Brewood from the canal
Brewood is a village and parish in Staffordshire, lying near the River Penk, eight miles north of Wolverhampton city centre and eleven miles south of the county town of Stafford. Some three miles to the west of Brewood is the county border with Shropshire.
The first element is the British word 'briga', which appears in modern Welsh as 'bre'. This is the most common of a number of Celtic place-name elements signifying a hill. It appears in various combinations, but sometimes on its own, as in Bray. Margaret Gelling, a specialist in West Midland toponyms, suggested that it was often misunderstood by the Anglo-Saxons as a name rather than as a common noun. So they thought they had come upon a place called by the natives Brig or Bre, rather than simply a hill. This is why the word is often combined tautologically, as in Breedon on the Hill, where all three elements have the same meaning.
The second element is probably obvious: the Anglo-Saxon 'wudu', signifying a wood. Hence the name Brewood means either "Wood on or by a hill" or "Wood near a place called Bre".
The old Roman road, Watling Street, stretching from Londinium across the Roman Province of Britannia Superior to Wroxeter and later Chester, runs one mile to the north of the village as the A5. There were small Roman stations along this route and the most important settlement locally was Pennocrucium, which had an outlying fort. The name Pennocrucium is clearly associated with Penkridge, the town and parish north of Brewood, which is separated from it by the line of Watling Street, and these important remains do lie just outside the parish boundary. However, the remains of a small Roman villa have been found about 500 yds south of Watling Street, close to Engleton, and so within Brewood parish. Clearly there was a small population in the Brewood area in Roman times, and quite possibly earlier. However, there is no evidence of continuity at any of the main settlements in present-day Brewood. The history of Brewood really begins with the Anglo-Saxon settlement, when it emerged as a village within Mercia. The place name suggests that it came into existence during the earlier part of the Anglo-Saxon period, when there were still people in the area of Celtic language and culture. However, the first real documentation comes after the Norman conquest.
At the Domesday survey, in 1086, Brewood fell within the Cuttlestone Hundred of Staffordshire. The survey records that it was held by the Bishop of Chester and that it had been a church property before 1066. However, the landholder of the manor of Brewood in the Middle Ages is generally stated to be the Diocese of Lichfield. This is not a contradiction, but reflects the shifts in the seat of the diocese. In 1075, Peter, bishop of Lichfield, had transferred his see to Chester, and there it remained until 1102, when it moved to Coventry. From 1228, the official title was the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield.
Brewood was assessed for tax purposes as 5 hides, the hide being notionally an area of 120 acres, although at this time it had become simply a unit of tax liability, irrespective of actual area. Domesday also records Brewood as consisting of enough land for 20 ploughs. The bishop had twenty slaves cultivating his land in the village. The rest of the population consisted of 24 villagers, 18 smallholders and a priest. There were two mills, presumably on the River Penk. There was also a substantial area of woodland, tending to confirm the accepted etymology. However Domesday records that the value of the village was £10 in 1066, and had halved in the twenty years since. Hence we can be sure that it had prospered in the late Anglo-Saxon period but had suffered a check to its growth during, and perhaps because of, Norman rule.
Development of a town
Norman rule brought Forest Law to the area, and it was not until 1204, in the reign of King John, that Brewood Forest was abolished. It should be noted that a forest was a royal hunting reserve, not necessarily wooded. The area of the parish to the east of the Penk was not part of Brewood Forest, but belonged to the Forest of Cank or Cannock Chase. It was not deforested until about a century later.
Shortly after deforestation, in 1221, a charter for a Friday market at Brewood was granted to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield by King Henry III, suggesting considerable growth and increased prosperity since the Domesday survey. However, the charter was valid only until the seniority of the king, who was a child at the time. The market continued, nevertheless, and the king recognised a Monday market too in 1259, as well as granting the right to hold an annual fair over the feast of the Nativity of Mary, or 7–9 September, although it was transferred to 19 September after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in the 18th century. In 1382 the burgesses of Stafford tried to get Brewood's markets suppressed, claiming that they had been unlicensed for twenty years and injured their trade. However, Stafford lost to Brewood and both market and fair were confirmed some time around 1390, in the reign of Richard II. The market petered out during the 18th century, and competition from Wolverhampton killed off an attempted revival in the following century. Although a general fair, the most important trade at the annual event was in horses. It continued until after World War I.
