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CHAPTER V.

The Modern Town.

9. t will be seen from the preceding pages that Wednes. o bury is not only a very ancient place, but that it has

been subjected to many vicissitudes. The modern 23 town presents a very different appearance to the eye

se from the town of other days, both as regards its population, its manufactures, its railways and canals, its churches and schools. Those portions which were once forest, or at least well wooded, and which added to the beauty and variety of the scenery around, are now the seats of mining and manufacturing operations; and in consequence of the increasing smoke and sulphureous exhalations arising therefrom, the oaks, which formerly thrived here, together with other trees and herbage, have languished and died. The parish has nearly lost its rural population, and is now become the busy hive of shopkeepers, mechanics, miners, and ironworkers.

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The inhabitants have been more or less affected by the changes that have taken place in the religion of the country, -in the manners, customs, and habits which have succeeded each other,—in the administration of the law, and in the government of the kingdom, from the despotic rule of the Druidical priesthood to the mild sway of Queen Victoria, —from rude barbarism to modern civilisation, from the serfdom and vassalage of the feudal system to the enjoyment of full liberty under the shadow of our unparalleled constitution,—from the idolatrous worship and bloody rites of Druidism to the worship of the Triune God,—from the corrupt system of the Papacy, and the usurpation of the Bishop of Rome, to the enjoyment of pure and undefiled religion, restored at the glorious period of the Reformation, which, with its attendant blessings, has been preserved and handed down to the present day.

Notwithstanding the great change that has taken place in the appearance of the surrounding country, there are but few places which afford so extensive and striking a panorama of the mine and metal district as Wednesbury Hill, “ taking in,” as a modern historian expresses it, “ within its lofty glance the burning, fiery furnaces of West Bromwich, Tipton, Coseley, Bilston, and Darlaston; the horizon, miles upon miles, dotted about with smoking, blazing coke hearths, appears under the black, sooty roof of nightfall, like a large illuminated minster, devoted to a ritual of the ancient Parsees, or fire worshippers, and eclipsing the very clouds of heaven in their gigantic wreath of incense. And a strange, wild, savage music seems to accompany these loud litanies ; bell and ball, hammer and shears, crank and chains, wheels and rolls, steam, blast and engine screams, yell and howl, and shriek and roar and hiss, and

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above them all, the big shout of the forgeman, or call of the collier, seems ever and anon to set them on yelling, howling, shrieking, roaring, and hissing with a renewed grim energy, as if they were resolved to deafen every other tone of mortal sound except their own hideous minstrelsy. And when the mild, quiet moon looks down at times upon the riot, like a 'blue light' on a field of fireworks, so still. ness looks more still in the contrast of the rioting, and she seems timidly to steal away faster than usual through the mountain masses of drifting smoke clouds, that irreverently smoke in her face as if she was a common street lamp. The stranger shudders as he beholds the scene. Far as the eye can reach it is a series of fires ; there seems to be too much fire and too much fury to be ever put out again. The dread is that it must grow and spread beyond its flaming boundaries, till the whole realm be in a general blaze, which all its island waters cannot quench, and bonny England become a holocaust.”

The population during the last half century has been rapidly increasing, as is evident from the following statement:

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The parish is in the West Bromwich Union, but there being no union workhouse, the poor are provided for in a house set apart for this purpose. The Rev. W. G. Cole, B.A., incumbent of S. James's, is chaplain.

The means at present used for the conveyance of goods and passengers are remarkable as contrasted with those formerly in vogue. The old pack horse and stage coach travelling have been superseded by the modern improvements of railroads and canals, there being three lines of railway running through the parish, viz., the London and North Western, the South Staffordshire, and the Birmingham. Wolverhampton, and Dudley, with a station for each, besides branches of the Birmingham Canal. The survey for the canal from Wednesbury to Birmingham was first made in the year 1782, by R. Whitworth, “ it being supposed that the intended canal would communicate with upwards of 2,000 acres of Wednesbury coals, worth, according to the thickness, and situation of the mine, from £160 to £250 per acre, above the expense of getting the coal, for which there was no market. Moreover large quantities of Wednesbury coals were carried into Oxfordshire and other counties, by land carriage, at a great expense, whereas by canal they could be procured at much easier rates.” The saving at Oxford is reckoned as follows :

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It appears from the evidence given in the report of Thos. Webster Rammell, Esq., Superintendent Inspector of the General Board of Health, who visited the town in March, 1851, that “there are three turnpike trusts within the parish—the Bilston, Birmingham, and Walsall. They do not any of them pass through the town, the several Acts of Parliament prohibiting them. The whole of the town roads were repaired by the surveyors of the highways previous to the establishment of the Board of Health. The total length of the parish roads is 13] miles. The actual amount of highway rates collected for five years will be seen from the following table :

£ S. d. 1846, 3d. in the pound . . . 347 18 11 1847, 5d. in the pound . . 547 19 88 1848, 3d. in the pound . . . . . 336 3 97 1849, 5d. in the pound . . 544 1 4 1850, 4d. in the pound . . . 463 17 101

2240 1741

According to the above-mentioned report, “ the number of inhabited houses in 1841 was 2146; uninhabited, 97; building, 19.” It also gives the following return of the number and rateable value of houses and other property at present in the parish, showing an increase of nearly 500 houses to have taken place within the last ten years.

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The number of rateable houses upon the undermentioned amounts, viz. :Not exceeding £2

. 12 Above £2 , 3 . . . 180 , 3 , 4 . .

317 , 4 , 5 . . . 616 ,, 5 , 6 . . . 518

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