Wednesbury lies between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, in the upper Tame valley, on the thick Carboniferous coal measures around Church Hill.

Little is known about the origins of the town or its early years before the Norman invasion. No evidence of early colonisation has been found. Reeves, in his “History of West Bromwich” mentions that a number of Roman coins from the first century were discovered at Wednesbury in 1817. The find included coins from the reign of Nero, Vespasian, and Trajan. Another Roman coin was found at Wood Green during the excavation of the railway cutting, and a piece of Roman glass came to light in Monway Field. There is no evidence of Roman occupation in the area, or any evidence of Roman roads.

Legend has it that Church Hill was fortified by King Alfred’s daughter Ethelfleda as part of her struggle to defeat the invading Vikings in the 10th century. Although she built 10 fortresses in the Kingdom of Mercia for the purpose, no evidence of an early fortification has been found at Wednesbury.

The earliest recorded reference to the town appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 and this gives an insight into the initial colonisation of the area. Wednesbury is recorded as Wadnesberie. The first part of the name (Wadnes) refers to Woden the Saxon’s god of war, and the second part (berie) is derived from the old English byrig, meaning a burgh, or burh, which is a fort. So the derivation of Wednesbury appears to be Woden’s fort. Woden place names usually indicate holy ground, and as the cult of Woden, both on the continent and in England was often connected with hills, a shrine or temple could have been built on Church Hill.

The god Woden continued to be worshipped until the spread of Christianity, which reached this part of the country around the middle of the 7th century. This suggests that the site was colonised before then.

Central England was thickly wooded and so the Saxons penetrated the area via the Trent Valley and the Tame Valley; Tame meaning the dark river. Old place names are often a source of evidence, referring to long lost features of the landscape. Unfortunately few such place names can be found in the area, but there is one exception, Ridding Lane. When the area was originally colonised, the trees would have been cleared to make way for the settlement, and the fields on which to grow crops and graze animals. The name Ridding possibly refers to the original clearing by the stream, at the time of the settlement.

Part of a map of Staffordshire from 1610.


The entry for Wednesbury in the Domesday Book provides us with the earliest information about the town. Although the Norman rulers spoke French, the official language at the time was Latin, and the translation for the town’s entry is as follows:

The King holds Wednesbury with its appurtenances. There are 3 hides. There is land for 9 ploughs. There is 1 plough in the demesne with 1 slave. And there are 16 villeins and 11 bordars with 7 ploughs. There is a mill worth two shillings. And 1 acre of meadow. There is a wood 2 leagues long and 1 wide.

Bloxwich is a member of the same manor. There is a wood 3 furlongs wide and 1 wide. And in Shelfield there is 1 hide which is waste. It belongs to the same manor.

The entry tells us that the land belonged to the King and that at the time both Bloxwich and Shelfield were part of the town. Wednesbury had 3 hides; a hide being a piece of land large enough to support one family, or as much land as could be ploughed with a team of 8 oxen in a year. A hide usually covered about 120 acres. About twice as much uncultivated farmland was available; as there was enough land for 9 ploughs. Another hide is listed in Shelfield and is described as waste. This means that for some reason no tax could be collected from it.

The entry also states that there was 1 plough and 1 slave in the town, both belonging to the King. With the plough would have been a team of oxen, usually eight in number. As the slave and plough are grouped together, the slave was probably the man who ploughed the fields.

The entry goes on to list 16 villeins and 11 bordars with 7 ploughs. Villeins were the better off peasants whose land and possessions belonged to the lord of the manor. They were not free to leave the manor, and they were subject to a large number of obligations required by the lord, including work on the lord's land for two or three days a week, additional work at harvest, and the payment of manorial dues. They also had to pay for the right to brew ale, bake bread, and grind corn at the lord's mill. Villeins usually cultivated between 20 and 40 acres of land, often in isolated strips. Bordars had the same obligations to the lord of the manor as the villeins. They had little or no land, and usually lived in a cottage on the edge of the manor. Most people at the time were from this class and were lower in the status than the villeins. It is believed that the people listed were in fact the heads of households, and so modern historians tend to multiply the total by 5 to roughly estimate the actual population. The rough calculation suggests that there were around 140 inhabitants at the time.

A mill is mentioned that was worth 2 shillings a year. This would have been one of the smaller corn mills, the average mill being worth between 2 shillings and 5 shillings. At this time all mills were water powered and so it would have stood by the River Tame. In 1286 the mill was recorded as standing by Finchpath Bridge, which crossed the river close to where Hydes Road crosses it today. On average there was one mill for every 46.7 households in the county, and as Wednesbury had a maximum of 27 households, it is possible that the mill also ground for neighbouring villages and hamlets.

From the above information it is possible to get some idea of Wednesbury’s importance in the local area by comparing it with some of the neighbouring towns.


Estimated population 

Number of plough teams

Aldridge 35 4
Aston 220 18
Bilston 55 3
Birmingham 45 3
Bradley 20 1
Cradley Heath 75 7
Dudley 80 11
Halesowen 350 46.5
Rowley Regis 345 34
Sutton Coldfield 130 8
Wednesbury 140 8
West Bromwich 65 4
Willenhall 80 6
Wolverhampton  250 20

From the table it can be seen that Wednesbury was one of the larger towns in the area, the largest being Halesowen. It seems that Wednesbury was a typical small country village, housing a farming community living in small cottages, with a water-powered corn mill by the river.

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