Molineux Alley had got its name by 1890 and may have had it earlier than that.  But that cannot always have been its name, as it pre-dates the first appearance of Mr. Molineux on Isaac Taylor’s map of 1750.  What is was called before that is not known;  but we use the name in this article for its whole length, from what is now the Molineux Hotel to where Dunstall Park now is.

This aerial photo, from Google Earth, shows Molineux Alley cutting diagonally across the development between New Hampton Road and Waterloo Road. 

One reason the Alley is so visible is that the housing and other development has had to take place allowing for the existence of this highway.  Other aspects of the layout have been determined by the pattern of the fields which were here until the end of the nineteenth century.

Wolverhampton grew up on top of its hill and gradually spread along the hill top.  Major roads lead out in the direction of the nearby larger towns.  In the area in which Molineux Alley lies the major roads, which may be taken to be very old roads, were the road to Shrewsbury, known now at Tettenhall Road; and Stafford Road.  Between those major roads one would expect to find lesser roads whose function was to give access to the agricultural land in that area.  It seems that there were three such roads. One was what is now New Hampton Road, which Anthony Rose, in his book “Whitmore Reans”, refers to as having been a cart track before urban development took place in the area – when it was known as Whitmore End Lane.  It would have skirted the boggy land on which West Park now stands and given access to much of the agricultural land almost all the way down to the Tettenhall Road near the Smestow at Newbridge.  On the Stafford Road side it is likely that the line of road now indicated by Molineux Way, Staveley Road, Dunstall Road and Dunstall Lane had its origins as this sort of agricultural access road.  Between these two lay the road which is now represented by Molineux Alley.

 (There was a general tendency for both major and minor roads to radiate from a town centre; and for the roads mainly used for agricultural purposes to be so arranged, in their number and courses, as to give access to every field.  This layout can be seen very clearly in the case of the land to the north east of Bilston town centre.  It is not quite so apparent here but clear enough to show the principle at work).

The top end of Molineux Alley, starting to the side of the Molineux Hotel (now the new storage building for the City Archives) and passing by what were Molineux House gardens and what is now the Molineux Stadium.

Molineux Alley started near the town centre, in North Street.  Like other roads from the town centre it did not go straight down the hill but slanted across it to give an easier slope down the hill.  This section of the road is now the pathway which runs from Molineux Hotel, past the Molineux stadium to Waterloo Road.  From there on it continues in a direct line across the flatter ground where the fields would have started. 

What can be seen as the present start of Molineux Alley, leading down from Waterloo Road towards Whitmore Reans.

The Alley does not seem to have lead to any settlement of any size but its ultimate destination may have been  Dunstall Farm.  That also seems to have been the destination of Dunstall Road.  On the other hand that Farm may postdate the road which did not run directly to it, and seems to have continued as far as the Tettenhall to Aldersley Road on the far side of the Smestow.  But a way such as this  does not have to have had an end point other than a field.  This sort of way ran amongst the fields for the purpose of giving access to the fields.  It will be remembered that those who farmed the fields would, in the early days of the town and up to the time the fields were enclosed, have lived in Wolverhampton and would have sought a market in Wolverhampton.  In later times, say from about 1700 onwards, when agricultural land came into more unified ownership, the fields through which the Alley ran may have been farmed from Dunstall Hall or from Whitmore End Farm. 

The road was there for the purposes of those who farmed this flatter land, in an area that was probably more amenable to cultivation than the boggier land which lay where the Springfields Brewery and West Park now are. The area now known as Whitmore Reans was not naturally well drained land; but at least it did not suffer the soubriquet “Hungry Leas”, which was applied to the area which was to become the race course.

Undoubtedly the road was used for taking people, livestock, equipment and manure in; and crops or livestock out.  This means that it would certainly be classified in law as a “cart and carriageway” – a way  over which the public had a right to pass and re-pass not only on foot or on horseback but with carts and carriages.   As it had this status it continues with that status unless some statutory procedure has been followed to reduce it. 

This is not known to have happened in the case of the Alley and it is the case that there is a right to go along it with motor vehicles, horses and bikes as well as on foot.  Anything which prevents this is an illegal obstruction. 

