Anglo-Saxon Bromwich

Philip Martin Clip Art reusable under Creative Commons
Philip Martin Clip Art reusable under Creative Commons

At the beginning of the 5th century Rome was attacked by tribes from eastern Europe. The Emperor called the Roman army back from all parts of the Empire to save the capital city. In the year 410 AD the last two legions of the Roman army were called back from Britain to Rome.

 

Britain too was under attack by tribes from northern Germany and Denmark: Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others. At first they came here to steal but then some of them began to take over farms and settle in Britain.

 

Gradually the Anglo-Saxons began to spread across the country taking the land from the Celtic people who had lived here from before the time of the Romans. Eventually, even the Celtic language disappeared from England.

 

Angles and Saxons - What's the difference?

The Angles and Saxons (and Jutes and others) were all people from northern Germany and Denmark who spoke similar languages. They would have understood each other fairly easily.

 

The different tribes attacked different parts of England: the Angles invaded the north-east and east coasts, the Saxons came to the east coast, the Jutes to the south. 

 

Gradually the Anglo-Saxons spread across the whole of England.

  • The Angles moved westwards following the valley of the River Trent. 
  • The South Saxons moved northwards following the valleys of the Rivers Severn and Avon.

The two peoples met in the Birmingham area which lies on the borderlands of the territory of the Angles and the Saxons. 

 

Where did the Anglo-Saxons make their homes?


The red arrow shows the Saxons moving north along the River Severn and Avon valleys. The yellow arrow shows the way the Anglians moved west along the Rivers Trent and the Tame towards Birmingham.
The red arrow shows the Saxons moving north along the River Severn and Avon valleys. The yellow arrow shows the way the Anglians moved west along the Rivers Trent and the Tame towards Birmingham.

Much of the soil around our side of Birmingham is heavy clay. Before human beings came to the area there was a dense forest with many oak trees (They grow well on clay soil). Celtic people during the Roman period would have cleared away areas of forest to make fields to grow crops and keep farm animals.

 

When the Anglo-Saxons arrived, there were still large areas of forest here. The first Anglo-Saxons made their farms in places where the forest was not so thick.

 

There are places in Birmingham - and Castle Bromwich is one of them - where the soil is made up of sand and gravel (pushed here by the Ice Age glaciers ten thousand years ago). Trees do not grow so well on this kind of soil and it is easier for farmers to plough than the heavy clay. 

 

Slowly the new settlers began to chop down the trees on the clay lands to make new settlements.  Anglo-Saxons farms and villages were set up in the Birmingham area about the year 700 AD.

 

Quite quickly the Celtic language and way of life began to disappear, although many of the people living in Anglo-Saxon England had Celtic ancestors.

 

The Anglo-Saxon period was a long one. The first settlers arrived about the year 400 AD and it was six hundred years before William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And even after that, although the king and the lords were Norman French, the ordinary people were the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons. 

 

Image from Canterbury Archaeological Trust www.canterburytrust.co.uk
Image from Canterbury Archaeological Trust www.canterburytrust.co.uk

This picture shows what Canterbury might have looked like in Anglo-Saxon times. Castle Bromwich would have been similar.

 

The houses would have stretched along the Chester Road with fields on each side.

 

Click the picture to enlarge it.

   

 

Anglo-Saxon Castle Bromwich

A reconstructed Anglo-Saxon house; modern people act as villagers
A reconstructed Anglo-Saxon house; modern people act as villagers

Castle Bromwich in Anglo-Saxon times was part of the manor of Aston. Aston covered a very large area from the centre of Birmingham as far as Erdington and Water Orton. Some people think that the first Anglo-Saxon village at Castle Bromwich was set up by people from Aston. 

 

There was forest here, but there were also places where the trees were not dense, where the land could be ploughed and crops grown. There were also meadows along the River Tame and the River Cole where lush grass grew and the cows and sheep could graze.  

 

The area of the ancient manor of Castle Bromwich was much bigger than Castle Bromwich is now. And in Anglo-Saxon times almost all of it was made up of fields and meadows and forest.

 

There would have been a tiny village of perhaps ten houses at Castle Bromwich village and a few other houses scattered across the manor. There may have been only 50 people living in Anglo-Saxon Castle Bromwich. (The population of the whole area now is probably over 30,000 people.)

 

What did people do all day in Anglo-Saxon Castle Bromwich?

WORK!

The pictures below are from a medieval book. They show farm workers at work:

digging the fields (upper left) and ploughing (lower left); harvesting the wheat (upper right) and letting the pigs into the woods (lower right).


Click the pictures to enlarge them. 

