Manor in the 16th Century
By the beginning of the 16th
century, Walsall had a well established mayor and
council. The Burgess Roll of 1377 contains a reference
to the consilium or town council, and the mayor. An
ordinance from around 1500 refers to the high steward,
the mayor, and the council, consisting of 25 members.
By the middle of the 16th century
the council had 24 members, and the town acquired its first
Town Hall, the original Guildhall in High Street. In
1547, Richard Dyngeley, Master of the Guild moved out,
and the building was taken over by the mayor and the
council. Much of the building was leased out, and part
of it became an inn, later known as the Green Dragon.
The main hall was used for civic events, mayoral
banquets, and for manorial courts.
In the early part of the 16th
century, the manor was leased out to several people
including Robert Acton, a groom of the King’s
bedchamber, and a member of an old Saxon family from
Wolverton Hall, near Worcester. One of the State Papers
from this period, dated 1526 to 27 states that:
Robert Acton lease of lands in
the Manor of Walsall, called ‘The Wastes’, parcel of the
Manor of Stafford, forfeited by Edward, late Duke of
Buckingham, with reservations, for 21 years, rent
£2.6s.8d. and 3s.4d. increase.
Acton rented the manorial park, and
is remembered for the dispute he had with the mayor and
burgesses over the payment of fees for the use of the
park, and the stealing of deer from the park. He took
his case to the Court of Star Chamber, and accused the
mayor and two colleagues of threatening to set a mob on
him. He described the people of Walsall as “Light
persons suddenly moved to affrays and insurrections”. He
stated that the mob would “Raise Bayard of Walsall, with
his thousand colts and set 400 men onto him. They would
ring Bayard’s Bell. So that all the town would rise
Who Bayard was in unknown, but the
colts refer to the clubs with carved heads that were
paraded around the town on ceremonial occasions. By the
mid 17th century the mayor and the 24 twenty-four
capital burgesses walked the fairs, wearing their gowns.
The group walked from the Guildhall to the church steps
where they proclaimed the fair open, then walked down to
The Bridge and proclaimed the fair open again. They were escorted by men carrying the carved clubs,
known as Bayard's Colts. The tradition had been
abandoned by the early 19th century.
the clubs have survived and can be found in Walsall
Museum. The outcome of the dispute is not known, but within 12
months, Acton had leased the park to Walter Devereux,
Lord Ferrers of Chartley. Acton must have died by 1536
because in that year the king granted Walsall Manor to
Sir John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
|Read an article about
Acton's dispute, from an 1830 edition of the 'Walsall
An impression of 16th century Walsall.
A New King
This was a time of change, due to the antics of
Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VIII on the death of his father.
He reigned from the 21st April 1509 until his death on the 28th
January 1547. He is remembered for his many wives, and the
suppression of the Catholic Church. The various Acts which led to
The Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541 had quite
an impact on Walsall Church. The church had been under the patronage
of Halesowen Abbey since the middle of the 13th century. Around 1538
the king took it over, and granted the abbey and its estates to John
Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, who became Earl of Warwick in
In 1536 John Dudley became Lord of the Manor of
Walsall, and remained as such until 1553 when he was found guilty of
high treason and executed. The manor then returned to the crown and
came under the control of Queen Mary.
Walsall church had a number of chantries, which
were for the exclusive benefit of local wealthy land-owning
families. They gave money, and endowed land to the chantries, which
were there to ease their souls into the after life by the process of
prayer. Daily services and prayers were carried out by the chantry
priest, who was funded by the endowment, usually the income from the
endowed land. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 Walsall is
described as a vicarage with ten chantries.
King Henry soon put an end to the chantries and
pensioned off the priests. Some of the chantry land in Walsall was
kept by the crown, and some sold for the benefit of the crown. The
remainder came into the possession of the town, and so was acquired
by John Dudley.
There were many chantries still in operation in
other parts of the country. When Henry’s son, King Edward VI came to
the throne in January 1547, he issued the Chantries Act which put an
end to the remaining 2,374 chantries and guild chapels. The priests
were pensioned off, and the property was absorbed into the Court of
Augmentations, which had been established to administer crown lands.
Some of the income was to be used for the building of almshouses,
schools and hospitals, as a replacement for the facilities lost when
the monasteries were destroyed.
Groat (4 pence) coins from Henry VIII's
In 1553 John Dudley was executed for high
treason, and Edward VI’s half sister Mary came to the throne. His
estates were taken over by the crown and so Queen Mary acquired the
Manor of Walsall. At that time many of the citizens of the town felt
that Walsall had missed out, because the 1547 Chantries Act had not
been imposed there. The Act abolished the 2,374 chantries and guild
chapels. Their buildings and lands were sold, and some of the money
raised was used for the good of the public (as stated in the Act).
In several places schools were built on chantry land.
