Wolverhampton’s Centenary Civic Exhibition

Held at the Civic and Wulfrun Halls, 18th to the 25th September, 1948
Incorporating the Health of the People Exhibition

The Centenary exhibition in the Civic Hall was a showcase for the work of the Corporation and its various departments. There were 29 stands in the hall, each dedicated to the functions of a particular department.

There was an admission charge of six pence for everyone, except children who were accompanied by an adult. Refreshments were available in the crush room at the rear of the Civic Hall and seats were available on the balcony. Music in the form of gramophone records was supplied by W. H. Podmore & Son Limited, of Market Street. There was also an organiser’s office, staffed by Mr. J. E. Holdsworth, of Ultra Displays Limited, situated on the mezzanine floor.

The Civic Hall, as built.

Panels at the entrance of the exhibition introduced the visitor to the many activities of the various local government departments, which were dealt with separately on the various stands. The displays were as follows:

Stand No.1. Information Bureau. Was operated by the Public Relations and Development Department, responsible for the dissemination of information, and the ascertaining of public opinion, on every aspect of the Corporation's activities. The department also produced guides and informative literature and maintained a liaison between the press and the Corporation.

Stand No. 2. Town Clerk's Department. The Town Clerk was the Chief Administrative Officer of the Corporation who advised the Council on legal and other matters. He also kept the seal and all minutes and records of the Council and Committees and was responsible for the polling arrangements at all elections.

Stand No. 3. Borough Treasurer's Department. On this stand there were diagrams and statements to show how the activities of the Corporation were financed, together with some of the office machinery used in the Borough Treasurer's Department, which was responsible for the general financial and accounting control of all Corporation activities.

Stand No. 4. Licensing and Taxation. The Licensing and Taxation Department of the Town Clerk's Office carried out the registration of road vehicles, the issuing of road fund licences, drivers' licences, and local taxation licences. The Department was created in 1921 after the passing of the Roads Act. 1920.

Stands Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8. Borough Engineer's Department. The Department of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor oversaw the design and erection of Corporation houses, schools and public buildings, the construction of roads, bridges, drainage, the maintenance of rivers, street sweeping and gully emptying. Also the layout and maintenance of parks and playing fields, allotments and cemeteries, slum clearance and redevelopment.

The display included details of the 1,400 houses that had been completed and occupied since 1945, along with some schools and public buildings, and an impression of the possible development of a Civic Centre.

The Civic Hall.

Stand No. 9. Public Baths. Included displays about the Central and the Heath Town Public Baths, public wash house facilities and the associated water filtration plant.

Stands 10 and 11. Education and Civic Restaurants and School Meals Service. There were details of the service of wholesome and attractive meals in the Civic Restaurants and for children at school. Plans included free school meals and the provision of a kitchen and dining room in each school.

The story of education in Wolverhampton required more space than was available, but priority was given to the display of details about the forthcoming education week on the 24th to the 30th October, when people could inspect the schools during a programme of events.

Stand No. 12. Weights and Measures Department. The display about the department featured the inspection of weights, measures, weighing and measuring instruments used in shops, warehouses, factories, and petrol pumps. Also the checking of the weight or measure of all kinds of foodstuffs, coal, sand and ballast, on sale at traders' premises or in the course of delivery to customers.

Stand No. 13. Police Force. The display included the recently introduced ultra high frequency radio communication network, the police telephone network, the photography department, the scientific investigation of crime, and the project to build a new police headquarters that was shelved in the Second World War.

The entrance to the Refreshment Room from the Crush Room in the Civic Hall.

Stand No. 14. Transport Department. There were details of the trolley bus network, model trolley buses running on a circular track and a map of the bus services together with a switch panel that could be worked by visitors to display various points on the map.

Stand No. 15. Airport. Wolverhampton Municipal Airport covered nearly 90 acres and was opened in 1938. There were details of the airport on display, along with a brief history.

Stand No. 16. The National Association of Local Government Officers, trades union’s display featured the association’s educational facilities for its 178,000 members, its provident schemes, its building society, holiday camps, etc.

