Wolverhampton Road, Dudley
| Dudley North|
The enclave of Worcestershire in which the town lies is separated from its parent county by a gap of just 650 yards. The town centre is at the very northern part of the enclave and it development has spread beyond those confines into Staffordshire. Dudley Castle and its hill lie outside in Staffordshire.
The town's name appears to be from the Old English Duddan leag; "Dudda's clearing".
Dudley has a history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, in which age it received its name. One of its churches is dedicated to the Saint Edmund the Martyr, the martyred East Anglian King after whom Bury St Edmunds is named.
A castle has stood on a hill overlooking the town since the 11th century, apart from the town and indeed from its county. The castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The present castle dates from the 13th century, and provided the centre around which the town grew. Dating from the 12th century are the ruins of St James Priory, set within the Priory Park.
The Industrial Revolution
The town stands on thick coal seams and was rapidly industrialised in the 18th and 19th centuries, its population growing dramatically. Due to its heavy and highly polluting industries it became a central part of the Black Country. The main industries in Dudley included coal and limestone mining. Other industries included iron, steel, engineering, metallurgy, glass cutting, textiles and leatherworking. Most of these industries have declined in recent decades. Of historical significance, the first Newcomen steam engine was installed at the Conygree coalworks a mile east of Dudley Castle in 1712.
Dudley was a predominantly rural town as recently as the early 18th century, after which the Industrial Revolution took it; many factories were built and coal pits opened around the town, and houses sprang up for the workers. Further development took place in the 19th century. The lack of clean drinking water and proper sewers led to Dudley being declared 'the most unhealthy place in the country' in 1852, with an average age at death of 16 years and 7 months (compared to an average of 29 years 4 months for all England and Wales).
Many of the houses built for industrial workers in Dudley were in a substandard condition by the opening of the 20th century and mass demolition of the town centre slums began in the 1920s, accelerating in the 1930s. The occupants of the slums were rehoused on modern council housing developments including the large Priory and Wren's Nest housing estates as well as smaller developments in areas such as Woodside and Kates Hill. Substantial private housing was built at this time as well.
The first major council housing development was the Priory Estate, where more than 2,000 houses were built between 1929 and 1939. The Wrens Nest Estate followed soon afterwards. It stands in the shadow of Wrens Nest Hill, where many Silurian fossils can be found including crinoids, corals and trilobites.
During Second World War, Dudley was bombed on several occasions, with a number of fatalities, though nowhere near as severely as its near neighbour, Birmingham.
The Castle Hill area of the town was heavily developed for entertainment attractions in the first 40 years of the 20th century. An Opera House was opened there in 1899, followed a year later by the Station Hotel (rebuilt in the 1930s) opposite. The Opera House was destroyed by fire in December 1936 and replaced by a Plaza cinema. By this stage, a Hippodrome Theatre opened next door. An Odeon cinema opened on the opposite side of the road at around the same time. However, the postwar decline in cinema and theatre attendance - brought on by the rising popularity of home television, affected the area greatly. The Hippodrome closed in 1966, and has been used for several purposes, most recently as a bingo hall. The Odeon closed in 1976. The Plaza closed in 1990 and was demolished in 1997.
After the war was over, thousands of substandard properties remained; the clearance and rehousing continued during the 1950s and was almost complete by the early 1960s. The postwar years saw the development of further new council housing estates including Russells Hall and Old Park Farm. The 1960s saw the construction of eleven multi storey blocks of council flats in Dudley, the tallest three of them at Eve Hill, and smaller blocks at Grange Park, Queens Cross and Netherton.
The town centre is a mix of old and modern buildings, with some surviving from as far back as the 18th century, while others were built in the second half of the 20th century. Modern shopping developments include the Churchill Shopping Precinct (opened in 1969 and named after the late prime minister Sir Winston Churchill who had died four years earlier) and the indoor Trident Centre which opened around the same time. The Churchill Shopping Precinct was originally an open-air centre owned and run by the local council but sold to a private company in 1991. Within two years a substantial refurbishment of the precinct had been completed, including the installation of a roof.
The face of the town centre changed during the first four decades of the 20th century as many of the 19th century houses were cleared to make way for new council housing on new estates such as the Priory Estate and Wren's Nest, as well as expansions to existing residential areas such as Woodside and Kates Hill. The redevelopment continued after the Second World War as new estates like Russells Hall and Sledmere were developed. Seven tower blocks were built near the town centre during the 1960s; however four of them have now been demolished.
Most of the town's stores were situated on Market Place and High Street. However, the development of the Merry Hill Shopping Centre four miles away at Brierley Hill between 1985 and 1990 saw the loss of most of the town centre's leading names who took advantage of the tax incentives offered by Merry Hill's status as an Enterprise Zone. Since then, many big name staoreds have fled the town centre for Merry Hill.
The nearby village of Lower Gornal was the epicentre for the Dudley earthquake of 2002, the largest earthquake in the United Kingdom in nearly 10 years.
The financial crisis of 2007-2010 closed many of the retail units in Dudley town centre becoming vacant. The Woolworths store on Market Place closed in December 2008 when the company went bankrupt, and has been replaced by an indoor market.
By the end of the thirteenth century, Dudley had become a manorial borough. Before 1791, Dudley was governed by the Court Leet of the Lords of Dudley. Between 1791 and 1852, the Town Commissioners were the principal local authority. The Town Commissioners were superseded in 1853 by the Board of Health. Dudley became a municipal borough in 1865 and in 1889 a "county borough.
Dudley's Council House in Priory Road was opened in 1935 by King George V. It was financed by the then Earl of Dudley, William Humble Eric Ward, who stipulated that when the Mayor is seated at the head of the council chamber he should have a direct line of sight to Dudley Castle once all the chamber doors are thrown open.
