Isn’t it funny where a good read of an old newspaper can get you?
The date is Monday, January 23rd, 1933 and the headlines cry, “It’s just not cricket!”
The main evening story in the Express and Star newspaper concerns the protests of not just cricket, but the entire Australian nation. Such is the furore over the “Bodyline” controversy following England’s victory in the third Ashes test in Adelaide, a diplomatic crisis is in full swing. The paper queries whether the MCC should bring its players home if the Australian board decide to cancel the remainder of the series.
Ultimately, of course, the series Is completed, with Harold Larwood taking an impressive 33 wickets to lead England to a 4-1 series victory. A few rule changes restore diplomatic order in due course.
On the features page is an interesting article by J.R. Gledhill, titled “Round the Boblake”. The name takes us back to the times of revolution, to the old Parliamentary Act of 1777 and the following paragraph;
“and from the upper end of a certain street or lane there, called the Hollow Lane, to the house at the end of the same, and from thence along a certain other street called Boblake, to the utmost extent of the Township of Wolverhampton toward Penn, and from the other end of Barn Street….”
Hollow Lane (Bell Street)
In 1777, Wolverhampton is a very different place, one where the recently built St John’s Church is a daily object of wonder. The church is easily visible across the many gardens, closes and Brickkilns in the district and is easily visible in the form of taxation. Wolverhampton is still concentrated in a relatively small area, with houses huddled within five minutes’ walking distance of Queen’s Square, known in 1777 as High Green.
The main way out of the town for traffic to Shrewsbury or Worcester is first through a road now occupied by the rather nondescript Bell Street (used primarily to access the Mander Centre car park), but which was formerly known as Bellcroft Street or Hollow Lane.
The road was narrow and formed a natural drainage channel for the surface water from Windmill Hill and Snow Hill, both on the Dudley Road. These waters formed the Hollow Brook, one of the many streams and waterways now only remembered in name. The houses were half-timbered; many were thatched, with some having great projecting hulks and overhanging eaves. The roadway was a general receptacle for all household rubbish and garbage, containing refuse from the slaughterhouses and sweepings from the innumerable small workshops. Water was obtained from nearby wells contaminated with this same concoction, meaning disease was rife. Disease led to people having large families with many children, as records show that for the 24 houses in Hollow Lane the number of inhabitants was 160. It was a necessary, but grim insurance policy.
Whilst children were numerous on the streets of Hollow Lane, dogs were even more numerous. Their prevalence led to the following entry in one of the promoted bills, “And be it further enacted if any person or Persons shall for the future permit or suffer, either by night or day, any of his or her dog or dogs, commonly called mastiffs or bulldogs – unless properly muzzled – to be …..”
As we leave Hollow Lane and follow the coaches into the dimly-lit Cock Street (Victoria Street), we see the ancient old inn “The Old Barrell”, a distinctive landmark in modern-day Wolverhampton.
We turn onto Boblake, which was very near to the town brook. It is a strong possibility that this open stream of running water, which came from Snow hill, and crossed the road here at Boblake, saved the “Old Barrel” from the disastrous fire that destroyed 104 houses and businesses around Salop or Barn Street, in the Spring of 1590.
Boblake (Victoria Street)
Boblake ran to the junction of Worcester Street and Barn Street, unbroken by a Cleveland Street that was still to be built.
The street was a place where the rougher element of society congregated, described by learned divine, John Wesley, as “the furious men of Wolverhampton,” and at a later date as “the stupid men of Wolverhampton”. The place was home to a number of course sports; cockfighting was held at the rear of the inns and alehouses and was considered quite an aristocratic pastime and privilege. Soon, the labourers demanded something more exciting, coarser, and more brutal. Bull-baiting and bear-baiting satisfied the demand.
These sports led to unseemly quarrels and caused a tremendous disturbance with the men of Tettenhall and Wednesfield. The local fathers decided that such brutalising proceedings should cease and decreed that “Be it further enacted “That if any person shall bait or cause to be baited any Bull or Bear-or any wild beast….that the offender or offenders shall be taken to the Crib or prison and be liable to a fine of £5.”
This may not seem much; but when a fair day’s pay was a shilling, then the greatness of the fine becomes obvious!
The shops in Boblake were small, but numerous. The shopkeeper was called a “stock-in-trade” and behind each shop was often a little workshop. Many of the old trades seem strange to us these days; anvil makers, till locksmiths, pipe makers, chandlers and so on.
Tallow candle manufacturers were plentiful, as in a world before electricity, every house, church or chapel had to be lit with candles.
St John’s Church, for example, bought candles by the dozens of pounds. This expensive mode of lighting the church led to a bid to save money, and service was not held in the evening. When it was proposed to hold service at night, the churchwardens solemnly resolved that they would not pay for any expenses incurred.
Barn Street (Salop Street)
There is no specific number given for the number of people in Barn Street, instead, we are given a combined 888 inhabitants for 180 dwellings for both Boblake and Barn Street. The serenity of the inhabitants of Barn Street was often disturbed by the folding of large quantities of sheep and the rumbling over the cobble-stones of the Holyhead Coaches and mail vans.
A fair sample of the dwellings which would have been standing in what is now Salop Street have been pulled down in recent times, but they would have been small and incommodious; a further quarter of the floor space taken up with a huge fireplace and chimneypiece. Despite the crowded conditions, coal was plentiful and cheap, the prevailing price being, 5s. 3d a tonne and thus people kept their fires going night and day.
Money from the church was taken in ways. In the minute book of St John’s Church, 1775, one of the entries is: for and towards the repairs and other uses of the said chapel in the several sums to their respective names mentioned.
“We do hereby rate and tax all and every inhabitant of the said township …..for and towards the repairs and other uses of the said chapel in the several sums to their respective names mentioned.”
The highest rate levied in the Boblake and Barn Street was 9d and the lowest a farthing.
Another example is, ““Thos Lloyd for houses and shops three half-pence “Thos Lloyd for building backwards one half-pence”
Whether these levies were used by the Church authorities to pay towards the expenses of the township is not clear, but the following extract seems to support the contention that they could:
“That in future the sum of £15 for keeping in repair the Towns pumps be discontinued. Also that six pounds to the constable for keeping order on the Sunday be disallowed in future. Also that the sum paid to the beadle be disallowed”.
The minute just quoted is of special interest as cholera epidemics were frequent, yet the necessity of a pure water supply was a secondary condition.
Since the time indicated, many and various have been the changes, not only in buildings but in the social conditions of the people. Some of these changes make one grateful that most of the attempts to humanise inhuman surroundings have won the commendations and gratitude of all, and have done much to kill that hoary old myth of “ The good old days”