Penn Village

The original centre of village life at Upper Penn must have been around Vicarage Road on the top of Church Hill, but as roads improved it moved to the Penn Road, a well-maintained thoroughfare thanks to the efforts of the turnpike trust, set up in 1761. During its life of 116 years, the trust greatly improved the road, and widened it in several places, which increased the traffic, and provided an ideal location for shops and service industries.

One of the first detailed maps of the area, produced by the Ordnance Survey from 1831 to 1838 shows a number of cottages and buildings alongside the road, including the four public houses which still survive today.

Upper Penn grew into a successful farming community, supplying agricultural produce to the nearby expanding industrial towns. By the nineteenth century the principal crops were wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, and peas. There were also cows and pigs. The fields covered around 1,300 acres.

By 1851 there were 716 inhabitants, including farm workers, and people involved in other trades. There were cabinet lock makers, milliners, file cutters, wood turners, blacksmiths, maltsters, and wheelwrights. There were also wealthy businessmen and industrialists who occupied the large houses in the area. The more important local landowners were  the Duke of Sutherland, John W. Sparrow of Penn Hall, Rev. William Dalton of Lloyd House, Robert Thacker of Muchall Hall, and Sidney Cartwright of The Leasowes.

White’s 1851 Staffordshire Directory lists four shopkeepers at Penn; David Deeley, George Fleming, Samuel Harris, and Elizabeth Noake. Some of the shops were probably on the Penn Road. There were three blacksmiths on the Penn Road, all of them very old. The first smithy, possibly the oldest, stood in Woodlands Cottages. It has since been converted to the half timbered building opposite the Fox and Goose. Henry Roden ran the smithy until he moved into larger premises, nearby on Penn Road. Afterwards it was occupied by coal merchant Tom Hinsall. Another smithy stood at the bottom of Church Hill, opposite the Rose and Crown, and a third was opposite Tesco, on a site now occupied by the 1960s shops. It was run by wheelwright and carpenter, Henry Roden, and in later years by his sons.

In 1850 there was a post office at the home of George Roden, and a police inspector by the name of Ralph Wardle. By 1881 he had been replaced by James Wright. Other occupants of Penn village in 1881 included George Bowker, a blacksmith, William Priest, a horse breaker, James Bagley, a carter, William Monckton, a coalman, and Sarah Rowe a laundress. They all provided services to the local population, which by that time had increased to nearly 2,500.

By the early 1900s Penn postmistress was Maud Hughes, and shopkeepers included Alice Dickinson, Moses Hill, William Knowles, Mary Massey, and Thomas Perks. 

The pub licensees were as follows:

The Holly Bush Mary Reynolds
The Rose and Crown  John Henry Minett
The Fox and Goose     Martha Judson
The Roebuck  Ester York

A copy of the conveyance still exists for the sale of the Roebuck, dated 24th December 1909. The pub was sold by Mrs Elizabeth Raybould to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Limited. On 7th April, 1938 the Chief Constable, Edwin Tilley, wrote a letter to the brewery asking if the pub could be rebuilt because it was out of date and very small. Two of the rooms were difficult to supervise, and it was lacking a room for children.

A view of the village in the early 1900s, looking towards Roebuck Terrace and the old Roebuck pub.

From an old postcard.

Plans for the building of the existing Roebuck were submitted in May 1939, and approved the following month, but the project was abandoned because of the onset of war. Plans were resubmitted in February 1950, and building work began in 1955. The new building consisted of a public bar with a lounge on either side and a children’s room at the back. When the pub opened, the original Roebuck, which stood between the new pub and the Penn Road, was demolished. The old pub had a floor area of 484 square feet, whereas the new pub covered 1,441.5 square feet. The pub was altered in 1982 when all of the rooms at the front were converted into one large lounge. The children’s room became an area for washing up and an extension was built for a kitchen.

As time progressed, several of the old cottages and houses were converted into shops. In the mid to late 1950s the ground floor of the building next to the Roebuck, known as Roebuck Terrace, was converted into the shops that are still there today.

Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Limited purchased Roebuck Terrace on 14th November, 1944 for £2,050. At the time it consisted of seven houses. In 1966 the annual rent for the properties amounted to £3,550.

By that time, traffic on the Penn Road had increased to such an extent that the narrow road was over-congested and could not cope with such a large number of vehicles. Shoppers were almost taking their life in their hands when they crossed the road at busy times. The pavement on the east side of the road was extremely narrow and became a dangerous place for pedestrians.

This changed in the early 1960s when the dual carriageway was built. The old shops, smithy, and cottages on the east side were demolished to make way for the new carriageway. The last trolley bus on the Penn route ran on 9th June, 1963, and soon after the overhead wires were removed.

