Stoke Prior (anciently Stocha), the village which belonged to the Prior of Worcester in former days, is a large parish 2 miles S. of Bromsgrove, 4 N.E. of Droitwich, and 11 N.E. of Worcester; in the eastern division of the county and hundred of Upper Halfshire; poor-law union, petty sessional division, county court district, and polling district of Bromsgrove; annual rateable value, £18,291; area of the parish, 3,820 acres; population in 1861, 1,622; in 1871, 1,893, with 370 inhabited houses, and 420 families or separate occupiers. The present population (1879) of Stoke Prior is nearly 3,000. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners are lords of the manor, and with John Corbett, Esq., M.P., and Francis Tongue Rufford, Esq., are the principal landowners. The soil is clay and light loam; subsoil, clay and gravel; chief crops, wheat, barley, beans, roots, &c. The Birmingham and Worcester canal runs through the parish, and there is a station on the Birmingham and Bristol branch of the Midland railway at Stoke works, and the Bromsgrove station is also in this parish. The chief interest of the place centres, as at Droitwich, in its salt works, which, however, are of quite modern date. The “Stoke Prior Salt Works,” the property of John Corbett, Esq., M.P. for Droitwich, are considered, for magnitude of cost and superior construction, the model salt works of Europe, having been erected at a cost of about half a million sterling. The brine-springs of Stoke Prior have their source at a depth of many hundred feet below the surface, being the deepest in England. There are four pits, which occupied many years in sinking, at a cost of £100,000. The increase of depth, as compared with Droitwich, is rather to be attributed to the conformation of the surface of the ground than to any difference in the position of the salt-bearing strata. The brine is pumped into reservoirs or “tuns,” from which it is conducted by pipes to the evaporating pans. A great reservoir has been excavated to contain between three and four million gallons, or a ten days’ supply. The making of salt is really a very simple operation. As the water is evaporated the salt rises to the surface in flakes, and then in a moment or two falls to the bottom of the pan, whence it is removed at regular periods for drying. This is the whole process, though the scale on which it is conducted is imposing and bewildering. Mr. Corbett is the patentee of a new mode of preparing salt of superior fineness and hardness. By this method the pan is covered, and as it is round in form, it resembles, with its top on, a great pie. Inside the pan there are a number of rakes, made to revolve by steam power; the agitation of the brine, and the greater heat caused by the retention of the steam (which, in the case of the ordinary open pan, is wasted), combine to cause a more than ordinarily rapid deposition of salt, and the crystals are consequently very fine and hard. The furnaces used for evaporating the brine consume from one to two thousand tons of coal per week, according to the demand for salt. The works are capable of producing four thousand tons of salt per week, but owing to the competition with Cheshire and the manufacture abroad, the demand is seldom equal to that quantity. There is a storage room for between 70,000 and 80,000 tons of salt. From 500 to 600 hands find a wholesome and remunerative employment here. £30,000 a year is expended in wages, and another £30,000 goes to the coffers of the principal railway companies. The proprietor has 500 railway wagons of his own building, and upwards of 50 canal boats and barges, for the conveyance of salt from his works. There is a foundry for making castings, from the smallest used in van-building to the enormous castings required for lining the brine pits. There is also an iron works for the making and repairing of the pans, which are rapidly destroyed by the corrosive action of the salt, which settles upon the bottom in a cake, called a “panscale.” A network of railway traverses the main thoroughfares through the works, carrying coal and taking out salt to such places as cannot be reached by water. The great chimney, which serves as a landmark to the adjacent county, was originally erected to carry off the fumes from the chemical works there, and is 312 feet in height, 36 feet in diameter, and has walls 2 feet thick. Many years ago Herapath, the celebrated chemist, submitted the brine from Mr. Corbett’s springs to analysis, and, when certifying to its purity and superior quality, added that by the process of manufacture, witnessed by himself, it could not fail to produce “an excellent salt of first-class quality, both in colour and purity.” The eminent chemist of the Royal College of Physicians in London, A. Beauchamp Northcote, who examined all the important brine-springs of England, wrote – “Those of Stoke Prior rank among the first in point of concentration, and are also very remarkable for their freedom from earthy impurities, and calculated to produce a very fine and pure variety of salt.” The colour and purity of this salt are not easily to be surpassed. Numerous prize medals have been awarded to Mr. Corbett, for the superior quality of his