The Black Country is constructed not just upon topography but upon geology. Mines can only be built where there’s something to mine; other sorts of works require proximity to those materials; infrastructure is built around, and to meet the demands of, the geology. The communities that build up around such environments therefore tend to be ad hoc, at the whim of profitable extraction, and physically separated from more traditional urban communities that are not built on top of mines. The problems associated with such areas are therefore different. West Bromwich in 1866 was a new, but bustling Black Country town. It had its own urban problems – our writer notes New Street, Walsall Street, The Lyne and Church Fields as being somewhat noxious, but on the to-do list of the Board of Commissioners. His ire is most reserved for the outlying districts of the town, particularly those communities based on the mines between West Brom and Wednesbury. Whether or not you – or he – would call them slums, is debatable, but many of the problems faced in more typical “slums” are just as evident here.
The area around Hill Top and Harvills Hawthorn actually has a long and distinguished history. A little further West though, our 150-year-old mental map takes on that familiar scarred landscape of a Black Country mining district, criss-crossed with canals and railways, and dotted with chimneys and shafts. We’re on Bagnall Street, and the name is key here: the community of Gold’s Hill owes much of its existence to the Bagnall family.
John Bagnall was one of a number of Shropshire ironmasters who moved into the Black Country in the late 18th century (cf.‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson). He founded his company in 1800 in Toll End, just on the opposite side of the recently-built Walsall Canal and went on to construct the Gold’s Hill works around the older stretch of the Birmingham Canal. It boomed during the prosperous middle years of the 19th century, benefiting from the new South Staffordshire Railway, a now-lost branch of the BCN (the Danks: see Captain Ahab’s exploration) and the new Tame Valley Canal, opened 1844.
The Bagnalls didn’t construct Bagnall Street originally, but they certainly built it up enough to warrant naming if after themselves. Along the banks of the Birmingham Canal, they also built Pike Street, Helve Street and Pudding Bag Street on either side of the Birmingham Canal (this stretch is now filled in, but was the original, 1769 canal from Hill Top to Birmingham, later known as the Balls Hill Branch of the Wednesbury Old Canal) to provide houses for their workers. John Bagnall, along with the five sons he partnered with in the firm, were noted for their “kindly, genial disposition” and William Bagnall (1797-1863) in particularl was concerned with “those institutions which he knew to be for the moral and spiritual welfare of the work-people and their families.” He was so “beloved by the poor, and his loss lamented, that thousands manifested their affectionate respect, by attending his funeral” (obituary in Institution of Civil Engineers, 1865). Bagnall appears then in the tradition of the kindly, paternal, Victorian master – he built a school in 1854, and gave over the firm’s old offices for use as a mission chapel. In 1850, they built a church at their Capponfield site in Bilston, and this was taken down and re-erected as St Paul’s Gold Hill in 1882. Capponfield had dwindled with the firm’s fortunes by the 1850s, so the church was recycled; but by the time it was completed, the Gold’s Hill Ironworks had gone the same way, and closed.
As usual, without a thorough dig through Sandwell Archives, I can’t give too much detail about the construction dates or style, so we have to take the Bugle at its word here. My guess is that the streets were erected around the 1840s, and at some point shortly after, Pike and Helve Streets were merged to become Pike Helve or Pikehelve Street. Quite why they were named this I’m not sure – a helve is a wooden shaft for an iron pike, which were surely outdated technology by the mid 19th century. BrownhillsBob notes an area known by this name around Pier Street, Brownhills – any ideas Bob? Puddingbag is clearer – it’s a common term for a cul-de-sac, a street only open at one end like a pudding bag. A quick browse in the BNA reveals local examples in Worcester, Coventry, Norton Canes, Glascote, Burslem, Rugby and Birmingham, and it was an alternative name for New Street in Wolverhampton, a cul-de-sac which ran off what is now Princess Street. If you believe Victorian estate agents, the dwelling houses were “substantially built” – five in Pike Helve Street were put up for sale in 1857 labelled such, occupied by “Millington, Tune, Laws, Barrett, and one void” (Birmingham Journal, 18/4/1857). A council report in 1867 shows that a new street, Pikehelve had been “made” in that year (Birmingham Daily Post, 8/8/1867) – that may be a different street, or it may mean that the council only adopted it that year.