A few years later the modern block of shops was built on the eastern side of the road, and the remaining cottages on the other side were demolished to make way for Woodlands Filling Station, where Tesco now stands. Woodlands Filling Station was initially owned by Jet, and later by M.P.K. Garages Limited.

Views of the village from the Fox & Goose to the Roebuck

The early 1900s

In 1910 the businesses were as follows:
420 Fox and Goose. Licensee - Martha Judson
418 Police House
416 Post Office
412 Grocer's shop
410 Confectionary shop
384 The Roebuck. Licensee - Joseph York

The village in 1955

In 1955 the inhabitants were as follows:
420 Fox and Goose. Licensees - William R. Gibbs and Archie Thom
418 Plumber - A. Tudor
416 Greengrocer's shop - Mrs. A. Bradley
414 ?
412 Chemist - W. H. Careless
410 Stationer, sub post office - Mrs. N. Littler
408 Clifford Massey
406 William Davies
404 Trevor Gregory
402 Henry Beech
400 George Reid
398 Florence Jeavons
396 Ernest Smallman
394 Plumbers shop - Hickman & Sons
392 Newsagent - William P. Skilton
390 Greengrocer - Florence Taylor
388 Arthur Hutt
386 Wilfred Hicks
384 The Roebuck. Licensee - John A. Dainty

The village in 1963

In 1963 the inhabitants were as follows:
420 Fox and Goose
418 Plumber - A. Tudor
416 Greengrocer's shop - Mrs. A. Bradley
414 Hairdresser - W. A. Kean
412 Chemist - W. H. Careless
410 Stationer, sub post office - Mrs. N. Littler
398 Grocer - G. Watkins
396 Beryk - ladies hairdresser
394 Butcher - M. J. Mallin
392 Newsagent - William P. Skilton
390 Greengrocer - Florence Taylor
388 Babette - baby linen
386 Hardware - Wilfred Hicks
384 The Roebuck

A view from 1955 of the east side of the village from Manor Road to the footpath at the side of Penn U.R.C.

In 1955 the inhabitants were as follows:
305 J. C. C. Ferguson - Grocer
307 Farrier - Butcher
309 William A. Kean - Hairdresser
311 Percy H. Breakwell
313 Funeral Directors - A & T Roden
315 A & T Roden
321 William Peplow
323 Edward Woodhall
325 George Corry
A view of a young member of the Roden family with her dog and pram in about 1926. The girl is walking along the path that now runs alongside Penn United Reformed Church.

In the background is the Fox & Goose pub and Woodlands Cottages. To the left of the pub is the Roden family's first house on Penn Road. It was demolished in the 1960s.

Prominent Village Families

The Roden Family

Joseph Roden was married in Birmingham, and later walked to Penn, where he setup his home in Pennover, Vicarage Road. He was a shoe maker, and Penn Parish Clerk. His son Henry was born at Pennover on 2nd January, 1848.

Henry became a blacksmith and initially worked from the old smithy in Woodlands Cottages. He lived in a large house next to the smithy, on the Penn Road, on the opposite side of Woodlands Cottages to the Fox and Goose. He married twice. His first wife Ester had three daughters; Lucy, Kate, and Nellie. His second wife, Jayne, a cook at Muchall Hall, had two sons, Arthur and Tom.

Henry Roden outside his original forge in Woodlands Cottages by the Fox & Goose. He later moved to the Penn Road. The old forge was taken over by Tom Hinsall, a coal merchant.

The building has since been converted into a house.

Within a few years Henry moved to larger premises on the other side of Penn Road, where the shops are today. He lived with his family in the house next to the smithy which he called Penn Forge. His second son Tom was born there in 1892, a few months before Henry died.

It was a difficult time for Jayne, who had to bring-up five children, and run the business. She employed blacksmith Teddy Arthur to work in the forge until her two sons could take over.

The Roden brothers on their horse-drawn hearse.
The Roden brothers' funeral directors business at 313 Penn Road.
Roden's yard, smithy, and house at 315 Penn Road.

Photo courtesy of John Hughes.

A view of Penn Road and Roden's yard.

Photo courtesy of John Hughes.

Arthur Roden became a carpenter, and Tom a blacksmith, after an apprenticeship with a blacksmith at Wombourne. The two brothers traded as A & T Roden, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and undertakers. Tom became a bell ringer at St. Bart’s Church, something he very much enjoyed. He served in the First World War, but on his return found that all the places for bell ringers at St. Bart’s were taken, so he joined the bell ringers at St. Peter’s Church in Wolverhampton.

