Rev William MacGregor

William-MacGregorRev William MacGregor 1848 – 1937

Rev William MacGregor 1848 – 1937

The Towns Greatest Benefactor

Born in Liverpool to a wealthy shipping family Rev William MacGregor studied at Rugby School and Exeter College Oxford where he obtained a B.A. in 1871 and an M.A. in 1874.

He was ordained as a deacon at Lichfield in1872, and as a priest in 1873 became the curate at Hopwas.  After a period as a priest in Liverpool at the age of 30 he moved back toTamworth to become the Vicar of the town.

For the next nine years he dedicated his life to the town and its church. . He renovated the church of St Editha’s, had the bells re cast and added a further two. He also had new churches build at Glascote & Hopwas, and won the honour of naming the Hopwas Church after St Chad . His family plot can be viewed in the churchyard there, where his own ashes were placed.

A vicar in those times was expected to take tea with the Gentry and middle classes but William MacGregor would rather go uninvited into the squalid cottages of the poor and sick. He was so appalled by the state of the streets and as typhoid rampaged through the poor quarters, MacGregor campaigned to get clean water and proper drainage to those parts of the town, much to the disapproval of the landlords of the area who threatened to withhold their support for the church as a reprisal for interfering in their business. He gave £300 towards the purchase of the castle. He saw the need to build a hospital and gave £300 to start the project but it is believed the final amount he gave was over £1000. The hospital was in such demand that within a week of opening all the beds were full and a waiting list created. MacGregor then set up a Provident Society where medical care would be available to all the family, classes were set up to educate people in basic home nursing , first aid  and to care for themselves, .

MacGregor also wanted to improve the minds of his people and set up a free library, discussion and reading groups for that purpose.  Alongside these he created a Mothers Union, a parish visitor to help mothers at home, and a club for girls so they could learn religion and needlework. But there were also rooms for socialising, reading or playing. Christmas time would see him invite young people from the local workhouse to share his dinner with him

In 1885 his health failed him and he developed a serious lung infection, in those days without modern medication the only hope was to go abroad to warmer claims. And so MacGregor travelled east to Egypt. After several months his health improved and he returned to Tamworth.

MacGregor was encouraged to resume his ministry and once more threw his energies into improving the lives of the poor with 2 new projects namely co founding the Co-operative Society and the St Georges Club with its bath and institute, holding classes and societies. The yearly camp was a wonderful treat for the young boys of the town.

The Co-operative once again upset many of the town’s parishioners some of whom even refused to attend church.  Business owners vilified him when they saw their profits hit he suffered much abuse  both verbally and in writing  the Press hounded him but despite this both the Co-operative and St Georges Club prospered.  .

MacGregor resigned from the church in 1887 but continued his works within the town. To maintain his health he wintered in Egypt where his fascination with their history saw him became a renowned Egyptologist and collector of Greek pottery He undertook several archeological digs and brought many artefacts back to Tamworth most of which now reside in The British Museum in London.

Many of the young boys he mentored at the St Georges Club went on to become leading lights within the town becoming businessmen, councillors, social reformers and scholars all of whom held him high esteem and would gather yearly to help him celebrate his birthday.

.As comes to us all sadly William MacGregor passed away in 1937 at the age of 89  but his name lives on as several sites within the Bolehall area are named after him and his home of Bolehall Manor still stands, now becoming a club.

Tamworth Heritage Trust has fitted a Blue plaque to Bolehall Manor Club to commemorate Macgregor’s legacy.




Gibbs and Canning

Terracotta Makers

Glascote, Warwickshire

By kind courtesy of Angella Rogers.



At Glascote Heath there used to be a very large factory. It  was on the Glascote Road , which was then situated where Beyer Close now is.  The factory was made up of Glascote Colliery and the clay works. Both coal and clay were mined. For over 100 years Gibbs and Canning provided employment for people in Glascote,  Amington, Polesworth and the general district.  Hundreds of people worked there, and the noises and smells of industry filled the local area. They even had their own railway lines with connections to the main lines, and links to the canal.


The products from the clay works went all over the country and all round the world. It made parts for some very famous buildings, and some beautiful buildings. Itsbuilding products can also be seen in the local area, especially on houses in the Glascote and Amington area. They also produced many other things made from clay including sinks, bottles, bricks, tiles, chimney pots, garden urns and fountains. They even produced some pieces of colourful majolica.


various pots samples can be seen in Tamworth Heritage Hub

majolica jardiniere

Majolica Ware another venture



Garden ornament

Charles Canning, the first member of the partnership, was a miner in 1851. By the 1861 census he was a manufacturer of sewage pipes. In 1852 the company of Gibbs and Canning supplied stoneware pipes to Coventry Corporation.

One of the earliest surviving documents is a bank book of Messrs John Gibbs and Charles Canning. The first entry is dated 13th February 1846. In that month the balance in the account was £470. In 1853 they accepted work to produce pipes worth £4134 for Woolwich.

In 1850 the firm was called Messrs. Gibbs, Canning and Co. although it was also referred to as Gibbs and Canning. By the 1860s the term Messrs. Gibbs and Canning was in common use. In the 1890s they were referred to in their own adverts as Gibbs and Canning Limited.

In 1866 the partnership of John Gibbs and Charles Canning was dissolved. (The name lived on though, and was still used regardless of who was the owner.)

The firm of Gibbs and Canning was incorporated on 30th October 1878. There were nine subscribers with the largest number of shares being held by Charles Canning. He lived locally. The shareholders included about half and half of local men and men from Evesham. The latter included Mr. John Gibbs.

In 1880 there was an order to continue the voluntary winding up of the company. Somehow it survived and continued work after the sale of the company took place in 1881. In the details the land of both the mines and the works came to about 181 acres.

After the sale the company continued to produce similar sorts of products. Although the prestige side of the business was architectural terracotta, the bulk of the work was pipe making and the production of bricks. Before WWII the production of terracotta for buildings seemed to cease as it was not profitable enough. The buildings were finally demolished in the 1970s and replaced with a housing estate.


Some of the most interesting or famous buildings with Gibbs and Canning terracotta or faience were –

St Pauls School

a 1881, London, St Paul’s School

Natural History Museum

1881, London, Natural History Museum

1882, Eastbourne, All Saints Church

1887, Birmingham, Victoria Law Courts (interior)


Bishopsgate Institute

1892, London, Bishop Institute



1896,Pontefract, Mr. English’s Premises

1896, Preston, Victoria Jubilee Technical School

Central Hall

1900, Birmingham, Methodist Central Hall

1901Wilnecote, Methodist Church

Barnsley Hall Asylum

1903, Bromsgrove, Barnsley Hall Asylum


1905. Portsmouth, Carnegie Library

1907, Cheltenham, Naunton Park School

Digbeth Institute

1907, Birmingham, Digbeth Institute


French Hospital

1909, London, French Hospital

Sun Tower

1911, Canada, Vancouver, Sun Tower

Northampton Barratts

1913, Northampton, Barratt and Co. Works

1914, Bradford, Alhambra Theatre

2016-08-24 12.08.57

TAMWORTH GRAND THEATRE. statue on the top can now be viewed in the Tamworth Castle


1915, Tamworth, The Grand Theatre

Aston Sacred Heart

1920, Birmingham, Aston, Sacred heart and St. Margaret RC Church

1925, Hong Kong, Exchange Buildings

Walsall Tudor House 1926

1926, Walsall, Tudor Shops

1927, Doncaster, Wheatley Hotel


1929, Smethwick, Wesleyan Church

1930, Seaham, Reuben’s Premises

1934, Birmingham, Aston Corporation Fire Station

Tamworth Lloyds

1936, Tamworth, Lloyds Bank

More unusual products made by their workers were gravestones. Some touching memorials made by them can be seen in Glascote cemetery.


Anybody with information to contribute or photographs that they could have scanned may contact Angella Rodgers via this website. All contributions will be gratefully received. Photographs and biographies of the workers would also be of interest.


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.

King Offa

By kind courtesy of Christine Smith

The Tamworth Heritage Trust would like to thank Christine Smith, for her superb input to this website.  Christine’s knowledge of the history of early Tamworth is astonishing.  One of the aims of this website is that it should be a reliable source of information.  If you look at any of the sites on King Offa currently on the world wide web, we can safely say that none will be as informative and comprehensive as this page which Christine so kindly donated to us.


Offa was born around 740, the son of Thingfrith, descended in the main male line from Eowa, brother of King Penda of Mercia, who had been slain in battle in 643. Their`s was the powerful line of the Angle kings, who had colonised the east and the midlands of England.   Offa actually succeeded his grandfather Eanulf`s cousin Ethelbald, in 757, as King of Mercia. Ethelbald had been murdered by his unruly thanes at Seckington, after they had lost a battle to the West Saxons.  He was old, having reigned for over forty years, during which he was admonished by the church for allowing his troops to pursue their excessive behaviour, such as raiding nunneries for food and for women, but who was regarded by many of the common folk with respect for having fed the poor and kept them safe from invasion for all those years.   Ethelbald, who had built Wat`s Dyke, had established Mercian supremacy over the southern kingdoms, but these were lost to Offa when a rival claimant for the Mercian throne, Beornred, fought him, and in the strife that followed, these territories were taken back.  Offa vowed to regain them however, and  during his reign which was nearly as long as that of his predecessor, he did so, and made Tamworth the capital of Mercia and of a nearly-united England.

His attempts to hold together a united England however met with some obstacles.  Mercians fought alongside other kingdoms, such as that of Kent, only to fight against them in some further struggle.  Despite the atmosphere of inner strife that prevailed all over the land at that time, Offa for all his own often oppressive tactics, became known as a much-respected ruler and England rose to a position of power and influence in Europe.

It is known that Offa had other kings slain, including his own son-in-law, Ethelbert King of East Anglia, whom it is maintained, was murdered in the royal residence of Tamworth in 794.   Offa`s Queen Cynethryth appears as the evil-doer and for that it was agreed by church and state that no more Mercian wives of kings used the title. However, the latest research shows that Ethelbert, who had minted coins under Offa`s overlordship, started minting them with his own image upon them.  Its possible because of this provocative act, he was executed as a traitor. He was however regarded as a saint by many, and Hereford Cathedral became dedicated to him.

