ideal Dyers and Cleaners, Bannister and Thatchers Dispensing Chemist, John James and T C Hughes, all of which are remembered by Willenhall people.
In the background, on the other side of Market Place the Willenhall Gas Company Showroom can be seen.
Other shops in the Market Place which people remember are Olivers shoe shop, Knights florist, Constables tailor, Alan Westwood, India and China Tea Company, Kents Coffee Shop,Switch on Shop, and Hoyhead Cycle shop.
Today, in 2009 many of the buildings survive, though the lower ones on the right have been rebuilt There are a couple of amusement arcades - the Quicksilver behind the clock was the Talbot Public House.
As you can see in the photograph, the Market Place is now pedestrianised during the day, and has been extensively improved in the last few years so that it is a pleasant place to go shopping.
When the market is open all this area is covered in Market stalls.
Market Place does look a lot less attractive after the shops have closed, when the shutters are down.
The Market in full swing in 1953. The Gas Offices can be seen in the background and the Bell Inn on the right. The market itself is a lot less prosperous looking than it is today.
Willenhall gas Company purchased a site for new offices in 1935 in Market Place.A new building was erected providing "commodious offices and showrooms, general stores and fitting shops". A large room was also provided for cookery demonstrations. The new premises were opened in 1937 on the occasion of the celebration of the Centenary of the company.
At the north end of Market Place it joins Wolverhampton Street (to the left) and Stafford Street (to the right at the back of this picture).
Photography seems to have been a novelty when this picture was taken, judging by the way passers by are posing dreadfully.
On the left is possibly Macmillans Drapers, which was certainly there in 1901 and lasted until the 1960s, on several sites. In 1901 Donald Macmillan ran the shop with two sisters, Flora and Nelly. They were all born in Scotland.
The side of the shop advertises quilts, flannels, shirtings, curtains and trimmings.
Here is almost the same view in 1954. The Gas Service Office is on the right.
Behing the tree in the background is the Picture House Cinema.
On the left is Macmillans. The end wall is now just painted white.
Macmillans had several shops in Willenhall by the 1960s, with different departments in different shops.
The pub in both older pictures is the Kings Head, it is now a carpet shop.
The interesting curved buiding is still there today, now occupied by Golden Girl, Ladies and Childrens Fashion Wear. This is one of the buildings which has new windows, but the character of the building is still preserved.
On the right up to 1915 was the Post Office.
In 1850 the Postmaster was John Tildesley. Letters from London and all parts arrived by Walsall at 8am; were dispatched at 6pm. Letters from Wolverhampton arrived 6pm; were dispatched 8am. The Post Office was then listed as Wolverhampton Street.
The Post Mistress in 1901 was Mary Elizabeth Stockham, a widow. Her four daughters Mary, Alice, Mabel and Ciceley and son Frederick all worked as Post Office Clerks.
In 1868 H.W. Stockham ran his Printing and Stationery business from the Post Office.
In 1915 this Post Office was moved across the road to what is now Barclays Bank. Above is the demolition of other property. The old Post Office building on the right remained and later became Robinson's Cake shop. The new cinema lasted until 1959.
After the demolition of the old Picture House this area was rebuilt in grey concrete style, with a totally bare wall next to Lloyds Pharmacy.
Fortunately the recent refurbishment of the Market Place included a new mural and street sculpture, which, combined with new seats and a notice board, has greatly improved this junction.
Here is the end of the Market Place, looking back towards the clock in 1968.
Carrying on round the Market Place the imposing building on the left was Willenhall's Liberal Club which occupied the upper floors of the building. Willenhall was and is a Liberal stronghold and this building reflected its importance when it was built.
In recent years the entrance was through a side door in Angel Passage and the rooms were the Civil Defence HQ at one time. The shop below sold carpets and curtains.
Blunts Shoes used to be Marstons, also a shoe shop, which had its own factory behind, where shoes were manufactured.
To the right of Blunts is Bell Alley. The Bell Public House and 33, Market Place (seen in photos above) follow.
Davey's Locker is a longstanding Willenhall shop in 34 Market Place - the building was originally a warehouse attached to 33 and later became a school.
Conways butcher next door was founded in 1929 - there was a Poulterer and Fishmonger in this block in 1901, run by Sarah Mason.
The shop that is now Olympic Shoes was previously another shoe shop - Devey's - for many years. This looks like a rather more modern building but may just be a new front on an old building. This and other shops can be seen in the 1960s photo below.
Robertsons - "the shop for all your gifts" -occupied the shop with the shutters down in this picture, it started out as R and L gifts, with a toy showroom above. This building was built about the 1920s and can be seen in the photo below with a lady cyclist riding sedately past.
On the corner is a greengrocer and florist .
The block of shops in the background behind the cyclist are also in Market Place, though they are a continuation of the shops in Cross street.
Number 42 was Frank Adey, a butcher in 1891. he lived with his wife, two sons and a servant above the shop. His shop name is just about visible in the later view behind the bike. Frank Adey was still advertising in the Willenhall red Book for 1933.
Number 43 was vacant in 1891.
Number 44 was an ironmongers shop managed by William D. Henly, he lived there with his wife and son. The shop was Henly and Co Ltd for over 100 years, and is still an ironmongers. At one time the Locksmiths Union used rooms above Henlys.
In this 1965 photo number 42 is advertising the Zorba Grill, soon to be opened.
43 is George Briscoe Ltd, a butcher.
44 is Henly and Co
In this slightly later picture Knitting Fayre has taken over at number 43. Henly and Co Ltd on the corner is clearer. You can just see the end of the Zorbas Grill sign on number 42.
The final section of Market Place leading up to New Road has not been photographed much in the past. As can bee seen in the left hand picture below the block of buildings is now well preserved and attractive. The ironmongers on the corner takes up the first three windows on the left.
Scissors Hair Design and Suni's General Store are in the right hand block.
The photo on the right above shows the opposite side of this part of Market Place behind the clock.
The Midland Bank counted as number 6, New Road in 1891 and was managed by William Johnson. He lived on the premises with his wife, two sons and a daughter- one of his sons was a bank clerk. The imposing building of earlier days has been "improved" at some point and is now, of course, the HSBC Bank..
Next to the Bank is now the Elegant Dry Cleaners.
The next building is Lloyds Bank, which is much the same as in earlier years except that an extra storey was added in the 1990s.
The two banks and the shop in between can be seen in this 1960s view and behind the clock in the older photo above.. Note also the advert for "Diplomat" the "sporting cigarette" at 3/4d for 20! The sign for A.M. Green and Sons refers to the shop at the end of the block.
From 1928 Willenhall Red Book
Watterson's also had their name written on the gable end of their shop.
Finally we have a photo from 1898 of the corner of New Road and Market Place (helpfully marked on the photograph) The buildings were demolished soon after this for the construction of the Midland Bank. Things have been changing in Willenhall for a long time! It is possible that the smaller building to the right is the same as in the photo of the bank above and remains there today.
Market Place still remains the most thriving part of the town centre hopefully will continue to do so. The maintenance and improvement work done in recent years has done a lot to ensure that the interesting old buildings will survive into the future.
Willenhall History Society Website 6.10.2009