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Dudley Market Place - Castle Street End

The view below, looking from the market towards St Edmund's Church, appears to be the earliest of David's postcards of the town centre. This is just the left side of the card. The card was never posted, but the picture is before the introduction of trams, and we'd guess at around 1890. It's a good high-quality photograph, but with several signs of retouching to make edges and lettering stand out more. Louise Rayner's painting of 1870 (probably based on an 1865 visit and therefore representing that date) shows a much rougher road surface, but there were stalls even then. This is a proper, prepared surface for the market stalls, though none are erected so we cannot see their style. The cobbles are fairly level, but with several disturbances from rough use - suggesting they had been down for some time when the photo was taken. The road closer to the shops is also cobbled, but at right angles to the market area.

Dudley market place left side
The fancy sign above the nearest shop probably says "Guest", and is dated 1830. Below it is a confectionery business. As with several other shops, this one has its blind down. Shop blinds were mainly used to protect against rain, but where products might be harmed (fabrics fading, vegetables going off, chocolate melting, etc.) they were also used against the sun. In high winds, they'd be kept rolled away whatever the weather, to avoid having the canvas ripped. The unusual point here is that this blind has two vertical supports, suggesting it was an older (or cheaper) type. Most of the other blinds in the street seem to be the later type that had two horizontal bars fixed to the front ends of the blind. The other ends travelled on vertical wall bars, were hinged, and could be locked into position to give firm support. However, the two next to the confectioner don't have the characteristic sag, which suggests that they have expanding supports that lock the blinds rigidly tight. The shop with "Richardson" over its blind is the only other immediately identifiable business name.

Street lighting is an interesting mix: the street lamps themselves are gas (note the small mantle inside the nearest lamp). Further along we can see three large globe lamps hanging down outside one shop. Variants of these globe lamps could be found across the country - some quite ornate. In this case they were probably gas (perhaps acetylene). At the far end of the shops the huge lamp there would certainly have been oil.

At least two changes were imminent to the buildings seen here. The low building with the big sign boards above its first floor window was about to be rebuilt; and while the Old Hen and Chickens public house currently displays its links to Manchester Brewers between the upper and lower windows, a repaint would soon remove this message. Though not visible here, the castle is in the distance behind the pub.

Here we see the other half of the same card, and the roughening condition of the cobbles is more apparent. At left we see St Edmund's church again, and the buildings that climb Castle Street towards us. The building directly beyond the tub with the conical top marks Fisher Street, then a narrow crack of a street but now one end of the bus station. Frahm's declares itself as number 13, and we then move on to Burton's Hardware and Cutlery Stores, established 1818. At right angles to us is S. Sheward, The Midland Meat Stores, Wholesale and Retail Depot. This building marks the beginning of what used to be Hall Street. To the right we have a large unknown mid-nineteenth century building, hard up against a black and white building that looks as though it had been done up as part of the Tudor fashion that swept the country in the 1880s/90s. The latter building has suffered a little at the hands of the retoucher, and doesn't really match its photographs too well, but this was the Seven Stars Inn, first licensed in 1634/5, just a handful of years before the English Civil war began. It finally succumbed to the modern world at the beginning of the 1960s.


Dudley market place looking towards castle

This lovely view, taken from one of the high buildings, covers much the same area as before, but photographed between 1899 when the trams went electric, and 28th August 1911 when this card was posted. Here, the castle is visible high on the distant hill. The market stalls are currently cleared away. Regular clearance was a typical local authority defensive measure to prevent the "temporary" stalls developing unofficial but permanent roots - and hence later argument. It is, of course a monochrome photo overprinted with colour. This does make it more attractive, but unfortunately the colour blotches on this card are crude and quickly destroy detail under enlargement. The colouring is also suspect, and should not be taken as historically accurate without evidence from elsewhere. But there may be other factors to consider. For example, the tram appears here as brownish red and creamy white, but in another card the tram livery is green. This could be a colourist making guesses - but more than one company ran trams into Dudley.

This picture also shows the interleaving of the tram tracks to minimise the road occupied by the tramway. Doing this meant that no pointwork was required, and trams could go straight through without stopping to reset the route. But if trams were running in opposing directions, one would have to wait clear of the interleaving (as the tram in this picture may be doing) to allow the other to drop its passengers and leave the section. Early tramways were usually built to the railway gauge of 4ft 8.5in wide, but after the ups and downs of the local operators, Birmingham took a new approach and specified a track gauge of 3ft 6in (1068mm) for the city. Despite the existing broader track (some of which was in poor condition anyway), the companies for the surrounding areas had a marvellous fit of common sense and did the same to allow interoperability of services. All companies except Wolverhampton also adopted overhead wires for the power supply. Wolverhampton only followed suit around 1920 - a few years before shutting down its network.

Shops near east end of Dudley market place This is the same card, enlarging the row of shops close to where the Post Office is today. We cannot identify the kinds of items on sale and the names are barely readable, but these are what they look like: the upper window states Universal Tea Co. and the two adjacent businesses seem to be A.Marsh and H. or R.Cohen. Cohen's blind is of interest: first, it is unusually steep, and second, side-sheets in later years tended to be shaped somewhat like an upside-down 'L'. Nearly all were on the weather side of the shop. Note the abundant lettering on the glass of Marsh's shop: this was once common, sometimes with up and down-curved lines of text.

The building between the two shops with blinds is either a substantial rebuild or a completely new building, for it has now grown to the height of its neighbours (check the earlier photo for comparison). And Marsh's and Cohen's seem to be new businesses since then.


Old Hen and Chickens pub When you look at the Old Hen and Chickens Inn (which finally ceased to be a pub - we think - around 1990), you can't help wondering whether it was trying to sound old, or its name referred to an old hen, or another pub took the same name and this one then added "Old" to distinguish itself.

The building presently on the site is more recent than the one here, but the reddish-brown building to the left was possibly demolished and not replaced, since the gap between it and the pub seems rather narrow. This is New Street (old enough to be on an 1835 plan of the town), and it's possible that the changes happened circa 1934, when the town was introducing road-widening schemes. (Corrections welcome on this.)

Further over - and closer - we see what looks like a pile of scrap iron and then a small ornate building. Our first guess was a waiting area for the tram service, but as our earlier card shows, it was there before the trams and is actually the office for the town's weighbridge. Both were moved to Priory Street (we have no date, but not later than 1939). Over time its use declined and in 1967 it was dismantled and later re-erected in the Black Country Museum.

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tramway and Hall Street entrance As Louise Rayner saw the area in 1865 Left is where the tramway comes into the market area, and the narrow-gauge tracks squeeze together to pass between the market stalls and the shops. Above, Louise Rayner's 1865/70 painting of the same area (with an exaggerated road slope, perhaps) includes the Seven Stars Inn.

The photo shows major transformation in the pavement, road, and levelling out of the area. Some buildings such as the inn with the large projecting sign have succumbed to demolition and replacement. Others have had new ground-level shop fronts installed to modernise them. [But in making comparisons, we need to recognise that Louise Rayner made frequent use of "artistic licence", and the 1865 building arrangement was not necessarily quite as she depicted it.]

Sheward's, the forward-facing building (left photo above) is still in business and remains in situ at the start of Hall Street. In later years it would be demolished and a swish-looking Burtons clothing store would replace it, before it too was torn down to make way for the Halifax Building Society.

Harry Drummond

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Postcards from David Clare's collection.

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