Walsall lies partly on the South Staffordshire coalfield above the thick Carboniferous coal measures, and partly above Silurian limestone, which forms the hill where St. Matthew’s church now stands. There are also Silurian shales in the south west, and glacial deposits consisting of boulder clay, sand, and gravel. The area was once thickly wooded, and formed part of Cannock forest.

All traces of the town’s origin have long disappeared. The activities of the ancient Britons and the Romans must have been limited due to the thick vegetation that covered the area. Ancient flint tools have been found at Bourne Pool in Aldridge, and an ancient burial mound stood at Catshill in Brownhills.

The Romans were certainly in the locality, and left their mark in the form of Watling Street, which skirts the northern edge of the town, and Wall, the Roman fort on the southern edge of Lichfield. Wall, originally called Letotceum, provided accommodation and a change of horses for travellers, and had an inn and a bath house. Several Roman coins from the first century were discovered in Wednesbury, as was a piece of Roman glass. Other Roman coins have been found in Bilston, Perry Barr, and Stonnall near Walsall Wood. There was also a Roman Road called Ricknield Street, after which Streetly is named. The line of it can still be seen in Sutton Park, running from Chester Road North to near the junction of Thornhill Road and Streetly Lane.

Walsall’s story really begins when this part of the country was colonised in the 6th century. After the Roman army had departed, the country became a frequent target for raids from France, The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Angles and Saxons from Northern Germany were employed as mercenaries for protection, and often given farmland in return for their services. Many of them brought their families with them, and slowly began to colonise England, moving northwards, and westwards. By the 9th century there were three competing kingdoms, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex.

South Staffordshire was part of Mercia, a word derived from the Old English “Mierce” meaning people of the boundaries. A tribe called the Anglian Mercens moved southwards, following the Trent Valley and its tributaries, such as the River Tame (meaning the dark river). They were the first settlers in the area, known as the Tomsaete (dwellers by the Tame). They would have cleared areas of the forest for their cattle and crops, and lived in simple timber framed, and possibly timber clad buildings (timber being in plentiful supply). The Old English word for a woodland clearing is “leah” which appears in several local place names including Bentley, Coseley, Sedgley, and “The Leys” at Darlaston, all pointing to their Anglo-Saxon roots.

Many other local place names tell of their Anglo-Saxon roots. Aldridge is listed as Alrewic in the Domesday Book, a Saxon name meaning 'Alder village', suggesting that a lot of alder trees grew in the area. Bloxwich (Blochescwic) means "Bloc's village", and Darlaston means Deorlaf’s Tun, or town, possibly the name of the leader of the first tribe to settle there. Pelsall was first mentioned in Lady Wulfrun’s charter of 994, in which she gave land to the monastery at Heantune (Wolverhampton). It was called Peolshalh, which means an area of land belonging to Peol. Rushall is also Anglo-Saxon, meaning a place in marshy ground where rushes grow, and Willenhall was referred to as “Willenhalch” in the eighth century, meaning the meadowland of Willan.

6th century Walsall.

The earliest reference to Walsall is thought to be in Wulfric Spot’s will dated 1002 to 1004. He was one of the three known children of the noblewoman Wulfrun, after whom Wolverhampton is named.

He died at the battle of Ringmere, some time between 1002, when his will was made, and 1004, when King Æthelred issued his charter to approve it.

The will refers to a place called 'Walesho', which is believed to refer to Walsall.

The name next appears in a charter made by Henry II in 1159, granting the Manor of Walsall to Herbert Ruffus.

In the charter Walsall is called Waleshala which probably has Anglo-Saxon origins, consisting of two words, ‘Wealh’ meaning a Briton or Welshman, and ‘halh’ meaning a sheltered place.

The capital of the Kingdom of Mercia was Tamworth, which was replaced by Stafford in 913 when it became a secure, fortified stronghold, under Queen Aethelfaed. Within a few years the Shire of Stafford was formed, which was divided into 5 ‘Hundreds’, each consisting of an area roughly supporting 100 households. They were Cuttlestone, Offlow, Pirehill, Seisdon and Totmonslow. Walsall was in the southern part of The Hundred of Offlow, which would have been headed by a hundred-man or hundred elder, who oversaw justice and administration in the area, organised the supply of soldiers, and led them into battle. Hundreds were usually named after the place where meetings were held to discuss local issues, and where trials took place. Offlow consists of two Old English words, ‘Offa’, a person’s name, and ‘hlaw’, a mound. So meetings were held at Offa’s mound.

