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Forum Home > Memorabilia From the past. > Bilston, Tales from a distant past.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Elsewhere on the forums, I have mentioned the notorious wakes and fairs of both Dudley, and Wednesbury.  Lets not forget Bilston.


It was reported in 1743, in a newsheet called " The Wednesbury Leader ", that Bilston Wakes were equally as bad as the ones in Wednesbury. It seems that Bilston didn't have the likes of the Rev George Barrs, to castigate the inhabitants for their wayward and cruel ways. The target of the newsheet was one Jack Willetts, whom, it appears, was the long standing organiser of the Wakes Bull Baiting. He had been a Soldier, fighting in the War in the Low Countries, against Spanish rule, and had picked up a taste for Bull fighting and the trappings that went with it. For this years wake, he had decorated the Bull with coloured ribbons, hired a one legged fiddler, and assembled a large crowd in Perry's Croft. He hadn't forgotten the Beer either, in large barrels, for that was where he held court, and perched the fiddler. All through the day, according to the paper, the Dogs of the town were set on the Bull, who was such a fearsome beast, he was hardly out of breath, having mangled the best the town could offer. With Sunset fast approaching, Jack Willetts now challenged anyone to fight the bull, and with a pocket full of cash from the many failures of the dogs, he offered a fair bit of money. Step forward  Daniel Brannigan, a butcher of some note in Bilston, who, instead of the usual wooden club, decided to finish the bull with a meat cleaver. During the " fight " Brannigan managed to lop off one of the bulls horns, but, being a bit of a braggart and showoff, he made a mistake. He slipped in the spilt dogs blood, and the bull was on him in a flash. Caught by his stout leather belt, Brannigan was swung to and fro like a rag doll, and to make matters worse, broke free from the heavy stake. Bull, and man, headed for the Beer barrels, the fiddler tying desperately to get out of the way, hampered by his wooden leg. They were both saved when the enraged bull smashed the barrels, and apperently, feeling a little thirsty, paused to have a drink of the spilled ale. Jack Willetts, ever the showman, now drew the old sword he had bought back from the war, and dispatched the bull, Spanish style. It could, as the newsheet stated, only happen in Bilston.


Jump forward some years, and we get a character called " Little Joey Sixfut " , called thus, not because of his height, but because he was the local grave digger. ( Strange sense of humour in Bilston )  He was reputed to be the best  Bull-Dog breeder in the Black Country at the time, a claim very hotly disputed I should add. All the " fun, came to an end in 1840, when the " sport " was finally, and thankfully, banned. Never mind, when one disappears, there are always other attractions. Over the years the inhabitants were treated to a variety of new entertainment at the annual Wake. The Performing Flea Circus was one, and I bet the man running it, wouldn't have been short of artists from the town either. Then there was the fat woman sideshow of Nanny Gwynne, something of a rarity at the time, for many never had the luxury of a square meal a day. Then there was the Skeleton Man, ( many in the town would have fitted this discription ) The Man with a Lions Mane, ( Certainly not a customer of Jackie Wack, the mad barber of Bilston ) The original Tom Thumb, ( I somehow doubt that ) The Wild Zulu, ( Especially on pay day )  Noggmans Boxing Booth, ( Have your teeth attended to free of charge. )  and the amazing Bennett and Patch Theatre Company.  In the days of sparce entertainment, it was shows put on by companies like this that drew huge crowds. Blood-curdling Melodrama was the attraction, and the audiences could sometime be better than the actors. Palmer the Poisoner was a popular play, but the one that drew the largest crowd was always the classic, The Murder in the Red Barn. Several times a day during wakes week, the poor Maria Martin, was subjected to the heartless treatment of William Corder, and so engrossed were the audience, that the actor who played Corder was hissed, booed, and at times, physically assaulted on stage. One man was dragged from the big tent by the police, after firing, and missing the poor man, with a shotgun. Ah well, thats a good wakes week for you, well it was in the middle part of the 19th century.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 22, 2014 at 4:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The Bilston Demon. 1804.


The tale begins in a Bilston Farmhouse, where deep in the celler, strange happenings were going on.The maid, and for that matter, her mistress, were frequent visitors the the celler, for it was here, down a hole in the floor, that all the household waste was dumped. They both became aware of a strange smell, then the hems of their dressing began to mysterious be scorched. All very puzzling. One evening, taking a candle, the maid went down the dreaded celler steps. The first thing she noticed, was that there was a light in the celler, brighter than the candle, blue in colour, and belching forth from the hole in the hole in the floor. Screaming in terror, she fled the scene, babbling about Devils and Demons, and soon the whole neighbourhood was flocking to the scene. It was the talk of the Town, and even made the Newspapers of the day, but alas, the explanation was soon known.


The Farmhouse had been built over an old mine, the roadway having been arched, forming a sort of culvert, which is where the rubbish had been going all these years. The mine had in fact caught fire, indeed the situation around the Town was desperate in some places. The very ground steamed from the heat, and was on fire in many places. It was unsafe for man or beast to walk anywhere, least they be reduced to a pile of vitrified ashes. The coal being so close to the surface, was not just a blessing it seems, but also a bit of a curse. The only thing to do, was to wait for the fire to run out of fuel, which it eventual did, but from then on, the same thing would happen on a regular basis. The locals had a name for this,they called it " The Wild Fire ", and the same thing, a bit further away, gave a place, and a Pub, it's name, " Fiery Holes" .

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 13, 2016 at 11:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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