There must have been some reason why Cynethryth caused the title of Queen to be withheld from future kings` wives.  She perhaps grew too powerful for some of the southern thanes.   Unlike in other kingdoms, the Mercian wives were Queens in their own right, able to rule alone and to issue charters in their own names during their husbands` absences. By the prefix of her name she was a British (Welsh) princess, undoubtedly of the same line  as Cynewise, Queen of King Penda, who had been a Welsh royal.  The Welsh kingdoms were still important centres of rich culture, their powerful kings still a force to be reckoned with, and for that reason the Angles of the midlands and the north in particular had found from earliest times it was better to ally with them than go to war with them.

Offa`s daughter Eadburgh wed Beorhtric, King of Wessex, in 786, who recognised Offa as overlord. Whether Beorhtric was related to Beornred who contested for the crown of Mercia is not known, but by the prefixes of their name would appear to have been. Another daughter Aelfflaed married King Aethelred of Northumbria.

In the 770s when Offa`s power was greatest he was acknowledged as Bretwalda.Rex Anglorum, Overlord of all the Kings of England. He negotiated with Charlesmagne, King of the Franks, (later from 800-14) Holy Roman Emperor.  In 796 one of the first trade agreement between the two countries was signed, and goods were imported and explorted in and out of the Port of London, Offa having been made Master of London.    Marriage alliance were arranged between their children, though there was an argument over this and the parties concerned married elsewhere. Offa imported “black coals” or as some think, black basalt or marble, perhaps for his palaces, including the one he had built at Tamworth which was the “admiration and wonder of the age”.  He was, after all, in admiration of everything Roman architecturally, and many of the Welsh kings still ruled from palaces that had been built under Roman influence.

Offa`s Dyke   Many of the Welsh kings were his allies, though he warred with others. Bands of lawless raiders had swept in from Ireland, through Wales, to harry unprotected villages, and more came  from Scandinavia and the continent, and Offa set about securing his kingdom with defensive boundaries.   He built the huge dyke, a bank and ditch, from Dee to Severn, the full scale of which archaeology is only just beginning to realise.  This is still described as a wall to keep out the Welsh, which it was not!   Missionaries and traders from either side crossed the boundaries by the various gates.  Mercia was full of Welsh people, and others of mixed culture, for it had not long ceased to be part of the kingdom of Powys.  Also with the building of the boundary, some England land went into Wales and some Welsh into England.   Offa did later plunder Dyfed, which caused much hatred, but then many of the Welsh kings fought each other just as the Anglo-Saxons did.  The land was still a long way from being united and at peace.

In Tamworth, the king also built a  ditch that encircled the town on three sides.  Looking on a more modern map this can be seen starting on the river bank beside the old Wyburne Lane, crossing Lichfield Street, going around the Castle orchard and across the junction of Aldergate and Gungate to return to the river bank at Bolebridge. It in fact tcan be seen that the castle walls and town gates of medieval times followed its course, and that the modern town falls within these early defences.


Some, usually outside, archaeologists have always maintained however, that Tamworth just wasn`t here in early Anglo-Saxon times, despite the fact there is evidence of Romano-British settlement all around.  If people were farming and running industrial outlets in that area in the Iron-Age as has been proved, then Tamworth in its strategic position at the confluence of two rivers and near a Roman road would undoubtedly have been recognised as a suitably defensive site.

Archaeology, 1960. A Dr. F.T. Wainwright, head of Anglo-Saxon studies at the University of St. Andrew`s carried out an archaeological excavation in Tamworth in 1960 during the 400th anniversary of the granting of the borough charter, and came to the conclusion that the fortifications had been constructed by Ethelfleda, Countess of Mercia, whose fortress was, as he maintained, in the grounds below the existing mound of the castle.  That in fact the “burh” that Ethelfleda was known to have built in 913 to defend the town against the encroaching Danes, was not, as Dr. Wainwright maintained, the mound as many had thought, but the ditches.  That the “King`s Ditch” could refer to these having been built by King Edward the Elder, brother of Ethelfleda.   When writing to the University of St. Andrew`s to ask if they had any of (the late) Dr. Wainwright`s printed work on the subject, I received a courteous letter back to inform me they had no information at all appertaining to his archaeological work in Tamworth.

Many disagreed with this archaeologist`s findings however, and recent archaeology on the General Hospital site has proved that Offa built the larger defences around the town, in the wars between the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons. If he had the manpower and skills to build the huge dyke on the Welsh borders, the defences at Tamworth would have posed no problems at all.

Pope Adrian I wrote to Offa, “you are a joy to England and a sword against her enemies”.   Papal legates George of Ostia and Theophylact of Todi, in 786 visited the king, and he organised s legatine council held in Mercia.  The pope also wrote to the Bishop of Lindsey and the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain that the reason  he was entertaining exiles at his ecclesiastical court, was in order to reconcile them to their lord.  That was King Offa.

Offa made the first silver pennies named after Penda which remained standard coinage until the 13th cent. As he was intent on England  becoming a great trading nation, he reformed the coinage, instituted laws on trade, and the keeping of land records and improved ship building.  This was the start of England becoming known as a nation of shop-keepers and as a great naval power.

The one land Mercia was never at peace with was Kent, whose unsuccessful revolt in 776 caused more unease.     Jaenberht, Archbishop of Canterbury always Offa`s adversary, was further antagonised when Offa raised Lichfield in 787 to be an Archdiocese, ruling seven dioceses from Thames to Humber.  When entertaining high-ranking churchmen at a meeting in Mercia, perhaps at Lichfield however, Offa invited Jaenberht to be first to receive them, a diplomatic gesture which smoothed matters over somewhat.

The Archbishop of Lichfield Hygeberht consecrated Offa`s son Ecgfrith in 787 as King of the Mercians.  He was the first annointed English king and, unusually,  this was carried out in his father`s lifetime. This was also the first  involvement of the church in a coronation and laid the foundation for such ceremonies thereafter.

Southern sources still say today his title King of the English was never really achieved,  rex totius Anglorum patriae.   Kings north of the Thames are never easily recognised by those south of it, even today! Yet Offa was known as the King of all England, and tribute paid to him by Welsh Kings and by the Emporer Charlemagne,  their disagreement being resolved by one who became a great friend and mentor to both, Alcuin, a monk of Lindisfarne who became tutor to Charlmagne`s family.  He started the library at York that was to become one of the greatest in the country. The province of Canterbury, unique in the western world, became a centre for pilgrims from all over Europe.  The church gave a yearly tribute to Rome for maintenance of lights and relief of the poor, “Peter`s Pence”.

Offa was involved in a bitter conflict in Dyfed, and returned to seek healing of his wounds at Bedford Priory, where he died in 796.    The medieval source that tells of his last resting-place being at the priory may be incorrect.  Its more likely that the king was returned to his capital for burial with great pomp and ceremony, perhaps as many locals have always said, in a tumulous called Offlow Hill at Weeford, between Tamworth where he was known to have had a chapel royal or church,  and Lichfield whose See he raised to an Archbishopric.  Or he could be buried at Oldbury, near Atherstone, a site that some modern historians have found was described (before the Anglo-Saxons` arrival) as a burial-place of local kings. Right up until the Reformation it was still a place of pilgrimage, with a monastic cell.

The authorities don’t want to know about this for the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, planned by the few against the opinions of the many, will cut through the Weeford countryside, near this hallowed place.  This could become a tourist site to a famous and powerful English king, who set the precedent for many of our currency, trade and commercial rules, thirteen hundred years ago, and this tourist site could become much more important (and more prosperous) than many if they would only spare it.

Wisdith wrote a poem about Offa who was said to be descended from Offa of Angeln (Denmark) who built a boundary against the Myrings at Fifeldor which stood between Angelns and Swaefe.  An inspiration for Offa`s Dyke?

Christine Smith


If you are studying the history of Mercia and would like an in depth account of this period, please link to the above website.  We found this to be invaluable.

Wigginton Lodge

Wigginton Lodge – Once the Home of Famous Surgeons

John Clarke, M.D.
Charles Mansfield Clarke M.D.

Residents of Tamworth all know the place known as Wigginton Park. It was called a green lung for Tamworth and it is a pleasant open area where children can fly their kites in the summer and ride their sledges when the snow falls thick on the slopes there in the winter. But many years ago there were just open fields there and Charles Oakes, who was the Town Clerk of Tamworth in the 18th century, farmed the land and lived in a small homestead there. Eventually the estate passed to a man names Alexander Cope. Copes Drive still exists today, as it was the main thoroughfare to the estate. However, in the following century, the estate came into the possession of John Clarke and his wife Elizabeth, who allowed the 45 acre park to revert to grass and planted a variety of trees to form an attractive small park. They also built a pretty rustic lodge at the end of Copes Drive, and a small home farm was added on the western side, named Waterloo, after the famous victory. John Clarke built a pleasant spacious house there with lofty rooms, a conservatory and a wide staircase. This splendid building is known to us today as Wigginton Lodge. But unfortunately, John Clarke M.D. did not have long to enjoy living on his new estate, for he died in 1815 (this is quite important to note, as you will see later), although his wife Elizabeth continued to live there until her death, when John’s brother Charles inherited the lodge.

Both of the Clarke’s were eminent surgeons, both specialising in midwifery and diseases of women – and this was in the days when the science of medicine was still rudimentary and most surgeons only just removed from the barbaric (and indeed often performed by barbers). John Clarke M.D. studied children’s ailments also, and no doubt had he lived longer, would have become one of the country’s leading experts in the field. However, it was Charles Mansfield Clarke who achieved more fame, becoming personal physician to Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV. Their daughter died in infancy, but nonetheless, Charles Clarke was rewarded for his services to womankind by being awarded a baronetcy in 1831 and it was as Sir Charles Mansfield Clarke of Wigginton Lodge that he came to live there. After his death, Wigginton Lodge was eventually bought by a member of the Hamel family.