salt, at the several great International Exhibitions of Europe and America. Stoke Prior is in the diocese and archdeaconry of Worcester and rural deanery of Droitwich; living, a vicarage, value £310, with residence; patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Worcester; vicar Rev. Harcourt Aldham, B.A., Worcester College, Oxford, who was instituted in 1842. The church of St. Michael is an exceedingly interesting edifice, presenting specimens of Norman, Transitional, and Early English work. It consists of chancel, nave, aisles, and tower surmounted by a shingled spire containing four bells; the tower occupies an unusual position – the east end of the south aisle. The church was restored in 1858 and 1865, on the latter occasion chiefly through the liberality of John Corbett, Esq., M.P., at a cost of about £1,000. The exquisitely moulded piers and arches on the south side of the nave, and the curious vaulted vestry, are of the Transition period, and are worthy of notice. The chancel contains a beautiful stained window, of five lights, representing our Lord and the four Evangelists; it was placed there in 1860 by subscription raised to commemorate the abolition of female labour at the salt works, in this parish, by John Corbett, Esq., M.P., the proprietor. The chancel is laid with encaustic tiles and handsomely decorated. There are some curious monuments here, and an old room over the vestry of the church which is supposed to have been a domus inclusa, or cell for a recluse, in the Middle Ages. In the wall at the east end of the nave is an ancient brass to the memory of Henry Smith, of London, date 1606; and a memorial brass to Robert Smith, of London, with his two wives, eleven sons, and six daughters, in a kneeling position. An endowment of £100 was left by Henry Smith, of London, in 1606, for the education of poor youths. John Sanders, grocer, of London, left £10 annually, for placing out an apprentice from the parishes of Upton Warren, Stoke Prior, and Chaddesley; and there are other minor bequests for the use of the poor. Clubs, ladies’ charity, and other benevolent associations, are in the parish. The new schools at Stoke Works were opened on the 9th September 1872, and form a prominent feature in what must shortly be a considerable neighbourhood. They were built at a cost of about £2,000, the whole of which was defrayed by John Corbett, Esq., M.P., of Stoke Works. The schools are under a committee of managers consisting of John Corbett, Esq., M.P., Messrs. Brydone, Wilson, W. F. Hobrough, John Green, H. S. Polson, G. Hancock, and G. Silver-Dee (Secretary). The buildings are of the Gothic order of architecture, and are constructed of white bricks, with blue brick and stone dressings; the lecture-room is 90 feet; classroom, 12 feet by 36 feet; infants’ school, 22 feet by 30 feet; height of wall plate, 16 feet; the roof (an open one stained and varnished) rising 21 feet to the ridge, with an ornamental bell-tower in the centre, and a tower over the front porch. The large room can be divided, so as to form two school-rooms. The playground is 180 feet by 150, and the school will accommodate 500 children, attached to which is a residence for schoolmaster and schoolmistress. The building is licensed by the Lord Bishop for divine service, and is used as a lecture-room or hall when occasion requires. There is in connection a dispensary, in which a supply of medicines and appliances, in case of accidents are constantly kept. The building was erected by Mr. Corbett’s own workpeople, on a site given by him in Shaw lane, near to his works. The Salt Works Workman’s Club is held in the premises formerly designated the “George Inn.” It was opened 9th July 1877, and is affiliated to the Worcestershire Club and Institute Union. There are about 160 members, who pay an entrance fee of 1s, and 8d monthly subscription. Refreshments are supplied to members only, and there are smoke, game, and reading rooms, with a good library. Stoke Prior national school is a neat brick building, erected in 1840; it is at present only open for infants. Stoke Farm reformatory for boys was established by the late Joseph Sturge, and is now chiefly supported by Mrs. Sturge and family. There are about 76 inmates, who are employed as gardeners, or in some other industrial occupation. The land belonging to the reformatory is very productive, and the railway to Birmingham passes through it. The establishment is admirably conducted, and is highly spoken of by H. M. Inspector of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. Stoke Grange, the property of John Corbett, Esq., M. P., is occupied by the Misses Dixon. Finstall, formerly a chapelry in the parish of Stoke Prior, is now a separate ecclesiastical parish.
Postal Regulations – Edwin Perry, Sub-Postmaster. Letters arrive by messenger from Bromsgrove at 7.15 a.m.; despatched thereto at 6 p.m. on week-days, and 9.30 a.m. on Sundays. Letters are collected at the wall letter-box, Stoke works, at 5.45 p.m. Bromsgrove is the nearest money-order and telegraph office and post town.
Parish Church (St. Michael’s) – Rev. Harcourt Aldham, B. A. Vicar; Messrs. John Brydone and William F. Hobrough, Churchwardens; James Lewis, Clerk.
