The Borough Council and its works


The Town Hall and Art Gallery.


Another view of the Town Hall and Art Gallery.

The town became a Municipal Borough in 1886 and duly elected its first Borough Council. The members were as follows:

Aldermen:
Richard Williams - Mayor,  J. H. Walton, Joseph Trow, J. A. Kilvert
Councillors - Market Ward:
Edwin Butler, licensed victualler,  Charles Hinton, butcher
J. G. Thursfield, solicitor
Town Hall Ward:
Jamess Davies, engineer,  Dr. McKenna, G.P.
William Perry, roll turner
King's Hill Ward:
G. P. Butler, gentleman,  Austin Clews, baker
Samuel Sanders, lockmaker
Wood Green Ward:
Isaac Griffirhs, tube manufacturer,  Isaiah Oldbury, coach axle manufacturer
A. E. Pritchard, tube manufacturer

The first officers appointed by the Council were as follows:

Joseph Smith - Town Clerk. Salary £150
E. C. Richardson - Treasurer. Unpaid
E. M. Scott - Borough Surveyor. Salary £200
James Campbell - Rate Collector. Salary £150
Dr. Walter Garman - Medical Officer. Salary £84
W. H. Coney - Inspector of Nuisances and Market Inspector. Salary £100
2 Police Sergeants - Inspectors of Dairies, Cowsheds and Milkshops. Joint salary £10

Four important buildings appeared in the later part of the 19th century. The new police station was built in Holyhead Road to replace the old Russell Street building. The Post Office on Holyhead Road was built by the government and opened in March 1883. The Volunteer Drill Hall opened in Bridge Street in 1893, and the Nurses Institute in Wood Green Road opened in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.


The Conservative Club in its early years.

Another new building that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century was the fire station at the High Bullen. It opened in 1899.

At the time, Wednesbury Fire Brigade was a voluntary organisation. Anyone reporting a fire had to telephone the police station.

Often when a fire was reported, no horse would be available, and so it could be a difficult and lengthy process to get to a fire.


The new fire station.

William Potter, a Wednesbury Coal Jagger.


William Potter at the bottom of Russell Street.

Known by sight to most Wednesbury people was William Potter, of Holloway Bank, who died in February 1907, at the age of seventy nine. He was a "coal jagger," supplying his customers in small quantities straight from the pit mouth.

His horse attached to three small trucks, each with three wheels, and coupled together, was the old man's peculiar method of "drawing." These separate loads doubtless found quicker sales among small consumers. This is the only excuse for such an outrage on the mechanical principles of draught, which forced the horse to overcome the friction of nine wheels instead of about two.    From the 1908 edition of "Ryder's Annual".

 
Mr. Job Poxon and his Tricycle

Mr. Job Poxon, a well known Wednesbury man, though now living in Blackpool, has solved the problem of eternal rain, moved thereto by the experience of last summer, and the way to combat it. He is an ardent cyclist and has constructed an umbrella for his tricycle which enables him to defy the elements.

From the 1913 edition of "Ryder's Annual".

 
Sanitation and Health

One of the council's early considerations was sanitation. The town was not immune from infectious diseases. In 1889 there were 28 cases of diphtheria, 154 cases of scarlet fever, and 42 cases of typhoid. Some of the living conditions in the town were extremely primitive and many houses lacked a drain to connect them to a sewer. Some of the worst slums were condemned and demolished, such as the ones in Beggars Row, which were removed in 1891, and 30 cottages in Elwell's Square at Wood Green, demolished in 1897. Drains were eventually laid and the number of water closets finally outnumbered the antiquated ash privies by 1915.

It also took a long time before the town had an adequate domestic water supply. It took until 1943 for all of the town's houses to have piped water, but even then, some houses still had a shared supply. 10 stand pipes and 78 washhouse taps were shared by 200 houses at the time and in 1955 there were still 178 houses sharing taps.


The clock tower in the market place.

One of the council's success stories took place at the sewage disposal works at Bescot. In 1910 a new method of bacteriological purification had greatly improved the old method of chemical precipitation. As a result visitors came from far afield to view the new and improved process and an expert from Russia declared the works to be "the very best that exist".

From the beginning of the council and the appointment of its first medical officer, there were frequent discussions about the building of an isolation hospital. Nothing happened however, until the outbreak of smallpox in the town during 1898 when 8 cases were reported. As a result an isolation hospital opened the following year in Dangerfield Lane with 28 beds.

Only one disease at a time could be treated and the hospital was only used intermittently. From 1909 to 1913 there were only 16 patients and so it was inevitable that the hospital would eventually close. Arrangements were made to make anyone living in Wednesbury and suffering from an infectious disease other than smallpox, eligible for admission to the West Bromwich Isolation Hospital.

 

In 1929 Wednesbury became a member of the South Staffordshire Joint Smallpox Hospital Board which meant that any smallpox sufferers in Wednesbury were eligible for admission to Moxley Isolation Hospital.

