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Walsall - geograph.org.uk - 2051.jpg
Canal boats in Walsall
Grid reference: SP0198
Location: 52°34’48"N, 1°58’48"W
Population: 174,994
Post town: Walsall
Postcode: WS1-WS9
Dialling code: 01922
Local Government
Council: Walsall
Walsall North
Walsall South

Walsall is a large industrial town in Staffordshire. It is found in the Black Country, northwest of Birmingham and east of Wolverhampton, and within the conurbation which joins these and the Black Country towns together.

Walsall is known as "the town of a hundred trades". (This appellation is a nod to the fact that nearby Birmingham is known as "the city of a thousand trades".) It has historically been a manufacturing town, and was particularly known for leatherwork. (Walsall FC are known as "The Saddlers".) In the nineteenth century, Walsall became known for the manufacture of horse-brasses.

Walsall Town Centre


A local landmark is Barr Beacon, which is reportedly the highest point following its latitude eastwards until the Ural Mountains in Russia. There was a plaque on the summit attesting to this, although it has been repeatedly stolen. The soil of Walsall consists mainly of clay with areas of limestone, which were quarried during the Industrial Revolution.[1]


Early settlement

The name Walsall is of unknown origin Anglo-Saxon, suggested by some as coming from "Weales halh" ("Welshman's valley") or "Walh's valley". The earliest surviving written reference to Walsall is as 'Walesho' in a document dated 1002 (the "-ho" suggesting "hill" rather than "valley"). Walsall does not appear in the Domesday Book, however it is believed that a manor was held here by William FitzAnsculf, who held numerous manors in the Midlands.[2] By the first part of the 13th century, Walsall was a small market town, with the weekly market being introduced in 1220 and held on Tuesdays.[3] The office of Mayor of Walsall was created in the 14th century.

The town was visited by Queen Elizabeth I, when it was known as 'Walshale'.[3] It was also visited by Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of King Charles I, in 1643. She stayed in the town for one night at a building named the 'White Hart' in the Caldmore area.[4] Queen Mary's Grammar School was founded by Queen Mary I in 1554, and the school carries the queen's personal badge as its emblem: the Tudor Rose and the sheaf of arrows of Mary's mother Catherine of Aragon tied with a Staffordshire Knot.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution changed Walsall from a village of 2,000 people in the 16th century to a town of over 86,000 in approximately 200 years. The town manufactured a wide range of products including saddles, chains, buckles and plated ware. Nearby, limestone quarrying provided the town with much prosperity.[5]

In 1821, St. Matthew's Church was demolished with exception of the tower and chancel and replaced at a cost of £20,000[5] to a design by Francis Goodwin.[6] In 1824, the Walsall Corporation received an Act of Parliament to improve the town by providing lighting and a gas works. The gas works were built in 1826 at a cost of £4,000. In 1825, the corporation built eleven tiled, brick almshouses for poor women. They were known to the area as 'Molesley's Almshouses'.[7]

The 'Walsall Improvement and Market Act' was passed in 1848 and amended in 1850. The Act provided facilities for the poor, improving and extending the sewerage system and giving the commissioners the powers to construct a new gas works.[8] On 10 October 1847, a gas explosion killed one person and destroyed the west window of St Matthew's Church.[9]

48 years after canals reached the town, Walsall finally received a railway line in 1847, Bescot having been served since 1838, by the Grand Junction Railway. In 1855, Walsall's first newspaper, the Walsall Courier and South Staffordshire Gazette, was published.

First World War

Over 2,000 men from Walsall fell in the field during the First World War. They are commemorated by the town's cenotaph: which is located on the site of a bomb which was dropped by Zeppelin 'L 21' - killing the town's mayoress, and two others. The town also has a memorial to local Victoria Cross recipient John Henry Carless.

20th century developments

Walsall's first cinema opened in the town centre in 1908; however the decline in cinema attendances after the Second World War brought on by the rise in television ownership led to its closure and that of all of Walsall's other cinemas eventually. The first Wurlitzer theatre organ in Great Britain was installed in the New Picture House (later renamed the Gaumont) cinema in the town centre.

Slum clearances began after the end of the War, with thousands of 19th century buildings around the town centre being demolished as the 20th century wore on, with new estates being built away from the town centre in areas such as Coal Pool, Blakenall Heath, Goscote and Beechdale. Significant developments also took place nearer to the town centre, particularly during the 1960s when a host of tower blocks were built around the town centre; however most of these had been demolished by 2010.

The Memorial Gardens opened in 1952 in honour of the town's fallen combatants of the two world wars. The Old Square Shopping Centre, a modern indoor shopping complex featuring many big retail names, opened in 1969.

