In the 16th and 17th centuries Wolverhampton was a thriving market town. Although little has survived from that distant time, much can be learned from the various old documents and records that are stored in the local archives. A look through them can reveal much about a long lost world.

The most important source of information for this period is the Sutherland Collection that has been on loan to the County Archives at Stafford since 1959. The owners now wish to sell the collection at an asking price of 1.9 million pounds and the archives are attempting to raise enough money for the purchase. This is the unique archive of the Leveson-Gower family, Dukes of Sutherland and contains much information on Wolverhampton, including the 1609 survey of the Leveson’s estate.

Another source of information is the Paget Deeds and the Wolverhampton Town Deeds, which are to be found in Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies on Snow Hill.

One item not to be missed is Isaac Taylor’s map of Wolverhampton from 1750. This is the first detailed map that was made of the town centre and is always worth examining when considering the geography of the old town. Many of the streets on the map were there in medieval times, although the names may have changed. A dotted line on the map still shows the old division of Wolverhampton into two manors, the Deanery to the west and Stowheath to the east.

The following brief description of some of Wolverhampton’s old streets and buildings is based on information from the above sources, which contain a vast amount of information on the town at the time.


High Green from Isaac Taylor's map of 1750.

Wolverhampton centred, as it had for centuries before on High Green, the old market patch. High Green ran from the junction of Woolpack Street and Dudley Road, across Queen Square and up Lich Gates. It also ran across Queen Square to the top of Darlington Street. There was a late medieval cross standing on the east side of the Square at the junction of the modern Queen Square and Dudley Street. In 1532 a market hall was built near the cross, adjacent to where Staffordshire Building Society is situated today.
John Huntbach, who researched the now lost early Churchwarden’s accounts, mentioned in his notes that the market hall was erected “at the charge of the town”. The building measured 68ft. by 29ft. 4 inches and was later known as “The Old Town Hall”. It had a large upper room (where the Assizes were held) that was supported by stone pillars. The building was demolished in 1778 as a result of the first Improvement Act of 1777 "for Widening, Cleansing and Lighting the several Streets, Lanes, Alleys, Ways, and other public Passages, within the Town of Wolverhampton, in the County of Stafford, and for Taking down, Altering or Rebuilding certain Buildings therein mentioned, and for removing all other Nuisances and Encroachments, and for Regulating Carts and other Carriages within the said Town."


A close-up of Taylor's map showing the "Old Town Hall".

William Addames, a Wolverhampton butcher was granted a lease by John Leveson on 9th October 1577. This is recorded in the Sutherland Collection and describes Addames’ shop as follows “in the South end of the Shambles Hall” with the “uprooms or buildings over the same”. Another lease, also referred to in the collection, dated 23rd March, 1630 calls the building “the Townehall in Wolverhampton”.

At the northern end of modern Dudley Street was the Charity School, also marked on Taylor’s map. It was purchased by the Town Commissioners in 1779 to be demolished, like the market hall under the 1777 Act. It was known as “Upper Butcher’s Row” or “Over Butcher’s Row” and was owned by at least 5 vendors. The Wolverhampton Town Constables Accounts state that both this building and the  market hall were used by the trustees of the school at various times.  


Dudley Street in 1835. From Noyes' drawing of High Green.
The Sutherland Collection contains many details of High Green and states that the land from modern day Woolpack Street to Queen Square was in the manor of the Prebend of Hatherton, and included a medieval horse mill that stood on the corner of Woolpack Street and Dudley Street. In 1609 a detailed survey of Sir Walter Leveson’s Wolverhampton estates was carried out and it includes details of the Swan Inn that stood where Lloyds Bank is today. At the time the inn was leased to John Aldersey, whose land went across to Piper’s Croft where there was a large barn. 
Piper’s Croft was a large field, roughly in between modern Queen Street and Castle Street. The Swan is also referred to in the surviving Wolverhampton Town Deeds. Sir Richard Paget’s Oldfallings deeds contain details of a lease dated 26th February, 1516. The Swan was then owned by Richard Lane of the Hyde, Brewood and was leased to John Baxter. At the time the Swan was being either wholly or partially rebuilt after a fire.

In the 1770s the town’s first theatre was built in the yard behind the inn and described in a report in a Wolverhampton Chronicle of 1894 as follows:

The building was a plain but substantial brick structure about 80ft. long by 36ft. in breadth, with two entrances – one to the boxes (or dress circle) facing down the Swan Yard, and the other leading to the pit and gallery, being opposite the opening or gateway entrance from Wheeler’s Fold. The interior was almost as plain as the exterior, there being little attempt at artistic embellishment or decoration, except in the vicinity of the stage, which occupied the entire breadth of the building at the east end.

It is estimated that the theatre seated about 600 people.

Also listed in the 1609 survey is a large house leased to Elizabeth Pershouse. The house was close to the swan and the garden extended to Piper’s Croft. A nearby house and shop were leased to John Wightwick and close by stood the houses of John Key and Richard Shenton. Each house had a sizeable piece of land at the back. Elizabeth Pershouse paid 30s a year rent for her house, John Wightwick paid 31s.4d. a year and Richard Shenton paid 36s a year. 


John Fullwood's drawing of 19th century shops in High Green, Now Dudley Street.
The houses on the western side of the street appear to have been smaller. One was rented by Henry Smythe who also rented Culwalle Meadow and Whytmore Reaynes pasture from the Levesons.

At this time the southern end of Dudley Street was less populated. Bell Street was then known as Hollow Lane and used to extent to Dudley Street (until the 1970s). There were two houses in Dudley Street adjoining the junction with Hollow Lane. The first was rented by Richard Brett, who paid 15s a year and the other tenant, Hugh Sambrooke, paid 16s.4d. a year. These cottages were opposite the main entrance to the Old Hall, the Leveson’s home.


