The bad state of poor people's health in the early 19th century can be seen by the prevalence of hernias caused by their hard lifestyle. In 1814 a Truss Society was founded, which spent about £140 a year on trusses for poor people, raised by voluntary subscription.

On the 30th of January, 1817, a general meeting at the Town Hall resolved unanimously that soup should be given twice a week to the inhabitants of the workhouse instead of meat.

Priory Hall. From an old postcard.

Priory Hall was built in 1825 by John William Ward, the Earl of Dudley, as a family residence in the town, but was later occupied by his chief land and mine agent. The most famous resident was Sir Gilbert Henry Claughton, a businessman and politician who was the son of the Reverend Thomas Leigh Claughton, Bishop of St Albans. His mother, Julia Susannah Ward, was the elder daughter of the 10th Baron Ward of Dudley.
Sir Gilbert Henry Claughton.

Another view of Priory Hall. From an old postcard.

Gilbert was educated at Eton and King's College, London, before beginning an apprenticeship at Beyer, Peacock & Company, Manchester-based locomotive builders.

In 1884 he moved to the Earl of Dudley's Castle Mill Works, then became the Mineral Agent for the Dudley estate in 1891.

He moved into Priory Hall where he lived with his sister. At various times he was a director of a number of companies including Round Oak Works, Barclays Bank, the South Staffordshire Water Works Company, and Mond Gas Works.

Gilbert was Mayor of Dudley between 1891 and 1894 and one of the original members of Staffordshire County Council.

Between 1895 and 1921 he was an Alderman of the council and in 1906 stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Dudley. He was defeated by the Liberal candidate, Arthur George Hooper who received 8,296 votes to Gilbert Claughton's 7,542 votes.

In 1905 he became a director of the London & North Western Railway and from 1911 to 1921 became Chairman of the railway company. In 1913 a class of express locomotives, The Claughton Class was named after him.

Gilbert Claughton in his mayoral robe.

The first Claughton Class locomotive, which carried the name Sir Gilbert Claughton.

Sir Gilbert was created a baronet, of The Priory in the Parish of Dudley, on the 4th July, 1912, but the hard work that resulted from his many interests finally caught up with him. In 1921 he resigned from the chairmanship of the London & North Western Railway after suffering from a breakdown and went to stay with his widowed sister in St. Briavels Castle, that overlooks the River Wye, and is now a hotel. Sadly he never recovered and died at the castle on the 27th June, 1921, at the age of 65.

The town of Dudley went into mourning and a funeral service was held at St. Edmund's Church. He was buried in the private burial ground behind the church at Himley, reserved for the Earls of Dudley and family members.

In 1930 a large working model of the locomotive Sir Gilbert Claughton was presented to Dudley Corporation by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, the successors to the London and North Western. For many years it was on public display in Dudley library. In 1966 when the library was refurbished, the model was taken to the Sir Gilbert Claughton School for safe keeping. It was never returned and its whereabouts are unknown.

In 1926 Priory Hall was acquired by Dudley Borough Council and later housed the surveying department. It is now Dudley Register Office and along with Priory Park is Grade II listed.

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The population of Dudley, as listed in the 1831 census was 23,043.

In 1832 during the cholera epidemic, St. Thomas's Church announced that a collection would be taken for those suffering from cholera and a list of subscriptions given by private individuals in order to provide the poor with wholesome food and other comforts during the epidemic, was published. During the epidemic, St. Thomas's churchyard was so full that the dead had to be taken to Netherton Church. There were 1,124 cases of the disease and 277 deaths. The outbreak in 1848 was much worse. Between August and November of that year, there were 412 deaths from cholera in the town, and in 1853 a further 256 people died from the disease.

A poster from 1832.

Pure water first came to Dudley in 1834 thanks to a special act of Parliament that gave the water company powers to provide a clean supply. People had been forced to steal water, that was often infected. This resulted in Dudley having the highest death rate in the country. In 1852 the average age of death was 16 years 7 months, and 69.8 percent of people died before the age of twenty.

