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Rowley-Regis (St. Giles)

ROWLEY-REGIS (St. Giles), a parish, in the union of Dudley, N. division of the hundred of Seisdon, S. division of the county of Stafford, 3 miles (S. E.) from Dudley, and 7 (W.) from Birmingham; containing 11,111 inhabitants. This parish is situated in a district abounding with clay, coal, and ironstone. It is bounded on the south and south-west by the river Stour, which divides it from the parish of Hales-Owen and the county of Worcester; and on the north and north-west by a rill which rises among the hills, and separates it from the parish of Dudley, in the county of Worcester, and from King's-Swinford, in the county of Stafford. Another rill, which has its source to the north, near the summit of the hills, after passing under the Birmingham canal at Tividale, falls into a nameless river which separates the parish on the north-east from Tipton and West Bromwich, and from the manor of Oldbury, in the parish of Hales-Owen. The surface, comprising nearly 3550 acres, is very uneven, and divided into numerous small inclosures, of which scarcely any two contiguous portions form one common level. The soil in the hilly parts is light and open, but in the lower grounds stiff, cold, and generally unproductive. At the extremity of the parish towards Hales-Owen, rise the Rowley hills, which extend in a northern direction to the opposite border of the parish, and consist of a peculiarly hard basaltic rock, commonly called Rowley Rag. These hills, which supplied materials for paving the town of Birmingham, and other towns in the vicinity, are said to have an elevation of 900 feet above the sea, into which the waters issuing from the eastern side are conveyed by the Trent, and those on the western by the Severn, at opposite extremities of the kingdom. J. Edwards Piercy, Esq., high sheriff of the county in 1843, has an estate here.

The parish comprises a considerable number of hamlets, with various clusters of houses, principally inhabited by persons engaged in the collieries and different works. The river Stour rises within two miles of the place, and, within a distance of four miles from its source, gives motion to no less than nine mills and forges, several of which have overshot water-wheels of large diameter. The iron-trade appears to have been carried on here at a very early period; and previously to the introduction of steam, all the mill power employed in it throughout the district was derived from the Stour and one or two tributary streams, to which, says Yarrington in his England's Improvements published in 1677, all the iron from the Forest of Dean was brought for the purpose of being manufactured. The stratum of coal lies at from 80 to 200 yards below the surface, varying from ten to thirteen in thickness; and there are numerous collieries in full operation. The Sutherland colliery, leased from the Duke of Sutherland, was opened by Messrs. Wagstaff and Skidmore, in 1842; the coal is ten yards thick, and the depth 200 yards. The Brades Iron and Steel Works were erected about fifty years since, by Mr. William Hunt, and are continued under the firm of William Hunt and Sons. The Windmill-End Works, the property of Sir Horace St. Paul, were erected about 30 years since, for making pig-iron from the ironstone, which is calcined in large heaps, and smelted in powerful furnaces. The Corngreaves Works, for converting bar-iron into steel, are among the oldest in the neighbourhood, and contain powerful furnaces, and several forges driven by the water of the river Stour. The Cradley forges are now chiefly for converting pig-iron into bars and rods: in these works the experiment was first made of manufacturing iron with pit-coal instead of charcoal, which had been previously used for that purpose; and in the 19th of James I., Mr. Dudley, then proprietor, obtained a patent for that mode of operation. Of these forges, one is situated on the river Stour, within the county of Worcester, and the other on the Rowley side of the river. Near Corngreaves, some very extensive iron and steel works were erected in 1818 by Mr. John Attwood, consisting of forges and rolling-mills, capable of manufacturing 300 tons of bar and rod iron, and 20 tons of various sorts of steel, per week. They are worked by four large steam-engines, and, with the collieries connected with them, afford employment to about 500 persons. In 1825, these and some other works, together with the Corngreaves estate, comprising about 250 acres, of which 205 are in the parish of Rowley-Regis, and the remainder in the county of Worcester, were, with the exception of the mines under seventy-five acres in this parish (reserved by the inclosure act to the lord of the manor), purchased by the British Iron Company for £550,000. After paying a part of this sum, proceedings were instituted in the court of exchequer by the company, to set aside the contract, which, after a trial of twenty-one days, was annulled by Lord Chief Baron Lyndhurst in favour of the company; but on an appeal to the house of lords this judgment was reversed. The present proprietors are the New British Iron Company. The manufacture of nails employs nearly all the women and girls in the parish; the making of chains of various kinds, and of gun-barrels, occupies a considerable number of persons, and the manufacture of Jews' harps is also a source of employment to many. The Birmingham canal enters the parish at the Brades, and passes through Tividale for about a mile; the Dudley canal is conveyed through Gosty Hill by a tunnel nearly 500 yards in length.

The living was annexed by Robert de Somery, in the 1st of Edward I., to the vicarage of Clent, and both belonged to the abbey of Hales-Owen: it has recently been made a distinct perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Crown. The body of the church was rebuilt in 1840, at an expense of £4763, raised by subscription, aided by a grant of £400 from the Diocesan, and £500 from the Incorporated, Society; the tower, which is exceedingly old, was in part cased with new stone, and raised forty feet higher. This appears to be the second time that the main edifice has been rebuilt: it now contains 1800 sittings, of which 1000 are free. At Reddal-Hill and Cradley-Heath are other churches, consecrated in 1847: see Reddal-Hill. There are 27 places of worship for dissenters in the parish. A school in the town, on a site given by Mr. Macmillan, who endowed it with £20 per annum, was erected after his decease by his brother, Mr. John Macmillan; and the endowment was augmented with an annuity of £10 left by Lady Monnins. In 1651, Elizabeth Mansell, whose maiden name was White, bequeathed two closes and two dwelling-houses at Gosty Hill for charitable uses. Sir Stephen Littleton, of Holbech House, in the parish of King's-Swinford, and one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder plot, was for some time concealed in the residence of a family of the name of White, of which Elizabeth Mansell is supposed to have been a member.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.