John Clarke’s Memorial Mystery

In St. Editha’s Church, there is a memorial to John Clarke. The Tamworth Heritage Trust were recently contacted by Dr. Kenneth Ross Hunter, who was enquiring about any information we may have on the subject of John Clarke for a lecture he was giving to the Royal College of Surgeons in London. We supplied him with photographs of Wigginton Lodge and the memorial at St. Editha’s Church. It was then that we discovered there was an error in the inscription. The memorial clearly states that John Clarke died on 31st August 1818, when in fact he had died three years previous in 1815. We have checked the Dunn & Bradstreet records, and we have enquired from local history expert Peter Edden, and it has been confirmed that the stonemasons did make a mistake.


Top left: John Clarke M.D. 1760 – 1815

Top right: Wigginton Lodge, once the home of John Clarke and Charles Mansfield Clarke

Bottom left: The memorial to John Clarke in St. Editha’s Church
Botton right: Charles Mansfield Clarke M.D. 1782 – 1857

The story of John Clarke’s medical career is one of brilliance and we are very grateful to Dr. Kenneth Ross Hunter for allowing us to publish a transcript of the lecture he delivered to the Royal College of Surgeons in April 2001.

The FitzPatrick Lecture
4th April 2001
by Dr. Kenneth Ross Hunter
John Clarke (1760 – 1815): one of John Hunter’s Pupils
Given at the Royal College of Physicians of London
(on the occasion of an Admission Ceremony for new Members of the College)

President, Fellows, Members, especially new Members, Guests;

It is customary when giving one of these College lectures to say something about the person whose name it bears. This is particularly appropriate this year as it marks the centenary of the College’s acceptance in 1901 of a gift from Mrs. Agnes FitzPatrick to perpetuate the memory of her late husband, Thomas.

He was a Victorian, born in Ireland in 1832. He became a member of The Royal College of Physicians in 1868 and practised successfully in West London. He published several medical papers, but his writings were esteemed more for his books on travel and his skills as a linguist. He is especially remembered for his kindness to his patients and his friends and for his general conviviality.

He had an interest in medical history and on the centenary of John Hunter’s death in 1893 he delivered an address in which he lavished praise on Hunter1, both as a surgeon and as a natural scientist, describing him as one of the most original thinkers and strenuous workers.

We know that his wife was utterly devoted to him. They used to spend long holidays together, travelling on the Continent and she was always able to cope with the short sea crossing from Dover, but when he decided to visit Norway she felt unable to face what she described as “the ocean” so he went alone instead. He wrote back telling her about the smooth, enjoyable voyage to Oslo. She was missing him greatly (they had never been apart for more than two days) so she immediately booked on the next sailing to join him. Every berth was full, the only place was an uncomfortable sofa used by a stewardess whom she bribed to give it up. Then the ship encountered a terrifying gale and they were considerably delayed, but her eventual reunion with her husband made it all worthwhile!2

When Thomas FitzPatrick died in 1900, this loyal wife was keen to honour his memory appropriately and the result was a lectureship on the history of medicine at this College. When it was set up it sparked off a lively correspondence in the British Medical Journal, discussing Britain’s relative neglect of medical history and culminating in a paper by William Osler on the methods of teaching the history of medicine to students at the John Hopkins Medical School.3,4,5,6,7

To turn now to the subject of this evening’s lecture; I’d like to tell you why I became interested in Dr. John Clarke and to tell you what I have found out about his life and work. First, a bit of background: in a sense my interest in Dr. John Clarke was kindled at this very occasion 33 years ago when I was admitted as a member of the College. I had a warm glow, as many of you probably have, basking in the belief that, as the President said earlier; in future you can do things because they are enjoyable, not just in order to pass examinations. However, at the dinner afterwards I was brought back to earth with a bump because my consultant, Dr. Peter Emerson, suddenly turned and said, “Well, now that you’ve got membership what you going to do for your MD?”

Two years later I was at University College Hospital, working on my MD thesis by studying the new drug, levodopa, in Parkinson’s Disease. One cannot get involved in this disease without becoming fascinated by the life and work of James Parkinson who first described it in 1817. Among other things, I learnt that Parkinson had been one of John Hunter’s pupils, attending Hunter’s lectures on the theory and practice of surgery and taking down notes in shorthand. Many years after Hunter’s death it was discovered that Hunter’s own notes, from which he had delivered his annual course of lectures, had been plagiarised and then destroyed by his brother-in-law, Everard Home. Therefore the College of Surgeons encouraged former students to come forward with the notes which they had made. One of the best of these contributions was that of James Parkinson which was published in 1833.8 Another very full set of notes was the version recorded by Nathaniel Rumsey, who later became a surgeon in Chesham. Rumsey’s account was published in 1835.9

That is the background to this evening’s lecture; the reason why I happened to be aware of the especial importance of any surviving students’ notes from Hunter’s lectures on surgery. By the 1980s, I had completed my training and I was working as a consultant physician in Plymouth. Someone was clearing out a forgotten cupboard when he came across a collection of old books belonging to the Plymouth Medical Society, which is one of the oldest in the country. The books had apparently been locked away in a peripheral hospital to protect them from the blitz in 1941. Among these books was a manuscript, “Notes taken from Mr. Hunter’s lectures on Surgery, 1781 by John Clarke Jnr.” This manuscript is now in the Library of The Royal College of Surgeons of England. Incidentally, this is the only existing version of the lectures which is signed and dated by John Hunter himself.

I decided to try to find out more about this medical student, John Clarke. What became of him? Did he achieve anything of importance? I’d like to tell you about him this evening and I am most grateful to the President and Censors for inviting me to do so.

The story starts in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire where John Clarke was baptised in the parish church on 19th December 1760. He was the eldest son of a local surgeon, also called John.10

After a few years the family moved to London; living in Chancery Lane and John attending St. Paul’s School where he was a successful student, particularly in the classics. On 4th March 1779 he obtained his Diploma of Membership of the Company of Surgeons, 11 and in the same year he began to study medicine. During the next four years he attended anatomy lectures and dissections given by Dr. William Hunter and Mr Cruickshank, lectures on medicine, materia medica and chemistry by Dr. Fordyce, lectures on midwifery and related subjects by Dr. Osborn and Dr. Denman and the lectures on surgery about which we have already heard, given by John Hunter.12 At these lectures one of his contemporary students was John Hunter’s nephew Matthew Baillie, someone with whom he was to have a close professional relationship lasting throughout his life.

He soon decided to specialise in midwifery. This was regarded as a new subject; traditionally obstetrics had been in the hands of women with no formal qualifications. The term “midwife” derives from two words in Middle English, “mid” a preposition meaning “with” and “wife” meaning “woman.” In other words, a midwife was someone of either sex who was with a woman during childbirth. During the eighteenth century men-midwives gradually established themselves. At first, they were only present at difficult, complicated births, which usually ended up unfavourably. Therefore generally women were reluctant to accept them. However as men-midwives became more widespread it was slowly realised that their presence and influence could improve outcomes. This increase in the number of men-midwives coincided with a general surfeit of medical men and this lead to controversy involving the College of Physicians. Many physicians felt that if a man-midwife had obtained access to a family during a pregnancy, he would be at an unfair advantage if he later wanted to act as a physician to that family.13 A deep-seated prejudice against men-midwives arose and in 1771 the College revised its statutes and effectively banned from the fellowship anyone who had practised “as an apothecary or obstetrician or as a tradesman.”14

However the rules involving licentiates were less strict and in 1783 the College recognised that there were distinguished practitioners in midwifery possessing high standards of knowledge. Therefore as an alternative to the existing general licences in medicine it decided to grant special licences limited to obstetrics.15 Before granting such a licence, the College insisted that if an applicant was already a member of the Company of Surgeons he must first disenfranchise himself.14 The Company of Surgeons was content to go along with this arrangement as it usually charged a substantial fee for removal! John Clarke left the Company of Surgeons in 1785 and he obtained his licence in midwifery from the College of Physicians in 1787. The Annals of the College record the details. On 2nd March he was examined in physiology and told that he might come back on Saturday 31st March at 3 o’clock. He did so and was examined in pathology. This was satisfactory and he was asked to come back again in quarter of an hour to attend a new Comitia when he was examined and approved in therapeutics. Two days later, on 2nd April the President, Sir George Baker, formally admitted him as a Licentiate in Midwifery.

Midwifery in the eighteenth century was very different from that of today. Clarke wrote poignantly “there is scarcely an individual who has not to lament the loss of some dear relative or connexion in childbed.”16 The problem was not so much the mechanics of labour but the complications afterwards. We know now that the main post-natal complication was infection, but at that time medical science was ignorant of the precise nature of infectious disease.