Stand No. 17. Cleansing Department. The display featured the work of the department including the collection and disposal of refuse, paper salvage, and the collection of food salvage for the production of pig food.

Stand No. 18. Market, Abattoirs and Cold Stores Department. This stand featured the retail market hall, the wholesale market, the abattoirs and their role in the manufacture of grease, fertilisers and meat and bone meal, and the cold stores and ice manufactory with approximately 80,000 cubic feet of storage space, used primarily for the preservation of meat, butter, cheese, eggs, fruit juices, etc. There was also a section on the low temperature storage of glands, spinal cords and liver for processing into medicinal products and the manufacture of commercial ice.

Stand No. 19. Public Libraries. The display included details of Wolverhampton Public Library and its lending, reference, and reading rooms that contained around 40,000 volumes and 7,000 children’s books. There were also details of the branch libraries at Low Hill and Heath Town and the forthcoming branch libraries at Elston Hall School and at Penn.

Stand No. 20. Sewage Works. Details were given of the main sewage treatment plant at Barnhurst, and branch works at Merry Hill and Coven Heath.

Another view of the Civic Hall. From an old postcard.

The Refreshment Room in the Civic Hall.

Stand No. 21. Fire Brigade. There was a display about Wolverhampton Fire Brigade which became a municipal service on April 1st of that year.

Stand No. 22. The Water Undertaking. The story of the undertaking was displayed, which at the time supplied about 8,750,000 gallons of water per day to a population of 240,000, in an area of 30 square miles, including Wolverhampton, parts of Staffordshire and Shropshire, and the supply works at Cosford, Tettenhall, Dimmingsdale and Hilton.

Stand No. 23. The Children's Department. The department, which was established in July of that year, aimed to help children who were without a normal family upbringing. The stand included sections on foster-homes, New Cross Nursery and the Cottage Homes.

Stand No. 24. The Ambulance Service. The display included sections on hospital, factory and police ambulances, and the formation of the Civil Defence Ambulance Service during the war. Details were included about the Municipal Ambulance Service, operated in conjunction with the Fire Brigade and based at The Gables, Penn Road.

Stand No. 25. Welfare Services Department. Details were given about the department and the Children's Department which both came into being on the 5th July of that year.

Stand No. 26. The Civic Hall. This section described both the Civic and Wulfrun Halls and included details of concerts, plays and dances, annual festivals of music and drama, modern and old time dancing contests etc.

Stand No. 27. Parks and Cemeteries. The display by the Borough Engineer's Department described the 200 acres or so of parks and open spaces in the Borough, the planting of street trees, and the cultivation of traffic islands, etc. There was a section on the new lawn cemetery at Bushbury and the cultivation and sale of fruit and vegetables and the sale of plants to allotment holders.

Stand No. 28. Central Floral Exhibit. This consisted of a fountain surrounded by a display of flowers and plants, kindly lent by Birmingham Corporation.

Stand No. 29. Art Galleries and Museums. The display included details of the art works in the collection at the Art Gallery, and the examples of Staffordshire and Wedgwood Pottery, Bilston and Birmingham Enamels in the museum.

Wulfrun Hall.

The Wulfrun Hall contained a touring section of an exhibition called 'Health of the People', which told the story of  the progress in improving public health since the first Public Health Act of 1848, up to the inauguration of the National Health Service on July 5th 1948. There was also a cinema where interesting films were shown at frequent intervals on the stage of the Wulfrun Hall.

