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    Cradley Links

    Cradley & The Domesday Records - Norman Bird

    Although the change over to Norman Rule appeared to be settled peacefully in Worcestershire, the Saxon manorial lords were replaced by Normans (with the exception of some ecclesiastical manors) and this would surely arouse bitter feeling in the people who lost their estates. The labouring classes, however, were practically undisturbed and most of the laws and customs were retained.


    The new over-lord ofthis part of the Midlands, William Fitz Ansculf, was one of the king's commanders at Hastings. He was given to hold for the king, rather than own, most of the land within a radius of about six miles of Dudley, and he fortified and garrisoned Dudley Castle Hill to quell any rising which might occur. He also had assigned to him more than 50 manors in other parts of the country.


    Halesowen was detached soon afterwards and given to Roger Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. It thus became part of Shropshire to which it belonged until about a century ago.


    The Domesday Records were made in order to assess the country for land tax due to the king. They were, on the whole, an understatement as the manors involved, naturally, hid some of their assets to keep the assessments low. In these records, Cradley, with a number of manors in the north of the country, is represented as being in the Clent Hundred, later called the Hundred of Halfshire. (A Hundred was a rural area containing a hundred free families whose representatives met at the hundred house, or court.)


    The particular reference is:-

    "Of the king, William Fitz Ansculf holds Cradelei and Pagan under him. Wigar held it in Edward's time (Edward the Confessor). There is | hide, no part in demesne. Here are 1V villeins and XI bordars with VII ploughs;it was worth yearly XXXX shillings. At present it is worth XXIV."


    Fitz Ansculf dispossessed Wigar the Saxon of Cradley and gave it to Pagan, a Norman, to hold it for him. Pagan must have been an influential subordinate to the first Baron of Dudley, for he also held Amblecote, where, no doubt, he had his demesne land or home farm. Beatrice, the only child of Fitz Ansculf, married Fulk Pagan-el who was probably Pagan's son, and he became the second baron; the one who started building the castle with stone.


    The one hide mentioned was about 120 acres; about one seventh of Cradley as we know it. It represented the farmed land only; the woodland, waste and common land not being included, and of this there were 698 acres. It was no doubt the land which included the "Cradley Fields" at Two Gates. Being roughly triangular in shape, it was probably enclosed by what is now Drews Holloway on its northern boundary, with the little Lutley Gutter and Two Gates Lane meeting at a point in Foxcote Lane to the south. Here was a large flat stone called the 'Brodstoon’ or Broadstone which marked a point where Cradley and the hamlets of Lutley and Wollescote met. This stone is still in situ but is now covered by about 6 inches of road metal.


    The custom of spitting on the stone and making a wish only died out when it became hidden through road improvement. It was a survival of an older custom of the local farmers of spitting on the boundary stone and wishing for rain during a drought.


    The 120 acres was one huge open field, and apart from the outside boundary hedge, there were no hedges whatever. The three fields into which it was divided were separated by ox-cart tracks, and the particular field lying fallow was fenced temporarily with hurdles which were moved each yearto the fallow field. As the fallow land was used for common grazing, it became manured at the same time.

    One of the main gates to the "Fields" was opposite the top of Tanhouse Lane. (Older people remember gate stumps at this place.) Another was at the "Why Not" foredraft, and there was probably one near the "Round of Beef". The "High-field" was probably added later with its main gate at the Foredraft entrance. Each field was divided into 60 strips of land separated by grass baulks or meres which sometimes became banks due to continual ploughing in one direction. These strips were 220 yds. long by 22 yds wide, each being an acre. (Some were probably 11 yds. wide). The general pattern of these divisions was still in evidence when the Fatherless Barn building estate was commenced.


    The four villeins had 15 strips (abovate) each; that is 5 strips in each field and these were not contiguous but scattered. The bordars had 5 strips similarly scattered leaving 5 acres which were probably paddocks and hay meadows. The seven ploughs were seven teams of four oxen each, making 28 draught animals in all. This was above the average number for one hide of land. Of these, the villeins supplied three and the bordars one each when team work was in hand.


    All families had common-land rights and they were allowed to graze geese, poultry, sheep, goats and even cows on the common according to the amount of grain they produced for winter feeding. They also had the right to turn their pigs into the woods from Michaelmas (Sept.) to Martinmas (Oct.), to get fat on the acorns and beech nuts. This was called the right of pannage or tack. The pattern of Cradley Fields, even under copy-holders, changed very slowly. As recently as 1820 there is a record of eleven acres being enclosed to make farming more economic and many of the strips were then joined together under one tenant and fenced with hedges.


    As there was no demesne land in Cradley at the time the Domesday Records were made (there was later) the normal bond services due to the lord could not have operated. Instead, the fifteen families probably paid rent in kind (grain, meat, honey, etc.) direct to the Overlord at Dudley, thus helping to maintain the garrison established there. The villeins and bordars sent supplies according to the area of land they tilled, and the surplus oxen were used for transport to and from Dudley. At the death of a tenant, the lord claimed as heriot, his best cow and half his pigs and bees, and the new tenant, usually the eldest son, had to pay the equivalent of two years rent on coming into possession. The population of Cradley at this time including the steward was 16 families or about 70 to 80 people. When the manor was detached from the Barony of Dudley at the death of John de Someri, about 1330, it became an independent manor. The new lord, Sir John Botetourt, husband of Joan de Someri, enclosed the woodland and much of the common to form his demesne land. By this time, however, personal bond services and payments in kind were substituted for money payments; with certain exceptions. Later, the tenants became copyholders. (Incidentally, Sir John Botetourt was buriedin Halesowen Abbey).


    The lords of Cradley Manor were never permanently resident here, so during their visits they stayed with their stewards at the Manor House which was no doubt used as a hunting lodge as well as a court. Consequently, a site near the park would be chosen when such a house was built. There was no doubt a succession of these manor houses, built at different times and in different places. The fact that there are none still in existence is due to the temporarynature of the local sandstone with which they were built.


    Norman Bird (December 1952)

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