Alfred Baldwin.

The Baldwin family is recorded as having been farmers in Corve Dale, Shropshire.

In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, some of them moved into Worcestershire and started small forges, worsted spinning mills and a carpet manufactory. They prospered and acquired profitable collieries in South Wales.

Alfred Baldwin, the youngest of 12 children of George Pearce Baldwin, was born eight months after his father's death 1841. He was brought up by his mother, formerly Sarah Chalkley Stanley, the daughter of the Rev. Jacob Stanley, Wesleyan Minister of Alnwick in Northumberland and President of the Methodist Conference in 1845.

Alfred was educated at the Wesleyan Collegiate Institution at Taunton before starting to work in the family company, which at that time included worsted spinning mills at Stourport, carpet manufacturing at Bridgenorth, tin plate works in Wolverhampton, as well as the foundry at Stourport and the forge at Wilden.

When Alfred was 16 he became a partner in the company and at that time there were seven other members of the family in the business. In about 1860 it became necessary to divide control of the Company between the various family members. A cousin, Enoch, and his family, managing Baldwin, Son and Company, took control of the foundry at Stourport, while Alfred's half-brother's and brother's took control of E. P. Baldwin at Wilden forge.

In 1864 the two half brother's died and the control of Wilden passed in to the hands of the two elder brothers who through mismanagement brought the Wilden company close to bankruptcy. In September of 1870 at the age of 29 Alfred took control, dissolved the partnership, brought out his two brothers and by business acumen and hard work put the company back into profit.

On the 9th August 1866 Alfred married Louisa MacDonald in the parish church in Wolverhampton. Louisa was one of four daughters's of George Browne MacDonald a Wesleyan Minister of Scottish decent. One of her sisters, Alice, married John Lockwood Kipling, and gave birth to the writer Rudyard Kipling, one married the painter Edward Poynter and the other, Georgina, married Edward Burne-Jones who designed the windows in the Church at Wilden.

After honeymooning in Scotland Alfred and Louisa went to live in a Georgian house in Lower Park, Bewdley where on the 3rd August 1867 Stanley, the only child of the marriage, was born, By the time the towering black-bearded Alfred had returned in his dogcart from the family forge at Wilden the family cook had carried Stanley up three flights of stairs to the top of the house and to get him as high as possible had stood on a chair and raised Stanley above her head. This she did to appease the ancient Worcestershire superstitions and so ensure that Stanley would rise in the world. Little did she know then that he would be Prime Minister and become Earl Baldwin. A month later he was christened in the thirteenth century church at Ribbesford.

Alfred and the family moved in 1870 from Bewdley to Wilden so that he could be near his employees to whom he became a father and benefactor. Wilden House lay just across the lane from the forge and when the wind was from the west the smoke would have blown into the windows of the house. The forge, as so often in those days, was set in a pastoral landscape as can be imagined from a walk about in Wilden today. So it was in this setting that Alfred turned the company around from debt to profit.

When Stanley was ten Alfred arranged for him to enter the recently founded Hawtrey's in Slough, Buckinghamshire. His mother reportedly said to him 'You can't always be top but always be top if you can; stick to work and to cricket'. His father wrote: 'You were a very good, brave boy this afternoon and I was very pleased with your manly way. If you will be as good in your work and as brave in your play, you will indeed do well'.

Alfred went on to become chairman of the Great Western Railway, chairman the Metropolitan Bank and chairman the Aldridge Colliery Company.

Alfred also became MP for West Worcestershire and his hope was that Stanley would join him in the House of Commons. In 1905 Stanley stood as Tory candidate for Kidderminster but was defeated.

A tragic irony now intervened to make sure that Britain should have one of her most successful premiers.

Alfred suddenly died on 13 February 1908. He had gone to London with Louisa to attend the half yearly meeting of the Great Western Railway Company at Paddington. Louisa wrote" In the mercy of God he was saved pain, illness, apprehension of death and the sorrow of parting".

Stanley brought Alfred's body back to Wilden where it lay, surrounded by his workmen, in the Church that Alfred had built. On the night before the funeral Stanley and his cousins kept vigil by the coffin.

Stanley took on the mantle of his father not only in the Company but also in Parliament. Alfred's old constituents asked Stanley to take his place in the by-election. Out of respect to Alfred the Liberals refrained from putting up a candidate against him. Stanley left for London far from certain that he we enjoy having to live there for half of the year. 'I am sure', he said, 'that Hell is full of electric trams tearing about and getting nowhere.'

Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister in 1923 and was created "Earl Baldwin of Bewdley" in 1937.

You can visit other interesting churches in the area by visiting the Wilden to Witley Church Trail.

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