The Birmingham Daily Post report complicates the story of the beneficent master and his grateful subjects. Despite the existence of the odd Bournville or Saltaire, for most capitalists providing high-quality housing was not on their radar. The Bagnall family provided somewhere for education, which was excellent and reasonably progressive; and somewhere for religion, which is a nice thing even if their choice of Anglicanism might not suit the more typically Nonconformist Black Country worker’s taste. It’s useful too for everyone for a workforce to live close by to their work. But the reforming spirit of the times didn’t quite filter down into these houses – little attention seems to have been paid to adequate drainage or water supply, in particular. Privies were too close to houses, which will have affected the structural integrity of the buildings as well as making the water that collected on the street, somewhat rank.
A common problem, but a marked one here was the lack of water. I can just about acknowledge pleas of ignorance in building standards – the siting of privies etc. had yet to be proved as a link to disease, and drainage was still something of an undisciplined art. But access to water is perhaps the most obvious thing a house could require. It wouldn’t be unusual for this to be a pump in the street, but in Puddingbag Street residents had to walk some distance on the best of days, up to a mile in the summer when the wells ran dry. Wells, mark you – piped water was a luxury for these residents. They even resorted to canal water, which absolutely repulses the modern mind; but this canal, that Telford referred to as a “crooked ditch,” eventually became too bad even for this, “on account of the offensive refuse matter running into it from some adjacent works.”
Victorian capitalism was far more complicated than its raw economic impulse appears. While there were many employers who exploited their workers without a thought (the truck system is perhaps the most egregious example), there were plenty more who, often out of Christian concern, sought to improve the lives of their workers. To modern eyes their ways and means can seem wrong-headed – improvement was on the basis of religious or education schemes to be tacked on top of the workers’ lives, rather than by ameliorating the underlying failures of capitalism in inadequate housing, job security or public health; improvement from the bottom-up, you might say. My natural tendency is to castigate all capitalists, even the Bagnalls, for exploitation of labour, but to do so would be to fail to understand both the good intentions and the fundamental failures of understanding in employers like this. They worked within worlds of class, prejudice and society that dictated, to a large extent, those things they saw as “improving” – just as we do, in fact.
32 thoughts on ““Slums” of the Black Country: Gold’s Hill, West Bromwich”
Morning All, if you can let me know where I can find any info on Bagnall St, Pikehelve St, and Pudding bag St, I would be most grateful.
All my family came from the golds hill area, but you just can’t get any info?
Hi Dave, what sort of info are you looking for? If it’s people, you can search through Ancestry or FindMyPast – I think on some things you can even search by street name. There’s also the British Newspaper Archive – a lot of what I get is by searching there. Finally, try Sandwell Archives: http://www.blackcountyhistory.com is the best place to start.
Thank you for your prompt response.
It was pictures, or anything really I was after.
I will start with the Sandwell link, and take it from there.Terry Price (A personal friend) has been very helpful to date.
Thanks again Si.
I think the Golds Hill area is on the Wednesbury side of the Black Country Route between Wednesbury and West Bromwich. All developed now into commercial units. My great great grandfather lived there too. Edward Henry Baggott
I have several pictures taken from the Terry Price books, and 2 in particular outside Marthas pub, in Pikehelve st, with my grandfather Charles Mogg, and 2 of my Uncles on it (Rather & William Price)
A friend kindly let me look around his factory built on the site of the pub, and when he lifted up some of the cladding sheets at the rear of the building, low and behold the Ceramic Toilet urinals are still in place!!
I went back to the 30’s & 40’s when I saw it.
Any info I will get to you.
My Mum’s mum was a MOGG and she had 2 sisters, one of whom (Dorothy) married Harold BAGGOTT! I remember them living in a big house on a main road (pretty sure it is 228 Newton Road, although they (maybe just Auntie Dorry when Uncle Harold died?) sold off their fruit garden and someone built a bungalow on the land ).
Can we be related?
My nan was Clara Mogg (nee price) but died avin a back street abortion aged 32, my second nan was Rosamund Mogg (nee Jarvis) took on 5 kids my my nan who died and had 7 of her own. They all moved to Marsh Lane Hatley Heath estate in 1936.
