Castle Bromwich Village Trail
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If you haven't get lost in the deep dark woods, come back to the Chester Road. Opposite the church is the dead centre of Castle Bromwich (Ha Ha!),
- the graveyard.
Castle Bromwich church was always a chapel of Aston church. This meant that the Rector of Aston was responsible for Castle Bromwich and sent a priest here to look after the church.
People had to pay for weddings and funerals and so the Rector of Aston insisted that they come to Aston church so that he would get the money.
If you wanted to be married or buried, this meant a 6-mile walk which was especially difficult in winter when the rivers flooded.
However, in 1810 the Rector of Aston and Lord Bradford agreed that a graveyard could be laid out at Castle Bromwich. Lord Bradford bought a field opposite the church for a burial ground.
Not everyone was happy about it.
No graveyard in my backyard!
Alexander Keir was a rich industrialist who ran a soap works and chemical factories in the Black Country. He rented Castle Bromwich Hall from Lord Bradford at a cost of £210 a year; that is about 500 times more than the rent an ordinary working family would pay for their cottage. Keir also rented 20 hectares of land around the Hall as his parkland.
Keir wrote to Lord Bradford at Weston Park asking him to refuse permission to open the cemetery - as it would spoil his 'pleasure ground'. Lord Bradford took no notice and the graveyard was opened anyway.
Near the entrance of the graveyard is the grave of Charles E Bateman, the well-known Castle Bromwich architect; the name of his father, John J Bateman can also be seen along with other members of the family.
The grave of the church’s first rector, Edwin Kempson, is not far from the main gate; there is at least one other rector, Herbert Malleson, buried here and a young school teacher, 17-year-old Sarah Rhodes who died of peritonitis.
A small (now broken) statue of an angel marks the grave of a member of the Bridgeman family who sadly died young; Ursula died of meningitis aged only 2 years. There are the gravestones of soldiers and airmen who were killed during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the graves of many ordinary people who lived in Castle Bromwich.
The cemetery was extended several times: in 1887, 1919, 1940 and 1956, but by the 1980s it was closed to new burials. By 2009 the graveyard had become overgrown and in a very poor state. A group of local volunteers from the Castle Bromwich Youth & Community Partnership set up a project with adults and youngsters to clear the graveyard and to discover its history and the stories of some of the people who are buried here.
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Find out more about the graveyard: click the logo of the
Castle Bromwich Community Project website which will open on a new page.
You can't actually get to the next stop on the Castle Bromwich Village Trail. But you can see it. Stand by the wall at the far side of the graveyard to look across at the site of Bromwich Castle.
If you stand in the graveyard by the parapet wall, you can see the Castle Hill on the other side of the Chelmsley Collector Road (A452).
Castle Bromwich people jokingly call it Pimple Hill because of its small size.
On the other side of Castle Hill is the M6 motorway which was built in 1972. The hill is small and most people never even notice it.
It is almost impossible to get to it without being run over by a car (not recommended); and there is nothing much to see if you could get there.
But this is an important site with a very long history - and it is the reason that Castle Bromwich is not called just Bromwich.
Just before the M6 was built, a team of archaeologists came to excavate the hill. They discovered that it was a natural hill, but that it had been built up to make it steeper and higher. It used to be higher than it is now, but over hundreds of years the rain has washed a lot of the soil away.
When had it first been built? Who built it? No-one knows.
The archaeologists found only small pieces of evidence, but they were enough to show that people had lived in Castle Bromwich thousands of years ago.
The New Stone Age
Some small pieces of broken pots were dug up. They dated from the New Stone Age 5000 years ago. In some gardens in Castle Bromwich you can find the red clay from which early people made their pots. There were signs that a wooden house had stood here.
The Bronze Age
The archaeologists also unearthed some broken pieces of Bronze Age pottery. And they found evidence of post-holes which showed that a wooden building had stood here 3000 years ago.
The Castle Hill stood in an important place. For thousands of years the Chester Road has been a route for travellers from the south-east of England to the north-west. At the bottom of the hill the road crosses the River Tame. There is a bridge there now, but for thousands of years people just had to wade through the water. It may be that a local tribe guarded the crossing of the river. Perhaps they made travellers pay a toll to cross the river safely here.
There would not have been a single hut here. There would have been a small village of farming people who grew food crops in the fields nearby and their cows would eat the grass along the river.
The Iron Age
Celtic people lived in Britain 2000 years ago. Evidence of them living in the Birmingham area is rare. But in 1960 on the open parkland at the back of Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens a single white and yellow glass bead was found. The bead is now in Birmingham Museum.
