Kidderminster (St. Mary)

KIDDERMINSTER (St. Mary), a parish, and the head of a union, in the Lower division of the hundred of Halfshire, Kidderminster and W. divisions of the county of Worcester; comprising the market-town and newly-enfranchised borough of Kidderminster, having separate jurisdiction, and the chapelry of Lower Mitton; and containing 20,753 inhabitants, of whom 14,399 are in the town, 14 miles (N.) from Worcester, and 126 (N. W. by N.) from London. Its ancient name was Chiderminster; Kid or Chid signifying, in ancient British, the brow of a hill, Dwr, water, and Minster, a church; an etymology highly characteristic of the situation of the place. At the time of the Conquest this was a royal manor, and it continued so until the reign of Henry II., when it passed into the hands of various possessors, of whom Waller, the poet, was subsequently one. Lord Ward in 1838 purchased the manor and the whole of the Kidderminster estates, late the property of Lord Foley, including the splendid seat of Witley Court, in the neighbourhood, and the rich and extensive manors by which it is surrounded, at a cost of nearly one million. The town is situated on the eastern bank of the river Stour, about three miles from its confluence with the Severn, and is of an irregular form, containing several well-built houses, but for the most part consisting of small dwellings inhabited by the workmen employed in the different factories. It is paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. At the entrances from Worcester, Bridgnorth, and Bewdley, where improvements have been made by cutting away the rock to lower the road, houses have been excavated in the sides of the rock. Within the last few years an entirely new approach has been formed from Worcester, commencing at Hoo-brook, about a mile from Kidderminster, and passing through a rich valley terminating in a most picturesque view of the town; the land for it was given by Lord Foley, and John Jefferys and George Hallen, Esqrs. On the left of the approach to the town are seen the remains of an ancient castle, called "Caldwell Castle," formerly the seat of Sir Ralph Clare.

In the reign of Henry VIII. Kidderminster was noted for the manufacture of broad-cloths, to which, at different periods, succeeded that of linsey-woolseys, friezes, and tammies and flowered stuffs. About the year 1736, the manufacture of carpets was introduced, which has continued to flourish with progressive improvement, and now constitutes the staple trade. A considerable quantity is constantly exported to almost every part of the kingdom, and from a return to parliament it appears, that of the whole quantity of wool produced in the kingdom, one twenty-eighth part is consumed here in the weaving of carpets. In 1772, the number of carpetlooms was about 250; at present there are nearly 2000. The trade in bombasin has given place to an article called paramatta, and other fabrics of the same material. In the town and neighbourhood are five spinning-mills, employing about 2000 persons: the place is indebted for the introduction of this important branch of its staple trade to the grandfather of the present James Hooman, Esq. On the banks of the Stour are several dye-houses, in connexion with the various manufactories. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal passes through the town to Stourport, where it joins the river Severn, by which a medium of conveyance by water is afforded to all parts of the kingdom, and a supply of coal and other useful commodities is obtained. In 1845 an act was passed for a railway from Oxford, by Kidderminster, to Wolverhampton. The market-days are Thursday, chiefly for corn, and Saturday for provisions; and the fairs are on the last Monday in January, the Monday before Easter, Ascension-day, June 20th, Sept. 4th, and the last Monday in November. The marketplace, greatly enlarged by the corporation, at an expense of £10,000, is arranged in separate divisions for the various kinds of goods exposed for sale.

The earliest charter of incorporation is that of the 12th of Charles I.; another was granted in the reign of George IV., bearing date August 7th, 1828, under which the corporation consisted of a high-bailiff, twelve aldermen, and twenty-five assistants, aided by a high-steward, recorder, town-clerk, and under-bailiff. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is now vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; the borough is divided into two wards, called North and South, the municipal and parliamentary boundaries being the same. The mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and the total number of magistrates is thirteen. Kidderminster was a borough by prescription, and sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., from which period it made no return, until it was again enfranchised in the 2nd of William IV., with the privilege of returning one member: the right of election is vested in the £10 householders of a district comprising 1209 acres; the mayor is returning officer. The powers of the county debt-court of Kidderminster, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Kidderminster, and the parish of Hartlebury. The town-hall is a neat building, adjoining which is a spacious and convenient prison, built at a considerable expense by the corporation. The parish comprises 11,222a. 1r. 34p., of which 607 acres are in the borough; the soil in general is fertile, and the surface varied.

