|Into the 16th Century
Thomas Comberford and his wife Dorothy had one son,
William who married Mary Skeffington in 1567. Thomas and
Dorothy spent much of their married life at Comberford,
but returned to Wednesbury in later life, where they
lived at the manor house. Thomas died in 1597 and
Dorothy died in 1600. They were both buried at
Wednesbury. William lived at Wednesbury manor until the
marriage of his son, Humphrey in 1591, when the family
moved to Tamworth. William became High Sheriff of
Staffordshire in 1622 and married twice, his second
wife’s name was Anne. During his two marriages he had 16
children including two sons both named William, one from
In 1563 Bishop Bentham of Lichfield sent a return of all
the parishes in his diocese to the Privy Council. The
figures listing the number of households can be used as
an indication of the relative size of each parish. It is
suggested that a rough estimate of the actual population
can be made by multiplying the figures by 6.
Households in 1563
In 1609 William Comberford was
involved in a disturbance in Wednesbury, along with Sir
Edward Littleton, and Sir Walter Leveson. During the
affray John Berwick of Shareshill was badly wounded. It
came before the Star Chamber and the three offenders
were heavily fined, £100 of which was paid to John
Berwick as compensation for his injuries. William died
in 1625 and left £20 for the use of the poor at
Wednesbury on the understanding that it would be spent
on bread, to be distributed every year on Good Friday.
By 1582 Wednesbury is listed as
having a windmill for grinding corn, and so it seems
that by this time the watermill had closed. In 1682
Plot’s “History of Staffordshire” lists three windmills,
one on the eastern side of Old Park Road, close to
Darlaston; another near the top of Squires Walk; and a
third at the top of Windmill Street.
The old Comberford's mill is seen
in the background.
|The three mills remained in use until the end of the
eighteenth century, but by 1818 two of them had closed.
The miller at that time was Thomas Fenney who worked at
Wednesbury had one other mill, an iron mill which
opened in the seventeenth century, on the River Tame
close to where Hydes Road is today. The watermill
eventually became a corn mill and continued in use until
In 1642 at the outbreak of the
Civil War, all males aged 18 and over were required to
swear an oath of adherence to the Protestant religion.
The names of the individuals were not recorded, or the
numbers, if any, of the absentees. Hoskyns in his “Local
History in England” suggests that an estimate of the
actual population can be made by doubling the figures so
as to include women, and multiply the result by 1.66 to
The Civil War must have been a
difficult time for the ordinary miners, nailors and
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
the less well off. By 8th April, 1643, people in the
town were 5 weeks behind with their payments to the
garrison at Rushall Hall.
Local loyalties were pretty much
divided between the two sides:
|Sir Thomas Leveson at Dudley Castle
|Colonel Lane at Bentley Hall
|George Hawe at Caldmore
|William Hopkins at Oakeswell Hall
|Captain Henry Stone and Colonel "Tinker"
Fox at Walsall
|Sir Richard Leigh at Rushall Hall
|Edward Dudley at the Greenhouse, Tipton
|Simon Montford at Bescot Hall
|Thomas Parkes at Willingsworth Hall
William Hopkins of Oakeswell Hall,
a Royalist was captured at the fall of Rushall in 1644
which could easily have led to him paying a high price
for his loyalty to the crown. On his capture he made a
complete submission to the Parliamentarian cause, so
escaping with his life. Afterwards he was allowed to
return home to Wednesbury.
The site of the original manor
house at Wednesbury is not known, but in William
Comberford’s time the manor house lay about 300 yards
north east of St. Bartholomew’s Church, by Manor House
Road, close to today’s primary school and Beaumont Road.
The house remained intact until the 1880s when much of
it was demolished after falling into disrepair. By the
century all traces of the house had gone. F. W. Hackwood
saw the house in its later years and described it in his
book “Wednesbury Ancient and Modern” as follows: “small
red bricks, heavy sandstone mullioned windows, very
plain but somewhat high. Its open entrance porch had a
seat on each side”. Shaw in his "History and Antiquities
of Staffordshire" of 1779 describes the house as
follows: “It has nothing remarkable about it, now being
converted into a common farm”. From about 1650 the house
was let, and eventually became a farmhouse, and it
remained as such until the late 19th century.
In 1662 the government of Charles
II introduced the Hearth Tax to raise much needed funds.
Each householder whose house was worth more than 20s a
year, and who contributed to local church and poor rates
was eligible to pay the tax. The payment, due twice a
year, was based upon the number of hearths in the
property and consisted of 1 shilling for each hearth.
Large numbers of people were exempt from the tax and
were required to obtain a certificate of exemption from
the parish clergyman. The list of taxpayers only gives
the number of householders and like the Subsidy Rolls,
it cannot be used to calculate population figures, but
does give an indication of the comparative size and
prosperity of the local towns.
Hearth Tax 1665
The table shows that for the size
of the population, and the number of hearths, Wednesbury
was one of the more prosperous of the local towns.
The manor of Wednesbury remained in
the Comberford family’s hands until it was sold to John
Shelton, of West Bromwich Hall in 1663. John had been
called to the Bar and became High Sheriff in 1660. On
his death in 1663 Wednesbury manor passed into the hands
of his son John, who was described by Hackwood as a
spendthrift who died a ruined man. During his lifetime
he sold the manor estate, in parts, presumably to pay
his debts, ending with the sale of his mineral rights in
|The story of the manor doesn’t quite end here. In
the early years of the 18th
century John Hoo, a lawyer, of London, acquired the
manor after being granted the charter for Wednesbury
market and fairs, by Queen Anne in 1709. This was
presumably a commercial venture to earn an income from
the town. John died childless in 1720 and his estate
passed to his brother’s son, also named John Hoo, whose
family lived in the manor at Great Barr.
King's Hill with St. Andrew's
Mission Church on the right.
The manor of Wednesbury remained in
the family until the death of John’s son Thomas, the
last of the line, in 1791. As a result the manor passed
into the hands of two female relatives, his next of kin.
They married into the families of Whitby and Foley.
The manorial court was still held
annually in the 1750s and the surviving records give us
an insight into life in the town at the time. The most
frequent offence to come before the court was failing to
fill-in disused coal pits, of which there must have been
countless numbers. Other common offences were drying
hemp and flax within 60 yards of a building, killing
calves under 5 weeks old, selling sub-standard bread,
and failing to repair field boundaries such as hedges
In 1801 accurate population figures
were available for the first time thanks to the first
national census. The figures for Wednesbury and its
neighbouring towns are as follows: