Situated just two miles south-east of Wolverhampton, it was extensively developed for factories and coalmining. Many houses were constructed in the Bilston area. Between 1920 and 1966, the council replaced most of the 19th century terraced houses with rented modern houses and flats on developments like Stowlawn, The Lunt and Bunker's Hill. Bilston has had a market in the town centre for many years.
Bilston Urban District Council was formed in 1894 under the Local Government Act 1894 covering the ancient parish of Bilston. The urban district was granted a Royal Charter in 1933, becoming a municipal borough and the First Charter Mayor was Alderman Herbert Beach. In 1966 the Borough of Bilston was abolished, with most of its territory annexed to the County Borough of Wolverhampton (see History of West Midlands), although parts of Bradley in the east of the town were merged into Walsall borough.
Bilston Town Hall (pictured below in about 1900) is presently being refurbished. It had been derelict for more than a decade after Wolverhampton Council discontinued its use as housing offices. It is hoped that the town hall will be brought back into public use following the completion of its refurbishment. It dates back to the 19th century.
Christian worship in Bilston can be traced back to the original Chapel dating from 1090. In 1458 the chapel was replaced by St Leonard's Chantry. And a third renovated church was consecrated in 1733. The modern church dates from a rebuilding of 1826 and is thus the fourth church on the same site. The church has a stunningly modern appearance being whitewashed inside and out, giving it a very neat and clean appearance compared to most English churches. In this respect it resembles many American and German churches and some of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also unusual in having a chamfered square tower, giving it an octagonal appearance, in being surmounted with a cupola, a golden globe with weather vane and a fenced viewing platform. These are all extremely unusual features rarely found in English churches.
The industry remained prolific during the interwar years, but much of the housing was now sub-standard, and during the 1920s and 1930s many of the older houses were cleared and replaced by new council houses that featured so many modern conveniences that were previously unknown to their occupants. Many of these houses were built on new housing estates previously occupied by coalfields or farmland, though some were built on the sites of older houses.
By the end of the 1970s, almost all of the sub-standard housing in Bilston had been cleared, but the area was in the early stages of an industrial decline which put hundreds of local people out of work and saw unemployment reach its highest levels in living memory. Things have improved over the last 20 years with more businesses in the service sector setting up around Bilston, but unemployment is still higher than the local average.
Other exciting modern day projects in Bilston include the Black Country Route (opened in phases between 1986 and 1995), that gave Bilston quick road links to important towns such as Dudley and Walsall, and the opening of the Midland Metro tram line in 1999, which gives a speedy public transport link to Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
John Wilkinson (industrialist), "king of the ironmasters", built a blast furnace in Bilston in 1748. He lived and died in Bradley, West Midlands. His body was returned to his home town of Clifton in Cumberland.
Hugh Walters (author) lived all his life in Bilston.
Another significant development in the Bilston area was the A463 Black Country Route. With more and more cars on the road, the roads around Bilston town centre became increasingly congested as the twentieth century progressed. It became so severe that, by the late 1960s, the government had drawn up plans for a new motorway bypassing Bilston (and running from the A4123 near Coseley to Junction 10 of the M6 motorway at Walsall) which was scheduled to be completed by 1976. However, the plans collapsed and Bilston was condemned to increased congestion, for another decade at least.
The plans for a new dual carriageway were revived in the early 1980s. This time the planners had decided on a slightly different route which would run much closer to Bilston town centre. The first phase of the road (to be known as Black County Route) was completed in 1986, though initially running around half a mile east of the A4123. It was extended in 1990 to Oxford Street in Bilston town centre. This expansion resulted in a number of buildings being demolished and some roads having to be re-routed while one road (Market Street) was completely obliterated. This new road changed the face of Bilston town centre forever.
During 1995, the final phase of the Black Country Route between Bilston town centre and Junction 10 of the M6 was completed. This new road has seen a major improvement in the traffic flow around Bilston town centre.
Bilston is served by several bus routes at Bilston bus station. It is also served by National Express West Midlands service 79 (Birmingham - West Bromwich - Wednesbury - Darlaston - Bilston - Wolverhampton)
At the Bilston end of the Black Country Route can be seen the group of wooden statues designed by Robert Koenig and called "Steel Columns." "This sculpture was made from 15 lengths of sweet chestnut which stretch up to 6 metres in height. The male and female figures depicted are based on those found in old Victorian photographs of Bilston. The title ‘Steel Columns’ is a reference to Bilston’s steel making background and the connection the figures had with this history.