It has been suggested that Church Hill, where St. Matthew’s Church now stands was once the site of a hill fort. There is no archaeological evidence to support this theory because the hill has been subjected to many building schemes throughout the centuries, which have destroyed any remnants of early earthworks or fortifications. However, two street names do refer to fortifications. Ablewell Street, or Avalwall Street is from an old Norman word meaning ‘below the wall’ suggesting a fortification, and The Ditch appears to commemorate a ditch, possibly dug as a part of a fortification. As the hill is the highest point in the immediate vicinity, it would have been an ideal site for a settlement that could have been fortified, but all of this is pure conjecture.

After the Norman invasion in 1066, William the Conqueror 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.

The Normans held on to the Saxon ‘Hundreds’, but  carved-up the land into areas called manors, each controlled by a Baron, or Norman Lord. They had to take an oath of loyalty to the King, carry-out any required duties, and pay taxes for their land. Each manor would include several villages whose inhabitants were called peasants. There were several classes of peasant. The highest was a freeman who was free to pursue a trade. The other classes were owned as part of the land, and were not free to move around.

Staffordshire came under the control of a Norman baron called Ansculf de Picquigny whose lands included Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Northants, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Surrey, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. He decided to fortify the hill above Dudley as his headquarters, and sometime after 1070 built the first Dudley Castle, a motte and bailey structure, consisting of an earthen mound topped with a timber tower, surrounded by a defensive timber palisade. He was known as the Sheriff of Buckingham, and lived until the mid 1080s. After his death his son William Fitz Ansculf inherited his title and lands.

In 1085 the Danes threatened to invade, and so William decided to commission 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 the expected 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.

All 400 pages of the book, record in extraordinary detail, how the Normans organised their new kingdom. Everything on the estate would have been owned and controlled by the manor, or the clergy, including property, money, religion, and even marriage. There were labour services to do on the land, and heavy rents to be paid. The majority of food produced, and animals reared were consumed by the lord of the manor and his household. Many families lived off a simple vegetable soup called pottage. The average life expectancy at the time was just 25.

Although the Domesday Book was incredibly detailed, some places seem to have been overlooked, or the entries mislaid. Much has been made of the fact that Walsall does not appear in the Domesday Book, possibly due to a clerical error, but neither does neighbouring Darlaston, or Burton-on-Trent, Stone, Colwich, and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Some parts of the modern borough do appear in the book. They are Bloxwich, Aldridge, Pelsall, Rushall, and Willenhall.

William Fitz Ansculf’s daughter, Beatrice, appears to have married Fulk Paganel, who inherited Dudley castle. He in turn was succeeded by his son Ralph, who in turn was succeeded by his son Gervase. In 1160 Gervase Paganel founded the priory at Dudley in memory of his father, and in 1173 took part in an unsuccessful rebellion against Henry II, who in return demolished Dudley Castle.

In 1159 Henry II was in France attacking Nantes and Toulouse during his French campaign. In June, whilst at Saintes in Saintonge, he granted a charter to one of his loyal knights, Herbert Ruffus, giving him the Manor of Walesale, possibly as a reward for his military service. The surname Ruffus means ‘The Red’.

This is the earliest document relating to the manor, and is translated from the original Latin as follows:

The local Norman Lords.

Charter of Henry II made to Herbert Ruffus, of the Manor of Walesala

Henry, King of England and Duke of Normandy, and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou, to his Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Justices, Sheriffs, Servants, and all others his liege subjects, both French and English, throughout the whole of England, greeting. Know ye that I have granted and confirmed to Herbert Ruffus (Rous) my servant and his heirs Walesala with all its appurtenances. Rendering to me £4 yearly, for custody and account for all services. Wherefore I will and strictly enjoin that Herbert and his heirs after him shall have and hold the land aforesaid, truly and peaceably, freely, quietly, honourably and wholly, with all its appurtenances, in wood and in plain, in meadows and pastures, in ways and byeways, in water, in mills, and in all places, and in all things, and with all liberties and free customs belonging to the same.


Thomas, The Chancellor.
Richard De Luci, Custom Fermor of Windsor.
Henry Fitzgerald, Chamberlaine.
Richard De Camville.
Robert De Dunstanville.

At Santone
(Apud Santoniam)

The location of Walsall Manor House and moat.

Parts of the moat survived until the early 1970s, after which the area was covered by an extension to the Manor Hospital.

The Manor remained in the hands of the Ruffus family until the early 14th century. The site of the manor house is now occupied by an extension to the Manor Hospital. In 1974, before building work began, an archaeological survey was carried out on the site of the house and what remained of the moat. From the survey it was concluded that the earliest building on the site dated from the beginning of the 13th century, and was constructed on land that had previously been cultivated. Part of the building had initially been used for metalworking, before being extended. By the late 1330s the moat had been dug.

Return to
the beginning
  Proceed to The Medieval Village