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Bilston Town Centre Conservation Area


This is your opportunity to comment on the new appraisal and management proposals for the Bilston Town Centre Conservation Area (originally designated on September 29, 1975).

The consultation will run between Monday January 14 and Friday February 22, 2013. 

Give us your comments

Comments can be submitted by downloading, printing and returning our questionnaire. You can also write to or contact:

Historic Environment Officer
Wolverhampton City Council
Civic Centre
St Peter’s Square

A summary of the appraisal and full documents are available below.

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Appraisal conclusions and recommendations

Boundary review

  • No changes to the boundary of the conservation area are proposed.

Recommendations for additions to Council’s ‘local list’

  • Bilston Methodist Church Sunday School Building, Lewis Street;
  • Former Bilston Magistrate’s Court, Bow Street.

Proposed Article 4(1) Directions

Some houses have lost original architectural details such as doors, windows, chimney stacks and roofing materials. If this continues the architectural interest and character of the area will continue to be eroded.

  • It is proposed that, by means of an Article 4(1) direction, permitted development rights are withdrawn for the dwelling houses identified as buildings of townscape merit in the conservation area. This will give the council greater powers to ensure the preservation, and where possible restoration, of unique architectural features and traditional materials by requiring an application for planning permission before carrying out any work.

A large part of the present conservation area is occupied as business premises some of which have benefitted from grant aid in recent years. The facades of many buildings have either been painted in carefully chosen colours and historic advertising as wall paintings have been reinstated, the loss of which would be detrimental to the historic interest and character of the area. Replica railings have also been restored outside some premises with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding.

  • It is therefore recommended that an Article 4(1) direction is used to bring under planning control the painting of unlisted commercial buildings throughout the conservation area and to protect recently grant aided restored railings on specified properties, in order to preserve, and where opportunities arise to enhance, the character and appearance of the conservation area.

The following opportunities for enhancement have been identified

  • The Orchard and Hall Street
  • Forecourt to Nos. 23-29 Lichfield Street

Bringing disused and derelict buildings into a positive use is a key priority:

  • The former Technical School, Mount Pleasant;
  • Pipe’s Hall, Hall Street;
  • No. 56 Church Street;
  • The former Police Station, Mount Pleasant;
  • The former Magistrate’s Court, Mount Pleasant/Bow Street;
  • The former Swan Bank Tavern (No. 5 Lichfield Street).

The council should also seek to:

  • Encourage restoration of architectural detail /reversal of unsympathetic alterations where there is sound evidence of the originals; 
  • Promote awareness of the value and importance of the Conservation Area amongst residents and shopkeepers with a view to highlighting the importance of carefully considering any alteration or demolition and encouraging high standards of maintenance;
  • Produce advisory guidance and ‘best practice’ notes to assist in retaining the area’s prevalent historic character and appearance.

Full appraisal documents

Bilston Town Centre Conservation Area Full Appraisal Document

Article 4 directions documents

Bilston CA artilce 4 non-dwellingBilston CA article 4 dwellings

You can also see copies of these documents at the following venues:

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The designation of a conservation area is normally based on a detailed assessment of the special architectural and historic interest which justifies designation. These assessments are known as conservation area character appraisals.

Appraisals are used to help the Council in its statutory duty to preserve or enhance those aspects of character or appearance which give an area its special interest. They provide a sound basis on which to determine planning applications or applications for demolition within a conservation area and can also be used as the basis for developing management proposals which may include proposals for enhancement.  Preparing appraisals also provides an opportunity to review the boundary of an area and to identify buildings of local architectural or historic interest for inclusion on the Local List.

There are currently 30 designated conservation areas in Wolverhampton and the Council is undertaking a programme to produce appraisals of them all.

This is your opportunity to comment on the appraisal for the Bilston Town Centre Conservation Area which was originally designated by the Council on 29th September 1975 with further minor amendments to the boundary on 16th October 2002.

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Summary of special interest

The Conservation Area is notable for the following:

  • Numerous historic buildings documenting the development of the town centre as the civic, religious and social heart of Bilston, including 15 statutory listed buildings and 13 locally listed buildings. 
  • A particular focus of civic and public buildings serving the town and including the Town Hall, Police Station, Drill Hall, Technical School, Library and Art Gallery and Post Office, which represent the development of Bilston’s civic identity as a prosperous town in the mid 19th to early 20th century.
  • A core of buildings built in or around the early 19th century creates an established character, which has been supported by the adoption of architectural motifs in later buildings.  
  • Curving street lines at Bridge Street, Lichfield Street, Church Street and Walsall Street, reflecting informal planning of a medieval village street pattern. 
  • A high level of enclosure provided by closely spaced buildings at the rear of the pavement.  This constrains sight lines within the streets and creates a series of unfolding views with prominent buildings.
  • Longer views along Mount Pleasant framed by mature street trees. 
  • Several small green open spaces provide a green leafy environment.  The former use of several of these as churchyards provides historic interest.
  • The greenery provided by mature trees both in the public realm and private gardens provides a relief to the urban surroundings and is particularly notable at Bridge Street, Lewis Street and Walsall Street.
  • Lewis Street, James Street and Bow Street provide a quieter residential back-street area with Edwardian terraced housing with interesting retained architectural features.
  • Local details that collectively and individually help to give the Conservation Area its distinctive identity e.g. street signs, patterns of glazing in sash windows,

