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1st Earl of DudleyOld Dudley masthead1st 
Earl of Dudley

The Earl of Dudley at the top of Castle Hill

Earl of Dudley's statue (1)The earliest of David Clare's three postcards of the first Earl of Dudley's statue at the top of Castle Hill is this one, posted on 10th October 1905. Note the small gas light on the main pavement behind the statue (enlarged below), with its two arms to support the gaslighter's ladder. There are tram tracks in the foreground, but no sign of masts for the wires, nor even the wires themselves, even though one would expect them to be in view.
That suggests that the photographer removed the wires in his darkroom, or that the photograph was taken in the steam-tram era, and we would favour the second of these.

gas light and bollardsEarl of Dudley's statue (2)The second card has been coloured to give quite a pleasant effect.
It was posted on 30th June 1913 and shows that the kerbside gas light has gone and a larger electric lamp has been installed on the island itself. This would mark the period when the town’s main street lighting changed from gas to electricity. Both pictures show that the island was attractively threepenny-bit shaped (younger readers can imagine a 50p with flattened sides instead!) with threepenny-bit bollards to fend off wagon wheels.

Earl of Dudley's statue (1a)Castle fete notice(1b)The third card, posted 2nd Jan 1914, has been cropped to show more detail of the statue itself. The statue - turned at intervals to equalise wear from wind and rain - stood on its separate island until the 1990s, when the Castle street pavement was widened and stretched to engulf it. At that point the statue was freshened up and turned once again, this time to face the town centre.

The old castle entrance lay just behind the statue and the gateposts commonly carried posters for various castle events. The best known were the 3-day Whitsuntide fetes from 1850 until World War I. The poster here carries the most discernable detail: Dudley Fete, for three days only, offering such attractions as the Irish Guards and balloon ascents. Personalities of the day are mentioned, and naturally the event ends with fireworks. The poster on the other gatepost included a Japanese performance. While the original fetes have gone, the castle and zoo run modern attractions today.

Incidentally, why does the Earl's statue show him wearing robes? The answer may be that one of his official dress "uniforms" was something along the lines shown. More likely, however, is that the Earl or his sculptor was following a Victorian conceit. In many sculptures, paintings and photographs through the 1800s, the client would either choose or be encouraged to dress up like a Greek or Roman nobleman from 2000 or so years previously. Other choices were the uniforms of very senior military officers - even if they'd never served in the armed forces - or something whimsical such as exotic dress from a completely different culture.

St Edmund's ChurchCastle Hill was widened to make room for the Earl of Dudley’s statue, which prompted the 1886 demolition of houses that stood on the castle side of St. Edmunds Church in Castle Street. This hand-coloured view was posted in 1903, and was based on an earlier undated monochrome card. It shows the town side of the church - rarely seen by most people today.

The original church on this site was built in the 12th century, and traditionally is believed to have served the adjacent castle, while "top church" (St. Thomas's) served the town. The original church was demolished in 1646 during the Civil War to prevent it offering cover for Cromwellian attacks on the Royalist-held castle. The present church dates from 1724.

Text: Harry Drummond

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Postcards from David Clare's collection.

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