From the mid-12th century, two religious communities of women developed in the Brewood area. The priory of St Mary, Brewood, generally known as Blackladies, was a Benedictine house, to the west of the village. It owned land and property around Brewood, and elsewhere in Staffordshire and Shropshire. The nuns petitioned Pope Gregory IX (1227–41) for protection, and he confirmed them in all their present and future holdings. He conferred the right to elect their own prioress and decreed that their flocks and herds were to be free of tithes. However, the nuns seems to have struggled financially, and they often solicited small gifts of cash from notables and even from kings. For example, in 1241 Henry III sent a gift of one mark so that they could redeem their pawned chalice. Even more telling was an incident of 1286. About ten years previously, a stag had escaped from the royal huntsman in Gailey Hay (then part of the forest of Cannock) and subsequently drowned in Blackladies' fishpond. The nuns split the carcass with John Giffard of Chillington. When the case came to court, Giffard received a fine and a prison sentence but the nuns were pardoned because of their poverty. However, there were criticisms of the financial management at the priory. In 1326, Roger Northburgh, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, made a visitation and demanded that the prioress present proper accounts, which she seemed unable to do, and that the cellaress and steward be dismissed. It seems that the community was always very small, and as dissolution approached it never numbered above four, although with a number of lay staff.
White Ladies Priory was an Augustinian house It was situated in an extra-parochial area adjoining Brewood parish to the west, and allocated to Shropshire, but it was generally styled the priory or convent of St Leonard of Brewood. The complement here was also small: generally five canonesses and the prioress. It too was poor and had scattered holdings in Shropshire, and even in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Nevertheless, a visitation of 1338 by the zealous Bishop Northburgh led to censure of the prioress for her extravagant dress and for her hunting with hounds. Both White Ladies and Blackladies were suppressed in the first wave of the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and their buildings and local estates ended up in the hands of the Giffard family.
Around the same time that the market was established, building of the large sandstone church of St Mary and St Chad was commenced, probably replacing a less impressive earlier church. It has undergone numerous alterations and restorations, but it was clearly a large and impressive structure from the outset. Around 1176, the bishop had conferred the church on the deanery of Lichfield Cathedral. The deans kept advowson, the right to nominate the priest until 1868.
Brewood Grammar School was founded in the town in the reign of Elizabeth I, replacing a chantry school founded in the previous century and dissolved when all chantries were suppressed in 1547. Richard Hurd, educated at the school by William Budworth in the 1730s, and later to become a Bishop of Worcester, was one of the most notable students.
The market, the grand church and the grammar school mark out Brewood as a small town, not just a village, by the standards of this period, and it was sometimes referred to as the Borough of Brewood. Around 1680, the township had about 60 houses, but this had grown to 210 houses, with a population of 919 by 1811. In 1834 William White described Brewood as "a small but well-built market town, with several good streets and a spacious market-place." The historic centre consisted of the market place, with Bargate, Newport and Stafford Streets, and Sandy Lane meeting at it. Dean Street, south-east of the church was another important old street. These still contain many houses of considerable age, mostly Georgian, but with many also from the 16th and 17th centuries. They form a large proportion of the many listed buildings in the parish of Brewood and Coven. Speedwell Castle, in Bargate, is a striking eighteenth-century house said to have been built from the proceeds of a bet on a horse.
In the early 19th century the parish consisted of eight liberties or constablewicks: Brewood town, Chillington, Coven, Engleton, Gunstone and the Hattons, Horsebrook, Kiddemore, and Somerford. The liberties outside the township were mainly based on the old mediæval manors of the parish, centred on the seats of local landowners of note and influence. The fortunes of these varied considerably over the centuries. By the early 19th century, Coven had grown considerably and was described as "a considerable village" by William White in 1851. Chillington, on the other hand, had been a village of about 30 houses in the 17th century but had declined to a collection of five farms by 1834.
The traditional economy
Brewood was the centre of an essentially agricultural community throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times. The bishop's land in Brewood was farmed on a three-field system in the 14th century, and probably much earlier. By the late 17th century we find various field throughout the parish subject to piecemeal enclosure. They include Shurgreave Hill Field, Hargreave Field, Eachells (or Nechells) Field and Burgage Field in the manor of Brewood. There were also Quarry Field and Church Field, apparently shared by the bishop's manor and the deanery manor, as well as Cross Field, Mill Field, Street Field, and Butts Field in the vill of Horsebrook, a part of the bishop's manor. In Coven manor we find Broadmeadow Field, Fulmore Field, and 'Rycrofte', all still open fields at the end of the 16th century, although only the first was still farmed in this way by the mid-17th century.
Evolution of a residential village
While it is true that Brewood was considered a town in the past and a village today, it is also true that it has a much bigger population now than at any time in the past. This is almost entirely to a complete change of character in which Brewood and the other centres alike have evolved from places of work to places of residence. One of the paradoxes of the period of decline was that houses were being built all the time houses stood empty and others fell into decay. In fact the total number of houses stood up well, at above 700, throughout the Victorian period, before plunging to a recorded low of 615 in 1921. It seems that the drift to the towns was already partly balanced by building at and around Coven, as middle-class workers and professionals discovered they could live in the country but work in the town – something made possible especially by the railway. In the 20th century, this residential growth became the central feature of Brewood's history – especially after World War II, when rising general prosperity and the ubiquity of the motor car totally transformed the situation of the Village and the parish as a whole.
