The Heritage Trail

This page will give updates and information on the progress of the Heritage Trail and the erection of Boards around the village which tell the story of Bridgtown’s Industrial, Commercial & Social History. As of January 2023, 7 boards are now in place and plans for more are in progress.

Board No.1 – Churchbridge Locks & Gilpins Factory

Situated outside the “Costa Coffee” outlet on the new Island retail park. It is named as Churchbridge due to the area it is in. On this site was the Edge Tool Factory of William Gilpin who moved here from Wedges Mills in 1806. A system of 13 canal locks from the factory basin to the Cannock & Leacroft Canal took produce and brought in coal and iron. This was prior to the Railway which arrived in the mid eighteen hundreds. Gilpins built a track from the factory to the main line and although the canal was still used up to the 1950’s the canal’s fate was sealed. This board was funded by the retail park developers – Hortons and we offer our grateful thanks to them.

Board No.2 – Whitehouse ‘Hedgehog Works” Edge Tool Factory

This board is situated on Walsall Road, opposite the Virage Tower & the new “Range” Store. It is now a very nice housing estate but we and the Parish & District Councils and developers Galliford Try have been instrumental in commemorating the Industrial past of this piece of land. As with Gilpin’s, Cornelius Whitehouse works was world reknowned for its edge tools . It’s “Hedgehog” patent stamp appears on the internet sales sites from around the world with people still using and buying their tools.

Board No.3 – Wynn’s Corner – Watling Street / North Street

This board is on the corner of Watling Street & North Street and has been called “Wynn’s Corner” since E.W.Wynn bought the foundry on the site from the “Whitehouse Brothers” ( siblings of Cornelius Whitehouse of “Hedgehog Works” fame) who had built and operated the site. It was a typical foundry and fire & sparks were to be seen inside the factory, quite a sight for the youngsters of the village until it had its hours cut due to the fact that its heavy hammers caused the local houses to vibrate. It was sold on to Cincinnatti Milacron  of America until it closed in the 1960’s.

Across the road (where the garage is) was Astbury’s Transport yard. The Astbury’s were an important family in the history of Bridgtown.

The Greenway family had a Grocery shop on the opposite corner from 1902 run by Bert Greenway. It is a bequest from the Greenway Family that enabled us to put up this board and we are very grateful for their support.

Board No.4 – Longford – Longford House & Longford Island

Longford House was built in c1800 for the Gilpin Family who were edge tool makers in Wedges Mills, then moved to Churchbridge. They moved from there in 1905 when Bernard Gilpin died.
Joseph Lunt, who was a Hammer Maker for Gilpins, Wedges Mills, rising to Foreman of the Hammer Shop, is noted on the board because his relative, Marion Glover (nee Lunt) trusted the money for the erection of this board, which couldn’t be funded otherwise. Our thanks to the Lunt Family for this generous gift.

Longford Island on Watling Street / Wolverhampton Road junction has not always been a traffic island. As the board shows in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s the road was still a large one but had nowhere near the amount of traffic on it. Across from Longford House there has been a petrol service station since the 1920’s. It has just been completely rebuilt to cater for the traffic.
Because the junction was an “accident black spot” in the late 1950’s it was changed to an island.
The other side of the island is “Wedges Mills”. a small village where Gilpin buildings for the workers were built.

Board No.5 – A Brief History of Bridgtown – The Leighton Memorial Garden, Corner Union Street

This board describes the beginning of Bridgtown as a village and through to the present day, it’s ups and downs and its fight against losing the village to industry with the loss of a spirit. That fight was and the Leighton Memorial is part of that fight. Jim Leighton and his ideas for an action group to take on the “Big Boys” has become a part of history that changed the laws of the country.

Board No.6 a&b – Walkmill Lane

Walkmill Lane id the thoroughfare between Bridgtown and Cheslyn Hay. It is here in the 1700’s that a mill was situated giving the lane it’s name. In the 1800’s as the Industrial Revolution was kicking off it became a hub for Canal and later Railway transport. In that time the Old Coppice Colliery at the bottom of Walkmill was sunk and was there until 1965. Brickworks also started there due to the coal and suitable Etrurion Clay, suitable for excellent hours bricks. The bricks are still produced there at a newly built, state of the art factory and the clay id still locally sourced. A Soap Factory was situated there and this was turned into Cannock Agricultural Fertilisers. When the wind was in the wrong direction it stank, and was called “The Monkey Muck”. Also in Walkmill were two big factories – Lucas Car Parts which changed to Carello in the 1970’s and Schrader Valves – a world renowned manufacturer of car valves. That became part of the Newman Group before it’s demise in the 1980’s A pub sat in the middle of all this: The Vine Inn, which started when the mill owners son had it built to provide sustenances for the workers.

