The first documentary evidence relating to Aldridge is the entry in the Domesday Book which refers to the village of ‘Alrewic’, a Saxon name meaning Alder Village. This suggests that in Anglo-Saxon times, a small hamlet existed at Aldridge, in close proximity to a number of Alder trees.

After the Norman invasion in 1066, William the Conquerer made it known that he personally owned all of the land in the country. He appointed around 200 barons as tenants in chief, and allowed them to hold large areas of land, in exchange for the payment of taxes, and the provision of soldiers when necessary. The system, known later as feudalism, was the key to the Norman’s success.

Staffordshire came under the control of a Norman baron called Ansculf de Picquigny who must have played a significant role in the invasion because he became tenant in chief of eighty manors situated in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Northants, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Surrey, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. He was known as the Sheriff of Buckingham, and in 1070, after Earl Edwin's revolt, was given some of Edwin’s land in the West Midlands including Dudley, where he built his castle, a motte and bailey structure, consisting of an earthen mound topped with a timber tower, surrounded by a defensive timber palisade. He became Lord of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge, and died in the mid 1080s. This began a close relationship between Aldridge and neighbouring Great Barr, which has continued throughout the centuries. Ansculf de Picquigny was succeeded by his son William fitz Ansculf (William son of Ansculf), who appointed Robert (which is a Norman name) as Lord of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge.

In 1085 when the Danes threatened to invade, William commissioned a detailed audit of the country, to extract all of the taxes owed to him, and to ensure that the maximum number of soldiers were available to deal with any invasion. The survey was so detailed that an entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that ‘not even an ox, or a cow, or a swine was not set down in his writ.’  It seemed so invasive, and all-seeing, that it felt as though judgement day had come. As a result it became known as the Domesday Book which was completed in 1086.

The Domesday entry for Aldridge (Alrewic) indicates that there were about 360 acres of ploughed fields, one acre of meadow, and an area of pasture in woodland, around 1,000 metres long by 600 metres wide. There were two plough teams, each with eight oxen and a plough, and five villagers, one smallholder, and one slave. It could raise seventy five pence in tax. The entry also states that Robert was appointed as tenant in chief by William fitz Ansculf.

Robert is also included in the entry for Great Barr, which like Aldridge had about 360 acres of ploughed fields. There was one acre of meadow, and an area of woodland covering around 800 square metres. There was one plough team with eight oxen, two villagers, and one smallholder. It could raise twenty five pence in tax.

The manor would have had an open field system, of communal fields, worked in strips. Some of the old names survived until the eighteenth century including Brantial Field, Daniel Field, Drewed Field, Middlemore Field, and Wetstone Field.

The location of the old fields.

The farming community

At the time, the villagers would have made a meagre living, farming the lord of the manor’s land, and looking after his crops, as well as tending their own small strips. Their animals would have included poultry, and sheep for wool, milk, cheese, and meat. Their diet could be supplemented by catching wild birds and animals in the surrounding area.

By the middle of the twelfth century, life became much harder when Aldridge became part of the Royal Forest of Cannock, which was created sometime before 1153 to cater for one of the royal families’ favourite pastimes, deer hunting. Great Barr on the other hand became part of Sutton Chase, controlled by the Earls of Warwick.


The inhabitants of Aldridge were forced to abide by the strict forest laws which at times must have made life almost unbearable. Trees could not be felled, sheep could no longer be kept because they nibbled the grass, and their scent was thought to be offensive to deer. No new land could be fenced or cultivated, and no wild animals or birds could be killed. The welfare of the deer came before the welfare of the local people.

The officers who enforced the forest laws, handed-out severe fines and penalties to anyone found to be breaking the laws. Poaching for instance could be punished by mutilation or death. The officers were usually local landowners. One of them was Nicholas de Alrewych (meaning Nicholas of Aldridge). Others included Gervase of Bentley, and William of Rushall. The strict laws were not relaxed until well into the fourteenth century, when the locals were again allowed to keep sheep.

Aldridge parish church, dedicated to St. Mary was built sometime before 1257, probably in local limestone. Sandstone additions, including the tower, were added in the fourteenth century. It may have been founded by Nicholas de Alrewych because a defaced effigy in the chancel is believed to be his. There is also a medieval effigy of Sir Robert de Stapleton, Lord of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge. The cross-legged, armour clad figure is carrying a shield and has his feet resting on a lion.

Around this time, a chapel of ease was built at Great Barr which eventually became St. Margaret’s Church.

Erdington Road in about 1900. From an old postcard.

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