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WEDNESBURY HALL, the old Manor House, stood on the northern declivity of the hill, close to the Church. It was latterly known as Mason's Hall, because some forty years ago a farmer of that name lived there ; and the neighbourhood in those days a truly pleasant one. In the road below the Hall was a pond to which the people of that end of the town drove their horses and cattle to water ; and close at hand, in a grassy recess, was a public well, which in the summer time was half-hidden by the tall hawthorn hedges which enclosed it on three of its sides. On the other side of the lane, the Old Park stretched away towards Darlaston, and Falling's Heath, and although the iron and coal industries have long since destroyed its sylvan beauties, yet within living memory it was a pleasant place enough, where wild strawberries might be gathered, and where the underwood still lingered in profusion ; till very recently, indeed, wild thyme and wood-sage might be gathered there. The Hall was a plain, compact, and rectangular red-brick building in the Tudor style ; the porch, which looked towards the west, had a stone seat on each side, while the capacious fire-place and yawning chimney of the kitchen were remarkable features of the house. It is now the property of Mr. J. E. Sheldon, who has been compelled to take down nearly the whole of its tottering walls ; but the stone foundations exposed to view, and the standing fragment of masonry two feet four inches in thickness, sufficiently indicate its original strength.
WILLINGSWORTH HALL, which has now entirely disappeared, was in Sedgley parish, and only about half-a-mile to the west of Wednesbury church. The mines, furnaces, and other works have obliterated nearly all traces of this ancient residence, with which an old tale used to associate some mysterious subterranean passages. Shaw states that here "Lord Dudley's father was born, his mother being a Parkes." The lady thus referred to was Anne Parkes who, in 1672, was married to William, second son of Baron Ward of Birmingham. She was a granddaughter of the Richard Parkes, Esq., of Willingsworth (otherwise Parkshouse), who in 1607 purchased the Manor of Sedgley from the Earl of Arundel. Richard Parkes himself did not appear to have lived in the Hall, for on July 15th, 1604, he let it on a lease to Humphrey Bradley.
Thomas Parkes, the son of this Richard, was an ardent supporter of the Parliament during the Great Rebellion, and raised a troop of horse at his own cost. It is not surprising to learn that, as a consequence, the Royalists took possession of WILLINGSWORTH HALL, and during their occupation they destroyed the owner's deeds and papers. The Royalist gentlemen evidently knew but too well how to show their spleen ; for having lost his deeds, Thomas Parkes was under the necessity of instituting Chancery suits against his tenants, apparently with the object of ascertaining the exact terms of their tenancy.
In 1678 it would appear that the Hall was again void. When the assessment was made for the Hearth-tax * (* When Hearth-money was collected in 1660 the Constablewick of "Wednesbury and Delves" paid the sum of £22 10s. 0d. on 225 hearths. This would show a population of about 1,125 ; at the beginning of the present century the population of Wednesbury was only 4,000. In the same year (1660) the Borough of Walsall had 375 hearths.) in this year, WILLINGSWORTH HALL was assessed on 24 hearths, which would make it one of the largest houses in the County of Stafford. Only Wrottesley and a few others were assessed so largely as this.
The Parkes family once possessed part of the Wednesbury tithes ; their benefactions to the parish were numerous, and their monumental tombs may still be found in the Old Church. In the Hall's latter days they seem to have attended Wednesbury Old Church regularly. At the beginning of the last century there was a straight carriage drive from the Hall to the Church, in the line of Wellcroft Street, and a set of steps from a churchyard gate led up to the north entrance. This road was sheltered by a splendid avenue of trees, and was yet so straight that tradition says the servants at the Hall could see when the Squire and his party left the church gates after Divine service on Sunday, and accordingly be prepared to serve dinner.
Half a mile further out of Wednesbury, and in Tipton parish, is TOLL END HALL, the residence of Mr. James Solly, J.P. This mansion is somewhat deceptive in appearance. Its battlements and castellated style lend to it an antiquated air, but as a matter of fact it was erected only some sixty years ago. At first it was intended for the residence of a manager of the adjoining ironworks, and as some iron casements for a church where being cast at the same time that the house was being built, the patterns were further utilised and ecclesiastical lancet windows were put in the house. Then followed a laudable attempt to preserve the unities, both with the exterior and also with the interior. The drawing room and the dining room are lofty apartments with fittings carried out in the ecclesiastical style to the minutest detail. The flat ceiling of the former has some oak moulding, framed and braced with a carved foliated boss at the intersection, in feeble imitation of an oak altar screen in skeleton. The doors are carved in narrow panels with cusps at the head of each, while a hoodmould runs round each door frame, and the whole apartment has the appearance of a vestry interior. Mr. Solly has enlarged and improved the place very much.
