As part of the Queen Street Townscape Heritage Scheme, local volunteers have researched the history of several properties along Queen Street. Our volunteers have used a range of sources, including documents, maps and photographs, to highlight areas of continuity and change. Their research findings will form part of an exhibition to be held at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, and also shared here in a series of blog posts entitled; ‘Queen Street Through Time’. In this post, Queen Street expert and project volunteer Jackie Harrison shares a brief historical overview of the development of Queen Street.
Queen Street first came into being in the 1750s, during a time of growth and prosperity for Wolverhampton. In the mid-18th century, a surveyor from Hereford named Isaac Taylor carried out a survey of the township of Wolverhampton. The resulting map reveals that much of the area now occupied by Queen Street, Castle Street and Tower Street was undeveloped croft & meadow land.
The development of Queen Street took place in 2 phases. The first phase began in 1754 on the north side of the street, between the present Princess Street and Piper’s Row. The land was under the ownership of a Mr Thomas Tomkys and upon his death, the land was duly staked out into plots of differing sizes and sold off. The earliest deed in Wolverhampton City Archives concerning the sale of one of these plots is dated 2nd December 1756 and records the sale of a plot of land measuring 123 square yards to a Mr William Clarke.
In 1770, the Sketchley’s and Adam’s Tradesman’s True Guide makes reference to twelve people trading from Queen Street and this top-end north-side development phase was initially all that there was to Queen Street. By 1777, the Town Commissioners levied an improvement rate against all properties in the town. Records reveal that there were twenty eight rateable properties in the street and very soon afterwards the full complement of twenty nine. Remarkably, of the original 29 properties, the footprints of 28 still survive today. Thanks to Godson’s 1788 map of Wolverhampton, we can see that the north side of the top end of Queen Street was not only completely built-up, but also built-up along the street line as it is today.
During the early phases of development, people both worked and lived in the street and the small metal trades that the area was known for were well represented; for example brass & iron founding, buckle making, tinplating, rulemaking. Being a new street, people were keen to live and trade there and slowly it became home to the full range of trades from pubs to plumbing and tailoring to watch-chain making.
For 55 years or so, this original development existed entirely on its own, overlooking Piper’s Croft from its frontages. The second phase of development, now on the south side of the street, began in 1812 and was on a much grander scale than that of the north side.
Here, there were large houses and prestigious organisations including the Congregational Chapel.
At the same time as the south side was being developed, development began in what is now the lower end of Queen Street between Princess Street and Dudley Street but it required an Act of Parliament to do it. Old buildings already existed and compulsory purchases had to be made, and compensation paid, before the development could proceed.
As the small metal trades declined, the north side of the street became a treasure trove of emporiums where you could buy any item – bespoke clothing, hosiery, hats, boots & shoes, books & stationery, surgical instruments, clocks & watches, leather goods, various household provisions, musical goods. You could also access many services including accountancy, legal advice, surveying, fire insurance, cabinet making, engraving & gilding, hairdressing.
Queen Street has survived various phases of development over the course of the 20th and 21st century. Today, it is an important gateway for commuters arriving into the City by train or bus. It is hoped that this project will encourage a greater awareness of the historic development of Queen Street and a stronger appreciation for the City itself.
Look out for the ‘Queen Street Through Time’ series of blog posts which you can find on the Wolverhampton Arts and Culture website. We will also be using the Queen Street blog to share some of our community engagement activities, events and training as well as stories from our dedicated volunteers. For regular project updates and announcements please visit our Facebook page and for more information on the Queen Street Townscape Heritage Scheme, please see our webpage.>
* All images courtesy of our friends at Wolverhampton City Archives and local photographer Dave Clare.
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