Historical Events

Many thanks to the Dawley Heritage group for the use of this information.
For more information on the history of Dawley please visit www.dawleyheritage.co.uk

Key Facts:

  • The parish of Dawley was recorded in the Domesday Book
  • It played a major role in the industrial revolution
  • It was ideally placed at the heart of the East Shropshire coalfield with rich its seams of coal & ironstone
  • Its centre moved from around the Holy Trinity Church to Dawley Green in with the growth of industrialisation
  • The area dominated by two major industrial empires the Darby’s of the Coalbrookdale Company & the  Botfields of Old Park Ironworks
  • Demise of the coal and iron industries left Dawley in decline
  • Regeneration came in the form of Dawley New Town
  • The new town was later extended and renamed Telford

Dawley mentioned in Domesday Book 1086
As far as recorded history is concerned the origins of Dawley lie in its Anglo Saxon name ‘the clearing in the wood of Daella’s people.’ The wood was the huge Wrekin forest also known in Norman times as Mount Gilbert forest (Mount Gilbert being their name for the Wrekin).

Castle Mount (presumed site of Dawley Castle)

By 1086 the community had been recorded in the Domesday Book as having 11 inhabitants (7 villeins in Great Dawley and a surf, villein and two bordars in Little Dawley). Villeins, bordars and serfs were all peasants working the land for thie feudal Lord. Villeins were the wealthiest class of peasant usually farming 20-40 acres; bordars worked about 5 acres and serfs worked the feudal lord’s land and were bound to their feudal Lord. (© Courtesy of Joan Griffiths)

There seems little doubt that a medieval structure known as Dawley Castle did exist, but evidence as to its nature and appearance is rather short on the ground. There are no surviving plans or drawings. What is certain is that Dawley Manor House was in existence in the 1300s with its location just 250 metres south of the present-day Holy Trinity church. The manor house was owned by the nobleman, William de Moreton, who was granted a licence in 1316 to surround the building with a limestone wall and to crenellate it. In time this was referred to as Dawley Castle. By the 17C, ownership had passed to the Fulke Crompton family, and although Fulke Crompton died in 1642, at the beginning of the English Civil War period, he had settled his estate on his wife, Mary Crompton.

Horsehay Ironworks 1755-1984

In the early 1750s the Quaker ironmaster, Abraham Darby II, decided to increase his ironmaking capacity by constructing two new blast furnaces at Horsehay, to the north of Coalbrookdale. The first came into blast in 1755 and the second in 1757. Two years later a rail link was built from the ironworks to the Severn Wharfs at Ironbridge, arguably the world’s first commercial railway. A forge followed, and by 1790 one of the very first rolling mills. The Horsehay Works had come into being and for the next two hundred years it represented one of the most innovative ironworks within the industry. It manufactured a huge number of products, not least bridges. The rolling mills are also notable as having rolled many of the plates for the world’s first iron steamship, the SS Great Britain.

Development of Dawley round Dawley Green 1790’s

The casual visitor seeking the centre of Dawley in the late 18C would have been directed to the environs of Holy Trinity church. After that time, the area around the Lord Hill Inn known as Dawley Green, became increasingly popular with commercial activities. It became the de facto centre of Dawley.

A tradition of non-conformism in the parish was established early on. In 1819 the first Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built at the junction of Chapel Street and the future High Street. By 1840 Dawley Green lay at the heart of several mining communities, and the population rose with the burgeoning collieries, ironworks, and branch railways. It was also a time of new recreational traditions with sports, wakes and ‘pleasure fairs’, events often sponsored by local tradesmen. Sometime between 1851 and 1861 Dawley Green finally became known as the High Street.

St. Leonard’s Chuch

In 1805 the church of St Leonard was built of sandstone in an octagonal design with a legacy from J. Hawkins-Browne, a relative of Isaac Hawkins-Browne, Lord of the Manor of Malins Lee. He and Thomas Gisborne, as executors of J. Hawkins-Browne’s estate arranged for the erection of the church. It was designed by Thomas Telford and was a scaled down version of of the design for St Mary’s church in Madeley. It was originally built to seat 800 people, but the galleries were extended in the 1830’s to allow for a further 200 seats The bells, a medieval silver paten and a chalice were taken from the Holy Trinity Church in Dawley to St Leonard’s as it was to be the parish church.

Battle of Cinderloo

Battle of Cinderloo 1821
Waterloo, Peterloo…major events in British history which immediately bring to mind images of violence, loss of life, hardship and also reminders of turbulent times in domestic life, political and economic change, social reform and religious revival.

But what of Cinderloo? The name has echoes of the well documented events of the early 1800s which impacted on the whole nation, but how much did this less well known East Shropshire uprising impinge on national consciousness and did it also play a part in helping to shape the great political, social and economic movements of the time?

Pool Hill School opened 1846

Dawley National School opened 1841
In 1811 The National Society (Church of England) was founded in order to create a church school in every parish in England, providing an ‘education for poor children in the principles of the established church’. Thirty years later, after a gift of land by the local landowner R.A.Slaney, the process of building such a school in Dawley began and it was opened in 1841. Known as the National School, it immediately offered places to a great many local children where previously there had been little provision available. It was not, however, entirely free, since pupils paid between 1d and 4d, according to their parents’ means.

