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Bilston was first referred to in AD 985 as Bilsatena when Wolverhampton was granted to Wulfrun then in 996 as Bilsetnatun in the grant charter of St. Mary’s Church (now St. Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton). It is later mentioned in the Domesday Book as a village called Billestune, being a largely rural area until the 19th century. Bilsetnatun can be interpreted as meaning the settlement (ton) of the folk (saetan) of the ridge (bill).
Situated two miles southeast of Wolverhampton, it was extensively developed for factories and coal mining.
Bilston Urban District Council was formed in 1894 under the Local Government Act 1894 covering the ancient parish of Bilston. The urban district was granted a Royal Charter in 1933, becoming a municipal borough and the First Charter Mayor was Alderman Herbert Beach.
In 1966 the Borough of Bilston was abolished, with most of its territory incorporated into the County Borough of Wolverhampton (see History of West Midlands), although parts of Bradley in the east of the town were merged into Walsall borough.
Bilston contains the ecclesiastical districts of
Bilston St Luke; and
Beeton’s British Gazetteer 1870
Bilston, a large market, post, and manufacturing town of England, in Staffordshire, 3 miles S.E. from Wolverhampton, of which parliamentary borough it forms a part. It has large iron-works and numerous manufactories for japanned and enamelled goods, coarse earthenware, and ironware. Mar. D. Mon. and Thurs. Pop. 24,364. The Birmingham and Staffordshire Canal runs through this town, and it is a station on the Birmingham and Wolverhampton branch of the Great Western Railway, 2½ miles from Wolverhampton, and 9¾ from Birmingham. It has a station on the Midland Railway, and another, called Ettingshall, on the London and North-Western Railway. It is also a telegraph station.
Source: Beeton’s British Gazetteer 1870. Ward, Lock & Tyler, Paternoster Row, London.
Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales 1851
Bilston, a market-town, and chapelry, in that part of the parish of Wolverhampton which is in the northern division of the hund, of Seisdon, Staffordshire 3 miles south-east of Wolverhampton, 19 south by east of Stafford, and 121 north-west of London. Living, a perpetual curacy, within the jurisdiction of the dean of Wolverhampton, dio. of Lichfield and Coventry; yearly income £635; in the patronage of the resident householders. The chapel was rebuilt in 1826. A new church was erected in 1829 in the later style of English architecture, with fine tower, at an expense of £7,223 6s. 1d., part of which was defrayed by a grant from the parliamentary commissioners. Sittings 1,494. There are two Baptist churches, and the Independents, and Methodists of various denominations, have places of worship here. The second Baptist church was formed in 1835; the Independent church in 1764; the Methodist in 1795. There is also a Roman Catholic chapel, to which a large school is attached. There are schools on the British system, at which about 300 children are educated, and an orphan school, which was opened in 1833. It was built at the cost of £400, and endowed with the interest of £2,000, for the education of 450 orphans, who were bereaved of their parents in 1832 when the cholera visited the town. There are also ten Sunday schools. — Bilston owes its prosperity to the numerous and rich mines of coal and iron stone in the neighbourhood. It is situated in the immediate vicinity of the Birmingham and Stafford canal, by the various branches of which a communication is opened up to every part of the kingdom, through the Mersey, Dee, Ribble, Ouse, Trent, Derwent, Severn, Humber, Avon, and Thames. By the opening of a new line — which is conducted through a noble tunnel at Cosely, near Bilston — the direct canal route between Birmingham and Wolverhampton has been shortened 4 miles. The Liverpool and Birmingham Grand Junction railway also passes within 1½ mile; the nearest station on the line being the Willenhall station, which is 85½ miles from Liverpool. The vicinity abounds with forges, furnaces, steam-engines, and manufactories, the smoke of which darkens the air by day, while the flames illuminate the country by night. The principal manufactures consist in the heavier description of iron castings, machinery of all kinds, tin-plate, japanned and enamelled wares, nails, wire, and screws. Clay of a coarse kind, used for making pottery, and a kind of deep orange-coloured sand which is found very useful in casting, are procured in abundance. Coal mines are numerous and productive; at Bradley, in the immediate vicinity, a stratum of coal about four feet in thickness has been burning for about fifty years. The town is two miles in length, and irregularly built. The houses are substantial and in many instances handsome. The exports consist chiefly of coals and iron-work of all kinds. The markets are held on Monday and Saturday. Fairs are held on Whit-Monday, and on the Monday preceding the Michaelmas fair at Birmingham. The Bilston District banking company was established in September, 1836. Petty-sessions are held here, at Wolverhampton and at Kingswinford, for the division of Seisdon North. Bilston unites with the township of Wolverhampton in returning two members to parliament. Pop., in 1801, 6,914; in 1831, 14,492. Houses 2,744. Acres 2,580. A. P. £15,634. Poor rates, in 1837, £2,785.
Source: The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales; A Fullarton & Co. Glasgow; 1851.
