Its surface is various. The northern part rises into hills called the Moorlands, constituting the southern extremity of the long mountainous range which stretches hence through the north of Derbyshire, and along the western confines of Yorkshire, towards the borders of Scotland. These Moorlands are to the north of a supposed line drawn from Uttoxeter to Newcastle-under-Lyme, and comprise extensive tracts of waste and uncultivated land, appropriated almost entirely to the pasturage of sheep. A large portion of them has been inclosed with stone walls, almost the only fence to be seen in this part; but the inclosures have not been subdivided, and large breadths have never undergone the least improvement. The pleasant vale containing the town of Cheadle, in this part of the county, is bounded, in the vicinity of that town, by high barren hills composed of huge heaps of gravel: the wastes upon these hills, and upon others equally barren, extending both northward and westward of Cheadle, are extensive; and almost their only produce is heath, broom, whortleberries, and mountain cinquefoil. Eastward of the town, approaching the borders of Derbyshire, are similar desolate wastes, one of which, near the banks of the Dove, is called Oakmoor, from its being or having been nearly covered with dwarf oaks. A little to the north of this commences a large tract of limestone country, included between the rivers Dove and Churnet, extending westward as far as Ipstones, and northward as far as Longnor, and comprises an area of 50 or 60 square miles. This is the most valuable part of the Moorlands, the soil naturally producing a fine herbage. Many of the hills here, which are composed of immense masses of limestone, rise to a great height, and present huge perpendicular cliffs. The Weaver hills, in the southern part of the limestone district, of very considerable extent, rise, in common with some other of the highest peaks of the Moorlands, to an elevation of 1000 feet and upwards above the tide in the Thames at Brentford, and command remarkably extensive views, in which are included the Peak hills of Derbyshire. They are almost covered with irregular excrescences, clothed with moss or lichens. Many other parts of the Moorlands, notwithstanding their great superiority of elevation, are entirely wet peat moors, or moss; such are Morrage, Axedge, the Cloud heath, High Forest, Leek-Frith, and Mowcop or Mole-Cop. The middle and southern parts of the country are level, or diversified only by gentlyrising eminences. The following tracts, however, are exceptions to this observation, viz., the limestone hills of Dudley and Sedgley; the parish of Rowley-Regis, principally composed of an isolated mountain terminating in various peaks, the loftiest of them, called Turner's Hill, rising 900 feet above high water in the Thames at Brentford; Barbeacon rising 653 feet; and other hills of less elevation.
The quantity of land in the county devoted to Agricultural purposes is estimated at 600,000 acres, of which 500,000 are arable, the rest meadow or pasture. Of the arable lands, 200,000 acres are of the clayey, or of the more friable of the mixed loams; an equal quantity is of gravelly or sandy loam, or of the calcareous soils, and the remaining 100,000 acres are for the most part of light sandy or gravelly loams, suitable for turnips. The courses of crops are various: the Norfolk system including the rotation of turnips, barley, clover, and wheat, is in common practice on the light soils. The crops of grain and pulse usually grown are wheat, barley, oats, beans, and peas. On the Moorlands oats are almost the only grain ever cultivated, being generally sown for three succeeding years, after which the ground is laid down for grass: a considerable quantity of oaten bread is eaten in the Moorlands. Buck-wheat, here called French wheat, is sometimes cultivated, either as a crop or for ploughing under as manure. Hemp and flax are also grown, though upon a small scale; many leases are subject to restrictions, to prevent the cultivation of these plants. The common artificial grasses are red clover, white clover, trefoil, and rye-grass; burnet and ribgrass are also sown in considerable quantities. In the parish of Tettenhall, near Wolverhampton, great quantities are grown of a peculiar kind of pear, called from the name of the place where it is produced.
The woods, wastes, and impracticable lands, are supposed to occupy upwards of 100,000 acres. The county is well stocked with almost every species of English timber growing on the estates of the nobility and gentry. Plantations to a great extent have been made on various parts of the steep Moorland hills, particularly those of Dilhorne, Kingsley, and Oakmoor: from the underwood of these many rods and staves, to make crates for the use of the potteries, are cut. Needwood Forest, in the eastern part of the county, situated between the rivers Trent and Dove, before the passing of an act of inclosure about the commencement of the present century, was an entirely wild tract of nearly 10,000 acres, presenting much romantic and beautiful scenery, and affording pasturage to numerous herds of deer: it was also subject to a common right for cattle and horses. Of the wastes now remaining, Cannock Heath is by far the most extensive, containing upwards of 25,000 acres near the centre of the county, and chiefly to the north and east of the small town of Cannock. Although at present a bleak and dreary tract, devoid of trees, it is asserted to have been covered in former times with a profusion of majestic oaks, and to have been a favourite chase of the Saxon Kings of Mercia.