Despite the general gloom of the late Victorian period, many features of modernity were not especially slow to arrive in Brewood. The town had its own gas works from about 1872 until around World War I, when Stafford council took over the supply. Mains electricity arrived in 1928, and was available throughout the parish by 1940. The Four Ashes Manufacturing Company opened its carbon works in the early 1920s, beginning the transformation of Four Ashes into an industrial zone that now stretches both sides of the main Wolverhampton-Stafford road. That road, now the A449 road, was turned into a dual carriageway between 1936 and 1939, responding to the increasing importance of motor vehicles. The majority of the muddy or stony lanes that had isolated so much of the parish, including Brewood itself, yielded to tarmac between the wars or shortly after.
Road building gathered pace after World War II and Brewood was to find itself at a favoured corner of the motorway network – albeit after long delays in planning and execution. The M6 motorway came around Stafford in 1962 but did not link to the M1 motorway until 1971. The M54 motorway was opposed by Staffordshire Council and took a long time to complete. Nevertheless, in 1983 it opened, cutting through to Telford just to the south of Coven, a fast, modern link shadowing the ancient Watling Street. Already a new Birmingham North Relief Road was under discussion. Although the debate seemed interminable, when it finally arrived in the form of the M6 Toll motorway, construction was swift, with a start made in 2000 and the road in use by the end of 2003.
After decades of stagnation the population of Brewood parish began to rise a little in the 1920s. After the War, the rise became rapid, and in the 1950s headlong. The recorded rise was from 3,576 in 1951 to 5,751 in 1961 – more than 60% in a single decade. This was the result of large-scale housing development. While Coven continued to grow, Brewood sprouted a series of developments to the north-east, some built by the council and some private. This growth has continued to the present. The private car overcame all the obstacles in the way of growth but changed the entire nature of the place. The vast majority of residents now work outside the area. With the coming of the motorway network, the ease of commuting was greatly increased, bringing almost the whole of the West Midlands area within easy daily travel distance.
The Shropshire Union Canal passes through the western edge of Brewood (and over Stretton Aqueduct). The River Penk flows along the eastern edge. Belvide Reservoir, which feeds the canal, is about one kilometre to the north-west.
There is a Brewood Civic Society and a Rotary Club of Brewood. Brewood is also the home of the Brewood Singers. The village came second in the South Staffordshire Best Kept Village 2005 challenge and has won the competition numerous times.
Brewood is also home to the annual Brewood Cycle Challenge a popular cycle sportive taking place each June and the Brewood 10K Run each September.
- M.W. Greenslade & Margaret Midgley. A History of Brewood. 1981, Staffordshire County Library.
- David Horovitz. Brewood. 1988. ISBN 1-85421-011-4
- Adrienne Whitehouse, Brewood and Penkridge in Old Photographs. 1988. ISBN 0-86299-519-1
- "Civil Parish population 2011". http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadKeyFigures.do?a=7&b=11121156&c=ST19+9AR&d=16&e=62&g=6464451&i=1001x1003x1032x1004&m=0&r=0&s=1449246175695&enc=1. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
- Cameron, Kenneth (1996) English Place Names. London: Batsford ISBN 0-7134-7378-9, p.38.
- "Brewood". Key to English Place Names. English Place-Name Society. http://kepn.nottingham.ac.uk/map/place/Staffordshire/Brewood. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
- Gelling, Margaret (1984) Place-Names in the Landscape. London: J. M. Dent ISBN 0-460-86086-0, p. 129
- Victoria County History – A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5: East Cuttlestone hundred, L. Margaret Midgley (editor), 1959, chapter 8
- Brewood in the Domesday Book
- Victoria County History, volume 5, chapter 8, s.1.
- Victoria County History, volume 5, chapter 8, s.2.
- VCH Staffordshire, volume 3, chapter 12, s.1.
- VCH Shrophire, volume 2, p. 83.
- Victoria County History – A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5: East Cuttlestone Hundred, L. Margaret Midgley (editor), 1959, chapter 8.
- William White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, Sheffield, 1834
- Listed Buildings in Brewood and Coven at English Heritage.
- William White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, Sheffield, 1851.
- Victoria County History, volume 5, chapter 8, s.5.
- Total Houses for Brewood CP/AP at A Vision of Britain Through Time
- Population for Brewood CP/AP at A Vision of Britain Through Time
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