Walsall, I had never heard of it until I moved to Staffordshire, and with some time on my hands, and a bus that goes there quite frequently, I decided it was time to go looking around. The bus travels through Burntwood, Chasetown, Brownhills and then to Walsall. It was a long journey, punctuated by frequent stops and a dustbin truck that kept on stopping in front of us. But, eventually….
The first thing I saw from the bus that made my eyes water was the “Council House”, it is a spectacular building, and impossible to photograph as a whole because of its size and because you cannot get far back enough from it. I believe it is known locally as “the Candle”
However, I did not start my exploration from there. My exploration really started at “The Crossing at St Paul’s” which is a former church that has been re-invented into a yuppie/trendy/coffee shop type place so beloved of yuppies and cellphone clutching fashionistas. I really intended coming back to this building as the day passed as I did not get decent exterior images. That never happened.
I did not know what to expect it would look like after its re-invention, but it is spectacular inside, and parts of the old church have been incorporated into the structure, and a small chapel still exists inside of it. It is really very pretty inside, but I just wonder how much was lost when they did it. You can bet the graveyard is now paved over.
My initial planning had centered around finding the Cenotaph in the city, and anything else after that was a bonus. One of the plaques in the church mentioned an “Alabaster First World War Memorial by Messrs R Bridgeman…” that had been relocated to the Council House, and that sounded like something to look into while I orientated myself in the city. I first stopped to have a look at the Library, which stands in the block next to the Council House. It too is a beautiful piece of work, and while I did not see a lot of the interior, I was really impressed by what I did see.
There is also a strange statue of a Hippopotamus, and frankly I don’t know the connection. It is however the sort of statue kids would enjoy, although I do suspect there is an ambulance chaser lawyer watching with binoculars to see if anybody gets injured by falling over it.
I asked at the Council House about the alabaster memorial and one of the staff members took me to see it, and it is spectacular. In fact it is one of four war memorials in the building that I know of (and it turns out there are three VC plaques that I did not know about).
A bit further from the memorial there is a large hall with a magnificent pipe organ with two large matching paintings by Frank O. Salisbury on either side of it it. They were commissioned by Joseph Leckie “to commemorate the never to be forgotten valour of the South Staffordshire Regiments in the Great War 1914 – 1918” and were completed in 1920. One shows “the First South Staffordshires attacking the Hohenzollern Redoubt”, the other “the 5th South Staffords storming the St. Quentin Canal at Bellingtise Sept 29th 1918”.
The walls of the hall are also festooned with 12 bronze name plaques of men from the borough of Walsall that died in both World Wars, and post war conflicts.
It is a beautiful space, although the boxing ring was only temporary as it was going to be used for a function. I came away dazed at what I had just seen here, it is such a pity that spaces like this are probably never seen by the inhabitants of the city, and I am sure very few are even aware of the memorials that this building holds.
I managed to attract the attention of an elderly borough warden and asked him about the cenotaph and any cemeteries nearby, and he told me that there was an old cemetery up in Queen Street, and it was more or less in the direction that I was going to be going if I wanted to see the cenotaph.
The town was also having Market Day, although like many of the markets it has become a place to sell cellphone accessories, cheap and nasty clothing, e-cigarettes, ugly shoes and dodgy luggage. Oddly enough I have seen almost identical rubbish in markets in Salisbury, Basingstoke and Burntwood. They may even be the same people selling it!
The market space had two statues that interested me, the first was kind of odd, and reminded me of an Afro hairdo gone mad.
Fondly known as “Sister Dora”, it turns out she is somewhat of a legend in this city and the industries that surrounded it. Her death must have left the city just that much more poorer. More about Sister Dora may be found at Victorianweb
I got distracted by a church spire in the distance, so headed up in that direction, passing the Guildhall on the way. This building was in use from 1867 till 1907 when the Council House was built.
Unfortunately the sun was behind the church I was approaching so photography was not great. Called St Matthews, it sits atop a hill overlooking the city below. The graveyard still exists, although it is probably much smaller than it used to be, and it is quite a large church. I won’t say when the church was built, only that a church has existed on this site for roughly 700 years. My image is taken from the West of the church and you can see the 1927 built Lychgate.