Clarke’s first publication, dedicated to his teachers Dr. Osborn and Dr. Denman, appeared in 1788.17 There is a copy in the Library of the College of Physicians, inscribed “Dr. Baillie from his most sincere friend, the Author.” It was about puerperal fever. This infection had been known to occur sporadically since the time of Hippocrates but by the middle of the eighteenth century, with the introduction of lying-in hospitals, epidemics arose in both France and Britain. This was before the days of hospital league tables, but John Clarke remarked that when, in 1761, a small private lying-in hospital in London had experienced a “very fatal” epidemic “they sometimes buried two women in one coffin to conceal their bad success.”18

The epidemic form of puerperal fever was due to a particular type of Streptococcus which could be transmitted from patient to patient by attendants who carried the germ on their bodies and their clothes. In the eighteenth century doctors were aware of infection or contagion: they realised that certain diseases could be transmitted directly by close contact, but the carrier state was unknown to them. Clarke wrote “it has been a question…whether this be an infectious complaint or not… but it has also arisen as an original disease in private patients, where there had not been any communication with infected persons…however my experience on the subject is by much too concentrated to speak with any thing like decision on this head.”19 Seven years later Alexander Gordon demonstrated the role of birth attendants in spreading the disease20 and it is clear that Clarke accepted this explanation and acted upon it because later, when it appeared among his patients, “he was induced to destroy his entire wardrobe, and no case of the kind occurred to him afterwards.”21

Clarke’s paper was favourably received, indeed it was even translated into German,22 and there was an encouraging review in one of the journals of the time: “we take the liberty of recommending to Mr Clarke to pursue the subject unremittingly, and particularly to endeavour to determine, in what consists the difference in the prevailing fevers of the season attacking women in child-bed.”23

He did pursue the subject and although it was about another century before the germ theory led to progress in prevention and about a century and a half before the first successful treatment with sulphonamides, in retrospect we can see that several of his observations were significant. For example, we now know that the Streptococcus of puerperal fever also causes cellulitis and Clarke mentioned two instances of accidental injury to the hand of someone performing an autopsy after puerperal sepsis. This caused swelling of the arm, lymphadenopathy, fever and a rapid pulse rate.24 He also noted an association between an epidemic of puerperal fever and ulcerous sore throat.25

Clarke quickly built up his reputation as a successful clinician. He was described as having indomitable industry and perseverance and great acuteness of perception. He inspired confidence in his patients and gained the admiration of his colleagues. He was appointed Physician to the Store Street Lying-in Hospital. He was an excellent teacher and his lectures were very popular. In 1789 he married a rich wife, Elizabeth Vaughton of Staffordshire, and he moved from Chancery Lane in the City to Queen Street in the West End.26,27

In 1791 Clarke obtained his MD degree from the University of Frankfurt on the Öder in Prussia.28

In 1793 he published “Practical Essays on the Management of Pregnancy and Labour.”29 He explained that the book had been designed for medical students. He included his earlier work on puerperal fever and also chapters on other complications of pregnancy, antenatal and postnatal care and management of labour. On this occasion the Analytical Review, which had praised his earlier work, was scathingly sarcastic.30 The reviewer pointed out that Clarke himself had written that the work contained nothing new. In which case what was the point of publishing it? “Midwifery has become a kind of vehicle by which the young practitioner has made known the place of his of residence, and his various qualifications. That these trifling considerations could…have any influence…we do not believe; though we have observed some passages…which have somewhat of a suspicious appearance.” Clarke graciously acknowledged the criticism but at the same time he pointed out that the demand for a second edition, which appeared in 1806, indicated the book’s usefulness.

As well as active clinical practice, Clarke took a lively interest in academic matters. He was a member of several learned societies.31 The first was the Lyceum Medicum, which had been set up by John Hunter and Dr. George Fordyce, meeting on Friday evenings at Hunter’s Lecture Theatre and Museum near Leicester Square. This had several hundred members, predominantly Hunter’s former pupils. Each member was expected to “observe and inquire for himself.” Clinical cases were discussed and dissertations given. The rules of the Society encouraged continuing professional development with fines for inappropriate absence and large fines for failing to deliver papers. Each year four presidents took the chair by rotation. In 1787 Clarke was a president when his colleagues included Dr. Matthew Baillie (Hunter’s nephew) and Mr. Everard Home (Hunter’s brother-in-law).

Hunter had amassed a huge collection of specimens illustrating comparative anatomy and pathology which eventually passed to the Royal College of Surgeons. During the meetings of the Lyceum the more interesting and instructive additions to the museum were displayed. One can imagine one of these meetings being the source of an amusing story about Hunter’s relationship with Clarke.32 Clarke proudly possessed a preparation of an ectopic pregnancy, showing a partially developed foetus in a ruptured Fallopian tube. Hunter had often viewed it with longing eyes. “Come, Doctor,” said he, “I positively must have that preparation.” “No, John Hunter,” was the reply, “you positively shall not.” “You will not give it to me then?” “No.” “Will you sell it?” “No.” “Well then, take care I don’t meet you with it in some dark lane at night, for if I do, I’ll murder you to get it.”

The Lyceum was a large society. Hunter and Fordyce also founded the Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge, which was a very exclusive one, limited to twelve members at any one time. Clarke was one of these, going to the monthly meetings at Slaughter’s Coffee House in St. Martin’s Lane where papers were read, then after dinner they were discussed. The secretary, Dr. Wells assiduously corrected the literary composition of the papers which were published in three volumes between 1793 and 1812. In the seven papers by Clarke in these volumes there are several original observations.

In his first paper, in 1791,33 he reported a case of ectopic pregnancy which ended fatally at seven weeks gestation due to haemorrhage. Clarke recorded that the patient had suffered from nausea due to the pregnancy and he made the point that “sickness of pregnancy depends on the general process going on, and not on the affection of any particular part; at any rate; it has no connection with the residence of the foetus in the uterus.”

His next paper was also about ectopic pregnancy, but this time the pregnancy continued to full term and the patient went into a fruitless labour.34 Even to-day medical science is remarkably ignorant of the precise changes which initiate labour. In 1793, from this case, Clarke deduced that the onset of labour is not due to the presence of a foetus in the uterus.

In 1795 he gave the first ever description of a strangulated diaphragmatic hernia in an adult.35 Clarke thought that, apart from a case due to trauma, described by Ambrose Paré, there had been no earlier adult examples of perforation through the diaphragm. We now know that John Hunter, who had been dead for more than a year, had described this as an incidental finding at autopsy in 1757 in a Royal Marine who had died from osteomyelitis.36

In 1798 he reported an important practical contribution to obstetrics: in difficult cases in which the head presents in the occipito-posterior position, bringing the occiput forward can shorten labour.37

During the next fourteen years at the Society he read three more papers, each on a different uterine disorder.38,39,40

In addition to their own papers members of the Society sometimes presented communications from outside and it is interesting that in 1794 Clarke sponsored an account of the croup in and around Chesham in Buckinghamshire by Henry Nathaniel Rumsey,41 the same man who had earlier, as a student, written the notes of Hunter’s lectures which I mentioned earlier.

During this time the Royal Society accepted two papers from Clarke.42,43 The second showed a lively interest in the structure and function of the placenta; a subject which had been of especial interest to John Hunter.

There are many warm contemporary comments about John Clarke and from these we can build up a picture of his personality. He was an efficient, hard worker; successful both as a practitioner and as a teacher. He was gentle and kind. He deplored any roughness or insensitivity during consultations and he emphasised the importance of obtaining consent before internal examinations. Similarly he would obtain consent from the family before performing an autopsy: to quote from one of his papers, “leave was obtained to inspect the body…and the parts involved in the disease were removed, for the purpose of more accurately examining them.”38 He was generous: for example, when the remaining members of the old Lyceum Medicum became honorary members of the new Westminster Medical Society it was John Clarke, along with Matthew Baillie and James Wilson, who arranged for the assets of the Lyceum to be invested separately. They were later donated to the Society for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of Medical men.44

He combined this generosity with sound financial acumen. It cost £80,000 to rebuild the Parish Church of St. Marylebone on a new site opposite the York Gate entrance to Regent’s Park.45 In order to facilitate its completion to coincide with the opening of the Park, in 1812 he gave £10,000, part of which was later to be returned to him as an annuity.46

A young Naval Surgeon, Dr. James Johnson, had a particular reason to appreciate Clarke’s generous nature. It was 1801, the year of the Battle of Copenhagen. His commanding officer, Captain Rogers had turned a blind eye to Johnson’s prolonged absence from his ship –the Mercury – for further study. “But his slender finances were entire exhausted,…being anxious to attend a course of midwifery lectures but not having the means of paying the fee, he stated his circumstances to…Dr. John Clarke…who instantly gave him a free ticket of admission, and invited him to his table.”47

Clarke’s publisher was Joseph Johnson and this suggests that he was inclined to radicalism. He was aware of the link between social deprivation and poor health. He wrote about children in villages suffering fewer diseases than in overcrowded towns.48 He deplored the high death rate among the children of the poor. “Their death, however, makes no noise, and therefore little impression, on account of the obscurity of their station; whilst an unfavourable case of the cow-pox, especially if it occurs in a family of distinction, rings through the whole island with every possible aggravation and misrepresentation.”49

At that time many lying-in hospitals restricted admission to married women, not only because their benefactors were against anything that encouraged vice, but also because hospital managers knew that this lowered death rates.50 Truly destitute women who had no support from their family were more susceptible to infection and death. Clarke felt that these were the very people most in need of care; therefore he supported the policy of his Store Street Hospital which did admit unmarried women, if it was their first pregnancy.51

His attitudes came over in his teachings where he advocated a flexible, sensitive response to patients’ wishes but agreeing to nothing which might compromise their safety.52 His lectures were said to contain a fund of information.27 He gave courses on Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children with Dr. Osborn, both at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital53 and at his home in New Burlington Street54 to which he had moved from Queen Street in 1795. There is an interesting parallel with earlier events. Just as the medical student, John Clarke, faithfully recorded his notes from Hunter’s lectures on surgery and his teacher signed confirming his attendance, so there is a student’s manuscript in the archives at
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital recording these lectures by Dr. Osborn and Dr. Clarke.53 The lecturers issued certificates of attendance which they signed.

His teaching skills reached a wider audience when he became the author of a successful textbook,55 “The London Practice of Midwifery,” which was first published in 1803. It included a significant section on the diseases of children. Paediatrics did not become a separate specialty until the second half of the nineteenth century. This was a popular work and further editions were published in 1808 and 1811. He used vivid descriptions of individual cases to illustrate general principles, for example he pointed out that labour pains were due to resistance to the expulsion of the foetus. If there was no resistance a woman could give birth with remarkably little pain. “A lady of great respectability, the wife of a peer of the realm, was actually delivered once in her sleep; she immediately awakened her husband, being a little alarmed at finding one more in the bed than was before.”56

As he was held in high esteem his opinion was often sought in difficult cases. For example when “a singular and obscure case of diseased respiration in advanced pregnancy” occurred in Fitzwilliam Square and baffled four doctors in Dublin one of them consulted Dr. Clarke of London by letter.57

There is a graphic description of contemporary obstetric practice in William Godwin’s memoirs of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, the controversial feminist.58 He gives a moving account of the events after the birth of her second child who was born in the late evening of Wednesday 30th August 1797. About three hours later, while he was still anxiously waiting downstairs to see the mother and child, he was asked by the midwife to call Dr. Poignand, an obstetrician from the Westminster lying-in Hospital, to deal with a retained placenta. He came and he tried to remove it manually but there was much haemorrhage and he was only partially successful.

