Historical description of Staffordshire, England

Map of Staffordshire

Staffordshire or Stafford, an inland county, bounded on the NW by Cheshire, on the NE by Derbyshire, and on the E by Derbyshire and Leicestershire, on the SE by Warwickshire, on the S by Worcestershire, on the W by Salop. Its outline is somewhat ellipsoidal, with the longer axis extending N and S. Its boundary line, along part of the NW, is the river Dane, along the NE is the river Dove, along most of the E is the rivers Dove, Trent, and Tame, along small part of the W is the river Tern, and along most other parts is entirely artificial. Its greatest length is 54 miles, its greatest breadth is 35 miles, its circuit is about 210 miles, and its area is 749,601 acres. The NE section, to the extent of about one-sixth of the entire area, is upland, variously moorland, pastoral, and picturesque; rises to an average altitude of from 300 to 600 feet above the general level of the rest of the county, and has summits 1200 and 1500 feet high. The NW section, nearly identical with Pirehill hundred, is prevailingly level. The central sections include the large and elevated tract of Cannock Chase, and all excepting that tract are either undulated or level ground. The S section includes the hills and cliffs of Dudley and Sedgeley, and the isolated mountain of Rowley Regis, but elsewhere is, generally level. The chief streams are the Trent, the Sowe, the Tame, the Blythe, the Dove, the Manifold, the Hamps, the Churnet, the Penk, the Stour, and the Tern. Silurian rocks form two small tracts in the S, lower carboniferous rocks form considerable tracts in the NE; upper carboniferous rocks, mainly of the coal measures, form large tracts in the S and in the N; permian rocks form a tract around most of the S coal measures, and another tract to the S of the N coal measures; and triassic rocks form nearly all the rest of the county, chiefly across its central parts, and amounting to about one-half of the entire area.

The Dudley or South Staffordshire coal-field extends from Cannock Chase to the Worcestershire border near Stourbridge, about 20 miles in length N by E to S by W; and from Kingswinford to Soho, near Birmingham, 10 miles W to E. These dimensions indeed include not only the coal-field itself, but the Rowley Hills, composed of transition and other rocks, by which it is intersected. The coal measures rest immediately on a transition stratum. The hills SE of Dudley consist of one mass of basalt and amygdaloid, round which the coal measures do not crop out, but preserve their usual level in approaching it. The basalt, which is very pure, is locally termed Rowley Rag. It has been quarried for mending the roads and paving the streets of Birmingham. Trap rock is found in that district of the coal-field lying near Walsall; it is apparently part of a thick vertical greenstone dyke. The coal of the southern portions of the Dudley field is distinguished by the occurrence of an extensive bed, called the Main-coal, 30 feet thick. It really consists of thirteen distinct seams, but they are so close together as to form almost a single stratum. In the northern part of the field seams of coal are found 4, 6, and 8 feet thick, which appear to be subjacent to the main coal. In the north of the shire occurs another coal-field ("the Pottery") of triangular form. It extends from Longton in the Potteries to Congleton in Cheshire, where is the apex of the triangle, and is 13 miles in length from S by E to N by W. Its greatest breadth, which is in the southern part, forming the base of the triangle, is 8 or 10 miles. A short distance to the E of this lies the Cheadle coal-field, the town of Cheadle being situated near its SW border. It appears to be an isolated basin, the strata dipping towards Cheadle as a centre, and resting upon millstone grit. A prolongation of the South Lancashire coal-field extends into the northern part of the county about Flash, where several mines are worked. The Warwickshire coal-field just touches the border near Tamworth. The county also possesses rich and abundant iron ores. In addition to the immense quantities of coal and iron obtained in various parts, copper, lead, sandstone, marble, alabaster, and the best pottery clay are important mineral products. As the result of borings in 1874-75 it was discovered that coal was obtainable at workable depths from districts previously considered beyond the boundaries of the Staffordshire coal basins.

The canals are numerous, the most important being the Trent and Mersey, or, as it is sometimes called, the Grand Trunk Canal, which, commencing in the Trent at its junction with the Derwent in Derbyshire, enters the county near the confluence of the Dove, and follows the valley of the Trent through its centre to Stoke, in the Potteries, whence it continues to the Mersey at Runcorn Gap. About 50 miles of its course belong to Staffordshire. It passes near Burton-upon-Trent, where there is a cut to the Trent, Rugeley, Stone, Stoke, Hanley, Burslem,and Tunstall. The Birmingham and the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canals may be regarded as forming another important line, entering the shire near Birmingham, and traversing the iron and coal district by Dudley and Wolverhampton, and then running NW into Shropshire. The length of this line may be estimated at about 32 miles. These two main trunks of canal navigation belong to the county at large. There are several smaller lines which supply only the coal and iron districts of the south. Staffordshire is provided with ample railway facilities. The Great Western, the Midland, and the London and North-Western run through its centre; the North Staffordshire line passes through the Pottery district; and branches extend to all the principal towns.

