Years Of Growth

The gun trade became well established in the 18th century, employing about 600 people in the manufacture of gun locks and barrels. These were mainly supplied to the gun manufacturers in Birmingham, and brought great prosperity to the town. During the Napoleonic and Burmese wars guns were in great demand. The trade was very much a family craft, the skills being handed down from father to son. Gunlock makers usually supplemented their income by doing other types of work, because the gun trade suffered from periods of depression. A typical worker was John Stokes who was also licensee of the Old Castle Inn in Pinfold Street, later known as The Old Castle Hotel. There were a number of families in King Street that were involved in this trade, including the Golchers, the Williams, and the Josephs.

A typical Darlaston gunlock workshop.

In the late 1750s there were 300 to 320 gunlock filers, 50 to 60 gunlock forgers, and 250 boys employed as filers, gunlock forgers, cock stampers, and pin forgers.

A 14 hour working day was usual with the truck method of payment often being used. This involved payment in kind with food or fuel. During the Napoleonic wars the Birmingham gun trade supplied over 3 million gun barrels, and 2.8 million gunlocks to the British Government. The largest recorded production in a single year was 490,838 gun barrels, and 457,616 gunlocks, in 1813.

After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 the demand fell and Darlaston went into a severe depression, which lasted until 1839. The remaining trade was mainly confined to the export market and sporting guns. The development of machine made locks virtually eliminated the trade in Darlaston by about 1870. In Birmingham a smaller trade for hand made sporting guns continued until the early 1920s, but the manufacturers tended to make all of the parts themselves, so it was of no benefit to Darlaston. The last known workshop in the town was a two storey building that was just to the left of the present public library in King Street. It was at the rear of Appleyard's shop and demolished in the early 1970s when the library was built.

Parson & Bradshaw's Directory of 1818 lists the following products that were manufactured in Darlaston:

bridle bits, buckles, bullet moulds, carpenter's tools, dog collars, files, fire irons, guns, gunlocks, handcuffs, harness buckles, hasp locks, nails, padlocks, trunk locks.

The 1801 census includes the following information about the population of the town:

Population: 3812 consisting of 1996 males, and 1816 females.
Housing: 703 inhabited houses, occupied by 777 families. 59 uninhabited houses.
Employment: 1325 people employed in trade, manufacturing, and handicrafts.
2452 people in other employment. 35 people working in agriculture.
View a commercial and trade directory from 1818

Darlaston's depression resulted in a great increase in the number of poor people in the town, who were helped by payments from local taxes, which were raised from the middle and upper classes. Many tax payers believed that they were paying for the poor to be lazy and so they often complained to the powers that be. In 1834 a new Poor Law was introduced to reduce the cost of looking after the poor. Under the terms of the new law, parishes were grouped into unions, each of which had to provide a workhouse where the poor could go to get help. Once in the workhouse they would be made to wear a uniform, obey the strict rules and regulations, and work hard.

It is interesting to compare the amount of poor relief paid in the local towns as a way of comparing their individual fortunes at the time:

in 1831
Total relief 1834-35 Total relief per
head of population
Total relief
Total relief per
head of population
Darlaston   6,600 £1,251 3s.9d. £1,453 4s.5d.
Wednesbury   8,000 £1,892 4s.8d. £1,733 4s.3d.
Walsall 14,000 £4,409 6s.3d. £3,714 5s.4d.
Willenhall   5,000 £1,075 4s.4d. £1,028 4s.1d.
Bilston 14,000 £3,843 5s.6d. £2,816 4s.0d.
Tipton 14,000 £3,090 4s.5d. £2,868 4s.0d.
15,000 £3,128 4s.2d. £2,397 3s.2d.

In 1835-36 a lower percentage of people were receiving poor relief in West Bromwich than in the other towns, but only Darlaston saw an increase in payments.

The middle of the last century was at last a  time of growth for Darlaston. After the opening of the railway, Darlaston's manufacturers went from strength to strength, greatly increasing the town's prosperity. A commercial directory of 1851 lists 35 nut and bolt manufacturers in the town, the large number being solely attributable to the presence of the railway.