Stoke Prior National School (infants). – Mrs. Shepherd, Mistress. Stoke Works Schools (boys, girls, and infants). – Mr. Thomas Knight Williams, Master; Miss Eva Mullens, Infant’s Mistress. Theses schools are under a committee of managers, consisting of John Corbett, Esq., M.P., G. Silver-Dee (Secretary), John Green (Treasurer), John Brydone, H. S. Polson, G. Hancock, J. Wilson, and F. Hobrough.
Stoke Works School Church (Divine service is held on Sundays at 6.30 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 7.30 p.m.) – Rev. T. Morris Hughes, Chaplain.
Stoke Works Workman’s Club (open from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. on weekdays, and from 12.30 till 2.30 p.m. and from 8 till 10 p.m. on Sundays). – Mr. Solven, Honorary Secretary; Mr. John Green, Honorary Treasurer; Mr. Joseph Moore, Manager. The club is under the control of a committee consisting of John Brydone, Esq. (to represent John Corbett, Esq., M.P., proprietor of Stoke Prior salt works), Messrs. John Wilson and W. F. Hobrough, and about fifteen of the working men employed at the Stoke Prior salt works.
Stoke Works Dispensary – Drs. Roden and Fayrer (of Droitwich), Medical Attendants.
Stoke Farm Reformatory (for boys), Ryefields. – Joseph Sturge, Esq. (Birmingham), Hon. Manager; Charles Sturge, Esq., Treasurer; Mr. John McGilchrist, Superintendent; Mrs. McGilchrist, matron; Mr. William Jackson, Schoolmaster; Thomas Hadley, Farm Bailiff; with three gardeners, a tailor, a shoemaker, a waggoner, and an assistant matron. Average number maintained, 76.
Stoke Works Railway Station (Birmingham and Bristol branch of Midland Railway). – Charles Giles, Station Master. Assistant Overseer. – Mr. Caleb Allbut, Woodgate.
Aldham Rev. Harcourt, B. A. (vicar of Stoke Prior), The Vicarage
Banister Mr. Edward, Sharpway gate
Brydone Jn., Esq., Field view, Stoke heath
Dixon The Misses, The Grange, Stoke hth
Green Mr. John, The Priory
Hobrough Mr. Wm. F., C.E., Bridge ho
Hughes Rev. T. Morris (chaplain to Stoke Works school church)
Lea Mrs., Woodgate villa
Perkins Mrs. Edward, The Oakalls
Polson Hugh Sutherland, Mount Pleasant
Powell Mr. John, Stoke house
Powell Mrs. M. A., Elm cot., Stoke pound
Smith Mrs. Caroline, Hill cottage
AGRICULTURAL & COMMERCIAL.
Abbott Mrs. M. frmr, Lower Piper’s hill
Allbut Caleb, farmer and assistant overseer, Woodgate
Ballinger Richard, farm bailiff, Fir cot.
Bate John, Queen’s Head Inn, and blacksmith, Stoke pound
Bayliss Henry, farmer, Meadows farm
Birch John, farmer, Sharpway gate
Bradley Felix, farmer, The Elms
Brooks Mrs. Sarah, dairy kpr., Woodgate
Brydone John, general manager for John Corbett, Esq., M.P., Stoke Prior salt works; res., Field view, Stoke heath
Butler Hy., Ewe and Lamb, Stoke heath
Chapman Mark, mill foreman, Stoke Prior salt works; res., School house
Colley Mrs. Sarah, dressma., Stoke wharf
Corbett John, M.P., proprietor of the Stoke Prior salt works, near Bromsgrove (prize medals awarded London 1862, Paris 1867, gold medals London 1873, Paris 1875, Philadelphia 1876, Paris 1878) London agents – Weston & Westall, 115 Lower Thames Street, E.C. Shipping ports for exportation – London, Gloucester, Bristol, Wisbeach, Hull, &c. All communications to be addressed – Stoke Prior salt works, near Bromsgrove. Telegrams to Bromsgrove. Residence – Impney, Droitwich.
