Poor Law Rates

Years ago now, sometime in the 1960’s, a small book full of figures came to light.
It was the ‘Poor Law Rate Book’ for the year 1835. And it is really interesting.
(Hold on! Don’t go! ….. don’t give up yet, it is not as boring as it sounds …. Honest) This is just a small part of the interesting things I found from such a small book:
As a rate payer, your house or business was recorded, much like it is recorded now.
In 1835, we were pretty much a rural village. Surrounding us were fields, and beyond them a number of small hamlets, Wood Green –  Darlaston –  Cock Heath – Moxley – Hob’s Hole – Sparrow’s Forge and the Delves.
Most of the houses were along Bridge Street, High Street, Trouse Lane and Darlaston Road, with some scattered across the line of Walsall Street, Union Street, High Bullen and Dudley Street.
The rest of the built-up area covered the west side of the hill; Church Street, Church Hill, Hall End, Camp Street, Camp Hill Lane, and Meeting Street.
The east side of the hilI: Pritchard Street, Hollies Drive, etc. had not yet been developed and all this area was still part of Church Field.
Apart from Spring Head and a few more houses in Ridding Lane there was nothing to the south-east of Walsall Street,
There was nothing on Hydes Road and there was no Mesty Croft.
(Some places are still missing though, as there is still no mention of Bedlam, the lunatic asylum that used to be on High Bullen.
(This is just one of the reasons I scour all old publications.. for just one mention of that place.)
Another thing that became evident is: That except for a couple of exceptions, no streets seemed to be classed as ‘better class’ or ‘poorest class’ properties.
(Going by the rate paid)
In every street you would find larger houses, rated at over £5, right next door to hovels rated at less than £1.
The exceptions were Church Hill, where the Rev. Clarkson had just built the new vicarage (rate £15).
In that area, only nine of the forty-eight houses there were rated at less than £2…… Meaning, there were only 9 hovels there.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum was Camp Street, where only three of the forty-five houses were rated at more than £2.
But this little observation then leads to unwritten details about the houses: They were really very closely packed together. To get 45 houses in Camp street?
And look at this;
There were 157 properties in High Street, 152 in Dudley Street, 78 in Trouse Lane and 151 in Darlaston Road!
They could not all have been on the road (as in the word “frontagers ‘) so, many of them must have been in little back courts?
On the other hand there were only 27 houses in Holyhead Road but then that road had only been opened abt 1826.
There were no railways … but the Birmingham Canal Company was rated at £112.
It’s a shame that more detail wasn’t given in the book (compared to the directories) as there are no mention of actual shops.
”There must have been shops! …. Who was the baker?
No mention of public houses. …… No pubs in Wednesbury? …. I don’t believe it!
No mention of butcher shop. …. Where did we get our Sunday joint from?”
I know that all this is common knowledge to us now, because we have the trade directories, but still, if making a careful record of the houses and their rates, why didn’t they do the same with the shops?
But if you read it carefully there are plenty of clues to the shops that ‘were there’.
I know there were pubs because there were nine malt-houses recorded. And that was the days of ‘ home-brew, where each public house brewed its own.
There was a slaughter shop ‘ in High Bullen, so that says there were butcher shops too.
Only one blacksmith’s shop is named though and that was at Moxley.
There were two timber yards, a basin and a ‘stickle.’
What is was a stickle? ….. I don’t know.
Flour was ground daily because Whitmore Jones and Son had a mill down at Wednesbury Bridge. ….
Originally this was water driven, on the site of John Wood’s Forge, but by this date it had been converted to a steam driven mill on the other side of the road.
How do we know that?
Because my dear Watson ….The owner paid his rates and so it was recorded.
It was usual to charge the rate for a business/workshop on the residence of the owner, even if he did not live at the works.
So his house was named as the rate payer of the said property.
James Southwick was still paying rates on the windmill on the top of the hill, though he actually lived in High Street.
John Russell was charged for his forge on Church Hill although he lived at the Turk’s Head where he was Landlord.
It is a shame though, that there were not more details, for example:
There is reference to 14 coal mines, three of them belonging to Sir Horace – St. Paul and five of them the property of of Lloyd Foster and Co., but looking at the book, we would have no idea where they were?
Now here, I’m completely lost: At six of the mines there were whimsevs? used for winding, and these were rated separately. I wonder why?
Steam engines were also liable to separate assessment and rated accordingly …. But there are no clues there for me I’m afraid, Dear Watson.
There were seven furnaces, five at Lloyd Foster and Co. and two belonging to Wm. Kettle at Monway Field.
In addition to James Russell’s tube factory on High Bullen, Elwell’s edge tool factory at Wednesbury Forge, Adams and Richards’ iron works on Bridge Street, there was one foundry and five forges.
A quick look at who did live in Wednesbury in 1835:
There was Edward Elwell living at the Forge.
John Pittaway, a bailiff, who lived in a small house in Trouse Lane.
In the High Street beside James Southwick and John Russell, there was the name of Joseph Thursfield.
(He could be related or maybe the founder of the family of solicitors of that name in Wednesbury?)
John Crowther, member of another family of solicitors, lived in Walsall Road and owned Oakeswell Hall.
Cornelius Whitehouse, the inventor of the drawn tube, lived in a small house in High Bullen, close to the tube works of James Russell.
On Holyhead Road was the home and forge of the Rev. J. Hardy. He was the inventor and patentee of the welded axle which was later developed and exploited by the firm of Patent Shaft.
And just to finish off our interesting read of the ‘Poor Law Rates 1835. (See, I told you it was interesting)
The impression we get from this book is that Wednesbury was experiencing a lot of poverty and trade depression.
Because at Elwell’s works, four of the five hearths in the Chafry were not working at the time, and neither of the two furnaces of William Kettle were working. (Not working? … no rates to pay!)
Of the 1,642 properties named in this register, 45 were standing empty, 315 were in arrears with their rates, and no less than 416, (almost 25%) of the poorer properties were marked off as non-collectable.