Agriculture.—The air is sharp in comparison with that of the country lying south of it, while at the same time it is more subject to continued rains, which make the crops later and the harvests more precarious. The quantity of rain falling during the year is, on an average, about 36 inches. From this it is apparent that the heavy soils, and those which are situated on impervious subsoils, require very complete draining before they can be made productive, whatever may be the natural fertility of the surface. The western parts of England are in general more rainy than the eastern, and in this respect Staffordshire does not differ from the neighbouring districts. One cause of this extraordinary humidity may be found in the high lands which traverse it, and arrest the vapours blowing from the Atlantic. The middle and southern portions are comparatively flat, and have only gently undulating hills. Here the most fertile lands are situated and those farms which are in the best state of cultivation. The farmers are intelligent, and examples of every system of husbandry are followed. Drainage is extensively practised, and the most recent improvements in agriculture are very widely adopted. The county is, of course, more of a mining and manufacturing than an agricultural one. Two-fifths of the arable land consist of clays and sandy loams, two-fifths of gravelly and sandy loams, and one-fifth of light gravel and sand, chiefly good turnip land. Rich meadows spread along the banks of most of the streams—the valley of the Trent being particularly fertile and beautiful. Dairy husbandry is extensively practised, and the cheese produced is little inferior to that of Cheshire and Derby. Many fine beasts are also fattened in stalls. The original Staffordshire sheep has either been superseded by more useful breeds, or changed and improved by crossing. Every kind which enjoys any repute is now found here. The farm horses are active and strong, and in general well kept. The Staffordshire hog of the old breed is coarser than the Berkshire or Essex, but much pains have been taken to introduce better pigs, and with considerable success.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 12,487 males and 8844 females; domestic, 2182 males and 46,619 females; commercial, 35,850 males and 1264 females; agricultural, 26,601 males and 1128 females; industrial, 265,671 males and 66,311 females; and "unoccupied," which includes retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 65,271 males and 283,001 females; or a total in the county of 408,063 males and 407,167 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:— Coal miners, 45,376; iron and steel manufacture, 42,039; earthenware, porcelain, and china manufacture, 25,390; general labourers, 21,048 ; and boot and shoe makers, 6983. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 39,214; earthenware, porcelain, and china manufacture, 19,160; millinery and dressmaking, 11,654. There were also in the county 805 blind persons, 350 deaf, 519 deaf and dumb, and 3397 mentally deranged.

Manufactures.—The subterranean treasures of Staffordshire have so stimulated manufacture that the county has now the largest average population in Great Britain after Middlesex and Lancashire, and is particularly famous for its potteries and ironworks. The chief seat of the former is in a district denominated the Potteries, between Newcastle-under-Lyme and Norton-on-the-Moors, in which there are several very considerable towns—including Stoke, Longton, Burslem, and Hanley—and villages mostly supported by the business. The neighbourhood affords abundance of good clay and coal; but the finest clays are mostly brought from Purbeck, in Dorsetshire, soapstone from Cornwall, and flints from the chalk pits near Gravesend, and from Wales and Ireland. The ironworks are principally situated in the south angle of county, in the vicinity of Walsall, Wednesbury, and Bilston. The manufacture of locks, nails, edge tools, bridles, spurs, and an infinite variety of other hardware articles, is prosecuted upon a very large scale at Wolverhampton, Bilston, West Bromwich, Willenhall, Walsall, and their vicinity. The South Staffordshire coal-field is popularly known by the aasae of the Black Country, from the smoke created by the factories and works seen in all directions. At Soho, near Smethwick, is the famous establishment of Messrs Watt & Co., for the manufacture of steam-engines; while glass is manufactured at Smethwick, West Bromwich, and Kingswinford; bricks and tiles in both North and South Staffordshire; salt near Stafford; boots and shoes at Stafford and Stone; silk at Leek; and there are cotton mills in various parts of the county. Burton-on-Trent is noted over the world for its breweries, of which there are twenty-eight in the town (including those connected with the names of Bass and Allsopp), employing 17,000 hands in the brewing of something like 3,000,000 barrels of beer annually.

The county contains four county boroughs—Hanley, Walsall, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton; and nine municipal boroughs—Burslem, Burton-upon-Trent, the city of Lichfield, Longton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Stoke-upon-Trent, Tamworth, and Wednesbury. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into twenty petty sessional divisions. Hanley, Lichfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Walsall, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton have separate commissions of the peace and separate courts of quarter sessions, and Burton-upon-Trent, Longton, Stafford, and Tamworth have separate commissions of the peace. The administrative county contains 231 entire civil parishes and parts of twelve others; the county borough of Hanley contains part of a civil parish, that of Walsall contains one civil parish and parts of two others, and those of West Bromwich and Wolverhampton one civil parish each. The ancient county contains 320 entire ecclesiastical parishes and parts of seventeen others. The chief seats include Trentham, Beaudesert, Ingestre, Alton Towers, Sandon, Sandwell, Shugborough, Enville, Stone Park, Weston, Chartley, Eccleshall, Tiddesley, Himley, and Wrottesley, and amount to about 200.