Corbett John, M.P., brick and tile manufacturer
Deakin Thomas, shopkpr., Stoke village
Dee George Silver, accountant (at Stoke Prior salt works) Moorgate house, Woodgate
Eachus George, foreman, Stoke Works
Farrin George, boat builder, tarpauler, &c., Stoke works
Fryer George, foreman, Stoke works
Gardner John, engineer at Stoke Prior salt works, Meadow bank
Gibbs John, miller and frmr., Sugar Brook Mills; res., Heath farm, Bromsgrove
Gibbs Mr., farmer, The Meadows
Giles Chas., station master, Stoke works
Gittus Edwin, English and foreign timber merchant, and steam saw-mills, Shaw lane; res., Stoke works
Goodyere Alfred, clerk at Stoke salt works
Grafton Martin Wm., storekeeper at Stoke Prior salt works
Hadley Thos., shopkeeper, and farm bailiff at Ryefields reformatory, Stoke works
Harrell Samuel, tailor
Harrison Henry, toll clerk for the Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham navigation Co., Stoke Prior wharf
Heath Joseph, farmer, Weston Hall farm
Herdman Joseph, farm bailiff, Moorgate
Hewson Thomas, farmer, Webb’s farm (house in Bentley Pauncefoot)
Hobrough Wm. Francis, C.E., engineer to the Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham navigation Co., Bridge house, Stoke wharf
Hope Joseph, grocer, provision merchant, and draper, Stoke works
Hunt Geo. & James (Bros.), needle scourers, Stoke Prior needle mill; and at Redditch
Inett Benjamin, beer retailer (New Inn), and baker, Stoke heath
Inston Herbert, pump maker and well sinker, Stoke heath
Jackson William, schoolmaster at Stoke Farm reformatory
Jones Samuel, farmer and landowner, Tan house; res., Bromsgrove
Jones Thomas, foreman, Stoke works
Knight Edmund, Navigation Inn, and farmer, and hay, corn, and coal mercht., and boat owner, Stoke wharf
Lacy Thomas, beer retailer & cowkeeper, Woodgate
Lewis James, parish clerk, Stoke heath
Lucas William, shopkeeper, Stoke village
McGilchrist John, superintendent of Stoke Farm reformatory
Manning George, shopkeeper and butcher, Stoke works
Marriott Fitzherbert Acland, clerk at Stoke Prior salt works, The Cottage
Moore Joseph, manager of Stoke Works workman’s club, Stoke works
Morton John, wheelwright, Stoke heath
Mosson Joseph, baker and general shopkeeper, Stoke pound
Mullens Miss Eva, schlmistrs., Stoke works
Nelson Jas., beer retailer (Country Girl), Sharpway gate
Palmer William, dairy farmer, Woodgate
Parry Mrs. Sarah, cot. farmer, Woodgate
Penrice William, dairy farmer, Woodgate
Perry Edwin, shopkpr. And sub-postmr
Polson Hugh Sutherland, traveller for Stoke Prior salt works; res., Mount Pleasant
Potter John, coal dealer, shopkeeper, and beer retailer, Stoke wharf
Powell John, farmer, Stoke house
Powell John J., shopkeeper, Stoke heath
Quinney Ed., frmr, Glebe fm, Woodgate
Reeves William, butcher, and beer retlr., Butchers’ Arms (in Dodderhill parish)
Reynolds Wm., shopkpr., Sharpway gate
Rose Martin, farmer, Moorgate farm, The Pools farm, and Arbor hill farms; res., Astwood, Dodderhill
Rogers Wm., boot & shoe mkr., Stoke heath
Rudge Richd., dairy frmr., Copyholt fm.
Sanders James, shopkeeper, Stoke heath
Shepherd Mrs., mistress of Stoke Prior national school
Smith Miss L., ladies school, The Elms
Smith Saml., haircutter &c., Stoke works
Spilsbury Jph., wheelwright, Stoke heath
Stanworth Isaac, wheelwright, Stoke works
Thompson Henry, coal dealer and shopkeeper, Stoke pound
Thompson Jph., cot. farmer, Woodgate
Twemlow Mrs. Rachel, farmer, Fir cot.
Wakeman Isaac, shoemkr., Stoke works
Wall Mrs. W. H., miller and farmer, Stoke Prior flour mills
Webb James, Boat Inn, Stoke works
Williams Frederick, butcher & beer retlr. (The Gate Hangs Well), Woodgate
Williams Thomas Knight, master of Stoke Works school, Stoke works
Wilson John, frmr., The Elms farm; res., Astwood (Dodderhill), near Bromsgrove
Workman Stphn., police officer, Stoke wks
Warmington Wm., boot and shoe maker and cottage farmer, Woodgate
Wright Wm., boot & shoe ma., Stoke pound
Source: Littlebury Littlebury’s Directory and Gazetteer of Worcester & District Third Edition. Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. 1879.