The Borough Council and its works

The Town Hall and Art Gallery.

Another view of the Town Hall and Art Gallery.

The town became a Municipal Borough in 1886 and duly elected its first Borough Council. The members were as follows:

Richard Williams - Mayor,  J. H. Walton, Joseph Trow, J. A. Kilvert
Councillors - Market Ward:
Edwin Butler, licensed victualler,  Charles Hinton, butcher
J. G. Thursfield, solicitor
Town Hall Ward:
Jamess Davies, engineer,  Dr. McKenna, G.P.
William Perry, roll turner
King's Hill Ward:
G. P. Butler, gentleman,  Austin Clews, baker
Samuel Sanders, lockmaker
Wood Green Ward:
Isaac Griffirhs, tube manufacturer,  Isaiah Oldbury, coach axle manufacturer
A. E. Pritchard, tube manufacturer

The first officers appointed by the Council were as follows:

Joseph Smith - Town Clerk. Salary £150
E. C. Richardson - Treasurer. Unpaid
E. M. Scott - Borough Surveyor. Salary £200
James Campbell - Rate Collector. Salary £150
Dr. Walter Garman - Medical Officer. Salary £84
W. H. Coney - Inspector of Nuisances and Market Inspector. Salary £100
2 Police Sergeants - Inspectors of Dairies, Cowsheds and Milkshops. Joint salary £10

Four important buildings appeared in the later part of the 19th century. The new police station was built in Holyhead Road to replace the old Russell Street building. The Post Office on Holyhead Road was built by the government and opened in March 1883. The Volunteer Drill Hall opened in Bridge Street in 1893, and the Nurses Institute in Wood Green Road opened in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

The Drill Hall in 1908.

The Conservative Club in its early years.

Another new building that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century was the fire station at the High Bullen. It opened in 1899.

At the time, Wednesbury Fire Brigade was a voluntary organisation. Anyone reporting a fire had to telephone the police station.

Often when a fire was reported, no horse would be available, and so it could be a difficult and lengthy process to get to a fire.

The new fire station.

William Potter, a Wednesbury Coal Jagger.

William Potter at the bottom of Russell Street.

Known by sight to most Wednesbury people was William Potter, of Holloway Bank, who died in February 1907, at the age of seventy nine. He was a "coal jagger," supplying his customers in small quantities straight from the pit mouth.

His horse attached to three small trucks, each with three wheels, and coupled together, was the old man's peculiar method of "drawing." These separate loads doubtless found quicker sales among small consumers. This is the only excuse for such an outrage on the mechanical principles of draught, which forced the horse to overcome the friction of nine wheels instead of about two.    From the 1908 edition of "Ryder's Annual".

Mr. Job Poxon and his Tricycle

Mr. Job Poxon, a well known Wednesbury man, though now living in Blackpool, has solved the problem of eternal rain, moved thereto by the experience of last summer, and the way to combat it. He is an ardent cyclist and has constructed an umbrella for his tricycle which enables him to defy the elements.

From the 1913 edition of "Ryder's Annual".

Sanitation and Health

One of the council's early considerations was sanitation. The town was not immune from infectious diseases. In 1889 there were 28 cases of diphtheria, 154 cases of scarlet fever, and 42 cases of typhoid. Some of the living conditions in the town were extremely primitive and many houses lacked a drain to connect them to a sewer. Some of the worst slums were condemned and demolished, such as the ones in Beggars Row, which were removed in 1891, and 30 cottages in Elwell's Square at Wood Green, demolished in 1897. Drains were eventually laid and the number of water closets finally outnumbered the antiquated ash privies by 1915.

It also took a long time before the town had an adequate domestic water supply. It took until 1943 for all of the town's houses to have piped water, but even then, some houses still had a shared supply. 10 stand pipes and 78 washhouse taps were shared by 200 houses at the time and in 1955 there were still 178 houses sharing taps.

The clock tower in the market place.

