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A Medieval Stroll Around Tamworth

Let us imagine being Tamworthians of the thirteenth century, having a walk round the town on a day in 1290 when the Marmion era was coming to an end, that being also the time from which we can learn of some of the activities of the burgesses from the Tamworth Court Rolls.

Standing on the Bridge of St. Mary, a structure narrower and inferior to others which replaced it, we look up at the stone Norman Keep erected by the Marmion's a little over one hundred years ago, replacing the wooden Keep erected some one hundred years before that. We may wonder whether Sir Philip Marmion, the last of the male line, is seated in his castle or whether he is in residence at one of his other possessions at Scrivelsby or Middleton. He is now seventy-one years of age and has occupied the castle for fifty years. He is nearing the end of a very active life, and has long been a well-known figure both in the Midlands and at the royal court. "He became a Person of no small account in the World," says Dugdale, "a Person in whose Fidelitie the King reposed much Confidence." He has been Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire and a loyal supporter of the King in the struggles with the barons in the time of Simon de Montfort. For Tamworth then witnessed strife between two rival factions: the men of Henry de Hastings, lord of the Staffordshire part of the town and one of the leaders of the baronial party, and the followers of Sir Philip; men who fought at Evesham twenty-five years ago when the barons were overcome and de Montfort was slain. For this and his assistance at Kenilworth, where Hastings had held out with some of the defeated rebels, Sir Philip was rewarded by the King in being granted the two manors of Tamworth – the forfeited estates of the Hastings in Wigginton and the Staffordshire part of the town, and the Warwickshire part which had been held by the King himself. For a long time, however, the burgesses of Tamworth have had reason to hate and despise Sir Philip, for fifteen years ago they had to take action against him for attempting to deprive them of some of their privileges, including the right to elect their own bailiffs because he asserted that such a right belonged to the lord of the manor, which of course it did in some cases, but not in Tamworth, where the burgesses acquired their privileges a long time ago.

Below the castle, at the meeting of the waters of the Tame and the Anker, stand the Castle Mills. "The men of Tamworth," says a Patent Roll of 1275, "claimed that when the manor was in the hands of former kings they elected their own bailiffs every year and were not distrained to do suit to the mills of the manor of Tamworth, and that Philip Marmion did not permit them to continue those customs."

Not far away, on the Tame at Bitterscote, stand other mills, used. by the burgesses for the grinding of their corn in defiance of Sir Philip. These are known as the Lady Mills, belonging to Sir Ralph Basset1, whose manor of Drayton extends as far as the borough boundary at St. Mary's Bridge.

From the other side of the bridge, looking to the western horizon, can be seen the Hay of Hopewas, a place where the King hunts when he stays at the Castle. On such occasions Sir Ralph Basset and Richard de Wytakere are responsible for finding coals and litter for a carpet for the King's chamber for one night, this being a service attached to their joint holding of four messuages in Tamworth.

we proceed from the bridge up the slight hill leading to the town, alongside the dry moat at the foot of the steep mound on which the Keep of the Castle stands. Fields and gardens occupy the rising ground on the left, extending to the king's ditch which joins the Tame at Wyburne lane. Turning to the right, we enter a street which affords us a view of the domestic quarters of the castle, on the other side of the moat, at the foot of a causeway giving access to the Castle Keep. So we come to the market place, with the entrance to the castle on the south side. Here on a Saturday we may see the weekly market, full of activity with the stalls of the burgesses and the goods of itinerant traders from distant towns; the bailiffs and their officers may be seen carrying out their duties in supervising the market and collecting stallages and tolls, making sure that all traders pay their dues. Sometimes we may see an unfortunate offender occupying the pillory which stands in the market place: market day provides produce which may be spared to throw at the victim, unless the worthy burgesses of Tamworth refrain from observing what is a general custom. Here in the market place our fellow-townsmen need no reminder that the last of the Marmions lives nearby, for they can remember how, some years previously, he attempted to extend his castle grounds by encroaching on the highway to the detriment of the market to an extent of forty feet in length and eight feet in width – an action which annoyed the burgesses so much that two of them took the law into their own hands, breaking the gates of the castle and carrying away goods worth one hundred pounds. So says a Coram Rege Roll of thirteen years ago, recording that Marmion sued the King's men of his manor of Tamworth and Wyginton because they would not render the services due to him, and also sued the men who committed the damage. The burgesses also remember that five years since, Marmion claimed that he held the Castle as belonging to his barony and not as a gift from the King, a claim he could not substantiate.

From the market place we enter Bullstake street. On the right, gardens which stretch to the River Anker are intersected by a short lane known as Agatewater-leader, and here, on the bank of the river, butchers and others sometimes commit offences by washing the entrails or animals. Opposite the entrance to this lane is another lane, leading to the College of Deans.

