Victorian Wellington

The Green

Law and Order

At the start of the Victorian period, the area of Church Street that comprises The Green was probably better known as a venue for Wellington’s cattle fairs, which had been held there since at least the Middle Ages. In fact, it was here that John Barber undertook his first sale of cattle in 1852, before establishing his Auction Mart on the Bury Yards, near to modern day Victoria Avenue.

The County Constabulary

As the 19th Century wore on, the area became increasingly associated with the upholding of law and order in the town. A lock-up had been provided for the County Magistrates in 1779 and by 1840 this stood in the Churchyard, next to the site of the Bowring Gates. At that time, Wellington became a divisional headquarters of the newly established County Constabulary, when two officers were appointed to patrol the town. They were initially housed in an office in Walker Street but in 1853, a purpose built station with cells and a courtroom was constructed in the building that stands next to the modern day bank. By 1896, the force had expanded sufficiently for a new station and Magistrates Court to be built on the corner of Plough Road.

The Charlton Arms Hotel

During the early years of the Victorian period, Wellington began to enjoy the first flushes of the commercial success that helped the town to flourish in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. It may have been as a consequence of this development that a group of houses and business premises in Church Street were converted into the Charlton Arms Hotel.

The Charlton Family

In 1840, several private dwellings, a small school and a malthouse occupied this part of Church Street, while much of the property in the surrounding area was owned by St John Chiverton Charlton, the wealthy local landowner from whose family the hotel takes its name. The Charltons themselves resided at Apley Castle, a former country estate to the north of Wellington, part of which is today the site of the Princess Royal Hospital. As a major route into the town from this direction, Church Street would certainly have been an ideal location from which to take advantage of Wellington’s improving economic fortunes and, sometime before 1850, these buildings were converted into a hotel and Inland Revenue Office.

Whether Bowling or Hiring a Fly' Trap

The Charlton Arms quickly established a reputation as a leading venue for a wide array of events during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and offered many additional services to the local community during the period. Until at least 1894, it served as a posting house for the town’s mail, while public auctions were also held here, many of which were handled by John Barber, who conducted some of the larger sales in a Pelham’ Tent behind the building itself, on what is now the car park. Part of this area eventually became the site of a Bowling Green, which was opened in June 1860 and is one of only a few examples of new leisure facilities being introduced into the town during the Victorian period. There were also stabling facilities situated in the yard, not only for the hotel’s residents but for the fly’ traps that could be hired at the hotel from at least 1861 onwards. As a form of long distance travel, coaching had been decimated by the arrival of the railways by this time, but flys (a one horse hackney carriage that was essentially the Victorian equivalent of a modern day taxi) still provided a useful service for short journeys in and around the town. Although many of these original features no longer exist, the Charlton Arms Hotel is today listed as a building of historic interest and remains as a rare example of a Victorian Wellington business that continues to serve the town in the Twenty-First Century.

All Saints Church

All Saints parish church was constructed before the Victorian period between 1788 and 1790 and replaced a Fourteenth Century structure that was badly damaged in 1644, during the English Civil War. Religious worship may have taken place on this site since Anglo¬≠Saxon times, possibly within a pre-Christian temple that could have been responsible for Wellington’s foundation as a settlement, although no actual proof of this structure exists. In the Victorian era, the church grounds were a place of refuge and learning for the poor and vulnerable in Wellington parish and it was here that both the All Saints almshouses and the local National School were situated, standing between the church itself and the Charlton Arms Hotel.

In 1838, a year after Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, All Saints church was the scene of one of the last orders of penance to be imposed by an English ecclesiastical court. Ellen Poole, a local woman, was ordered by the Lichfield Consistory Court to walk along the aisle of the church during morning service dressed in a white sheet, whilst recanting the scandal of what she had spoken’! Quite what she is suppose to have said remains a mystery but the imagination of the local community was captured to the extent that two to three thousand people gathered at the church to witness the event, according to newspaper reports of the time. However, the proceedings were cancelled at the last minute due to what was described as an informality’ in the sentence, no doubt much to Ellen Poole’s very great relief.

The Almshouses

Richard Steventon, a local landowner who resided at a Dothill Park and died in 1659, may have founded the Almshouses. They were rebuilt with the Church at the end of the Eighteenth Century and, by 1841, were home to six elderly women, all aged between 70 and 80. The Victorian era appears to have witnessed something of a decline in the fortunes of the buildings, as 20 years later only Sarah Mansell, the widow of a local bricklayer, was living on the site. By 1880, the Almshouses had been completely demolished, with a new charity having been founded upon the proceeds from the sale of materials at the site. The perimeter wall that surrounded the buildings can still be seen in the churchyard today and a careful inspection of the brickwork may reveal the outline of each of the individual houses themselves.

The National School

At the beginning of the Victorian period, the quality of education available to working class children was, at best, variable. Many families were reliant on the incomes that their children could provide from going out to work and illiteracy was widespread throughout the country. Locally, the children from poor families who were lucky enough to acquire basic reading and writing skills probably did so through the many Sunday Schools of Wellington’s local churches and chapels.

The Church of England was the main provider of education in the town and their National School, a plain, two-storey edifice, stood in the churchyard directly to the east of the Almshouses. Before 1835, the school was a charity institution supported by donations and managed by the parish church. Records of a free Grammar School within the church building itself exist as far back as 1534 and, by 1799, there were 60 pupils being educated in the charity school, which received a maintenance grant that had once been paid to the earlier foundation. In 1842, a separate school for infants was established on the site but the building became so overcrowded that junior pupils were moved to a new school on Constitution Hill in 1855, with the infants following them in 1897.

By the 1870s, it had become clear Britain’s educational facilities were lagging some way behind their European counterparts and the Government of the day was no longer content to leave schooling to the church organisations who had until then dominated popular education. In 1872, the first Local School Board in Shropshire was formed in Wellington and given sweeping powers to manage existing schools in the area and provide new facilities to be paid for by the local ratepayers. The Board took over the running of the Constitution Hill School and its charities in 1876 and, by the end of the era, no other town in the county had as many publicly funded schools. More importantly, when the Board abolished school fees in 1891, all children in the town under the age of 11 were finally given the right to a compulsory, free education.