The emergence of Black Gold,Black Death and our early industry.
In the Middle Ages the town was a rural village, with each family farming a strip of land and the heath nearby used for grazing.
It was held by the King until the reign of Henry II, when he exchanged Wednesbury for Stonefield.
In 1164 King Henry II decided his love was elsewhere and exchanged Wednesbury for the Manor of Stonefield. which happened to join onto Woodstock where his fair Rosamund resided.
After the exchange Wednesbury came under the control of d’Oyley’s tenant Ralph Boterel, who became lord of the manor.
Payments made to the Crown were recorded in the Exchequer Records, known as the Pipe Rolls. Wednesbury had a taxable value of £4 a year, whereas Stonefield was only worth £3 a year.
To balance matters an agreement was reached in which Boterel would still owe service as a Knight to the barony and also pay an annual rent of one pound to the crown.
Boterel died in 1181 and the records show that he had never paid his rent.
When William de Heronville took over the manor in 1182 he was charged with 18 years arrears, which he immediately agreed to pay.
William became lord of the manor after marrying Boterel’s daughter and heiress.
In the 14th century, while Wednesbury was still very much a farming community, there was also work to be found in Nail making, the age old ancient industrial history of Wednesbury.
Lots of Little works shops connected to houses, where master & apprentice worked together and lived together.
But there would also have been at least one or two Armourers, blacksmith & harness-smith.
The woods surrounding Wednesbury would have given work to a ‘swine herder’ and a couple of ‘Barkers’.
“A barker was someone who collected oak bark to supply the tan pits around the town. (charcoal burning)”
And every village had at least one weaver.
But as early as the 14th century there were a good splattering of coal-getters.
There was no call for ‘mining’ then, as the black gold lay either on top of the soil or just below, so digging down by no more than a foot would find you coal.
I like F.W. Hackwood’s romantic version of discovering coal:
“As tenants on the land, they had a right to ‘Turbury’ the digging of turf and also there right ‘Estovers’ The collecting of sticks to burn as fuel.
The good folk of Wednesbury would look at coal as a strange black earth that could be dug up and burnt on fires like wood faggots”
There is plenty of evidence in 1392 though, of court cases against people stealing coal from the someones land and later from the coal mines that were soon to arrive.
“By 1457, the surface coal had been exhausted and it would take a bit more than scratching the surface to retrieve it.”
But for now the local people began to mine their own coal and iron, tilled the land and made nails.
But there was death on everyone’s door step: The Black Death
The late 1340s were the start of the ‘Black Death’, or plague as it was known.
It began in summer of 1348 and large numbers of people were dying and continued throughout the winter and became much worse in the early months of 1349, continuing into 1350.
It returned regularly, first in 1361 and again in the 1370s and 1380s.
Large numbers of people died, greatly affecting the working classes, possibly only ten percent of whom survived in Wednesbury.
Peasants were now in short supply and many farming communities disappeared.
So people began to dictate their own terms and freely move from one area to another, changing society forever.
There was also a shift in the way Women were viewed in society as the plague left many widows.
By Tudor times, when local landowner William Paget was one of the most prominent men of the kingdom, pottery, metalwork and textiles were made.
In the 17th century Wednesbury pottery – “Wedgbury ware” – was being sold as far afield as Worcester, while white clay from Monway Field was used to make tobacco pipes.
In the 18th century the town’s main occupations were coal mining and nail making, but with the canals came a big increase in population.
The poor social conditions proved a fertile breeding ground for religious nonconformist, and in 1743 John Wesley first preached in the town.
His views were not always well received – fears that he was trying to undermine society led to riots, and on one occasion he was chased out of the area.
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