Early Tamworth

We have on this page, a brief description of Early Tamworth.  The Tamworth Heritage Trust are pleased to announce that local author, Christine Smith of Drayton Bassett has offered to compile a much more comprehensive account of this period of Tamworth’s history.

You can trace Tamworth’s back at least 1400 years, little is known of Tamworth during the Roman occupation, except by the way of connecting Tamworth with the Watling Street and of course there is an ancient Roman settlement situated at Wall just outside Walsall.  Following the Roman evacuation of England came the Saxon conquests and this is where Tamworth first became a prominent town with the growth of Mercia during the 6th century.  It was then that the “worth” or the fortified enclosure planted by the Tame became “Tameworth”.  If it were claimed that Tamworth existed in the year 600, we would not be too far away.

Mercia was acknowledged at the principal English Kingdom and King Offa became ruler in 755 and he was the first in an array of historic names associated with Tamworth, which he made his chief seat.  It was in Tamworth where he built a great palace, which became a wonder of the age.  The palace is thought to have stood between the present town hall and the river Anker although there is now a theory that the palace may well have stood in the place we now know as St. Editha’s Churchyard.  Offa also instructed that the town be enclosed with a great entrenchment and bank, known as King’s Ditch or, of course Offa’s Dyke.

King Offa was an ambitious ruler and by war and diplomacy he made Mercia the most powerful principal of the Saxon kingdom and he even dreamt of a political and family alliance with the Frankish emperor Charlemagne.  Tamworth was of such importance that there were many festivals in the town to celebrate Easter and Christmas.  From this town “in sede regali, sedens in Tamworthig” he issued royal charters.

It is highly probable that it was King Offa who established the mint in Tamworth, which flourished in later Saxon and early Norman days, was the first to mint 240 ‘pennies’ to make up a pound of sterling silver. For hundreds of years they were the only unit of coinage, although they were often grouped into twelves for accounting purposes.  This is where Silver Street in Tamworth takes its name.

Offa reigned from 755 to 796, for around 100 years Tamworth continued to be the favourite residence of Kings of Mercia, and many royal charters emanated from the famous town. The came the first Danish invasion, when in 874 Tamworth was razed to the ground and for 39 years remained a mass of blackened ruins.  But in 913, Tamworth arose phoenix like from its ashes under the leadership of Ethelfleda.

The Danish Invasions

In 877 the Mercian Kingdom came to an end after an existence of nearly 300 years, and Tamworth became part of the Danelaw, the territory occupied by the Danes.  Tamworth suffered heavily in the invasion of 874, no doubt more than some other places as a penalty for the greatness it had once held.  Tamworth was razed to the ground and for 39 years remained a mass of blackened ruins.  In 939, Tamworth arose under the leadership of Ethelfleda, the lion hearted daughter of Alfred The Great.  She was known, as The Lady of the Mercians for it was she who, with boldness and courage, enabled the town to rise again from the destruction, which had been wreaked on the town by the Danish invaders.

Elthelfleda created defences commanding the Watling Street, and chose Tamworth as a strategic point.  She came with her army in 913 commandeering the townsfolk to rebuild the town and constructed the huge mound where she built her fortress.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that “Ethelfleda, the Lady of the Mercians, went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and there built the burh early in the summer, and after this before Lammas, the one at Stafford.  Ethelfleda erected a stockade upon the mound. This wooden fortress was the predecessor of the Norman keep we see today.  The Lady of the Mercians, when she was not engaged with her brother King Edward in fighting the Danes made Tamworth her principle residence and she died here in 918, 12 days before midsummer.  She was buried by the side of her husband at Gloucester in the church, which is now the cathedral.  She left a daughter named Elfwynn, who the people of Tamworth desired to be Ethelfleda’s successor, but Edward The Elder, the uncle of Elfwynn, marching from Stamford to Tamworth suppressed the attempt, took the girl into Wessex and sent her to a nunnery and assumed dominion himself.  It was not until a year later that he was acclaimed the King of the Mercians in Tamworth.  Elfwynn had resolved to marry a Danish prince and her uncle feared that the carrying out of such an intention would result in his enemies obtaining power and the territory which he and Ethelfleda had taken from the Danes.

Upon the death of Edward in 912 Athelstan, his son and nephew of Ethelfleda became King.

Athelstan has been described as the golden haired boy who was looked upon with favour by his grandfather King Alfred, the young warrior had been trained in the art of war and Kingship by his aunt Elthelfleda and must have spent some time at her castle at Tamworth for her was only 6 or 7 years old when she came to Tamworth.  Upon his accession, like his predecessors he made Tamworth one of his royal residencies.  He desired to live in peace with the Danes and entered a treaty with Sihtric, King of The Danes of Northumbria. Athelstan gave his sister Editha in marriage to Sihtric, who consented as part of an arrangement to be baptised into the Christian faith.  The betrothal took place in Tamworth in the presence of King Athelstan on 30th January 925.  Sihtric accepted baptism, but soon after relapsed into idolatry and left Editha.  He died shortly afterwards.  Editha spent the rest of her life in acts of charity and devotion.  She was given by her brother Athelstan, the castle of her aunt Ethelfleda and there she founded a nunnery and became its first abbess.  Like her powerful aunt, Editha also ranks as a noble Anglo Saxon lady and her memory has been preserved as the Patron Saint of Tamworth Parish Church.

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