A Brief History of Kinver

Sketch of Kinver High Street

A Rural Parish

Kinver forms a southern outpost of Staffordshire, bordering on Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester, and Dudley Metropolitan Borough. Only a short distance from the industrial Midlands, it is mainly a dormitory area, but it has an industrial past, the demise of which started in the second half of the last century. The final collapse, in 1882, caused a large reduction in population, leaving something of a 'ghost' town.

Transport and Recreation

The building of an electric tramway in 1901 connected Kinver with the West Midlands network, producing cheap transport which opened up the area to tourism and commuting. Investment in property began on a new scale, starting long associations between Kinver and the conurbation. Thousands of visitors came to Kinver as a 'green lung', and the promotional literature for the tramway christened the area 'The Switzerland of the Midlands'.

The growth of omnibus transport closed the tramway in 1930, but people still come in large numbers to the village, particularly at weekends and Bank Holidays, mainly by car. An increasing number of visitors are canal boat holiday makers, tied up at Kinver lock, and re-provisioning at the High Street shops.

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, which is an attractive feature of the landscape, was completed in 1772, and it provided industry with a link to the sea via the River Severn. This started something of a transport revolution. Some of the original Brindley canal works and bridges remain, but most of the commercial traffic has been lost to road and rail. Occasionally a coalboat can be seen, busy delivering coal to a few canal side houses. Though colourful and romantic, it is hardly a major commercial activity.

Kinver Edge

Without doubt, most of the visitors come to Kinver to see the Edge - 200 acres of open access land owned, with the renowned rock houses, by the National Trust. There is an adjoining area of open space which belongs to Staffordshire County Council, and next to that is the Hereford and Worcester owned Kingsford Country Park.

The rock houses, which include the Holy Austin Rock, are possibly some of the earliest dwellings in the area. They were cut into the soft red sandstone, but now human and natural erosion is necessitating some remedial work for reasons of safety. From the ridge at the top of the Edge can be seen the Clee, Clent, Cotswold, Abberley, Bredon and Malvern Hills. Although the heathland of Kinver Edge provides space for recreation, this has not always been so. There were once gravel pits, sheep and crops. Thanks to the generous gift of the Lee family, the land use has completely changed.

In the surrounding countryside there are scattered woodlands, pastures and cultivated land. Access to some of this land is possible by using the 40 or so miles of footpaths and bridleways, to provide much pleasant walking, and some riding.

Kinver Village

Although the village is largely a dormitory for the conurbation, it is far from being a sleepy community. The present population of the Parish is 8,000 and most of the residents live in Kinver village. However there is also a lively community at Stourton, with its own church, public house and village hall. Other localities in the Parish include Iverley and Whittington.

There are nearly sixty local organisations covering a wide spectrum of interests. The Parish Council works with vigour and enlightenment to effect continual improvements.

In 1985, with the support and help of local organisations, schools, individuals and traders, Kinver won the award of the Best Kept Village in Staffordshire and in 1986 the Best Kept Village in South Staffordshire.

The green belt provides some protection to the village from over-development, and helps it to retain its identity.

The High Street contains elements of good townscape. The varying street width and the changing vista add to the charm. The building materials are mainly brick and tile, but the structures vary in age from mediaeval to modern. A few half timbered buildings remain, notably the Old Grammar School House, the restoration of which won an Architectural Heritage Award in 1975. In the Conservation Area, which includes most of the village centre, are other buildings of note, such as The White Harte Hotel and the Pharmacy.

The relationship of the Church of St. Peter, set on its hill above the High Street and overlooking the river valley, to the village is without parallel in Staffordshire. This apparent separation owes its origin to the creation of 14th century markets, and the consequent development around the market place, to such an extent that the original settlement near the church has all but disappeared.

Kinver has three schools - Foley Infants in Fairfield Drive, Brindley Heath in Enville Road for the juniors, and Edgecliff Comprehensive School (serving adjoining parishes besides Kinver) nearby. Opposite these two schools, at Potters Cross, is the modern Kinver Methodist Church.

An Ancient Settlement

Called Chenevare in the Domesday survey, Kinver undoubtedly owed its former importance to its geographical location, for three reasons. These are the high ground of Kinver Edge, the Royal Forest, and its situation on the River Stour.

The high ground has evidence that it was used from early times, with a settlement that developed into an Iron Age promontory fort.

The Royal (Kinver) Forest was of interest to the ruling king and his retinue. Domesday records it as being three leagues long and one league wide. Stourton Castle was maintained as a hunting lodge, and there are records of King john's visit in 1200, 1206 and 1207. The Castle was the birthplace of the most famous person in Kinver's history - Cardinal Reginal Pole, in 1500. He became the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury and a confidant of Mary Tudor. He died in 1558, and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, where his portrait and his vestments still hang.

Stourton Castle was captured during the Civil War by Tinker Fox in 1644, but it was recaptured by Sir Gilbert Gerrard. A wooden door with a hole made by a cannon ball of this period still exists.

The growth of an economy - and its demise

The third geographical reason for Kinver's relative importance was certainly the most significant from an economic viewpoint. This was its situation on the River Stour. Prior to the age of steam, running water meant power. Two mills are recorded in Domesday.

It is not certain when Kinver began as an industrial centre, but iron was being worked in the old Borough of Kinver in 1387. Strong carts or waggons for use in time of war were produced in the 15th century. That the Stour and its tributary were an important source of power is demonstrated by the fact that there were five mills in the Parish in the 17th century. The largest was at the Hyde. It was modified by Richard Foley into a mechanical slitting mill in 1627, and thus was created a fortune for the Foley family.

The Hyde works grew in size, and steam power was introduced. The peak of production was in about 1860, when the population of the village reached 3551. All the associated trades of a thriving community can be found in contemporary directories. A recession in the iron industry and the increasing use of the Bessemer steel process forced the closure of the works in the mid 1880's. Little trace apart from the old mill race remains, and now The Hyde is a group of dwellings in charming riverside surroundings, with the canal and the picturesque Hyde Lock nearby.

Wool and Malt

A considerable woollen cloth industry in the Parish lasted until the end of the 17th century. Sheep grazing presumably came about as a result of the forest land being cleared for charcoal.

'Rack Piece', 'Hanging Hill' and 'Tenter Furlong' are reminders of cloth working. The mill in Mill Lane near Hanging Hill may have been, at some period of its life, a fulling mill. At other times it was used for grinding corn, iron processing, wire and screw production, and sawing timber. It is possibly one of the mills mentioned in Domesday.

The woollen industry was virtually extinct by 1830, and the land was turned over to the growing of barley. This change resulted in a growth in the making of malt, and a number of malt-houses are recorded in the 19th century. One purpose built malthouse survives at the rear of the present Pharmacy. It appears to have been last used in 1863.

Apart from agriculture, which has continued in Kinver Parish in different forms since pre-Domesday times, the only industries now operated are the extraction of sand at Stourton and the production of Kinver Crystal Glass by a company started in 1978.

Kinver in 1830

© Kinver Historical Society