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Dudley Market Place - The Fountain End

The old Council House once stood where the fountain now is. Directly behind  it, two successive blocks of buildings called Middle Row ran down what is now the market square. This, of course, meant that there used to be a street on each side. On the left was Queen Street, and on the right, High Street. Middle Row was demolished in the 1840s, creating the market area. Just beyond it on the distant left we see The Old Hen and Chickens Inn, jutting out at the corner of New Street with Castle Street going down to St Edmund's Church (Bottom Church). The Council House was demolished in 1860 - just five years before the Borough of Dudley was created.

The photo is originally from an early trade and information guide to Dudley, published before direct photographic reproduction in books had been solved (photography itself had only been invented 22 years earlier), and 5-6 different prints were glued into each copy by hand.
At one time Dudley had a market cross and pillory in this immediate area - possibly removed when the Council House was being built, but thus giving the area its Market Cross name.

market stalls In this view we are still looking towards Castle Street and St. Edmund's Church, but we've moved up the road far enough to include the fountain, and the market is open for business. This is another mono image overlaid with colour in crude blocks (take a look at the green just left of the fountain, and the way the church becomes a grey smudge). Even so, more care seems to have been taken with the market stalls, and the colouring of details such as the stripes on the canvas awnings may be a fair reflection of what was there. The enlarged detail, right, shows how grainy the mechanical colouring is (see the dots on the canvas), so that smaller detail such as the produce on display is not really identifiable. But we can still see the barrels being used to support the goods on offer - and look how the awning has been wrapped round the lampost! The fountain has water in it for horses, and to the right we see a small part of the interleaved section of the tram track. The card franking is unclear but it was possibly posted on 14th March 1903.

Once the market place came into being as an area and a name, it became a gathering place on those public occasions when something significant was happening (and presumably when the stalls were out of the way). One such occasion was on 17th October 1867, when the fountain was presented to the town by the Earl of Dudley in the presence of a huge crowd. At the time of this photo, the stalls were being erected or dismantled as uprights and runners are just visible, but no canvas.

A tram track did not pass down the left side of the market at this time, so the tracks visible in the foreground were probably used as a terminus or storage point. Some of the buildings are recognisable, but show up better in other cards. This scene is quite tightly dated - it is not earlier than 1899 when the tram wires arrived, and the card was posted on 27th August 1903.

The Maypole Dairy chain originated with the largest margarine factory in the world being built in Southall in 1894. The Maypole chain is now long gone from our streets, though it had 977 stores in 1939 and was still familiar in 1964. Older folk will remember it well - along with other once-ubiquitous chains such as Thomas Lipton (447 stores in 1939, primarily selling tea), George Mason (grocers), Melias (round the corner in Hall Street - whatever happened to that grocery company after 1970?) and the Home & Colonial. Liptons retreated from stores but remain major tea growers and world-wide sellers even today. The Home & Colonial (we think) merged into another group. George Mason we have no information about.

The various chains were often based in normal-sized shops such as the one shown here, with over-the-counter service (and Saturday morning queues out the door!), and tiers of shelves behind the assistants, crammed with variety. And too often the message: "Sorry, sold out", so you had to join another queue. Some stores did grow bigger, of course, and we ourselves remember a Sainsbury’s occupying just a two-shop frontage in Edward Street, Brighton, in the 1970s - it went back a long way, but was still a traditional shop for all that. But unlike the Maypole and others, Sainsbury followed Tesco’s lead and made the jump to supermarket. Supermarkets offered everything in one place, choose for yourself, and queue once. Those who recall the succession of queues that were once essential for the weekly shopping will be especially aware of why supermarkets really were "convenience stores", and why they became so successful. But they also changed the character of our streets forever.

Lloyd's we don't know, unless it was the chemist chain. Palethorpe’s (the tall grey building in the centre of this picture - you can just see the name reversed on the sky banner) was the headquarters of a nationally-known sausage-making business which in the 1930s had its own fleet of railway vans with the Palethorpe's name stretching the length of the vehicleover a large and well-painted pack of sausages! John Dunn, a former employee of the company, says that Henry Palethorpe started in business as a butcher in Birmingham's Gooch Street in 1852. By 1870 the business had grown to such an extent that larger premises were required, so he moved to the Market Place, Dudley. When even larger premises were needed in 1892, the company took over buildings in Park Lane, Tipton, previously used by Whitehouse Brothers as a brewery. It remained there until 1967, then moved to a purpose-built factory at Market Drayton in Shropshire. Palethorpe still employs 950 people as part of Northern Foods today. Out of view to the right was the London & North Western Railway parcel office, and then the Railway Vault pub.

