Walsall, like its near neighbours, faired reasonably well during the Second World War. As an industrial town it could have been a frequent target for the Luftwaffe in the early 1940s, but luckily the Black Country was relatively unscathed. The shops continued to prosper in spite of rationing and shortages, and full employment had been enjoyed by all. After the war, local industry quickly returned to normal production, but some businesses suffered a little because of rising wages.


Bridge Street in the 1930s.


A fine view from the 1950s, looking along Park Street, to The Bridge and Digbeth. From an old postcard, courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.
One national problem that had to be quickly resolved was the shortage of housing. Housing development ground to a halt in the late 1930s because of the war. The population continued to grow at an increasing rate, and many people were still living in sub-standard houses.

To overcome the problem a vast number of council houses were built in the Borough, including many single-storey prefabs which were built to last ten years, although in reality most survived until the mid 1970s.

By 1950 the 10,000th council house had been completed, at 65 Primley Avenue. It was officially opened on 3rd June, 1950 by Walsall MP Mr. W. T. Wells.

Over the next eight years another 5,000 council houses were built, the 15,000th, at 32 Tintern Way, opened on 17th November, 1958.

Another 1950s development, the flats in St Matthew's Close opened in 1953, a year after the opening of the adjacent Church Hill Memorial Gardens.


A wonderful photo of Walsall market in the 1950s. From an old postcard, courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

Part of the Sandbank development between Sandbank and Bell Lane in Bloxwich.
 

Multi-storey developments were seen as another answer to the housing shortage, and so two five storey blocks were built in Warewell Close, and four eight storey blocks were built in between Newhall Street and Barleyfield Row in Caldmore.

In 1964 an eight and a half acre site with 280 dwellings in multi storey blocks was completed on the southern side of Leamore Lane, near its junction with Bloxwich Road.

In the 1960s others were built at Caldmore, the Pleck, Butts Street, Teddesley Street, Pinfold in Bloxwich, and the Paddock flats off Union Street.

By 1976 there were over 40,000 council-owned properties of all kinds.


Building the Paddock flats in the late 1960s. Millsum House is on the left, with Croft House on the right. Taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.
In June 1962 an exhibition of metal products called 'Made In Walsall' was held at the Central Library and Art Gallery to celebrate the town's important manufacturing industries.

There were 65 displays covering a wide range of products from bridleware and stirrups, to tableware, locks, typewriters, bathroom fittings, electrical goods, pressings and castings.

1963 saw the opening of the West Midlands College of Education in Gorway Road. It was originally allied to Birmingham University's School of Education as a teachers training college. Several extensions were added in 1968 including a drama studio, a tutorial building, and a study building. A library was added in 1971, followed in 1972 by a dining hall, a medical centre, two student hostels, staff accommodation, a physical education building, and a music centre. In 1989 it became Wolverhampton Polytechnic's Walsall Campus. When the polytechnic acquired university status, it became Wolverhampton University's Sports and Art Campus, and School of Education.
 

The sad looking Market Tavern in High Street in 2013 and 2014.

1966 became a significant year for Walsall as a result of the Local Government Reform Act. On 1st April the Borough was extended to include Darlaston, most of Willenhall, and Kings Hill, previously part of Wednesbury. In 1974 the Borough of Walsall became a Metropolitan Borough including Aldridge and Brownhills, with a total population of over 270,000.

Aldridge, which had been merged with Brownhills in 1966 became an Urban District in 1894. Brownhills District had been established as long ago as 1877, and remained as such until 1894 when it also became an Urban District.


The new Borough Court in Stafford Street.

Following the formation of the Metropolitan Borough, the new Civic Centre in Darwall Street opened in 1976, and four years later the Saddlers Shopping Centre and the new railway station opened.

Also in 1976 the Borough Court moved from the Guildhall to Stafford Street. It had resided in the Guildhall for 300 years.