Board No.7 – Woottons’ Corner – North Street & Walsall Road

Wootons’ Corner – So called because it was once a timber yard owned by the Wootton Brothers in the 1890’s. They built 2 houses adjacent to the yard when they died, they were sold – One was bought by Oliver Wood and become a Grocery Wholesale business and the other was bought by William Whitehouse (owner of Whitehouse Brothers) and it was then to become the Social Club. Travelling North up Walsall Road is the Army Drill Hall opened in 1932 to accommodate a Royal Engineers Regiment then a Territorial R.E. (213). And latterly a Army Police Unit. Opposite was quite an imposing building – built by Cannock Collieries Association as their Headquarters. The Council took it over and it became an educational hub. Unfortunately. it was demolished in the 1990’s. Behind Walsall Road was the Mid Cannock Colliery where many of the men from the village worked until the early 1960’s. On the land that used to be Cannock Town Football Club around was built the second computer hub in the country known as the Computer Centre. Originally a NCB centre it was then used by many companies for their accountancy and pay records. Going south on the Walsall Road was the Bridgtown Tavern Pub. Further down was the GKN Factory and opposite was the Hedgehog Works of Cornelius Whitehouse

7 thoughts on “The Heritage Trail

  1. Hi I am looking for any pictures of 80 union street when there stood a house there before Astburys built a factory on the site. I was born there in 1965 and have been looking for a photo. It was my gran parents house Mr and Mrs Sambrook.
    If you could point me in the right direction find out any information on the property of pictures I would be very grateful.
    I was always told it wS a pop bottle factory before it wS a house. I remember my grandad digging up lots of bottles up with the marbles in the top. Cod bottles I believe they are called.

    Kinda Regards
    Karen chappell

  2. The edge tool business of William Swift of Seal in Kent was bought up and moved to Bridgtown sometime in the early 20th century. The works was named Seal Seal Works.. There is one invoice dated 1935 which is the only source I currently know of.. One page of an original Seal (Kent) catalogues is in circulation, but as a copy, of a copy, of a copy the quality is very poor, and it lacks the key to the patterns of tools illustrated..
    Can anyone identify where Seal Works was located in the 1930’s, and whether the business was taken over by one of the established makers such as Gilpin or Whitehouse??
    Are there any edge tool catalogues in the local history society archives – some Gilpin and Whitehouse catalogues are available in PDF form, but maybe others exist that have not been scanned…
    Finally: the origins of Cornelius Whitehouse & Sons, and William Gilpin are well documented. less is known about Whitehouse Brothers, and even less about Gilpin & Whitehouse (did the two rival firms have a short lived joint enterprise??)
    There are a large number of edge tool collectors, amateur historians and enthusiasts seeking more information on these firms based in and around Cannock/Bridgtown, e.g. Billhook Junkies on Facebook

  3. Hi, I am looking for a photo of the locks at walkmill lane, I remember the little cottage and the locks looking down Vine lane and would love to see them

  4. Hi, does anyone know what the shop on the corner of New Street and watling street was before it was Betaprint. We believe there could have been a pub/sweet shop or maybe a fish and chip shop there. Would love any history or photos please. My parents owned Betaprint from 70s to late 90s. Thank you.

  5. Hi,
    Do you have any plans to extend beyond Bridgtown? It would be nice to see one of these boards in Wedges Mills as a tribute to the Steel Mill, many of the hand tools produced by Gilpins are still in use today and have become collectors items, I live in Wedges Mills and possess a billhook that was made here, it would be great to give credit to this small hamlet and the industrial heritage that provided it’s name.

  6. Hi Julian
    Nice to see you on our web site. There is a Heritage board outside Longford House opposite the Shell Petrol station which explains about the house which was built by the Gilpin Family and the board at Churchbridge athe Costa Coffee site
    explains all about the Gilpin Factory there. There are plans to put up more sites and Wedges Mills would be one of them. Also there is information in the books produced by the society. Please get in touch with John Devey if you wish to know more.
    Watch This Space !!

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