Charles, Sam, Derek, Fred, Olive (my mom) Brenda, Rene, Chris, and Doris xx email@example.com
i was born in bagnall street and walked to my grans in st pauls cresent ,my granddad used to walk us up the canal by the minors arms and other times we would walk up pikehelve street past cashmores then walk up to mr botts house latter built on by geddises timber ,latter years the canal was filled in but i remmeber my granddad fishing by the minors arms great days spotting steam near the hill top tunnel walking past the old canal, gone with regreat.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t remember the streets myself but my grandad and his family were all born and lived in the area. Pikehelve, Bagnall and Puddingbag Streets all feature in my family tree 🙂 It was a close knit community so I bet your ancestors and mine knew each other 🙂
Hi Mr Mullaney, I was brought up around golds hill, and my grandfather and mother were both born in Pikehelve St and Pudding bag st respectively. I went to see a friend in Pikehelve st at his factory there last month, he lifted up the sheeting at the back of his factory, only to reveal Urinals which were still there from Merthas pub, circa 1932. in the Terry Price book, there is a picture of the pub with my Grandfather, and 2 uncles on it, one of the Arthur, shot his self in an entry in 1948.
Any other info you may have please let me know.
hi dave grigg i am sure i remember a david grigg it may or not be you i knew shaun philips /cliff sims/martin wesson all from golds hill are iv loads of photos of steam for scrap at cashmores/use to go to st pauls sunday school mr andrews /13 bagnall street where i was born friends there derek greaves alan grandby john connup kevin bott & family
Yes my uncle Charles Mogg was born in Bagnall St, and a friend Roy Abraham. I went to school with kevin Bott, a rich bastard who even had his own Horse! something never heard of them days.
LikeLiked by 1 person
remember kevin bott along with pete Lawrence whos dad ran the royal exchange
re david grgg my grandad knew charles mogg he is in a phone with him in trerry prices book.yes i remember his horse they lived by the canal witch ran to hill top railway tunnel great days.kevin bott died 2017 around november /christmas time ,nice chap rip.
I came across your wonderful and honest article today while researching the Bagnall family. John Bagnall was my three times Great Grandfather and as you would expect most of what I have found comes from the press and industry books. They therefore give a glowing account of all that the family did which will only be half the story as history is written by the victors as they say. I enjoyed reading that while they tried, they made mistakes and I’m sure would have been as ruthless as the next man. You may or may not be aware of this picture in the National Archive of the Golds Hill School and Works http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/gacdb/search.php?mode=show&id=24199
Of John Bagnall’s descendants I have found 8 Vicars and 16 that were killed in action in WW1.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Big Thank you all you guys for bringing back happy memories, as all the landscape is changing and soon it will all be forgotten.
I have toured the WW1 Battlefields on many occasions, and always look through the footage of WW1 to see if i can see my grandfather who was in the Royal Artillary Field horse reg. Needle in a hay stack.
Any new info please let me know. I am 63 but run my own business in Wednesbury/West Brom, os always keen on any new info.
Sorry to hear about kevin Bott, he would have been my age RIP.
Kindest regards all enjoy the sunshine. xx
hi dave grigg hope alls well yes great memorys and great days at st pauls church and st pauls cresent.ken mullaney aged 62 sorry not been intouch due to cancer illness.
Sorry to hear about your run in with the big C, and I hope you can conquer it.
Please keep in touch when you get a chance.
What a great resource this is and thank you for your hard work. I came across Golds Hill in the court transcript of the trial that took some of my Wheway ancestors across to Canada as British Home Children. Apparently – and to cut a very long story short – the oldest daughter of the family used to walk her siblings across to Golds Hill when they had no food, to an aunt who was the sister of her deceased mother. They were in Smethwick at the time and the distance was given as 3 miles, but if it was nearer Wednesbury than West Bromwich I think this is an underestimate. I had never found any reference to Golds Hill outside this.
LikeLiked by 2 people
In the Terry Price book, there are pictures of the foggy Bagnall st, which runs from the bottom of Harvills Hawthorn down to Eagle lane, Tipton.
Pikehelve st (Which was 2 streets, Pike st, and helve st) where there were3 pubs in it at any one time, and again there are pictures in the Terry Price book.
My family off my mothers side, MOGG, all were born in this street, and in particular, my mother and grandad, and round the corner was Pudding Bag st, oppersite the miners arms pub, separated then by the canal.
I dread to think what the houses were like but can imagine something from the Dickens era?
My mom told me when she was 2 years old that the wives used to cue up outside the marthas pub on friday afternoon, to get the money off the husbands, before they drank it all!