England’s Gazetteer 1752
Bilston, (Staff.) near Wolverhampton and the road from London to Shrewsbury. Here is a deep orange-coloured sand, which is sent for by the artists far and near, to be used as a spaud to cast metals in; and it is also noted for a quarry of remarkable stones, lying horizontally one under another, in twelve beds deep, every bed thicker the lower they go; so that the lowermost is about a yard thick, and the inh. make cisterns, troughs, &c. of the stone. Some of it is curiously streaked with black. Here is a ch.sc.
Source: England’s Gazetteer; Stephen Whatley; 1752.
Bilston Cholera Epidemic 1832
With the opening of the Birmingham Canal to the west of the town in 1770, industrial activity in the local area increased, with the first blast furnaces near the canal at Spring Vale being erected by 1780.
Few towns were more dramatically transformed during the Industrial Revolution as Bilston was. In 1800, it was still a largely rural area dependent on farming. By 1900, it was a busy town with numerous factories and coalmines, as well as a large number of houses that had been built to house the workers and their families. The Bilston coal mines were reputedly haunted by an evil spirit, so the miners brought in a local exorcist known as The White Rabbit.
Six new blast furnaces were erected there between 1866 and 1883. Five of these were producing a total of nearly 25,000 tons of steel per year at what was now known as Bilston Steel Works. The first electric powered blast furnaces opened there in 1907, and finally in 1954 the “Elisabeth” blast furnace was erected, creating 275,000 tons of steel per year. However, by the 1970s the steel works had become uneconomic and the Labour government of James Callaghan decided to close it, with closure taking place on 12 April 1979. The iconic “Elisabeth” was demolished on 5 October 1980.
The industry remained prolific during the interwar years, but much of the housing was now sub-standard, and during the 1920s and 1930s many of the older houses were cleared and replaced by new council houses that featured so many modern conveniences that were previously unknown to their occupants. Many of these houses were built on new housing estates previously occupied by coalfields or farmland, though some were built on the sites of older houses. The council housing revolution in Bilston continued after the Second World War and for some time after the area became part of Wolverhampton in 1966.
In 1862, Bilston was scandalised by the case of David Brandrick, the “Bilston Murderer”. The story was heavily covered by all the local papers, but according to a report in the Windsor and Eton Journal, Saturday 11 January 1862, Brandrick was hanged outside Stafford Jail that morning for the murder of John Bagott, a clothier and pawnbroker.
Brandrick, 20 at the time, and two friends had got drunk one night, had then broken into Mr Bagott’s shop in the early hours, who had been disturbed and investigated. A fight broke out and the unfortunate Mr Bagott was bludgeoned to death with a metal fire poker. Brandrick’s accomplices, Maddocks and Jones, who both pointed the finger at Brandrick, were both also convicted of murder, but reprieved at the last moment, leaving Brandrick alone to hang for the murder. A large crowd watched the hanging, and allegedly some people took up places at eight o’clock on Friday night to get a good view.
Below is a list of people that were declared bankrupt between 1820 and 1843.
Alldritt Thus., Bradley, Bilston, Stafford, earthenware manufac. June 22, 1824.
Banks Peter, Bilston, Staffordshire, iron and coal master, Jan. 26, 1827.
Bassford Timothy, Bilston, Staffordshire, bookseller and printer, Jan. 9, 1835.
Bath William, Bilston, Staffordshire, brandy merchant, Jan. 10, 1843.
Beards Wm. & Geo., Bilston. Stafford, maltsters and grocers, June 14, 1842.
Beckett Joseph; and Isaac Beckett, jun.; Bilston, grocers, Dec. 12, 1828.
Best Jos., Bilston, Staffordshire, victualler & coach proprietor, April 26, 1839.
Brown George, Bilston, Staffordshire, maltster and brewer, Dec. 11, 1840
Butler William, Bilston, late Birmingham, miller, Dec. 28, 1832.
Family History Links
Wolverhampton Circuit Methodist Registers 1726-1968 – Wolverhampton Archives have surname indexes for the following churches:
- Bilston High Street Primitive 1829-1907
- Bilston Oxford Street United: 1883-1920.
- Bilston Swan Bank Wesleyan: 1816-1909. Note: The Swan Bank graveyard contains the remains of many victims of the 1832 Cholera epidemic.
- Bradley Hill Street 1853-1897 & 1914-1965
- Bradley Hall Green Street 1842-1928 (bapts) & 1843-1922 (bur)
- Bradley Salop Street Primitive 1846-1921
- Bradley Wesleyan Burials
- Cold Lanes Primitive 1873-1961
- Priestfield Primitive 1868-1907
- County: Staffordshire
- Civil Registration District: Wolverhampton
- Probate Court: Post-1845 – Court of the Bishop of Lichfield (Episcopal Consistory), Pre-1846 – Court of the Peculiar of Wolverhampton
- Diocese: Lichfield
- Rural Deanery: Wolverhampton
- Poor Law Union: Wolverhampton
- Hundred: North Seisdon
- Province: Canterbury