Black Country Muse


Details and Discriptions.


From the lists and details available, and unless one is prepared to dig deeper, information can be a bit scant. Some Parishes failed to send any details, or simply didn't record much, due to the high level of work required. In some areas. which had a small population in the first census ( 1801), one had seen an increase from 7,000, to over 29,000 by 1821, which was due to increased industrial activity. ( Ironworks, Mining, etc ) Births and marriages went unrecorded as a great many of the incomers attended non-conformist types of Church or Chapels. As non of the chapels were allowed burial grounds, the recordings of deaths tended to be a bit more accurate. The 1831 figures, compiled from larger area's, by grouping several Parish's together, means that they look like a modern day survey would. It's not possible to state accurately, just what the population of say, Bilston was in1821, never mind what it would be in 1831. It is possible though, to give a fairly good idea of what life may have been like, for the people of the time, with a description of the place and it's industry.

West Bromwich.

The population of the Town is given as 35,183 in the census, but most writing on the subject, would gave that a plus or minus of 5%. The area covered about 15,200 acres, and contained some 7,000 family units, in 6,500 properties. Males and Females were fairly evenly divided, and unemployment was very low, at just 176. This undoubtedly was due to the number of commercial ventures which had sprung up in the town, due to coal and other raw materials being close at hand. The working men had a wide choice of jobs available, the gun trade, making barrels,locks, and bayonets, was extensive. Many other firms turned out fire irons, hinges, nails, bolts, iron cooking utensils, chains, shovels, spades, tubes, and tin toys. The foundries, furnaces and slitting mills, were almost all powered by steam engines, which was in sharp contrast to other area's, which stubbornly stuck to the old fashioned hand hammered methods. There are a great number listed as being skilled men, nearly 4,000, and not surprisingly, most of the ones left to work the land were women and the young boys. Not that there was much land in the area left to work. Almost as soon as the Birmingham Canal had been cut through the place, the industries had rapidly moved in. Boundries have changed greatly since then of course, and the works of Chance Brothers, at their British Crown Glass works, in Spon Lane, is now in Smethwick. It was one of the largest employers of labour in West Bromwich, and they paid good wages as well. Not that it made much difference to the comfort of most families living in dirty overcrowded houses. The area was well known for the habit's of it's men folk, drink, drink, and even more drink. West Bromwich in the 1830s though, had a claim to World wide fame, the Gas Works of Swan Village. They supplied gas to Birmingham, Handsworth, Bilston, Darlaston, Wednesbury, Oldbury, Tipton, Toll End, Great Bridge, and the town as well. There were plenty of coal mines as well, Lord  Dartmouth spent in excess of £30,000 digging one such pit. The population were not short of places to spend money either, recorded in the figures, is the number of shops in the area, almost 1,400. Judging by the number of people employed as domestic servants, 724, there were quite a few wealthy folk living in the town as well. There have been many changes over the years, the old parish Church of All Saints for instance, now lies more than a mile from the modern town centre. A new one, Christ Church, was started in 1828 with the laying of a foundation stone by Lord Dartmouth. Some things are still there, the old High Street and the Market, from which it's still possible to get a good bargain. 


One of the towns not mentioned in the census details, being incorporated, just as today, with the Wolverhampton figures. There are some seperate accounts though, as the population for the town was given as over 15,000 in the mid 1830s. When looking at these figures, it needs to be bourne in mind, that the town suffered badly in the Cholera epidemic of 1832. Described as having just one good street, the area was pockmarked with mounds and pits. It's impossible to tell, from the figures, just how many were engaged in digging for coal, but it must have been a substancial number. Nearly 200 blast furnances were at work when the census was being taken, and one of them said of the area, " it was constantly engulfed in a perpetual thick cloud of smoke, and at night the district blazed with the fires, and the roar of the blast furnaces and hammering forges kept me awake most of the night." Although the 1841 census gives the searcher the names, occupations, and rough address'es of the inhabitants, it's whats in the details that weren't published that the interest lies. The main industry of the town was making Iron. They cast it into bars and rails, and rolled it into sheets and hoops. The output was estimated at over 2 million tons a year, the 200 smelting furnaces working 24 hours a day, 6 full days a week. Wages were good, employment was low, and, not surprisingly given the conditions, drinking and low morals were the target of a great many religious reformers. Although the " sports " of Bear and Bull Baiting had been outlawed, like West Bromwich and other towns, in the mid 1830s, it was still very popular among the rough and ready workers. Even having at least seven places of worship within the parish made no difference, they were vastly outnumbered by the amount of beer house's. I'm not absolutely certain, but today, that situation may well have been reversed.


More a large village than a town, and again, the main figures hidden in the way the census was compiled, by putting all of them in Wolverhampton's. A population, according to several reports on other matters, including the conditions of the towns Lock makers, of just about 7,000 in 1831. Most of the inhabitants were engaged in the lock trade, and just as in the 1801 census, were still largely working at home in little workshops. The trade was also carried on in it's bigger neighbour, and quite a few travelled the couple of miles to work for larger concerns. Not so much heavy industry here, and all the materials had to be imported. The report says that annually, over 5 million locks were made, and sent via road and canal, all over the world. At the time of the 1831 census, there was no school of any sort in the town. It was described, as being still rather rural in appearance, and quite a pleasent place to live. Although given the the very low wage most of them earned, I suspect, the pleasent bit was only for those who could afford to sit back and enjoy it.


Not covered in the earlier Census of 1801, but recent research puts the population at just over 3,000. In the intervening 30 years, it didn't have a massive increase of inhabitants, rising to 5,834 by 1831. This may be due to not having enough housing, and the nearby town of Wolverhampton having a better range of job opportunities than just agricutural work and the making of animal traps.


