The Early Twentieth Century
By 1900 the town centre had grown into an affluent, busy and
vibrant shopping area, with shops and businesses of all
kinds, much as it is today. Large numbers of people
travelled to and from the town thanks to the frequent and
cheap tram services that allowed people to travel greater
distances to work or shop. The many industries in the town
offered employment to a large number of people. Around this
time production of leather goods in Walsall reached an all
time high. Around 10,000 people were employed in the local
On 24th March, 1900 Her Majesty’s Theatre opened in Park
Street. It was Walsall's most successful theatre, seating
over 2,000 people.
During the nineteenth century Walsall's population
dramatically increased. By 1901 it had reached 86,400,
nearly a nine-fold increase over one hundred years.
Council House and Town Hall.
In 1905 the new Council House and Town Hall opened in
Lichfield Street on a one and a half acre site. It was built
at a cost of £98,000. In the same year Edward Thomas Holden
became the first Freeman of the Borough. He ran E. T. Holden
& Son Limited, in Park Street, the family firm of tanners
and curriers that was founded by his father. He was elected
to Walsall Council in 1860 and served on the council for
sixty two years, becoming mayor three times; 1870 to 71,
1871 to 72 and 1904 to 05. In August 1891 he became Liberal
MP for Walsall after a by-election due to the death of the
MP, Sir Charles Forster. He remained in Parliament until
June 1892. He became a member of Walsall School Board, a
member of the Board of Guardians, a Justice of the Peace for
the borough of Walsall and the county of Staffordshire, and
was knighted in 1907. He died on 13th November, 1926 at the
age of 95.
1906 saw the opening of Walsall's new library in Lichfield
Street. It cost £8,000 and was a gift from Andrew Carnegie,
the Scottish philanthropist.
The Walsall Golf Club at Gorway was founded on 19th March
1907 on land leased from Lord Bradford. Initially it had six
holes, but a year later was extended to fourteen holes. The
entrance fee was 4 guineas and an annual subscription cost
1908 saw the opening of the town's first cinema, The
Imperial. It opened in the Imperial Theatre which had been
converted into a cinema. The town's first purpose-built
cinema, the Electric Picture Palace opened on 12th April,
1910 in The Square. It was built by S. Wootton of Bloxwich,
and officially opened by Lady Holden.
The interior of the Town Hall.
Another view of the Town Hall. Taken
at a local history fair in 2002.
On 24th April 1909 the Walsall Cricket Club opened the
Gorway Cricket Ground on a four and a half acre site costing
£1,500. The inaugural match was between the club XI and a
team representing the senior clubs in the town, including
members of the Walsall Y.M.F. Club, and Shannon's Cricket
Club. Walsall Cricket Club easily won, scoring 150 for four.
Billy Preston was the first to get a half-century on the
ground scoring 77 not out. They dismissed the opponents for
41. The match was followed by an inaugural dinner in the tea
room, attended by the Mayor, and several club 'veterans'.
In October 1909 a lady health visitor (Hilda Joseph) was
appointed for the town, thanks to pressure from Walsall's
Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Harry Shore. She had to visit
every home containing a young child. Her first report, based
on visits to around six thousand children revealed the
50.9% had bad teeth, 13.5% had dirty heads, 11.3% had
enlarged tonsils, 8.8% had defective hearing, 7.8% had
defective sight, 6.4% had bronchitis, 4.6% had rickets, 3.4%
had ruptures, 2.1% had goitres, and 1% had body vermin.
398 of them were poorly clothed, 773 had poor boots, and 6
had no boots at all.
Dr. Harry Shore's first
report in 1910 commented on how hardship and poverty
affected young mothers, resulting in a high infant mortality
rate, usually from poor housing conditions, lack of
ventilation and overcrowding.
High Street on market day.
The Liberal government passed
a number Acts of Parliament under their Liberal reforms
package which were designed to help the poor. The 1907
Education (Administrative Provisions) Act set up school
medical services that were run by local government. All
children were to receive a medical inspection. The National
Insurance Act 1911 provided for a National Insurance scheme
with provision of medical benefits. Workers were given
access to free treatment for tuberculosis, and the sick were
eligible for treatment by a panel doctor. The unemployed
received a time-limited unemployment benefit, and every mother received
a maternity grant of thirty shillings.
In the years immediately before the First World War the
country suffered from much industrial unrest involving
strikes by railwaymen, miners, engineering workers etc.
Wages were very low and so people were demanding a realistic
minimum wage. One industry greatly affected in Walsall was
tube making. There were strikes at Birchfields and Pleck
involving large numbers of people. Things came to a head on
11th June 1913 when a strike at Walsall's largest tube
manufacturer, the Talbot-Stead Tube Company Limited, in
Green Lane, got out of hand. Twenty men entered the factory
in an attempt to return to work, which greatly angered the
strikers. A crowd of around three thousand gathered outside
the factory which was guarded by two lines of policemen.
They agreed to disperse if the twenty workers would leave
the factory. A riot took place, stones were hurled through
factory windows, and a police refreshment vehicle carrying
food for the police officers on duty, was overwhelmed by the
crowd, and the food carried away.
During the strike the Mayor organised a relief fund which
fed 800 children daily at their schools. The strike
eventually ended in July.
Walsall's lovely old Art Gallery.
A very different event took place on 30th August 1913 when
an aircraft landed in the town for the first time. An
aircraft race had been organised between two pilots,
Bentfield Charles Hucks, and Gustav Hamel for a fine silver
trophy and prize money of five hundred pounds, offered by
the Birmingham Daily Post. The race consisted of several
short flights around a circular route, starting and ending
at the Tally-Ho grounds at Edgbaston.
The first leg was to Redditch recreation ground, followed by
a flight to Green's Field near Allesley Road, Coventry, then
on to Nuneaton, Drayton Manor, and Walsall. The aircraft
landed in Springvale Farm which was near the Birmingham Road
and the modern Park Hall Estate. Gustav Hamel landed in an
adjoining field because he felt that the official one was
too small. When Hucks landed he was surrounded by a waiting
crowd of between 20,000 and 30,000 people. The spectators
included the Mayor, the town councillors and their wives and
friends. After thirty minutes the aviators departed on their
last but one leg to Quinton, before returning to Edgbaston.
Hamel succeeded in beating Hucks by just over twenty
Sadly both aviators had short lives. Gustav Hamel
disappeared over the English Channel on 23rd May, 1914 while
returning from Paris in a new 80hp. Morane-Saulnier
monoplane. He was only 24 years old. Bentfield Hucks died on
7th November, 1918 as a result of double pneumonia. He was
34 years old, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.
Another view inside Walsall's old Art
|View a 1914
directory of shops and businesses