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A Black Country Town

January 14, 2013

On Friday I went to a pretty little place near to where I live. It is a town which I have previously only passed through and now thanks to a road system which diverts the traffic, one never drives through it on the way to somewhere else. If I said to you that I had been to Humpshire, would that have made any sense to you or would you simply have thought I had misspelt Hampshire? But Humpshire was the name given to this town, famous as the place where you could get anything made. If it was in the Cotswolds or some other delightful rural setting tourists would flock here but because of its urban setting it is off the tourist trail. So here I am to sing the praises of this town and to recommend that you pay it a visit. And the name of the town if you haven’t already guessed is Willenhall.  ‘Willenhall!’ I hear you cry, ‘but that is a dirty place  in the heart of the Black Country.’

Don’t be too quick to judge would be my message. People flock to the Black Country Museum to see a fictional re-creation of life in the Black Country, here you can see the real thing and get a feel of what life was like in this market town. I parked the car and the first building which caught my eye was the Providence Chapel, 1879, shown below

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on which there is a saying that the land and chapel were voluntarily raised by the Minister and his congregation. As I walked around I saw other nonconformist chapels, the Methodist Chapel in Union Street and the Baptist Chapel built in 1862. For many factory workers and their families, these chapels were their preferred place of worship, designed for the working man. My grandfather was the Minister at the Union Street Methodist Church which is now the  Life and Light Christian Centre and it is to my shame that I have never even seen the building before.

Union Street Methodist Church, Willenhall

On the opposite side of the road stands a modern place of worship – the Supermarket. In this case it is Morrisons. One man remarked that it is killing the town and I don’t doubt that he is right. This is the scene on a Friday, albeit it in January, when one might have expected that the town would have been busy.

But let’s not be gloomy, I said that this was in celebration of what Willenhall has to offer, and this is the centre of the town  and as fine a market place as any in the country. The memorial clock was erected in memory of Dr Joseph Tonks, who served the town in the late nineteenth century. Sadly he was only thirty five when he died in 1891, probably as a result of injuries sustained in a hot air balloon accident.

Memorial Clock, Willenhall

Willenhall still boasts a number of small shops which I hope the predatory supermarkets will not kill off. I spotted two ironmongers with an array of goods that I haven’t seen for years as well as a butcher’s, a greengrocer’s and many other independently owned shops. It is like going back in time.

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There is some interesting architecture in the centre of the town, too. There is the oldest pub in Willenhall, The Bell Inn, and next to it this very elegant house, once the home of the Clemson family.

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There are cottages which haven’t been demolished thank goodness and the higgledy piggledy buildings are just plain quaint.There are alleyways down which you can almost hear the sound of the workers’ clogs as they trudge to and from work and workshops in back gardens. This is the heritage of the industrial revolution.

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Just look at the skyline in the picture below and you get a glimmer of how people made the most of every bit of space.

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Willenhall Alley

Willenhall Alley

But there are forces working to destroy the Town’s wonderful architecture. Next to the Union Street Church is this house

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What is this destructive element in our society doing and why are we doing nothing to stop the rot? The next thing that will happen to the house  I imagine, is that it will be pulled down because it is dangerous. You know that what will replace these buildings will be some hideous monstrosity not in keeping with the architecture of the surrounding area. and another piece of our history will be gone.

But there are those within Willenhall who are passionate and knowledgeable about preserving and sharing the history of this great town. You will find them at the Willenhall Lock Museum and in the Willenhall Historical Society and they will be only too happy to share their knowledge with you.

Willenhall Lock Museum

Willenhall Lock Museum

My couple of hours in Willenhall has made me want to go back and discover more. What a great place and lovely people. Go and see for yourself and let me know what you think. It may be that you live in Willenhall in which case I hope that your are proud of your home town. I will upload more images to http://www.sharehistory.org.

PS The name Humpshire came from the hump backs the workers developed after slaving hour after hour over a work bench.

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8 Comments
  1. supernova permalink

    Hi Jane, yes I’m afraid it may be the case in a lot of towns, classic buildings being lost for those very reasons you suggest. I too am infuriated and disgusted by some groups and individuals behaviour which ultimately ends in destruction of historically important buildings. I have recently witnessed this in a town near where I live. Very interesting post, Jane 🙂 Best wishes, SN.

  2. David Hunt permalink

    Hello Jane from down under here in Australia! Thankyou for your great article and brilliant photos. Its been a while but I visited Willenhall during 1986, staying in nearby Wolverhampton for a week. Your pictures brought back many happy memories. Gone is Yale from Wood Street, which is now Morrisons. More recently the disused former Josiah Parkes Union building was levelled. I am really impressed with your photos, article and dedication. All the best!

  3. Michelle Attwood permalink

    Hi Jane Lovely photos of Willenhall the town was always such a lovely town. I used to live in Short Heath for many years .it’s a shame how it seems to of gone .

  4. Fantastic piece, would you mind if we shared this on our website.
    For all your followers too, we have a website that is work in progress that may be of interest to you.
    http://www.willenhallaywe.co.uk

    • Kalie, Of course I don’t mind your using the piece.
      I would like to go back and do some more on Willenhall but time is always a problem
      I think your website is lovely. It made me go ‘Ooh’ when I saw it!
      I have also put about 160 images on http://www.sharehistory.org. Just search for Willenhall and there they are.
      It would be lovely to see the profile of Willenhall raised so that it is returned to its former glory. I don’t think people realise how fabulous it is.
      Best Wishes,
      Jane

      • Thanks Jane. Its a great little piece!
        Willenhall is changing unfortunately but thats just the way it is. Photos and websites keep the history there for many years to come.
        Aswell as promoting whats happening now on our site and through our facebook groups etc, we are always looking for stories and photos that will have a permanent home and shared for all to see.
        Regards
        Kalie

      • info@willenhallaywe.co.uk permalink

        Some fantastic photos and history Jane!Will also post link on our website!Regardskalie Facebook Twitter 

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  1. A Black Country Town by Jane Smith Daily | www.Willenhall Ay We.co.uk

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