The Town and its Environs

The estate of Madeley was first recorded in the 8th century when it was purchased by St. Milburga on behalf of Wenlock Priory. It was described in the Domesday Survey and remained a possession of the priory until the dissolution in 1540. Madeley Court had been established as a grange of Wenlock Priory by the 12th – 13th centuries before passing into secular hands in the mid-16th century.

Although the present building is much later the church of St. Michael is likely to be of Saxon origin and early settlement was probably focussed on present-day Church Street and Station Road. A charter for a weekly market and annual fair was granted in 1269 and this stimulated growth along the Shifnal to Much Wenlock road (along the line of the present High Street and Park Street). Settlement began to be strung out along the line of these two streets and the medieval market place was located at the eastern end of Park Avenue at its junction with the High Street. The town was surrounded by open fields accessed by lanes and there were two mills by the later 14th century. Between the 14th and 16th centuries industrial activity increased along the gorge of the River Severn and barges and trows plied their trade along the river.

There was a small industrial population (largely colliers and boatmen) by the mid-16th century and a range of trades had sprung up. There were tailors, butchers, carpenters, coopers, smiths, a bowyer and a mercer. There was a market house at this time but the market ceased in the 17th century although it was revived, for a time, during the 18th century. The town itself was not the focus of settlement expansion during the industrial development of the area in the 18th century and did not expand much beyond the original medieval plan although some minor industries were established there during the later 18th century such as Randall’s China Works at the bottom of the High Street.

The population of the parish grew from the early 18th century with the expansion of industry and new industrial settlements were built near the coalmines and foundries in Coalbrookdale and Madeley Wood. A branch of the Shropshire Canal was built to the east of the town between 1789 and 1792 and this facilitated the growth of a settlement at Coalport. Later industrial developments tended to be either adjacent to the canal or joined to it by tramroads. The Iron Bridge over the Severn was opened in 1780 and led to the growth of settlement on the north bank of the river at Ironbridge and the Madeley market moved there at the end of the 18th century.

18th century settlement in Madeley town seems to have remained concentrated on the sites along High Street and Park Street which had been laid out in medieval times with just a small amount of expansion e.g. Upper House which began life as a farm in the 17th century and nearby Madeley Hall which dates from the early 18th century. However the character of the town remained more rural than urban.

The industrial expansion of the later 18th and early 19th centuries as well as the coming of the canal at the end of the 18th century and the opening of the railway station on the railway line to Coalport in 1860 encouraged the construction of several handsome town houses in the town centre (e.g. the present bank buildings at the western end of Madeley High Street which both originated as private houses). The new market hall (now Jubilee House) opened in 1858 and the Anstice Memorial Hall and Workmen’s Club in 1869. The parish church of St. Michael’s had been rebuilt to a design by Thomas Telford in 1796 and a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Mary opened in the High Street in 1852-1853 on the site of an earlier ‘mass house’ (partly surviving as an element of St. Mary’s presbytery). The Baptist AEnon chapel also opened on the High Street in 1858 and several Methodist chapels sprang up around the town centre between the 1830s and the 1860s.

In 1777 the Reverend John Fletcher had built a ‘Meeting House-cum-Sunday School’ on Jockey Bank at Madeley Wood. When its congregation outgrew that building, in the 1830s, a new chapel was built on the other side of the main road. The original building continued in use as a school and was extended in 1858 with the provision of an additional building on the main road offering more classroom space and accommodation for a teacher.

In the 19th century there was a growth in extraction and manufacturing industries close to the town including more coalmines as well as sandpits, brickworks and porcelain works. Despite this and despite the improved communications provided by the railway the town was already in decline by the later 1800s and the decline continued into the 20th century.

Most mine workers lived in rows built near each pit as it was developed. Around the Meadow Pit in the early 19th century rows were built in Park Lane and Park Street and, at the same time, those of the ‘Neck End’ were built near the Hills Lane Pit. ‘Neck End’, a term used for a cheap cut of meat, suggests that this area was not the best part of town in which to live! Around the 1840s the rows for Halesfield Pit were built at Cuckoo Oak and the Aqueduct Rows were built for the Court Pits as were the houses in Court Street. In the 1830s the Madeley Wood Company also built terraces of canalside cottages at Blists Hill for employees in their ironworks.

By the middle of the 18th century there were several concentrations of cottages in Madeley Wood. One was clustered around the Green and from there settlement straggled along the road to Lincoln Hill through the Brockholes area (now Belmont Road / Hodge Bower). There was a huddle of cottages in the Foxholes area (between Ironbridge and the Brockholes area) while the jumble of lanes leading down to Bedlam Hall and the river were lined haphazardly with further cottages. A notable feature of every one of these developments was the licencing of more and more public houses of which there were at least fifty-two in 1847 – two thirds of them beer houses.

The Lloyds was a wide tract of wood and waste extending from the Green and Bedlam to the Washbrook. Apart from a few earlier 18th century coalpits it remained largely undeveloped until the construction of Madeley Wood Hall in the early 19th century.

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