The inside of the church was very pretty, and had the two levels that I have been seeing in the Midlands since I arrived. It also had a magnificent ceiling and strangely enough no matter how hard I tried I could not get the camera to photograph the one end of the church. It could be the combination of the bright light from the windows that was fooling it, or the deep contrast just exasperated the camera.
Outside the church there is another War Memorial, and it is placed in a circular alcove on the steep stairs leading to the church. It was an odd place for a memorial, but it does make sense given how the church dominates the city below.
Now to find my Cenotaph.
I headed in what was supposedly the right direction. I had one problem though;. I could find the cemetery and then possibly have to double back along the path I was heading, or I could try reach the cenotaph and from there go to the cemetery. Whichever route I took I was probably still going to have a long walk. I was however stuck along the road that I had chosen and headed towards the Cenotaph area (or where I thought it was), and that brought me to another church perched on a hill, it was called St Marys the Mount Roman Catholic Church, and the entrance was on the opposite side of where I was at that moment!
Built in 1825, it seems somewhat of a featureless church, and frankly the graveyard was much nicer than the church was. The small arched object built into the wall is another war memorial for members of the parish who died during the war, and John Carless VC is mentioned on this memorial.
The nice thing about finding this church was that it put me on the right track for the cenotaph, and I was soon seeing what I was looking for in the distance. How did I miss seeing it?
Situated on a traffic island in the centre of a roundabout, it shares many similarities with Cenotaphs in London, Southampton, Hong Kong and Johannesburg and it was erected in 1921, Over 2000 men from Walsall were killed in fighting during the First World War. The Cenotaph is located on the site of a bomb which was dropped by Zeppelin ‘L 21’ killing the town’s mayoress, and two others on 31 January 1916.
Behind the cenotaph is another of those wonderful old buildings that I kept on bumping into. Unfortunately I just could not get a photograph of the building without a bus in front of it!
The building seems to be the Science and Art Institute, but there is an inscription above that which reads: “This building was erected by public subscription in 1887, to commemorate the jubilee year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. in 1897 a sum of £2500 was raised by public subscription to a district nursing institution to provide free nurses for the poor in commemoration of Her Majestys glorious reign of 60 years. William Smith. Mayor. 22 June 1897.” It is a very pretty building, but I have no idea what it is used for now.
My cemetery was about to happen after this, and I located it reasonably easy. The problem was that it was a disappointment. I was hoping for more of a cemetery and less of a park, but I had to bear in mind that it was very possible that the place was full and there just weren’t too many headstones. Unfortunately the few headstones that there were just looked out of place, and many were in a very poor condition.
Sister Dora is buried in the cemetery, and has a reasonably plain headstone.
And while there is a plaque for James Thompson VC, I was unable to find a grave, and do not know whether there is one with a legible headstone. (On May 21st I made a trip to Ryecroft Cemetery which serves Walsall and it was a much better experience.)
Suitable satisfied, I decided to pick up the canal that was next to the cemetery and follow it back to the town. The canal system still exists in the Midlands but so far I was not seeing any narrow boats. Unfortunately, with the rise of the truck the canals declined and are probably very little used now.
The canal ends up in the centre of the yuppie pads that always seem to spring up in old buildings, or close to water features and the wharf where the canal terminated was no exception.
I was close to town now and time was marching.
I was beginning to tire, so headed to the bus station, which I could not find, although I did find the cenotaph and the market again.
I had really wanted to explore the Victorian Arcade if possible, but did not get that done.
But overall though this town had a lot of really nice architecture.
This building had the most exquisite carvings on it, and I just had to take a photograph of them. It is such a pity that often this artwork is high up and people don’t ever see it.
And then I was on my way home. When I had come here the bus had passed a large statue of a miner, possibly in Brownhills and I was hoping to get a better pic of it too.
That is probably the best I can do out of a moving bus. It is a sobering statue though, most of this area was coal country and while the coal mines have gone, the communities were built by the mines and those who worked in them. The legacy I saw this morning was partly attributable to the coal mines, and the work of Sister Dora was as a result of it too.