Stafford in 1841
Stafford is in the hundred of Pyrehill (southern division) on the bank of the Sow. We are not aware that there is any historical notice of this place before the year 913, when Ethelfleda, ‘lady of Mercia,’ built a fort here to keep the Danes of the neighbourhood in check. (Saxon Chronicle.) The early history of the town is obscure. In Domesday it is mentioned under the names of Statfod and Stadford, and is called a borough.
There was a castle near it in the middle ages. In the civil war of Charles I the Royalists, after the capture of Lichfield Close by the Parliamentarians, retired to Stafford ; and an indecisive battle was fought at Hopton Heath, two or three miles from the town, March 19, 1643, in which the earl of Northampton, the Royalist commander, was killed. The town, which, was walled, was subsequently taken by the Parliamentarians under Sir William Brereton : the castle was also taken, but at a later period. The walls have been so entirely demolished, that no trace of them remains. The castle, which is a mile and a half south-west of the town, in Castle Church parish, has been rebuilt quite of late years, or is now rebuilding.
The principal line of building in the town is formed of two streets, called Gate Street and Gaol-gate Street, in which are two openings, Market Square and Gaol Square. The sine is prolonged northward through what appears to have been a suburb, by Near and Far Foregate Streets ; and southward by the suburb of Forebridge, separated from the town by the Sow. The town is well supplied with water, and the streets are paved and lighted under the provision of a local act, except some, which are exempt from the operation of the act, and are kept in repair by the corporation. The houses are in general well built, mostly of brick, roofed with slate.
Over the Sow is a neat bridge. There is another bridge, called Broad Eye Bridge, west of the town. The county-hall is a spacious building of stone, occupying one side of the Market Square The county gaol and house of correction and the county infirmary are on the north side of the town ; and the county lunatic asylum is on the north-west side : the last is a spacious building, well adapted to the purposes of the establishment, which is admirably conducted.
There are two churches. St. Mary’s, formerly collegiate, is a large and fine cross-church, with an octagon tower at the intersection of the nave and transept : it consists of a nave and two aisles, a chancel with side aisles, and a transept, which is 100 feet long and 25 feet broad. Most of the piers and arches of the church are of early English date, or belong to an early period of the decorated English style : there are some good windows of the decorated period, but the east window and some others are of perpendicular character. The upper part of the tower is of late date. The church of St. Chad is smaller, and has a chancel of Norman architecture, with an east window of modern date, a modern nave, and a tower, between the nave and chancel, of perpendicular character. Owing to the friable nature of the stone, the ornamental work of this tower is going to decay. There is a Roman Catholic chapel in the suburb of Forebridge, and there are meeting-houses for Methodists of different connections, Independents, and Quakers.
The borough comprehends the parishes of St. Mary and St. Chad (which are united for secular purposes), and has an area of 2,510 acres : the population, in 1831. was 6,956. The suburb of Forebridge is in the parish of Castlechurch, in the eastern division of the hundred of Cuttlestone, which parish had, in 1831, a population of 1,374 ; but what portion is to be assigned to Forebridge we have no means of ascertaining. The principal manufacture of the town is that of shoes, which, in 1831, employed 800 men : the shoes are chiefly for the London market or for exportation. A considerable quantity of leather is tanned in or round the town. The market is on Saturday ; and there are five yearly fairs, chiefly for horses and cattle. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the Grand Junction Railway pass near the town.
The assizes and quarter-sessions for the county are held in the town ; also the court of election for the members for the northern division of the county, for which it is also a polling-station.
Stafford has sent members to parliament since 23 Edward I. By the Boundary Act the suburb of Forebridge was added to the previously existing borough for parliamentary purposes. The number of voters in 1835-6 was 1,271, viz. 421 ten-pound householders, and 850 freemen : in 1839-40 it was 1,265, viz. 390 ten-pound householders, and 875 freemen. The corporation was dissolved by the result of some legal proceedings, A D. 1826 ; but a new charter was speedily obtained, which is now (except where altered by the Municipal Reform Act) the governing charter. By the Municipal Reform Act the extended parliamentary boundary was adopted for municipal purposes, and the borough was divided into two wards : it has six aldermen and eighteen councillors, and a commission of the peace. The borough quarter-sessions and court, of record have fallen into disuse, and there is no borough gaol : offenders are sent to the county for trial. Petty-sessions are however held.
The living of St. Mary’s is a rectory, of the clear yearly value of £221, with a glebe-house : that of St. Chad is a perpetual curacy, of the clear yearly value of £ 85.
There were in the borough, exclusive of the suburb of Forebridge, in 1833, five dame-schools, with about 80 children of both sexes ; a well-endowed free grammar-school, with 16 boys ; a national school, with 100 boys and 90 girls, and six other day-schools, with 133 boys and 58 girls ; four boarding and day-schools, with 106 boys and 39 girls ; and three Sunday-schools, with 711 children.