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History of Bilston - Part 1

Bilston is first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times, in 944, when Wulfrun gave Bilston, along with other lands, to the monastery at Hampton which subsequently became known as Wulfrun's Hampton or Wolverhampton.
It seems Bilston previously existed as a settlement well before this, although archeological evidence is lacking.

By the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, Bilston itself belonged to the king; while Ettingshall and Bradley were listed as the lands of William Fitz Ansculf.  The two hides of land in Bilston were worked by 8 villeins (Villein, or villain, was a term used in the feudal era to denote a peasant (tenant farmer) who was legally tied either to a lord of the manor) and 3 borders (A villein who rendered menial service for his cottage; a cottier. The cottar, the bordar, and the laborer were bound to aid in the work of the home farm)

This indicates a total population of around 45 - 60. The value of the land had increased by half since the pre-conquest times. Ettingshall, however was as large as Bilston again, While Bradley was half the area worked by 4 villeins.
The total population of the Bilston area may therefore have been something between 100-150 compared with Wolverhampton's 150-200.
Bilston remained a royal manor until the reign of Henry III when the king granted the crown lands there, to Walter De Bilston for his valour at the battle of Evesham in 1265.
Walter's descendants continued to serve the crown and they led the men of Bilston in Edwards I's campaign against the Scots and on Edward III's expedition to France.
In the Fifteenth century they built themselves a large timbered house which is now, The greyhound Inn. This became the centre of their manor of Stowheath. Bradley remained a separate manor, held by the Pipe Family.

In the course of the Middle Ages Bilston became a prosperous small market town and by the reign on Elizabeth, there we're nine families wealthy enough to have their own coat of arms resident here. Coal was mined from the fourteenth century onwards, some 5000 tons a year being produced by the end of the seventeenth century, and other local industries were developing. Bilstonian's became prominent outside the local area and one, Richard Pipe; became Lord Mayor of London in 1578. Metal-Working was well established by the eighteenth century and Bilston had become famous for its fine metal work, buckles, trinkets, boxes and gun locks.

Rev. Richard Ames recorded a mass of local information in his parish register, amongst it the names of more than a hundred buckle makers and fifty chapemakers between 1716 and 1730. Most of these products were of cheap quality and were sent on to Wolverhampton and Birmingham for distribution to markets around the country. At this time, Bilston also became particularly well known for it's painted enamels which are much sort after today, especially the decorated snuff and patch boxes.

One of the wealthiest families involved was that of the Bickley's and John Bickley, who died in 1776, was able to leave 1000 to each of his children , as well as 40 each to two servants. The enameling trade died out, however, as public taste changed and as such craft industries were overtaken by the development of industrial process. It's successor was the mechanised japanning of tin-plate wares which continued well into the 20th century both in Bilston and Wolverhampton. The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw rapid industrialization of the area. John Wilkinson established his iron works at Bradley, canals were cut and increasing numbers of mines and foundries were started. More than 300,000 tons of coal were mined in 1827 and by 1860 there were 61 collieries in Bilston, employing 2000 miners . The railway arrived in Bilston in 1849.

This information reproduced by kind permisiion of Adam and Dan of WVFourteen Facebook page  part 2 here   History Index

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