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Bilston, Staffordshire

Several generations of Burgums of the "WW" family tree, formerly from the Forest of Dean, lived in Bilston.

BILSTON, was an agricultural market town that grew quickly as part of the industrial revolution, becoming noted for its extensive coal and iron works. It lies about half way between Wolverhampton and Wednesbury, about two and half miles from both. In 1871 its population was about 24,200. The area was surrounded by numerous mines of coal and iron, which in turn supplied the numerous smelting furnaces, foundries, forges and slitting mills. Heavy machinery was produced here and immense quantities of rails, for the rapidly expanding railways. The area would have been thick with smoke, steam, coal dust, with many of the workers living in poor housing. Subsidence from the mining was common, while the slag heaps grew ever larger. In 1790, 15 of the 21 blast furnaces in Black Country were in Bilston. While Pig and wrought iron were produced in huge quantities, other trades included Japanning, domestic hardware, sheet metalwork, galvanising and tin plating.

In 1767, construction of the canals in and around Bilston ensured that coal, iron and manufactured goods could be exported to the rest of England. The Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool Railway was built through the town in 1837. Bilston continued to prosper and expand, its population growing rapidly in the first half of the 1800’s. The poorest lived in row upon row of small slums, crammed in between dirty, smelly narrow streets and passages. Many lived in single rooms, close to the yards or workshops where they worked for very little pay. 10% of the men were colliers, many more working in the iron industry. With 82 taverns and 77 beer shops in 1842, it is not surprising that many wives did not see much of their husband’s wages! Cholera epidemics occurred in 1832 and again in 1849, killing many of the population.

However, by the 1860’s, supplies of coal were becoming exhausted and industry was having to use railway and canals to import coking coal. Over mining, including extensive open-cast mining, caused numerous problems for the area, including subsidence and major underground flooding. Coal production fell from 641,000 tons in 1880 to 205,000 tons in 1880. Iron production suffered as a result, but it was the competition from new centres of iron production (such as Middlesborough), or even from abroad, caused Bilston to decline. By 1920 coal production had ceasing completely. Some companies managed to diversify, while others struggled.

John Burgum (born in Lydney in 1784) and his wife Mary (nee Roberts) moved to Bilston sometime between 1809 and 1813, with their five children. John and Mary’s grandchildren would also be born in Bilston. By then the family were spelling their name Burgham. In 1871 (CS1871-11) John and Mary's youngest son George, now age 50, was living at Bilston Street, Bilson, with his wife Mary and two children, Elizabeth age 17 and George, age 15. George senior was working as a shingler in the ironworks, while his son (age 15 remember) was an ironworker at the forge. Another of George and Mary's children, Emily, was working as a barmaid in Church Street, Bilston.

The family had previously been involved in the iron industry in Lydney and Redbrook, in the Forest of Dean, and it was this that took them to Bilston. As the industry declined at Bilston, many of the family moved on to the new industrial centres such as Jarrow, in the north-east of England.

Some of the Burgums/Burghams remained at Lydney and Redbrook after John and Mary had ventured north to Bilston. Thomas Burgham owned the ironworks at Redbrook from 1828 and was still there in 1864. Select Redbrook from the list on the left for more information about Thomas and the Redbrook Burghams of the MM family tree.

More on the MM Family Tree here.
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More on the WW Family Tree here.
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