A petition from the town, asking for the Act to
be enforced in Walsall, was taken to the Queen by Nicholas and
George Hawe. Queen Mary granted their wish, and ‘The Free Grammar
School of Queen Mary’ was founded in the town, and given some of the
chantry lands. It was built on Church Hill next to the churchyard.
In November 1553 the Queen leased the Manor of
Walsall to Richard Wilbraham of Woodhey in Faddiley, Cheshire for
£40 yearly rent. In 1557 she sold it to him, along with some
tenements in the Borough, the vicarage, and all the manorial rights,
for £1026.10s. He died the following year and was succeeded by his
son Thomas, a literary man, much respected in the town.
A groat from the reign of Queen
The Growing Poor
There was growing concern about the increase in
the number of poorer members of society. Back in feudal times, when
people were tied to their village, they would have been cared for by
the local church and their neighbours. This began to change after
the Black Death, when people became more mobile, and the poor relied
on the monasteries, the church, and many of the guilds. The
Reformation changed all this, when the monasteries were destroyed,
and the church and the guilds were suppressed.
Official concern about the worsening problem
led to a number of Acts, each designed to offer different forms
of poor relief. The 1552 Act ‘For the Provision and Relief of the
Poor’ stated that local authorities were to nominate two collectors
of alms for weekly collections on Sundays, and that persons refusing
to contribute must be exhorted, first by ministers, then by bishops.
Records were also to be kept of the names of the poor and the
The Act was strengthened in 1563
under the terms of the ‘Act for the Relief of the Poor’.
This stated that persons refusing to contribute to poor relief were to be exhorted by the bishop, then
appear in court before the justices, where they could be
faced with imprisonment. Fines of two pounds were levied on
officials who neglected their poor relief duties. Anyone who
refused to be a collector was fined ten pounds. Churchwardens who
failed to report those who were unwilling to serve, were fined
twenty pounds, and ministers who neglected to announce elections for
the poor relief collectors, were fined two pounds. Collectors who
failed to produce quarterly accounts could be imprisoned.
Because lists of the poor appeared in parish
records, it is possible to calculate their total number, which is
estimated to have varied from one third to one fifth of the
population. Justices of the Peace were authorised, and given power
to raise funds for the relief of the poor, who for the first time
The situation in Walsall was helped by generous
donations from the wealthier members of society, some of whom
paid for almshouses to be built, or bequeathed almshouses.
Benefactors included William Harper, William Parker, John Persehouse, and John Wollaston. In 1563 it is estimated that the number of
households in Walsall as a whole was 290.
of course wasn’t new. Thomas Mollesley’s Dole had been given out
since 1451. The accounts of Mollesley’s Dole provide us
with a fairly accurate way of estimating Walsall’s population. In
1539 the dole amounted to £7.10s.9d., in 1652 it had increased to
£14.9s.4d., and in 1799 it had risen to £60.
In 1578 a long and bitter dispute began between
the Mayor and the Council, and Thomas Lane of Bentley Hall, over
common rights. Thomas Lane claimed that the mayor, Thomas Wollaston,
and members of the council, including William Gorway, and Henry
Stone, had burnt down his house at Bentley, riotously assembled, and
cut down his trees, destroyed his fences, and grazed their cattle on
his lands. He demanded compensation for their acts.
The case came to court, and the defendants
admitted that Thomas Lane’s claims were true, but the lands were
part of Bentley Hay, and part of the Forest of Cannock, on which the
inhabitants of Walsall had right of common for grazing their cattle.
They also stated that Thomas Lane was Bailiff of the Hay, under the
Queen, and had abused his office by building on the Hay, and
enclosing parts of it.
A compromise was reached. Thomas Lane agreed to
pay the council a sum of ten pounds annually, and in return the
inhabitants of Walsall gave-up their rights of common on the
In 1610 Walter Whytehall took an action against
the Lord of the Manor, Thomas Wilbraham, the mayor, and others for
false imprisonment. It seems that when Thomas was presiding over the
court leet, Walter Whytehall disturbed the court and addressed
Thomas as follows: “Thowe arte a false harlot and lyest falselye in
thye harte.” After the outburst Walter was imprisoned for 15
Sir Richard Wilbraham, Thomas’s son, succeeded
him as Lord of the Manor on his death in 1610. In that year Sir
Richard made a complaint about William Webb, Joane Ball, Thomas
Nicholls, and George Hawe for refusing to pay various dues that were
owed to him as Lord of the Manor. He decided to subpoena them, to
ensure that they produced certain court rolls and other documents.
The burgesses resisted the claims and produced
the old charters of William Ruffus, Roger Morteyn, and Thomas Ruffus.