Roads tend to persist in the landscape, more so even than field boundaries.  The old maps show that when development took place around the road it had to respect the line of the road.  The basic law is neither houses nor anything else can be built over highways.  We see this principle in operation at points where the Alley crosses the line of  roads.   In these cases there are either gaps in the terraces which allow the Alley to pass through; or roads lead up to the Alley and then stop.  (This feature is particularly noticeable in aerial views).  The tendency for an old road to affect development in this way is reinforced by the fact that roads also define field boundaries.  When land is bought and sold it is usually sold by the field.  When developers bought land for housing they usually bought a whole field, with access to a road, and developed it as best as the field shape allowed.  This is probably why some roads stop at the Alley and do not run across it. 

Beyond Great Hampton Street the Alley is no longer called the Alley and its original path is not so well defined.  Indeed there are places where the housing development runs across what must have been the line of the road, in flat contradiction of the principle of preserving a line of road enunciated above.  It is possible that court orders under statute were given to vary the line of road but there is no evidence of this.  It is more likely that the variations just happened, neither the developers nor the council thinking anything of it and being in happy ignorance of the law.  But fortunately the law is that if a road is diverted by a landowner then, once the public start to use the new line of road, it becomes a public highway. 

So the new lines of the Alley were and are certainly highways.  What is not so clear is whether the old lines remain highways!  So Great Hampton Street, which was to be the central spine of the New Hampton development, disregards the Alley – but the rest of the development does not.

Over the length of alley from Waterloo Road onwards,  the position is also affected by enclosure.  Whilst it is not certain that the town’s open fields stretched over this area, it seems likely.  The field pattern seen on the Tithe Map of 1842 shows nothing to contradict this.  What it does suggest is that there was enclosure by agreement.  When it came to enclosing fields, having an enclosure Act had several advantages, not the least of them being that one had statutory authority to close highways or  alter their line or to create new ones.  But none of these things could be done by agreement amongst the landowners. 

Steps leading down into the alley from
Drummond Street.

And so the alley continues on its old route, in places across fields.

Isaac Taylor’s map of 1750 seems to show the alley running past Molineux House and Mr. Molineux’s Close;  but it is not clear.  It does not show any direct route from the town centre.  Anyone standing on High Green and wanting to get to this road would have had to go past St. Peter’s to Horsefair, following that zig-zag road to Goat or Tup Street (later North Street) and then following that road to the turn off to Molineux Alley at Wadhams Hill. 

The 1842 Tithe Map, showing the radiating pattern of roads which gave access to and from the fields and the town centre.  Molineux Alley is shown in the darker colour.

New Hampton Road is the road in the lighter colour nearer the bottom (and marked "Whitmore End Lane") and the road to Dunstall is in the lighter colour towards the top of the map.

Molineux Alley can be seen branching off Wadhams Hill to skirt Molinuex House and its grounds.

The next relevant map we have is the Tithe Map of 1842.  This shows the Alley quite clearly.  From North Street one would have turned down Wadham’s Hill and then into Molineux Alley where it ran along the wall to the south side of Molineux House (now the Molineux Hotel) and its grounds to where it crosses the then new Wellington Road (now Waterloo Road) to reach the fields.  It forms the boundary between two fields and is shown as a fenced road.  But from there on it is shown as fenced only on the northern side as it runs between five more fields.  It then runs diagonally across three more fields.  A possible explanation for all this is that when the area was enclosed by agreement,  it was easy enough to create fields of a suitable standard size on each side of the Alley and between Whitmore End Lane southwards and Dunstall Lane northwards.  But, as these two roads diverged, two fields of the standard size were not enough to fit, so the attempt to use the Alley as a boundary was abandoned and the owners had to accept fields of a suitable size and shape but with a highway across them.  In the resulting pattern of fields there seems to be only one field which is dependant on the Alley as its only access.  In fact the Alley was not, at this point in time, a necessity for agricultural access but, being a public highway, it continued in existence.  One suspects that, had the enclosure taken place under statute, the Alley would have been closed. 

After crossing these three fields diagonally, the Alley joins Dunstall Lane.  It is difficult to make out what is happening here.  Dunstall Lane runs pretty straight  from its junction with North Street, across the Waterloo Road and onward to where a road from Five Ways, now known as Dunstall Road, joins it. 

The line is briefly continued until there is an almost right angled turn, past another two fields where there is another right angled turn, but northwards.  It is at this point that Molineux Alley joins it and it is the line of the Alley which is now followed.  This may suggest that it is the Alley which is the older route.