The Saddlers Centre, a modern shopping mall, opened in 1980, being refurbished within a decade.

The Jerome K Jerome museum, dedicated to the locally born author (1859–1927), was opened in 1984.

The town's prolific leather industry was recognised in 1988 when Princess Anne the Princess Royal opened Walsall Leather Museum.[10]



John Shannon and Sons Ltd, George Street, a leatherwear factory

Walsall has had many industries, from coal mining to metal working. In the late 19th century, the coal mines ran dry, and Walsall became internationally famous for its leather trade. Walsall still manufactures the Queen's handbags and leathergoods for the Prince of Wales. Walsall is the traditional home of the English saddle manufacturing industry, hence the nickname of Walsall Football Club, "the Saddlers". Apart from leather goods, other industries in Walsall include iron and brass founding, limestone quarrying, small hardware, plastics, electronics, chemicals and aircraft parts.

Walsall's location in the heart of the Midlands and the nearness of the M6 motorway have increased its investment appeal. The main RAC control centre is located in Walsall close by J9 of the M6 motorway and there are now plans to redevelop derelict land in nearby Darlaston and turn it into a state-of-the-art regional hub. Between Bloxwich and Walsall there is a business corridor where TK Maxx has recently opened a regional depot. Currently established businesses include Homeserve plc and South Staffordshire Water.


Arboretum and illuminations

Walsall Arboretum was officially opened on 4 May 1874 by the wealthy Hatherton family. It was hoped that the park would provide "a healthy change from dogfights, bull-baiting and cockfights", however the 2d admission was not popular with the public and within seven years the council took over ownership to provide free admission. Among the attractions available were two boating lakes on the sites of former quarries, tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, and later - in the extension - a children's play area and paddling pool.[11]

Over the years the arboretum has seen many events and changes, including the beginnings of the Walsall Arboretum Illuminations as an annual event in 1951.[12]

Originally white bulbs in trees for courting couples in the autumn, in the 1960s and 1970s, the lights were bought second-hand from the Blackpool Illuminations, but over the years they were increasingly made "in house" and the last of the Blackpool hand-me-downs have now been disposed of.

The Illuminations had up to sixty thousand bulbs and they needed year-round planning.[13] Although the event had attracted an estimated 250,000 people in 1995, lack of growth beyond this figure has raised the prospect of major redevelopment as the light shows have been exactly the same for a number of years.[14] In February 2009, Walsall council announced that the Illuminations will not take place in 2009, 2010 and 2011.[15]

In January 2010, it was announced that the Illuminations had been permanently scrapped and would be replaced by other events such as concerts and laser shows throughout the year.[16] The existing lights would be sold off where possible to interested parties.


The Walsall Leather Museum

Walsall has two museums, Walsall Museum and Walsall Leather Museum. Walsall Museum features local history objects primarily from the manufacturing trades and also has a space for temporary exhibitions, while the leather museum displays a mixture of leather goods and has recreations of leatherworkers workshops.

Art gallery

Walsall's new art gallery

The New Art Gallery Walsall opened in 2000. Named, as was its predecessor, the E M Flint Gallery in memory of Ethel Mary Flint, head of art at Queen Mary's Grammar School, an exhibitor at the Royal Academy, and a former mayor of Walsall, it contains a large number of works by Jacob Epstein as well as works by Van Gogh, Monet, Turner, Renoir and Constable. The large gallery space is host to temporary exhibitions.


  1. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 5. 
  2. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 3. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Arthur Freeling (1838). Freeling's Grand Junction Railway Companion to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. pp. 125. 
  4. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 9. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Arthur Freeling (1838). Freeling's Grand Junction Railway Companion to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. pp. 126. 
  6. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 20. 
  7. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 28. 
  8. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 15. 
  9. Edward Lees Glew (1856). History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. J.R. Robinson. pp. 21. 
  10. [1]
  11. "Walsall Virtual Arboretum". Walsall MBC. http://www.walsallarboretum.co.uk/. 
  12. "Walsall Illuminations 2006". Walsall MBC. http://www.walsall-lights.com/01_AtTheLights/History.htm. 
  13. "Walsall Illuminations 2005". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blackcountry/content/articles/2005/10/05/walsall_illuminations_2005_feature.shtml. 
  14. "Final chance for Illuminations". Express and Star. http://www.expressandstar.com/articles/news/es/article_92338.php. 
  15. "Light are turned off in crunch". Express and Star. http://www.expressandstar.com/2009/02/05/lights-are-turned-off-in-crunch. 
  16. "Illuminations scrapped for Good". Express and Star. http://www.expressandstar.com/2010/01/16/illuminations-scrapped-for-good/. 

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