Looking into Digbeth towards the Overstrand in the mid 1970s. Taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

Looking towards Park Street from Digbeth in the mid 1970s. Taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

High Street in the mid 1970s on a none-market day. Taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.
Sadly Walsall has lost many of its beautiful old buildings, particularly in Digbeth and High Street. The mock-Tudor rebuild of the fifteenth century Woolpack Inn in Digbeth was demolished in August 1966, at the same time as the destruction of most of the old buildings in High Street. Initially the redevelopment included the demolition of the Guildhall and the Green Dragon, now the Black Country Arms. Thankfully the plans were amended, and they still survive as two of the town's loveliest buildings. Part of the redevelopment included the building of the infamous Overstrand which almost divided the street into two halves, and ruined the lovely view up to the Parish Church. Many people were delighted when after twenty years of dereliction, it was demolished in August 2011 to make way for the redevelopment of the area.
A more recent loss was the demolition in 1979 of the fine 1930s Art Deco rebuild of the old George Hotel on The Bridge, a sad loss to the town.

Other losses included the Bridge Street Congregational Church in 1966, and the Wednesbury Road Congregational Church in 1973, both as a result of dwindling congregations.

One church success story was the conversion of St. Paul's Church in the early 1990s into shops, a cafe, meeting rooms, and a chapel.


The Guildhall in High Street.

Another success story was the conversion of Bloxwich Hall in Elmore Green Road into office accommodation by Rhodes Advertising in 1984. The building had been neglected for many years, during which time it was badly vandalised. It had been built in 1830 for Henry Morson, a successful ironmaster, and Grade II Listed in November 1978.


High Street on a busy market day in the 1950s. From an old postcard.

   
View some photos from
the 1960s and 1970s
   


The Bridge with the George Hotel on the right.


Looking down High Street towards the Art Gallery.

 

Two views of the popular market in 2011.

In 1951, Walsall Illuminations became an annual event, attracting large numbers of visitors to the Arboretum to see the spectacular light show. By the late 1960s the cost of the event had reached around £10,000, most of which came from donations. In the mid 1990s over a quarter of a million people came to see the displays made from over sixty thousand bulbs. Unfortunately attendances started to fall, and so in February 2009 Walsall Illuminations temporarily closed for three years due to financial constraints. In March 2011 the event was scrapped and the lights were sold-off. It had been a popular family attraction, which will be sadly missed by many children and grown-ups alike.
   
Read the story of Walsall Arboretum

   


A final view of the market.


St. Matthew's Hall, now a pub.


St. Matthew's Church from the top of High Street.

By the late 1990s St. Paul's bus station, built in 1935, and updated in 1970, was beginning to show its age. In 1998 it was demolished to make way for the modern bus station which still stands today. The bus station, costing £6.5 million, was designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, and built by Shepherd Construction Limited. It opened in September 2000, and is the terminus for over 85 bus routes.

One of the landmark buildings on the western side of the town centre is the new art gallery, designed by Caruso St John. It has  five-storeys and a  floor area of 5,000 square metres. It opened to the public in January 2000, and was officially opened by the Queen on 5th May, 2000. It houses the permanent Garman Ryan Collection of sculptures and paintings by modern masters including a large selection of work by Jacob Epstein and works by Van Gogh, Monet, Turner, Corot, Renoir and Constable. The collection was donated to the people of Walsall in 1973 by Epstein's late wife Kathleen Garman (Lady Epstein) and her friend Sally Ryan.


A quiet Sunday in Bridge Street.

In recent years the town has lost some of its important historical industrial buildings as a result of mindless arson attacks.

In August 2007 the landmark Shannon’s Mill was destroyed in a vast fire, the worst seen in the Black Country for over twenty five years. It was built in 1887 and became well known as John Shannon & Son's clothing factory.

In October 2011 the iconic leather factory of Jabez Cliff & Company, built in 1870 was badly damaged and had to be demolished. On 24th July, 2012 the derelict Ravenscraig Works of the Boak Currying Company Limited, later acquired by James Garnar & Sons Limited of London, was rapidly converted into a pile of rubble by a terrible blaze. Hopefully this trend will not continue.


High Street and the Guildhall.

Luckily Walsall's town centre continues to attract large numbers of people who enjoy the wide variety of shops and amenities. It has faired reasonably well during the recession, and continues to attract new investment. Recent projects include the redevelopment of the Manor Hospital, the new Walsall College, the developments around the Waterfront, and the modernisation of roads leading in and out of the town centre. Hopefully its success will continue, and Walsall town centre will continue to be popular for generations to come.


Looking down High Street towards the market.


   
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