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A look back at Walsall over 100 years ago...

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 24, 2013

By Dan Shaw

  • The Bridge, Walsall, around 1900

  • High Street, Walsall, looking towards St Matthew's church

  • Digbeth, Walsall, on market day, c.1900

  • A tram runs along Park Street at the turn of the 20th century

  • Walsall Science and Art Institute

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WE set the clock back more than 100 years with this set of postcards kindly loaned to us by an anonymous reader. They are all of scenes around Walsall and show us how the town looked at the end of the 19th century.

Our first postcard is of The Bridge, which took its name from the old bridge over the Walsall Brook. That bridge dated back to the early 14th century but by the 1850s the brook was almost entirely covered over.

The postcard shows one of the lost landmarks of Walsall, the large ornamental clock at the centre of the picture. This was presented to the town by F.B. Oerton, Mayor of Walsall for 1854-55 and it originally stood at the middle of the Bridge. In 1886 the clock was moved to its position in this picture, nearer to Park Street, to make way for the Sister Dora statue. The clock was dismantled in 1957 to make way for a new traffic scheme but it was not re-erected and was eventually sold for scrap.

To the right of the picture you can see the original marble statue of Sister Dora – Dorothy Pattison, the nurse who dedicated her life to the sick and needy of Walsall, who died on Christmas Eve, 1878. It is reputedly the first statue in Britain to a non-royal woman. 20th century pollution took its toll on the statue's white marble and in 1957 it was replaced with a bronze copy.

The Bridge became the centre of Walsall in the 19th century but our next postcard shows what for centuries was the focal point of the town, the High Street and the area around the parish church of St Matthew.

There is an old folk tale that the church originally stood in the Chuckery area of the town but was moved to its present hilltop site by fairies.

The church actually dates from the late 1100 or early 1200s but of the original St Matthew's church only parts of the crypt remain. The chancel was rebuilt and extended from 1462 and the church was extensively rebuilt and restored 1819-21. The spire had been restored in 1669 but was so twisted that it was rebuilt in 1779 and restored once more in 1951.

The interior dates largely from the rebuilding of 1819-21 but there are some earlier features. The font is 15th century and so too are the choir stalls which have some of the finest medieval woodcarving in the Midlands.

Our third postcard is labelled High Street but it actually shows Digbeth, just down the road, and we can see covered market stalls lining the street – in 1900 market days were Tuesdays and Saturdays. Some of the shops we can identify are Frances Bertha Wood, confectioner, Francis Bennett Shuffrey, ironmonger, Abraham Altham, tea merchant, Jay's furnishings, George Dance's dining rooms and George Charles Dean, tailor.

Another postcard shows a tram running along Park Street. The first trams ran through Walsall from Wednesbury to Bloxwich and began in 1884. They were steam powered until the system was electrified in 1892 and the service continued until the last Walsall tram ran on 30th September, 1933, when it was replaced by a trolley bus service the next day.

Businesses we can identify in this scene are the Maypole Dairy, which had its head office in Burton-upon-Trent, and James Gilbert, ironmonger.

Our last postcard shows the Science and Art Institute in Bradford Place. In 1887 William Kirkpatrick, Mayor of Walsall, launched an appeal to build the institute in honour of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and it was opened the following year on land donated by the Earl of Bradford.

It originated in 1861 with evening classes in art and science at Goodall Street School, run by Rev Alfred Adolphus Cole. In 1872 they moved to rooms owned by the railway station, until these proved too small for the growing student numbers and they moved to their purpose-built new home.

The institute had a large art room, lecture hall, science labs and classrooms.

In 1897 it was transferred to the town council and in 1926 it was renamed Walsall Technical College. New premises were planned and construction was due to start in 1939 but the Second World War intervened. The new Walsall and Staffordshire Technical College, as it was known, opened in 1952 in St Paul's Street, with the old institute building becoming the college annexe. Today the building is office accommodation.

Have you any old postcards or pictures of the Black Country to share with Bugle readers? Contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B54 5HL.


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