A local tradition states that King Wulfhere of Mercia founded an abbey of St Mary at Wolverhampton in 659.
Wolverhampton is recorded as being the site of a decisive battle between the unified Mercian Angles and West Saxons against the raiding Danes in 910, although sources are unclear as to whether the battle itself took place in Wednesfield or Tettenhall. The Mercians and West Saxons claimed a decisive victory, and the field of Woden is recognised by numerous place names in Wednesfield.
In 985, King Ethelred the Unready granted lands at a place referred to as Heantun to Lady Wulfrun by royal charter, and hence founding the settlement.
In 994, a monastery was consecrated in Wolverhampton for which Wulfrun granted land at Upper Arley in Worcestershire, Bilston, Willenhall, Wednesfield, Pelsall, Ogley Hay near Brownhills, Hilton near Wall, Hatherton,
Kinvaston, Hilton near Wolverhampton, and Featherstone. This became the site for the current St. Peter's Church. A statue of Lady Wulfrun, sculpted by Sir Charles Wheeler, can be seen on the stairs outside the church.
Wolverhampton is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 as being in the Hundred of Seisdon and the county of Staffordshire. The lords of the manor are listed as the canons of St Mary (the church's dedication was changed to St Peter after this date), with the tenant-in-chief being Samson, William the Conqueror's personal chaplain. Wolverhampton at this date is a large settlement of fifty households.
In 1179, there is mention of a market held in the town, and in 1204 it had come to the attention of King John that the town did not possess a Royal Charter for holding a market. This charter for a weekly market held on a Wednesday was eventually granted on 4 February 1258 by Henry III.
It is held that in the 14th and 15th centuries that Wolverhampton was one of the "staple towns" of the woollen trade, which today can be seen by the inclusion of a woolpack on the city's coat of arms, and by the many small streets, especially in the city centre, called "Fold" (examples being Blossom's Fold, Farmers Fold, Townwell Fold and Victoria Fold), as well as Woolpack Street and Woolpack Alley.
In 1512, Sir Stephen Jenyns, a former Lord Mayor of London and a twice Master of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, who was born in the city, founded Wolverhampton Grammar School, one of the oldest active schools in Britain.
From the 16th century onwards, Wolverhampton became home to a number of metal industries including lock and key making and iron and brass working.
Wolverhampton suffered two Great Fires: the first in April 1590, and the second in September 1696. Both fires started in today's Salop Street. The first fire lasted for five days and left nearly 700 people homeless, whilst the second destroyed 60 homes in the first five hours. This second fire led to the purchase of the first fire engine within the city in September 1703.
On 27 January 1606, two farmers, Thomas Smart and John Holyhead of Rowley Regis, were executed on High Green, now Queen Square, for sheltering two of the Gunpowder Plotters, Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton, who had fled to the Midlands. The pair played no part in the original plot but nevertheless suffered a traitor's death of being hanged, drawn and quartered on butcher's blocks set up in the square a few days before the execution of Guy Fawkes and several other plotters in London.
There is also evidence that Wolverhampton may have been the location of the first working Newcomen Steam Engine in 1712.
The young Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent (later Queen Victoria) is known to have visited Wolverhampton in the 1830s and described it as "a large and dirty town" but one which received her "with great friendliness and pleasure". In Victorian times, Wolverhampton grew to be a wealthy town mainly due to the huge amount of industry that occurred as a result of the abundance of coal and iron deposits in the area. The remains of this wealth can be seen in local houses such as Wightwick Manor and The Mount (both built for the Mander family, prominent varnish and paint manufacturers), and Tettenhall Towers. All three are located in the western fringe of Wolverhampton, in the areas known as Wightwick and Tettenhall. Many other houses of similar stature were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.
Statue of Prince Albert, Queen Square
Wolverhampton gained its first parliamentary representation as part of the Reform Act 1832, when it was one of 22 large towns that were allocated two members of parliament. A local mob attacking electors who voted or intended to vote for the Tory candidate led to the 1835 Wolverhampton riot, with Dragoons called in to end the intimidation. Wolverhampton was incorporated as a municipal borough on 15 March 1848 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 before becoming a county borough in 1889.