One of the council's success stories took place at the sewage disposal works at Bescot. In 1910 a new method of bacteriological purification had greatly improved the old method of chemical precipitation. As a result visitors came from far afield to view the new and improved process and an expert from Russia declared the works to be "the very best that exist".

From the beginning of the council and the appointment of its first medical officer, there were frequent discussions about the building of an isolation hospital. Nothing happened however, until the outbreak of smallpox in the town during 1898 when 8 cases were reported. As a result an isolation hospital opened the following year in Dangerfield Lane with 28 beds.

Only one disease at a time could be treated and the hospital was only used intermittently. From 1909 to 1913 there were only 16 patients and so it was inevitable that the hospital would eventually close. Arrangements were made to make anyone living in Wednesbury and suffering from an infectious disease other than smallpox, eligible for admission to the West Bromwich Isolation Hospital. In 1929 Wednesbury became a member of the South Staffordshire Joint Smallpox Hospital Board which meant that any smallpox sufferers in Wednesbury were eligible for admission to Moxley Isolation Hospital.  As a result the hospital in Dangerfield Lane closed and the building was temporarily used for housing accommodation.

The Art Gallery

Local industrialist Edwin Richards was passionate about art and had a collection of over 300 paintings. His widow, Mary died in 1885, and left the collection to the town.

Most of the paintings were by contemporary English artists, but because of his love of landscape paintings there were several by Dutch and Flemish masters.

The Richards Room in the Art Gallery.

A wide-angle view of the Richards Room, as seen in 1908.

Another view of the Richards Room.


The Mayor in 1909, Councillor I. Griffiths.


The Mayoress in 1909, Mrs. I. Griffiths.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Wednesbury. From the 1909 Ryder's Annual.

The election of Councillor I. Griffiths, J.P., to the Mayoralty of his native town gave great satisfaction in all circles of the community. To his colleagues on the Council it was a pleasing duty deferred much longer than they would have willed, for it is known that Councillor I. Griffiths has been approached in several previous years, but has not until now been found willing to assume the dignity and take on the duties of the Mayoral office. Even now he would have been quite agreeable to continue his good work for the town in the position he has so long occupied; but, yielding to a sense of duty, he has accepted the high office of Mayor and Chief Magistrate, and that he will fill it with distinction is assured.

Councillor Griffiths is a native of Wednesbury, born in 1840, and the present head of one of our oldest families, his ancestors having belonged to the town for many generations past. He is the eldest son of the late Mr. Isaac Griffiths, who was in the service of the Russell family before the invention of gas tubes, and was connected with them altogether for more than forty years. This gentleman commenced tube-making on his own account in 1860, and a successful business was built up, our Mayor being connected with it from the start.

For many years past the Imperial Tube Works, New Town, have been in the capable hands of Councillor Griffiths and his brother. In 1867 Councillor Griffiths married a daughter of Mr. Thomas Hawkins, of Walsall, and of the Delves Green Farm, who besides fulfilling her domestic duties has shared her husband’s public work and busied herself in the realms of religion, philanthropy, and politics. She is thus admirably qualified for the carrying out of all those obligations which fall to the lot of a Mayoress. They have a grown-up family of seven sons and daughters.

Councillor Griffiths was 34 years of age when he commenced his public life, his first election being to the old School Board, on which he served for twenty years. He was elected one of the first members of the Education Committee, on which the Mayoress is also a co-opted member, and he is Chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Since Wednesbury was incorporated in 1886 Councillor Griffiths has sat continuously for Wood Green Ward and only on one occasion has he had to contest the seat.

