The population of Bushbury

At the time of the first census in 1801 the population of Bushbury was only 488 plus a further 369 in Essington, but according to the Poor Relief figures for 1803 four hundred and twenty people, i.e. nearly half the population, were receiving relief of some sort. The population of the parish was therefore not very much larger than at the time of the Hearth Tax in 1666.

By 1851 there were 988 people in Bushbury and a further 644 at Essington, but by 1901 the population of the parish had grown to over four thousand. This was due in the main to the coming of the railways in the middle of the century, the expansion of coal-mining at Essington, and manufacturing industry in the extreme south of the parish towards the end of the century.

Census Returns 1841 -1871

date   Bushbury Essington Total
1841 Inhabited houses 168 119 237
  Population 886 623 1509
1851 Inhabited Houses 181 125 306
  Population 988 644 1632
1861 Inhabited Houses 206 187 393
  Population 996 1055 2051
1871 Inhabited Houses 235 209 444
  Population 1218 1065 2283

The coming of the railway

The first railway through the parish was the Grand Junction line from Birmingham to Warrington. It entered the parish near Showell Manor in the south, and much of its original construction can still be seen, particularly the bridges over Showell Road, Bee Lane and Greenfield Lane. The end of Church Road was turned into Three Tuns Lane to obviate the need for an extra bridge, but the old fork in the road can still be seen at the bottom of Elston Hall Lane.

Passenger train services started in July 1837 and the nearest station was at Heath Town (for Wolverhampton). Within ten years it was obvious that a station in Wolverhampton was essential, and this was one of the reasons for the promotion of the Stour Valley line from Birmingham (New Street) through Dudley Port. A station at Wolverhampton, known as Queen Street until 1885 was built, and the new line joined the Grand Junction at Bushbury, Stour Valley Junction. It opened for Goods Traffic in February 1852, and for passengers five months later. We can only imagine what life in the parish must have been like during those twenty years with hundreds of labourers working on the construction of the railway and all its necessary embankments, bridges etc..

Bushbury Station was opened to passengers on August 2nd 1852. It was situated between the two main lines at the junction and was approached by a footpath from the road bridge in Bushbury Lane behind the signal box. For a few years most express trains travelled over the Grand Junction Line from Birmingham to Stafford, and passengers to or from Wolverhampton had to change at Bushbury. One unhappy traveller was Catherine Booth, wife of the founder of the Salvation Army. In a letter to her mother dated May 31st 1857 she describes how late one evening she waited at Wolverhampton for a train to Stafford, "At a quarter past eleven o'clock we set off for Stafford. We had not gone two miles before we had to change carriages again, heaving all the luggage out in the dark etc. However, through mercy we got here at last."

Another traveller through the parish about this time was Her Majesty Queen Victoria, on her journeys to and from Gosport and Scotland. On September 17th 1860 she travelled south, her train being transferred from the L.N.W. system at Bushbury via Cannock Road Junction to the Great Western Railway. On August 24th 1861 she travelled north again by the same route, the L.N.W. locomotive taking over at the Low Level station. She is said to have enquired who lived in the house overlooking the railway from the hill at Bushbury, now known to be Low Hill House.

The royal train stopped in Bushbury almost every year between 1862 and 1900 to change engines from GWR to LNWR or vice versa. There were two trips per year in spring and autumn, and the train stopped in Bushbury in each direction. The spring trips, generally from mid May to mid June, were mostly from Windsor to Ballater and back. The autumn trips from late August to mid November were mostly northbound from Gosport, following a stay at Osborne on the isle of Wight, but southbound to Windsor. The train normally remained for approximately 5 minutes in Bushbury. Courtesy of Graham Bocking.

Low Hill House. From Staffordshire at the Opening of the 20th Century, W.T.Pike and Co., 1907.
The first railway employee appears in the Parish Register in April 1854: William Wright, a pointsman, baptises his son. We are fortunate in having first hand information on life on the railway at Bushbury from a local man, Michael Reynolds, who was born at Standeford in 1840.

He was apprenticed to the locomotive construction firm of John Smith and Co. at Coven before becoming a driver on the L.N.W.R. In later life he was employed as Locomotive Superintendent of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

In his book "Engine Driving Life or Stirring Adventures and Incidents in the Lives of Loco Engine Drivers" (written at Standeford in 1882 and dedicated to William Stroudley of the L.B.S.C. Railway), he tells of one unfortunate youth, Littleton Carless of Slade Heath, who was employed at Bushbury Sheds as a bar-boy.

This work entailed entering the still hot firebox of a locomotive after it had finished its duty to scrape and brush the firebars free of ash. He walked the three and a half miles to work on alternate weeks for day and night shifts. One windy night he was opening the shed doors to allow a locomotive to enter and was crushed to death as the door was blown back against the engine. He was buried at Coven on December 27th 1870 aged 15.