On Thursday morning Mary suggested a second opinion from Dr. George Fordyce but Dr. Poignand felt this to be unnecessary and he pointed out that Fordyce was not a specialist in this field. Nevertheless the family called him in. He thought that the patient’s condition was satisfactory but he did arrange to call again daily to make further assessments. On Friday she seemed to improve, but on Sunday she developed rigors. The fragments of retained placenta had clearly become infected. On the following Tuesday Dr. Fordyce brought John Clarke with him and both Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Clarke continued to call every day but it seems that little could be done, except to sedate the patient. By Thursday it appeared that death was imminent, but she clung on to life. The family even had a transient glimmer of hope that she might survive. However this was not to be and she died at twenty to eight on the morning of Sunday 10th September. Happily the baby, also called Mary, survived and when she was sixteen years old, she eloped to the Continent with the poet Percy Shelley. Mary Shelley is probably best remembered now as the novelist who created Frankenstein.

In spite of the unhappy outcome Godwin was clearly grateful to Clarke for his help and when, the year after his wife’s death, he published a collection of her writings in four volumes he presented a copy to him59 with the inscription, “John Clarke,1798, from the editor.”

Then as now obstetrics was an arduous specialty. “Where an error takes place, it is considered always as the fault of the practitioner, and much an unmerited obloquy is apt to be visited on the guiltless head of the medical attendant.”26 Therefore Clarke gradually confined himself to gynaecology and paediatrics. His younger brother, Charles Mansfield Clarke took over his maternity work and he too became a distinguished, successful obstetrician. As physician to Queen Adelaide, he was created a Baronet in 1831. His portrait hangs in the College of Physicians, near the entrance to the Osler Room. One of Clarke’s sisters was married to a distinguished physician, Dr. Arthur Stone who was Harverian Orator in 1804, and their son, Thomas, carried on the family tradition by becoming an obstetrician.60

Financial independence meant that in later years he was able to take what we now would call partial early retirement, spending half the year working from his London home, 1 New Burlington Street, just off Swallow Street, which was soon to become redeveloped as Regent Street. His house still stands. The other half of his year was spent in the country, mainly in Staffordshire which had been his wife’s home. However he retained his active life style, seeing patients in and around Tamworth if their own doctors were unavailable61 and devoting his energies to persuading the medical establishment of the time that they should pay more attention to the special needs of women and children.

He particularly criticised the bye-law of the College of Physicians which prohibited Fellows from practising midwifery. He felt that this prevented “men of the best education and the highest attainments in learning,” from enlarging the knowledge of the diseases of women and children.49

The College was anxious to prevent unlicensed practice in London and although it had no legal powers to do so, it used to ask apothecaries about the details of prescriptions which they had dispensed, in order to find out if surgeons or accoucheurs were practising beyond their limits by prescribing for purely medical cases. The general licence of the College allowed one to practise physic in London, but the licence in midwifery was limited to the obstetric art. Clarke’s move from obstetrics to gynaecology and paediatrics led him into a dispute with the College. It seems that when Clarke had been admitted to the licence in midwifery in 1787 (after an examination conducted in Latin) he was assured that he would remain eligible to take the general licence later, but a subsequent surreptitious change in the regulations meant that when he applied for the general licence in 1805 the College refused to examine him. He wrote formally to the President and Fellows complaining about poor communication by the College and asking to be allowed to practise as a physician.12 However the College refused to bend its new rules and indeed it even circulated a reminder to its Fellows that a statute existed which imposed a penalty of £5 on any of them who should consult with an illicit practitioner.

His dispute with the College dragged on for several years, and Matthew Baillie, by then one of the most eminent physicians in the country, who had been a College Censor, Goulstonian Lecturer, Croonian Lecturer and Harverian Orator was fined £5 on the evidence of a prescription for consulting with Dr. Clarke.62

The College’s obstinate attitude seems to have been matched by provocative acts by Clarke, for example, when sponsoring one of his students for a degree at St. Andrew’s University in 1804, Clarke described himself as a teacher of midwifery and of the practice of medicine in the diseases of women and children.63 In his will, he firmly described himself as a “Doctor of Physic.”
From a strictly legal view, Clarke probably was practising beyond the limits of his licence but the College was risking ridicule by hounding such a distinguished practitioner. Eventually it was the College’s legal advisor, Sir Vicary Gibbs who defused the situation by advising, in 1810 that if the College were to sue him for “practice of Physic beyond the Obstetric art” discussion of the issues in a public Court would be shocking.62

The quarrel with Clarke must have been resolved because in 1814 he was invited to read a paper at the College which was published in Medical Transactions.61 This was a rare honour for a licentiate. It was a clinical description of six cases where women, after childbirth, had suffered neurological problems shortly after eating oysters. Reading the paper now, one can be amused by Clarke’s rather naive theories about how a bulky uterus and a full stomach press upon abdominal vessels diverting blood to the head to cause apoplexy. However when we remember that endocrinology did not emerge as a medical discipline until the second half of the nineteenth century64 and that recognition of links between sex hormones and vascular disease is even more recent, then we can see that some of Clarke’s remarks were exceedingly perspicacious. His observations accurately anticipated the protective effect of low doses of oestrogen against arterial disease. “When [monthly periods] cease…the female constitution approaches more to the character of the male, so that it is not very unusual to observe hair grow on the lower part of the face…From this time they become more liable to the diseases, which in earlier periods of life attach almost exclusively to the other sex. Of this kind is apoplexy.”

In 1815 Clarke published the first volume of his book on the diseases of children. Typically he dedicated his book to the medical students who, over the previous thirty years, had attended lectures given initially by Dr. Osborn and Dr. Denman and latterly by himself. He wrote passionately about the high mortality rate among children in London; nearly one quarter dying at less than two years of age.49 He emphasised the importance of this, not just from the medical point of view but also from a political one as a Nation’s strength and prosperity depended on its population. He found it impossible to conceive that the high mortality was not due to mismanagement, since “it is utterly inconsistent with the uniform goodness of the Creator, to suppose that so many children are brought into the world only that they may die at an early period of their existence.” In order to provide better information about the causes of death he advocated compulsory issue of medical attendants’ certificates. At that time only Christenings in the Established Church were recorded in the parochial register. Therefore, to ensure complete recording of the total number of births he suggested that Christian dissenters, Catholics, Jews and those of no religion should be included. Civil registration of births and deaths started in England in 1837 but did not become compulsory until 1874, almost 60 years after Clarke’s death. He advocated other public health measures. He criticised the government for accepting the significant taxes levied on the sale of certain medicines, while doing nothing to ensure their quality.65 He wanted stricter control of the spread of contagious disease and recognised that this would need public hospitals, funded at “the national expence” for admitting the poor and separating patients with different diseases.

He particularly advocated strict quarantine for patients with small pox, even if this meant encroachment upon the liberty of the subject. “A man, in a state of society, must be content to surrender some proportion of his own liberty for the advantage of the community in which he lives; and he is only to enjoy so much as is compatible with the good of his neighbour.”49

His book also contained detailed descriptions of various disorders. Chapter Four “On a Peculiar Species of Convulsions in Infant Children” was especially important.66 In 1887 the Dictionary of National Biography stated that this was the work on which his fame rested, ranking him as a medical discoverer;67 one of the founders of child neurology.68 In it he gave an exact description of tetany, in particular carpopedal spasm, distinguishing this from other types of convulsion. He pointed out that the associated paroxysms of spasm in the muscles of the larynx often lead to confusion with respiratory disorders such as chronic croup or asthma, but he concluded that it is “very different from croup, and is altogether of a convulsive character.” He explained that clenching of the first, with the thumb inserted into the palm of the hand, often preceded the development of more florid symptoms. Eleven years later North observed the association between tetany and rickets but a century elapsed before its link with hypocalcaemia was fully worked out.

Sadly, the promised second volume of this book was never published because his life was cut short at only 54 years of age, almost certainly by cancer of the stomach. He was buried in the Parish Church of Tamworth in Staffordshire, where there is a most impressive memorial in white marble by Chantrey bearing the inscription:

Affection’s last tribute
To the best of Husbands & most exemplary of Men.

He remained professionally active to the end. He had, along with Matthew Baillie, been one of the twenty-six founder members of The Medical and Chirurgical Society of London69 now The Royal Society of Medicine, and like Thomas FitzPatrick,70 eighty years later, he was a member of its Council from 1809; becoming vice president in 1814. We can only speculate about possible further contributions to medicine by this diligent student, who meticulously recorded Hunter’s lectures, had he lived longer. But in his relatively short life he accomplished much. He was a pioneer in midwifery, aware of the importance of healthy children to the Nation. His midwifery practice devolved to his younger brother Charles Mansfield Clarke and later to his nephew Thomas Stone. In addition he did much to establish what later became the separate specialty of paediatrics. All this is charmingly summarised in a light-hearted collection of mementos in stonecuttrs’ verse published, under a pseudonym, by William Wadd, in 1827.71

“Beneath this stone, shut up in the dark,
Lies a learned man-midwife, y’clep’d Doctor Clarke.
On earth while he lived, by attending men’s wives,
He increas’d population some thousands of lives:
Thus a gain to the nation was gain to himself;
And enlarg’d population, enlargement of pelf.
So he toil’d late and early, from morning till night,
The squalling of children his greatest delight.
Then worn out with labours, he died skin and bone,
And his ladies he left all to Mansfield and Stone.”


I have received enthusiastic and generous assistance from many people and it is a pleasure to acknowledge their help.

Elizabeth Allen, Kurt Bredemyer, Tina Craig, Jo Currie, Geoffrey Davenport, Suzanne Elson, Terry Gould, Andrew Griffin, Michael Handy, Michael Hopkins, Sylvia Huggett, Claire Jackson, Gundolf Keil, Andrzej Ladomirski, Margaret Lattimore, Jean Loudon, Tina McBain, Louise Martin, Yolanda Matlach, Simon May, Trevor McCausland, Ian McDonald, Robert Mills, Margaret Peckham, Patrick Pollak, Michael Reilly, Robert Smart, Holger Stöcker, Cathy Thornton, Claire Tomalin, Alistair Tough, Robert Woof, Stephen Wright.

