|Portobello was a small village at the western
extremity of Willenhall, extending along both sides of the road
from Wolverhampton to Walsall, bounded on the east and north by
the River Tame. It was originally the centre of the local
brick-making industry due to the plentiful supply of clay in the
area. This was commemorated in the name of one of Portobello’s
principal streets; Brickkiln Street, which was built on an old
field called Brickkiln Piece.
The area was named after Admiral Edward Vernon’s capture of
Portobello in the West Indies. This was achieved with only six
ships on 22nd November 1739. It caught the public's
imagination to such an extent that the Portobello and Vernon
names were widely used throughout the country, in fact in modern
Portobello there is a Vernon Close.
Portobello rapidly developed in the early 19th
century with the coming of the industrial revolution. Coal was
in great demand and large quantities of it could be found all
around the area. Many mines opened in close proximity to
Portobello, which became a mining community housing many of the
local miners. The larger pits were the Osier Beds Colliery,
named after the type of willow (used in basket making) that
originally covered the area, Bunkers Hill Colliery, named after
a battle in the American War of Independence, and Moseley Hole
Colliery, named after the Moseley area which commemorates the De
Mollesey (Moseley) family.
Portobello grew as an area of back-to-back
houses with courtyards, shared privies, communal wells and water
pumps. The houses became grossly overcrowded as more people
moved into the area seeking employment. In August 1849
Willenhall was hit by cholera, and the disease soon reached
Portobello, where there were many fatalities due to the bad
housing conditions and poor water supply. The epidemic lasted
until October by which time it had claimed at least 292 lives.
Suitable land on which to bury the victims was in short supply
and most of them were buried at Doctor’s Piece, which is still
known today as the cholera burial ground.
|The Grand Junction Railway, the world’s first
long-distance line, covering the 97 miles from Liverpool to
Birmingham, opened in July 1837. Stations were built at both
Willenhall and Portobello, near the Noose Lane level crossing.
Portobello Station was never profitable, remaining open until
January 1873, when passenger services between Bushbury and
Willenhall were withdrawn.
The railway is best remembered for the terrible accident that
took place near to Noose Lane level crossing on 19th
October, 1899. The original railway line went through Portobello
to Wednesfield Heath Station and the north. After the Stour
Valley line into Wolverhampton had opened in December 1851, a
loop was built from Wolverhampton high level station to the
Grand Junction line, joining it just west of Portobello. On the
day of the accident there was a dense fog and the signals were
set against a goods train as it approached from Wednesfield
|The driver could not see the signals and he
overshot the points at the junction with the Wolverhampton line.
At the same time a passenger train travelling from Wolverhampton
crossed the points and ploughed into the goods train. The
locomotive was derailed and ended on its side instantly killing
the fireman and fatally injuring the driver, who died later in
hospital. Luckily the coaches stayed upright, otherwise the
death toll would have been much higher.
The scene of the railway accident at
The local population was well served by
public houses and churches and there was even a school. In the
High Street alone there were six pubs, the Bridge Tavern, the
Gough Arms, the Bird In Hand, The Cock, The Malt Shovel and the
New Inn. There was a Methodist Chapel and a mission church
dedicated to St. Alban.
Portobello became part of the Borough of
Wolverhampton in 1966 as a result of the Local Government Reform
Act. At the same time the remainder of Willenhall became part of
changed dramatically in the early 1970s when most of old
Portobello disappeared under the developer’s hammer as part of
the scheme to upgrade the Willenhall Road. The dual carriageway
was built along with the traffic island at the end of Willenhall
Road and Portobello changed overnight. The old narrow streets
have now gone and the area of modern housing called Portobello
lies mainly to the south and west of the original village. One
survivor is the old school, which is now the community centre
and another is the war memorial. All of the old mines have
disappeared under the relentless spread of urbanisation and
today it’s difficult to imagine how the original village must