Bromwich, West (All Saints)

BROMWICH, WEST (All Saints), a town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Offlow South, S. division of the county of Stafford, situated about 6 miles (N. W.) from Birmingham, 4 miles (E.) from Dudley, and 4 (S.) from Walsall; adjoining the town of Wednesbury; and containing, in 1841, 26,121 inhabitants. The name has been variously written at different periods as Bromwic, Bromwych, Bromich, Bromwhiche, and Bromwidge. It is derived from the broom supposed to have once grown plentifully in the neighbourhood, and wic, a Saxon word signifying village: West appears to have been added to distinguish the place from Castle-Bromwich, Little Bromwich, and Bromwycham, as Birmingham was once called. The parish is not mentioned in the Domesday survey; but it appears from other records to have belonged to the barony of Dudley, and in the time of Henry III. Walter de Everons, and his two coparceners, held the town of Bromwich of Roger de Somery. In the 21st of Edward I. one Richard Bassett was lord of the manor, which the family of Freebody afterwards appear to have held; and Cecily, daughter and heiress of William Freebody, marrying John Stanley, conveyed it to him: she died in 1553. The manor remained in the Stanleys for about a century, when Sir Edward Stanley sold it to his cousin, Sir Richard Shelton, Knt., from whose family it passed about 1700 to Sir Samuel Clarke, whose descendants now hold some of the property; though the greater part was sold by Mr. Clarke Jervoise in 1822, when the manor and several of the estates were purchased by the Earl of Dartmouth.

The parish comprises nearly 6000 acres; about twothirds of the cultivated land are arable, and the remainder pasture: a considerable portion of land is occupied with buildings, collieries, and brick-yards. On the east lies the parish of Handsworth, on the south lie Smethwick parish and Oldbury township, on the west the parishes of Rowley-Regis and Tipton, on the north Wednesbury, and on the north-east Barr. The river Tame, which is but a small stream here, bounds the parish for nearly nine miles: the whole circumference is about thirteen miles. The surface presents no striking feature; it is gently undulated, and from Sandwell Park up the valley of the Tame the country is picturesque and well wooded. The soil for the most part is light and sandy on the higher grounds, and a sandy loam in other parts, with, generally, a substratum of sand and gravel; clay abounds in numerous places, and is extensively used in the manufacture of bricks. The water, in many of the wells, is strongly impregnated with iron; and there are some springs at Wigmore that are considered medicinal, but they have never been properly analysed, and have only a local reputation. A large tract nearly in the centre of the parish, and surrounding Christ Church, was formerly a common and rabbit-warren; it was inclosed about 1805, together with all the other waste lands, and now forms some of the most valuable land in the district. Sandwell Hall, situated on the site of a Benedictine priory, was the residence of the ancient and wealthy family of Whorwood, which continued to reside here till the close of the 17th century, when it became by purchase the property of the earls of Dartmouth, whose principal seat it now is, and who, as already mentioned, purchased the manor in 1822. Several of the Whorwoods received the honour of knighthood: in 1572 Thomas Whorwood was a member for the county; and in 1573, 1596, 1604, 1632, and 1654 the family served the office of high sheriff. The present mansion is a large, square, stuccoed building, with a portico of stone pillars; it has every accommodation for a noble family, and contains a handsome library, a neat chapel, and a large collection of valuable paintings, including some fine specimens of the old masters. The park covers a space of about 700 acres, fenced round for the greater part with a high wall, and contains some fine timber. The old manor-house, called Bromwich Hall, stands about a mile to the north-west of the church, and forms a pile of irregular buildings, half timber, surrounded with numerous out houses, and by lofty walls: it is now divided into several dwellings. The Oak House, one of the oldest buildings in the parish, was the residence of the Turtons, who are said to have dwelt upon the spot upwards of 600 years: the last of the name died here in 1768. It is a fine specimen of the half-timbered mansions of the Elizabethan age, and is in tolerably good repair.

