Cannock

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Date:1086 - 2015 (c.)

Description:The town of Cannock is situated on the west of Cannock Chase, approximately 9 miles from Stafford, Wolverhampton and Walsall. The place name, Cannock, was originally thought to have been of Celtic origin, but now it is believed to be Welsh in origin, meaning “a slight hill of gravelly soil.”

In the Domesday Book of 1086 Cannock is recorded as Chenet. At that time it belonged to the King. The recorded population was eight villeins [an unfree tenant who held his land by performing agricultural services] and three bordars [a small holder of land who farmed on the edge of the settlement]. There was enough arable land to support three ploughs. The manor was worth 20 shillings. In addition there was a large area of woodland six leagues in length and four leagues in breadth [a league is approximately three miles]

In the Hearth Tax assessment of 1666 a total of 44 householders were assessed for tax at Cannock and 42 people were exempt from payment because they were considered too poor to pay. At Leacroft 15 householders were assessed for tax and 9 were considered too poor to pay, whilst at Cannock Wood 18 householders were considered too poor to pay tax and nobody was listed as assessed for tax.

The largest property in Cannock in 1666 was occupied by Mr John Byrche, an attorney of Cannock, who had 11 hearths. The Byrche family were important in the history of Cannock.

Historically, the town was celebrated for its beautiful situation and also its water from the ‘Reaumorehill well’. However Cannock had a problem with the water supply. The soil was gravelly and therefore porous, so water would drain quickly away. A solution to this problem was found in 1735 when Dr William Byrche , who owned Leacroft Hall and The White House on the High Green, organised the provision of water for the town. Money was raised by public subscription and the Conduit Trust was formed. The water was carried through lead pipes from a field in Rumer Hill to the Conduit Head, situated on the High Green. This hexagonal building is still in existence. Although South Staffordshire Water Works Company was established in 1853, the Conduit Trust continued until 1942. By then mining subsidence had caused too much damage to the pipework for this supply of water to continue.

Although coal mining had existed within the area since at least the 13th century, Cannock’s industrial importance grew in the 19th century with the development of the Cannock Chase coalfield. The increasing demand for coal, combined with the excellent road, rail and canal links, helped the economic development of the area. In addition to coal, the Cannock area was important for the manufacture of edge tools, bricks and tiles and for lighter manufacturing and engineering work. The town centre thrived. In the later 19th century new buildings were erected such as the market hall, public rooms for education and entertainment, a police station and gasworks.

Although Cannock has redeveloped its shopping centre in the 20th century, it still has some historic buildings in the town centre, particularly around the High Green. The White House, for example, dates from Georgian times and was lived in by Dr. Byrche, who provided the water to the town. It was later occupied by Captain Henry Cary who translated Dante’s Divine Comedy into English. One of the oldest buildings in Cannock is situated at 79 High Street where for over one hundred years it was occupied by the Linford family. The New Hall, 81 High Street, was erected in 1891 and was used for lectures, concerts, classes and a church Sunday School. The building could seat 500 people. It is not known how long the Bowling Green has been in existence but it is known that in 1753 a brick wall was built around it.

St. Luke’s parish church in the centre of Cannock dates from at least the 12th century. Initially it was a small chapel and a dependency of Penkridge Collegiate Church. It has had extensive renovations throughout the centuries. In 1849, during one period of renovation, a carved wooden head of King John was found, which was believed to have been part of an ancient screen. Dr. Henry Sacheverell, the political preacher, held his first curacy at the church in the early 18th century.

In 1604, Cannock was recorded to as having had a population of 400 people within the parish, nearly all of which were listed as Roman Catholics. By 1780 only five Roman Catholics were listed. During the 19th century there was a resident priest at St. Mary’s School which had its own chapel. The school expanded at the end of the 19th century and, almost at the same time, the Sisters of the Christian Retreat opened the Convent of the Holy Rosary on an adjacent site at St. John’s Road. The present church of St. Mary was built in 1924, and is situated at Hallcourt Crescent.

There is evidence of protestant nonconformity in Cannock from the 17th century and it developed in strength during the 19th century. The Primitive Methodists had strong support from 1808 when Geoffrey Townsend registered his home as a meeting house for Primitive Methodists. A Congregational Chapel was established in Cannock in 1817. In 1842 following the continued expansion of Methodism, a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built in the town. It was replaced in 1866 as Trinity Methodist Chapel.

There was a free grammar school at Cannock from at least the 16th century. In 1680, John Wood of Paternoster Row, London, provided a house at Cannock, the town where he was born, for the use of a schoolmaster to teach children to read. Charitable funding continued but in 1818, the schoolhouse was already recorded as not being suitable, and attendance at the school began to decline. The premises became an infant school when in 1864 the master of the school left to begin his own private boarding school. The new infant school grew in attendance and the building was enlarged, with the help of new government legislation. In 1930 the premises were considered unsuitable by the Education Authority and these premises were vacated for new ones in Wolverhampton Road.

In 1828, Mrs Walhouse of Hatherton Hall arranged for a new school to be built in New Penkridge Road which included a house for the teacher with school rooms either side of it. At her own expense she provided education for 200 children and took a great interest in the school. Her work was continued by her family and the school became a National School in 1851.

Educational provision continued to improve and expanded to include provision from nursery to further education, reflecting the needs of the community. For example, the County Mining College in Cannock opened in 1928 and was enlarged in 1935, reflecting the importance of coal mining in the area and the presence of the National Coal Board within the town. Now, higher education is provided by South Staffordshire College.

Jennie Lee, 1904 – 1988, was Labour MP for Cannock and Rugeley, 1945 – 1970. She became Britain’s first Arts Minister in 1964 and was the wife of Aneurin Bevan. She was later created Baroness Lee of Ashridge.

To find out more about Cannock’s history, see The Victoria County History of Staffordshire: Volume V

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