Prominent Old Swinford Families
Many families have been prominent in the life of the parish over the centuries.
They include Ernest Stevens who donated, amongst other things, the wonderful Mary Stevens Park (gates pictured here) to the people of Stourbridge, in memory of his wife, and also industrialists such as Foster Rastrick and Co. who built the world famous 'Stourbridge Lion' (right) - the first steam engine to run on rails in the USA.
The Perrott family dominated the life in Wollaston in the 15th and 16th centuries, before later moving to Fairfield.
The Milwards of Wollescote Hall were another of the parish's ancient families, rising from yeoman status in the early 16th century to become leading gentry and attorneys two centuries later, when the male line died out. During the Civil War their home was used by Prince Rupert as a headquarters, but after the Restoration, the King rewarded John Milward with the gift of a plantation on St Kitts.
A major force in 16th century Lye were the Addenbrooke family, their wealth created from a series of iron-producing mills which were driven by the then raging River Stour. A later descendent, John Addenbrooke, gave his name to the famous hospital in Cambridge.
Tyzack and Henzey
In the early 17th century, many foreign-sounding names began to appear in the church registers, belonging to immigrant glassworkers from Lorraine, who found the coal and clay seams in Amblecote, Lye and Stambermill wer ideally suited to their trade. The main families were the Tyzacks and the Henzeys, their female descendents intermarrying with many of the local gentry.
The most noteable Old Swinford family in the 17th century were the Foleys, who rose from small yeoman nailers to become immensely wealthy ironmasters with vast estates in the counties of Worcester, Hereford and Stafford. The founder of their fortunes, Richard Foley (1580-1657) is reputed to have cunningly supplied his ironwares to both sides in the Civil War. His son, Thomas (1617-1677) handsomely endowed Old Swinford Hospital, opened as a school for some sixty sons of the industrious poor in 1667 (it still flourishes today). Thomas's brother, Robert (1624-1676) married the daughter of Dudley, Lord North, and was appointed Ironmaster to the Navy in 1660. Both he and his son, Robert (d.1701) were buried in Old Swinford Church.
Another family with 17th century origins in the Parish were the Hickmans. They were originally employers in the local wool trade (the name Gigmill in Norton is a reminder of its presence in the area). When the trade diminished locally in importance between 1650 and 1750, the Hickman's acquired large amounts of land in the parish. The good quality clay under this land enabled them to take a prominent part in the brickmaking industry, centered in Lye and Stambermill. Last in the male line was Captain Richard Hickman (1792-1855), a well-known local character who lived in the Tudor Old Swinford Castle close to the church.
Rufford and Foster
Leading families in local industry in the 19th century included the Ruffords and the Fosters. Francis Rufford owned claypits and a major firebrick works at Stambermill, employing in excess of 1000 people in 1840. Many of the employees were female, who could often be seen shovelling heavy weights and softening clay with their bare feet. The family were also connected with a Stourbridge bank named Rufford Wragge and Griffiths. The bank suffered a spectacular collapse in 1851, ruining many local people in the process.
James Foster controlled some ten local ironworks, including John Bradley and Co. (founded in 1800). Another of his concerns, Foster Rastrick and Co., manufactured some famous local early steam engines, including the 'Stourbridge Lion' and the 'Agenoria'. When he died in April 1853, he was so greatly respected by his workforce that one thousand of them marched four abreast to his funeral in Old Swinford Church.
Twentieth century Old Swinford benefited greatly from the philanthropy of Mr Ernest Stevens (1867-1957), whose wealth was created in enamelled holloware (typical examples being dustbins, buckets and baths). After the death of his wife Mary in 1925, he made a series of gifts for the use of local people. These included Mary Stevens Park and Studley Court at The Heath, Wollesctoe Hall with its surrounding parkland and White Hall, which for many years served as a maternity home.
Ernest Stevens is buried in St Mary's churchyard.