A sleepy backwater? No, villagers say they are living the good life in Codsall
Mark Andrews visits Codsall in the latest of our Down Your Way features.
It's mid-afternoon and the Medicine Bakery and Kitchen is buzzing. Young and old, people are packed round the stylish marble tables of this bracingly cool cafe. Freshly baked artisan bread is stacked in wire crates, trays of hand-made cupcakes are lined up around the counter. The front window is filled with shelves of immaculately kept pot plants.
"You've missed the big rush," says Jade Woolcock, a 25-year-old supervisor in the cafe. "Had you been here an hour earlier it would have been completely full. I would say we get 50-60 in here at lunchtime every day."
What is all the more remarkable, though, is that this is not some hipster chain in a crowded city centre, but a family run business in a relatively sleepy backwater surrounded by countryside.
Codsall is certainly a village which punches above its weight. While the population is just over 7,500, its compact L-shaped centre is packed with a rich variety of independent businesses, including an award-winning butcher's, a haberdashery shop, a florist, a shoe shop, and a specialist clothing boutique. This draws in many people from outside the immediate area.
"We have people coming from the (Wolverhampton) city centre, there's not really anything like it outside of Birmingham," says Jade.
"Codsall has got a real community feel, I can look out of the window and see the same people every day."
"It's a lovely place," adds barista Tom Keagan, who is originally from Carlisle, but settled in the area after coming to Wolverhampton University. He explains that the business takes its name from the Medicine Bar in Birmingham, which owners Simon and Francesca Jones used to run.
More Down Your Way features:
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- Visit Hagley: The friendly village brimming with character
- How to unlock bright future for Willenhall
- Why Tipton retains its charm despite sweeping changes to industrial heritage
The bakery's trademark sourdough bread is made from organic salt and flour using a natural fermentation process, without the need for any artificial additives or preservatives. Jade says the bakery is also producing an increasing number of vegan and gluten-free dishes.
Across the road is the award-winning Alan Bennett butcher's shop, renowned for its speciality pies and flavoured sausages which have earned it a bulging trophy cabinet.
Butcher Anthony Holt moved to Codsall from nearby Pattingham some 25 years ago, and says the beauty of the village is that it combines the tranquility of the countryside with the convenience of living in a larger town.
"It's a nice quiet village with good amenities and good travel links, with buses and trains, it's got everything you want, but it's still got a proper village atmosphere," says the 47-year-old.
"It's a busy little place, you get people coming in from Wednesfield and Wolverhampton, from all over the place.
"We get customers from far and wide, our flavoured sausages are very popular. Our 'sunshine' sausages do very well, they are made with tomatoes, basil and oregano. And we could do with a bit of sunshine at the moment."
But while the village has retained much of its traditional atmosphere, much of it would be unrecognisable to somebody living there a couple of generations ago.
When William the Conqueror published the Domesday Book in 1086, there were just six people recorded as living in the area.
This is probably slightly misleading, as it probably only listed the heads of households, but it was certainly a tiny hamlet with just a handful of homes. By 1901 the population had grown to 1,452, but it was the postwar years that saw a real explosion in population.
Today's Codsall is a mixture of centuries-old buildings and newish shopping parades, but the corner of Wolverhampton Road and Station Road remains the beating heart of the village, in the form of two historic community pubs.
The Crown Joules, formerly just The Crown, has recently benefited from an extensive makeover after being taken over by the Market Drayton based Joules brewery, while the Bull Hotel is very much a traditional community local with its successful dominoes and darts teams.
Over at the Bull, 72-year-old George Hobbs is reading his newspaper opposite the bar. The retired coppersmith has lived in the village for more than 40 years, and says it has grown considerably over that time.
"One of the big changes has been The Wheel, they knocked the pub down and now there are houses on there," he says.
"The Fields have also changed, there just used to be goalposts for the kids to play football on there, now it's a nice walking area."
George, a retired coppersmith who worked at the former Cape Hill brewery in Smethwick, says it is still a very pleasant place to live.
"It's rural, but it's not to far out," he says.
"You are away from the rush and madness of Wolverhampton, but there are plenty of things here, and you've got the transport."
Friends Tom Jones, 55, and Steve Plumpton, 63, also say the village has seen some changes over their lifetimes.
"A lot of houses have gone up," says Tom, a retired painter and decorator. "You used to have The Wheel down the road, that is gone, and there also used to be The Cross Guns, they've built houses on both of them."
He says it is a friendly place to live, although he adds that there have been a few burglaries recently.
Assistant manager of the pub, Laura McCann, says the village is a very tightly knit community.
"Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows what everybody is doing," she says.
Laura adds that the village pubs do a good trade from real ale buffs who will come to Codsall by train, and do a tour of all the pubs in the area.
Landlady Wendy Hollyhead says traditional pub games are an important part of life at the Bull, but says many of the local leagues struggle for members.
"The problem is that many of the people who play in the leagues are now in their 60s, and the youngsters are not coming into it."
Across the road from the Bull, Wendy Hipgrave keeps the Village Crafts and haberdashery shop with her husband Simon.
Apart from three years away at Leicester University, 38-year-old Wendy has lived in the village all her life, and remembers coming into the shop with her mother as a child.
"The best thing about Codsall is the people, there are some really nice people," she says.
"It's still got that village feel, I feel quite safe when I'm walking around at night.
"It's changed a lot since I was a child, it's massive now, there are lots of new housing estates," she says.
"When I was a kid, my mum used to say 'I remember when all this was fields, now I'm saying the same thing to my own children."
Simon, 44, who has also lived in the village for all his life, says there is a very strong sense of community, which includes an excellent amateur dramatics group.
He says while the railway station does create some parking problems, it also keeps the village vibrant.
"We very often get people in here, just before we're closing, coming in for something they can't get in the city centre."
A few doors away in The Square, florist Gavin Billingham is preparing for the Mother's Day rush.
The 54-year-old is actually from Perton, but has kept his shop in the village for 25 years.
"It's a lovely little village," he says.
"When I first opened up it was a quiet village, but it's now expanding.
"It's still got the community feel. You get to know your customers, and some of them I have known since I have started.
"You get to know the people, that's what I love about this job."
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