Dudley

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Dudley (/ˈdʌdli/ dud-lee) is a large town in the West Midlands county of England, and the administrative centre of the wider Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. At the 2001 census (according to the Office of National Statistics), the Dudley Urban Sub Area had a population of 194,919, making it the one of the largest settlements in England, the second largest town in the United Kingdom behind Reading, and the largest settlement in the UK without its own university.

Dudley is part of the West Midlands conurbation, and is located south of the city of Wolverhampton. It is the largest town in the Black Country region of England, and for many years the town (but not the castle, which was classed as part of Staffordshire[4]) formed part of an exclave of the county of Worcestershire. Despite the more recent changes in county borders, the town still remains part of the Anglican Diocese of Worcester.

An application for Dudley to receive city status was made in 2011, with the decision due in 2012. Though “city status” is supported by the council and certain business leaders, opinion polls in the local press show a majority of Dudley’s residents to be opposed to the borough becoming a city. In September 2011 it was revealed that with 29% vacancies, Dudley was the worst town in England for empty shops. Critics point to the councils support for the nearby out of town Merry Hill Centre and its introduction of punitive parking charges as responsible for the town’s decline.

Dudley has a history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, its name deriving from the Old English ‘Duddan Leah’ (meaning Dudda’s clearing) and one of its churches being named in honour of the Anglo-Saxon King and Saint, Edmund. Dudley Castle has stood on a hill overlooking the town since the time of the Norman Conquest, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The present castle building dates from the 13th century, and provided the centre around which the town grew. Dating from the 12th century are the ruins of St. James Priory, set within the Priory Park.

The town was a major market town during the Middle Ages, selling not only agricultural produce but also iron goods at a national level. Working iron and mining for coal was in practice as early as the 13th century, and by the 18th century the town had become a significant industrial hub.

During the English Civil War Dudley served as a Royalist stronghold, with the castle besieged by the Parliamentarians and later partly demolished on the orders of the Government after the Royalist surrender.

The town’s population grew dramatically during the 18th and 19th centuries because of the increase in industry, and it became a central part of the Black Country. The main industries in Dudley included coal and limestone mining. Other industries included iron, steel, engineering, metallurgy, glass cutting, textiles and leatherworking. Of historical significance, the first Newcomen steam engine was installed at the Conygree coalworks a mile east of Dudley Castle in 1712.

During this time living conditions were incredibly poor, with Dudley being named ‘the most unhealthy place in the country’, which led to the installation of clean water supplies and sewage systems, and later the extensive development of council housing during the early 20th century to relocate the occupants of local slum housing.

In World War II, Dudley was bombed on several occasions, with a number of fatalities, though nowhere near as severely as its near neighbour Birmingham.

The town was developed substantially in the early 20th century, with the construction of many entertainment venues including a theatre and cinemas, and later in the 1960s several indoor shopping precincts. In more recent years, however, the declining industry in the area has given rise to high unemployment, resulting in the closure of many town businesses. The development of the nearby Merry Hill Shopping Centre between 1985 and 1990 also saw the loss of most of the town centre’s leading name stores, which relocated to take advantage of the tax incentives offered by Merry Hill’s status as an Enterprise Zone.

In more recent years the town has declined further still, with the financial crisis and recession resulting in even more of the retail units in the town centre becoming vacant. The Woolworths store on Market Place closed in December 2008 when the company went bankrupt, and Beatties closed its store – the last department store in the town – in January 2010, after more than 40 years due to falling trade.

By the end of the 13th century Dudley had become a manorial borough and, from the 16th century until 1853, was governed by the Court Leet of the Lords of Dudley. After this time the Town Commissioners were superseded by the Board of Health, before the town was eventually incorporated into a municipal borough in 1865. It became a County Borough in 1888 under the Local Government Act, consisting of the wards of St. Thomas, the Castle, Netherton, St. Edmund, St. James, St. John and Woodside.

Dudley’s Council House in Priory Road was opened in 1935 by King George V, and was financed by the then Earl of Dudley, William Humble Eric Ward, to replace the original building from 1870. The Town Hall (now Dudley Concert Hall) opened on St James’s Road in 1928; it stands next to council offices which were converted from the old Police Station in 1939 after the construction of a new building on nearby New Street.

The town has had a public library since 1878; it was originally situated in Priory Street, before relocating to St James’s Road in 1909. The library underwent a major expansion in 1966 and a significant refurbishment in 2002.

In 1966, the county borough was expanded to include the urban district councils of Brierley Hill and Sedgley, along with parts of Coseley, Amblecote and Rowley Regis, while an area in the eastern section of Dudley was transferred into the new borough of Warley, which became part of Sandwell in 1974. In 1974 it became part of the Dudley Metropolitan Borough, after a merger with the municipal boroughs of Stourbridge and Halesowen.

Since 1974, Dudley has been part of the West Midlands county.

 

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