The county is governed by a lord lieutenant and a county council consisting of 25 aldermen and 75 councillors, is in the north-western military district and the Oxford judicial circuit, and, excepting part of Stottesden deanery, is all in Lichfield diocese. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Stafford, and H.M. prison is also there. Staffordshire between 1867 and 1885 returned six members to the House of Commons in three divisions, but under the Redistribution of Seats Act of the latter year it was divided into seven divisions—Leek, Burton, Western, North-Western, Lichfield, Kingswinford, and Handsworth—each returning one member. It also contains the parliamentary boroughs of Wolverhampton (with three members), Hanley, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Stoke-upon-Trent, Walsall, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich, and part of the parliamentary boroughs of Birmingham and Dudley. According to the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, the following parliamentary divisions of Staffordshire, which are not given under any special name, each return one member to the House of Commons:—

Western Division (population, 56,546) includes the following:—Penkridge (except the parishes of Norton Canes and Great Wyrley)—Acton Trussell and Bednall, Blymhill, Brewood, Cannock, Cheslyn Hay, Church Eaton, Coppenhall, Dunston, Essington, Featherstone, Hatherton, Hilton, Huntington, Kinvaston, Lapley, Penkridge, Saredon, Shareshill, Sheriff Hales, Stretton, Teddesley Hay, Weston-under-Lizard, Wyrley (Little); Stafford—Berkswich (or Baswich, with Milford and Walton), Bradler, Brocton, Castle Church, Chartley Holme, Colwich, Creswell, Fradswell, Gayton, Gnosall, Haughton, Hopton and Coton, Ingestre, Marston, Ranton, Ranton Monastery, Salt and Enson, Sandon, Seighford, St Mary and St Chad (Stafford), Stowe, Tillington, Tixall, Weston-upon-Trent, Whitgreave, Worston, Yarlet; Stone—Barlaston, Milwich, Stone; Stafford, municipal borough.

North-Western Division (population, 63,164) includes the following:—Eccleshall (except part of Gnosall)—Adbaston, Ashley, Chebsey, Cold Norton, Eccleshall (except the chapelry of Chapel Chorlton, and the townships therein of Chapel Chorlton and Hill Chorlton), Ellenhall, Forton, High Offley, Norbury, Standon, Swinnerton, Weston Jones; Pirehill (North)—Audley, Balterley, Betley, Burslem, Chorlton, Keele, Madeley, Maer, Mucclestone (part of), Norton-in-the-Moors, Stoke-upon-Trent, Tyrley, Trentham, Whitmore, Wolstanton; Hanley, municipal borough; Longton, municipal borough; Newcastle-under-Lyme, municipal borough.

History, Antiquities.—Previous to the Roman period Staffordshire appears to have formed part of the territories of the Cornavii or Carnabii. Under the Romans it was comprehended in the province of Flavia Caesariensis. The ancient roads Watling Street, Ryknield Street, and Via Devana crossed the county. There are traces of camps or other military works supposed to be of Roman origin at four or five places, and Roman antiquities have been discovered in various localities, especially a large quantity of silver coins at Rowley Regis. Tumuli, some of which are thought to be Roman, are scattered over the whole of the shire. On the conquest of South Britain by the Saxons, the county was comprised in the kingdom of Mercia. In the division of the island between the Saxons and Danes, in the time of Alfred, it was partly included in the Danelagh or Danish territory, the Watling Street being the boundary, but the whole was recovered by the later Saxon kings. In the Wars of the Roses the Earl of Salisbury, marching from the north towards London, in 1459, with 5000 men, was intercepted at Blore Heath, on the western side of the county, between Drayton and Eccleshall, by 10,000 Lancastrians under Lord Audley. The good generalship of Salisbury secured him the victory. Lord Audley was killed with all his chief officers and a fourth part of his army. A stone pedestal, surmounted by an ancient wooden cross, marks the field of battle. Richard III. was with his army at Tamworth just before the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The principal monuments of the middle ages are ecclesiastical. Lichfield Cathedral is the most important. Croxdon Abbey, between Cheadle and Uttoxeter, is a fine ruin, in a narrow valley watered by a small rivulet. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for some months under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury at Tutbury Castle. In the Civil War of Charles I. Staffordshire generally embraced the side of the Parliament. Some Royalists, under the command of the Earl of Chesterfield, garrisoned Lichfield Cathedral and Close; but it was captured by the Parliamentarians, though with the loss of their general, Lord Brooke (March, 1643). This post was retaken about a month after by Prince Rupert. The Parliamentarians occupied Stafford and Wolverhampton, and subsequently captured Eccleshall Castle, and took and demolished Stafford Castle; they also besieged Tutbury, but without success. In 1645 Charles I. marched through Staffordshire before the battle of Naseby, and after his defeat retired within its borders. He appears to have had at this time two garrisons in the county—Lichfield Close and Tutbury. Dudley Castle, in the insulated portion of Worcestershire, was also held by his adherents, but within a year all the Royalist strongholds surrendered. In the rebellion of 1745 the Pretender's army lay at Leek, while that of the Duke of Cumberland occupied Stone.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5