The railways reached Wolverhampton in 1837, with the first station located at Wednesfield Heath, now Heath Town, on the Grand Junction Railway. This station was demolished in 1965, but the area exists as a nature reserve just off Powell Street. Wolverhampton railway works was established in 1849 for the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway and became the Northern Division workshop of the Great Western Railway in 1854.
In the 19th century the city saw much immigration from Wales and Ireland, following the Irish Potato Famine.
In 1866, a statue was erected in memory of Prince Albert the Prince Consort, the unveiling of which brought Queen Victoria to Wolverhampton. The unveiling of the statue was the first public appearance Queen Victoria had made since the funeral of her husband. A 40-foot-tall (12 m) archway made of coal was constructed for the visit. The Queen was so pleased with the statue that she knighted the then-mayor, an industrialist named
John Morris. Market Square, originally named High Green, was renamed Queen Square in honour of the visit. The statue replaced a Russian cannon captured from Sevastopol during the Crimean War in 1855, and remains standing in Queen Square. The statue is known locally, especially among younger residents, as "The Man on the Horse".
Wolverhampton was represented politically in Victorian times by the Liberal MP Charles Pelham Villiers, a noted free trade supporter, who was also the longest serving MP in parliamentary history. Lord Wolverhampton, Henry Hartley Fowler was MP for Wolverhampton at the turn of the century. The Stafford Street drill hall was completed in 1890.
Wolverhampton had a prolific bicycle industry from 1868 to 1975, during which time a total of more than 200 bicycle manufacturing companies existed there, but today none exist at all. These manufacturers included Viking, Marston, Sunbeam, Star, Wulfruna and Rudge. The last volume manufacturers of bicycles left Wolverhampton during the 1960s and 1970s – the largest and best-known of which was Viking Cycles Ltd, whose team dominated the UK racing scene in the 1950s (Viking's production of hand-built lightweight racing and juvenile bicycles exceeded 20,000 units in 1965). Closures of other smaller cycle makers followed during the 1980s including such well-known hand-builders as Percy Stallard (the former professional cyclist) and Jack Hateley.
Wolverhampton High Level station (the current main railway station) opened in 1852, but the original station was demolished in 1965 and then rebuilt. Wolverhampton Low Level station opened on the Great Western Railway in 1855. The site of the Low Level station, which closed to passengers in 1972 and completely in 1981, is currently undergoing redevelopment.
In 1918, David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, announced he was calling a General Election at "The Mount" in Tettenhall Wood. Lloyd George also made his "Homes fit for heroes" speech at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in the same year. It was on the idea of "Homes fit for heroes" that Lloyd George was to fight the 1918 "Coupon" General Election.
Mass council housing development in Wolverhampton, to rehouse families from slum housing, began after the end of the World War I, with new estates at Parkfields (near the border with Coseley) and Birches Barn (near Bantock Park in the west of Wolverhampton) being built, giving the city some 550 new council houses by 1923. The first large council housing development in Wolverhampton was the Low Hill estate to the north-east of the city, which consisted of more than 2,000 new council houses by 1927 and was one of the largest housing estates in Britain at the time. Mass council housing development in Wolverhampton continued into the 1930s, mostly in the north of the city in the Oxley and
Wobaston areas and on the new Scotlands Estate in the north-east. However, council house building halted in 1940 following the outbreak of World War II in September the previous year.
Wolverhampton St George's (in the city centre) is now the northern terminus for the Midland Metro light rail system. Wolverhampton was one of the few towns to operate surface contact trams and the only town to use the Lorain Surface Contact System. Trolleybuses appeared in 1923, and in 1930 for a brief period the Wolverhampton trolleybus system was the world's largest trolleybus system. The last Wolverhampton trolleybus ran in 1967, just as the railway line through the High Level station was converted to electric operation.
Location of the UK's first set of traffic lights at Princes Square
: the poles are painted with black and white bands as they were originally.