The case ended in compromise, with the freeholders and copyholders
of the town contributing towards the sum of £103.6s.8d. that was
given to Sir Richard as compensation. From then on the copyholders
were left alone, and only paid a few pence to the Lord of the Manor
as specified in the town’s second charter. During the proceedings a
‘secret society’ or fellowship of 24 persons under the leadership of
the mayor was formed, to resist the payment of the claims.
In 1627 Walsall was granted its Royal Carter by
Charles I. A town charter had been long overdue because many people
in the town were unhappy about the way it was being run. The
preachers were extravagant, there was conflict between the
corporation and the magistrates, and 15 members of the council had
refused the oath of allegiance, thereby loosing their positions.The charter became a possibility when Nicholas
Parker of Bloxwich, left £100 in his will, to procure a charter for
better government of the town. He had been left a considerable sum
of money by his brothers, William and Robert, wealthy aldermen of
the City of London. In June of that year four people formed a
deputation, and made their way to London to procure the charter.
They were Richard Stone, and his son Henry, Joseph Clarkson, and
either Robert Stone or someone with the surname Curteys (the actual
name is uncertain). They took with them a document called “Charges
about oure Corporacon.”
Charles I shilling coins.
The Royal Charter, dated 5th October, 1627 laid
the foundations for peaceable and orderly government of the borough,
and for the permanent freedom of the constitution, and
the powers of the Corporation, which consisted of a Mayor, and 24 Capital
Burgesses. There was also to be a Recorder, Town Clerk, two
Sergeants-at-Mace, and a Beadle for the enactment of reasonable and
necessary by-laws, with suitable powers to deal with offences
against the law. There would be Justices of the Peace for a Court of
Record for the recovery of debts and damages, and for a Court of
Justice, with a Jury of twelve members, for the trial of petty
offences and misdemeanours. There would also be a public gaol, and
exemption for the burgesses from payment of tolls or duties. Two
annual fairs would be held, one on the 24th February (St. Matthias’s
Day), and another on the Tuesday before the 29th September (the
feast of St. Michael).
The mayor would be elected annually, and there
would be a deputy mayor. The mayor and councillors were to act as
justices of the peace, and were given the right to buy and sell
land, and to make byelaws. They were also allowed to have a common
seal for official documents. The charter was confirmed on the 22nd
February, 1674 by King Charles II.
The 24 members of the council were given
membership for life, subject to good behaviour. The council was
self-perpetuating, so membership usually passed from father to son.
It was in effect a closed shop. When a vacancy occurred, the new
member would be elected by the councillors.
In 1635 the unpopular tax known as “ship money”
was levied on the town, which had to pay £32, consisting of £14 from
the Borough, and £18 from the ‘Foreign’. The tax was levied by
Charles I without the consent of Parliament. Although normally only
levied on coastal towns, the King began to collect the tax from
inland towns in 1634. It provoked a lot of opposition and was one of
the causes of the English Civil War. Walsall Council had great
difficulty raising the money, which is probably why the town sided
with the parliamentarians.
In 1636 there was an outbreak of plague in
nearby Birmingham, which greatly worried the council and led to
measures being taken to prevent it spreading to the town. The
Borough Constable appointed four warders each day to prevent any
traveller from an infected area entering the town, and the ‘Foreign’
Constable appointed two warders for the same purpose. Care was taken
to regulate the passage of carriages, and loads, particularly from
London. Carriers returning from infected areas were confined to
their homes, and not allowed to accept guests. In July 1637 a local
shoemaker was prosecuted for bringing leather into the town from an
infected part of Birmingham, and a woman from the area of Birmingham
affected by the plague was paid to leave the town. Similar measures
were taken in the 1665 outbreak when it was discovered that carriers
were bringing people into the town from infected areas.
The measures were successful and undoubtedly
protected the town from the epidemic. They increased people’s
awareness of the importance of a clean water supply, resulting in
the repair of the town’s two main wells, the Ablewell, and the
Warewell, and the tapping of springs in Caldmore. A piped water
supply was fed into High Street from Vicarage Moor in the 1670s.
In 1676 the mayor and the council entered an agreement
with Thomas Jolley, a plumber from Lichfield, for the
casting of lead pipes for the conveyance of water from
Vicarage Moor to High Street, and Cox's pump, near
George Street. A conduit was built which became known as
'the fountain', and cisterns were made for the storage
of water. Thomas Jolley was paid £100 for the
construction work, and the laying of the pipes.
There were no sewers in those days, so people would throw all
kinds of waste onto the streets. This was recognised as a potential
source of disease, and so the streets were regularly cleaned.
The Corporation continued its duty to the poor,
and by 1648 had opened a poorhouse.
The Civil War
The English Civil War began in 1642
and had quite an impact on Walsall, particularly at Rushall Hall. Colonel
Lane, of Bentley, John Pershouse, of Reynolds Hall, Walsall, and
George Hawe, of Caldmore were loyal cavaliers. On the other side
were Captain Henry Stone, and Colonel Tinker Fox, both from Walsall.
