The first written reference to Bescot is an entry in the Domesday Book in which it is called “Bresmundescote” and is described as a single carucate of land largely lying waste. A carucate was the area of farming land that could be ploughed by one oxen team in a year. It is usually considered to be about 120 acres.

The first known residents of Bescot were the Hillary family who came from Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët, in Normandy and were given land by the King in return for their assistance in the Norman invasion. By 1271, Bescot was held by William Hillary, who acquired more land in the area. The area became known as Bescot Manor, which was ruled by William Hillary who was lord of the manor.

There was a hall at Bescot by 1311 which would have been occupied by the Hillary family. In that year, William took legal action against some of his neighbours who were accused of raising a mob of about 49 men and causing chaos around the hall. They were accused of beating his workers, stealing goods and laying siege to the house, where they fired arrows at the windows and doors and prevented the occupants from leaving the house for a considerable time.

William claimed one hundred pounds in damages against Thomas Le Rous, Roger Bassett and three others. At the time the Hillarys were unpopular with their neighbours and constantly in dispute with them. By 1345 the hall had been fortified with a wall complete with battlements and slots from where arrows could be fired. There was also a rectangular dry moat that was double- ditched on its north-western side. Before the end of the century a chapel was added to the hall.

Bescot Estate in the 20th century, with the site of the original hall on the left and the 18th century replacement on the right.

In 1411 the hall passed-on to William Mountfort, of Coleshill, Warwickshire, who was a great-grandson of one of the Hillarys and a descendant of Simon de Montfort, who rebelled against King Henry III in 1263. The Mountfort family were in residence for nearly three hundred years and the hall and estate was passed from father to son for several generations.

On the 30th January, 1469, William's grandson, Sir Simon Mountfort (also known as Sir Simon Mountford) was found guilty of treason and executed. His estates were forfeited. In 1534 when Bescot estate was returned to the family, his grandson, Thomas Mountfort took over. In 1586, Queen Elizabeth stayed at the hall and while there signed several documents relating to Walsall.

The 17th century was a turbulent time for the family. In 1605 the Mountforts became Catholics, at a time when the Catholic Church was regarded with suspicion. The Act of Uniformity, Passed in 1559 required people to attend Church of England services. Because of the Mountfort’s refusal to join the Church of England, their estate at Bescot was sequestered (seized by the government) in 1648. The family remained staunch Catholics and by 1652 had managed to lease back two thirds of the estate. The following year the Mountforts managed to lease back the remaining third of the estate.

By 1671 the Mountforts kept a Catholic priest at the hall, named Francis Dormer who held Catholic mass there. He had been a trustee of the Mountforts, and was executed at Worcester in 1678. Simon Mountfort died in 1664 and was succeeded by his brother Edward. Edward died in 1672, leaving two children, Simon and Elizabeth, both minors. Simon died and the manor was inherited by Edward's widow Elizabeth.

By this time the hall was an impressive building, as can be seen from the Hearth Tax records. The tax (from 1662 to 1689) ensured that each liable householder had to pay one shilling, twice a year, for each fire hearth and stove in each dwelling. The hall had 14 hearths and 14 rooms and two pools (Over Pool and Great Pool) which were well-stocked with eels and water fowl.

Elizabeth Mountfort died around 1675 and the estate passed into the hands of trustees. In the early 1680s Edward and Elizabeth Mountfort’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Harris. His father, who had the same name, was Elizabeth’s guardian. He had acquired the estate, which was passed on to his son and Elizabeth on their marriage. Elizabeth’s husband, Thomas, died and she married Jonas Slaney, who had died by 1727.

The 18th century hall in the 1920s.

The Slaneys became the next major residents of Bescot and it was during their occupation that the second Bescot Hall was built. Jonas Slaney’s grandson, Jonas, inherited the hall and estate in 1762 or 1763. He had been living at Bescot for some time, but in 1768 he moved to Bristol and stayed there for several years. By 1772 he had returned to Bescot and by 1778 was vicar of Rushall and also a magistrate. By 1781 he was in deep financial trouble and was forced to hand over the estate to trustees.

The new Bescot Hall was an elegant, well built, two storey mansion house, with an attic and six rooms on the first floor. The old hall was demolished and the site was laid out as a garden, with a stone bridge over the moat. There were walled gardens around the new hall which contained a variety of fruit trees. There were also barns, a malthouse, stables and a coach house for four carriages. Nearby was Bescot Hall Farm.

In 1778, Richard Wilkes moved into the hall and in 1791 purchased it, along with 80 acres of land for £3,200. In 1794 he sold the property and land to Richmond Aston, a Tipton banker, for £4,000. Much of his wealth came from Black Country coal mines. He began to enlarge the hall, adding a third storey and a semi-circular porch with Tuscan columns at the entrance.

After his death in 1796, his widow continued to extend the building, adding a second storey to the wing and at the rear, an annexe with a basement and a conservatory. She lived at the hall until at least 1800, but by 1820 the estate was owned by Richmond Aston's trustees, who then sold it to Edward, Stephen, and John Crowther. By 1843 John Crowther was sole owner. In 1852 he left the property to William Crowther, a relative. The Crowthers did not live at Bescot, so the hall was occupied by a succession of tenants.

William Crowther died in 1865 and the estate was in the hands of trustees. In October 1871 it was split up and sold. Richard Bagnall, who was living at the hall agreed to buy it, but in April 1872 it was purchased by James Slater, a solicitor from Darlaston who was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Darlaston industrialist Samuel Mills. They had five sons and six daughters. James and Elizabeth lived there for the rest of their lives.

A ground plan of the hall in 1922 when the house was on sale after Elizabeth Slater's death.

The drawing room, showing the Slater's opulent lifestyle.

Another 20th century view. From an old postcard.

James Slater was a J.P. who sat on the Willenhall Bench for many years and was a major shareholder in John Harper & Company of Willenhall. He was also a churchwarden at St. Lawrence's Church in Darlaston, a member of Darlaston's first School Board, formed in 1883, and in 1888 Chairman of the Local Board at Darlaston. Slater Street in Darlaston and Slater Street in Willenhall are both named after him.

James died at the house on the 26th October, 1901, and the estate passed to the following trustees: his widow Elizabeth, and sons Samuel Mills Slater, and Edward Tilley Slater. In his will it is valued at £61,311.4s.8d. which is about £3.5 million in today's money. The family must have had an extremely opulent life style.

After Elizabeth's death in April 1922 the house remained empty for a while before it was purchased by Pitt Bonarjee, a Congregational minister at Wednesbury, who opened the house as a private school. In 1929 to 1930 the house was demolished, and the land sold in several plots. The bridge over the moat that surrounded the original hall was in a bad state of repair and so was demolished in 1937.

The site is now occupied by the houses in Montfort Road and Bescot Drive, the remainder of the estate is now part of Pleck Park.

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