1. FitzPatrick T. Centenary of the Death of John Hunter (October 16th, 1893). London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1893.
2. Hartshore A. (Editor). Tours and Excursions on the Continent. Selected from the Diaries of Thomas FitzPatrick, M.D.,M.A.. London, 1901.
3. Anon. The Study of Medical History. Br Med J 1901;ii:1425-6.
4. Biggs MG. The Study of the History of Medicine. Br Med J 1901;ii:1575.
5. Lloyd Owen DC. The Study of the History of Medicine. Br Med J 1901;ii:1637-8.
6. Anon. The Study of Medical History. Br Med J 1902;i:670-1.
7. Osler W. A Note on the Teaching of the History of Medicine, Br Med J 1902;ii:93.
8. Parkinson J. Hunterian Reminiscences; being the substance of a Course of Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Surgery, delivered by the late Mr. John Hunter, in the year 1785. London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1833.
9. Palmer JF. Preface to Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Surgery by John Hunter, F.R.S. In: The Works of John Hunter, ed. JF Palmer. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1835:1,201-3.
10. The Register Book of Christenings, Marriages and Burials, in the Parish of Wellingborough, in the County of Northampton: commencing March 26th, 1702. Northamptonshire Record Office 350P/647.
11. Minutes of the Court of Examiners held at the Theatre the 4th march 1779. Archives of Royal College of Surgeons of England.
12. Clarke J. A Memorial to the President & Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, June 25th, 1805.
13. Clark G. A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966:2,501-2.
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The Moat House

Written by Mabel Swift

image001“Tamworth For The King.”  That was the declaration from the loyalists, William Comberford from his home at the Moat House in Lichfield Street.  In that year of grace, 1642 King Charles I had fled the capital and raised his standard at Nottingham thereby defying the parliament which sought to curb his regal power and beginning the Civil War.  30 years earlier, the Comberfords had entertained Charles, then the Prince of Wales, while his father, King James, stayed at the castle during a royal visit to the town.  Now the Comberfords pledged their support, sent £10,000 to the royal cause and garrison Tamworth in the name of the King.

The Moat House must have been of ancient foundation, for in medieval times, ‘Motehallzende’ appears in local records.  It was in 1572 that Walter Harcourt brought the site in Lichfield Street and there built a fine Tudor Mansion with mullioned windows and fine chimneys.  He married Mary Comberford and, after the couples death, the property passed to her family.  They were all Catholics and it was whispered that the oak panelling inside the house hid more than one ‘priest’s hole’.  It was important to the Comberfords that they displayed all loyalty to the crown, but they were to pay dearly for it.  After only one year Tamworth was captured by the Parliamentarian army.  The people, it appears, favoured Cromwell.  Comberford escaped, but his magnificent home was ransacked from its gabled roof down to its walled garden.  Out at the country village, which bears his name, the manor was sacked.  When the war was finally lost, and the proud and foolish King beheaded, the Comberfords had to sell the family property.  Ironically it was bought by Thomas Fox, a Roundhead Captain and one of their bitterest enemies for £160.  The Comberford family never recovered from those grievous times and retired to exile in their old estates in the Champagne district of France.

The Moat House passed into the possession of the families of Boothby, Littleton, Wolferstan, Abney and later the Marquess of Townsend.  On the latter’s death, it was acquired by Dr. Robert Woody, who in 1863 opened it for the local horticultural show.   Over 2000 people trooped through the avenue of lime trees to admire the display of flowers, fruit and vegetables.  There was archery, dancing to the strains of the Warwickshire Militia Band and a fleet of pleasure boats on the waters of the River Tame at the foot of the gardens.  Thereafter, the house was used as a private nursing home for the mentally ill.  These people were often well to do, but eccentric old ladies who went out in the landau round the town streets to shop, bestowing largesse on the shopkeepers and errand boys who ran out to serve them.

In the 20th Century the Moat House passed to another well-known practitioner, Dr. Lowson, who on giving up the nursing home on his retirement, offered the Moat House as a free gift to Tamworth Corporation.  After much discussion the council foolishly decided that they could not afford to look after it and refused the offer.  Highly indignant, the doctor quite rightly sold the mansion and since those days several restaurants have operated from the beautiful building.

St. Editha’s Church


East view of St. Editha’s Church – 1790

The question often arises why Tamworth, relatively small market town should possess such a large and magnificent Parish Church.  The answer is to be found in the whole history of the town from Saxon days 1200 years ago when Tamworth was an important settlement of Mercia.  It was here that King Offa built his great palace and it was here, as it is recorded, that he kept the great festivals of Christmas and Easter.  Between 796 and 857 no less than 14 Royal Charters were issued from Tamworth and since all of them were witnesses by ecclesiastics, the inference of the church here is irrefutable.  In 874, the Danes sacked Tamworth, leaving the town and probably its church a heap of blackened ruins.  There can be little doubt, however, that a new church was built.  In 925 Sihtrigg, Jarl of Northumbria, plighted his troth to Editha, King Athelstan’s sister at Tamworth in the presence of Ella, Bishop of Lichfield.

The story of pillage however continued, and in 943 the Danes razed Tamworth again and its church was destroyed.  Only to be rebuilt by Kind Edgar in 963.  It is of interest that the commissionaires appointed by Henry VIII, to make an inventory of church property reported that, the “Collegiate and Parish Church of Tamworth” which they had inspected, was founded by King Edgar.  Little, if any of that church remains.

Tamworth Church was rebuilt and enlarged by the Normans, and must have been a magnificent building.  In length it was at least equal to the present edifice and there is Norman masonry at both the extreme east and west ends of the church.  Its plan was cruciform with a central tower over the crossing.  There is a deeply splayed round-headed window on the south side of the Chancel, which in the 12th century was an outside wall.  This window has beautifully twisted columns with cushion capitals externally, and a delicately carved string course underneath.  But the pride and glory of Tamworth Church are the two great Norman arches in the Chancel.  Originally there were four, those four arches carried the tower and the position of the two former transverse arches can be traced by the roughness of the walls showing where they were cut away.  Remnants of the zig-zag moulding of the Norman screen wall, the originally grey stone, burned a deep red by fire, still face the Nave.

The Tamworth Church in the days of The Marmions was a noble building and is shown but the scale of its buttress still to be seen in the transepts; and by a very interesting collection of relics displayed upon the south aisles western most windowsill.

On May 23rd 1345 Tamworth was practically destroyed by fire and the imposing Norman Church was completely gutted.  Only the large transeptal arches and portions of the Quire, western walls of the Nave, and the North Aisle with porch, remain standing.  Fortunately Tamworth possessed in it’s then Dean, a man whose name is worthy of an honoured place in the long roll of great men and women from Tamworth, Dean Baldwin de Witney, in spite of untold difficulties, poverty at home and war abroad, and then the terrible Black Death, set to work to repair the ravages of the fire.  In 20 years he rebuilt the church practically as we see it today.

image003The interior of Dean Witney’s 14th century church however, had one striking difference from today’s St. Editha’s.  Instead of being flat, all its roofs were steeply pitched.   Dean Baldwin de Witney died in 1369 and left a noble monument to future generations.  He is buried within its wall.

St. Editha’s Church is famous for its extraordinary double winding staircase, which climbs the whole height of the southwest angle and gives Tamworth Parish Church its greatest distinction.  The staircase had two independent entrances, one from the outside, and the other from the outside of the church.  Two persons may ascend the tower simultaneously without seeing each other until they reach the top.

The Free Library

image001Now the site of the Carnegie Centre, a centre for various voluntary organisations in the town, this little cherry red brick building with its green slated roof and charming elevation, was once the free library and public reading room.  It was erected on 1904-5 at the cost of £2000 and through the generosity of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American steel multi-millionaire, who helped establish libraries in many towns and cities in the UK and the USA. When first built, the Free Library was managed by a committee of trustees, but in 1917 was taken over by the Borough Council.

The building was superseded by a much larger library at its rear, which was officially opened by the Secretary of State, Margaret Thatcher on 8th June 1973.  Many locals thought that the new library building was hideous, especially as they had been used to visiting the quaint Carnegie building, but they were reassured by the designers that the building materials and finishes of the new library had all been carefully chosen to reflect the historic surroundings, especially that of the ancient church and the Victorian Assembly Rooms. Mrs. Thatcher remarked that the architecture was magnificent.


Although Tamworth has no direct connection with Mr. Carnegie, other than being in receipt of his generous donation which lead to the building of the Free Library, the Heritage Trust feels that his life is worth inclusion on this website.

Carnegie, Andrew (1835-1919), American industrialist and philanthropist, who, at the age of 33, when he had an annual income of $50,000, said, “Beyond this never earn, make no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes.”

image003Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. He went to the U.S. in 1848 and soon began work as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, for $1.20 per week. The following year he became a messenger in a Pittsburgh telegraph office and learned telegraphy. He was then employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as the private secretary and telegrapher to the railroad official Thomas Alexander Scott. Carnegie advanced by successive promotions until he was superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the railroad. His financial interest in what is now the Pullman Company laid the foundation of his fortune, and investments in oil lands near Oil City, Pennsylvania, increased his means. During the American Civil War he served in the War Department under Scott, who was in charge of military transportation and government telegraph service. After the war Carnegie left the railroad and formed a company to produce iron railroad bridges. He later founded a steel mill and was one of the earliest users of the Bessemer process of making steel in the U.S. Carnegie was extremely successful, acquiring a controlling interest in other large steel plants. By 1899, when he consolidated his interests in the Carnegie Steel Company, he controlled about 25 percent of the American iron and steel production. In 1901 he sold his company to the United States Steel Corp. for $250 million and retired.