The centenary exhibition was organised by the following sub-committee, consisting of:

Councillor H. T. Fullwood – Chairman   Councillor J. Beattie
Alderman H. E. Lane – Mayor   Councillor J. C. Homer
Alderman W. Lawley   Councillor A. G. Goodman
Alderman J. Clark, J.P.   Councillor W. J. Rawlins
Alderman Sir Charles A. Mander, Bart., D.L., J.P.   Councillor F. H. Thompson
Alderman C. B. V. Taylor, J.P    
Co-opted members:    
Alderman A. Davies, J.P.   E. Ashley Milner
F. J. Bradford   D. Preston
J. Brock Allon, B.A. – Town Clerk   J. G. Reed
R. F. Hudson   J. D. Swallow
The catalogue for the events included the following interesting account, entitled ‘One Hundred Years a Borough’ by J. Brock Allon, B.A., Town Clerk and Solicitor to the Corporation, and Clerk of the Peace.

On the Continent, the year 1848 was a year of revolution and upheaval during which men struggled for political rights and national freedom. G. M. Trevelyan has described it as the turning point at which modern history failed to turn.

But the history of Wolverhampton did take a turn when a Charter of Incorporation gave the people effective control of their own affairs. It is true that at the time the franchise was severely limited, but before the incorporation the borough was governed by Town Commissioners and the inhabitants had no voice in their election. Moreover, the powers of the Commissioners were inadequate to deal with the problems which an increasing population presented.

In the 20 years following 1820, the population doubled in size. In the 100 years since the Charter, the Borough has grown from an area of 3,440 acres and a population of 44,000 to an area of 9,113 acres and a population of 156,000.

The favourable situation of Wolverhampton on the edge of the Black Country, the industrial achievements and the religious and cultural activities of the people which led to that growth are dealt with elsewhere. But throughout that, growth has been assisted by the trading undertakings and the services which have been provided by the Council.

J. Brock Allon.

First Duties

The first meeting of the Council, which consisted of 12 Aldermen and 36 Councillors, was held on the 22nd May, 1848. The duties of the Council were confined to policing, markets, the making of bye-laws and town improvement. Duties in relation to sanitation followed two years later, The Council is still responsible for all these, although that responsibility increased as the town grew and as the conception of the duties of a local authority changed.

For instance, the realisation that a sound supply of water is essential for good health and sanitation caused the Council to promote a private Bill in Parliament in 1867 and the control of the water supply of the Borough and some adjoining districts was transferred from a water company to the Corporation. This meant the establishment of a water department and subsequent private Acts that have given the Corporation an area of 83,385 acres to supply.

By that time, the Borough had been granted a Commission of the Peace and a Court of Quarter Sessions and two years later the Wolverhampton Improvement Act defined and extended the Council's powers in relation to the management of streets and to sewerage, police and water supply. Following the passing of this act, the Council began a big sewage scheme for the town and Barnhurst Farm was purchased to receive sewage.


The influence of the Council in the town's affairs was increasing. The visit of Queen Victoria in 1866, when a knighthood was conferred on the Mayor, had stimulated the interest of the citizens in local affairs and the Improvement Act gave the Council the ability to exercise that influence. But still every fresh activity of the Council was received with indifference, if not with hostility, and it was largely due to the efforts of an ex-Mayor that the scheme was put through.

Henry Hartley Fowler, who was later to become Viscount Wolverhampton and Secretary of State for India, was Mayor of the Borough in 1862-63. He served on the Council for over 26 years and to his influence can also be attributed the Council's decision to acquire the control of the water supply. Following the passing of the Elementary Education Act in 1870, his speech to the Council pointing out the need for 3,000 more school places was largely responsible for the Council's early application for the establishment of a school board.

General legislation which was passed in the 1870s gave to the Council new powers and duties. A large area of land in the centre of the town was purchased, old buildings were demolished and the area re-planned and developed. The Council also purchased the bath which stood on the site of the Central Baths, which indicates the Council's growing interest in the health of the inhabitants, for very few houses were then equipped with baths.

From an old postcard.

First Park

However the Council was interested in the health of the inhabitants in a wider sense, and in 1879, they acquired the land on which the West Park was later laid out. In 1889 the Art Gallery was erected and presented to the Council by the late Philip Horsman Esq. The Council as a patron of the arts was quite a new role in those days. No doubt it was considered a luxury, for it was not until the following year that the first Infectious Diseases Hospital was opened.