A report produced by the Children's Employment Commission in 1843 gives an insight into what life was like for children and young people in Darlaston during the early 1840s. The following extracts are descriptions provided by Charles Thornhill, Charles Green, and Isaac Clarkson in 1841:

The Condition of Children and Young Persons in Darlaston in 1841

Charles Thornhill, Esq., aged 34, Surgeon to the Darlaston and Bentley district of the Walsall Union:
Has practised ten years in Darlaston; has had continual opportunities of observing the treatment and condition of children and young persons of the working classes, both in mines and manufactories; can bear testimony to the fair treatment they uniformly received from their employers; they are well fed, well clothed, and for the most part healthy; is not aware of disease peculiar to them; they are as healthy as the children of the adjoining places; would especially refer to the good treatment of the apprentices of the miners in this place; the apprentices of the butties generally present a very fine physical appearance.

Of their mental and moral condition, not much good can as yet be said, but 'there is an attempt at education among them, and even a great interest displayed in it by the butties. The number of schools here is considerable, and the attendance very large; but the masters and teachers are not efficient; they have never been trained in any way beyond that of the schools they attend, in which, they themselves were educated. Has noticed the bad ventilation of some school rooms; would except the national school of the established church, and a school room which is spacious and of good height, such as that of the British school.

Hernia exists here among the boys, but not to any great extent; considers it far more prevalent in some of the adjoining parishes, Willenhall in particular; attributes its existence in these parts of the country to over-exertion, such as lifting heavy weights and drawing loaded skips of coal, lime, and ironstone. Thinks among the women there is not much malformation of the pelvis; labours are generally easy, but at the same time there are more than the average number of preternatural presentations, and instruments are frequently employed; there are a number of cases in which haemorrhage occurs; attributes these circumstances to the fact of the women winding almost the whole day at windlasses on pit banks, in screw manufactories, etc., and to their carrying heavy weights on their heads, particularly of coal, which the colliers families are allowed to have gratuitously, as much as each carry at a single load a day; each one, therefore, carries away the utmost possible to her.

Bronchocele and calculous diseases prevail here; attributes them to the water of the neighbourhood, which is strongly impregnated with the salts of lime and ironstone. Asthma is also common to those who have long worked in the pits, arising from the minute particles of dust floating in the atmosphere of the pit; and from the miners catching cold upon cold. Water abounds in some pits to a great extent, and the miners work all day in the wet; this frequently causes a number of boils to arise in different parts of the body which come in contact with the water.

Fever is not more prevalent here than in other parts of the country; but when it does break out, the cases are of a virulent kind, and of long duration. These cases originate in most filthy parts of the parish, where there is no underground drainage, where accumulations of filth abound on the surface. The women here of the working classes are very prolific, many of them having a child every year. It is a common thing here for a woman to have from nine to twelve children. The number of illegitimate children is great, many of the girls having had from three to four each; there is scarcely any prostitution in the place, though the inhabitants are numerous. The young men and women of the working classes are so constantly associated together in work-shops, manufactories, and on the pit banks, at nearly all towns, as to supersede all prostitution; the improvidence and want of management among the working classes is very great; they are as extravagant as possible whenever they get the means; many of them will have large joints of meat on Sundays and the earlier part of the week, and be in almost a starving condition by Friday and Saturday; there is much drunkenness here in the early part of the week when trade is good; the women are great smokers.

Charles Thornhill

Mr. Charles Green, aged 62, Malster and Farmer:
Has lived in Darlaston 28 years. Apprentices formerly were badly treated by some masters, ill clothed, and ill fed; and beaten unmercifully, but in rare cases; they were in those cases parish apprentices obtained from other parishes, such as Lichfield, Stratford, Coventry; at that time there was some premium given with each apprentice, £4 or £5, and always a suit of clothes.

When the master had got the boys or girls with the premium, they cared nothing about them, and would have been glad if they had been burnt or drowned to have got rid of them. Thinks it is very little the case now; thinks the children are now well fed and well clothed, and not improperly punished, almost generally; thinks money is not given now with apprentices, except from charities left for that express purpose, which has thus become abused.

There is a great lack of education here, or of the wish for it on the part of parents and masters; there is much more desire than there was, but far from a general desire; the Sunday schools are largely attended, particularly among the Methodists; believes the teachers are very incompetent for such an office.