The living is a vicarage, endowed with a portion of the rectorial tithes, and valued in the king's books at £30. 15. 7½.; net income, £1107; patron, Lord Ward. A tithe rent-charge of £210 is paid to the vicar, and the glebe consists of 6 acres. The church is a spacious and venerable structure, partly in the decorated and partly in the later English style, with a handsome square embattled tower, strengthened with buttresses, and crowned by pinnacles; it contains several ancient monuments and recumbent figures. A second church, dedicated to St. George, was built by grant from the Parliamentary Commissioners in 1824, at an expense of £16,131, to which were added £2000 raised by the inhabitants; it is in the later English style, with a lofty and richly ornamented tower. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £309; patron, the Vicar. The church of St. John the Baptist is an edifice in the Norman style with a tower and spire, erected in 1843, and containing 1257 sittings, whereof 861 are free: the living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Vicar. At Trimpley is a chapel of ease, a beautiful structure in the Norman style, affording accommodation to 120 persons; the pulpit, reading-desk, and font are of solid stone. Lower Mitton and Wribbenhall, in the parish, are district chapelries, the livings of which are also in the patronage of the Vicar of Kidderminster: see Mitton, Lower; and Wribbenhall. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyans, Unitarians, the Connexion of Lady Huntingdon, and Roman Catholics. On an eminence on the Stourport road is a cemetery of three acres of ground, in the formation of which £1800 have been expended.

The free grammar school, the origin of which is uncertain, was made a royal foundation by charter of Charles I., and has an endowment in land producing a rental of about £600; it is entitled to the fifth of six scholarships founded in Worcester College, Oxford, by Sir Thomas Cookes. An ancient chapel adjoining St. Mary's church, has been for many years appropriated to the use of the school. A free school was founded in 1795, by Mr. Nicholas Pearsall, who erected rooms, and in 1797 bequeathed £1000 for its support; this bequest has, with subscriptions, been appropriated to the formation of charity schools. The old meeting-house charity schools, built by subscription in 1811, are chiefly supported by an endowment by Simon Potter, in 1667, producing £40 per annum. A small school, originally founded in 1704, under the auspices of the then Bishop of Worcester, has been converted into a national school; a new school-house was erected in 1817. St. George's national school was built in 1827; and among other schools is one at Trimpley, founded and endowed by the late Mr. Chillingworth. There are six almshouses founded in 1629, by Sir Edward Blount, for aged men and their wives: H. Higgins, Esq., in 1684, bequeathed four messuages, to which a fifth has been added, for aged persons; and two houses were given for the same use, by Sir Ralph Clare, K.B. The poor-law union of Kidderminster comprises 13 parishes or places, of which 11 are in the county of Worcester, one in that of Stafford, and one in Salop; and contains a population of 29,408. On Wassall Hill, about half a mile from the bank of the Severn, are the remains of a small camp, supposed by Dr. Nash to have been occupied by Henry IV., in his pursuit of Owen Glyndwr, after the burning of the city of Worcester; and at Blackstone rock, between Stourport and Bewdley, are the remains of a hermitage and chapel, now converted into an out-house for agricultural implements. There are several chalybeate springs, of which the one most strongly impregnated is at Round Hill, near the town; and the dropping-well on Burlish Common is celebrated for its efficacy in curing diseases of the eye. Richard Baxter, the celebrated nonconformist, was for some time vicar of the parish: the pulpit in which he preached is preserved in the vestry of the Unitarian meeting-house.

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