Willenhall shown within the West Midlands
|OS grid reference|
|Metropolitan county||West Midlands|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||WV12, WV13|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
|UK Parliament||Walsall North|
Willenhall is a medium sized town in the Black Country area of the West Midlands of England, with a population of approximately 40,000. It is situated between Wolverhampton and Walsall, historically in the county of Staffordshire. It lies upon the River Tame.
The urban district of Willenhall (established by the Local Government Act 1894) was partitioned in 1966 between the county boroughs of Walsall and Wolverhampton (since 1974 the metropolitan boroughs of Walsall and Wolverhampton).
The northern border of Willenhall has always been adjoining green belt land, although Willenhall has expanded so much in the last 100 years that its northern border has been moved by about two miles. This is mostly due to housing developments in the Short Heath and New Invention areas.
As a town it is historically famous for the manufacture of locks and keys. As early as 1770 Willenhall contained 148 skilled locksmiths and its coat of arms reflects the importance of this industry to its growth. Its motto is "Salus Populi Suprema Lex" - The welfare of the people is the highest law.
Willenhall "is undoubtedly a place of great antiquity, on the evidence of its name it manifestly had its origins in an early Saxon settlement. The Anglo-Saxon form of its name Willanhale may be interpreted as 'the meadow land of Willa' - Willa being a personal name." Alternatively, the name may mean willow halh, the first element of it being the Old English wilgen 'of willows'. The Old English word halh meaning "a nook or corner of land, often used of land in a hollow or river bend." The first record of the settlement of Willenhall is from the eighth century when a treaty was signed there by King Ethelbald of Mercia, in which Willenhall was referred to as Willenhalch. In 996 the town was referred to as Willenhale, and as Winenhale it was mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086)  as a very small settlement, and it remained so until the growth of industry in the 18th century.
During the 10th century, Willenhall was in the Shire of Stafford and The Hundred of Offlow (unit of a 100 villages), consisting of 30 households and a population of around 120. In the Middle Ages, Willenhall was included in the parish of St. Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton. Although there was a church in the village, people would have to travel to Wolverhampton for weddings and funerals. It was not until 1840 that Willenhall had a parish church. St. Giles was the first church to be built. The present church is the third on the site, dating from 1867. The River Tame flows through the churchyard and was until recent years one of the few places where the water surfaced.
Willenhall was a small agricultural village throughout the Middle Ages. From Tudor times, the natural mineral wealth began to be exploited with ore being sent out to charcoal furnaces in nearby Cannock Chase. The iron product was then returned to be turned into small metal goods. Nails were a common product and by the end of 17th century Willenhall had a healthy hand trade, making grid irons, curry combs, bolts, latches and coffin handles. According to the Hearth Tax Returns in 1665, Willenhall comprised 136 households and 894 persons. The population did not increase dramatically until the 18th century when iron and coal began to be fully exploited. The town grew up around the Market Place and Stafford Street with many tiny streets crammed with houses, workshops and pubs. Evidence of the town's growing prosperity is still visible today in the Dale House, once the home of the Hincks family and 33 Market Place, the home of the Clemsons, both maltsters.
Willenhall suffered its very own great fire in 1659, when most of the town centre was devastated. Most common homes at this time were still made of wattle and daub with glassless wind-eyes (windows), properties easily razed by fire. Re-building where money allowed was in brick; The Bell Public House being a good surviving example from 1660, although now closed for business.
Willenhall's first workhouse opened in 1741 adjacent to what is now Upper Lichfield St, it was in operation for 100 years before merging with Wolverhampton. By 1801, the population was 3,143.
Poor housing and lack of any proper sanitation led to a cholera epidemic in 1849 when 292 people died. Many of those who died were buried in the Cholera Burial Ground "on land at the bottom of Doctors Piece." A commemorative plaque at the site reads:
THE PARISH OF WILLENHALL WAS VISITED BY CHOLERA IN 1849.THE FIRST DEATH BY THAT DISEASE TOOK PLACE ON THE 17TH AUGUST, THE LAST ON 4TH OCTOBER. IN 49 DAYS 292 PERSONS DIED, THE CHURCHYARD OF ST GILES BEING TOO CROWDED FOR FURTHER INTERMENT, THIS GROUND, A PORTION OF THE CHURCH ESTATE WAS (WHILE YET UNCONSECRATED) FIRST USED FOR BURIALS ON THE FIRST OF SEPTEMBER. ON THREE DAYS THE BURIALS WERE 15 DAILY THE WHOLE NUMBER INTERRED HERE AND IN THE CHURCHYARD BEING 211.