Charles Green

The Rev. Isaac Clarkson, Vicar of Wednesbury:
Stated, that in his capacity as magistrate, complaints often came before him, made by boys against; masters from different places round about, such as Willenhall and Darlaston, but he did not encourage them, as they should more properly apply to the magistrate of Wolverhampton.

More complaints came before him from the mines than from the manufactories; but sometimes there was very bad usage in the latter. A boy from Darlaston has recently been beaten most unmercifully with a red hot piece of iron. The boy was burnt, fairly burnt. Wished to cancel the indentures, but the master had been to the Board of Guardians, or to the Clerk of the Stafford Union, and promised to behave better in future. Has various similar cases brought before him.

A great number of the small masters are not fit to have apprentices. Says this with reference to Darlaston and Willenhall; nothing of that kind occurs in Wednesbury, except sometimes in the mines. The number of complaints are very few from Darlaston; they are mostly from Willenhall.

Isaac Clarkson

View an early
Darlaston map
New Industries
The gunlock makers were skilled and resourceful people. Many of them turned their hands to other industries, using their metal working skills. By the 1830s the town had a number of small factories producing a wide range of products including buckles, buckle tongues, coach harnesses, files, fire irons, hinges, latches, locks, screws, and stirrups. There were also iron founders, and stampers.

The Carter family, who lived in Great Croft Street were ex-gunlock makers who had seven workshops behind their house. They invested in up-to-date plant and machinery, which included a steam engine to drive their machines and presses, presumably by overhead line shafting and belts. There were several employees, including five apprentices.

The location of Great Croft Street, which became part of St. Lawrence Way.

The business is listed in several trade directories:

The Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory for 1818

Carter, William  stirrup, snaffle, and girth buckle maker, Great Croft Street
Carter, James  stirrup and bridle bit maker, Great Croft Street
Carter, William  roller buckle manufacturer, Croft Street

Pigot & Company's National Commercial Directory of 1828

Bit and Stirrup Makers
James Carter, (and pattern ring). Great Croft Street.

Bolt and Latch Makers
James Carter, (screw). Great Croft Street.

Boot & Shoe Heel and Tip Makers
John Carter. Great Croft Street.

Patten Ring Makers
William Carter and Son. Great Croft Street.

James Carter. Great Croft Street.
William Carter and Son. Great Croft Street.

William White's 1831 Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire

William Carter & Son, Great Croft Street, bolt and Norfolk latch makers, stampers (gunlocks), boot and shoe heel tip manufacturer.

James Carter, Great Croft Street, bolt and thumb latch maker, stirrup maker, boot and shoe heel tip manufacturer.

Pigot & Company's Directory of Staffordshire, 1842 (The business was actually sold in December 1841)

Bolt and Latch Makers
Carter, James. Great Croft Street.
Carter, William & Son. Great Croft Street.

Boot & Shoe Heel and Tip Makers
Carter, William & Son. Great Croft Street.

Unfortunately a terrible accident took place on Monday 22nd January, 1838, when the boiler, which fed the steam engine exploded.

Boiler Explosion

The boiler explosion at Carter's works was reported as follows:

Staffordshire Examiner 27th January, 1838

Explosion. On Monday morning, about half past ten o'c1ock, the steam engine boiler, in the extensive shoe heel tip and spoon manufactory of Messrs. Carter and Son in Great Croft Street, Darlaston, exploded with a tremendous noise, which alarmed the whole town, and was heard distinctly at a distance of a mile and a half. The inhabitants in the neighbourhood were astounded, and many who had no faith in the millennium pronounced the world to be at an end. The top of the boiler, ten feet diameter and seven feet high, weighing a ton and a half, was torn from its situation and forced upwards at least fifty yards, descending upon an angle at a house in Cock Street, one hundred yards from the factory, breaking a small portion of the roof, and from thence, rebounding into the street, rolling against a house opposite, shattering the doors and window shutters, and forcing the brick jamb a little out of the perpendicular.

Had the boiler in the first instance fallen one yard further, the house must have been destroyed; or if when in the street it had rolled another half foot, the second house would have been stove-in, and must have fallen. Several pieces of cast iron pipe were found in Mr. Rooker’s garden and yard in King Street, 150 yards from the scene of accident, one of which knocked down a fence wall, and so shook the part of the house adjoining as to admit the light through the joints of the brickwork.