England's first automatic traffic lights could be seen in Princes Square, Wolverhampton in 1927. The modern traffic lights at this location have the traditional striped poles to commemorate this fact. Princes Square was also the location of the United Kingdom's first pedestrian safety barriers, which were erected in 1934. On 2 November 1927, the A4123 New Road was opened by the then-Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) linking the city with Birmingham. The New Road was designed as an unemployment relief project and was the United Kingdom's first purpose-built intercity highway of the twentieth century.
Sir Geoffrey Le Mesurier Mander, a member of the Mander family, was Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East from 1929 to 1945, distinguished for his stance against appeasement and as a supporter of the League of Nations. He was known as "the last of the Midland radicals". More recent members have included the Conservative mavericks Enoch Powell and Nicholas Budgen. Powell was a member of Edward Heath's Tory shadow cabinet from 1964, until he was dismissed in April 1968 following his controversial Rivers of Blood speech in which he warned of massive civil unrest if mass immigration of black and Asian commonwealth inhabitants continued. At the same period, Sikh bus drivers and conductors were demonstrating in Wolverhampton against the Transportation Committee's regulations requiring uniform caps and thus prohibiting turbans. In 2005, former Bilston councillor and MP for Wolverhampton South East, Dennis Turner entered the House of Lords as Lord Bilston.
After the end of World War II in 1945, the council erected 400 prefabricated bungalows across Wolverhampton, and built its first permanent postwar houses at the Underhill Estate near Bushbury in the late 1940s. The 1950s saw many new houses and flats built across Wolverhampton as the rehousing programme from the slums continued, as well as the local council agreeing deals with neighbouring authorities Wednesfield Urban District and Seisdon Rural District which saw families relocated to new estates in those areas. The 1960s saw the rehousing programme continue, with multi-storey blocks being built on a large scale across Wolverhampton at locations including Blakenhall, Whitmore Reans and
Chetton Green. The later part of the decade saw the Heath Town district almost completely redeveloped with multi-story flats and maisonette blocks. By 1975, by which time Wolverhampton had also taken in the majority of the former districts of Bilston, Wednesfield and parts of Willenhall, Sedgley and Coseley, almost a third of Wolverhampton's population lived in council housing, but since that date social housing has been built on a minimal scale in the area, and some of the 1919–1975 developments have since been demolished.
Large numbers of black and Asian immigrants settled in Wolverhampton in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Wolverhampton is home to a large proportion of the Sikh community, who settled there during the period (1935–1975) from the Indian state of Punjab. Today, the Sikh community in Wolverhampton is roughly 9.1% of the city's population.
In 1974, as a result of local government reorganisation, Wolverhampton became a metropolitan borough. The United Kingdom government announced on 18 December 2000 that Wolverhampton would be granted city status – an honour that had been unsuccessfully applied for in 1953, 1966, 1977, 1985 and 1992 – making it one of three "Millennium Cities". Wolverhampton also made an unsuccessful application for a Lord Mayor in 2002.
Many of the city centre's buildings date from the early 20th century and before, the oldest buildings being St Peter's Church (which was built in the 13th century but has been largely extended and refurbished since the 15th century, situated on Lichfield Street) and a framed timber 17th-century building on Victoria Street which is now one of just two remaining in the area which was heavily populated by them until the turn of the 20th century. This building was originally a residential property, but later became the Hand Inn public house. It was completely restored in 1981 after a two-year refurbishment project and has been used by various businesses since then – currently as a second-hand book shop.
The Wolverhampton Ring Road circumnavigates the city centre linking the majority of the city's radial routes. It was constructed in sections between 1960 and 1986, and carries the number A4150.
The centre of Wolverhampton has been altered radically since the mid-1960s, with the Mander Centre (plans for which were unveiled on 15 April 1965) being opened in two phases, the first in 1968 and the second in 1971. Several refurbishments have taken place since. The Wulfrun Centre, an open shopping area, was opened alongside the Mander Centre's first phase in 1968, but has been undercover since a roof was added in the late 1990s.
Central Wolverhampton police station was built just south of the city centre on Birmingham Road during the 1960s, but operations there were cut back in the early 1990s when a new larger police station was built on Bilston Street on land which became vacant a decade earlier on the demolition of a factory. This was officially opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, on 31 July 1992.