Following the passing of the Local Government Act in 1888, Wolverhampton became a County Borough, since its population then exceeded 50,000. The practical effect was to make the borough an administrative county of itself and today it is one of the 83 cities and boroughs which have this status.

In 1890 the Council was given power to establish its electricity undertaking under the provisions of an Electric Lighting Order. The Weights and Measures Department was also established in that year to take over duties which had till then been performed by the police.

Transport and Housing

The Borough celebrated its Jubilee in 1898 and obtained a grant of a Coat of Arms from the College of Heralds. The population was then over 90,000 but the Borough was still without public transport, or municipal houses or control of its schools. However, two years later the tramways were taken over by the Corporation and within five years the first regular motor bus service was running. At this time too, the Council adopted a housing scheme and for the first time assumed some responsibility for housing the people.

The Education Act, 1902, gave the Council its great responsibility of education, although the first meeting of the Education Committee which superseded the School Board was not held until the 10th July, 1903. The early years of the century were ones of great activity and expansion in municipal affairs. The library, which had been built to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was opened and a Maternity and Child Welfare Service and a School Medical Service were established.

This progress was arrested by the 1914-18 War, but on its conclusion the Council turned its attention to the provision of houses in which task it was encouraged by an Act passed in 1919, which placed some of the financial burden on the Government. The Council also took advantage of legislation at that time to provide smallholdings and permanent allotments.

From an old postcard.

Borough Extension

More houses required more land, and in 1926 the first Borough Extension Act for the borough was passed, and on the 1st April of the following year, the boundaries were extended by the inclusion of the urban district of Heath Town, parts of the township of Upper Penn, parts of the Parish of Bushbury and the detached part of the Parish of Wrottesley.

With this extension, the size of the Council was increased to 13 Aldermen and 39 Councillors. The Housing Department was set up in 1928 to manage the growing number of houses which were being built to relieve overcrowding and to accommodate people from houses which were being demolished under slum clearance schemes.

Town Planning

The early thirties saw two important tasks given to the Council. The Board of Guardians which was responsible for administering the Poor Law, was abolished and all those services such as the relief of the poor and the maintenance of the Cottage Homes, were transferred to the Corporation. Town Planning was not a new idea to the builders of Wolverhampton, as a walk through St. John's Square will show, but an Act passed in 1932 gave to local authorities for the first time, effective powers of positive planning and the work of the Council in correcting past mistakes and preventing new ones has steadily increased since then.

In 1933 a further Borough Extension took place following the passing of the Wolverhampton Corporation Act, 1932, and parts of Upper Penn, Wednesfield and Bushbury came into the Borough. So that the new areas should be represented, the Council was again increased to its present size of 15 Aldermen and 45 Councillors.

Further Scope

Shortly before the last war, the scope of the Council's work was again enlarged. A midwifery service was started in 1936 and under the Wolverhampton Corporation Act of that year, the Corporation took over the Cemetery in Jeffcock Road. Both the Municipal Airport and the Civic Hall were opened in 1938. War called a halt to developments of this nature, although important tasks in connection with the Civil Defence were given to the Corporation. The British Restaurants which were established during the war have now become permanent as Civic Restaurants under post-war legislation. The Fire Brigade, which became part of the National Fire Service during the war, again became a municipal service this year. At the end of the war, housing was an urgent concern of the Council and great progress has been made.

At present the system of local government is undergoing great changes; electricity, hospitals and public assistance have been taken out of the sphere of local government. The Local Government Boundary Commission which is now sitting, is examining the whole structure of local government to find the best way in which it can be adapted to meet today's problems and cover those services which have been re-organised on a regional basis.

When we review the history of the last hundred years we are encouraged to feel confident that, whatever changes may be made, the people of Wolverhampton will continue to elect representatives to their Council who will, whilst deriving inspiration from the traditions of the past, labour whole heartedly for the advancement and well-being of the town in accordance with the best principles of modern development.

The Civic Hall.

Return to the
previous page