At the end of the street we come to the Bullstake, and here we may sometimes witness a bull being baited by dogs according to custom. Those who slaughter bulls "against the assize" are prosecuted; several persons have offended in this way recently. From there we enter Bollebrugge street, and soon we come to the king's ditch which crosses the street to continue to the River Anker. Beyond the ditch, at the boundary of the borough is Bollebrugge, a narrow structure like the Bridge of St. Mary. From the bridge we can see an extensive common pasture; if we come in the mornings or evenings we may see the town shepherd leading animals belonging to the burgesses who live in the Warwickshire part of the town, for the land on which their houses stand give them rights of pasture on this common land2.

Returning to the Bullstake, we enter a short street on rising ground, known as Cross Street. Here at the junction with Gumpigate and Butcher Street stands the Stone Cross. Nearby is the Butchery and the Swine-market, and in the vicinity is an ale-house occupied by a woman called Isabel. Three times this year "Isabel at the Cross" has appeared in court, having been presented by the official tasters for giving short measure.

We enter Gumpigate, where the county boundary divides the borough, one side being in Staffordshire and the other in Warwickshire. On the left stands the Deanery, and on the right, crofts and gardens extend to the king's ditch, as they do in Cross Street and Bollebrugge Street. On the other side of the ditch is the manor of Pericroft, stretching for a long distance from the River Anker to beyond the northern boundary of the borough. A gate, called Pericroft-gate, leads from the gardens to the land beyond the ditch3.

At the end of Gumpigate we come to the northern gate of the town. Here again we see the king's ditch; crossing it, we proceed along a narrow lane, later called Upper Gungate, on rising ground. The county and the borough boundaries merge here; six hundred years will elapse before the land on the Warwickshire side of the lane is added to the borough, being first within the manor of Pericroft and then within the parish of Bolehall.

At the top of the lane, near the borough boundary, we see the town gallows where convicted thieves end their lives. A little beyond, on the road leading to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, we can see a building which has been erected recently by Sir Philip Marmion for the use of a master and four brethren of the Premonstratensian Order, monks who come from a town called Premonstaton in Picardy, and who are popularly known as White Canons from the colour of their cassocks or habits.

We return to the centre of the town along Saltereslone, an ancient Saxon highway so named because it was used in the transport of salt from Droitwich to Lincolnshire. It takes us into Ellergate, a lane which joins Gumpigate, but going in the opposite direction we arrive at the Carrefour, a word used by the Norman's to signify a place where several roads meet. At the Carrefour we turn into Lichfield Street and soon we come to the King's ditch again and to the western gate. Beyond the ditch lies Outwall street, a name which suggests that Tamworth, like many of the Anglo-Saxon boroughs, was once a walled town, although traces of a wall on top of the king's ditch are no longer discernible. Outwall street leads us to Bradeford, so called from the Broad Ford on the Tame, and to another common pasture which lies just outside the borough boundary and on which the burgesses who live in the Staffordshire part of the town have rights of common attaching to their houses, as do their fellow-burgesses in the Warwickshire part in the common previously mentioned.

Retracing our steps to the Carrefour, we re-enter Ellergate and then turn into Cat Lane, sometimes called Priest Lane and Parsons Lane. Being the main approach to the church, the jurors of the court leet endeavor to keep the lane in a presentable condition and unobstructed by nuisances and traffic, for the burgesses are in the habit of depositing rubbish and leaving vehicles here.

As we enter the church, we may remind ourselves that a religious edifice has stood upon the site for five or six centuries, probably from the time of St. Chad, Bishop of Mercia, who established. his see at Lichfield, seven miles away. Sir Philip Marmion holds the patronage of the present church, which his ancestors built or enlarged after the Conquest. It is a large building4, planned in the form of a cross, with a central tower over the crossing. The daily mass now in progress cannot be well understood by the majority of those who are present, for it is being rendered in Latin, and in any case most of the people cannot read.

Leaving the church, a gate in the churchyard enables us to return to our starting point by proceeding along High Street, the main street of the town, later called Church Street, and Ladybridge street.

Based on the book "Medieval Tamworth" by Henry Wood

1 The manor of Drayton, which was one of the possessions of Leoffric, Earl of Mercia, before the Conquest, came into the ownership of the Basset family by the marriage of Geva, daughter of the Earl of Chester, to Richard, son of Ralph Basset, Justice of England. The Drayton line of the family ended in 1403.

2 In a legal action in 1585, when the lord of the manor of Bolehall attempted to deprive the burgesses of their ancient rights, it was stated that such rights of pasture were for every burgage two cows and a horse, and for each cottage one cow and a horse.

3 In 1368 Sir John de Clynton, then owner of Pericroft Manor, was summoned for closing the gate. "It ought to be open for all the tenants," says the court roll.

4 In "Tamworth Tower and Town," H. C. Mitchell, who by the nature of his calling was well qualified to judge, says that the church as rebuilt or enlarged by the Norman's must have been a magnificent building, in length equal at least to the present church as shown by Norman masonry at both the extreme east and west ends.