As a result the hospital in Dangerfield Lane closed and the building was temporarily used for housing accommodation.


The Richards Room in the Art Gallery.

Housing

The problem of inadequate housing and also the shortage of housing continued for many years after the formation of the Borough Council. In 1913 the council appointed a sub-committee to look into the alleged shortage of houses and to report their findings to the Sanitary Committee at the earliest possible date. It took 12 months for their investigations to be completed, after which the Sanitary Committee recommended that an application should be made to the Local Government Board for a loan of £5,240 for the building of 24 council houses at Hobs Road, Wood Green. Unfortunately the application was made at an unfortunate time, the start of the First World War. It was rejected but 21 houses were built in 1915 by a private firm.


Another view of the Richards Room.

After the war local councils were offered a subsidy for each council house built, thanks to the terms of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919. At Wednesbury 250 houses were built at Wood Green, and 108 at Manor Farm. But there were still many overcrowded houses in the town, and in 1925 the situation was noted by a government inspector, who was very critical of the poor housing conditions in the town. This resulted in questions being asked in the House of Commons by Alfred Short, the borough's member of parliament, who came to Wednesbury and made a scathing attack on the council. The council took no action to remedy the situation until 1926, and only then because of a tempting government subsidy, and the lack of private sector building.


The Town Hall.

In between 1926 and 1930 a total of 206 council houses were built at Mesty Croft, 144 houses at Churchfields, 32 on the Holyhead Road, 26 in Wellcroft Street, and 16 in Edward Street. By 1931 1,000 council houses were occupied, and in 1933 a slum clearance scheme saw the demolition of old houses in Queen Street, Moxley, Short Street, and Portway Road. The programme was enlarged and by 1935 the number of houses that had already been demolished, or were about to be demolished reached 1,250; one 6th of all the houses in the town.


Another view of the Town Hall, as enlarged in 1913.

In 1944 there was an immediate need for 700 houses and so reclamation work began at Park Lane and Hobs Road, and a plan was put forward to build 1,420 council houses on 6 sites.

At the time the total number of inhabited houses in town had reached 8,409, of which 3,088 were council properties.

The Town Hall. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.
The Public Library, Walsall Road.

Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.


Another view of the library, from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

Post war council housing estates are found at  Park Lane, Old Park Road, Dingley Road, Crew Road, Friar Park, the Golf Course, Millfields, Dangerfield Lane (Lodge Holes), Mesty Croft, Cross Street and Balls Hill. Between the end of the war and December 1958 nearly 2,000 council houses were built, and in April 1959 the 5,000th council house had been completed. Over 2,800 houses and old age pensioner bungalows have been completed since 1945.

Electricity

In November 1889 the council decided to apply for an order for permission to supply the borough's electricity. Nothing was done until 1898 when the newly formed Midland Electric Corporation began its activities. The MEC were formed in June 1897 and became the first company to distribute electricity over a large area of the Midlands from their power station at Ocker Hill.

Wednesbury Council entered into an agreement with the Midland Power Company in which the MPC would provide the electricity which would be distributed by the council throughout the town (except King's Hill where the MPC distributed the power themselves).

Unfortunately the venture proved to be unprofitable for the council and so they decided to apply for an application to generate their own electricity.


The Council's electricity generating station.


Another view of the electricity generating station.


An advert from 1918.

This was vigorously opposed by the MPC and rejected by the Local Government Board.

In 1909 the council got their wish and borrowed £10,000 to build an electricity generating station.

Yet again the venture was not a success and proved to be unprofitable. Local businesses complained about delays and breakdowns in the supply network, and tradesmen were angry because of a steep rise in the council's charges for electricity.

By 1918 the council had lost £6,000 in the venture and so in April of that year it sold the entire system to the MEC for £75,000 to settle its debts.


A once familiar sight, Ocker Hill power station, founded by the MEC.

Brunswick Park


The entrance to the park.

Brunswick Park, Wood Green opened to the public in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

The council purchased 28 acres of land from the Patent Shaft & Axletree Company, on which to build the park, which has been a popular attraction ever since it opened.

The park is built on the site of a former pit mound and has 20 acres of lawns, shrubs, trees and flower beds.


Another view of the park.

Boundary Changes and new local government

On 1st April, 1966 under the terms of the Local Government Reform Act, Wednesbury lost its status as a Municipal Borough and came under the direct control of West Bromwich Borough Council, as did Tipton. At the same time King's Hill became part of Walsall. On 1st April, 1974 Sandwell Metropolitan Borough was formed with the merger of West Bromwich and Warley Borough Councils. The new borough includes six Black Country towns: Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich.

Two of the last acts of Wednesbury Borough Council were the beginning of the town's ring road in the 1960s and the start of a scheme to improve the town centre.


The Market Place in 1914.


   
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