In 1836 the Dudley Poor Law Union was established. Previously relief of the poor had been administered by the church and private benefactors.

Dudley's first parliamentary election in December 1832 was won by Sir John Campbell, who was Solicitor-General in Lord Grey's Whig government. He was defeated in the next election on the 27th February, 1834 by Thomas Hawkes.

Dudley Poor Law Union, formed on the 14th October, 1836 was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians. There were 27 of them, representing the parishes of Dudley, Sedgley, Tipton, and Rowley Regis. The number of guardians representing each parish were as follows: Dudley - 10, Sedgley - 8, Tipton - 6, and Rowley Regis - 3. Initially the original workhouses at Dudley, Sedgley and Tipton continued in use.

Dudley’s old workhouse had become too small for the increasing number of inmates. Overcrowding was leading to awful living conditions and so work on a new workhouse for 842 inmates began in 1855 to 1856, in Wolverhampton Road, now Burton Road. After completion in 1859, the inmates from the other workhouses in the union were transferred to Wolverhampton Road, and the other buildings were disposed of.

The new workhouse in Wolverhampton Road.

The new workhouse had separate wings for males and females, able-bodied or infirm, a block for children and an infirmary. There was also a master’s office, a board room for meetings of the Board of Guardians, a clerk’s office, and a room with a bed and bath to prepare inmates in readiness to see the doctor.

Everywhere was spotlessly clean and well-ventilated. The beds in the wards were made of straw with a separate blanket and a quilt. A fireplace was at the end of each room and there were wards for couples over the age of 60, an old woman’s day room, a ward for young childless women, a nursery ward, a boy’s and girl’s dining room catering for about 120 people of both sexes, entering and leaving at different sides of the room, a laundry, drying and washing rooms, and schoolrooms with dormitories over the top. Separate sick rooms for males and females included idiot wards, bad leg wards, general sick wards, asthma and bronchial sick wards, and a surgery.

There was also a cooking kitchen with steam-cooking machines, a general dining room for able-bodied adults where they were summoned to meals three times a day, by a bell, and store rooms for food etc. Up to 20 men a day were engaged in breaking stones.

In 1881 the staff in the Dudley Union Workhouse consisted of the master of the workhouse, a matron of the workhouse, an assistant master of the workhouse, an assistant matron of the workhouse, five nurses, a cook, a porter, a laundress, a school master, a school mistress, and a servant. There were 754 residents.

The workhouse later became Burton House Public Assistance Institution, and later, Burton Road Hospital. The old workhouse buildings have long disappeared.

The offices of the Board of Guardians, number 7 St. James's Road, built in 1888. The building still survives and is used by Dudley Council. From an old postcard.

From Michael Billing's 1855 Directory.

In 1853, Dudley came under the control of the Board of Health, which survived until 1865. It was set up because the Town Commissioners had failed to remedy the intolerable health conditions in the Town. The Town Commissioners were angry at being replaced and the Clerk to Board of Health reported on several occasions that the Clerk to the Town Commissioners had refused to hand over their minutes and other archives.

The Board of Health took its duties seriously and appointed several active sub-committees which met regularly. In 1855 they included a Finance Committee, a Health Committee, an Improvements, Lighting and Cleansing Committee, a Surveys and Public Works Committee and a General Purposes Committee. There were five chief officers to execute its decisions: the Clerk, the Surveyor, the Inspector of Nuisances, the Inspector of Lodging Houses and the Officer of Health.

The Board of Health was able to boast that in 1855 it had reduced the death rate since 1852 by one third, which was a formidable achievement. The last surviving Minute Book, which is from 1863 provides an insight into the Board's activities. The expenditure in September included the following: £15.1s.6d. was spent on the highway rate account, £117.4s.0d. from the Lighting Account, was paid to the Dudley Gas Light Company for one quarter's supply of gas for 220 lamps, along with £21 for 28 lamps in the outer areas. The Inspector of Nuisances spent £4.16s.0d.