It is only one bead, but it was worn by a person who probably lived near here, so there must have been houses. And the people in the houses had to look after themselves, so there must have been farms with crops and animals in the fields. But after 2000 years the only evidence that they were ever here is one glass bead.
The Roman period
In the year AD 43 the Roman Emperor Claudius sent an army of four legions to invade Britain. In a short time the Romans conquered the southern half of Britain and made it part of the Roman Empire.
The Chester Road through Castle Bromwich and the Castle Hill were here long before the Romans came. But it very likely that the Roman army realised that they could see everyone who crossed the river from the hill. The archaeological dig uncovered evidence of a building from the Roman period near the Castle Hill. However, the archaeologists could not tell what it was used for.
People in Castle Bromwich have found Roman coins while they were gardening. Last century a gardener unearthed a gold coin of the Brigantes tribe. This coin had been made in the Roman style by a Celtic people whose capital was at York. In 1963 a coin of the Empress Faustina II was found on the land in front of Castle Bromwich Hall; someone had dropped it here over 1600 years ago. So keep your eyes skimmed while you're helping in the garden!
After the Romans left Britain, Anglo-Saxon tribes from Germany began to settle in England. Archaeologists have found evidence of Anglo-Saxon villages though nothing has been found in Birmingham.
However, all across the country the Anglo-Saxons left their evidence - in placenames. Most English towns, cities and villages have names given to them by Anglo-Saxon settlers, including Bromwich, an Anglo-Saxon name which is over one thousand years old.
The first part of the name, comes from the word 'broom'. Broom is a bushy plant with bright yellow flowers. It grows best in light sandy soil, just the type of soil where the Chester Road crossed the River Tame through a ford hundreds of years ago. There were broom bushes growing on the Castle Hill and, in the summer, travellers would be able to see their bright flowers at a long distance.
'Wich' meant a farm, usually a farm belonging to another village. Castle Bromwich used to be part of Aston and it may be that the lord of Aston manor set up a farm here, probably to keep cows. The fields at the foot of the Castle Hill are close to the river and would have grown lush grass ideal for feeding cattle.
In Anglo-Saxon times the village was not known as Castle Bromwich - just Bromwich.
The Norman Conquest
and the Castle of Bromwich
In 1066 William the Conqueror brought his army from Normandy and defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
He got rid of all the Anglo-Saxon lords and put his own men in charge. To make sure the Anglo-Saxon people would not cause trouble, William's men built castles all around the country, including at Castle Bromwich. And the small hill which overlooked the Chester Road where it crossed the River Tame was the ideal place.
The castle at Bromwich was never a large stone castle like the castles at Warwick or Tamworth; it was made of wood. Archaeologists believe that there was a square wooden watchtower three storeys high on top of the steep hill. It was surrounded by a fence of sharpened tree trunks. Below it was the bailey, a large yard where the main hall stood. The lord and his family lived here with the followers and servants. In the bailey there were stables for the horses and workshops. A strong fence surrounded the bailey and below it was a moat 8 metres wide and 4 metres deep.
After examining the dig carefully, the archaeologists came to the conclusion that the castle of Bromwich was not lived in for very long. It may be that the lord of Bromwich had nothing to fear from the Anglo-Saxon villagers and that all was peacefull in the area.
The lord would have built himself a new manor house somewhere nearby, but it is not known where. Some people think that it stood where the Collector Road is now, in which case any evidence has probably been destroyed. Some people think it may have been built where Castle Bromwich Hall stands now, in which case any evidence has probably been destroyed.
Bromwich Castle was left to fall into ruins and the hill gradually became overgrown. When the Collector Road and the M6 motorway were built, it became impossible to get to the hill and it has now become covered with bushes and trees.
The photograph below shows the River Tame running beneath the M6 motorway. In the distance is the Chester Road bridge. Before the bridge was built travellers had to wade through the river. But look at the river bed here: it is sandy and pebbly not muddy. It would have been a good crossing place.
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This photograph shows the Castle Hill near the motorway island on Newport Road. This is not a very safe place to stand!
Most drivers do not notice the small hill on their left as they drive up the Collector Road. And very few of them know it is the site of a Norman castle.
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Mountfichet Castle in Essex is a recreated Norman castle which has been built on the site of the original Norman castle. Take a look at the pictures on their website to get a good idea of what Castle Bromwich looked like a thousand years ago. Click on the logo. Better still, go there!
Click on the pictures below from the Mountfichet website to enlarge them.
'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.