A Brief History of Birmingham

Norman Birmingham

1066 -


Evidence from the Domesday Book shows a thinly occupied area worth little for tax purposes. After the Conquest Norman lords of the manor took the place of most of the Anglo-Saxon ones though the number of Norman incomers must have been very small. The area was ruled from Dudley Castle. The status of the peasant population changed very little. Analysis of the Domesday Book 1086 suggests a national population of some 1¼ million.


On 14 October 1066 William, Duke of Normandy defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Before 1066 many Birmingham manors had belonged to Earl Edwin, the Anglo-Saxon Lord of Mercia, and had Anglo-Saxon lords of the manor. When Vikings sailed up the River Humber to invade England in 1066 Edwin went to do battle; he was heavily defeated at the Battle of Fulford Bridge near York. King Harald II arrived next day and defeated the Viking army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and then immediately marched back to be himself defeated at the Battle of Hastings. Edwin was unable to go with him. Thus, when William punished those who had supported Harald, Edwin was not amongst them and so was allowed to keep his lands.


In 1068, however, Edwin revolted against William who then confiscated his holdings. William rewarded his followers at Hastings by giving them estates well spread out to prevent them becoming too powerful. Ansculf of Picquigny, however, acquired some 30 estates belonging to Edwin centred on his castle at Dudley. By 1086 these estates were owned by his son, William FitzAnsculf who owned altogether over 100 manors in 10 different counties of England.


Another great Anglo-Saxon landowner was Thorkell or Turchill of Warwick later surnamed Arden. His father was descended from Vikings and had been sheriff of Warwick under King Edward. He had not risen against William and was one of only two Anglo-Saxons in Warwickshire to keep their lands after the Conquest.


Most Birmingham manors now had Norman lords. There were probably Norman manor houses at Aston, Birmingham, Castle Bromwich, Duddeston, Edgbaston, Erdington, Hamstead, Handsworth, Sheldon, Perry, Weoley Castle and Witton, some of which were certainly of Anglo-Saxon origin.


Domesday manors in the Birmingham area were poor and sparsely populated. The manor of Birmingham itself was one of the poorest with only 50 inhabitants. Manors usually had more than one population centre, though these were tiny. Aston Manor, for instance included settlements at Bordesley, Deritend, Castle Bromwich, Duddeston, Heybarnes, Little Bromwich, Park Hall near Castle Bromwich, Saltley, Ward End and Water Orton which lies to the east of Castle Bromwich.


The Birmingham area had a population of about 1000 people; Warwickshire perhaps 24 000, the majority on the better agricultural land to the south. In 1086 20% of the Birmingham area was woodland, the Forest of Arden still covering much of Warwickshire north of Stratford-upon-Avon; 10% was ploughland, most of laid out as open strip fields; the rest was a mixture of common grazing land, meadows, streams and waste.


The change of ownership must have made a considerable difference to people at the top of the social hierarchy, but for the majority of people the struggle to feed themselves from the land and to pay tax and labour to their lord continued in much the same way as it always had.