At the start of the war, Sir Edward Leigh, an author, member of
Parliament, and an opponent of the King, fortified Rushall Hall. In
1643 his wife valiantly attempted to defend the house against the
king’s forces with only a handful of men and maids. The house was
captured by Prince Rupert, and occupied by Colonel Lane. It was used
as a storage depot for plunder taken from Parliamentarian convoys
passing between London and Lancashire.
In the same year Queen Henrietta visited
Walsall whilst on her way to join the King at Edgehill. She came
with a force of 2,000 foot soldiers, 1,000 soldiers on horseback,
100 wagons, ordnance and supplies. Tradition has it that
she stayed at the ‘White Hart’ in Caldmore.
In May 1644 the Royalists were removed from
Rushall Hall after a short siege led by the Earl of Denbigh. In
September, an attempt was made by members of the King’s forces, to
bribe Captain Tuthill, who was in charge at the hall. £2,000 was
offered if he would surrender the hall to the King. The chief
go-between in the affair, Francis Pitt, a yeoman farmer from
Wednesfield, was executed in Smithfield, London, in October, for
endeavouring to betray the garrison at Rushall Hall.
The Civil War ended with victory
Parliamentarians at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. By
this time Walsall been greatly affected by hostile forces as they
passed through the town. The church had been desecrated. The organ
was pulled down and burnt, along with prayer books. Monuments,
carvings and windows were destroyed, and the building was used as a
stable. Many of the town’s early records and deeds also disappeared
at this time.
The War had been a difficult time for the
ordinary working men in the area. At the best of times it would have
been difficult enough for them to earn sufficient money for food and
clothing. During the war, the wealthier families who had loyalties
to one side or the other, imposed taxes on the poor to
pay for their troops. This must have been a time of
great hardship for many people.
In 1660 the unpopular Hearth tax was levied at
two shillings for every hearth. Walsall contributed the sum of
£56.24s. for 375 hearths in the Borough, and 192 in the ‘Foreign’.
The largest houses listed in the tax returns are as follows:
Number of Hearths
|George Hawe, White Hart, Caldmore
Mayor of Walsall 1628
|Edward Leigh Rushall Hall
|Mr. John Wollaston, possibly Lower Rushall
Street. Mayor of Walsall 1660
|Mr. Richardes (two houses)
I have added house names where possible.
In 1680 there was a crisis within the
corporation because the outgoing mayor, John Comberledge fell ill
during the Michaelmas meeting of burgesses, and ended the meeting
early before his successor could be elected. Under the terms of the
1627 charter, a mayor had to be elected at this meeting. Under normal
circumstances he would have continued as mayor, but refused to do
so. As a result the Corporation was robbed of any vestige of power,
and could not act. There was nothing in the charter about what to do
under these circumstances, in effect the charter was declared void,
and steps were taken to obtain a new charter. This took some time
because of disagreements between residents in the Borough and
residents in the ‘Foreign’ who thought that the charter gave greater
rights to those living in the Borough. The majority of residents
opposed the charter, which wasn’t restored until 1688.
In 1680 Dr. Robert Plot visited Walsall whilst
carrying out research for his book ‘The Natural History of
Staffordshire’ published in 1686. He was an English naturalist,
first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and the
first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.
He describes the town as follows:
Large numbers of the inhabitants were doubtless
employed at this time in agriculture and in the great woods, which
still spread around the town. The centre of the town itself was
still the parish church, and the main increase of building was in
this locality. Old timber houses stretched now through Digbeth to
the Lord's Mill, and the Bridge was in times of flood a complete
A few houses alone stood scattered along the "Parke Streete"
and the Town End, while beyond were narrow green lanes, gardens and
fields. The public buildings were few, consisting only of the
church, the grammar school adjacent, the market house and municipal
offices in the "Highe Crosse". The only dissenting place of worship
was the Old Meeting House in Bank or Fox's Court, High Street, at
the back of Mr. Overton's, then occupied by Mr. Fox, a grocer.
In 1691 the mayor was authorised to build a
market house on the same spot as the medieval market cross which had
fallen into disrepair. Alongside the old cross stood the pillory,
stocks, and a whipping post. The market house, built in 1692 was a
small half-timbered building used for the sale of poultry, eggs,
butter, and dairy produce. It was known as the High Cross, or High
In 1692 the Manor of Walsall passed on
to Mary, wife of Richard Newport, later Earl of Bradford. It
remained in the Bradford family’s hands until 1945.
By this time Walsall was a thriving town, with
a rapidly growing population. People were beginning to move here to find work
in the many new industries. The town was rapidly
becoming less reliant on agriculture, turning instead towards
industry, and the many benefits it offered.
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