The first engine sheds were built about 1860 and accommodated about twelve locomotives. The row of "Railway Cottages" in Fordhouse Road, (demolished about 1970) date from this time. By 1874 the shed accommodation was inadequate as there were twenty seven engines using the shed, but it was not until 1882 that approval was given to enlarge the shed. A larger turntable was installed in the sidings behind the Railway Cottages in 1905, to replace a smaller one situated alongside the shed. This followed the decision that the Euston to Birmingham expresses should run through to Wolverhampton and that the engines should be stationed at Bushbury. The driver's Lodge, which stood on Bushbury Lane between Fordhouse Road and the bridge, was built to provide overnight accommodation for engine crews working a "double-home" turn. These were principally London men from Camden shed. In the same way Bushbury men stayed overnight in London.

It seems likely that the gangs of "navigators" who built the various extensions to the sheds and sidings were encamped on the field on the west side of Fordhouse Road behind the driver's Lodge, as this area was still littered with pieces of Victorian pottery and churchwarden pipe in the 1930s. Another visible reminder of the railway development was the huge hole in the ground on the west side of Wood Lane between the Pumping engine cottages and the U.S.A.M. steelworks, where earth had been removed to make the "Shunting Hump". Known as Derby Joe's Hole, it was filled in only in the 1960s.

By 1854 a railway was planned through the area. The Cannock branch of the South Staffordshire Railway at Walsall opened in 1858, and within a few years became a part of the London and North Western system. There were sidings at Norton Cannock Colliery near the northern boundary of the parish. A plan to construct a "Cannock Chase" branch from the L.N.W.R. at Cannock Road Wolverhampton through Essington was in being as late as the First World War, but the line was never built.

All these developments in the railway system meant that more and more families settled in the Parish, principally in the Bushbury Lane and Shaw Road area where new houses were built in the 1870s and 80s, followed by Showell Road in the 1890s. Although the Great Western works and sheds at Stafford Road were outside the parish, many of their employees came to live in Bushbury, and the parish became very much a community of railwaymen.

Agriculture and Other Industries

Although the coming of the railways had changed the parish in many ways, most of the land was still under agriculture. The farmers of the parish had their annual Agricultural Show, and some of the details for 1858 have survived. It was held on Friday October 22nd at the "Three Tuns" inn Oxley, and there were prizes for horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. A Ploughing Competition was held on the Wobaston and Three Tuns farms, and upward of £225 was given in prizes. The medal awarded for the best breeding sow was found on a beach in New Zealand in 1979; it had been presented to Mr. W.H. Davies of Harrington. (This was probabably the village of that name in Northamptonshire. There are other villages of that name in Lincolnshire and Cumberland, but only the Northamptonshire village would have had easy access to Bushbury on the railway system of that time.)

From the early years of the century mining had expanded in the Essington area. From the western arm of the Wyrley and Essington Canal there were branches to Sneyd Farm and Essington Farm collieries.

This latter branch continued to wharves near the present A462 road. Further north another branch served Cannock Lodge colliery. The lime kilns at Newtown were served by Lord Hay's branch which left the eastern arm of the Wyrley and Essington Canal near Pelsall Colliery.

New Oxley House.

The 6" Ordnance Survey map of the 1880s shows eight working collieries, Holly Bank, (the largest), Essington Wood, Essington Farm, Hilton Colliery No. 2 (not Hilton Main), Springhill, Cannock Lodge, Norton Cannock and Sneyd House, as well as twenty four "old shafts", "disused collieries" etc.

Aerial view of the Electric Construction Co.'s Bushbury Engineering Works in 1921. Stafford Road is in the foreground. The Gas Works and the LNW Stour Valley viaduct is in the distance. Gorsebrook House is in the trees half way up the right hand edge of the photo.
In 1890 the first manufacturing industry came to the parish with the establishment of the Electric Construction Corporation Ltd. who built their workshops in the formal gardens of Gorsebrook House, on the corner of Stafford Road and the old drive to Showell Manor. These included a machine-shop about 300' by 90', a foundry 160' by 80', and five other shops including a black-smith's and a brass-foundry.

As one of the leaders in the developments of the use of electricity both for lighting and traction, this company built several types of vehicle, Oxford's first generating plant, and the overhead system for South Staffordshire Tramways in 1892.

In the following year they completed the electrification of the Liverpool Overhead Railway. In that year the name of the company was changed to the Electric Construction Company Ltd. They went on to produce all types of motors, generators and switchgear for use all over the world.

Another small industry was established in this part of the parish towards the end of the century, brickmaking. Mark Davis had a brickyard on the site of the present Bushbury Lane School, and Thomas Jones had another in the Jones Road-South Street area.

