More than ten centuries of Cradley's recorded history
Cradley was a Manor in Saxon times, that is, before the Norman invasion of 1066. The Saxons named forest clearings after the person who lived there, the clearings being known as Leahs or Leys. Hence Cradley was Cradda's Ley. Its boundary was first defined in a charter made by King Eadred, King of the West Saxons, in the year 950. Part of its boundary was the River Stour, beyond which to the north was Staffordshire.
At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), Cradley was a part of FitzAnculph's barony of Dudley, and was held by a man called Payn, who had succeeded the Saxon holder, Wigar. It was described in Domesday as follows:
CRADELEIE. Pagan holds it under William son of Ansculf. Withgar held it. There is one hide, no part in Demesne, 4 villagers and 11 smallholders with 7 ploughs. The value was 40 shillings; now 24 shillings.
The one hide mentioned in Domesday represented about 120 acres of farmland or about 1/7th of Cradley as we know it today. The woodland, waste and common land comprised another 700 acres, and was not included in the Domesday reckoning. The 4 villagers or villeins were tenants who worked for their lord so many days in each year, whilst the smallholders were inferior villeins, squatters on the land, who built their own cottages outside the village and cultivated a small patch of land in return for which they supplied the lord with a portion of all their produce. Cradley was worth 40 shillings in King Edward's reign, 24 shillings at the time of the Domesday survey.
Cradley was in the Clent Hundred, one of 12 in the Mercian shire of Worcester, and which later in the middle ages was combined with three others into a single major Northern Hundred, Halfshire. The 1841 census still referred to Cradley as being a Chapelry or Township in Halfshire (Lower Division).
The Manorial Mill in Cradley is mentioned in numerous ancient documents, and during the sixteenth century there was a hunting park, an enclosed area of forest franchised to lesser nobles. Cradley Park was on the west side of the village, between Cradley and what is now The Lye. In 1521 dame Anne Seyntleger, Lady of the Manor, leased "the herbage of Cradley Park" to a man named Forest with a proviso that he maintained the fence. This area of Cradley is still known as "the Park".
The manor of Cradley was bought and sold over the centuries, and also changed hands as a result of forfeiture and political favours. In 1473 it went to the Crown, and King Edward IV gave the largest part of it to his Queen. She had built a chapel, dedicated to Erasmus, the Dutch humanist,adjoining the abbey church at Westminster, and endowed it with the manors of Cradley and Hagley. In 1564, the Earl of Wiltshire's great grandson sold it, together with Old Swinford, Hagley and Clent, to Sir John Lyttleton of Frankley. The boundary of Cradley was re-surveyed in 1733 and has remained virtually unchanged ever since. At this time Cradley was still almost all arable farm land, but the change to an industrial area was already underway. In about 1780 the land Tax of Cradley amounted to £74 18s 6d (74 pounds, eighteen shillings and sixpence) per annum, and in 1776 the poor received about £240.
As a medieval manor Cradley became linked to Hales Owen, a detached part of Shropshire within the Worcestershire boundary, while Cradley stayed in Worcestershire proper. In 1974 Cradley, as part of Halesowen, became part of Dudley Metropolitan Borough, in the new West Midlands County, formed out of parts of the historic counties of Worcester, Stafford and Warwick.