 


Little evidence of the Anglo-Saxon past

 

Very little evidence of the Anglo-Saxons has been found by archaeologists in the Birmingham area - just part of a rusty sword blade in Edgbaston. However, the language we speak, English, was brought here by the Anglo-Saxons.

 

And most of the names of our towns and villages are Anglo-Saxon. Take a look at the map:

 

Anglo-Saxon Placenames around Castle Bromwich

Click on the marker to see what the name means.

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The name of Bromwich

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The village here was just called Bromwich by the Anglo-Saxons. (Castle was added in Norman times.)

 

The name is from Old English, brom wic and it means ‘broom farm’.

 

Brom- 

Broom is a bushy plant which grows well on sandy and gravelly soils. If a traveller had to cross a river such as the River Tame at Castle Bromwich, he knew it would be a good crossing if he saw broom bushes. Broom does not grow where the soil is muddy sticky clay.

 

-wich

A wic in Anglo-Saxon times was a farm that had been set up by people from another village. Until until modern times Castle Bromwich was part of Aston and it was probably the lord of Aston manor who sent farmers to Castle Bromwich.

wic was usually a farm where dairy cows were kept; the meadows along the River Tame and River Cole would have grown long lush grass, ideal for feeding cattle.

 

(The broom bush in the photograph is at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens where the soil is sandy and gravelly.)

 

Anglo-Saxon Reading, Writing and Speaking

 

Most Anglo-Saxons could neither read nor write. An early type of writing was invented called Runes, which was very useful for writing on stones or wood or on sword blades. People believed it had magical powers.

 

Click to enlarge the Runic alphabet.

 

Later writers used the Latin alphabet.

Click the alphabet to to enlarge.

 

The Anglo-Saxon language is usually called old English. Hear what it sounded like. 

The following link will take you to YouTube which will open on a new page.

Click here to hear the Lord's Prayer spoken by Matt Love, also known as Leofwin.

 

Old English

 

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;

Si þin nama gehalgod

to becume þin rice

gewurþe ðin willa

on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.

urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg

and forgyf us ure gyltas

swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum

and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge

ac alys us of yfele soþlice

 

(Note: Old English “ð”and "þ" are pronounced "th")

 

Literal translation

 

Father our thou that art in heavens

be thy name hallowed

come thy kingdom

be-done thy will

on earth as in heavens


our daily bread give us today

and forgive us our sins

as we forgive those-who-have-sinned-against-us


and not lead thou us into temptation

but deliver us from evil truly

Traditional version

  

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.


Give us this day our daily bread

and forgive us our trespasses

as we forgive those who trespass against us

and lead us not into temptation

but deliver us form evil. 


Castle Bromwich Church

- there wasn't one!

Escomb Anglo-Saxon church, County Durham
Escomb Anglo-Saxon church, County Durham

There was probably no church at Castle Bromwich in Anglo-Saxon times. 

 

Castle Bromwich belonged to the very large parish of Aston. The Domesday Book records that there was a priest at Aston in 1086. There was certainly a church at Aston in Anglo-Saxon times. 

 

The picture shows St John's church in County Durham, one of the country's very few surviving Anglo-Saxon churches. 

Aston church as it looks in the 21st century
Aston church as it looks in the 21st century


Aston church might have looked like Escomb church, but it has been rebuilt a number of times since Anglo-Saxon times and does not look like that now.

 

It is thought that Aston church may have had a number of priests who were sent out to the tiny villages in the area to preach and to hold communion and baptism services.


As late as 1810 Castle Bromwich people had to travel 6 miles to Aston church for weddings and funerals because Castle Bromwich church was not allowed to carry them out. 


Weblinks

 

 Click on the picture to go to BBC Primary History.

There's lots of information here about the Anglo-Saxons. The website will open a new page.

 

 

West Stow is a recreated Anglo-Saxon village near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. It was built in 1977 on the site of an real Anglo-Saxon village which had been discovered and excavated over the previous 30 years. The original village dates back to the 5th century.

Click here to go to the village's website. For a good selection of photographs search a photography site such as Flickr - "West Stow Anglo-Saxon village".

 

David & Margaret's Early British Kingdoms is another good website for you to investigate. 

          Click the banner to open it on a new page.

 

 

There's even more information on Mandy Barrow's website. Click on the picture to open the website on a new page.

'A History of Castle Bromwich for Young People' written by William Dargue 2016 for the Castle Bromwich Bellringers.

We’ve been ringing here for 500 years and are keen to involve local people in our ancient art. Contact us via our Castle Bromwich Bell Ringers website if you want learn to ring or visit the tower or have one of us talk to your group about the history of Castle Bromwich, our church or bellringing.  Material on this site may be reused only for non-commercial purposes providing appropriate attribution is given (Creative Commons Licence Attribution NonCommercial 4.0) - details on the Contact page.