Carnegie did not have a formal education, but as a youth working in Pennsylvania he developed a life-long interest in books and education. During his lifetime he gave more than $350 million to various educational, cultural, and peace institutions, many of which bear his name. His first public gift was in 1873 for baths in the town of his birth; his largest single gift was in 1911 for $125 million to establish the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He was a benefactor of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). He also endowed nearly 1700 libraries in the United States and Great Britain, and he donated funds for the construction of the Peace Palace at The Hague, Netherlands, for what is now the International Court of Justice of the United Nations. Carnegie was honoured throughout the world during his lifetime.

The Old Cottage Hospital

image001Part of the Old Cottage Hospital stands in Hospital Street at the entrance to the part of the town know as The Leys, which for centuries was renowned for its famous Orchards.  The Old Cottage Hospital, for many years was Tamworth’s main General Hospital, but most of the hospital was demolished in 1996.  The remaining part of the building, which can be seen in the picture on this page, is still in tact, but the rest of the site is now a dwelling conversion of flats, called MacGregor Tithe.

The inception of the Old Cottage Hospital was due to the initiative of the Rev. Brooke Lambert, but Tamworth owes its actual foundation in 1880 to the Rev. William MacGregor, who was, from 1878 to 1887, the Vicar of Tamworth.  When the hospital was being built, the original costs over ran, worried trustees went to see Tamworth philanthropist, William MacGregor, who told them, I didn’t promise you £300, I promised you a hospital.  By the time the building was completed, it had cost well over £1000.  So thanks to the far-sighted vicar, Tamworth Cottage Hospital became a reality.

Originally, the hospital was a single storey building, to which a second storey was added by public subscription, a few years later.  Then followed in 1889 the gift of the Hutton Wing, paid for by Mrs. Hutton of Dosthill, who also gave the town the Hutton Fountain, which used to stand at the junction of Comberford Road and Ashby Road on the North side of the town. From its foundation, the hospital had been maintained by voluntary subscription and splendidly managed by a committee representing the subscribers, the Borough Council, the doctors, the mining industry, the friendly societies and other public and charitable organisations.  For a number of years the Miners Welfare Fund, as well as individual mine owners and the organised mine workers, generously supported the hospital and subscribed to its building fund.

Up until the First World War, the Cottage Hospitals accommodation was 25 beds, when the hospitals resources were taxed to the limit and a movement was initiated for further extensions.  In 1924 two new wings were built which bought the number of beds to 50, and again in 1936, further extensions were urgently needed. The 1924 extensions, which cost £12,000, subscribed for by the public, included a grant of £2,500 from the Miners Welfare Fund, and embraced the erection of the Hall of Memory, a striking feature in the English Renaissance style, to the memory of the 608 men of Tamworth and district who fell in the Great War.  The interior of the hall, which still stands today, is decorated in a simple and dignified manner, the floor being of black & white marble (although it is rumoured that there are plans afoot to carpet this, which would be a great shame), upon the walls, there are three bronze tablets.  The inscription on the central tablet was unveiled by HRH The Duke of York on 29th May 1924, and reads “They whom this hall commemorates were numbered amongst those who at the call of King and Country left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their lives that others might live in freedom.  Let those that come after see to it that their name be not forgotten.”

In 1930 a hostel for the accommodation of hospital nursing staff was built in the grounds adjacent through the generosity of the Miners Welfare Fund.  The cost of this new facility amounted to £2,870, giving bedroom accommodation to 9 nurses with bathrooms and other amenities.  There was a sitting room for sisters and another room for nurses.  In 1932 a thoroughly up to date operating theatre and kitchens were added, again these marvellous improvements were provided by the Miners Welfare Fund.   At the laying of the foundation stone by Alderman G.H. Jones, Mayor of Tamworth and Chairman of the hospital committee, it was stated that the latest improvements cost in the region of £4,500.  This amount was raised by grants from the Miners Fund, the proceeds of the town carnivals and a donation of £50 in the memory of Dr. A.E. Richardson.  The hospital committee reported in its annual report of 1935 “Sincere thanks to various collieries in the area; Kingsbury, Pooley Hall, Tamworth, Birch Coppice and Glascote for their generosity at supplying one hundred and eighty two and half tons of free coal equal to a donation of £191 5s 6d and this gift helped considerably in keeping down the expenses of the hospital.”  The committee also offered grateful thanks to the supply of bread for four months free of charge from the Tamworth Cooperative Society Limited.

Few people today realise the virulence of the epidemics such as Cholera and Typhoid that raged through the town, which still suffered from Victorian sanitation and bad housing.  The lack of pure water and open drains and cesspits brought many deaths each year from Dysentery and Smallpox.  Tamworth’s Cottage Hospital was major benefit to the people of the town, thanks to the kindness and generosity of many people and organisations.  For many years served the town and its communities until its closure in the mid 1990’s. Although no longer a hospital, it still serves the residents of the town with splendid sheltered accommodation.



By kind courtesy of Christine Smith

ethelfledaEthelfleda was born around 864, the eldest child of King Alfred of Wessex and his Queen Ealhswith.  She may have been educated at the convent school at Wilton or at Winchester, both royal residences, and while excelling in academic studies, she had early on a leaning towards a soldiering life.  Eahlswith her mother, was a Mercian royal, and Ethelfleda was encouraged to keep the culture and heritage of both lands throughout her education. She brought up among some of the most interesting and influential people for her father, being a scholarly king, brought to his court some of the greatest academics of the day. The king wrote and translated documents, and had a collection of art and literature from centuries back.

During those times, girls (at least those of royalty and nobility) as well as boys received an education, and she obviously joined in all the sporting pursuits and military training the boys went through, archery, swordplay, fast and furious riding and horse-jumping, and becoming skilled in these gave her the impetus to achieve more than most women, and to become a leader of men.

The young girl was raised amid some of the most spectacular countryside along the borders of Wales, and as her lineage included both British and Anglo-Saxon royalty, she established liaisons with all the people from these different lands most of whom remained loyal to her throughout her life.

Ealhswith, her mother, was the daughter of Ethelred Mucel, Alderman of the Hwicce, a territory that mainly covered Herefordshire, by his wife Edburgh, a daughter of Cenwulf, King of Mercia (796-821) who was descended from King Penda`s brother Cenwealh.

The whole long saga of this warrior princess would have made a successful film or television series, but then we wouldn`t really want outside film-makers putting their own interpretation on a character such as Ethelfleda, who was among a few women unique in English history. 

Her relationship with her brother Edward does not appear, at least from later on in their lives, to have been all that close.  They were comrades, certainly, born into times of strife with the norse invaders landing on these shores, and the victories they achieved together could not have occurred without a mutual respect and understanding.

Edward, born around 868, does appear to have been made under-king of Mercia by his father, and Tamworth was undoubtedly the royal residence to which Edward took his concubine Egwynna, perhaps to keep her away from the tumult of the Wessex court. His two elder children were born there, probably his daughter first, who remained unnamed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and then his eldest son Aethelstan.

In the vast kindred of royalty at that time, and during Alfred`s reign when he was trying to unite England under his kingship, there were inevitably struggles for political power.  The Mercians had always been a territory apart, on the Welsh border, liaising with and often fighting against both Britons and Anglo-Saxons.  Their kings were a mixture of both.   They had been a kingdom since the 7th cent and one of their bitterest enemies throughout the 8th cent had been Wessex.  There was only a tentative peace between them by the time Alfred come to the throne and married a Mercian royal.   To have their leaders reduced in power and to be made as they saw it, vassals of a larger state, was unacceptable to many. Equally unwelcome were the continuing encroachments of the norsemen, and while the troops of Mercia rallied around Edward as he conquered the insurrecting Danes of the east Midlands and East Anglia, they were also wary of him, knowing that once he succeeded to Wessex he would annexe Mercia.  The people of this area of the midlands especially, looked to an uncertain future of being taken over either by Wessex or by the Danes.  One fact was certain, they would lose their identity as one of the longest-established and at one time most powerful kingdom in the country.

Ethelfleda was given in marriage in about 884 to Ethelred, a successor of Ceolred II,  King of Mercia, and described by some at the time, as a prince of Mercia.  The Anglo-Saxon historians maintain that very little has come down to us about Ethelred and yet its fairly obvious by the prefix of his name “Ethel”  (“Aethel”) that he belonged to the Mercian royal family.  Also because of the respect shown him by the king and the giving of Alfred`s daughter in marriage to him.  The Wessex sources referred to most of these royals of the former kingdoms however, as “Eorldermen” (Aldermen) and this is how Ethelred has been introduced onto the royal scene, as Alderman of Mercia. Ethelfleda was not of course just “given”; such a formidable princess would have had her own opinions on whom to marry and she married late for women at that time, being about 20 years old.

Its obvious that as marriages were kept within the royal kindred, Ethelred must have been a cousin of Ethelfleda, perhaps the grandson of Ethelred Mucel and Edburgh through their son Ethelwulf, who was Ealhswith`s brother, though there are many more with the prefix “Ethel” in the royal family, not specifically mentioned in the king-lists. It would explain the closeness of the families, who had been inter-marrying for some time, and might also explain the obvious rivalry between Edward and his sister and brother-in-law.  Edward, after he had later succeeded to Wessex, fought another cousin Ethelwold, at the Battle of Holme, 903, in which Ethelwold died.  This could be the Holme on the Ermine Street south of Peterborough in the fens where Edward was reclaiming land from the Danes.

Ethelred and Ethelfleda became extremely popular with the people, and were regarded as King and Queen of Mercia.  Many sources including those of the Irish mentioned them with these titles.  They were able to issue charters in their own right, and governed Mercia seemingly alone.  Ethelfleda and her brother grew to be rivals over the years, for events later on appear to be proof of that. Edward however, allowed his sister and brother-in-law to rule unhindered, and probably in any case could not during his father`s lifetime do much else.  All the royals recognised that inter-family strife could only result in the downfall of all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and they had come too far, at too great a cost, to allow misguided principles to bring down all that they had achieved.

The three went on their campaigns, often together, as many to carry out diplomatic assignments as to do battle.  The Danes of the north however did not trust Edward as they trusted the Earl and Countess of Mercia and this further inflamed relationships in the royal family.