The Board of Health was superseded by the newly incorporated Borough Council in 1865 and local government began to assume the character of a large scale organisation. The charter of incorporation, granted on the 3rd April 1865, divided the borough into seven wards: St. Thomas's Ward, Castle Ward, St. Edmund's Ward, St. James' Ward, St. John's Ward, Netherton Ward and Woodside Ward. The council consisted of the mayor, ten aldermen and thirty councillors.

In 1865 Frederick Smith, the first municipal Mayor, provided entertainment in the castle grounds for local children and in 1875, Joseph Stokes, Mayor, issued a circular letter on the terrible slums that still survived at the time.

By1868 there was a gradual improvement of health services and people’s health. The first Commission of the Peace was granted in 1867, and in 1888 Dudley became a County Borough, under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1888.

An advert from 1861.

Excerpts from Michael Billing's 1855 directory   An 1861 list of trades men and trades women

An advert from 1861.

The old Town Hall. From an old postcard.

Dudley’s old town hall in the market place was demolished in 1860 after falling into a sad state of repair.

The arches provided a useful space beneath for use by market traders.

It was later used as a police station and a magistrate’s court, but eventually it became an eyesore.

On the 17th October, 1867, the fountain in the market place was officially opened. The market had been paved and a cab stand was erected. The fountain was given to the town by the Earl of Dudley and his wife, who drank the first water from the fountain in a specially engraved goblet. The Earl wanted to encourage temperance and so he had the water fountain built. It was designed by James Forsyth who had designed the Perseus Fountain at Whitley Court, where the Earl lived. In the 1980s the water supply was cut-off and the bowls were filled with concrete.

The opening ceremony from the Illustrated London News.

A fine view of Dudley's lovely market fountain. From an old postcard.

An advert from 1861.

Dudley Old Bank in Wolverhampton Street, built in 1791, was taken over by Lloyds Bank in 1866. The original building was demolished and replaced by the building below in 1876. From an old postcard.

Dudley Old Bank in Wolverhampton Street, as it is today. The bank closed in 2005 and was converted into the apartments, seen above.
Early attempts at fighting fires began in 1834, but they were ineffective. On the 6th May, 1834, it was ordered that a place be acquired for storing Fire Engines and that Richard Paskin, be appointed as engineer to take care of them at an annual salary of eight pounds. Also that twelve firemen be paid the sum of one pound each per year. In the 1870s and 1880s the Borough Council purchased the town’s first fire engines which were used by the first fire brigade, consisting of the town’s police constables. Early fire stations were based at the police stations in Netherton, Woodside and Kates Hill.

In 1892 the town's fire station was built in Priory Street next to Stone Street Square which was used by market traders and became the town's fish and vegetable market. The site occupied by the fire station had previously been occupied by Dudley Flint Glass works, constructed around 1770. In 1898 Dudley purchased a Shand Mason steam fire engine. The Superintendent of the Fire Brigade in 1900 was Richard Speke, who managed the town's 10 firemen.

Priory Street fire station during construction.

An ox-roast at Stone Street Square. The small building in the background is the Public Weighbridge Office which closed in 1967. From an old postcard.
The Priory Street fire station continued in use until 1939, when a new fire station was built in Tower Street. The new fire station closed in 1998 and was later acquired by Dudley College. The current fire station is in Burton Road. The site of the fire station in Priory Street was used as a club for the RAF, Payne’s shoe shop and later Carver’s Cafe. It is now the Old Glass House, restaurant and bar.

Dudley Fire Brigade in 1901.

Priory Villa on the corner of Ednam Road and Priory Road. Also known as Kudos House.

Priory Villa was built in 1865 for John Hyde Houghton, the surgeon in charge of Dudley dispensary, which was built around the same time, and has since been demolished. It stood in Priory Road on the corner of Ednam Road, opposite Priory Villa. The house was home to the Houghton family, but also contained the surgeon's consulting rooms. There are two entrances, one in Ednam Road, leading to the family's residence, and the other in Priory Road for the use of patients. Mr. Houghton specialised in obstetrics and was also a Worcestershire county magistrate.