The epidemic shocked the town into improving conditions, and in 1854 the Willenhall Local Board of Health was founded, a forerunner of Willenhall Urban District Council which took over in 1894.
To reflect a growth in civic pride, several municipal buildings were erected: the Town Hall and Library building in Clemson Street in 1866, and a public baths in 1938. The clock in the Market Place was erected in 1892 by public subscription to the memory of Joseph Tonks, who was a doctor working in the town post-cholera. About the clock, Hackwood writes:
This was erected, as an inscription upon it testifies, as a memorial to the late Joseph Tonks, surgeon. "whose generous and unsparing devotion in the cause of alleviating human suffering" was "deemed worthy of public record."
He brought both health and sanitation to Willenhall but died at the age of 35. The memorial park was opened in 1922 in honour of those killed in World War I.
The majority of Willenhall became part of Walsall Metropolitan Borough in 1966. However, a percentage came under the jurisdiction of Wolverhampton City Council, and still continues to do so.
Into modern times
Football came to Willenhall on 4 September 1905 when Spring Bank Stadium was opened in Temple Road, serving Willenhall Swifts FC, whose first opponents in a friendly at the stadium were the Football League side Birmingham City. The club merged with Willenhall Pickwicks in 1919 to form Willenhall FC, who achieved swift success as Birmingham and District League champions in 1922. However, the club soon fell into financial problems and went into liquidation in 1930. Spring Bank Stadium was sold and converted into a greyhound track, which remained open until 1980. It was demolished soon afterwards and replaced by housing.
Two war memorials were erected in the town after World War I to commemorate the hundreds of men from the town who lost their lives in the conflict.
The entertainment industry in Willenhall was boosted in 1914 by the opening of the town's first cinema, the Coliseum. It was followed a year later by the Picture House. A third cinema, the Dale Cinema, opened in the town in 1932. However, the closure of The Dale at the end of 1967 signalled the end of cinemas in Willenhall after 53 years. The building was later converted into a bingo hall and since December 1999 has been a J D Wetherspoon public house.
The growing population of Willenhall around the turn of the 20th century led to increased overcrowding and a need for new properties to be built. In 1920, the town's first council houses were built in Temple Road. Over the next 50 years or so, thousands of new private and council houses were built, mostly expanding on developments up to three miles north of the town centre.
By the late 1970s, the local industry was in decline, and by the year 2000 most of the town's lock-makers had closed or relocated. The former Yale factory was demolished in 2009 and replaced by a Morrisons supermarket which opened in January 2010.
However, the town's high street retains many of its old buildings which have been local landmarks since the turn of the 20th century or earlier.
"Much of the town centre is a designated conservation area and a £2.1 million bid for the Heritage Lottery funding is being prepared ... to fund enhancements to local buildings." So, within the next few years Willenhall Town Centre is set to undergo some regeneration. Currently the outskirts of the town centre are lined with abandoned factories, although most have been demolished and will be replaced with new flats. It now has a Morrisons Supermarket along with Lidl, Co'op food, Tesco and a Spar within its borders.
If funding is given the go-ahead to extend the Midland Metro tram system, one of the possible extensions is the 5 W's Route, which would run from Wolverhampton to Wednesbury via Wednesfield, Willenhall and Walsall. This development however will not be given the go-ahead until at least late 2010.
There were plans to reopen Willenhall Bilston Street railway station, which was one of two old railway stations in the town (the other being Willenhall Stafford Street railway station), however recently funding for the line which the station would have served has been axed and the service was then withdrawn in December 2008. Therefore plans for the reopening of the station have currently been scrapped.
The town of Willenhall is the home of four different Parish Churches of the Church of England. The ecclesiastical districts which house the churches are: St. Giles', St. Stephen’s, St. Anne’s, and Holy Trinity. St. Giles' did not originally have its own ecclesiastical district. "Before 1846 it was a Chapel of Ease to the mother church of" St. Peter's, Wolverhampton. The chapel was for those who could not afford to go to Wolverhampton to worship, baptize, or marry.
St. Giles’ Chapel was the most ancient chapel in the town of Willenhall. It was considered a Chapel of Ease before 1846 and was probably built "at the commencement of the 14th century." "The medieval church was demolished in 1748" because it began to decay from old age. The new church was completed in about two years, and in 1750, the new church was again open for worship. In 1848, it became a parish church of the Church of England in Willenhall. St. Stephen’s and Holy Trinity were finished in 1854, and St. Anne’s was built about 10 years later.