The town hall (now Dudley concert hall) opened on St James's Road in 1928; it now stands next to council offices which were converted from the old police station when a new building opened nearby in 1939.
Sights about the town
- Dudley Castle stands above the town, now a noble ruin. An extensive wooded ridge runs north from the castle.
- The Dudley Zoological Gardens are in the Castle grounds. The Zoo is owned and run by the Dudley and West Midlands Zoological Society Limited
- The Black Country Living Museum lies south of the town itself. Visitors to the museum may also take a narrowboat trip from the adjacent canal, through the Dudley Tunnel.
Dudley is home to a former Odeon Cinema and a former music hall, the Dudley Hippodrome, both from the Art Deco period in the 1930s. The Dudley Hippodrome was built on to the side of the now-demolished Opera House (built in 1900 and burnt down in 1936) and is now a bingo hall. There is a Showcase Cinema in a retail park between the zoo and museum.
The Plaza Cinema was built on Castle Hill in 1938 next to the Hippodrome, and remained open until October 1990. The building was then taken over by Laser Quest, who used it until it was demolished in 1997. The site of the cinema remains undeveloped.
Since the 1970s, there has been a nightclub on Castle Hill situated on the corner of Station Drive; this has changed ownership several times since first opening.
Established in 1260, Dudley Market in Dudley town centre is a major shopping area for the town. It has undergone numerous developments in its history. One major development was in 1982 when the area was pedestrianised and the 12th century cobblestones were removed. Other developments have included the addition of a new roof and new facilities.
Parks and canals
Many canals run in and around Dudley, the main one being the Dudley Canal, most of which passes beneath Dudley in a tunnel which lacks a towpath and is therefore accessible only by boat.
The open sections of canal are popular with walkers, cyclists, fishermen, and narrowboat users. Many of the canalside towpaths have been upgraded for cycling, and some sections are part of the National Cycle Network.
The Wren's Nest National Nature Reserve is a site of special scientific interest, considered to be one of the most notable geological locations in the British Isles and home to the Calymene blumenbachi trilobite nicknamed the Dudley Bug or Dudley Locust by 18th century quarrymen. Dudley Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of its well-preserved Silurian coral reef fossils, plus numerous displays relating to the history of the town.
At the time of the 2001 census, Dudley was recorded as having a population of 194,919, of which 93.5% were ethnically classed as “white”, 3.9% as “Asian” and 1.2% “black”.
Tension between various ethnic communities, has been high in Dudley since the first Commonwealth immigrants settled in the town just after the end of the Second World War, though it has undoubtedly reached its height since a new mosque project was first announced. Dudley was the scene of some of Britain's first race riots in July 1962, when dozens of white men and youths rampaged in the North Street area of the town, vandalising properties in the area where the town's ethnic minorities were concentrated. Black Caribbean immigrants were particularly targeted in these disturbances. Another riot, though less well known than the North Street riots, took place in Dudley in September 1991, when white and Asian youths clashed in the Kates Hill area.
The English Defence League demonstrated in the town centre on 3 April 2010; although there were no injuries, eight people were arrested and there were several instances of criminal damage. A second demonstration took place on 17 July.20 people were arrested in unrest at the demonstration. The English Defence League again demonstrated against the current mosque project on 17 July 2010 and there were severe confrontations and accounts of severe personal injury of visiting protesters.
Business and industry
The town centre is home to numerous big-name high street retailers. Most of Dudley's shops are concentrated along the main shopping street (named High Street apart from a short length at the foot of the Castle called Castle Street)and two side streets: Stone Street and Wolverhampton Street. Dudley Town Centre is now rather run down with empty shops all around the Market Place and along the High Street.
Dudley Market is found on a wide part of High Street but most stalls are now empty. There are three small shopping centres or arcades with entrances on High Street: the Churchill Shopping Centre, the Trident Shopping Centre and the Fountain Arcade.
Dudley retailing was particularly hard hit by the opening of the Merry Hill shopping centre in the 1980s, losing a number of major retailers. This was self-inflicted by Dudley Council, who promoted the Merry Hill Shopping Centre to boost their revenues and in doing so sacrificed Dudley Town Centre, which is now a run down shadow of its former glory when it used to be a thriving market town.
The Bean Cars factory was opened in the first years of the 20th century and remained in use until the 1930s, but survives to this day for other industrial use.
- Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council - Dudley Castle, accessed 4 March 2007
- Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911, accessed 4 March 2007
- "Priory Ruins". Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. 2007-09-10. http://www.dudley.gov.uk/index.asp?pgid=14069. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- 1911 article about Dudley - From the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
- History.uk.com: Thomas Newcomen's steam engine
- Lee, William, Report to the General Board of Health on a preliminary inquiry into the sewerage, drainage and supply of water, and the sanitary condition of the inhabitants of the Parish of Dudley in the county of Worcester, London, 1852.
- A Brief History of Dudley - Under 'Dudley in the 20th century'
- Dudley Mail report
- Earthquake hits UK - BBC News, 23 September 2002 (Accessed March 4, 2007)
- Chandler, G. and Hannah, I.C., Dudley: As it was and as it is to-day, B.T.Batsford Ltd., London, 1949
- 'Dudley's Little Book of Big History', Dudley MBC publication, 2008
- Dudley Market
- Dudley Council: Dudley Canals introduction
- Dudley area attractions - himleyhousehotel.com
- Riots and Lynchings, Fascists and Immigrants: What’s Changed?, Searchlight Magazine, October 2003
- Shops Braced for EDL Chaos, Dudley News, 14th July 2010
- Violence Erupts at EDL Protest, Stourbridge News, 3rd April 2010
- Roger Tym and Partners (1993). Merry Hill Impact Study. HMSO. ISBN 0117527866.