Not a lot is really known about Wednesbury before 1086 and it’s mention in the Doomsday book as ‘Wadnesberie’.
Previous to the Doomsday, the experts relied on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, but mistakes can be made and Wednesbury can be attributed to a lot more history than it deserved.
As I found out when reading J.F. Ede’s book: “The History of Wednesbury”.
The entry in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 592 states that Ceawlin was driven out of “Woddesbeorge” following a battle. And In 715 the Chronicles mention another conflict at “Woddesbeorge”
This has long been refuted by the experts and even evidence has been found that it did not refer to Wednesbury at all, but to somewhere much further South.
Yet this name ‘Woddesborge’ is still to be found when researching the history of Wednesbury.
Hackwood believed it meant Wednesbury, and so wrote it down in his book: “Wednesbury Ancient and Modern”.
But J.F. Ede doesn’t believe this at all, he doesn’t place the blame on Hackwood but on two chroniclers and a theory of Major P.T Godsal.
Those two battles (year 592 and 715) were not fought out in Wednesbury.
I won’t go any further into this here, it doesn’t affect the real history of Wednesbury, it simply adds two bits of ‘fiction’ to what is otherwise ‘fact’.
“If you would like to read more about this, I will soon place it in another section”: Woddesbeorge – Adams Grave Another Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record: In 915 it is stated that the burh of “Weardbyrig” was fortified by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great.
Now, I really don’t know if this was also refuted (because of the different place name of “Weardbyrig”)
But it appears to me, that it is this ‘record’ “and only this record”, that points our very own ‘Ethelfleda’ to Wednesbury…. So, for that reason, I do hope it is true.
John F Ede concedes that the site on which Wednesbury stood, was on a border and it is very credible that Church Hill was a fortified post.
And yet “St Bartholomew’s Church” now stands where the Iron age hill fort is said to have stood, but no ‘real’ evidence of an early fortification has ever been found.
“The earliest surviving parts of the church date to the 14th century, but it is likely to have replaced an earlier church building on the same site”.
F.W. Hackwood says that“Ethelfleda ‘castles’ were not made of stone, they were made of heavy timber on ‘plinths’ or foundations of stone. Earthwork rampart and ditches of deep water added to their defensive strength”.
And in Nightingale’s book ‘Beauties of England and Wales’ published 1813 he says of Wednesbury: “Around the Churchyard is a large Graff, in which the vestiges of the ancient fort may be distinctly traced”. But again there is still doubt that there ever was an Ethelfleda fortification on our hill.
Also, “The Mercian Register” gives a list of 10 fortresses built by Ethelfleda and Wednesbury is not on that list?
It was also recorded that a number of Roman coins from the first century were discovered in 1817.
The find included coins from the reign of Nero, Vespasian, and Trajan.
Another Roman coin was found at Wood Green during the excavation of the railway cutting, and a piece of Roman glass came to light in Monway Field.
But again, there is no evidence of Roman occupation in the area, or any evidence of Roman roads.
“Woden place names usually indicate holy ground, and as the cult of Woden, both on the continent and in England was often connected with hills, so a shrine or temple could have been built on Church Hill”.
The god Woden continued to be worshiped until the spread of Christianity, which reached this part of the country around the middle of the 7th century.
This suggests that the site was colonised before then and written evidence shows they soon converted to Christianity.”
1086 was the end of the Saxon era and the start of the Norman age where a lot of changes were made.
F.W. Hackwood says it is recorded in the Doomsday book about the Norman invasion.
He goes on to say:“If the fortification of Wednesbury saved them at that time then in 1089 the conquerors defeated the Welsh borders and laid waste all the surrounding territory and Mercia ceased to exist”
“Ethelfleda died in Tamworth on the 12th June 920”.
So, it all seems a little like ‘hearsay’ doesn’t it? But there is one thing we can rely on:
The Doomsday book! And that tells us our history from 1886, it says Wadnesberie was a substantial settlement.
In1886, William the Norman conqueror possessed Wednesbury by right of conquest.
It was recorded: “The conquering king: “Retains Wadnesberie and its appurtenances.It contains three hides. There is land for nine ploughs in the demesne, 1 plough with one slave. There are 16 villians and eleven boarders with 7 ploughs. There is a Mill worth 2 shillings and one acre of meadow. There is a wood two leagues long and one wide. Bloxwich is a member of the same manor, there is a wood 3 furlongs wide and 1 wide. And in Shelfield there is 1 hide which is waste. It belongs to the same manor”.
In laymen terms, this entry tells us that the land belonged to the King and that at the time both Bloxwich and Shelfield were part of the town.
Wednesbury had 3 hides; “A hide being a piece of land large enough to support one family, or as much land as could be ploughed with a team of 8 oxen in a year. (With the plough would have been a team of oxen, usually eight in number.)
As the slave and plough are grouped together, the slave was probably the man who ploughed the fields.
A hide usually covered about 120 acres. About twice as much uncultivated farmland was available; as there was enough land for 9 ploughs.
Another hide is listed in Shelfield and is described as waste. This means that for some reason no tax could be collected from it.
The entry also states that there was 1 plough and 1 slave in the town, both belonging to the King.
The entry goes on to list 16 villeins and 11 bordars with 7 ploughs. (“Villeins were the better off peasants whose land and possessions belonged to the lord of the manor”). They were not free to leave the manor, and they were subject to a large number of obligations required by the lord, including work on the lord’s land for two or three days a week, additional work at harvest, and the payment of manorial dues.
They also had to pay for the right to brew ale, bake bread, and grind corn at the lord’s mill.
Villeins usually cultivated between 20 and 40 acres of land, often in isolated strips.
Bordars had the same obligations to the lord of the manor as the villeins. They had little or no land, and usually lived in a cottage on the edge of the manor.
Most people at the time were from this class and were lower in the status than the villeins.
It is believed that the people listed were in fact the heads of households, and so modern historians tend to multiply the total by 5 to roughly estimate the actual population.
The rough calculation suggests that there were around 140 inhabitants at the time.
A mill is mentioned that was worth 2 shillings a year. This would have been one of the smaller corn mills, the average mill being worth between 2 shillings and 5 shillings.
At this time all mills were water powered and so it would have stood by the River Tame.
In 1286 the mill was recorded as standing by Finchpath Bridge, which crossed the river close to where Hydes Road crosses it today.
On average there was one mill for every 46.7 households in the county, and as Wednesbury had a maximum of 27 households, it is possible that the mill also ground for neighbouring villages and hamlets. From the above information it is possible to get some idea of Wednesbury’s importance in the local area by comparing it with some of the neighbouring towns.
Next: The Middle Ages
(Farming, nail making and the emergence of black coal and The Black Death)
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