The ancient parish of Cannock consisted of the townships of Cannock (including Hednesford, Leacroft, and Cannock Wood), Huntington, and Great Wyrley. The greater part of the parish lay in Cannock constablewick with which the present Urban District of Cannock is roughly coextensive. The history of Huntington and of Great Wyrley will follow that of the area now in this Urban District. The account of recusancy in the three townships will be given under Cannock.
The Urban District is situated to the south and south-west of Cannock Chase, the ground sloping from 801 ft. at Castle Ring Camp near the hamlet of Cannock Wood in the north-east to 365 ft. at Wedges Mill in the south-west. The boundary on the south and south-east is formed by the Wyrley Brook, the Wash Brook, and the Newlands Brook. The soil is light, with a subsoil of gravel and clay, the geological formation being Bunter around Cannock itself and Coal Measures to the east. The area is highly industrialized, mining being the chief industry, and the main centres of population are the towns of Cannock and Hednesford. There are, however, several farms around Leacroft and Cannock Wood. Under the Staffordshire Review Order of 1934 the hamlet of Hazel Slade, then in Brereton (in Rugeley), and a portion of the parish of Norton Canes (in Offlow hundred) were added to the Urban District, part of which was transferred to Norton Canes. The area of the Urban District was thereby increased from 7,965 acres to 8,155 acres. The population in 1951 was 40,917.
The town of Cannock lies about a mile north of Watling Street some 300 ft. lower than Cannock Chase to the north-east. The original built-up area of Cannock lies south and west of the parish church where the roads from Penkridge, Stafford, Rugeley, Walsall, and Wolverhampton converge. This part forms the centre of the modern town and, although much altered, still contains buildings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries (see below). Cannock constablewick comprised 86 households in 1666, and the district was described in 1747 as having 'a delightful situation' and in 1817 as 'formerly a place of great resort on account of the salubrity of Reaumorehill well, which was a fashionable watering-place in its day'. (fn. 6) By c. 1843 there was continuous building on both sides of High Street and High Green, a short way along the east side of Stafford Road, and along the south-west side of Old Penkridge Road. Mill Street was built up, particularly on its south side, but the Walsall and Wolverhampton roads were almost clear of building. By 1851 Cannock was 'a large and well-built village, with about 1,100 inhabitants'. In 1956 the district south-west of Cannock was still being developed as an industrial area, and there were several factories on the east side of the Wolverhampton Road. Residential development at Moss Wood to the south-west of the town dates largely from between the two World Wars and later, and there is an estate of pre-fabricated bungalows south of Longford Road. The area to the north-west was still developing as a residential district in 1956.
Hednesford, two miles to the north-east of Cannock, developed rapidly in the second half of the 19th century, after the opening of the Uxbridge Pit, from a small hamlet providing local staging services for travellers and facilities for the training of racehorses. The Cross Keys Inn and a few cottages remain from the original hamlet which was situated at Hill Top and immediately to the south of it.There are still pre-19th century buildings in Forge Street and at Littleworth. Hednesford contained 53 households in 1666, and was described in 1851 as 'an enclosed hamlet on Cannock heath'; it then had a population of 304, which had risen to about 800 by 1860. The present town centre, with the railway station as its nucleus, dates almost entirely from between 1860 and 1880, reflecting the sharp rise in population during these twenty years. The market hall and the gasworks were built in 1872, the public rooms in 1876, and the police station in 1877. The present railway station dates from 1876, replacing a building of 1859 which was burnt down. The latest expansion of Hednesford has been mainly to the north-west. There are large Council housing estates, some dating from before 1939, at Pye Green and Green Heath. At Pye Green there are also prefabricated bungalows and a caravan site.
Wedges Mill is a hamlet in the south-west corner of the Urban District dating from the foundation of William Gilpin's edge-tool works in 1790; a long range of two- and three-story workmen's cottages on the east side of the road are probably of the original date. The site of the mill itself lay between the canal bridge and Watling Street.
In Bridgtown which lies farther east along Watling Street, the oldest surviving building is part of the edge-tool works of Cornelius Whitehouse &; Sons Ltd., Walsall Road, an early-19th- century factory building of brick with round-headed metal windows. A slightly later factory of similar type, occupied in 1956 by E. W. Wynn, ironfounders, stands at the corner of Watling Street and North Street. The built-up area of Bridgtown, contained in the triangle between Watling Street and Walsall Road, dates uniformly from the last third of the 19th century. By 1876 it was already laid out for streets which were being 'rapidly built'. The hamlet of Leacroft to the south-east of Cannock town had 24 households in 1666. A few scattered farms and cottages remain there. Since 1945 new houses have been built on raft foundations in this area because of the danger from subsidence due to mining operations. There was an open-cast mining site to the south in 1957.
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