After her father`s death in 899 Ethelfleda was anxious to bring up her nephew and his sister at Tamworth, safe from the intrigues of the Wessex court.  Her brother, she knew, would undoubtedly marry a Wessex noblewoman and she feared for the safety of Aethelstan if more sons were born.  In the event her worries proved real.  Aethelstan was left out of the succession, and attempts were made on his life that fortunately proved unsuccessful.  His aunt, as long as she was able to, worked towards her nephew gaining his rightful crown, and no doubt because of the way in which she had raised the young prince, he was one day accepted by the thanes of Wessex as their king.

Ethelfleda, who maintained childbearing was not for her in her warrior role, eventually gave birth to a daughter Elfwynne. The girl was born sometime before 903, but exactly when is not known.

It was in Wessex in the time of Alfred that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were first compiled, but there were many important events not recorded, including those changes carried out by Ethelfleda, whom the people called “The Lady of the Mercians”.

The Danes were rapidly colonising the north-west, especially around the natural sea-ports of the Wirral.  They agreed to a supervised colonisation, but in many places, they wanted more.   They rose in revolt and attacked Chester, and Ethelfleda, sometimes on her own as Ethelred started to suffer from a chronic illness, planned a series of burhs (defences) at strategic points starting with the fortification of Chester, Mercia`s northernmost town.  Eventually she threw a defence around the whole of Mercia, and while some Welsh kings were letting the Danes in through their territories, others stood beside her on this issue.    The Danes had been driven off in areas of Cumberland, Northumberland and Scotland, but still kept coming.  The raids on eastern England despite the controls by the combined forces of Mercia and Wessex, continued.  Some norsemen had come to settle and work beside the people already here, and many norse settlements remain to this day, showing a continuous habitation.  Others settled, but planned to rise up in revolt at a suitable time and try and take more territory.   Mainly they invaded without warning in organised bands and plundered the rich abbeys and monasteries of the Christianised lands.  For centuries the English lived in fear of the ferocious invaders, and despite some modern historians saying they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be, the evidence is that nothing seemed to assuage the dreadful terror the norsemen inflicted on innocent settlers.  Several invasions of the monastic settlements on the Scottish and Northumbrian coasts had been bravely fought off, but those leaders were also looking for a long-lasting solution to this ever-present threat. The land of the Strathclyde Britons, (south-west Scotland) particularly suffered, and Ethelfleda allied with these rulers and those of other parts of Scotland, Cumbria and Northumbria.

Only the efforts of successions of English kings had kept them under control, but Ethelfleda planned to do something more permanent and used her political skills to achieve this. She planned to invite settlement from the north into the east Midlands and eastern England, into the fenland and the coastal regions, in an effort to keep the Danish settlers under control.

The marriage between Ethelred of Mercia and Osthryth, niece of King Oswald, in the 7th cent had instigated the building of churches in memory of Osthryth`s uncle, before she was murdered by unruly Mercian thanes.  Her husband after a 30-year reign, as a warrior and a scholar, retired to Bardney Abbey.  It was  Ethelred and Ethelfleda who, two centuries later, took the relics of King Oswald from Bardney to Gloucester to the new church they had dedicated to him.

For all the wars had depleted certain areas, the Anglo-Saxon era was one of constant renewal.  They had brought a superior plough here; they managed woodland, coppicing and pollarding trees;  they carried on much of the brilliantly-illuminated art and literature of the early Celtic Christian Britons before them, and they brought new breeds of livestock from the continent.

New settlements were made in eastern England, and the population was swelled by people from the north, who had obviously come from a terrain much different to that in their own lands, and who brought new fishing and farming skills to this flat area of fenland. Perhaps because life was so harsh, and it was a constant struggle with the land and the sea, people had little time for strife and in spite of their differences had to unite to survive. Whatever the reason, Ethelfleda`s plan worked.

All the people of Mercia felt safe for the first time in a long while, and they attributed their state of peace to her and remembered her in their worship and in their daily lives. They called her “the Lady of the Mercians”.

Throughout her long military career, Ethelfleda was also building and endowing churches. With her husband she fortified the episcopal city of Worcester whose revenues they shared with Bishop Waerferth.  They made Gloucester their chief residence, and under their rule it developed as a main administrative centre on the borders of Mercia and Wessex, and instead of at the palace of Kingsholme, the Mercian Council (the “Witan”) met at Gloucester in 896.  Recent archaeology has revealed the richness of the church of St. Oswald  they founded.

It seemed a sudden and drastic action for Ethelfleda to set about a concerted effort at conquest of the Danish settlements, but this she did in 910.  Despite her conciliatory efforts the Danes of York and Dublin had been pushing their boundaries out with brute force for too long. More norsemen from Scandinavia and from Iceland sailed around the coast, plundering the isolated settlements and being given safe harbour in the  Danish towns. Local efforts to contain their attacks on were inadequate.  Again, Ethelfleda planned something big.  And lasting.

The onslaught on the Danish settlements began in 910 and Ethelfleda, together with Ethelred, ailing but still soldiering on, and Edward, routed the Danish army at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton.  They closed in two flanks around the town, and caught the Danes in-between.   Ethelfleda had Welsh troops from her allies in her ranks and they proved skilful in counter-attack in hilly country.   On one occasion she chased the Danish leaders to Gwent where the king gave them aid.  Ethelfleda took his wife and some nobles hostage until he handed them over. Hastening back to Leicester, a Danish stronghold, she found to her anguish that four of her thanes had been slain within its walls, though not with the approval of all the Danish leaders.  The Countess ringed the town with her force,  and by her formidable manner and strength of purpose, caused the Danish leaders to at last accept her as their overlord.

While Edward concentrated on East Anglia and the south-east midlands, his troops being joined by many others from garrisons along the way, Ethelfleda led her army into the north midlands, through the hilly passes to the borders of the kingdom of York.    Many came to join her ranks on the way, and there was no shortage of manpower to build the many burhs she then started to construct.

Ethelred had been with her to supervise some of these, but he died in about 911 and Ethelfleda was left suddenly alone.  They had been through many dangers together, in fact their lives had been bound up in the defence of their land.  People mourned for their lost king, and Ethelfleda escorted his cortege to Gloucester, where in his tomb there was a place left for her.

The huge defensive strongholds, mainly earth-mounds with wooden palisades on top, and an encircling ditch, had been used since remotest times.  The Countess however, brought a new meaning to the word “defence” with forts at strategic places manned by troops, providing a regular watch over Mercia`s borders.

When looking at a map we can recognise many of the places of fortification, though some remain unidentified.  Chester, Bridgenorth, Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Stafford, Tamworth, Warwick, Eddisbury, Chirbury and Runcorn.  Also at Sceargate described as being on the Severn, and Bremesbyrig, which some say was Bromsgrove on a Roman road, but which I think could possibly have been Bromyard, a few miles south-west, near to which is the village of Bremenbury.  The name “Brom” could indicate “broom”, the plant, or as there are several places over a few miles beginning with “Brom” or “Brem”,  could come from “Breme” an Anglo-Saxon chieftain.  “Yard” comes from “Ghuerd”  (as in “Yardley” or “Ghuerdly”, Birmingham) and can mean an enclosed place.  There was also a burh at Weadburgh,  which  could possibly be Wednesbury or Wednesfield near Wolverhampton, which were norse settlements. The pattern of burhs shows how the Countess defended Mercia from the inroads of the Danes through the ports of the west, and also the central area of government in Mercia.

Probably wounded in her many battles, obviously exhausted and suffering from the effects of many years spent in military camps in distant , cold and windswept places, Ethelfleda died at Tamworth, in  918.   She may have heard before she died that a faction of the Danish leaders of York had accepted her as their overlord.   Formidable, but strong,  warrior-like but just and fair, she won the admiration and respect of all her people.  Her brother Edward paid his own respects to her, and the people of both the old kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, both English and Dane, mourned their princess, their Queen.  Ethelfleda`s last resting-place was beside her husband Ethelred in their tomb in Gloucester church.

Elfwynne should have become Lady of the Mercians after her mother died, but her uncle Edward the Elder usurped her rule and took her to Wessex, some say to a convent.  The Mercians who had just fought the Danes, now fought the king, for their independence, and for their rightful ruler.  This was the final stage of Mercia`s annexation to Wessex. It would no longer be a kingdom of it own.  There was some story that Elfwynne wed a Danish prince, but after that, say the history academics, Elfwynne fades into obscurity.

Who then is the Elfwynne who emerges in the fens of Cambridgeshire during the reign of King Aethelstan, son of Edward the Elder? She was wed to Aethelstan Half-King, so called because he controlled practically half a kingdom, that had been entrusted to him by Ethelred and Ethelfleda.  King Aethelstan, brought up at Tamworth by his aunt Ethelfleda, also respected this scholarly, religious man, who was a brilliant administrator and peace-keeper between English and Dane. This perhaps gives credence to the story that Elfwynne became the wife of a Danish prince.  He wasn’t a Dane, but had lived among the peoples of the east midlands long enough to become trusted by both English and Dane.

The king`s half-brother who succeeded him was Edmund the Elder who had a son Edgar, later to become Edgar the Peaceful, first acknowledged King of the English.

Edgar was like many royal children, fostered out throughout his childhood, and his foster parents were Aethelstan Half-King and his wife Elfwynne.  The atheling would have been carefully placed with people his parents trusted, and only very rarely would this have been outside the royal family.

Elfwynne was obviously Ethelfleda`s daughter, for her own daughter was named Ethelfleda Eneda, and she was wed when young to her cousin Edgar.  The “little white duck” was however left alone with a baby, Edward, when her 16-year-old husband, the newly-proclaimed king,  ran away with the youthful Wulfrith, obviously another cousin, from convent school at Wilton.   Their daughter was born a year later, but Wulfrith returned to the convent, eventually becoming Abbess.  Their daughter was St. Editha of Wilton.

Many years ago after writing to Gloucester library they could find very scant information on Ethelfleda Lady of the Mercians.  Some historians still maintain she was not buried at Gloucester.  New archaeology however is slowly unravelling the rich heritage of the past, and we may yet find the tomb of the Lady of the Mercians.