 As Chairman of the right and Water Committee he has long occupied a very responsible position, and in connection with the introduction of our own system of electricity, Councillor Griffiths has shown great grasp of detail, and is working very hard to place it on a successful footing. Councillor Griffiths initiated the Wednesbury Football Charity Association in 1880, raising £100 by subscriptions to purchase the challenge cup, and he has been president ever since. By its means large sums of money have been raised and given annually to hospitals and other charities, particularly to the Wednesbury Indigent Sick Society, Nurses' Home, and the Poor Children's Clothing Fund, in connection with the Education Committee, which almost depends upon it for its funds. Councillor Griffiths takes a very deep interest in religious and philanthropic matters. For nearly 29 years he has been churchwarden at St. Paul's, being first people's and now Vicar's warden. When the town was granted a commission of the peace in 1893 he was enrolled one of the justices, and has been a regular occupant of the magisterial bench ever since, showing at all times a keen insight and a judicial mind. In politics Councillor Griffiths remains a Liberal, but he has not for many years taken the leading part in the councils of the party which he was wont to do. One of his principal relaxations is travel, and his home at the "Hollies" contains many reminiscences of happy holidays in highways and byeways not only in all parts of the British Isles but in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Norway. The first important duty which has fallen to the Mayor and Mayoress is in connection with the relief of distress caused by unemployment, which unfortunately exists to a great extent. They are tackling the work with a will, and may success attend their efforts.

Councillor J. H. G. Davis.

Councillor J. H. G. Davis. From the 1909 Ryder's Annual.

Mr. John Henry Grant Davis is not a native of Wednesbury, but he is a gentleman whom the town welcomes, as the Mayor remarked at his first Council meeting, because he takes an active interest in its industrial welfare.

Councillor Davis is the new member for Town Hall Ward, having succeeded unopposed to the seat vacated by Alderman Handley's elevation. He comes of an old Gloucestershire family who for many years were farmers near Stroud. In 1836 his grandfather and father migrated to Leeds, and carried on business as Indigo Blue and Scarlet Dyers. In 1867 his father and brother bought the dyeworks at Greetland and carried on business there until 1887 when, on the death of Mr. Davis, senior, the subject of our sketch joined his brother in the business. On the death, in 1893 of his brother, Mr. J. W. Davis (who was Alderman of the Borough of Halifax and three times Mayor), Councillor Davis retired from business for a time and went to reside in the South of England.

In 1901 he bought the business of William Trow & Sons, Engineers and Ironfounders, and settled in Wednesbury.

Having now taken up public work he will be regarded as a very valuable recruit, and we believe he will make his mark on the Council. He had previously displayed some interest in polities, being an ardent Conservative, and on the formation of the Junior Unionist Association he was elected President. He is a Churchman and also a Freemason and is Past Master of the premier Lodge of Yorkshire, Probity, No. 61. Councillor Davis is the youngest son of late James Davis, of Bankfield, Greetland, Yorkshire, and was born at Leeds on November 1st, 1889. He was educated at Elland and Halifax. He married in1889 Miss Buckley, of South Field, Halifax, and has three daughters.

The Mayor in 1916, Councillor William Warner.


The Mayoress in 1916, Mrs. W. Warner.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Wednesbury. From the 1916 Ryder's Annual.

After five years membership of the Town Council, which he joined as a representative of Wood Green Ward when Councillor Griffiths was elevated to the Aldermanic bench, Councillor Warner now finds himself, by the unanimous vote of his colleagues, at the head of the Municipality. That he will worthily occupy the high position to which he has been called we do not doubt.

His long business career has furnished him with the necessary qualifications, and the fact that he is now living in retirement indicates that be will have ample time in which to discharge the manifold duties of the Mayoralty. Councillor Warner was born at Simpson, Bucks., on August 14th, 1854, and came to Wednesbury as Assistant-superintendent to the Prudential Assurance Company in 1884. After two years he was transferred to Hanley, and in 1890 was appointed Superintendent of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

In February, 1898, he returned to Wednesbury as Superintendent, a position he occupied, with conspicuous success, until his retirement about two years ago. In June, 1887, Mr. Warner married into an old Wednesbury family, his wife being the youngest daughter of the late Mr. Joseph Slater. We offer her, on behalf of the burgesses, hearty congratulations on becoming Mayoress of her native town. The Mayor and Mayoress have a daughter and two sons. Councillor Warner is a Wesleyan, and is attached to Wesley Church, Holyhead Road, in connection with which he is an active worker.