These are the sort of books I like reading now, because it is from these records, we learn our history. “And if I have problems reading these old books? Well, there is always Google, because someone has already read them before you.”
There are a few people on our face book page  that actually keep the most amazing things like: their wedding bill, their Aunt’s school exercise book, their old postcards, old account books, ledgers, note book and of course their photographs.
I wished I had kept every single thing from my (as yet) short life.
So don’t throw away ‘ANYTHING’!
In the future, these things may become very important to people.
But, if you don’t want all the clutter? Offer them to the ‘Wednesbury history society’, they will gladly take them off your hands.
I’m off to read an un-published book about iron workings in the Black Country now.
I bet i find loads of stuff about Wednesbury in there!


About the The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act: This actually caused great suffering because although there was help for poor people in the 1800s, changes to the law in 1834 made it much harder for people to find help.

The Poor Law

The Poor Law was the way that the poor were helped in 1815. The law said that each parish had to look after its own poor. If you were unable to work then you were given some money to help you survive. However, the cost of the Poor Law was increasing every year. By 1830 it cost about £7 million and criticism of the law was mounting.

  • The money was raised by taxes on middle and upper class people, causing resentment. They complained that money went to people who were lazy and did not want to work. (That’s new?)
  • Critics also suggested that allowance systems made the situation worse because they encouraged poor people to have children that they could not afford to look after.
  • Another criticism of the old Poor Law was that it kept workers’ wages low because employers knew that wages would be supplemented by money provided by the Poor Law.

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

illustration of men sitting in rows in squalid conditions chopping wood in a workhouse

Men chopping wood in a workhouse

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed by Parliament. This was designed to reduce the cost of looking after the poor as it stopped money going to poor people except in exceptional circumstances. Now if people wanted help they had to go into a workhouse to get it. The poor were given clothes and food in the workhouse in exchange for several hours of manual labour each day. Families were split up inside the workhouse. People had to wear a type of uniform, follow strict rules and were on a bad diet of bread and watery soup. Conditions were made so terrible that only those people who desperately needed help would go there.

  • Landowners, including Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington, supported the Act.
  • James Kay-Shuttleworth (a progressive doctor and Poor Law Commissioner) supported the act because he believed that people were poor because of their own foolishness.
  • In Andover it was reported that people living in the workhouse were starving to death and were trying to eat the bones that they were crushing as part of their work. Because of this and similar reports the read it here poor lawgovernment introduced stricter rules about conditions in the workhouse as well making inspections.
  • People like Richard Oastler (a political campaigner) wrote pamphlets and letters to newspapers describing the Poor Law Amendment Act as cruel and unchristian. Oastler described the workhouses as “prisons for the poor”.
  • The poor became scared of the threat of having to move into a workhouse for help. In north England they rioted and attacked workhouses.
  • Many people thought that the act was wrong as it seemed to punish people who were poor through no fault of their own, for example the sick or the old.
  • Many local officials felt that the old system worked well as it was. The taxes that people had to pay to look after the poor were low and the system was adapted to the local area. Many were also unhappy with what they saw as interference by people from London.
  • Anti-Poor Law committees were set up to fight against the Poor Law Amendment Act. They organised meetings and petitions calling for the act to be repealed.

It was a bad lot, a sorry state to be in and something we should hope will never return, but chances are …..?



Much thanks to Blackcountryman for about 90% of deciphering an almost un-readable scan of this little book. When you hit on anything like this, then Google is your friend. And it was this that helped me come across an index of the Blackcountryman publications and even better? I already had this issue. This article had been written in 1972.
I can’t link you to the actual article because, unless you have purchased the archived material, you can’t read it. But you can own them by going here:   http://www.blackcountrysociety.co.uk/blackcountryman/


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