The route then wanders somewhat between fields, skirts the grounds of Dunstall Hall with a couple of right angled turns, then crosses the Smestow to join the Tettenhall to Autherley Road.  It is quite possible that the Alley originally took a more direct route; and that when Duntall Hall was created the Alley was divrted, whether legally or not, around its grounds.

OS maps from the earlier part of the 19th century present dating problems and are difficult to interpret but they suggest that the Dunstall Road and Lane route was the more important one and Molineux Alley played only a subsidiary role. 

The 1890 OS map is the first to name Molineux Alley and clearly shows it running from Wadham's Hill, past the Molineux Grounds, across the Waterloo Road and onwards along its present line. 

By now Drummond Street has appeared.  That street, and the houses fronting Newhampton Road to each side of the street, are all built on a single field (field 230 on the Tithe Map) because that was all that the developer was able to buy. 

So Drummond Street runs up to the Alley and stops.  It is notable that it is at a higher level than the Alley and there are steps from the end of the street down to the Alley.  This is probably a result of the lie of the land at that point, the developer building up the level of the Alley end of the street to make the building of the terraces of houses more uniform and easier.

The 1890 Ordnance Survey Map.

But after that fields remain on both sides, though nearer Great Hampton Street one of them seems to have been split into allotments of some sort – possibly for market gardening – and a start has been made on Paget Street which also stops dead at the Alley.  And then there is Great Hampton Street.  Where the Alley joins it on the south-eastern side the houses stop, the Alley runs through and, bounding it on the south-eastern side, is what appears to be a factory.  But on the other, north-western side of the road, the last house is built across the line of the Alley and the Alley can been seen continuing around the north-eastern side of that house.  Technically this was an obstruction of the highway.  What procedures, if any, were used, to permit this to happen is, of course, unknown.  

From there the Alley crosses more fields until it reaches it junction with Dunstall Lane, where houses have been built on that road and on Chester Street, in a way which respects the line of the Alley.

The 1901 Ordnance Survey Map.
By the time of the 1901 OS Map Dunkley Street has appeared and is built up on its south-eastern side only;  but the other side seems to be in the course of development.  The Municipal Grammar School has also appeared but its buildings do not yet stretch back as far as the Alley.  Sherwood Street and Paget Street have also appeared and they did not line up with each other, the Alley forming a kind of dog leg between them.

This is clearly the result of different developers buying different fields on each side of the Alley and fitting in their houses as best they could on their own fields, ignoring what the developer of the next field was doing.  Then Bright Street has been developed as a single street but, of course, with gaps in the houses where the Alley runs.

And so onwards to Great Hampton Street and to where Harrow Street seems to have been built in total disregard of the line of the Alley – but Gloucester Street takes it up again as far as the junction with Dunstall Road. 

There were, in 1901, still some houses to be built but simply as infilling in the established street pattern. The whole area through which Molineux Alley runs had been developed mainly between about 1880 and 1900.  The houses are typical of their period (and are, in many ways, similar to those which were being built at much the same time on what had been the Graiseley Estate between Lea Road and Great Brickkiln Street). 

There are no single houses.  They are all terraces of greater or lesser length, indicating that they were built by speculative developers, rather than by individuals.

 Doubtless the plans which the builders would have submitted to the Borough Council for building regulation approval, would show the names of the developers and details of the design.

Suffice it to say here that the houses are intended for the upper working classes – the skilled artisans – and the lower middle classes – the clerical workers.  (An examination of the 1891 and 1901 censuses would reveal the occupations of the earliest residents).  The houses vary in size and design but little, the more expensive variety having a bay window and some terracotta decoration on the frontage

Are there any implications in all this for the proposed restoration of Molineux Alley?  It is clear that the Alley, in additional to its current usefulness, is of historic interest.  It is reminder of the older agricultural background of the city.  Its course has acted to regulate how the present streets and houses were laid out.  These developments have given the Alley its present character of an enclosed space with almost no houses or other buildings fronting it but with irregular breaches in the enclosure which have great landscape value.  The factors certainly indicate that the Alley is worth preserving – and if it is worth preserving it is worth upgrading and maintaining.  They also perhaps indicate that Victorian style bollards, lamp posts and any other street furniture, are worth preserving as being in keeping with the date of the area’s development.  The history may also suggest that features might be created in and around the Alley which in some way hark back to the agricultural past and to the Alley’s role as a link between the market town and its fields.