The Memorial Clock
One of Willenhall’s most famous landmarks is
the memorial clock in Market Place. It is dedicated to the memory of
Doctor Joseph Tonks M.R.C.S.E. L.A.H., a native of the town, born in
Spring Bank on 5th May, 1855.
His father, Silas Tonks was a master
padlock smith, and landlord of the Forge Tavern, Spring Bank.
After studying medicine at Queen’s College
Birmingham, he returned to Willenhall and started his practice in
He soon took over the practice of the late
Doctor Pitt at 3 Walsall Street, and did what he could to improve
the lives of the poorer members of society, for which he became
known as ‘the poor man’s doctor’.
The memorial clock.
The plaque on the memorial clock.
|His short life ended on 2nd April, 1891, a
before his 36th birthday, as a result of injuries received in a
balloon accident in August 1888. The flight took place in the
grounds of the Central Schools in Stafford Street, during the
Willenhall Horticultural Society’s annual show. Gusts of wind caused
the pilot to loose control of the balloon, which hit some nearby
chimneys. Although Joseph Tonks' injuries were not seen as life threatening,
he never fully recovered, and his health gradually deteriorated. The
doctor was buried in Wood Street Cemetery on the 7th May, 1891. The
clock, with its drinking fountain, and water trough was built thanks
to generous donations given by the friendly societies, and a large
number of local people. It was unveiled on 10th May, 1892.
grave in Wood Street Cemetery.
The Midland Bank and
From an old postcard.
|By the late 19th century, Willenhall’s
graveyards were rapidly running out of space, and a new cemetery
became a necessity.
It was decided to build a cemetery on farm land
in Wolverhampton Road West, Bentley, acquired from the Earl of
Lichfield in 1894.
The new cemetery was designed by the town
surveyor, Mr. B. Baker, who planned the site to include a mortuary
chapel, and a sexton’s lodge.
Work started on the site in July 1896, and was
carried out by Mr. Owens of Wolverhampton. During the following
year the site had been prepared, and drainage work undertaken. The
chapel, lodge, and walls were constructed by Mr. Thomas Tildesley,
who began working at the site in July, 1897.
The new cemetery was officially opened by
Thomas Nicholls J. P., Chairman of Willenhall Urban District Council,
on the 16th July, 1900, in front of a crowd of around 2,000
spectators. The final cost of the project was £7,725.12s.0d.
Somewhat more than had been previously expected.
From an old postcard.
From an old postcard.
The Boer War
Many Willenhall men joined the army, and fought
in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. Twenty three
of them lost their lives. They joined the following regiments: the
South Staffordshire Regiment, the Shropshire Light Infantry, the
Worcestershire Regiment, the Imperial Yeomanry, the North
Staffordshire Regiment, and the East Kent Regiment. They are
recorded on two plaques at the back of Willenhall War Memorial.
Spring Bank Stadium
The stadium, which was built on the north side
of Temple Road, opened on Monday 4th September, 1905 with a match
between Birmingham (now Birmingham City) and the Willenhall Swifts.
It was watched by a large crowd who saw Birmingham win by 3 goals to
1. The ground became the headquarters of the Swifts and continued to
be so until the First World War. The last match before the war
intervened, took place on the 30th October, 1915 between the Swifts
and their local rivals, the Willenhall Pickwicks. After the war the
two teams amalgamated to form Willenhall Football Club, with Spring
Bank Stadium as their headquarters. The new club played its first
game on the 26th April, 1919 at Walsall, with a return match at
Spring Bank the following week. The team played in the Birmingham
and District League and won the league championship in 1922.
By 1930 the number of spectators had
drastically fallen, and the club found itself in financial trouble.
The club went into voluntary liquidation, and Spring Bank Stadium
was sold and converted into a greyhound track. Greyhound racing
continued on the site until 1980 when the owners, Ladbrokes decided
to close the stadium because of falling attendances. It was sold to
Barratts, who demolished the stadium and built around 100 houses on
the site. It is commemorated in the names of a couple of the streets
that were built on the site; Stadium Close, and Circuit Close.
Willenhall’s present football team, Willenhall
Town was formed in 1953 and plays at its site in Noose Lane.
The First World War
When war was declared on 4th August, 1914 large
numbers of Willenhall men joined the local regiments and soon found
themselves fighting abroad, in France, Belgium, and as far afield as
Many of them lost their lives during the fearsome
fighting in the trenches at the Somme, and at Ypres, Paschendaele,
and the Gallipoli Campaign.