He has been a local preacher for upwards of 35 years. In politics he is a Liberal. In addition to his municipal work, Councillor Warner has undertaken important duties in connection with the Staffordshire Insurance Committee, in the operations of which he is keenly interested, and is looked up to by his fellow members as an expert. We wish the new Mayor and Mayoress a successful year of office, trusting they will have health and strength to carry out the duties, more onerous than usual on account of the war, and we will pray that it will be the happy lot of the Mayor to declare, before the end of 1916, a victorious and lasting peace.

Councillor Shirlaw.

Councillor Shirlaw. From the 1916 Ryder's Annual.

Mr. Lewis A. Shirlaw, the youngest member of Wednesbury Town Council, joined that body on February 26th, 1915, as a representative of Wood Green Ward, in which he is resident, when Councillor E. J. Hunt was chosen to succeed the late Alderman Handley.

He is the third son of the late Mr. Andrew Shirlaw and Mrs. Eleanor Shirlaw, eldest daughter of the late Mr. John Hunt Thursfield, and was born at Beeches Road, West Bromwich, on November 6th, 1884. He was articled to Mr. J. G. Thursfield, and was admitted a solicitor in December, 1906. After acting for three years as managing conveyancing clerk to a firm of solicitors in the West End of London he returned to Wednesbury, and, shortly afterwards, became a partner in the firm of Messrs. Thursfield, Messiter & Shirlaw.

On April 9th, 1912, Mr. Shirlaw married Miss Marguerite Rutherford Paterson, daughter of the late Mr. Thomas Paterson and Mrs. Paterson, of Melrose, N .B. They have one son. Councillor Shirlaw was recently elected on the Education Committee in succession to the late Alderman Griffiths. He is a Conservative and a Churchman.

Councillor Beebee. From the 1916 Ryder's Annual.

 Mr. Alfred Beebee, the first member of Wednesbury Town Council to be co-opted, under war legislation, fills the seat in King's Hill Ward vacated by Councillor Bishop on his election as Alderman.

Councillor Beebee was born at Darlaston, in 1873, and was educated at the Wesleyan Schools. From the time of leaving school until 1904 he was in the employ of Messrs F. W. Cotterill, Ltd., under Mr. T. S. Peacock.

He then commenced business on his own account as a bolt, nut, and stud manufacturer, with a few hands, and at the present time has about 140 employees in his model factory in Wood Street.

In 1901 Mr. Beebee married Miss Fullwood, youngest daughter of Mr. William Fullwood, of Darlaston. He is a Conservative in politics and a member of the Church of England, occupying the position of sidesman at Darlaston Parish Church.

Councillor Beebee.


Alderman Hunt.


Alderman Bishop.


The problem of inadequate housing and also the shortage of housing continued for many years after the formation of the Borough Council. In 1913 the council appointed a sub-committee to look into the alleged shortage of houses and to report their findings to the Sanitary Committee at the earliest possible date. It took 12 months for their investigations to be completed, after which the Sanitary Committee recommended that an application should be made to the Local Government Board for a loan of £5,240 for the building of 24 council houses at Hobs Road, Wood Green. Unfortunately the application was made at an unfortunate time, the start of the First World War. It was rejected but 21 houses were built in 1915 by a private firm.

After the war local councils were offered a subsidy for each council house built, thanks to the terms of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919. At Wednesbury 250 houses were built at Wood Green, and 108 at Manor Farm. But there were still many overcrowded houses in the town, and in 1925 the situation was noted by a government inspector, who was very critical of the poor housing conditions in the town. This resulted in questions being asked in the House of Commons by Alfred Short, the borough's member of parliament, who came to Wednesbury and made a scathing attack on the council. The council took no action to remedy the situation until 1926, and only then because of a tempting government subsidy, and the lack of private sector building.

The Town Hall.

From an old postcard.