This was 1934, and my first wife dies of a back street abortion, which I have a copy of the post mortem, done by the coroner then, Lion Clark. Another uncle shot himself in an entry in Pikehelve street, so not all good memories.
Which Danks was the Branch canal named after, and the Wharf too? Danks and Bickley carried on the canals in this area in the late 1700’s, “coal masters and canal carriers”. Then there was Danks &Co, probably Samuel and his nephews Isaaiah and John. Isaaiah Danks was my great great grandfather. I explored a bit of the Danks br canal with other WRG volunteers at the BCN clean up in March.
Have to say – don’t know for sure, you probably know better than me!
I am just beginning the family history research and have found your comments fascinating! My mother’s maiden name was BLADEN and her father (and previous generations of Bladens) lived on the canal (still trying to discover exactly which branch of the Birmingham Canal) and collected the tolls from the bargees. He played the organ at St Paul’s Church, Hill Top(?) and was some sort of driver during WW1. My mum married Ken MERTHER, whose family ran a pub in Pikehelve St (is this the one called Merthas pub in one post above?). My Mum’s mum was a MOGG so does this mean that there may be a connection to another of the above bloggers. All very interesting and I am hoping to visit the area when Covid restrictions allow. Thank you for any help or links you can suggest.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am doing family history of the Deeley family. At end of FWW my grandfather gave his address as Golds Hill House, Golds Hill West Brom. I ‘m sure that makes it sound more grand than it was! Before the war he worked in Chile and married a Chilean woman. Does anyone have any info as to how he would have come to get a job in Chile – local ads for workers or anything similar.
I have several photographs of Merthers pub in Pikehelve st, Golds hill, with my Grandfather Charles Mogg on the pictures. There is a barrel manufacturer in Pikehelve st, he refurbs them then sells them on. Its about 200 yards on the right hand side, just where Merthers pub was.
I went in and borrowed the plans and map of Pudding bag st which was right behind the pub, and the lay out of Pikehelve St. This used to be 2 streets years ago, Pike St & Helve St, which gradually joined into one name. By the way they are 2 steel Moulding utensils, a Pike & a Helve. The gaffer of the Barrel factory lifted up a sheet at the back of the factory, and the Urinals which were in mergers pub toilets are still on a wall at the back of the factory. Unbelievable after all these years.
Hi Dave, I have memories of you and your family, if I am not mistaken you had an older brother Ronnie the same as your dad, remember your dad as the compare at the ponda Rosa, my grandad and my uncle were also on the committee there, and they lived in Ebeneezer street, as I did much later on, in the maisonettes opposite the ponda, a nightmare Friday and Saturday nights trying to get the baby to sleep. I’m not sure if I’m right but didn’t your family originally come from the Lyng area central West Bromwich, as did mine before moving to hill top. Was the ponda originally known as Hill top working men’s club or is my memory failing me. All the best anyway.
Having just read this with great interest I find it nostalgic to here of names long forgotten, Alan Grandby
and I both went to school together, he lived a few doors away from my gran in Shaw Street and Kevin Bott who was about 5years younger than us lived over the road (so sad to here of his untimely death) his dad Dougie was a bit of an all-rounder builder type and I do remember the horse, a lot of the other names come to mind also. Pikehelve Street by the time I was born there in 1950 was a pale imitation of what went before, few house’s remained and I can’t remember the pub but it was probably still there, we lived next door to Lou Smiths (nee Simcox) paper & grocery shop, Pudding Bag Street by then was long gone I should imagine as I can only remember a large factory along the canal side can’t remember the name now but later became Evered & co. I only found this site while looking for something else but it has given a great deal of pleasure reading about somethings I never knew about.
The factory along the canal was called Akrills
Like you I stumbled on this site a few year ago, and have since been in contact with many people young and old, and even a cousin who still live-in Bagnall St, over the road from the entrance to Pikehelve st.
My grand father and great grand father, were all born in Pudding bag St, but got married and moved into Pikehelve st when the war broke out 1914. There is pictures in the Terry Price book of Marthas Pub in Pikehelvelve st and mu grand dad and Great uncles and aunts are on the picture. Send me your address and I will send you the info I have on Pikehelve st and Golds Hill in general.
My school pal Peter Lawrence lived in the pub in golds hill the Royal exchange, and I have slept on the floor over night on many occasions.
David Grigg @ 07976 378101.
Hi all any one have pictures of heatly heath.. or ridge acor canal please email me ai firstname.lastname@example.org