The map on the left is not of Castle Bromwich; it shows what a medieval manor may have been like.
The map above is a modern one and shows what we do know of medieval Castle Bromwich.
Castle Bromwich lies on higher ground between two rivers, the Tame and the Cole. These both had wide shallow valleys which often flooded in winter. This meant that good grass grew there in summer, ideal meadows for feeding cows and sheep.
There was still a lot of forest left in the Middle Ages, part of the ancient Forest of Arden. Woodland was very valuable, not just for the timber from the trees for building houses and making furniture and fences and tools and carts, but for firewood. There were animals to be hunted for food and fruits of the trees to be collected. And the pigs were often let loose in the woods in autumn to feed on the nuts.
There were areas of open land where anyone was allowed to let their animals feed. These were often called greens: Castle Bromwich Green and Whateley Green.
Hodge Hill Common is still open land, though not many people let their cows feed there nowadays.
Crofts and Closes
We use these words for street names now, but they used to mean a small area of land, a field, surrounded by a hedge. People with a croft could grow enough food to feed themselves. They might even have room for a pig and some hens.
There are no houses left in Castle Bromwich from the Middle Ages.
They are very few medieval houses left in England at all.
In the Middle Ages there were a number of small cottages scattered along the Chester Road from the church to the Green. They were the homes of poor peasants who worked on the farmland of richer people. Some peasants were more successful than others. If you had some land next to your cottage, you could grow some of your own food and sell anything that you had left over. You might also have a skill like weaving woollen cloth or making things from leather or iron like the village blacksmith.
Not all of the land in Castle Bromwich belonged to the lord of the manor, though most of it did. Other rich people owned land and some rented land from the lord. The rich people had workers to farm the land for them. There were medieval farms at the Firs on Firs Farm Drive and at Haye House on Collingbourne Avenue.
Some very rich people had a moat dug round their house. This was not really to protect themselves, it was more to show off how rich they were. There were a number of houses with moats in Castle Bromwich:
Castle Bromwich Hall
The lord of the manor, one of the de Bromwich family lived in the castle of Bromwich after the Norman Conquest of 1066. But it is thought that the family soon moved to a grander house nearby. It may have been a house where the Chelmsley Collector Road is now. Or it may have been on the site where Castle Bromwich Hall is now.
When archaeologists were digging in the Hall Gardens, they found a small piece of medieval tile with a pattern on it. Not much, you might think. But tiles like this were very expensive and could only be afforded by rich people such as the lord of the manor. It may be evidence that the medieval Hall was indeed here.
Click to enlarge the images below.
Above: (Not in Castle Bromwich)
This 14th-century cottage would have been the home of a successful peasant.
Below: In the Middle Ages most poor people (and most people were poor) lived in small poorly-made houses like this.
Above: (Not in Castle Bromwich)
This farmhouse was the home of a wealthy farmer.
Below: (Not in Castle Bromwich)
Some rich people built a moat round their house. There were moats at Hay Hall, Park Hall and Burton's Farm.
Above: (Not in Castle Bromwich)
The lord of the manor lived in a grander house probably where Castle Bromwich Hall is now.
Click the images to enlarge them.
This is a picture calendar from medieval France, but the farming year was similar across northern Europe. Books in the Middle Ages were very expensive and for rich people only.
These pictures were made to entertain wealthy people and they do not show a true picture of the hardships of farming life for poor people.
Here is a list of some of the farming jobs that had to be done, year after year after year after year, each and every year, whatever the weather.
Water mills were very important in the Middle Ages. they were usually owned by the lord of the manor and the farmers had to take their cereals to the lord's mill and pay for it to be ground into flour.
Millers were never popular. Everyone suspected that the miller stole some of their flour.
A water-mill is known to have been here on the River Tame in 1454. But there was probably a mill here much earlier than that.
There were mill ponds which supplied water to the mill and these were used to keep fish, an important source of fresh meat in the Middle Ages. The fish were the property of the lord of the manor.
The name of the miller in 1766 was Zachariah Twamley. The miller in 1861 was also Zachariah Twamley - surely not the same man!
The mill stood near the bridge on the Chester road. The site is now underneath the M6 motorway. The photographs show the mill and the miller in the late 19th century.
There were no shops in Castle Bromwich in the Middle Ages. But there were markets nearby for buying and selling.
6 miles away, Coleshill had a weekly market on a Sunday and Sutton Coldfield on a Tuesday. Solihull's market was held on a Wednesday but that was 14 miles away.
The best market was on Thursdays in Birmingham's Bull Ring, again 6 miles away. Travelling on foot, it would have taken all day to get there and back.
People with things to sell could take them to the market. And if you were rich enough to have any money (and most people were not), there were many things to buy.
Vegetables, fruit and corn, fish and meat were on sale, as well as cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, hens, ducks and geese. You could buy salt and coal here, metals and millstones. Some goods were brought from foreign countries: almond nuts, aniseed, baskets, liquorice, pomegranates, oranges, prunes, silk, spices, pottery, tinware, paper, soap and wine, woollen, iron and leather goods.
For a person from tiny little Castle Bromwich, Birmingham would seem very big and busy, frightening and exciting.
Exploring Medieval Birmingham 1300
In Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is a model of Birmingham in the year 1300.
Click the picture on the left to watch a video on Youtube which will open on a new page.
Remember while you're watching: Birmingham was a very big town compared with little old Castle Bromwich!
'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 church 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.