Wednesbury High Street
|West Bromwich West|
It is a town with a long history, long before the growth of the Black Country, though most outsiders today will know it for the passage through the town of the M6 motorway, for the giant IKEA store off the motorway, or for the railyard.
The name of Wednesbury appears to share an origin with that of 'Wednesday', namely that it is named after the pagan Anglo-Saxon god Woden. The name means "Woden's town" or "Woden's fort". Wednesbury is one of just a few places in Great Britain known to be named after a heathen deity.
The first authenticated spelling of the town's name is as Wodensbyri, written in an endorsement on the back of the copy of the will of Wulfric Spot, dated 1004. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists Wednesbury as Wadnesberie.
Wednesbury is believed to have been fortified by Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great and known as the Lady of the Mercians. Æthelflæd erected five fortifications to defend against the Danes at Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford and Warwick, with Wednesbury in the centre of the other four. Wednesbury's fort would probably have been an extension of an older fortification and made of a stone foundation with a wooden stockade above. Earthwork ramparts and water filled ditches would probably have added to its strength. There is now a plaque on the gardens between Ethelfleda Terrace and St. Bartholomew's church stating that the gardens there - created in the 1950s - used stone from the graaf, or fighting platform, of the old fort. Exploration of the gardens reveals several dressed stones, which appear to be those referred to on the plaque
By the Domesday Book, Wednesbury appears to have been a thriving rural community encompassing Bloxwich and Shelfield. During the Middle Ages the town was a rural village, with each family farming a strip of land with nearby heath being used for grazing. The town was held by the king until the reign of Henry II, when it passed to the Heronville family.
Mediæval Wednesbury was very small, and its inhabitants would appear to have been farmers and farm workers. In 1315, coal pits were first found and recorded in Wednesbury, which led to an increase in the number of jobs offered there. Nail making was also in progress during these times.
William Paget was born in Wednesbury in 1505, the son of a nail-maker. He is noted as having risen to the position of Secretary of State, a Knight of the Garter and an Ambassador. He was one of executors of the will of Henry VIII.
In the 17th century Wednesbury pottery - "Wedgbury ware" - was being sold as far away as Worcester, while white clay from Monway Field was used to make tobacco pipes.
By the 18th century the town's main occupations were coal mining and nail making. With the introduction of the first turnpike road in 1727 and the development of canals and later the railways came a big increase in population. In 1769, Wednesbury's canal banks were soon full of factories as in this year, the first Birmingham Canal was cut to link Wednesbury's coalfields to the Birmingham industries.
In 1743 the Wesleys and their new Methodist movement were severely tested in Wednesbury. Early in the year, John and Charles Wesley preached in the open air on the Tump. They were warmly received by the people and made welcome by the vicar. Soon afterwards another preacher came and was rude about the current state of the Anglican clergy. This angered the vicar and the magistrates published a notice ordering that any further preachers were to be brought to them. When John Wesley next came his supporters were still there but a crowd of others heckled him and threw stones. Later the crowd came to his lodgings and took him to the magistrates. However both magistrates declined to have anything to do with Wesley or the crowd. The crowd ill-treated Wesley and nearly killed him but he remained calm. Eventually they came to their senses and returned him to his hosts.
Soon afterward the vicar asked his congregation to pledge not to associate with Methodists and some who refused to pledge had their windows smashed. Others who ventured to host Methodist meetings had the contents of their houses destroyed as well. This terrible episode came to an end in December when the vicar died. After that Anglican/Methodist relations were generally cordial. Methodism grew strongly in Wednesbury and John Wesley visited often, almost until his death. Francis Asbury, Richard Whatcoat and the Earl of Dartmouth are among those who attended Methodist meetings in the town. All of them were in different ways to have a profound effect on the United States.
A steam tram service was opened between Wednesbury and Dudley, also serving Tipton, on 21 January 1884. The line was electrified in 1907 but discontinued in March 1930 on its replacement with Midland Red buses along the route.
20th and 21st centuries
In 1926, the first council houses built by Wednesbury council were occupied, but progress was somewhat slow compared to nearby towns including Tipton and West Bromwich. By 1930, a mere 206 families had been rehoused to the new council houses from slums. However, the building of new council houses rose dramatically at the start of the 1930s, the 1,000th council house in Wednesbury being occupied before the end of 1931. By 1935, 10 years since work began on Wednesbury's first council houses, some 1,250 of the town's older houses had been demolished or earmarked for demolition. By 1944, more than 3,000 council properties existed in Wednesbury. By 1959, that figure had exceeded 5,000.
During the later half of the 20th century, Wednesbury's industry declined, but since 1990 new developments such as an automotive park, a retail park and the newly pedestrian-only Union Street have given a new look to the town. The traditional market is still a feature of the bustling centre; while the streets around Market Place are now a protected conservation area.
IKEA purchased the former FH Lloyd steel plant from Triplex in 1988, and opened one of its first British stores on the site in January 1991, just 14 months after the development had been given the go-ahead.
Property developers JJ Gallagher had purchased the bulk of the FH Lloyd site site in 1988 and once mineshafts were filled in, decontamination was completed and the River Tame was diverted, the land was suitable for mass retail development. A Cargo Club supermarket-style retail warehouse, part of the Nurdin and Peacock group, which opened in July 1994. It was one of just three Cargo Club stores in Britain, and the venture was not a success, and by the end of 1995 it had been shut down following heavy losses. A B&Q DIY superstore opened on the site in 1997.
The next two units were opened in 1995 and let to Currys and PC World and a Burger King fast food restaurant was opened opposite. By this stage, the area was known as Gallagher Retail Park and incorporated the nearby Ikea and Cargo Club stores.
A further phase of development was completed in 2000, with Furniture Village, Furnitureland and ScS setting up business in the new units, while Currys moved to a new store in this phase (this Currys store was the largest electrical superstore in Europe on its completion) and their original unit was re-let to furniture retailer MFI, who would remain there until the business went into liquidation eight years later. Pizza Hut and KFC opened fast food restaurants on the development in 2002.
Next and later on TK Maxx, Outfit, Boots, Mamas & Papas all opened in the refurbished phase next to Currys after they moved to the site. Both Curry's and PC World stores are now known as 'Megastores'.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
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- John Holland (1835). The History and Description of Fossil Fuel, the Collieries, and Coal Trade of Great Britain. Whittaker ; G.. ISBN 1-144-62255-7.
- A step for travellers to get on or off their horses
- Hackwood, Frederick William (1900). Religious Wednesbury, its Creeds, Churches and Chapels. Dudley: Dudley Herald.
- Wesley, John (1745). Modern Christianity Exemplified at Wednesbury (Second ed.). . Witness statements collected by John Wesley, quoted by Hackwood
- John Lednum (1859). A History of the Rise of Methodism in America. Lednum. ISBN 1-112-17734-5.
- Brunswick Park: Historical Summary
- Barratt Homes: Brief history of Wednesbury
- Sandwell MBC: Conservation
- "Cargo Club: the profitable failure". Grocer. 1995. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5245/is_n7195_v217/ai_n28653869/.