Wonderful Wolverhampton

Wombourne is a large overgrown village in the south-west corner of the county, close to the bounds of both Shropshire and Worcestershire, about six miles south of Wolverhampton. The A449 road goes through on the east side and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal on the west. Through the middle flows little Worn Brook on its way to the rivers Stour and Severn. 'Wombourne' is how most inhabitants spell it, although a few prefer 'Wombourn'.

The ancient parish church of St Benedict Biscop was the only one in England so dedicated. Benedict was a 7th century Northumbrian bishop who founded monasteries at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, and is the patron saint of glassmakers. Benedict's teaching and his precious library were the basis of the future works of Bede, the great scholar, theologian and historian (AD 673-735). Therefore it made good sense when, nearly 13 centuries later, a daughter church was built to serve the needs of the growing parish of Wombourne, that the people should choose him as its saint. Now in the 1980s the two Anglican churches share the care of the parish with St Bernadette's Roman Catholic church, a United Reformed church and a Methodist church.

The oldest dwelling in the village is The Wodehouse (pronounced Woodhouse), an attractive mansion in wide grounds above the brook on the eastern edge of the parish. About 1180 William le Coq was granted a clearing in the forest and later built his 'house in the wood'. His descendants, the Woodhouse family, lived on this site until the beginning of the 18th century, after which it passed to the Helliers, Shaw Helliers and in 1981 to Mr John Phillips. The core of the present building is a late medieval timber-framed house, and all around it are the additions and alterations from the late 16th to the 19th centuries, the whole being a fascinating home. The owners share the house and grounds with the villagers for fetes and other fund raising activities.

The lower section of the 'Staffs and Worcester' through Wombourne and beyond, is reckoned to be one of the loveliest lengths of canal in England. James Brindley's masterpiece (opened 1772) is a contour canal with the natural curves of the river valleys it follows. It was a vital link in his scheme for connecting the Trent and Mersey canal with the river Severn. Two centuries on Brindley's canal is an amenity, a place for leisure and pleasure. People come to marvel at the Bratch locks, where the land drops sharply for 30 feet, and admire their complicated but efficient construction.

Time has healed the landscape wounds caused by the coming of the railway and the deserted trackway is now a most pleasant path, officially called the Kingswinford Branch Railway Walk. The station building is the information centre for Nature Trails and various other local walks. Only the elderly villagers can hear in their memory the big steam engine's whistle as the driver took it through the cutting in the woods.

In 1750 Wombourne was purely agricultural (a mere handful of men worked in a nearby iron forge), by 1800 there was horticulture as well. By 1850 there was sand mining and a spell of the hand-made nail trade, but until the middle of the next century there was no great leap in the population. The national boundary upheaval in the 1970s broke Wombourne's link with its Saxon heritage when the old Seisdon Hundred lost its identity in the South Staffs District build-up. In the 19805 Wombourne has acquired many new amenities, but it still thinks and behaves like a village in the real caring sense of the word.

NB
The village information above is taken from The Staffordshire Village Book, written by members of the Staffordshire Federation of Women's Institutes and published by Countryside Books. Click on the link Countryside Books to view Countryside's range of other local titles.