From a postcard published in about 1900.

Social Life and Events

In the ten years 1879-89 the Church of England opened four new chapels or mission rooms to provide for these new residents.

Oxley Manor, built by Alexander Hordern in 1854 and demolished in 1929.
First in Bushbury Lane the combined Chapel/ Schoolroom was opened in 1880, then the brick chapel at Coven Heath, followed by two "metal-clad" buildings in Shaw Road and at the Scotlands in 1887 and 1889 respectively.

The latter stood on the southern corner of Primrose Lane and Cannock Road. An "iron church" had been opened at Essington in 1859, and in 1897 Mr. A. L. Vernon erected a mission-room at Newtown.

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee on June 21st 1887 was celebrated in the parish in a way which must have done much to integrate the recent "immigrants", principally railway, employees with the older community of people engaged in agriculture.

Mr. Stokes of Bushbury Hall placed the grounds at the disposal of the committee for the occasion.

The landowners, whether resident or not, contributed to the fund. J. Russell Esq. supplied the ale for dinner, and G. H. Birch Esq. the ale for "other purposes".

Provisions for about 1200 adults and 700 children were laid on. Mrs. Staveley-Hill gave the medals for the races, the church bells rang out a celebration, there was a band, and fire-works on the brow of Bushbury Hill, with a bonfire.

The Bonfire on Bushbury Hill. Picture from the late Mr. Walter Jones.

Quite early in the century many of the old landowning families moved away, tending to let their houses and land to industrialists who wished to live away from the developing Black Country, or to tenant farmers. The Hortons moved to Worcester before 1820, the Whitgreaves spent more time in London and later Leamington, and the Goughs left Oldfallings for Perry Hall and London. Incoming families such as the Perrys, the Mannix's, followed by the Tarratts and Nathaniel Neal Solly of the Wednesbury iron founding family, were at Moseley Hall. The Wiggins were tenant farmers at Moseley Old Hall, John Moreton was at Moseley Court after the Whitgreaves left in the 1860s, (although they did return for a time in the 1890s), and the Briscoes at Old Fallings from about 1820. Most of these incoming families seem to have become involved in the life of the parish, replacing people whose forebears had owned the land and influenced life in the parish for the previous two or three centuries.

Gorsebrook House

About 1900 Gorsebrook House was the home of Mr.Jones, the first Works Manager of the Electric Construction Co. From about 1840 until the 1860s the house was occupied by Richard Gough and his family. (As far as I know, not connected with the Goughs of Old Fallings.)

Gorsebrook House, about 1900. I am grateful to Miss A. Willetts of Smethwick for the photo.
In the early years of the nineteenth century it was the home of John Corser, solicitor, who had married Elizabeth Haden at St. Peter's on May 19th 1803.

He was the son of John and Sarah Corser (nee Huskisson) tenants of Bushbury Hall.

The elder John came from Sheriff Hales although the name was fairly common in Wolverhampton (sometimes spelled Causer.)

A third generation John Corser was educated at Rugby and Trinity College Cambridge. He took Holy Orders and was for a time curate of Dunchurch, Warwicks. He died at 6 The Terrace, Blackheath on March 9th 1886 aged 79.

At the time of the 1841 census a John Corser, of independent means, aged 80, was living at Whetstone Green,with William Corser aged 50, (buried at Bushbury March 6th 1870), and Hannah his wife aged 55. This John is presumably the John Causer who had married Diana Jennings at Bushbury on May 29th 1779. He probably lived in the large house which stood in Fordhouse Road until about 1970, known as Whetstone House, on the site of the present petrol station. This house is not shown on the 1845 Tithe map, but it is difficult to believe that it was built after the railway - which was so close that it was almost impossible to sleep in the house.
This old postcard, dating from about the first decade of the 20th century, is entitled "Bushbury Rd". It is, in fact, Bushbury Lane.

Crime and Punishment

Wolverhampton Chronicle November 7th. 1832:

