BILSTON, a market-town and chapelry, in the parish, borough, and union of Wolverhampton, N. division of the hundred of Seisdon, S. division of the county of Stafford, 3 miles (S. E.) from Wolverhampton, 19 (S. by E.) from Stafford, and 120 (N. W.) from London; containing 20,181 inhabitants. This place, which formerly belonged to the portionists or prebendaries of Wolverhampton, and in their charter is called "Bilsreton," was a royal demesne at the time of the Conquest, and in the reign of Edward III. was, under the appellation of "Billestune," certified to be exempt from toll. It comprises part of the manor of Stowheath, and the whole of the manor of Bradley, separated from each other by a brook which, rising at Sedgley, about two miles distant, forms one of the tributaries of the river Tame, and flows through the township. Previously to the introduction of the ironworks, Bilston merely contained a few private houses; and its population in 1695, according to the census then taken, was only 1004; but from the abundance and rich quality of its coal and ironstone, and the consequent establishment of the iron-trade, it rapidly increased in extent and population, and has become one of the largest manufacturing places in the county.
The town is situated on rising ground in the centre of a district abounding with foundries, forges, furnaces, steam-engines, and other works necessary for the various processes of the iron manufacture, of which the smoke by day and the fires by night present a scene singularly impressive. It extends nearly two miles in length, is irregularly built, and lighted with gas; the principal streets contain several substantial and handsome houses, and throughout the neighbourhood are scattered, in every direction, the numerous habitations of persons employed in the different works. The manufacture of tin, japanned and enamelled wares of every kind, iron-wire, nails, screws, iron gates and palisades, machinery, steam-engines, and all the heavier articles in the irontrade, is carried on to a very considerable extent; there are some mills for forming pig-iron into bars, and many iron and brass foundries. Clay, of which the coarser kind of pottery-ware is made, and a particularly fine sand for casting, are found in great abundance; and there are quarries of a very hard stone much valued for grindstones and troughs and for building, lying in horizontal strata of twelve layers gradually increasing in thickness from the surface. The Birmingham and Staffordshire canal, which passes near the town, and several branch canals in the vicinity, together with the Liverpool and Birmingham, and the Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Dudley, railways, afford the means of conveying the produce of the mines, the massive productions of the foundries, and the various manufactures of the town and neighbourhood, to different parts of the kingdom. The market days, established by act of parliament in 1825, are Monday and Saturday; and the fairs, which are toll-free, are on Whit-Monday and the Monday preceding the Michaelmas fair at Birmingham.
The township comprises, exclusively of the town, 1728a. 3r. 26p. which are in cultivation. The Living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the resident Householders; net income, £635. The curacy was originally founded about 1458, by the householders, at that time about fifteen in number, who endowed it with considerable portions of land, which were sequestered in the reign of Edward VI. The chapel, dedicated to St. Leonard, was built in the reign of Richard II., and rebuilt in 1826 by the united exertions of the Rev. William Leigh, then incumbent, and the parishioners. In 1830 a chapel dedicated to St. Mary was erected at an expense of £8500, which was defrayed by the Parliamentary Commissioners; it is an elegant structure, in the later English style, with an embattled tower. The minister is appointed by the incumbent of St. Leonard's, and derives his income from the rents of the pews, amounting to about £220 per annum. A church district named St. Luke's, in the centre of the town, was endowed in 1845 by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners: the living is in the gift of the Crown and the Bishop of Lichfield, alternately. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, Methodists of the New Connexion, and Roman Catholics; also a small Welsh chapel. A Blue-coat school, called the Town school, was founded in 1699, by Humphrey Perry, Esq. During the prevalence of the Asiatic cholera, in the autumn of 1832, this place suffered severely from its destructive ravages; in the months of August and September, 3568 of the inhabitants were attacked, and 742 died in less than seven weeks. To mitigate the aggravated sufferings of the poor, a subscription, amounting to £8536, was raised in various parts of the kingdom; and for the gratuitous education of the children under 12 years of age, in number 450, bereaved of their parents by the visitation, two excellent schoolrooms were erected from the surplus fund, and opened with much solemnity.