Great Wyrley is in South Staffordshire where it pokes its nose into the West Midlands conurbation. It is situated 12 miles south of Stafford, 14 miles west of Lichfield and 17 miles north of Birmingham. Its infamous history abounds with the Wyrley horse maiming of the early years of the 20th Century, but there’s more to the history of Wyrley than this as we shall find out.
Great Wyrley was around when the Romans made their way to Wales via the Watling Street and probably encamped by the Wash brook. The Saxons came next and gave the name ‘Wir leah’ from the translation of ‘the bog myrtle glade’. Many centuries later after the Norman Conquest the name of the hamlet was to be called ‘ Wireleia’, in the Domes Day Book of 1086 the land belonged to the Bishop of Chester, this didn’t last for long as the following years were very tempestuous and were to be challenged many times over.
Little Wyrley and Great Wyrley progressed along the same course throughout the centuries, each having its own Manor house, coal seams and good growing land. It would make sense in joining up, it wasn’t to be, even after the Grove Pit was opened miners would make their way from Wyrley, Brownhills and Pelsall, unlike Harrisons and the Plant Pits there was to be no housing developments, so Little Wyrley stopped a little back water which it still stands today, untouched.
In 1642 during the Civil War the village was split, to the south at Landywood the Roundheads had set up their encampment at Broom Hill and the story goes that to supply water for the troops they dug a well, and this is where Warwell Lane came in, the Loyalists led by Colonel Leveson made forays at the Roundheads, and a battle was thought to have been fought near Warwell Farm. Colonel Leveson’s Manor House was destroyed by the Roundheads. It must have been an imposing sight, castellated and surrounded by a moat. It dominated the valley of Wyrley Brook and also over looked the Park and the Paddock. It was situated opposite the old school on the Walsall Road and Norton Lane, believed to be the oldest part of the village. Nothing remains today of this building and of the Moat House, materials from the remains of the Manor House was used in the building of the Moat house, even stones from the ruins were used in the foundations to the cottages next to where the old Post Office was on the Walsall Road.
Saint Marks Church, vicarage and school was built in 1845 on the Paddock, it was later to become prominent with the Wyrley horse maiming and the vicars son, George Edalji. Though not all of the village were of Cof E. Methodism was strong in the area and John Wesley had preached in Cannock and Norton in the latter part of the 1700’s. A number of chapels sprang up in the Landywood area; much later on in 1925 a new Chapel was built on the corner of Shaws Lane and the Walsall Road.
The tale of the sisters that lived at Jacobs Hall is also fascinating. These two sisters came from London during the Great Plague in 1666, and took shelter at the Engine which was an Inn, and later on became Wharwell Farm, the story goes that the Jacob sisters had the hall built, but was pursued by highway men, with whom they had associated themselves with in London, they had stolen their ‘booty’ and fled to Staffordshire. Why Great Wyrley? Any way they hid the Treasure at Jacobs Hall and went in hiding at the Engine, the highway men eventually caught up with the sisters and dastardly deeds were done. The treasure was never found and murder was committed, and it is said the two sisters walk the lane, and the highway men ride from Wharwell Lane to the hall at the dead of night!
Towards the end of the 1700’s Great Wyrley was growing, edge tools were being produced at Churchbridge by Gilpins, the Walsall to Stafford Turnpike (toll road) was built, within 50 years the canal and a railway line came to the village, transporting of coal being the main contributor. Pits large and small were to spring up all over the place as the coal seams were so close to the surface. Sadly Gilpins as well as the pits and canals have gone, only memories and photos can reflect on another age.
Life stood still for the village till the Post War era when council housing estates were built, later to be followed by private developments, the land was ripe, opencast had laid large areas of brown field land open for building. In the 1960’s the village was to change dramatically with the village growing from a population in 1961 of 5,567 to more than double 10 years later.
In 2010 the village of Great Wyrley is so unlike to the one which I have written about, but the history of the village is still around us, if only in memories. A last point to this story is that Little Wyrley still dreamily goes on untouched.