The mineral productions are numerous and valuable, consisting of coal, iron, lead, copper, marble, gypsum, and stone of various kinds. The coal strata occupy an area of more than 75,000 acres; the largest deposit extends in length from about one mile south of Rugeley to Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, a distance of 22 miles, while its breadth in some places is not much less than 9 miles. In its southern part, at various depths below the surface, is found the thick coal or ten-yard stratum, beneath which are valuable beds of ironstone, the clay ironore of mineralogists. The whole of the beds of coal, ironstone, sandstone, and shale in this district have suffered much dislocation from the action of volcanic rocks, which are found to occupy large areas underneath the surface, and to protrude through and form hills of basaltic rock of greater or less elevation at Rowley-Regis, Barrow Hill, and Powk Hill. The base rock of the coal-field is a limestone, known by its peculiar fossils to belong to the Wenlock formation of geologists: it rises to the surface in a ridge of hills from Dudley, in Worcestershire, to Sedgley; again round the town of Walsall; and in isolated patches in other places. In the north of the county, coal and ironstone are also raised in abundance; namely, in the neighbourhood of Newcastle and the Potteries, near Lane-End and Hollybush, and in the vicinity of Cheadle and Dilhorne. In the numerous mines of coal and iron, and in the foundries, blast-furnaces, slitting-mills, and other iron manufactories, an immense number of workmen are employed; the works on the banks of the Birmingham canal are particularly extensive.
The other metallic ores obtained are copper and lead, of both which considerable quantities are raised at Ecton, near Warslow, approaching the north-eastern border of the county: a copper-mine is also worked at Mixon, within a few miles of Leek; and a lead-mine near Stanton Moor, in the same part of the county. Limestone forms the substratum of a great part of the county: an immense quantity of stone is raised for burning into lime; and the limeworks on Caldon Low, and in the neighbourhood of the Weaver hills, are on a very large scale. The limestone, in different places, has some of the qualities of marble, and is susceptible of a high polish; in others it is composed, in a great measure, of petrified animal remains. The kind of marble called rancemarble, which is white, with red veins formed of shining gritty particles, takes so good a polish as to be frequently used for chimney-pieces and monuments; it is found in abundance in Yelpersley Tor and the adjoining hills. There is a considerable quantity of grey marble at Stansop. In the great limestone district of the Moorlands, particularly on the banks of the river Dove, are some veins of gypsum, which is also dug between Needwood Forest and Tutbury; many of the moulds used in the potteries are composed of this material, after it has been burned and ground. Quarries of excellent freestone are numerous; clays of almost every description are found, and potters'-clay, of several sorts, abounds in the vicinity of Newcastle, in which district the pottery wares were formerly manufactured from it. At Amblecoat, in the southern part of the county, is a clay of a dark blueish colour, of which glasshouse pots of a superior quality are made. Yellow and red ochre are also found; and a blue clay obtained at Darlaston, near Wednesbury, is used by glovers. A kind of black chalk exists in beds of grey marble, in Langley-close; and a fine reddish earth, little inferior to the red chalk of France, is obtained near Himley Hall.
The manufactures are various and extensive. That of hardware, in the southern district, is very important, and affords employment to many thousand persons. At Wolverhampton, and in its vicinity, are made locks of every kind, edge-tools, files, augers, japanned goods, and a great variety of other articles. The town and neighbourhood of Walsall are famous for the manufacture of saddlers' ironmongery, such as bridle-bits, stirrup-irons, spurs, &c, sent thence to every part of the kingdom. The making of nails employs many persons in the populous districts of this part of the county, particularly in those of Sedgley, Rowley, West Bromwich, Smethwick, Tipton, Wombourne, Pelsall, and the Foreign of Walsall: women and children are employed in making the lighter and finer sorts. The other kinds of hardware produced are chiefly plated, lackered, japanned, and some enamelled goods, toys, tobacco and snuff boxes, of iron and steel; and machinery for steamengines. Some places also partake of the manufacture of guns; and there are several works for making brass, and for preparing tin plates, chiefly in the northern part of the county. In those parts of Staffordshire situated in the vicinity of Stourbridge, Birmingham, and Dudley, are a number of glass-houses, where the manufacture is carried on to a great extent.
