The Increasing Population & Social Conditions in the First Half of the 19th Century.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the overcrowding caused by a rapidly increasing population hadn't really began. There were sufficient houses, and employment for everyone. The figures from the 1801 census are as follows:

population   3,812
number of males   1,996
number of females   1,816
number of inhabited houses   703
number of uninhabited houses   59
number of families in the houses   777
people employed in agriculture   35
people employed in manufacture and handicrafts   1325
people in other employment   2452

During the Napoleonic wars when the gun trade was booming, local people used to boast that Darlaston had more money per square inch than any other town in Great Britain. Money was so plentiful that many of the people employed in the gun trade used to squander it, and large amounts of fish and meat were sold here. Business was also booming for shopkeepers, and many people seeking employment were attracted to the town, which continued throughout the century.


1801 3,812
1811 4,900
1821 5,600
1831 6,600
1841 8,200
1851 10,591
1866 12,884
1870 14,724
1881 13,600
1891 14,400
1901 15,395
Even though the population increased, adequate housing, drainage, and sanitation were not provided very quickly. This produced an extremely high death rate, and Darlaston was described as the unhealthiest town in the black country. Houses fell into two broad categories, those for the rich, and those for the poor. The houses for the rich compared favourably with similar dwellings elsewhere, but many of the poor lived in dreadful conditions. The worst houses were those in the notorious courts. Houses were crammed into any available space, many being built behind existing houses. As many as ten houses were built into a courtyard, with perhaps sixty people sharing common wash houses and toilets. Some of the very poor had to use boxes as tables and chairs, and it was not uncommon for people to sleep on the floor, with sacking and old clothing for bedding.

A view of the back of the Adams family's house in Pinfold Street. On the right is the Wesleyan Chapel and to its left part of the minister's house. From the Methodist Recorder 13th June, 1901.
Coal was the main source of heat and power. Smoke poured from domestic and factory chimneys in vast clouds, which created a permanent canopy over the entire district. Soot often formed a coating on buildings, and soot spots used to appear on washing hung out to dry.

 The coal fires produced large quantities of ash. There were no sewers, and the toilets were emptied periodically by the night-soil men, who carried out their unsavoury task while everyone else slept. The contents of the toilets were mixed with the ashes, and transported by wheelbarrow to an awaiting cart in the street.

The refuse was then transported to dumps in various parts of the town, one of which could be found in Darlaston Road on the site of the Servis factory. The smell was extremely unpleasant, as you can imagine.

Accommodation was often supplied by publicans who were amongst the most affluent members of the community. Sometimes they provided finance for the building of houses, but more often they purchased plots of land, divided them up into streets, and sold building plots to builders or private individuals. Some of these streets were named after them; Aldridge Street, Corns Street, and Foster Street. One such landlord, Charles Foster of the Bell Inn, purchased a piece of land known as Wilkes' and Shale's Crofts and divided it up into building plots. He had roads built and called the development "Charles Foster's Building estate. Plots were sold by private contract or at an auction held at the Bell on 2nd May, 1836. This development included Foster Street.

A new parish workhouse opened in 1813 on a site near the corner of St. Georges Street and The Green. It closed in 1838 on the formation of the Walsall Poor Law Union, whose buildings now form the older part of the Manor Hospital. Their workhouse in Pardoes Lane (now Victoria Road) was demolished in 1887 to make way for the Town Hall. The workhouse was established to cope with the vast numbers of poor and vagrants produced by an unequal society, and unstable economy. It was not intended as a shelter, but as a place of work, life being both unpleasant and degrading.

The Parish Workhouse included a lock-up, an early prison cell. The Parish Constable in 1838 was Joseph Golcher and when the workhouse closed he built a new lock-up at the rear of his own house. This continued in use until he retired. The town also had a whipping post and Parish stocks at Rock's Fold near the Bell Inn, Church Street. When the stocks were eventually removed they were stored at the house of the acting constable and later mounted on wheels. Anyone condemned to the stocks would be wheeled around from place to place as part of the punishment.

The Bull Stake & King Street around 1907. From an old postcard
At about this time the face of King Street was starting to change. It originally contained many attractive houses that were occupied by some of the wealthier citizens. The Poor Law Relief Rate Book of 1800 states that in 1793 there were 50 substantial houses, and 16 houses combined with some sort of business. Most of these consisted of small workshops, and in some cases they had a small retail shop attached, in which was sold the produce from the workshop.
Parson & Bradshaw's Directory of 1818 lists 11 retail businesses:
2 - Butchers
1 - Baker & Maltster
1 - Shoemaker
1 - Linen & Woollen Draper
1 - Tailor
1 - Saddler & Coach Proprietor
1 - Warehouseman
3 - Shopkeepers

Throughout the 19th century the houses were gradually converted into shops, so that King Street became the principal shopping street, as it is today. As industry flourished and the population grew, the demand for local shops increased. The numbers were as follows:

1834 - 17 shops
1845 - 24 shops
1855 - 34 shops
Pigot & Co.
1828 directory
  Read an 1842
trade directory

By 1850 a large variety of items could be purchased in King Street, including; food, clothing, clocks, watches, footwear, books, stationery, seeds, baskets. There were 4 chemist shops, 2 house agents, and a fire insurance agent. By the end of the century only two houses remained, the others had been converted into shops.

The row of shops in Pinfold Street were originally private houses. Half were one up, one down workmen's cottages. It was here that most of the victims of the 1831 cholera epidemic lived. Behind the houses ran a ditch, dug to remove waste water from the factories at Kings Hill. The water ran into a boggy area behind Catherine's Cross. When it left the factories the water was fairly clean, but along the way it was used as an open sewer. By the time it reached Pinfold Street it was very dirty and contaminated with the carrier of cholera. There were 223 cases of cholera, and 68 deaths, most of which were in Pinfold Street. Later, when the danger was understood, the ditch was deepened, partly culverted, and diverted into the canal at Porkett's Bridge.

Read about Darlaston in 1851

The photograph shows the Wesleyan Methodist School on the left and the row of shops where most of the victims of the 1831 cholera epidemic lived. The Black Horse pub on the right was the oldest public house in Darlaston, dating from the late 18th century. It was the headquarters of the town's horse racing fraternity.

Pinfold Street in the early 1970's.

King Street from the Bull Stake in the late 1950s, before its decline.

The shops on the opposite side of the road are L to R:
A. P. Appleyard. The Corner Shop, Collins shoe shop, Careful Cleaners, and Middleton's Toy Shop.

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