The city centre had several cinemas during the 20th century. The last of these was the ABC Cinema (formerly the Savoy), which closed in 1991 after 54 years. It has since been converted into a nightclub, with part of the site being converted into the offices of a recruitment agency in 2005.
A modern landmark in the city centre is the Crown Court on Bilston Street, which opened in 1990 as the town's first purpose-built crown court.
A few department store chains including Marks & Spencer and Next have stores in the centre of Wolverhampton. Beatties, a House of Fraser store, was announced to close in 2019. Debenhams is set to open a 3-floor department store in the Mander Centre in 2017. Rackhams had a store on Snow Hill for some 25 years until 1992. This building was then divided between a Netto supermarket and the local archives service, but by 2006 its future was under threat as part of the proposed Summer Row retail development. This led to the closure of the Netto supermarket in June 2007 and the relocation of the archives service to the Molineux Hotel building in 2008. The building is now being demolished toward a development push from the Local Authority at various sites around the City.
Art and culture
From the 18th century, Wolverhampton was well known for production of japanned ware and steel jewellery. The renowned 18th- and 19th-century artists Joseph Barney (1753–1832), Edward Bird (1772–1819), and George Wallis (1811–1891) were all born in Wolverhampton and initially trained as japanned ware painters.
The School of Practical Art was opened in the 1850s and eventually became a close associate of the Art Gallery. Among its students and teachers were Robert Jackson Emerson (1878–1944), Sir Charles Wheeler (Emerson's most famous pupil and the sculptor of the fountains in Trafalgar Square), Sara Page who established her studio in Paris, and many other artists and sculptors recognised locally and nationally.
Wolverhampton Art Gallery was established in 1884, whilst Wolverhampton Grand Theatre was opened in 1894.
There is a Creative Industries Quarter in Wolverhampton, just off Broad Street, with facilities ranging from the newly opened
Slade Rooms, to the art house cinema the Light House Media Centre and the Arena Theatre, which is part of the University of Wolverhampton.
Wolverhampton has a strong history in the ornate cast iron safe painting industry from the Victorian era. Numerous companies, such as Chubb Lock and Safe Company, hired, taught and expanded their artistic status to international reputation, whereby a safe became truly a work of art with fine script and hand-painted designs, highly collectible today. Even in the United States, one can find their preserved masterpieces to this day. The building was converted into a National Historic Registered Landmark Treasure in 1992, which now houses a cinema, art galleries, nightclub, business offices and a beautiful large stained glass rotunda in its foyer. It is among the few canal street factories so well known in the "Black Country" that has been preserved.
Wolverhampton's biggest public art display is taking place between July and September 2017. Wolves in Wolves sees the installation of 30 wolf sculptures in the city centre and West Park, with the sculptures set to be auctioned off to raise money for charity when the event is complete.
As its wealth and influence grew, Wolverhampton both took part in notable exhibitions and hosted them. The Great Exhibition of 1851, at The Crystal Palace, had examples of locks, japanned ware, enamel ware and papier-mâché products all manufactured in Wolverhampton.
Following successful exhibitions at Mechanics' Institutes in Manchester and many northern towns, Wolverhampton held an exhibition that was the brain child of George Wallis, an artist employed by the firm of Ryton and Walton. The exhibition was held in the Mechanics' Institute in Queen Street and showed fine art, furniture, and decorated trays, as well as a variety of ironwork, locks and steel toys.
On 11 May 1869 The Earl Granville opened the Exhibition of Staffordshire Arts and Industry in a temporary building in the grounds of Molineux House.
The largest and most ambitious exhibition was the Arts and Industrial Exhibition which took place in 1902. Although housing only one international pavilion, from Canada, the scope and scale of the exhibition mirrored all the advances in other exhibitions of its time. The exhibition site featured several halls housing machinery, industrial products, a concert hall, two bandstands, a restaurant, and a fun fair with thrill rides and a water chute. Its opening, by the Duke of Connaught, was received with hopeful enthusiasm, unfortunately not matched by the weather, which contributed to a £30,000 loss, equivalent to nearly £2M at today's value.