Mining had an early impact on the town, as did the influx of several Ironworks and furnaces. Even so, the population in 1831 had only gone up by 3,000,to reach 8,437, at the time of the Census. The proximity of the much larger Walsall, and Walsall Foreign, ( Pelsall, Bloxwich, Walsall Wood, &etc ) again provided more choice of work and accomodation.


The population of the town had grown by over 8,000, since 1801, and stood, in 1831, at almost 25,000. Swelled no doubt, by the influx of leather workers, Iron Foundries, and miners to work the pits. There was very little unemployment in the town, even amongst the women, who were to be found making small trace chains, or stitching leather for harness'es. An estimate of the leather trade in 1833, puts the number of saddles produced yearly, at 20,000, with a similar amount of bridles and harness. Housing conditions of course weren't good, and it was also estimated, that of the 4,700 properties in the town, fully half were totally unfit for habitation, the rest being borderline. Never the less, the contribution made by the town, to the area as a whole was immense. Iron, Coal, Limestone, and all the harness'es and saddles, without which, on their own, would have bought the district's carts and coaches to a dead stop.


The town became famous for the manufacture of Iron fastenings, and to some extent, Gun Locks, during the period. By 1831 it had almost doubled it's population, from 3,812, to 6,647, which must have put a bit of strain on the meagre housing resources.


As already said, the largest single settlement in England at the time, and quite possibly, the second worst slum other than London. In 1831, the census put the population as 66,000, but thats likely to be only the town itself. Add to that Netherton, Tividale,Tipton, and all the other outlying places, and the true figure would have exceed 100,000. They counted 12,300 houses, but as can be discovered in other posts on this site, the living conditions were not mentioned. Dudley, being on a hill, was from the start, a difficult place to base any kind of heavy industry. Transport links were bad, there being no direct canal access, and the roads, in bad weather, were almost impossible for heavy waggons. Mines there were aplenty, although mostly in the lower areas to the north and west. Employment was surprising high, there being many thriving nail, holloware, and iron working trades. The overiding factor to such bad conditions, was the lack of a decent water supply, which wasn't solved until the turn of the century. It's a nice place to live today, the smoke and soot has all been banished, but sadly too, has most ot the work.


A vast area when compared with today, it stretched from near Wolverhampton, to nearby Dudley, encompassing Brierley Hill, Pensnett, and most of the area down to Amblecote. There were minerals to be had almost everywhere, and with so many Mines, Quarries, Ironworks, Brickworks, and Glassworks, it was no wonder it attracted so many. From a level of just 6,164 people in 1801, it rose to 15,156 by 1831, most of whom had arrived after 1821. Not all was sweetness and light though, for jobs a plenty there were at times, but there were desperate levels of poverty as well, which would continue for many years to come. It's no coincidence, that it was in the Parish of Kingswinford, where one of the largest Workhouses in the Black Countrywas situated.

Rowley Regis.

There had been an influx of workers prior to the 1801 Census, which had pushed the population figure to over 5,000, and during the time period covered here, it had swelled to 7,430. You would call this steady growth, as some areas had expanded way beyond the housing capability, but even here, there were the dreadful back to back houses. It wasn't the village of Rowley on the hill that bore the brunt, for that seemed to remain largely unspoiled. The new arrivals settled down below, in Old Hill, Cradley Heath, and the fledgling town of Blackheath, as indeed did the Ironworks, foundries, and workshops, for there were precious few raw materials on the Rowley Hills.


Things did not improve in the area, covered by the Manor, at anytime during the years up to 1831. From the 1801 figure of 9,874, the population had risen, by 1831, to 20,577. Industry had arrived with a vengence, and the sky at night, as far as could be seen, was blood red with the glow of furnaces. and filled with the sound of a thousand heavy hammers.


What would later become a veritable hive of industry, was still,in 1831, a fairly rural area. There was no ready available Coal to mine, just the gentle meandering of the Canal, and the constant noise of the many locks that had to be worked up and down the flights. This all changed when the canal system was improved and more firms moved in to exploit the better transport routes. From a small 1,097 population in 1801, it had taken thirty years to reach 2,677, but the next thirty would see the place change completely.


If any area can be said to have had a population explosion, then it has to be the town of Tipton.Between 1801 and 1831, the place expanded at a rapid rate, from a modest 4,280, to a massive 14,952. The state of the housing that was available, is well documented, and things did not improve with the erection of hundreds of "back to backs", in tiny airless courts. Mines, Ironworks, and a busy Canal trade, did though, provide the incoming thousands with plenty of jobs. Not actually very well paid jobs, but enough to keep body and soul together.


There are many things that the town could be called, but back in 1831, clean wasn't a word used much. The population of over 58,000, were described as a ragged bunch of drunken men of the lowest order. I'm not sure if they concidered that to be an insult, or wore the epitaph like a badge of honour. Certainly, among the closely crowded 11,200 house's, it was difficult at times to tell the men from the women. Lack of sanitation, and washing facilities, does not bring out the best in either the hygiene department, or the appearence stakes. They worked hard though, they had to, competition in the iron trades was fierce, and Wolverhampton itself posessed no coal mines. It did though have more land still being used for farming, and had the largest workforce on the land at 1,500. There were over 280 separate firms, manufacturing a wide variety of goods, and for the benefit of those who didn't spend what little they earned on drink, a choice of over 800 shops. Mind you, it only took a slight fall in wages, to bring crushing poverty to the door. A bit like today then really.