In the middle of the picture is a tram of no known colour (we don't believe the green!) though it may not be the reddish brown seen on another postcard. The scene is not earlier than 1899, nor later than 26 August 1905, when the card was posted - and this means that the Lloyd's building must be brand new, as an older building appears in the picture above (making this the later of the two pictures, of course).

This card - apparently an evening photograph - is earlier than any of the others on this page (apart from the Council House). There are no tram wires, no tram posts, and no lamps around the fountain. It was posted in the Edwardian period circa 1905, (half the date is missing), but it is definitely Victorian, and likely to be well before 1899, as there is no certainty that there were rails here even for steam trams. The building immediately beyond the elegant-looking lady in orange has "Smith" high up its frontage, and Sheward's store at the corner of Hall Street on the left side of the photo still has Burton's as its neighbour - here displaying its name in large brass or gold-coloured capital letters.

This time we are looking up the street, away from the castle. This card was posted on 28 July 1910, but dates before 1899 as no tram wires are visible and the street lamps are still gas. And we cannot even see if there are tram rails in the road. The building at extreme left is the Railway Vaults pub (Butler & Co Ltd. "Famous ales"), and the next building says "Shakespeare" on the sign by the gas lamp. What intrigues, though, is the set of gas lamps that surround the fountain. They appear in no other picture in David Clare's collection, so obviously something caused them to be removed.

A possibility is that they were erected shortly before the electric trams appeared - and were immediately outmoded when electric street lighting arrived at the same time, so they were removed rather than being upgraded or replaced. Alternatively, the reason for their disappearance may be that they had proved to be more of a nuisance than a benefit.

Few postcards ever seem to show the High Street end of the Market Place beyond the fountain, so we were delighted to be contacted by Mike Davies of Rhyl with the postcard above. Apparently when Rhyl station was enlarged in 1868, Rhyl's own Dudley Arms Hotel had to be demolished to make space, and this postcard had been tentatively identified for that hotel since no other photos were known. But Mike wasn't convinced and when he saw this web site and the postcard above this one, he recognised it as the same building and contacted us. Why should he be looking at this site at all? Because Rhyl was opened up in the 1840s by the arrival of the railway, and a lot of Midlands families moved into that area as a result. Some were from Dudley, including Mike's wife's family. Our thanks to Mike for sending this to us.

It's difficult to date the picture as the people at left are very indistinct, but the second and third figures appear to be women wearing the full dresses of the late Victorian era. However, a wire across the picture may be for trams, so the picture is probably around 1899-1910. If we compare it with the previous card, we see that the "Shakespeare" board is still there, but the wording has gone. The street lamps are probably still gas (the ventilator above and the wide air-gap below the mantle are usually indicative), so the dating factor may come down to when the street lamps were replaced.

Despite being a listed building, the Dudley Arms was demolished in the mid-1960s. One reason for this may well have been that it lost its original ground floor frontage sometime between 1900 and the beginning of the 1930s. A picture in David Clare's book on Dudley shows this level stripped out to house the recently-arrived Woolworths store. In the early 1930s, Woolworths moved into their present building on the site of Lloyds (Lloyds appears in an earlier card above).

As our final view of the fountain area, we have this pen drawing entitled "Market Cross". We don't have enough evidence to date it (the card was never posted), but the evident tram wires make it 1899 or later. However, we were contacted in 2007 by Richard Hamilton with an identical card posted in 1909, so we now have a 10-year timeframe.

By the Borough’s centenary in 1965, the fountain had become somewhat neglected and there were suggestions that it be moved elsewhere because it was obstructing traffic. But new ideas about town centres and separating traffic from pedestrians were gaining force - most notably in the Buchanan Report of 1971 - and it was eventually the traffic that went instead of the fountain.

Text: Harry Drummond

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Postcards from David Clare's collection.

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