Bushbury Association for the Prosecution of Felons.
We whose names are hereunto subscribed have entered into articles of agreement to prosecute at our joint expense all Felons and rogues of every denomination and description who shall commit any felony, robbery, or other depradation upon our or any of our persons or properties within the boundaries of the lands tenements, or Hereditaments in repect of which poor levies are rated and paid for the support of the poor of Bushbury, Oxley and hamlet of Moseley, in the said parish of Bushbury and to pay the rewards here after mentioned to any person or persons who shall by his or their evidence convict persons guilty of the following offences: For convicting any person or persons committing a burglary, Highway or Footpad robbery the sum of £21. For convicting any person stealing any horse, mare, colt, gelding, filly, mule, sheep or horned cattle, the sum of £21. For convicting any person or persons of stealing any pig or pigs, the sum of £10-10s. For convicting any person or persons of stealing any flour, malt, or any other kind of grain out of any building or buildings the sum of £10-10s. For apprehending and convicting any Hedge-tearer, stealer of turnips out of the fields, potatoes or garden stuff or fruit out of orchards, the sum of £1-ls. For apprehending and convicting any person or persons stealing grain out of the fields, hooks or thimbles from gates, harrow teeth, Plough Irons or any other utensils used in husbandry, saddles, bridles, or any other kind of horse furniture, fowls, geese, ducks, or any kind of poultry or fish, if in the daytime the sum of £1-1s., but if in the night the sum of £2-2s. For apprehending and convicting any person or persons stealing timber in the round or converted the sum of £2-2s. For apprehending and convicting any person or persons who shall buy coal, lime or other articles from waggoners who have no right to sell the same, or they do sell without leave of the owner, or persons stealing coal, lime or other articles from waggons or out of any coal-yard, or place for depositing coals, lime or other articles, if in the daytime the sum of £1-Is. but if in the night the sum of £2-2s. For apprehending and convicting any person who shall buy or receive goods, knowing them to be stolen, the sum of £10-l0s to every turnpike gate keeper, watchman or patrol, through whose information and evidence any offender or offenders shall be apprehended and convicted stolen goods or cattle recovered the sum of £6-6s. And to any person or persons who shall convict any offender of any other offence committed within the liberties of Bushbury, Oxley and Moseley a suitable reward.

Richard Phillips. William Baker. Richard Savage Pountney. Thomas Forster. William Chamberlain. Thomas Bate. Catherine Horton. John Corser. Edward Roden. Thomas Eaton. Francis Peace. Edward Hordern. Benjamin Corser. William Buxton. Joseph Richards. Thomas Miller. William Barber. John Stanley. Manoah Chambly.
John Corser Solicitor.

Alexander Hordern of Oxley Manor, giving evidence on the behaviour of canal boatmen to the "Select Committee on Sunday Trading" 1841 (109& 175/6):

`There was a good deal of petty pilfering; cutting grass, stealing turnips, poaching and breaking into hen-roosts and things of that kind...they are generally provided with a scythe, they can get into a field, and mow clover enough for a horse for two or three days, which is all done in a few minutes.'

Wolverhampton Chronicle September 20th 1826:

In the course of Monday night a sacreligeous robbery was committed in the Catholic Chapel of G.T. Whitgmave Esq. at Northycote, near this town, by some thieves, who plundered it of four plated candlesticks and the Tabernacle from which they abstracted three silver chalices and covers, leaving the Tabernacle behind them in an adjoining field. A reward of 30s. is offered for the apprehension of the parties.

Wolverhampton Chronicle April 23rd 1817:

Committed to our County Gaol Thomas Haywood, for a Highway Robbery at Bushbury.

Bushbury Burial Register August 6th 1826:

John Williams, executed August 5th at Stafford for Highway Robbery aged 19.

With two other men, Adams and Bosworth, John Williams had been convicted at Stafford Assizes of assaulting and robbing Edward Ridley as he was returning to Pattingham from Wolverhampton. (Wolverhampton Chronicle July 26th and August 9th 1826.)

The "Wolverhampton" Lifeboat

The "Wolverhampton" lifeboat was paid for by public subscription in the town, built by Messrs. Forrest of Limehouse and brought to Wolverhampton without charge by the Great Western Railway Co.

33 feet long, eight feet wide with ten oars double banked as well as masts and sails, she was built with a keel weighing 6 hundredweights, two airtight compartments fore and aft and 9.5 hundredweight of cork between keel and deck. Cost with equipment was £325 plus a further £95 for the carriage.

After standing for several days outside the "Deanery", on the morning of Monday August 25th, pulled by teams of volunteers she set off on a tour of the town centre and then down the Stafford Road to Bushbury Pool, or Showell Pool as it was then known. After being formally handed over to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and being accepted by Captain Robertson R.N. the vessel was launched to the sound of "The Death of Nelson" in pouring rain.

Trips around the pool were available at a shilling a head, and then onlookers took their places on seats which had been set up around the pool to watch the vessel undergo tests to prove its capability of righting itself after being capsized. All achieved with rousing cheers from the spectators.

That evening there was a public dinner for subscribers at the "Caernarvon Castle" hotel in Berry Street, and next day the lifeboat started its journey to South Wales (again provided at no cost by the Great Western Railway Co.)

The "Wolverhampton" saved many lives in the Bristol Channel until it was lost in a storm in 1883 off the Mumbles.

Return to the
18th century
Return to
the contents
Proceed to the
20th century