Picture(© Courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

Built in the Gothic style of architecture using local brick, it opened originally for boys, but a girls department was added in 1849. Workers’ children were educated for free whilst other children paid 3d or 6d weekly. The running of the School was taken over by Dawley School Board in 1887 and over the years it went through many structural and functional changes and additions. It became Primary School when the Secondary School opened on the adjacent site in 1956 became a Junior School when an Infant School was built in an adjacent building. However in 1977 the school was destroyed by arson. Two boys who did not attend the school were convicted of the attack. The Junior School was rebuilt and the two schools united in 1980 to form the Captain Webb County Primary School.

Market Hall 1867

Constructed in 1867, the Market Hall was a handsome building of red brick with arcaded facade, vaults underneath, and a turret with bell and clock. The bell and clock were a gift to the town by Lt. Col. William Kenyon Slaney who was described as Lord of the Manor. The building’s façade has been changed over the years, the bell tower removed, and today the Market Hall functions as separate shops.

Springwell Pit Disaster 1872

1872 was a tragic year in Dawley mining history when eight young men employed by the Coalbrookdale Company lost their lives at Springwell Pit in Holly Lane, Little Dawley. The disaster affected the whole community, not least because it was the first major mining accident in the Dawley area, and followed closely on the Pelsall tragedy in nearby Staffordshire less than a month earlier when 22 miners were killed, including 5 from Dawley.

Shropshire mines are thought to have been unique in the manner in which miners were often lowered and raised from the pits, a process employing a ‘slow-winding’ mechanism. In this way  miners attached themselves by chains to a link fixed at the end of the shaft chain. The men sat in pairs, each in the loop of his own chain, usually eight miners in total. A round wooden board, fixed above, provided protection from objects falling down the shaft, and the suspended group of men was referred to as a ‘bond’.

Dawley Demonstration Day 1876-1971

Dawley Demonstration Day, ‘The Demmon’ or later ‘Dawley Special Day’ as it was often referred to, was held each August Bank Holiday Monday, beginning in 1876. The original demonstrations were arranged for all the nonconformist denominations to participate in, a show of nonconformist strength in the area with its Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists, Methodist New Connexion, Congregationlists and Baptists. The inaugural event saw 16 Sunday Schools and 3073 children and their teachers represented, with the schools themselves being organised into 3 sections for marching to Dawley. These were Lawley Bank, Horsehay and Little Dawley.

Dawley Park opened 1901

Dawley Park

 Picture (© Courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

A public park and recreation ground was opened in 1901 on a site between Dawley National School and George Street, given to the town by W. S. Kenyon-Slaney and H. C. Simpson. Tennis courts and a bowling green were made there in 1922. Part of the site had previously been a cricket ground, apparently given to the parish in the mid 19th century. The park has gates on its Doseley Road entrance which were erected as a memorial to those who lost their lives in WW1.

Captain Webb Memorial erected 1909

Picture (© Courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

Captain Webb Memorial Fountain Dawley

The Captain Webb memorial was erected from public subscription in 1909. Originally it metal drinking cups and piped water. At first it stood in front of the Lord Hill Public House, and had three gas lamps. This changed first to a single electric lamp. The memorial has been moved a number of times in its history. It was refurbished and re-erected at its original location in 2009 on its hundredth anniversary. However, when the road was reopened in 2010 it was moved to its current position. It bears the inscription ‘Nothing Great Is Easy’.

County Library Service opened town library 1927

Dawley Library Service started in the town in 1949. It was located in what had been the small red brick Congregational Chapel at the top of New Street. It was the first branch library in the county to have full-time professional staff. The library service moved out of the chapel to their purpose-built new premises in King Street in 1973. Now the Library is based within Dawley House.

The Making of the New Town 1963 1968

(© Courtesy of Home & Communities Agency)

The pressing need for regeneration of industrially-ravaged east Shropshire was recognised soon after the Second World War. As early as 1952 Dawley, which lay at the centre of that landscape, sought to reclaim 30 acres of old pit mounds for new housing, but lacked the resources to effect the project. Three years later an article by the local resident and Wellington Journal correspondent AW Bowdler addressed the post-war problem of Birmingham’s slum-ridden and overcrowded reputation with the equally pressing need for renewal in east Shropshire. The idea that ‘overspill’ residents from the West Midlands should be invited to relocate to a newly regenerated east Shropshire began to be taken seriously and the leader of Dawley Urban District Council, George Chetwood, wrote to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Serious discussions followed, culminating in the government of the day officially designating Dawley as a site for a New Town in January 1963

The new town was planned by the Development Corporation which was given wide-ranging powers. The prospect of wholesale development aroused optimism, but also profound anxieties. Local residents often witnessed some sound properties as well as slums being demolished and even whole communities such as Dark Lane and Hinksay in Dawley parish being extinguished. Many residents and businesses regarded their compensation as satisfactory, but others remain bitter to this day about the form the development took, the erasing of the intimacy, character and culture of so many old established communities.

In 1968 the government enlarged the remit of the new town to include Wellington and Oakengates to the north, with a projected overall population of 150,000. The new town also acquired a new name that of Telford in honour of the famous engineer Thomas Telford.

In the succeeding years Telford has continued to grow, endeavouring to manage the process begun in the early 1960s of integrating an entirely new settlement designed for the future – with its entire accompanying infrastructure – onto the many old communities which had grown up over centuries. A new town brings many benefits, but equally communities such as Dawley within that new town structure continue to derive much of their identity from the richness of their own historical traditions, the generations of families that have lived there and the deepening loyalty to the place by those who were invited in to make it their home.

The making of Dawley New Town