Ednam Road and Priory Road were built in the 1870s, as part of Lord Dudley's Priory Fields development. Priory Villa remained as a family home until it was acquired by Dudley Council in the 1960s and is now part of Dudley College. It was Grade II listed on the 25th November, 2010.

Dudley dispensary in Priory Road, was a charitable institution for the relief of poor sick people. In 1892 there were over 5,500 patients attending annually. When the National Health Service was established, it became the headquarters of the District Nursing Service, then in 1957 council offices. It was demolished in 1975. From an old postcard.

Dudley's old museum and art gallery. From an old postcard.

Dudley's old museum and art gallery on the corner of Priory Street opened in 1884 as the library, art gallery and school of art. The school of art moved to Dudley Technical College in 1966.

The foundation stone was laid by Earl Beauchamp, the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire, on Tuesday the 3rd July, 1883. The building was designed  to house a large reading room, a library capable of holding 5,000 books and an art gallery. The rooms upstairs were to be used by the Dudley School of Art. The library and art gallery was built by Webb and Round from Dudley, at a cost of £5,300.

The building was officially opened on the 29th July, 1884, by Mrs. Claughton, the Earl of Dudley's sister. The free library was paid for from a one penny rate which allowed Charles F. Mackmain to be appointed as librarian, on a salary of £100 a year. It became extremely popular, so much so that 50,000 books were issued in 1889 and overcrowding became a problem. This led to the building of a larger library across the road in St James's Road, which opened in 1909.

The art gallery wasn't initially very popular, it contained few pieces of art. On Mondays and Saturdays entrance was free, but on Wednesdays and Fridays there was a charge of three pence. It became quite popular on the days when the entrance was free, but few people were willing to pay the admission fee, which was eventually dropped. Exhibitions were held there, particularly by the Dudley Art Circle, founded in 1928 which held an annual exhibition. Visitor numbers continued to increase and reached 18,888 in 1938.

During the Second World War the building was closed, but from 1946 it opened daily from 10am to 8pm. In January 1965 the geological gallery opened on the ground floor to display the collection of fossils given by the former Dudley Geological Society.

The Mechanics Institution , later called the Dudley Institute was founded in 1848 to provide classes, lectures and concerts.

The institute's building stood in Inhedge, alongside  Wolverhampton Street and opened in 1863.

It contained classrooms, a public hall, a reading room and Dudley Geological Society's museum.

It was funded by the popular Dudley Castle fetes.

From an old postcard.


The School of Art, which was housed above the library was partly funded by additional duty imposed on wines and spirits that allowed an art master be appointed along with free tuition for selected pupils. In 1901 the School came under the control of the Borough Council. In 1909 a pottery room was added when the library moved across the road. In 1946 because of the wish to extend the viewing galleries, it was recommended that the school should move to, and become part of the Technical School, which happened in 1966.

In the mid 1970s when the Black Country Living Museum was established, the industrial collection moved there. In November 1981, the Brooke Robinson Collection was re-displayed in the gallery after a gap of 15 years. In 2016, the decision was made to close the Museum and Art Gallery as part of a cost-cutting exercise and re-display some of the collection in the new Dudley Archives building in Tipton Road, which has become Dudley Archives and Local History Centre. The Priory Street building closed to the public on the 22nd December, 2016.

The Conservative Club

The large Georgian house in Castle Hill, next to St. Edmund's Church, was built in about 1790 and was home to Dudley's veterinary inspector, Abraham Green, who had a vets shop at 44 and 45 King Street, which he ran with his son. They later opened a second shop in New Mill Street. The listing below is from Kelly's 1912 Worcestershire Directory.

In 1884 the building was acquired by Dudley Conservative Club and officially opened in October, 1884. The building was Grade II listed on the 14th September, 1949. It is now King Charles House Business Centre.

The Conservative Club.

Dudley Conservative Club lounge.

