Dudley - Encyclopedia

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DUDLEY, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough and market-town of Worcestershire, England, in a portion of that county enclaved in Staffordshire, 8 m. W.N.W. of Birmingham, and 121 N.W. of London by the London & North Western railway. The Great Western railway also serves the town. Pop. (1891) 45,7 2 4; (1901) 4 8 ,733. Dudley lies on an elevated ridge, in the midst of the district of the midlands known as the Black Country, which is given up to ironworks and coal mines. The "ten-yard" coal, in the neighbourhood, is the thickest seam worked in England. Limestone is extensively quarried, fire-clay is abundant; and iron-founding, brass-founding, engineering works, glass works and brickworks are comprised in the industries. Among the principal buildings are the churches of the five parishes into which the town is divided, the town hall, county court, free libraries, and school of art, grammar school with university and foundation scholarships, technical school, mechanics' institute, Guest hospital (founded by Joseph Guest, a citizen, in 1868), and a dispensary. In the market-place stands a large domed fountain, erected by the earl of Dudley (1867). There is a geological society with a museum, for the neighbourhood of Dudley is full of geological interest, the Silurian limestone abounding in fossils. To the north of the town are extensive remains of an ancient castle, surrounded by beautiful grounds. The hill on which it stands is of limestone, which by quarrying has been hollowed out in extensive chambers and galleries. The view from the castle is remarkable. The whole district is seen to be set with chimneys, pit-buildings and factories; and at night the glare of furnaces reveals the tireless activity of the Black Country. Dudley and its environs are connected by a tramway system, and water communication is afforded by the Dudley canal with Birmingham and with the river Severn.

Included in the parliamentary borough, but in Staffordshire, and 22 m. by rail S.W. of Dudley, is Brierley Hill, a markettown on the river Stour and the Stourbridge and Birmingham Canals. Its chief buildings are the modern church of St Michael, standing on a hill, the Roman Catholic church of St Mary, by A. W. Pugin, the town hall and free library. Between this and Dudley lie the great ironworks of Roundoak, and the extensive suburb of Netherton in the enclaved portion of Worcestershire. The industries are similar to those of Dudley. Three miles W. of Dudley is Kingswinford, a mining township, with large brick works, giving name to a parliamentary division of Staffordshire. The parliamentary borough of Dudley returns one member. The town itself is governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. Area 3546 acres.

In medieval times the importance of Dudley (Dudelei) depended on the castle, which is mentioned in the Domesday Survey. Before the Conquest Earl Eadwine held the manor, which in 1086 belonged to William FitzAnsculf, from whom it passed, probably by marriage, to Fulk Paynel, afterwards to the Somerys, Suttons and Wards, whose descendants (earls of Dudley) now hold it. The first mention of Dudley as a borough occurs in an inquisition taken after the death of Roger de Somery in 1272. This does not give a clear account of the privileges held by the burgesses, but shows that they had probably been freed from some or all of the services required from them as manorial tenants, in return for a fixed rent. In 1865 Dudley was incorporated. Before that time it was governed by a high and low bailiff appointed every year at the court leet of the manor. Roger de Somery evidently held a market by prescription in Dudley before 1261, in which year he came to terms with the dean of Wolverhampton, who had set up a market in Wolverhampton to the disadvantage of Roger's market at Dudley. According to the terms of the agreement the dean might continue his market on condition that Roger and his tenants should be free from toll there. Two fairs, on the 21st of September and the 21st of April, were granted in 1684 to Edward Lord Ward, lord of the manor. Dudley was represented in the parliament of 1295, but not again until the privilege was revived by the Reform Act of 1832. Mines of sea-coal in Dudley are mentioned as early as the reign of Edward I., and by the beginning of the 17th century mining had become an important industry.

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