The People of Bantock House
by Peter Hickman
The Early Owners and Tenants
Although it now bears their name the house was home to only two generations of Bantocks. Until about 1840 it was owned by the Petit family, who never lived there. The house's earliest inhabitants are their tenants, shadowy figures, their comings and goings uncertain, their lives scarcely recorded.
In 1788 the house is recorded as being tenanted by John Persehouse, a farmer.
In 1811 the tenant was Thomas Herrick a Barrister at law. He renamed it Merridale House.
In 1832 Rev Thomas Walker, Prebend of Featherstone, was the tenant. He was the son of the Perpetual Curate of St Peter's, then still a Collegiate Church. His wife was the daughter of Richard Fryer, who was a wealthy banker and one of the first Members of Parliament for Wolverhampton when it was enfranchised in 1832.
From 1840 the house becomes a centre of philanthropy and public service, through three remarkable men, whose lives have left a far clearer mark on our records.
At the census of 1841 Merridale House was occupied by James Bradshaw. Born at Gnosall near Stafford in 1790, by 1814 he was running a greengrocer's shop in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton. He diversified and flourished. By 1827 he was "grocer, tallow chandler, miner, baker, corn, hop and cheese factor", working from three premises in Wolverhampton town centre. When Albion Street was laid out in 1828 he built there his Albion Flour Mill and Coal Wharf. By 1845 two of his sons were in business with him.
He is shown on the 1841 census as a farmer of 85 acres. His fields extended beyond the present park on to the other sides of the three boundary roads. At the end of the list of his family and retainers the census then describes him as:- "A partner in the Albion Mill in Horseley Field". In the local trade directory he is listed as a "Miller - Grocer - Baker - Provender factor - Cheese merchant and a Tallow Chandler".
But his energies were not given wholly to his own advancement. He must have been well aware of the squalid state of the town: decaying and jerry built, filled to overflowing by the workshops and dwellings of the poor, unkempt roads, little sanitation, an erratic and often polluted water supply - and a local authority scarcely changed since medieval times and powerless to deal with the problems of a growing industrial town. From 1777 to 1848 the civic matters of Wolverhampton were attended to by a self appointed group of Commissioners. This was not a wholly successful arrangement for a town facing all the problems of industrialisation. The Commissioners were unable to pass byelaws or to raise public money. In a rapidly growing town this 'voluntary' system was unsatisfactory.
Therefore in 1848 Bradshaw was one of the 'requisitioners' who obtained a Act of Parliament to incorporate Wolverhampton as a municipal borough, with a Mayor and Corporation having power to raise local taxes and rates. When their efforts came to fruition in 1848, and the town became a corporate borough, he was one of the group who acted to get matters moving, to arrange council elections, for instance. When the first true borough council met on the 22nd May 1848, he was there to represent St. James' Ward. Later he represented St Peter's Ward. Although by the standards of his time he was an old man, he then went on to become Alderman (for St. Peter's ward) by 1851. He was also Chairman of the Cattle Market Committee (when the cattle market was both an important feature of the town and a nuisance) and a Guardian of the Wolverhampton Union (that is the workhouse).
By the 1861 census, in which he described himself as a farmer of 85 acres, he had retired. Living with him in the house were his wife Sarah, three unmarried daughters, his widowed son James, four grandchildren and four live-in servants. He died in 1869, one of the founding fathers of modern Wolverhampton.