High Hall shortly before demolition. By R. Noyes.

The Leveson family also owned a grand house on High Green approximately where Wolverhampton’s Information Centre stands today. It was known as High Hall and was a fine 16th century half-timbered building that survived until1841. The Sutherland Collection contains leases for the house from about 1620 to 1654, but many are badly damaged. One that has survived is dated 20th April, 1654 and was granted by Sir Richard Leveson of Trentham to William Normansell senior, for a term of 99 years.

 The rent was £10 per year with two fat hens at Christmas and two fat capons at Easter. When the lease was granted he had to pay a heavy £200 premium and Mr. Leveson reserved the right to use any of the rooms in the house at will. The lease also included a great deal of arable land, meadowland, pastures, closes and crofts, all in the outskirts of Wolverhampton.

The collection of Wolverhampton Town Deeds includes deeds for the house from 1705 to 1841, when it was purchased by the Town Commissioners. One carries an inventory of some of the rooms as they were in 1780 when the occupier was Peter Talbot, a mercer and draper. At the time the business was taken over by James Hordern. By 1841 the house had been divided into two parts, the upper shop and the lower shop.

Immediately behind High Hall in the early 19th century were two inns known as “The Wheatsheaf” and “The Lamb” and on the western side of the house was a block numbered 25, 26 and 27 High Green. A deed from 1738 contains information on the block, much of which was occupied by Sarah Unett and Thomas Bradshaw, an apothecary. The gardens at the rear are visible on Taylor’s map and were known as “The Little Garden” and “The Great Garden”. In 1899 the block was owned by Edgar Harley who ran “Harley’s Vaults” from number 25, the remainder being rented to Messrs Picken and Waring who were drapers.  

Taylor’s map shows an isolated building at the western end of High Green, known as “The Roundabout”. The ancient building stood in-between Cock Street and Goat or Tup Street (now North Street). 

It is described in one of the Town Deeds dated 3rd August, 1682 as a burgage or tenament owned by John Southwicke, a Wolverhampton saddler who sold it to Jonathan Farrian and Thomas Skett for £220.


Part of Isaac Taylor's map of 1750. "The Roundabout" is coloured in red and High Hall is coloured green.
Sometime before 1783 the building had been divided into two halves because in that year the half owned by Thomas Jarvis was acquired by the Town Commissioners. From 1788 Samuel Adey, a mercer and draper occupied the other half of the building. He sold it to the Town Commissioners in 1820 and “The Roundabout” was demolished to make way for the building of Darlington Street. One important feature associated with “The Roundabout” was one of the town centre’s water pumps, which survived after the building was demolished. The edition of the Wolverhampton Chronicle for the 8th March, 1820 contains an article that states that the materials from the building were sold by auction to the highest bidder.  


Cock Street and Boblake as shown on Taylor's map.

At the south western corner of High Green was Cock Street and Boblake, renamed Victoria Street after the Queen’s visit in 1866.

Cock Street was probably named after the “Cock Inn”, which stood on the western side of the street approximately opposite Lindy Lou’s, the only surviving 17th century building in the street. The “Cock Inn” burned down on 22nd April 1590 after one of the many fires that took place in the area and destroyed many of the timber-framed buildings. 

In fact in Barn Street, now Salop Street, 104 houses were bunt down and 694 men, women and children were “impoverished by the fire” and 30 stacks of hay, corn and straw were destroyed.

Cock Street was previously known as Tunwell Street or Tunwalle Street, which is derived from the words town well, the name is perpetuated in Townwell Fold. An account of the wells can be found in Robert Plot’s “Natural History of Staffordshire” from 1686. The wells were situated behind the “Cock Inn” and so were roughly where Beatties store stands today. The lower part of the Street (Boblake on Taylor’s map) was a marshy area through which ran the town brook. It is called Puddle Brook on Taylor’s map and ran down from Snow Hill towards Chapel Ash.  

On Taylor’s map, at the eastern side of High Green is Lichfield Street. This ancient street was originally called Kemstrete or Kempstrete, as stated in the 14th and 15th century Paget deeds. This name is almost certainly derived from the medieval word for a “comb” and so is another link with the wool trade. On the southern side of the street stood Stirk’s Cooperage and the “Noah’s Ark” Inn where the early Methodists met in a back room. Here they built the “Noah’s Ark Chapel” in which John Wesley himself preached on a number of occasions, the last being on 23rd March, 1790. The proprietor at the time was William Horton who had only been there for several months. In 1791 he advertised as a rum and spirit dealer and became very active in the affairs of the town. His niece was married to John Hargrove, who kept the “White Rose”, also in Lichfield Street. On the northern side stood the Old Posthouse and the “King of Prussia” Inn. 
Old Lichfield Street before demolition in the late 1870s.

In the Town Deeds the Inn is described as a burgage house, which carried the right to a pew in St. Peter’s Church. It stood on the site of what is believed to have been the medieval Guildhall where the wool merchants would have met. A look at Taylor’s map reveals that in those days Lichfield Street ran into Horsefair (now Wulfruna Street) via the modern day Lichfield Passage and it remained as such until the wholesale demolition and widening of the street in the 1880s.

This is but a brief glimpse into the old town and much more can be found in the records by anyone wishing to visit the local archives. The records can, with a little imagination almost bring the old town back to life, which can’t be done in any other way.

Bibliography

History of Wolverhampton to the Early Nineteenth Century, Gerald P. Mander, M.A., F.S.A. and Norman W. Tildesley, Wolverhampton C.B. Corporation, 1960.

Wolverhampton. The Early Town and Its History, John S. Roper, M.A., Wolverhampton, 1966.

A History of Wolverhampton, Chris Upton, Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1998.


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