This place, which is situated in an extensive manufacturing and mining district, has, within a few years, risen with amazing rapidity from a state of comparative insignificance, to a degree of importance, for the variety and extent of its manufactures and trade, that is almost unparalleled. In 1750, the population appears to have been 1825 souls: in 1801, it was 5687: in 1831 it had increased to 15,337; and by the last census, in 1841, it had reached to upwards of 26,000. The greater part of the parish presents the appearance of a large straggling town, the buildings being scattered about without much order, but dense enough in some parts to form streets, especially along the Holyhead road, where, in the High street, are shops of every description, a convenient market-place, and a good hotel. A literary institution was established in 1836. One great cause of the rapid increase of the place, is its mines of coal and ironstone, which occupy, as far as they are at present ascertained, rather more than half the parish: the principal bed of coal is the Thick or Ten-yard coal, but there are also all the other measures of coal and ironstone which usually accompany it, forming the well-known basin of South Staffordshire. Some peculiar features in the coal measures of the parish are worthy of notice. To the north, the Thick coal, which there lies from 100 to 140 yards deep, is suddenly terminated by a range or fault running nearly east and west, and passing from Holloway Bank to the front of Bromwich Hall; on the north side of this fault, thin measures of coal and ironstone are met with near the surface, that usually lie at a considerable depth below the Thick coal. It was formerly supposed that no coal existed under the New Red-sandstone formation, and that a line of fault running nearly north and south from a point a little to the west of the old church, in a direct line to Oldbury, terminated the coal-field; but within the last few years five pairs of pits have been sunk over this fault, and after passing through about 150 yards of the red-sandstone measures, the coal measures have been found, and the Thick coal obtained, at the depth of about 300 yards. It is still uncertain, however, how much further the coal extends in this direction; for another dislocation of the measures occurs to the west of Sandwell Park wall, running nearly in the direction of Spon Lane, beyond which no borings that have hitherto taken place, satisfactorily prove the existence of coal. There are at the present time altogether about thirty pairs of pits in the Thick coal, capable of raising at a fair average about 12,000 tons per week; but the quantity procured is subject to great variation from the state of trade and other causes. After the Thick coal has been obtained, the lower mines both of coal and ironstone are worked, and about fifteen pairs of pits are now thus employed.

The manufacture of iron has become a most important branch of business. That it was carried on here at a very early period, we have evidence in the fact of an old smelting-furnace having stood in a meadow near Bromwich Old-Forge; the smelting-works, however, went to decay, and no pig-iron was made in the parish till Messrs. John Bagnall and Sons commenced their three furnaces at Golds Green, in 1820. Since then, three others have been erected at the Union by Messrs. Philip Williams and Sons, and three at Crookhay by Mr. Thomas Davies; each of these is capable of making from ninety to one hundred tons of pig-iron per week. Before the introduction of the steam-engine, the only power available for manufactures was the water-wheel; accordingly, along the stream of the Tame are to be found the sites of many old corn-mills and iron-works. Of the latter were Golds Hill, originally a small slitting-mill; Bustleholm, a rod-mill; and Bromwich Old-Forge. This last is probably the oldest iron-work in the parish; it is mentioned by Dr. Wilkes in his View of Staffordshire, in 1735, and was subsequently carried on by Messrs. Jesson and Wright, who in 1774 obtained a patent for making malleable iron from the pig, with raw coal and coke without charcoal. They afterwards erected the Bromford works near Oldbury. Among the iron-works now in operation, are the Golds Hill and Golds Green works, where, in conjunction with their works at Toll-End, and the Imperial works in the adjoining parishes of Tipton and Wednesbury, Messrs. Bagnall and Sons are capable of furnishing upwards of 750 tons of iron per week, and where a considerable portion of the rails of the railroads of this country and also of the continent has been manufactured. The other principal iron-works are, the Albion works, belonging to Mr. Walter Williams; those of Bromford, belonging to John Dawes and Sons; Roway, to E. Page and Sons; Great Bridge, to Mr. James Batson; Church Lane, to Underhill, Whitehouse, and Company; the works of the Phœnix Patent Galvanized-Iron Company; Vulcan Forge, for hammered-iron, belonging to Henry Smith and Company; Crookhay, to Mr. Thomas Davies; &c. The cast-iron founding business is also carried on to a great extent; and in the hollow-ware branch, consisting of pots, kettles, &c., the firms of Messrs. Izons and Company, W. Bullock and Company, and A. Kenrick and Sons, have long been celebrated for superior articles. Besides these, there are the Swan Foundry of Mr. James Roberts, for large castings for machinery, mill-work, &c.; the establishment of Wathew, Siddons, and Company; Hill Top, that of Johnson and Cranage; Church Lane; and several smaller foundries. The manufacture of nails is perhaps the oldest established trade in the district, having been carried on from time immemorial, and still employing a considerable number of the poorer class of the inhabitants, men, women, and children. Many other trades have also been introduced here, owing to the abundance of fuel, and the contiguity to the iron-works: they embrace the manufacture of steam-engines, boilers, gas-meters, coach-springs, axles, and other coach ironwork, cut-nails, hinges, pistols, and bayonets. The buckle and steel-stud trade once employed a great number of hands, but it is now almost extinct.

