Big guns in the Black Country on the eve of the armistice
Never before seen image found 100 years later
DUDLEY Market Place is a familiar area known to all who visit the town and is at the centre of the comings and goings of daily life.
Today it is occupied by permanent market stalls that extend from the Market Place fountain to the statue of Duncan Edwards. It has had several important uses during its lifetime, one of which is perfectly demonstrated by this week’s front cover page picture. We think the photograph, taken by early 20th century photographer Arthur Parkes, is a unique study of how the market place looked when the army brought a display of artillery hardware to the town just before the end of the First World War. Because the war had lasted far longer than anyone had expected a National Campaign was instigated to raise money for the war effort. Events like “Tank Week” and “Feed the Guns” campaigns were held. In support of this latter campaign heavy guns arrived in Dudley on November 2, 1918, and placed in the market place. The visit must have been hugely popular but may have been in Dudley for only a short period of time. Once again we have to thank Arthur’s grandson David Skilbeck for the opportunity of publishing this amazing photograph.
The First World War had seen several developments in artillery warfare with artillery barrages used before an infantry battle. A bombardment that was well aimed could destroy enemy trenches and knock out artillery batteries and communication lines. Heavy artillery played an integral part in the Allied victory and the people of Dudley were being allowed to inspect these monster guns at close quarters.
Dudley Market Place has changed character over the years. The original Council House used to stand where the famous Victorian fountain is today, and directly behind it two blocks of buildings called Middle Row ran down what is now market square. This meant there was a street on each side, on the left Queen Street and on the right High Street. Middle Row was demolished in the 1840s, creating the now familiar market square. The Council House was demolished in 1860.
Dudley had been recognised as a market town as early as the 12th century and by the 19th century held a Cattle, Cheese and Stock Fair on the first Monday in March, a Lamb Fair on the first Monday in August and a Cheese and Onion Fair on the first Monday in October. At all these fairs stock like horses, cattle, sheep and swine were sold. Normal market days were held every Tuesday and Saturday. After the creation of the market place it became a gathering place on those public occasions when something significant was happening and just after the war the Royal Artillery display would have been one of the most significant to ever come to Dudley.
Even though the photogrpah isn’t particularly clear the Howitzer in the foreground stands out and several more guns can be seen behind. The public toilet building is visible as is St Edmund’s Church and of course the famous Dudley cobbles which were only removed in recent years.
The photograph at the top of the page was taken circa 1902 and the market place can be clearly seen devoid of any market furniture, a vast expanse of cobbles where the artillery display would have been exhibited.
On a walk through the market place today it is difficult to imagine a clutter of guns filling the space. But thanks to Arthur Parkes’ diligence and trusty camera we have the evidence to prove that it did happen one hundred years ago.
A view of an empty Dudley market place circa 1902
Dudley Market Place, October 30 2018
Close encounters with artillery pieces, circa November 2nd 1918
A Howitzer gun in action during WW1