The manufacture of china and earthenware, in the north-western part of the county, is the most important of the kind in the kingdom: the district called the Potteries consists of numerous scattered villages, occupying an extent of about ten square miles, and containing about 20,000 inhabitants. This manufacture, though of very ancient establishment in this part of the country, was of inferior importance until the latter part of the eighteenth century. At that time, by the exertions of the late Josiah Wedgwood, Esq., it was raised to such a pitch of excellence, as confers great honour upon that gentleman's ingenuity and taste; and in consequence, several of the villages of this district, particularly Burslem and Hanley, have grown rapidly into populous market-towns. The several species of ware invented by Mr. Wedgwood, varied by the industry of the manufacturers into an infinity of forms, and differently painted and embellished, constitute nearly the whole of the fine earthenwares at present manufactured in England. Almost every part of the kingdom receives supplies of pottery from this district, yet by far the greater portion of its produce is exported to foreign countries; and the exports of earthenware and china to the United States alone amount to 60,000 packages annually.
The quantity of wool manufactured is small, nearly the whole of the produce of the county being sold to the clothing and hosiery districts. The cotton manufacture is considerable; and the works at Rocester and other places near the Dove are on a large scale, as are also those at Fazeley and Tutbury. The town of Leek and its neighbourhood have a considerable manufacture of silk and mohair, the articles being chiefly sewing-silk, twist, buttons, ribbons, ferrets, shawls, and handkerchiefs. Tape is manufactured at Cheadle and Tean, affording employment to many of their inhabitants. Stafford has manufactures of shoes and boots, for exportation and home consumption; and tanning and hatmaking are carried on largely in several of the towns. This county is also celebrated for its ale, particularly that made at Burton.
The principal rivers are the Trent, the Dove, the Tame, the Blythe, the Penk, and the Sow. The Severn also, though not considered a Staffordshire river, takes its navigable course by the parish of Upper Arely, at the south-western extremity of the county. The Trent, which ranks as the third largest river in England, becomes navigable at Burton, a little below which, being joined by the Dove, it enters Derbyshire, after a course, through this county and bordering upon it, of upwards of 50 miles. The Dove, which, throughout its course, forms the boundary between this county and that of Derby, not far from its source enters the beautiful and sequestered Dove-dale, flowing through it in a southern direction, to the vicinity of Ashbourn, in Derbyshire, whence it proceeds south-westward towards Uttoxeter, near which town it assumes a south-eastern direction, by Tutbury, to its junction with the Trent north-east of Burton. From the inclination of the bed of the river, its water flows with great rapidity, in some places dashing over rugged masses of rock, in others forming gentle cascades. Near the village of Ham, in this county, the Dove is augmented by the waters of the rivers Manifold and Hamps. The former, rising near the source of the Dove, takes a very circuitous route through a romantic vale in the north-eastern part of the county, and, sinking into the earth to the south of Ecton Hill, between the villages of Butterton and Wetton, is invisible for four miles, and emerges again at Ham, shortly before its junction with the Dove. The stream is joined during its subterraneous transit by the Hamps, which in like manner passes under ground for some distance.
The extent of artificial navigation for the ready transport of the produce of the mines, manufactures, &c, is remarkably great. The Grand Trunk canal, which was planned, and in a measure executed, by the celebrated engineer Brindley, enters this county from Cheshire, near Lawton, and almost immediately passes through the Harecastle tunnel, which is 2880 yards long. The highest level of the canal is at Harecastle, from which, on the south-eastern side, there is a fall of 316 feet. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal branches from this at Haywood, near the confluence of the rivers Sow and Trent, and quits the county, in its course to the Severn, a short distance to the south of Kinver: this canal, with the Grand Trunk, completes the communication between the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, and Hull. The Coventry and Oxford canal branches from the Grand Trunk at Fradley Heath, and near Fazeley enters Warwickshire; from Fazeley a branch called the Birmingham and Fazeley canal proceeds to Birmingham. The Wyrley and Essington canal, commencing at a place called Wyrley Bank, forms a junction with the Birmingham canal near Wolverhampton; its branches are, one from the vicinity of Wolverhampton to Stow Heath, another from Pool-Hayes to Ashmore Park, and a third from Lapley-Hayes to Ashmore Park. At Huddlesford commences a hranch from the Coventry canal, called the Wyrley and Essington Extension, which forms a junction with the Wyrley and Essington line near Bloxwich: on the western side of part of Cannock Heath a branch is carried southward by Walsall Wood, to the limeworks at Hayhead. The length of the Extension, including branches, is 34½ miles; and from Cannock Heath to the Coventry canal it has a fall of 264 feet. The Birmingham canal, from that town in Warwickshire, joins the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal a little to the north of Wolverhampton, after a course of 22 miles. Of the numerous branches of this canal, one proceeds northward, over Ryder's Green, to the collieries of Wednesbury, and the vicinity of Walsall. Another, beginning about a mile from Dudley, passes south-westward by Brierley Hill, and to the left of Brockmore Green joins a canal which commencing in a large reservoir at Pensett's Chase, and passing nearly in a straight line by Wordsley, crosses the river Stour, and joins the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, a few miles to the west of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, to which town there is a small branch. The cut which connects the Dudley canal with that of Birmingham, called the Dudley Extension canal, has part of its course in this county. Sir Nigel Gresleys canal extends from the Grand Trunk, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, past that town, to the coal-mine in Apedale. The Birmingham and Liverpool railway enters the county a little to the north-west of Birmingham, and passing by Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, Penkridge, and Stafford, quits it to the north-west of Madeley. The Birmingham and Derby railway crosses the county on its eastern side, and at Tamworth joins the Trent- Valley line which connects the towns of Stafford, Rugeley, Lichfield, and Tamworth, with the north-eastern part of Warwickshire.
