Local government in the Black Country

Having had a look at the authorities that built council housing in the Black Country, I ended up a touch confused. The history of civil governance in the Black Country is somewhat maze-life, so I’m laying it out here for my reference, more than anything.

The Black Country originally lay in the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and gradually swallowed up by the Kingdom of Wessex in the 8th-9th centuries, which was subdivided into Shires, governed by Earldormen who reported directly to the King. These were in turn divided into areas of 10 lots of 10 households, called rather sensibly Hundreds. The Black Country fell pretty much into Seisdon and Offelow Hundreds (see Wenceslas Hollar’s somewhat crooked map) within Staffordshire, and a little of Halfshire Hundred in Worcestershire (ref).

The system stayed much the same, geographically speaking, throughout the Norman era – no part of the region was given a Royal charter by Henry II. Parishes became a bit more cemented in place during the middle ages and early modern periods, becoming responsible for the relief of the poor in particular; but they weren’t civil or governmental bodies. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the reform acts of the 1830s that the Black Country took on any kind of self-determination. Stourbridge and Dudley from Worcestershire, and Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton gained Poor Law Unions from 1837; Wolverhampton (1848) and Dudley (1865) were incorporated into boroughs under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, followed by a handful of separate Urban Sanitary Districts after 1875, then West Bromwich (1882) and Wednesbury (1886) under the Municipal Corporations Act 1882. A pretty patchwork had sprung up by this stage, which seems to fit into the general Victorian reluctance to interfere in the way things had always been done.

Local Government Act 1888
The big change came in 1888 with the Local Government Act, creating administrative and electorally-accountable counties and county boroughs. Within Staffordshire County Council, Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton formed County Boroughs (ref); from Worcestershire, Dudley CBC was created as well. In 1894, a second Act subdivided all counties and CBCs into either rural or urban districts, incorporating the sanitary districts and municipal boroughs of prior legislation. This lovely map outlines the situation which stood until after WW2, seen here in 1931. The Black Country was now made up of the following: pay attention now.

  • Staffordshire county, including
    • Walsall CB
    • West Bromwich CB
    • Wolverhampton CB, which included
      • Tettenhall UD
    • Wednesbury Municipal Borough
    • Aldridge UD
    • Amblecote UD
    • Bilston UD
    • Brierley Hill UD
    • Brownhills UD
    • Coseley UD
    • Darlaston UD
    • Rowley Regis UD
    • Sedgley UD
    • Smethwick UD
    • Wednesfield UD
    • Willenhall UD
  • Worcestershire county, including
    • Dudley CB
    • Stourbridge MB
    • Halesowen UD
    • Oldbury UD
Local Government in the Black Country, 1931
Local Government in the Black Country, 1931

The Local Government Act of 1958 was a bit of a damp squib, but did see the amalgamation of Smethwick CB with Oldbury UD and Rowley Regis UD, along with fragments from Birmingham, Brierley Hill, Dudley, Tipton, West Bromwich and Halesowen – this became the County Borough of Warley. Aldridge and Brownhills merged to become Aldridge-Brownhills UD in 1966. Smethwick became a MB in 1899, then was swallowed up by West Brom CB in 1966.

The sea change came in 1974, enacting the Local Government Act 1972. The West Midlands became a county, a law unto itself for the first time, although it lasted just 12 years until abolished in favour of total control resting with the seven metropolitan boroughs which formed the metropolitan county. Pay attention again, the Black Country in 1974:

  • West Midlands county, including:
    • Sandwell Metropolitan Borough
    • Dudley MB
    • City of Wolverhampton
    • Walsall MB

Also included are the Cities of Birmingham and Coventry, and Solihull MB. The West Midlands County Council was abolished by Thatcher in 1985/6, the vandal.

I count 46 different incarnations of local authority in the Black Country, since Wolverhampton’s incorporation in 1848. 46! I’ve listed them all here, and am taking suggestions for any I’ve missed.

2 thoughts on “Local government in the Black Country

  1. A very interesting article. I have always been interested in Black Country history and identity and the former Urban Districts of Coseley and Sedgley were the most badly carved up out of them all. A large part of Coseley was given to Wolverhampton as you would know, and unlike any other district in the Black Country, the north part of Coseley has lost its identity and is so often called “Wolverhampton”, ie. Lanesfield in Wolverhampton etc. Wolverhampton council have either ignored or forgotten they have part of Coseley, as well as Sedgley (Goldthorn Park) within their boundaries.

    Even before Wolverhampton became a city, they often neglected local identities, even those of Bilston and Wednesfield. Also, part of Sedgley (Gospel End) went to South Staffordshire and part of Wednesfield also did.

    Even news reports automatically refer to the north of the former Coseley Urban District as Wolverhampton as if it isn’t anything else, but they don’t call central Coseley or Sedgley “Dudley”.


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