2.  The Name and Origins of Wednesfield

For the purposes of this short account it is proposed to take Wednesfield as being roughly the area covered by the old UDC;  and it is not proposed to discuss whether or not the town is “in the Black Country” -  some say it is and some say it is not and much fruitless discussion can cheerfully result.

There is little information available on pre-Saxon times in the Wednesfield area.  The area was one of light woodland with many natural clearings.  A number of tumuli have been recorded in the area but their dates and exact nature are unknown.  A Roman road, from Watling Street at Stratton, ran in a south easterly direction to the west side of Wednesfield and then by Neachells and Stow Heath to Moseley Hole (and thence on towards Edgbaston).  It is reasonable to assume that there would have been a wandering population long before Roman times with perhaps some settled population somewhere;  and that this remained the case during Roman times and in the immediate post-Roman period.  

A representation of Woden as warrior and god.
It may well be that the earliest record we have of Wednesfield is the name itself.  There seems no doubt that the name comes from the Anglo Saxon era and means “The field of Woden”.  But the significance of that is somewhat doubtful. 

“Woden” is undoubtedly the god but what was meant by “field”?  Smallshire favoured its being a reference to an open area of heath-like land which occurred naturally because of the underlying dolerite stone.  He seems to suggest that this field had no habitation on it bwas used for ritual purposes.  

That may be the case but it may also be that there was some sort of permanent settlement there, presumably roughly where the centre of the town now stands.

The first written references to Wednesfield come in the Anglo Saxon chronicles where there is reference to a great battle at Wednesfield in which the Mercians and their allies inflicted a defeat on the Danes which lead to effective end of their power. 

It has always been an important part of Wednesfield's traditional history that this great battle was fought there  and a reference to it appeared on the Wednesfield Urban District Council's coat of arms. 

Unfortunately the records are not all that clear.  It is not even clear if they refer to one battle or two; or whether the battle was fought at Wednesfield or, as some of the sources say, near Tettenhall.  This is not the place to go into this matter in any detail but it does seem that the better current opinion is that the Smestow valley, between Tettenhall and Wolverhampton, is the more likely site of the main engagement. 

A representation of King Edward the Elder, who was king of Mercia at the time of the battle of Wednesfield.

Wednesfield UDC's seal, showing the battle - probably the most bloodthirsty common seal ever used.

But the fact that Wednesfield was mentioned at all (and Wolverhampton never was) does suggest that there was some sort of settlement, and a reasonably well known one, by that time.  An interesting and detailed discussion on the name and its significance can be found in David Horovitz’s “Place Names of Staffordshire”.

The next references to Wednesfield appear in the grant of land by King Ethelred to Lady Wulfruna and her subsequent gift of some of that land to the monastery at Wolverhampton.   In both of these documents Wednesfield is listed as one of the areas of land included in the grants and the place is well enough established for it to be possible for the grants to outline its boundaries.

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