The Conservative Club had another property in the centre of Dudley, Priory House, at number 2 Priory Road, opposite the Council House. It was built in the early 1800s and is clearly marked on a map, produced in 1824. For almost 100 years it was a private residence. In 1880, George Thompson moved there. He is listed in Kelly’s 1892 Directory of Worcestershire as: George Thompson, Priory House, Priory Road.

The Conservative Working Men’s Club was based at 60 Tower Street, in a rented building that was far too small. The club planned to buy the property along with an adjoining property, that would become an extension. The main objection to this was that there was no available land for outdoor recreation, so when the lease for Priory House, held by Mr. William H. Thompson, came to an end and the property was offered for sale, the club jumped at the opportunity, particularly because it was a larger building with extensive grounds.

The club purchased the building, which was considerably extended, with the addition of a three storey building at the rear. Other additions included an entrance lobby, a new staircase, a billiard room, a bowling alley, a large smoke room and bar, a dining room, a reading room, a committee room, a card room and a caretaker’s apartment.

In the 1990s the building was sold and has since been converted into office accommodation and a function room.

Priory House.

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A view of Dudley from the 1890s showing the densely built-up houses and factories, seen from Prospect Row. From an old postcard.

A view of Dudley in the 1890s, seen from St. Thomas's Church. From an old postcard.

The Opera House at Castle Hill opened on the 4th September, 1899 with a performance of ‘The Mikado’ by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which was a great success. The theatre was founded and managed by John Maurice Clement. Unfortunately the theatre was destroyed in November 1936 during a fire. From an old postcard.

Dudley's Boer War Memorial. From an old postcard.

Dudley's Boer War memorial in Dudley Cemetery, Stourbridge Road, is topped by a statue of a soldier wearing a slouch hat, holding a rifle, with a fixed bayonet, defending a wounded bugler.

The memorial includes 56 names of the local people who died in the war, listed by rank, surname, forename and manner of death.

It was unveiled on the 23rd September, 1904 by Lieutenant-General Sir N. G. Lyttleton and was designed and sculpted by Mr. Henry Owen Burgess, who studied at Dudley School of Art.

The memorial was Grade II listed on the 16th May, 2016.

An early view of Tower Street. From an old postcard.

A view of the Guest Hospital and Tipton Road. From an old postcard.

Read about the Guest Hospital

The old police station and lock-up was built in about 1847 and remained in use until 1940 when the later police station was built on the corner of New Street and Tower Street. In 1892 the Chief Superintendent was Henry Burton, the Inspector was Thomas Long, and there were 6 sergeants and 31 constables. Photo from an old postcard.
There were several local newspapers. In 1892 there were four:
The Daily Argus, branch office, Castle Street. Joseph Harris, manager.
The Dudley Herald, 210 Wolverhampton Street. Joshua Hatton, publisher. Published on Saturdays.
The Evening Star, Wolverhampton Street. Published by the Midland News Association Limited.
The Midland Evening News, Wolverhampton Street. Published by Midland Press Limited.

In 1900 there was the Dudley Herald and Wolverhampton based, Express & Star.

The County Court in Priory Street was built in 1858. It has two storeys and an attic and was Grade II listed on the 9th April, 1976. In 1891 the Judge was William Downes Griffith B. A. assisted by the Registrar, William C. Kettle, and the Deputy Registrar, George Walton Walker. It covered the parishes of Dudley, Tipton, Sedgley & Rowley, with four, or five court days a month. The building has now been converted into apartments.

Looking up Castle Street with the Earl of Dudley's statue on the left and St. Edmund's Church. The text on the statue includes the following information: It is in memory of William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley (27th March, 1817 to 7th May, 1885), known as Lord Ward from 1835 to 1860. He was a British landowner and benefactor. In 1860 the earldom held by his kinsmen was revived when he was created Viscount Ednam, of Ednam in the County of Roxburgh, and Earl of Dudley, of Dudley Castle in the County of Stafford. From an old postcard.

Looking towards the statue and the entrance to Dudley Castle, from Castle Street. From an old postcard.

The same view from further along Castle Street. From an old postcard.

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