Close at hand, on the opposite side of the road, and facing the parish pinfold, stands the wreck of TIBBINGTON HALL.
OAKESWELL HALL, now known as the Rookery, is at the present time the residence of Mr. Joseph Smith, Clerk to the Local Board, and the highest executive official of the town. Under the care of this gentleman the old fabric has been carefully restored, and means have been taken to preserve this ancient and unique mansion with all its pristine characteristics of mullioned windows and lantern roof. A view of this residence will be found in Shaw's "Staffordshire" (1798). It is also described in a later authority, "Illustrations of Old Staffordhire Houses" (1882). A restoration recently effected by the present owner brings to mind very vividly the picture in "Shaw", who describes the "high walls and lofty trees" with which it was then surrounded ; the trees have long since gone, but the walls still remain, and in another article allusion is made to a moat which encompassed the place at one period. At the present time there exists under that end of the wall which is nearer to the Market Place, an old well which runs from the grounds in an oblique direction, under the Walsall Road, towards the opposite footpath, where some twenty or thirty years ago there was a public well close to the entrance gates of "The Hollies." This may have been Oake's well. Oakeswell Hall was the seat of the Hopkins family. In the chancel of Wednesbury Church is a lozenge shield, and the inscription underneath is
"November 23, 1672. M.H."
Sir Simon Degge says this shield is that of Mary Hopkins, a daughter of William Hopkins, who resided at the Hall. It has been suggested that such an unique architectural treasure should be acquired for the town, when a fitting opportunity presents itself. Its central position would be admirably adapted to the purposes of a Museum. The adjoining piece of land, stretching away towards Ridding Lane, would be a great boon if it also could be secured with it for the public use.
On the opposite side of Walsall Street are the gates of "THE HOLLIES," which is situated on the crest of the hill, and is approached by a long and toilsome drive. This house was first built nearly sixty years ago by Mr. Whitmore Jones, who worked Wednesbury Watermill at that time. It was subsequently enlarged, and the interior beautified, by Mr. Thomas Henry Russell, who put in the Scaglioni marble columns of the dining room, which are such a notable feature of the house. Among the occupants of this house have been Mr. Addenbrooke, Mr. Thomas Walker, and Mr. Samuel Lloyd ; the present tenant is Mr. W. C. Garman.
WEST BROMWICH HALL is about one mile to the north of West Bromwich Old Church, and close upon the borders of Wednesbury. It was at one time the old Manor House, and according to Shaw once stood in a well-wooded situation. It is a low irregular pile, with many outbuildings clustering round it. The garden, which is surrounded by high walls, has not only been a remarkable one of its kind, but its history would seem to indicate that great meteorological and climatic changes have taken place in this locality within the last century and a half. Sir Samuel Clarke, who lived there in 1720, had supplied to this garden, by an Essex nurseryman, such fruit trees as are now unheard of in an open-air garden of this neighbourhood. Surely the smoke, sulphur, and deleterious gases of our modern factories and chemical works are not responsible for all this change. It is not, perhaps, surprising to find that the gardener's list (which is still very carefully preserved) included "paremaines," "ffrench peppins," "damozeens," and "bergamotts," nor perhaps "muscadine grapes," ; but it is astonishing to find enumerated a quantity of necatrines, peaches, and figs. The correspondence relating to the planting of this extraordinary garden is copious and explicit, detailing the aspects in which each variety was to be planted ; and the catalogue ends, so late as 1750, with reference to an "Indian Figg" and a "Portugal Cherry" ! The old Hall has been for many years partitioned out into small tenements.
CHARLEMONT HALL, near Stone Cross, was built by the Lowe family, at the end of the 17th century, and it is supposed that owing to alteration in the direction of the adjoining roads, that what is now regarded as the front of the building was once the back. At present it is the residence of Mr. J. H. Thursfield, Magistrates' Clerk for Wednesbury.