Bricks were plentifully scattered over all the yards and streets within a hundred yards, and yet, most miraculously, not a single individual was in the least injured (except a boy who was oiling a part of the machinery, and who was thrown by the concussion of the wind against the cylinder, and slightly bruised on the back of his head) although the accident occurred in the centre and in the most thickly populated part of the parish.

A clump of more than fifty bricks passed directly over the head of a man in the service of Mr. Thomas Bailey, who was putting a horse into a cart, and fell five or six yards beyond him: neither man nor horse were hurt, although both were terribly frightened. Several shops belonging to the Messrs. Carter were partially destroyed, but the damage done is not so extensive as was at first supposed. It may appear incredible that the boiler was forced so high into the air, but several persons who witnessed its ascent affirm that it was considerably higher than the steeple of the church, which is 140 feet.

Courtesy of Peter Carter, James Carter's great, great, great, grandson.

Sheffield Iris. Tuesday 30th January, 1838.

Explosion of a steam boiler at Darlaston

On Monday last, the boiler attached to the manufactory of Mr. Carter, at Darlaston exploded with great violence. The boiler itself, weighing upwards of two tons, was carried over the adjoining houses, and fell in Cock Street, a distance of 150 yards, doing considerable damage to two houses in its descent.

It first fell upon a house on the north side of the street, occupied by a shoemaker, demolishing a portion of the roof and the gable end; and rebounding from thence, fell against a house on the opposite side of the street, knocking in the door and a portion of the wall. About a yard of the steam piping was carried forty yards further, and propelled against the house of Mr. Rooker; and falling from thence, broke down an adjoining wall. Another part of the piping was blown through the front window of the same house. The bricks etc. were scattered in all directions for one hundred yards, and so great was the conclusion that most of the houses in the place were somewhat shaken. Three of Mr. Carter’s shops were entirely blown down

The accident is mainly attributable to the intense frost of the previous night having frozen down the safety valve. We are happy to say that not a single individual sustained the least personal injury, though the escape of several was almost miraculous.

Courtesy of Peter Carter, James Carter's great, great, great, grandson.

It is amazing that no one was killed, and that little damage was done. The business, and family houses in Great Croft Street were sold at auction in the White Lion pub on Friday 3rd December 1841. James Carter moved to Blakemores Lane, where he died in 1843. The family went on to open a large factory on King's Hill, and later at James Bridge.

An expanding Town

As the population increased in the middle of the 19th century there was a demand for more houses and so areas around Blockall, The Green, and Catherine's Cross were developed, usually where little land reclamation was required. One of the new streets built off Catherine's Cross, on the northern side of the Russian Colliery in the 1850s was Foundry Street, named after nearby Phoenix Foundry, in Catherine's Cross.

The western end of Foundry Street.

Foundry Street, which was demolished in 1955 has completely disappeared. It was replaced by the three storey blocks of council flats in Park Street.

Phoenix Foundry was founded in 1830 by John Garrington to produce forged components for the gun trade.

In 1879 the firm moved to Albert Works in Willenhall Road. In 1851 part the factory was occupied by Thomas Wood, as can be seen from the advert below.

King's Hill. From an old postcard.

Moxley Rope Works
The Moxley Rope Works Company Ltd. was formed in 1849, to manufacture ropes for the coal mines.

The ropes were made from locally grown flax, but were rendered obsolete by the invention of the rattlechain, and later wire rope. As the mining industry declined, the company started making rope slings, plough reins, and boat lines. When steam engines became plentiful, plaited gaskin (packing) was developed. Gaskin remained in production for the joining of salt glazed drain pipes, but the main products were lorry sheets, made from jute canvas and cotton flax, lorry ropes, and slings for lifting tackle.

One of the few natural resources that hadn't been exploited were the deep clay beds that lie along the Darlaston - Moxley boundary. The clay was first used commercially by the Moxley Brickworks, which was owned by the Wood family, who were large landowners in the Moxley area. Luckily the canal runs through the middle of the clay beds, so offering easy transportation for the finished bricks. The works were situated on what was called The Moxley Sand Beds, off Moxley Road. A short spur was built from the canal, which ran directly into the works to facilitate the loading of canal barges. Moxley Road was previously called Woods Bank, which was named after the Wood family.

