The Stapleton and Alrewych families

The Stapleton family, Lords of the Manor of Great Barr, were soldiers and landowners who came from the Manor of Stapleton, six miles south of Shrewsbury. Sir Robert de Stapleton, the son of John de Stapleton who died in 1272, fought with the English army against Llewellyn and the Welsh, Wallace and the Scots, Bruce and the Scots, and saw service in Flanders. Some time before 1306 he married Isabel, the widow of Roger de Ridware and became Lord of Hamstall Ridware, which is a few miles east of Rugeley.

Sir Robert’s ownership of the manor of Great Barr was often in doubt. Members of the Morteyn family, and other members of the Stapleton family claimed it belonged to them, and many legal battles followed. Sir Robert, his wife Isabel, and brother-in-law Fulk de Bermingham were involved in many lawsuits. Sir Robert produced at least three false charters to justify his claim on the manor, which still survive. After his death in 1333 Isabel and her brother continued the fight. In 1370, just before her death, she gave her steward Thomas Jordan all of his holdings at Aldridge. After her death her brother Fulk de Bermingham became Lord of the Manor. Four hundred years later Thomas Jordan’s descendants would become Lords of the Manor.

Nicholas de Alrewych, Lord of the Manor of Aldridge, died around 1277 and was succeeded by his son William. William junior died young, and his son, also called William, inherited the manor from his father. As young William was under age, his guardian Walter Strangelford looked after his interests. Just before he became of age, William feared that Walter Strangelford might dispose of some of his inheritance, so he seized his father’s property with the assistance of many of the local people, including the rector. Three years later Walter Strangelford was awarded damages, which were probably never paid. William died around 1312 and left his estate to his son William who was also under age.

Around 1356 after William’s death, the Manor of Aldridge came into the possession of Sir Roger Hillary who lived at Bescot, and paid an annual rent for the estate to Isabel de Stapleton of three shillings, two barbed arrowheads, and a pair of gloves. Between 1337 and 1341 Sir Roger Hillary was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland, and from 1342 until 1354 was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, the primary court of common law in England. His duties took him all over the country and so he could have spent little time in Aldridge. After his death in 1356 his son Roger inherited the manor. He was a keen soldier who fought with the King’s army in France.

Hurst Cottage, Forge Lane. From an old postcard.

Life in Middle Ages

Richard II’s poll tax returns of 1379 list the population of Great Barr as follows:

18   Married men consisting of William Coleson, 14 farmers, 2 servants, and 1 labourer.
2   Widowers, both farmers.
17   Other men consisting of 1 farmer, 1 labourer, 10 servants, and 5 others.
18   Married women , the wives of the 18 married men above.
1   Widow.
18   Other women including 14 servants.

Fourteenth century charters can provide us with a snapshot of life at the time. There were still some open fields ploughed in strips, but also many enclosed fields. Corn was grown in some of the fields, cattle and sheep were kept, and other fields were used as pasture. Some of the local woods contained oak trees which were not only grown for wood, but also for their bark which was used for tanning. The bark strippers were called ‘barkers’.

By the fifteenth century, wood was also used to make charcoal, needed for the early metal industries. The charcoal was mainly produced in an area called ‘Colefield’ stretching from Barr Beacon to Sutton. This became known as Sutton Colefield.

By 1563 there were thirty two families living in Aldridge, and forty three in Great Barr. The Hearth Tax returns of 1666 list sixty two households in Aldridge with hearths, and thirty one without. In Great Barr there were sixty five households with hearths and fifteen without.

As the population increased, so did the area occupied by fields. Before 1500 there were 290 acres of arable land, 92 acres of meadow, and 28 acres of pasture. By 1600 this had increased to 1202 acres of arable land, 614 acres of meadow, and 2,368 acres of pasture.

Some of the old unenclosed ploughed strips in Aldridge continued to be used until well into the eighteenth century. The Church of England kept what was known as Glebe Terriers, meaning a written survey or inventory of land and property held by the vicar for the support of himself and his church. A terrier of 1684 gives details of 96 strips of land belonging to Aldridge Church, 44 in Drewed Field, 27 in Brantial Field, 17 in Daniel Field, and 8 in Wetstone Field. The terrier of 1758 lists no strips, only enclosed fields.

By the late sixteenth century much of the charcoal production had ended, because of the depleted woodland. For the first time documents refer to local land as furze and heath. The burning of the trees opened-up parts of Barr Common including the high point which could now be used as a beacon. It is possible that one was lit there to signal the approach of the Spanish Armada in August 1588.

Due to the threat of invasion, Henry VIII drew-up lists of available men and weapons to help in the struggle that might ensue. In Great Barr and Aldridge there were six bowmen without horses or armour, thirty four footmen armed with bills (a long pole with a spearhead and hook), and fourteen horsemen with various arms. By this time the manor had passed from the hands of the de Bermingham family to the Stamfords of London, who came to live in Perry Hall.

There were several small industries at Aldridge including Richard and John Pershouse’s smithy. Stirrups were made by George Hollyes, wheels were made by Robert Chamberlayne, who also kept an ale house, and salt was produced by John Harrison.

An entry in the records of Great Barr manorial court of 1610 states that there were two lords of the manor, Edward Stamford of Perry Hall and Sir Henry Longville of Wolverton. They had a joint steward and held a joint court.

Aldridge High Street in the early 20th century. From an old postcard.

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