BESCOT HALL, the residence of Mr. James Slater, Chairman of the Wednesbury School Board, is honoured with two splendid engravings in Shaw's History. The one gives the front view ; and the other the back, showing the "Ancient maot and the bridge" over it. The present Hall, with its large underground kitchens is not the original structure ; the first Hall, in fact, stood upon another site altogether, on what is now called the Moat Garden, a space of ground enclosed by a large moat over which is the aforesaid bridge, built by the Slaney family. The iron gates too, which bear the Slaney arms, now verge on the public road, but were once nearer the house. Bescot Manor has a long and eventful history. The original possessors were the Hillarys, from whom it passed to the Mountfords, who held it from the beginning of the 15th century to the close of the 17th, soon after which the Slaneys came into possession. In 1787 Mr, Richard Wilkes bought the manor and estate for £3,200 and sold it shortly afterwards to Mr. Richard Aston for $4,000, who also bought the tithe sfor £150. Just before Mr. Slater bought the estate, it was occupied by Mr. Richard Bagnall.
Other interesting particulars relate to the two large pools near the Hall and Farm, one of which was once stocked with eels. Dr. Plot also speaks of "a sort of mud" at Bescot, which shone like fire when stirred up. He relates how Captain Lane and a friend had the misfortune to fall into Bescot ditch one night, and how this peculiar mud "fouled their gloves, bridles, and horses." They then observed that on all these things there was a faint flame, like that of burnt brandy, which continued on them for some miles" of their ride. If this matter has any foundation on fact, there seem but two theories to propound in explanation of it. This remarkable mud of Bescot might have been shale impregnated with petroleum from the adjacent coal measures, in which case it must first have been ignited to give forth a flame. But more probably the vegetable sediment at the bottom of the ditch was permeated with a kind of phosphorescent fungi which would produce the effect described by the learned doctor.
While staying at Bescot Hall in 1586, Queen Elizabeth signed and sealed a certain deed on July 13th of that year, granting certain lands in Walsall to the Corporation of that town.
MYVOD HOUSE at Woodgreen, is the residence of Wilson Lloyd, Esq., J.P. The house is named after Meiford in Wales, where the Lloyd family resided in the seventeenth century. "Myvod," which means "Summerhouse," is the ancient mode of spelling the name : "My" is an abbreviated form of "mai," summer ; and "vod" or "fod" is Welsh for house. The materials of this house were brought from the Mounts where before the mining operations cut up that place, they were part and parcel of the residence of Mr. Munns, manager of the Crown Tube Works. After Dr. William Lloyd left the new house Mr. Wilson Lloyd enlarged and beautified it to a marvellous extent. Every detail of the place is conceived in an artistic spirit, and within its walls have been garnered a costly and tasteful collection of rare bric-a-brac and valuable art treasures. In the fittings the antique prevails. The Hall has oak-polished floors, the doors are polished mahogamy, and the fire-places are either in the Jacobean or Queen Anne style. The owner has indulged in a taste for mottoes, which are placed over doorways as appropriate mentorial warnings, and this pardonable whim of a dilettante has extended even to the gateways of the handsome gardens, which are laid out in terraces after the Old English style. The high walls which shut in all these treasures of a collector's pride form a fitting casket to the gems they guard ; these walls are sixteen inches thick, and topped with specially made coping bricks similar in style to these which remain on the older portions of the boundary wall of Oakeswell Hall, which in 1699 belonged to Richard Parkes, from whom Mr. Wilson Lloyd is descended.
On the opposite side of the road is situated THE LIMES, the residence of Mr. Henry Richards, which, of itself does not claim notice as an architectural feature, although it is a comfortable and substantial modern residence, with a fine garden attached to it. But Mr. Richards possesses a collection of paintings unequalled in this district. Within the walls of THE LIMES are gathered together somm 200 or 300 paintings. The catalogue includes the names of Sidney Cooper, R.A., Leader, A.R.A., Goodall, R.A., Henshaw, Syer, Birket Foster, Webb, Marcus Stone, and numerous other artists equally high in the world of painting. Large as this collection is - and it is no exaggeration to say that the house is positively littered with paintings, drawings, and etchings - it was even more extensive in the time of the late Mr. Edwin Richards.
Mr. Richards has offered, more than once, to give to the town some of his art treasures, if the authorities will but go to the expense of providing a suitable building to receive them. A little enterprise on the part of the Local Board might long ago have initiated a movement for establishing a public Museum in the town.
THE VICARAGE HOUSE, erected some seventeen years ago, opposite the Church, is a model of ugliness ; this is not the fault of the architect but of the Ecclesiastical Commisioners. To provide funds for its erection the late Vicar sold the old Vicarage House at The Vicarage, which is now divided up into small cottages.
BRUNSWICK HOUSE, at the corner of Victoria Street and Holyhead Road, is the residence of Richd. Williams, Esq., J.P., Chairman of the Local Board of Health. It has no striking features, but is a good substantial modern residence, though somewhat low in the elevation. It was originally built by Mr. William Horton, and was then known as Barkley House.