Tom had two daughters, Dorothy and Joan. Penn Forge was demolished around 1960 to make way for the dual carriageway. Tom died in 1974 at the age of 82.

Tom and Arthur’s cousin Harry Roden lived in a cottage on Church Hill. He was a bee keeper, and a photographer. He took many photos of old Penn.

Members of the Roden family stood in the entrance to the yard.
The junction of Manor Road and Penn Road with the once well-known corner shop.

Photo courtesy of John Hughes.

The shop that stood on the corner of Manor Road and Penn Road was run by J. C. C. Ferguson, a well-known and much liked local character who was known as ‘Fergy’.
Looking into Manor Road from The Roebuck car park, clearly showing Manor Road School.

Photo courtesy of John Hughes.

A flood at the bottom of Manor Road in 1927. In the background is the Penn Road and the old Roebuck.

The low-lying area flooded on many occasions when the watercourses from the surrounding hills overflowed.

The back of the cottages at the bottom of Manor Road, behind J. C. C. Ferguson’s shop.
The Batkin Family

Horace Batkin’s gents hairdressers, 309 Penn Road.

Horace Charles Batkin was a well known local personality thanks to his role as the local gents hairdresser, based at 309 Penn Road. He was born at the Royal Oak pub in Tettenhall Wood, which was run by his grandfather. Horace contracted tuberculosis when young, and so the family were advised to move into the country.

They moved to Penn, which at the time was still a country village. Horace attended St. Bart’s School and later became a hairdresser. He took over an existing barber’s business at 309 Penn Road, which he ran from the front room. The shop was rented from Miss Hill, who owned the property.

His son Frank described the shop as follows:

There was a small room equipped with a sink for washing hair, and of course the barber’s chair. On the wall hung straps etc. which were used to sharpen his razors. A large mirror faced the chair with a double-handed hand mirror by the side.

There were also assorted tapers for singeing the hair on the nape of the neck after cutting. There were also cards with combs for sale, and various bits of equipment such as the hot towel box, and various scissors for trimming, thinning etc.

There was also the obligatory broom for sweeping up the remnants of hair, and a large glass jar containing an antiseptic wash for the combs. There were hooks for clippers, a hair dryer, and scissors, and various attachments for the clippers. On the walls were various adverts and pictures.

In the early 1950s the business was sold to hairdresser William A. Kean. He ran the business until around 1960 when the building was demolished to make way for the dual carriageway. He then moved across the road to number 414.

Horace and his family moved to a new house at Castlecroft, and some time later he opened a barbers shop in Vane Street, Wolverhampton.

Unfortunately, within a few years the shop was demolished to make way for the ring road.

Horace tried other work, but sadly died just before Christmas, 1969, after a short illness.

Horace Charles Batkin in his RAF uniform. Courtesy of his son Frank.

311 Penn Road.


The back of 311 Penn Road.

The Rowe Family

Several generations of the Rowe family lived in the village. In 1842 William Rowe was licensee of the Rose & Crown. By 1881 it was run by sisters Lucy Simmons Rowe, Ann Rowe, and Mary Rowe, presumably William’s children.

Sarah Rowe, her daughter Ann, and son Charles also lived in the village. Sarah was a laundress, Anne a parlour maid, and Charles a tin plate worker.

Other family members in Penn included Martha Rowe, and her sister Anne, both in their 60s when recorded in the 1881 census. Another family member, Stephen Rowe, a civil engineer lived at number 1 Church Villas with his son George, an iron master, and their domestic servant Elizabeth Wooton.

The cottages at 321 to 325 Penn Road opposite the Fox & Goose.

Photo courtesy of John Hughes.

Penn village in the mid to late 1930s.

The trolley bus wires greatly changed the look of the village when they appeared in the early 1930s.

Trolley buses began running to the terminus at the top of Lloyd Hill, via Penn Fields on 10th October 1932.

A photograph taken in the 1950s from the corner of Manor Road and Penn Road.

By this time some of the terraced houses on the right had already been converted into shops.

Within a few years the building would be transformed into the row of shops that are there today.

A view of the shops and houses from the early 1960s.
The village in the early 1960s before the dual carriageway, and the end of the trolleybuses.

It is quite a contrast to the view below taken a few years later.

Penn Village in 1968.

The modern shops on the eastern side of Penn Road were still to be built, and the old cottages across the road were still standing.

Within a few years the village would be transformed into its current form, except that Woodlands Filling Station would occupy the site of today’s Tesco store.

The shops in the early 1970s.
A view from May 1973 with the Fox and Goose on the left.
Penn Post Office in May 1973.
Another view of the post office from May 1973.
A final view of the dual carriageway, from the early 1970s.

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