They are remembered thanks to the war memorials
at Portobello and Willenhall. 312 names are recorded on the
Portobello war memorial, and 445 names are recorded on the
The people of Willenhall are well known for
their generosity. During the war they collected £204,309 for the war
As the war progressed, local manufacturers received
orders for war work from the Ministry of Munitions, and produced
many items including gun parts, shells, hand grenades, and horse
Portobello war memorial. From an old
Willenhall's first cinema, the Coliseum, opened
in 1914 in the old Hincks family’s malthouse on the corner of
Bilston Street and New Road. This was soon followed by the opening
of a second cinema, the Picture House, which opened in Stafford
Street on the 19th April, 1915. The Picture House was a
purpose-built cinema with first class facilities, whereas the
Coliseum was housed in a not very suitable building, with inferior
facilities. The Picture House was the more successful of
the two, particularly when ‘the talkies’ arrived.
From an old postcard.
When Mrs Price, the last member of the Hincks
family, died, her estate, including the Coliseum was put up for
sale. It was purchased by John Tyler, a local councillor, builder,
plumber, and decorator, who with his daughter Norah, decided to
replace the cinema with a modern state of the art design. The
building became the Dale Cinema, seating 1,150 people, including 250
on the balcony. It opened on the 31st October, 1932 with a showing
of ‘Viennese Nights’, in Technicolor, with high quality Western
Electric sound. Norah Tyler continued to run the cinema until her
death in 1945 when it was acquired by J. L. and A. H. Brain who ran
a cinema at Aldridge.
With the increased popularity of television,
cinema audiences started to dwindle, and Willenhall, like many other
towns eventually lost its cinemas. The Picture House closed on the
2nd May, 1959 and was demolished in 1961. The Dale continued in
operation until the 30th December, 1967, then reopened as a bingo
hall on the 16th February, 1968. In the late 1990s it was converted
into a public house, and is now appropriately named ‘The Malthouse’,
a J. D. Wetherspoon’s pub, which opened on the 21st December, 1999.
|View the Willenhall entry
in the Midland Counties of England Trades Directory of
The Willenhall War Memorial.
|Willenhall’s War Memorial on the corner of
Stafford Street and Field Street was officially opened on the 30th
September, 1920 by Lord Dartmouth.
The memorials were dedicated by
the Reverend H. P. Hyatt on the 4th June, 1922.
There are two plaques commemorating those who died in
the First World War, and a large and small plaque
commemorating those who died in the Second World War.
Two other plaques set in the boundary wall
commemorate those who died in the Boer War. In between
them is a small plaque stating that the tablets were
moved to the war memorial in 1964 having been removed
from the gate piers at Wood Street Cemetery.
One of two plaques dedicated to those who
died in action in World War One.
The memorial for those who died in World War
The local population steadily increased during
the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, so that
new houses were badly needed to reduce overcrowding, and to improve
living standards amongst the poorer members of society. The
council’s Housing and Town Planning Committee held its first meeting
in November 1918 and considered the possibility of buying land for
The 1919 Housing Act gave local
authorities the responsibility to provide suitable
housing for the expanding working class population.
|In August 1919 the council purchased land in
Temple Road for the building of 74 council houses, which were to be
the first council houses in the town.
Over the next few decades, thousands of council
houses were built throughout the town, and much of the open land
The houses were built in many areas including Spring
Bank, Wolverhampton Road, the southern side of the Memorial Park,
and the area to the east of Rose Hill.
From an old postcard.
Willenhall Football Club. Date unknown.
Courtesy of Tony Highfield.
In 1931 Willenhall lost its passenger train
services at Stafford Street railway station when the LMS withdrew
passenger services on the old Midland line. The railway remained
open for goods until the 1st November, 1965.
World War 2
Although fewer lives were lost during the
Second World War, its impact was just as great as the previous
conflict. In September 1940 the council launched an appeal called
‘The Willenhall Fighter Aircraft Fund’. It raised £6,750 to pay for
a Spitfire aircraft which was presented to the government on behalf
of the local people, and named ‘Willenhall’. A few weeks later
Willenhall directly experienced the might of the German Luftwaffe
during the town’s first air raid. On the 20th November, houses were
destroyed in Ward Street, Ann Street, and Springvale Street, and St.
Anne’s Church was slightly damaged. 12 people were killed, and many
were injured, or left homeless. The homeless were initially cared
for by the Salvation Army at the Citadel in Moat Street.
Those killed were: Clara Bird, Ronald K. Bird,
Thomas Bird, Joyce Fox, Frederick Jones, Lily Jones, Mary Jones,
William Moreton Jones, Joseph Lockley, Geoffrey Morris, George
Morris, and Owen Morris.
An advert from 1926.
