Before colonisation, South Staffordshire and the West Midlands was an area covered by forest, scrub and marsh. People moving into the area would have taken the easiest routes such as river valleys, or followed the higher ground on top of the low hills that are an important feature here.

The area was initially colonised by the Anglo-Saxons from about 520. They came from France, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Angles and Saxons first reached our shores during the Roman occupation and were mentioned by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus who considered them as barbarians along with the Picts and Scots. He mentions raids in 365, and the mid-fifth century Gallic Chronicle mentions a large raid in 410 after the Roman army had departed.

At this time there were frequent raids by continental pirates and many towns employed mercenary soldiers for protection. These soldiers were Angles and Saxons from northern Germany who brought their families with them and were given farmland as payment for their services. Soon the mercenaries realised that they were stronger than their employers and so began to take over the running of many areas. The Anglo-Saxons slowly colonised England, moving northwards and westwards, pushing the native Celts into Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. By 850 A.D. there were three competing kingdoms; Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex.
South Staffordshire was a part of Mercia, which was derived from the old English word “Mierce”, meaning People of the Boundaries. The kingdom developed from settlements in the upper Trent valley and was colonised by a band of Angles called the Iclingas. Slowly the area was populated and the kingdoms of the Saxon and Angles in the midlands amalgamated to form the kingdom of Mercia.


Read about the Anglo-Saxons


Settlers moving into the area would have found or made clearings in the woodland to build their houses, keep their cattle and grow their crops. Evidence for such clearings and settlements can be found in many of the names of local towns. The old English word “leah” means a woodland clearing and can be found in the following place names:

Bentley, Brierley Hill, Coseley, Cradley Heath, Dudley, Graiseley, Himley, Moseley, Oxley, Sedgley and Wordsley and Wrottesley.

The old English word “halh” meaning a pocket of land appears in the following names:

Blakenhall, Ettingshall, Tettenhall and Willenhall.

The old English word “tun” means a settlement and this is found in Bilston, Darlaston and Wolverhampton. Penn is the old English word for a hill or promontory which must refer to the high ground around St. Bartholomew’s Church.

There was an ancient track leading from Bushbury to Upper Penn called the “Penwie”1, which doubtless meant Penn way. It ran along the old Cannock Road from northeast to southwest and joined the old Stafford Road at Bushbury, from where it went to the site of present day Wolverhampton. The track ran southwards across the centre of the modern City and near to present day Pool Street to run parallel with the Penn Road to Goldthorn Hill, which was called “Goldhoard”. From here it ran across the Colton Hills to the site of St. Bartholomew’s Church.

There must have been an Anglo-Saxon community in the centre of Wolverhampton. According to tradition King Wulfhere founded the Abbey of St. Mary at Wolverhampton (now St. Peter’s Church) in 659, but there is no proof of this. However in 985 King Ethelred gave two pieces of land to Lady Wulfrun. The first piece of land was at Trescott near Lower Penn and the second included much of Wolverhampton. In his charter Ethelred describes the area of land in terms of its boundaries. The boundaries in Wolverhampton were roughly Gorsebrook Road in the north, Smestow Brook in the west, Bilston and Sedgley to the east and Penn Brook (called loud brook) to the south, so Upper Penn was included in the gift. The charter is interesting because it proves that in 985 the boundaries between Wolverhampton, Bilston and Sedgley already existed and prior to this date Upper Penn belonged to Ethelred and later Wulfruna.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions a battle in which King Edward defeated the Danes in 910 at Tettenhall (Tootenhall):

This year the Angles and the Danes fought at Tootenhall; and the Angles had the victory.

The exact site of the battle is unknown. It could have taken place at Tettenhall or could have been on high ground near Wolverhampton. Some historians have even suggested that it took place near Wednesfield because of its link with the old god Woden (Wednesfield = Woden's plain).

In 1912 the base of a Saxon preaching cross was discovered next to St. Bartholomew’s Church. This has been attributed to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and his wife Godiva. Godiva owned Lower Penn and her son Algar owned Upper Penn.


1).  Gerald P. Mander, A History of Wolverhampton to the Early Nineteenth Century, Wolverhampton, 1960, p.2

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