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Town's grand plans were scuppered by outbreak of Second World War

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 17, 2014

By Gavin Jones

  • Design for the huge Market Hall, which sadly was never to be

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  • Lord Cobham lays the foundation stone for the new police and fire station buildings

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WE'VE become accustomed since the start of 2014 to seeing just how the country was turned upside down a century ago, when the First World War dragged us into an horrific new age.

And while that conflict was infamously heralded as a war to end all wars, it was only 25 years after it started that another global conflict kicked off. Thanks to Laurence Brownhill of Netherton, we have an illuminating insight into the immediate effects of the outbreak of the Second World War on Dudley, as described in Blocksidge's guide of 1940. It seems that big plans were afoot, with the country just getting back into its stride following the first war and the depression, and then ... grand plans were destined to remain on the drawing board for the foreseeable future. An anonymous writer sums up the high hopes which had been dashed that previous year, 1939:

"At the beginning of the twelve months the town had before it a big programme that was certainly in keeping with the tremendous progress that had taken place in the past – progress that had been favourably commented upon, not only by other authorities in the surrounding area, but by heads of government departments also – and so colossal were some of the schemes, both from the points of view of finance and development that apart from the enterprise that was responsible for their birth a great amount of courage was required to promote their growth ... one setback after another were successfully defeated and everything appeared to be set fair for a year of tremendous achievement, when suddenly the dreaded conflagration with Germany broke out and we were plunged into War.

"Peaceful activity was immediately crippled in order to release the energies of the nation for the feeding of the War machine. Past endeavours held no more profitable sources of inspiration. Old endeavours stopped just as they were bearing fruit: great new problems which nobody seemed to know how to face sprang up like mushrooms overnight – everywhere violent changes necessitated by modern war filled the picture."

At the beginning of the year, the long-planned Police Station and Fire Station development on Tower Street had finally been given the go-ahead, and given the need for both services during wartime, this was to press ahead.

But other projects weren't so lucky. The widening of the Station Bridge was postponed indefinitely, and a scheme to build many more council houses was shelved too. But one of the greatest disappointments, to the town planners at least, was the abandonment of the Hall Street widening and new Market Hall scheme.

It was a 'colossal project', several years in the planning, with a design chosen from several tenders, and given the go-ahead in 1939.

"Modernity and magnificence were symbolised in every detail of the perspective," the almanac enthuses. "Every convenience for business people and shoppers was incorporated and generally speaking the scheme was regarded as the finest and greatest in the history of the town. Originally the estimated cost was a quarter of a million pounds, but a further £40,000 was added by the inclusion of a very fine air raid shelter, which in peace time was to be used as an underground car park.

"Fine progress was made in negotiating for the property necessary to the improvement; indeed these operations were practically completed in a very short time, but now it must all wait. The Market Hall and the wonderful improvements connected with it, which would soon have become a triumphant fact, still remains a dream."

The Market Hall never did see the light of day, of course. It was a long time after the war ended that Hall Street was finally redeveloped, and a new shopping centre built at the 'town' end – and named after Winston Churchill, the man who steered us through the war against such long odds.

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