There was a second air raid on 31st July, 1942,
this time on the Wolverhampton to Walsall Road. It seems that German
aircraft were following the railway line, and dropped bombs en
route. Four people were killed, and several houses and part of a
factory were destroyed.
Those killed were Beatrice Farrington in
Peel Street, Ada Maria Handy in New Road, Joseph Richard Dudgon in
Wolverhampton Road, and Charles Henry Banks, also in
Wolverhampton Road. The civilian dead from the air raids were buried in a special
part of Bentley Cemetery.
During both air raids the enemy aircraft were
fired on by the anti-aircraft guns that were set up on an area of
land between Ashmore Lake and Broad Lane South, known as the Five
Fields. There were several large guns, searchlights, and radar which
were manned by members of the Anti Aircraft Regiment. The site was
totally unsuitable, being heavily waterlogged in the winter months,
and so the battery only stayed for part of the war.
During the air raids, help was provided by the
100 or so volunteers in the Willenhall section of the Women’s
Voluntary Service, and the town’s Civil Defence Services. The
Willenhall Fire Service also helped out in the aftermath of air
raids at Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool, London, Manchester, and
|Willenhall war memorial contains a plaque
listing 93 names of members of the armed forces who were killed by
enemy action during the war. Although the number is far less than in
World War One, it still had a huge impact on the town.
The Post War Years
After the war, Willenhall continued as a busy,
successful industrial town, much like its neighbours.
1965 the town lost Bilston Street railway station when the line was
closed to passenger traffic.
An even more important event happened
the following year as a result of the Local Government Reform Act.
Despite much local opposition, Willenhall lost its status as an
urban district, and like neighbouring Darlaston, and Bentley, came
under the direct control of Walsall Metropolitan Borough.
The Market Place.
|By the late 1970s, Willenhall, and the other
Black Country towns were beginning to feel the effects of industrial
decline. Job losses were reported almost daily in the media, and
many once successful businesses closed. The factories started to
disappear, and many of the larger factories such as John Harpers,
Josiah Parkes, and even Yale’s Wood Street factory, have now gone,
something that was unimaginable only a few decades ago. Lock
manufacturing in Willenhall has almost disappeared, only a
handful of skilled lockmakers now remain in business.
Luckily the industry is still remembered in the
form of the Locksmith’s House, in New Road. It opened in April 1987
as The Lock Museum, and has displays featuring locally made locks,
one of the few remaining lock workshops, and an early 20th century
lock maker’s home. The museum suffered from insufficient funding and
closed in 2002, but luckily the Black Country Living Museum took the
site over, and after a lot of investment, reopened it in 2003 as The
Locksmith’s House. It is the country’s only dedicated lock museum.
Tom Millington and David Plant demonstrating
at The Lock Museum.
An evening view of the memorial
clock in the Market Place. Taken by Richard Ashmore in
the mid 1970s.
Another view of the memorial
clock, taken by Richard Ashmore in the mid 1970s.
The old Post Office in
Wolverhampton Street, now a chemist. Taken by Richard
Ashmore in the mid 1970s.
Sorting the Christmas mail at the
post office. Richard Ashmore who took the previous three
photographs is on the far right looking down.
||A Willenhall messenger boy,
from an old postcard.
Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.
A view of St. Giles' Church from
Walsall Street, taken by Richard Ashmore in the mid
The largest development in the town centre took
place in 2009 with the demolition of Yale’s Wood Street factory, and
the building of the new Morrisons store, which opened in January
Although many changes have taken place over the
last few years, Willenhall is still regarded as one of the most
intact towns in the Black Country, still retaining much of its
original atmosphere. Many little workshops and factories remain
around the town, giving a flavour of the once successful
manufacturing centre. Many of the lovely Georgian and Victorian
buildings still survive, and the vibrant Market Place has kept much
of its character.
Stafford Street in the 1970s. From
an old postcard.
Some of the lovely old buildings that are to
be found in the Market Place.
|Much of the town centre is now designated as a
conservation area, and so its character and charm will survive. Many
Willenhall people are fiercely independent, and although the
town is now part of Walsall, it still retains its own identity, and
hopefully will continue to do so, and continue to prosper, for years
The Town Crier, Cyril
Richardson, in 2010. The 81 year old began his career as
a town crier in the early 1990s, and has been doing it
in Walsall since the mid 1990s.
|On a sad note,
part of the old Legge factory shown above,
was severely damaged at the end of February
2011 after a mindless arson attack.
The Market Place at night. November 2013.
||Another night time view of the
|The market in April 2014.
Another view of Willenhall market in April
Willenhall's well known memorial clock