A History of Dudley

By Tim Lambert

Dudley in the Middle Ages

Dudley began as a Saxon village. It was originally called Dudda’s leah. The Saxon word leah meant a clearing in a forest. Dudley later became known as the capital of the Black Country.

In the 11th century, a castle was built at Dudley. At first, it was made of wood but in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in stone. In 1647 after the civil war between king and parliament Dudley castle was ‘slighted’ or damaged to prevent it from ever being used by the royalists. A fire damaged the remains of Dudley Castle in 1750.

In the Middle Ages Dudley also had a priory or small monastery nearby.

Dudley was changed from a village to a town in the 13th century when the Lord of the Manor started a market there. In the Middle Ages, there were very few shops and anyone who wished to buy or sell anything had to go to a market. Dudley soon grew into a flourishing little community. In the Middle Ages, the area was already known for its coal mines. By the 16th century, Dudley was known for nail making. In 1562 a grammar school was founded in Dudley.

In 1685 Dudley was granted the right to hold 2 annual fairs. (Fairs were like markets but tended to specialize in one commodity like horses. People would come from all over the West Midlands to buy and sell at Dudley fair). In the 17th and 18th centuries, Dudley was a quiet market town known for its nail making and chain making. There was also a glass industry in Dudley.

Dudley in the Industrial Revolution

Like the rest of Britain Dudley began to change rapidly in the late 18th century. It was helped by the canal, which made it easier to transport heavy goods. The iron industry boomed and ever-increasing amounts of chains, nails, and goods like fire grates and vices were made in the town. Coal mining in the Dudley area also boomed. The glass industry in Dudley also continued to prosper.

In 1791 an Act of Parliament formed a body of men called the Town Commissioners. They had the power to pave the streets of Dudley and to clean and light them (with oil lamps). After 1821 the streets of Dudley were lit with gas. A ‘scavenger’ was appointed to collect household rubbish. The commissioners also created a piped water supply (for those who could afford to be connected) and they numbered the houses. St Thomas’s Church was rebuilt in 1818 and in 1834 Dudley was provided with a horse-drawn fire engine.

Despite some improvements, Dudley was, like all towns in the early 19th century, a dirty and unsanitary place. There were outbreaks of cholera in Dudley in 1832 and in 1848. As a result, a Board of Health was formed in Dudley in 1852. Furthermore, in 1865 the government of the town was reformed and Dudley was made a borough and given a corporation.

Guest hospital was built in 1867 with money provided by a man of that name. Also in 1867, The Earl of Dudley donated a fountain to the town. A statue of the Earl was erected in Dudley in 1888. The first public library in Dudley opened in 1878.

The railway reached Dudley in 1850 and in 1880 horse-drawn trams began running through the streets.

During the 19th century the iron industry in Dudley continued to boom and boilers, fenders and vices were made as well as chains and anchors. The glassmaking industry also continued. In the 19th century, there was also a straw hat-making industry in Dudley and a brick-making industry.

Dudley in the 20th century

In the 1920s trams in Dudley were replaced by trolleybuses (which ran on overhead wires like trams but did not need rails). In turn, the trolleybuses were replaced by motor buses. The last trolleybus ran in 1967.

Fountain Arcade was built in 1926. The War Memorial Clock was built in 1928. Dudley Town Hall was also built in 1928. Also in 1928, the boundaries of Dudley were extended to include the priory and castle, which, curiously had always been outside the boundaries of the town. The Council House was built in 1935. Dudley Zoo opened in 1937.

In the 1920s the council began slum clearance in Dudley. New houses were built to replace the slums. The Priory Estate was built between 1929 and 1939. The council built many more houses after 1945. In 1941 a new fire station and new police station were built in Dudley.

During the 20th century, the traditional industries in Dudley declined in importance but industry became more diverse. While the metalworking and glass industries continued in the area new industries included plastics, electronics, and chemicals. Meanwhile, the service industries became more important. These included tourism and the retail sector.

The Black Country Living Museum opened in 1975. Broadfield House Glass Museum opened in 1980.

The Trident Centre opened in 1973. Merry Hill Shopping Centre opened in 1985.

In 1974 local government was reformed and Dudley was made part of a metropolitan borough that includes Halesowen and Stourbridge.

Stourbridge College opened in 1974. King Edward VI college was formed in 1976 out of the old grammar school. It was followed in 1982 by Halesowen College.

In 1994 a new visitor centre was opened in Dudley castle.

Dudley in the 21st century

The Dormston Sports and Arts Centre in Sedgley opened in 2000. The Millennium Pegasus sculpture was unveiled in 2001. It was created by the Sculptor Andrew Logan. The Pegasus sculpture stands 7 meters high. The Red House Glass Cone opened in 2002.

In 2021 the population of Dudley was 323,000.

Timeline of Dudley

13th century The village of Dudley is changed into a small market town

1562 A grammar school is founded in Dudley

1600 Dudley is known for nail making

1647 After the Civil War Dudley Castle is deliberately damaged

1685 Dudley is allowed 2 annual fairs but it is still a small town known for nail making

1600 Dudley is known for nail making

1791 A body of men called Improvement Commissioners is formed to pave, clean and light the streets of Dudley. The Industrial Revolution starts to transform Dudley from a market town to a large industrial centre.

1821 Dudley gains gas light

1832 Dudley is struck by cholera

1834 Dudley gains a horse drawn fire engine

1848 Cholera strikes Dudley again

1850 The railway reaches Dudley

1865 Dudley is made a borough and is given a corporation. The iron industry in Dudley booms. A glass industry flourishes.

1867 Guest Hospital is founded

1878 The first public library opens in Dudley

1880 Horse drawn trams begin running in Dudley

1926 Fountain Arcade is built

1928 Dudley Town Hall is built

1935 The Council House is built

1937 Dudley Zoo opens

1929-39 The Priory Estate is built

1941 A new fire station and police station are built in Dudley

1973 The Trident Centre opens

1974 Dudley is made part of a metropolitan borough including Halesowen and Stourbridge

1975 Black Country Living Museum opens

1980 Broadfield House Glass Museum opens

1985 Merry Hill Shopping Centre opens

2000 Dormston Sports and Arts Centre opens

2001 Millennium Pegasus sculpture is unveiled

2002 Red House Glass Cone opens