A brief history of the conservation area

Bilston is an ancient settlement first recorded in a charter of 985 and is mentioned in the Domesday Book.  A chantry chapel was established by 1458 and Church Street and High Street became the focus of settlement in the medieval period. The earliest reference to coal mining in the vicinity dates from 1401 and by the 16th century Bilston became famous for the manufacture of locks and keys, as well as grindstones and supply of sand. Between 1660 and 1760 Bilston expanded from a village of just forty households to a town of over 5000 inhabitants.

Bilston’s location on the 30 foot seam of coal, with deposits of ironstone, led to the growth of metalworking.   Between 1716 – 1730 buckle, toy and chape makers were among the craftsmen of the town working in backyard workshops.  Around 1720 craftsmen adopted japanning and enamelling to decorate their produce and large numbers of copper enamelled boxes were produced until the 19th century.

In 1770 the Birmingham Canal passed to the south of Bilston and reduced the cost of exporting coal from the area.  In the same year John Wilkinson opened his ironworks at Bradley. By 1790 15 blast furnaces were located in Bilston which acted as a spur to the growth of the town including the creation of Oxford Street (1809) and improvement of the London to Holyhead Road by Thomas Telford (1821- 1826) along Wellington Road.

Pipe’s Hall was built around 1810 and the Church of Saint Leonard was rebuilt in 1825-6 together with a new parsonage. The area nearby became a focus for the new homes of Bilston’s wealthier merchants along Wellington Road, Mount Pleasant and Lichfield Street.  The siting of a new police station, built around 1840 may have been designed to protect their property.  Many of these houses were later converted for commercial use. A Methodist Church and manse were built at the junction of Bridge Street and Lichfield Street in 1823 and 1831 with a school on Lewis Street in 1825.  However, the town had poor sanitary conditions and there were serious outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1849. The railway came through Bilston in 1854 and a station was built just to the south of Hall Street and by 1887 Pipe’s Hall had been converted to a hotel to serve passengers.

With the population reaching 26,400 by 1871 the construction of the town hall on Lichfield Street in 1872, and library extension in 1880, established this area as the civic focus of the town.  A theatre and a drill hall were built on Mount Pleasant where further civic investment included the construction of a Science and Art School in 1896/7.

The Drill Hall was rebuilt in 1901 and in 1902 a group of buildings to the east were built for the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Limited (WDET).  By 1903 the Post Office moved to a purpose-built building on Hall Street and Lewis Street and James Street had been laid out but were not developed for housing until 1919 including Arthog Cottages, a row of four Arts and Crafts style red-brick bungalows.  Brueton House in Mount Pleasant was rebuilt in 1905 as a large Edwardian red-brick house in spacious grounds and later used as a girls school.

Some 241 men of the town who died during the Great War are commemorated on the town war memorial, set up in 1921. In the same year Wood’s Palace Cinema opened in Lichfield Street requiring redevelopment of a long section of street frontage.  In 1937 Bilston Borough Council acquired Brueton House to house a museum, art gallery and library.

Bilston’s steelworks developed into a large producer of pig iron and steel following investment by the Hickman family in the 19th century. In the 1950s a major programme of investment culminated in the erection of the Elizabeth blast furnace (‘Big Lizzie’), capable of producing 275,000 tons of steel a year.  However, by the late 1970s the works could no longer compete economically and closed in 1979. A similar story can be told of the fortunes of GKN Sankey, whose main factory just to the south of the town centre produced a wide range of metal products by the 1940s and its site is now partly occupied by a supermarket.

Bilston was included within the County Borough of Wolverhampton in April 1966 following a failed attempt to maintain independence but happily, over forty years later, Bilston continues to be a distinctive town centre.

Clearance of the steelworks’ facilitated the construction of the Black Country Route to relieve traffic congestion through Bilston Town Centre and was completed in stages by the 1990s. A bus station was opened 1991 and in 1999 the Midland Metro reopened the Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Line opening a station close to the original station.  Between 2003 and 2009 Wolverhampton City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund invested £1.8 in restoration of historic buildings in the Town Centre, working with local property owners.

The conservation area is located within one of the key regeneration areas of the city known as the Bilston Corridor. The Bilston Corridor Area Action Plan is currently being prepared and a consultation on the Options Report for the plan is currently underway. To find out more about a new proposed conservation area along the Birmingham main line canal running though the Bilston corridor click here.

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