In between 1926 and 1930 a total of 206 council houses were built at Mesty Croft, 144 houses at Churchfields, 32 on the Holyhead Road, 26 in Wellcroft Street, and 16 in Edward Street. By 1931 1,000 council houses were occupied, and in 1933 a slum clearance scheme saw the demolition of old houses in Queen Street, Moxley, Short Street, and Portway Road. The programme was enlarged and by 1935 the number of houses that had already been demolished, or were about to be demolished reached 1,250; one 6th of all the houses in the town.

Another view of the Town Hall, as enlarged in 1913.

In 1944 there was an immediate need for 700 houses and so reclamation work began at Park Lane and Hobs Road, and a plan was put forward to build 1,420 council houses on 6 sites.

At the time the total number of inhabited houses in town had reached 8,409, of which 3,088 were council properties.

The Town Hall. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

Another view of the Town Hall.

The Public Library, Walsall Road. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

Another view of the library, from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

Post war council housing estates are found at  Park Lane, Old Park Road, Dingley Road, Crew Road, Friar Park, the Golf Course, Millfields, Dangerfield Lane (Lodge Holes), Mesty Croft, Cross Street and Balls Hill. Between the end of the war and December 1958 nearly 2,000 council houses were built, and in April 1959 the 5,000th council house had been completed. Over 2,800 houses and old age pensioner bungalows have been completed since 1945.


In November 1889 the council decided to apply for an order for permission to supply the borough's electricity. Nothing was done until 1898 when the newly formed Midland Electric Corporation began its activities. The MEC were formed in June 1897 and became the first company to distribute electricity over a large area of the Midlands from their power station at Ocker Hill.

Wednesbury Council entered into an agreement with the Midland Power Company in which the MPC would provide the electricity which would be distributed by the council throughout the town (except King's Hill where the MPC distributed the power themselves).

Unfortunately the venture proved to be unprofitable for the council and so they decided to apply for an application to generate their own electricity.

The Council's electricity generating station.

Another view of the electricity generating station.

An advert from 1918.

This was vigorously opposed by the MPC and rejected by the Local Government Board.

In 1909 the council got their wish and borrowed £10,000 to build an electricity generating station.

Yet again the venture was not a success and proved to be unprofitable. Local businesses complained about delays and breakdowns in the supply network, and tradesmen were angry because of a steep rise in the council's charges for electricity.

By 1918 the council had lost £6,000 in the venture and so in April of that year it sold the entire system to the MEC for £75,000 to settle its debts.

A once familiar sight, Ocker Hill power station, founded by the MEC.

Brunswick Park

Brunswick Park, Wood Green opened to the public in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The council purchased 28 acres of land from the Patent Shaft & Axletree Company, on which to build the park, which has been a popular attraction ever since it opened.

The entrance to the park.

The park is built on the site of a former pit mound and has 20 acres of lawns, shrubs, trees and flower beds.

Another view of the park.

The entrance and the lodge, as seen from Wood Green Road.

Brunswick Park and the Lodge.

Another view of the lodge. From an old postcard.

Looking towards the main entrance. From an old postcard.

A group of children in 1903, near the main entrance. From an old postcard.

Another view of the main entrance. From an old postcard.

The bandstand. From an old postcard.

Another view of the bandstand. From an old postcard.

A general view. From an old postcard.

The fountain in Brunswick Park.

Another view of the fountain. From an old postcard.

Another corner of the park.

'Invalids' Walk' in Brunswick Park.

The children's play area. From an old postcard.

From an old postcard.

A lovely summer's day in King's Hill Park, which opened in 1900. From an old postcard.

The park lake. From an old postcard.

Boundary Changes and new local government

On 1st April, 1966 under the terms of the Local Government Reform Act, Wednesbury lost its status as a Municipal Borough and came under the direct control of West Bromwich Borough Council, as did Tipton. At the same time King's Hill became part of Walsall. On 1st April, 1974 Sandwell Metropolitan Borough was formed with the merger of West Bromwich and Warley Borough Councils. The new borough includes six Black Country towns: Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich.

Two of the last acts of Wednesbury Borough Council were the beginning of the town's ring road in the 1960s and the start of a scheme to improve the town centre.

The Market Place in 1914.

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