In Swan village, situated between West Bromwich and Great-Bridge are some gas-works, erected under an act passed in 1825, at a cost of £120,000, raised by a proprietary named the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Company. This establishment, which (out of London) is perhaps the largest of the kind in the kingdom, was the first to supply gas at a considerable distance from the place of its manufacture: all the neighbouring towns and villages, viz., Birmingham, Handsworth, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Darlaston, Bilston, Tipton, and Oldbury, and to a distance of ten miles, are lighted from the works. The length of the general main-pipes for the conveyance of the gas to the various localities, amounts to about 120 miles; and the apparatus, consisting of retorts, purifiers, &c., employed in its manufacture, is capable of making and dispensing 30,000 cubic feet per hour. The works contain six gasholders of sufficient capacity to store 150,000 cubic feet; besides which there are six other gas-holders, that can contain in addition 304,000 feet, placed at different distances varying from five to seven miles from Swan. It was in these works that, at the suggestion of the engineer of the company, an exhauster and propeller was first used to reduce the pressure upon the generation of gas in the retorts, and to propel it to a distance, in order to fill the various gas-holders.

The means of communication in the parish are considerable: the great Holyhead road enters it about three miles to the west of Birmingham, and runs through it in a north-western direction for nearly four miles. The Birmingham canal, which was commenced in 1768, extends through the south-western part of the parish for several miles, having branches to all the principal collieries and iron-works: a branch of the canal has also been recently opened from near Wednesbury down the Tame valley, entering the Fazeley canal near Birmingham. The Liverpool and Birmingham railway skirts the parish to the north-east for about two miles; and there is a station upon it at the Newton road.

The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £566; patron and impropriator, the Earl of Dartmouth: there is neither glebe nor glebe-house, but a residence for the incumbent is provided by his lordship. The parish church formerly contained some fine monuments of the Whorwood family; but these were unfortunately destroyed when the body of the edifice and the chancel were rebuilt, in 1787: the tower remains nearly in its original state, and has a good peal of eight bells. Christ Church district church is a handsome stone structure with a tower in the florid English style, built principally at the charge of the Church Commissioners, at a cost of about £19,000; it was consecrated in 1829, and contains 1200 sittings. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £330; patrons, the Earl of Dartmouth and Trustees. St. James' district church was erected in 1841, by voluntary contributions (of which the earl subscribed £1300), aided by grants from the Incorporated Society and the Lichfield Diocesan Society; it is a neat building with 1009 sittings. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Incumbent of West Bromwich. Holy Trinity district church was erected at a cost of £3400, raised by subscription, aided by a grant of £500 from the Lichfield Diocesan Society; it is an elegant building of brick, with a square tower and pinnacles, and contains 930 sittings, whereof 430 are free: this church was consecrated in August 1841. The living is in the gift of five Trustees, and has been endowed with £1000 by Thomas Hood and Edwin Bullock, Esqrs.: a parsonage, the site of which, and that for the church, were given by George Silvester, Esq., of the Elms, was built in 1843. There are many places of worship for dissenters of different denominations. The Wesleyans have five meeting-houses, of which the largest, Wesley Chapel, is capable of holding 2000 persons: the Independents have four meeting-houses, the Baptists two, the Roman Catholics one; and the Primitive Methodists, Ranters, and others, have four or five small places of meeting. Nearly all the churches and meeting-houses have large schools attached to them; but there is no endowed school. Of the benefactions left to the parish, the principal is that of Walter Stanley, lord of the manor, who by deed of trust dated March 12, 1613, gave a house and certain lands in Aston, and Sutton-Coldfield, in the county of Warwick, for the maintenance of a preacher in the church of West Bromwich. Upon the erection of Christ Church an act was obtained, by which one-half of the rents arising from the property was appropriated to the incumbent of the parish, and the other half to the minister of Christ Church; a second act was obtained in 1840, enabling the trustees to grant building-leases, and a great part of the estate has been leased out. The annual income now derived from it is about £300. The union of West Bromwich comprises six parishes or places, and contains a population of 52,596.

Some of the foundations of Sandwell Priory are still traceable in the back part and offices of the present mansion, where may be seen a stone coffin, which was dug up there. On the lawn in front of the house, the "Sanctus Fons," or Holy Well, from which the priory derived its name, is still remaining. The priory was founded in the latter part of the reign of Henry II. or the beginning of that of Richard I., by William, son of Guy de Ophene or Offney: it was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, and was one of those houses which were given in the 17th of Henry VIII. to Cardinal Wolsey; its spiritualities were at that time of the yearly value of £12, and its temporalities amounted to £26. 8. 7. Eventually, it was granted to the Whorwoods, of Compton and Stourton Castle. At Friars' Park is said to have been an establishment of Mendicant friars in connexion with the priory at Sandwell; but not a trace of it now exists, nor any record that is authentic. A tessellated pavement was discovered in 1841. William Parsons, the gigantic porter of James I., was a native of the parish.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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