The Parish Church of St. Stephen’s is named after St. Stephen the Martyr. The church register began in 1848, but it took six years to fund the building of the church. After funds were raised, it was built and then consecrated on 31 October 1854. In the second half of the 20th century, the church began to deteriorate because of dry rot, and it was demolished in 1978. Because of the deterioration of the church, work began on a new church in January 1977, and it was dedicated on 8 September 1979. Many of the statues from the original St. Stephen’s church were brought into the new one.
St Anne's church was also built as a chapel of ease in 1858, but it became a Parish Church in 1861. "In the 1970s the church interior was turned around by 90degrees, a raised dais being built on the south wall, with a new altar, the old Sanctuary becoming the Lady Chapel." However, after restoration in the 21st century, most of the lead was stolen from its roof.
Willenhall is famous for the manufacture of locks, and the Locksmith's House (The Lock Museum), dating from Victorian times, demonstrates how one particular family of lockmakers lived and worked at the very beginning of the 20th century. This small museum is managed by the Black Country Living Museum and is open for pre-arranged group visits, including educational programmes for schools. The Locksmith's House is situated in New Road.
To make trading easier, the New Road (a toll road) was built before 1820, acting as an effective bypass for the main high street. Outside the town itself, settlements grew up around local industries. The area around Lane Head and Sandbeds had a thriving mining community and Portobello grew around the brickmaking industry. There was a lot of coal mining in the Willenhall area until the 19th century when the industry came to a dramatic halt after a strike when the mines were flooded and lost forever. Lockmaking began in the area in Elizabethan times mainly in Wolverhampton, Willenhall and Bilston. Eventually it became concentrated in Willenhall, where lock making had begun as a cottage industry with many families producing locks and parts for locks in sheds or outhouses at the rear of their homes. Because long hours bending over their work tended to produce workers with humps on their backs, the town became known locally as 'Humpshire'  and is still regarded as such with affection by many locals.
As late as 1956 there were still local men who had humps. Some public houses even had holes in the wall behind the wooden bench seats to allow their patrons to sit comfortably with their hump in the hole. The last example of such a 'pub' was demolished in the early 1950s. The Bell Inn in Market Street was an example of such a pub with curved holes in the walls to allow hump backed drinkers to sit up straight. Rushbrook's was a bakery in Market Street, Willenhall. In 1853, Rushbrook's struck their own "Rushbrook Farthing", a tradesman's token widely in use in the area. In the early 1960s the Spring Vale Tavern in St Anne's Road was renamed The Rushbrook Farthing in remembrance of this unusual practice.
Willenhall is well served by buses. The town centre lies on the 529 Bus route, which links Walsall and Wolverhampton running every 10 minutes on average during weekdays. Other local bus routes link the town to Ashmore Park, Wednesfield, Wednesbury, Darlaston, Bilston and Bloxwich as well as the local areas of Coppice Farm, Pool Hayes, Short Heath, Lodge Farm, Little London, New Invention, Bentley, Portobello and Lane Head.
Most of these bus routes are operated by National Express West Midlands, which operates over 80% of the bus network in the West Midlands conurbation. Some services are also operated by Choice Travel and Diamond Bus.
Willenhall is poorly served by other modes of public transport. Both of the towns two railway stations (Willenhall Bilston Street railway station and Willenhall Stafford Street railway station) have been closed for over 40 years, and although plans were bought to reopen Bilston Street, this never materialised due to the withdrawal of funding for the rail line it would serve.
Willenhall is currently not served by the Midland Metro Tram Network, but one of the numerous expansion plans for the system is the 5 W's Route, which would link Willenhall with Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Wednesbury via Darlaston, Bentley, Reedswood, Birchills, New Cross Hospital, The Manor Hospital and Heath Town.
Willenhall is a maximum of 10 minutes drive away from Junction 10 of the M6. Many main roads run through the area including The Keyway (which runs from Willenhall to Wolverhampton/Willenhall border) and the A454 The Black Country Route.
Due to its central location, Willenhall is home to the main hubs of Poundland as well as transport companies Aspray and Nightfreight. Additionally dairy firm Robert Wiseman Dairies has a depot in the town.
Willenhall is located in between Wolverhampton and Walsall, near to Bilston, Darlaston, Bloxwich and Wednesfield.
Closest cities, towns, areas and villages
|Bilston||Dudley, West Bromwich||Darlaston, Wednesbury|
The main landmarks include: The Locksmith's House museum in New Road; the cholera burial ground in Doctors Piece; St Giles Church; the bandstand in Willenhall Park; the Clock Tower, The Bell Inn, the malthouse (now Davey's Locker shop), and the Lock and Key sculptures in the market place; Dale House (now a restaurant) and the Dale cinema (now a Wetherspoon's pub); the Toll House (now a restaurant), and the old Town Hall (now the library) in Walsall Street. 
