Life in Middle Ages
Richard II’s poll tax returns of 1379
list the population of Great Barr as follows:
|Married men consisting of William Coleson, 14 farmers, 2 servants, and 1 labourer.
|Widowers, both farmers.
|Other men consisting of 1 farmer, 1
labourer, 10 servants, and 5 others.
|Married women , the wives of the 18
married men above.
|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
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
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