Wednesbury A Tour in Time
by Anne Peck
Let me walk you through Wednesbury at the heart of the Black Country. A good starting point would be the purpose-built Victorian art gallery and museum on Holyhead Road, notable for its collection of Ruskin Pottery and for the first public display of the Stuckism art movement. It was built to house the creative works of the Wednesbury people and they have a long history. From here, along Russell St to the old Market Place, established around 1706, where the clock tower now stands, erected in 1911 for the coronation of King George V, built on the site of the market cross building, a building of many uses: The Charity School, The Court of Requests and Petty Sessions, outside the whipping post, where offenders were tied up for public flogging.
All along the high street a pleasing mix of Edwardian and Victorian shops; it’s an old town, with ancient roots. If we walk to Upper High Street and turn onto Church Hill towards Ethelfleda Terrace, we embrace the ancient essence of St Bartholomew’s Church and inside the church a unique fighting cock graces a lectern, to remind us of an old sport that brought people from miles around to the cock fighting pit in Potters Lane. But St Bartholomew’s stands on an older church, built around the end of the 11th century, recorded in the Plea Rolls of King John for 1210-1211, a place of importance to the Kings of old.
If we go back to the 6th century, it was a rural Anglo Saxon town surrounded by green fertile land and forest, named after Odin, (Woden) the Norse god of war and protector of heroes. (Woden’s borough), Wodensbyri. One of the few places in England to be named after a pre-Christian deity.
It’s had its fare share of invasions and there have been a few historic wars. In the 9th century it was fortified by Ethelfleda the daughter of Alfred the Great, who kept the Danes from taking England.
But the town rested upon a deadly fate; beneath the fertile lands, lay in plenty, iron, coal and limestone, waiting to give birth to an industrial monster, agriculture turned to mining, mining into steel making and engineering, it became as the heart of the Black Country, the heart of the industrial revelation, Queen Victoria’s pride and joy.
From a green and fertile land it turned into the burning black land of industry. For almost a hundred years it became hidden in the smoke, the sound of the hammers beating chains and nails rang out across the land and the furnaces burned day and night. A poem was written for Brierley hill, just 4 miles from Wednesbury centre.
When Satan stood on Brierley Hill and all around him gazed,
He said: “I never more shall feel at hell’s fierce blaze amazed.“
Yet throughout this dark period the people remained high in spirit, renowned for their honest hospitality, strong community and pride, unafraid of hard work.
By the later 20th century, just as the smoke was disappearing, Wednesbury was ripped open again with a duel carriage way to connect Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Today it’s surrounded by three major motorways, the M5, M6 and M54; it becomes swallowed, in the mass of ever busy roads and sprawling suburbias.
But Wednesbury still remains a pleasant town, walking in and around her we find a host of historic nooks and crannies. Its boundaries may be a little obscured nowadays but its people are not, born from the salt of Wednesbury earth, an ancient pulse still beats through them, true to their nature and heritage, even through the darkest hardest years, they have always been warm and welcoming, no airs nor graces, just real honest human beings, proud to be made in Wednesbury.