Willenhall is home to three secondary schools. St Thomas More Catholic School is located near to the border of Bilston and Darlaston, Willenhall School Sports College (renamed from Willenhall Comprehensive School, and moved from Bilston Road) is located on the town's Lodge Farm estate and Pool Hayes Arts and Community School is located on the town's Summer Hayes Estate.
For younger students in Willenhall there are numerous primary schools, these are:
- Fibbersley Park School - A recently built Super School located near Willenhall Park, made up of the merger of Clothier Street, Little London & Lakeside Primary
- Short Heath Junior School, Rosedale CofE Primary School & Lane Head Nursery School - Three federated schools located on the outskirts of the Lodge Farm Estate & Lane Head.
- Barcroft School - The product of the recent merger of Elm Street Infants and Albion Road Juniors. Located near Willenhall Town Centre
- Woodlands Primary - Located in the Short Heath area of the town, very near to Lane Head.
- Lodge Farm Primary - Located next to Willenhall School Sports College, very near the border with Bentley.
- New Invention Junior/Infants - Two high achieving schools located next to each other in New Invention
- Beacon Primary - A large school located in the middle of the New Invention Estate.
- St. Giles CofE Primary School - A combined nursery, infant and primary school located next the St. Giles church on Walsall Street in the town centre
The town has a football club Willenhall Town F.C. who play in the Midland Alliance. In the 2005/06 season the club won the Birmingham Senior Cup with a 1-0 win over Stourbridge. Their most successful period was in the early 1980s, when they reached the First Round of the FA Cup in the 1981-82 season and were FA Vase runners-up in 1981.
Willenhall also has its own Rugby Union football club, formed by some employees of Rubery Owen in 1966. They are based in nearby Essington.
- Short Heath
- New Invention
- Lodge Farm
- Poet's Estate
- Rough Wood
- Coppice Farm
- Allens Rough
- Little London
- The Crescent
- The Summers
- St Anne's
- Manor Farm
- County Bridge
- Summer Hayes
- Scholars Heath
- Rose Hill
- Park Side
- St Giles
- Lane Head
- Willenhall Memorial Park
- Fibbersley Nature Trail and Reserve
- Rough Wood Chase
- The Summers
- Coppice Farm Open Space
- Willenhall News (theyamyam)
- Walsall Transport strategy
- History of the Bell Inn
- Willenhall History Society
- Accessed 22 March 2011.
- Hackwood, FW., The annals of Willenhall, 1908, Reprinted by Echo publications, 2010, p. 7. 
- Ekwall, E., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Placenames, 4th edition, 1980.
- Mills, AD., A dictionary of English place-names, second edition, OUP, 1998
- Cholera in Willenhall, http://jshercliff.demonweb.co.uk/willenhallhistory/cholerabook.htm Accessed 23 March 2011.
- Hackwood, FW., The annals of Willenhall, Reprinted by Echo publications, 2010, p. 121.
- Hackwood, FW., The annals of Willenhall, Reprinted by Echo publications, 2010, p. 128.
- Walsall Council, Willenhall Regeneration Area, http://www.walsall.gov.uk/index/regeneration_willenhall.htm Accessed 22 March 2011.
- The Parish Church of St. Giles’ Willenhall, http://stgileswillenhall.com/history.html Accessed Feb 2012.
- The Parish Church of St. Giles' Willenhall, http://stgileswillenhall.com/history.html Accessed Feb 2012.
- Norman W. Tildesley, A history of Willenhall (Willenhall: Willenhall Urban District Council, 1951): 18.
- Tildesley, A history of Willenhall, 1951, pages 18-20.
- The Parish of St. Stephen the Martyr, http://www.churches.lichfield.anglican.org/wolver/willenst/history.htm Accessed Feb 2012.
- Parish profiles: St. Anne's and St.Giles Willenhall
- Philips, D., Crime and authority in Victorian England, Taylor & Francis, 1977, p. 30.
- Hackwood, Frederick (1908). "31". The Annals of Willenhall (1990 ed.). Wolverhampton: Whitehead Brothers. p. 185. ISBN 0-946652-19-8.
- "West Midlands Travel 529 Route Timetable".
- Willenhall History, http://www.localhistory.scit.wlv.ac.uk/articles/Willenhall/Contents.htm#contents. Accessed 23 March 2011.