The report by the Children's Employment Commission of 1864 includes a description of the girls who worked at Woods Darlaston Brickyard:

In this yard the girls had to carry the clay up a steep rise of about 12 yards in 50 yards.

Mr. J. Swindley, currier, Freeth Street, Oldbury:

I have lived in the town 30 years. I am well acquainted with the habits and condition of the girls employed in the brickyards. The employment of young females at this work is looked upon as a shame by all us tradesmen. The girls have to do men's work along with the men. I have often been shocked to hear the language and indecent talk among these girls when at work.

After their work is over, which is generally about six o'clock, they dress themselves in better clothes and accompany the young men to the beer shops. They are a good deal in habit of spending their earnings in beer shops with the men. They are ignorant of all household work, and quite uneducated.

The ever expanding population led to more churches, and a new cemetery. In 1837 the Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in Bell Street. It replaced a meeting house in Blakemores Lane, that had been used by the Darlaston Primitive Methodists since 1814. The building could seat 1,200 people, and was enlarged in 1879. It fell into disuse in 1908 after the building became unsafe due to subterranean coal fires, which caused the walls to crack. The congregation moved to the new chapel in Slater Street, which opened in 1910.

The building was sold in 1910 to a London company, to be used for the Darlaston Skating Rink. This never materialised, but in 1912 the same company opened the Olympia Cinema here instead. The entrance to the cheap seats was in Bell Street, and the entrance to the more expensive seats was in Blockhall. The building still suffered from underground fires, with copious amounts of sand being thrown down to minimise the effects. Eventually the cinema's floor had to be replaced with concrete, but due to the fires, the building was far too warm in the summer.

Bell Street Primitive Methodist Chapel in about 1886.

It closed in 1956 and was demolished a few years later. Also associated with the Primitive Methodist Chapel was the Primitive Methodist Sunday School in Willenhall Street. This closed around the same time as the chapel, and became Darlaston's one and only theatre, the Queen's Hall, popularly known as the Blood Tub because each play usually included at least one murder.

The fine Anglican mortuary chapel that stood in James Bridge Cemetery.

An end view of the Anglican mortuary chapel.

By the late 1850s Darlaston's main graveyard in Cock Street was rapidly running out of space for burials and something urgently had to be done.

In 1853, 1855, and 1857 Acts of Parliament were passed that allowed municipal authorities to build and run their own cemeteries.

The newly formed Darlaston Local Board considered the problem of overcrowding in Cock Street graveyard and decided to build a municipal cemetery on a piece of waste land in-between Bentley Mill Lane, the Walsall Canal and the London & North Western Railway.

The cemetery cost around £4,000 and initially covered about 4 acres. It opened in 1860. The first burial, that of Henry Smith, took place on 22nd March. A further four acres and a perimeter wall were added in 1887 at a cost of £2,000. Over the years the cemetery has expanded to cover all of the available land and is now full, no new burials being allowed.

A fine Sexton's house (Cemetery Lodge) was built, that's still there today. It was empty for some time in the 1980s but is now occupied and well cared for. There were two mortuary chapels following standard practice at the time, one for Anglicans and one for Nonconformists. The Anglican chapel survived until recent times, but the Nonconformist chapel closed in 1945 after falling into a bad state of repair and was demolished in 1948.

The entrance to the mortuary chapel.

The rear of the mortuary chapel.

Another view of the mortuary chapel. A fine building.

A final view of the Anglican mortuary chapel.

The site of the mortuary chapel in 2018.

By the late 1920s the old graveyard in Cock Street was very dilapidated and had been vandalised. The Rubery Owen company paid for its refurbishment, and seats were added to turn it into a garden of rest.

It opened in 1932 and was dedicated to the late Mr. A. E. Owen, but in recent times the burial ground fell into disrepair. The graveyard has now been refurbished and is sandwiched in-between St. Lawrence Way and ASDA.

Cock Street Graveyard as it is today. Cock Street ran along the right-hand side of the site.
Read the Darlaston section from Harrison, Harrod & Company's Directory and Gazetteer
of Staffordshire, published in 1861

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