The antiquities are of considerable interest. Some large single stones at Cannock are supposed to be Druidical; as also are the eight upright stones called the Bridestones, near Biddulph, on the north-western boundary of the county. On Drood or Druid heath, where are several singular earthworks, Mr. Shaw, the historian of the county, considers the chief seat of the Arch-Druid of Britain to have been situated. Thyrsis, or Thor's house, a cavern in the side of a lofty precipice in the vale of the Manifold, near Wetton, is also thought to have been the scene of Druidical rites. Some very ancient artificial caves have been discovered at Biddulph. The encampment of Billington, about three miles to the west of Stafford, and that on Castle Hill, near Beaudesert park, in the vicinity of Rugeley, are of British formation. Under the Roman dominion, the tract now constituting Staffordshire contained the stations of Etocetum, at Wall, near Lichfield; and Pennocrucium, now Penkridge. Sheriff-Hales, near the confines of Shropshire, is supposed by some antiquaries to have been the site of Uxacona or Usacona. Two of the great prætorian ways crossed Staffordshire: the Watling-street, entering it from Warwickshire, near Tamworth, proceeded westward across the southern part, and quitted it for Shropshire, on the west of the town of-Brewood. The Ikeneldstreet, which entered from Warwickshire, at the village of Handsworth, near Birmingham, proceeded thence, in a north-north-eastern direction, to a little beyond Shenstone; it there crossed the Watling-street, and afterwards pursued a north-eastern course, entering Derbyshire at Monks' Bridge, on the Dove. Roman domestic remains, and traces of roads, are discoverable in different places; and Roman earthworks are visible at Arely wood, Ashton heath, Ashwood heath, near Kinver, at Oldbury, near Shareshill, and in Tiddesley park. Near Maer are intrenchments supposed to have been thrown up by Cenred, in the progress of his hostilities against Osred, King of Northumbria; and on Sutton-Coldfield is a camp considered to be of Danish formation.
The number of religious houses in the county, including free chapels, hospitals, and colleges, was about 40; and remains of Burton and Croxden Abbeys, and of the priories of Rowton, Stafford, and Stone, are still visible. The chief remains of castles are those of Alveton, Caverswall, Chartley, Healy or Heyley, Tamworth, and Tutbury Castles; and among the most remarkable ancient mansions are Bentley Hall and Moseley Hall, in both which Charles II. remained concealed for some time after the battle of Worcester. Staffordshire contains numerous modern seats of the nobility and gentry, many of which are elegant, and several magnificent: among the most distinguished are, Trentham, the property of the Duke of Sutherland; and Beaudesert, that of the Marquess of Anglesey. The county gives the inferior title of Marquess to the family of Leveson-Gower, dukes of Sutherland.
Salt springs exist in different places, the principal being in the parish of Weston. Of the other mineral springs of various qualities, the most remarkable are, that near Codsall, formerly famous for the cure of leprosies; St. Erasmus' well, between Ingestrie and Stafford; and that at Willoughby. Numerous fossil remains occur in the strata of the county, more particularly in some of the limestone beds. At Bradley, to the east of Wolverhampton, a stratum of coal about four feet thick, and eight or ten yards below the surface, having been set on fire, burned for about fifty years, and has reduced a considerable extent of land to a complete calx, used for the mending of roads: sulphur and alum are found in its vicinity.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.