St Mary and St Margaret Church

Anglos and Saxons

The Birmingham area lay in the borderland between Anglian and Saxon territories. Saxon people came northwards from the south of England to our area along the Severn valley But it was the Angles who had arrived here first. Anglian settlers came from the east along the Rivers Trent and Tame and founded the kingdom of Mercia c585 with its capital and royal palace at Tamworth. In the north and west of the Birmingham area the local Anglians were known as Tomsaeten, dwellers by the Tame.

Evidence All Around
Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds are extremely rare in the Birmingham area: a glass beaker from Longbridge and the 10th-11th-century Edgbaston spear, an iron spearhead found in Harrisons Road. However, the whole area has abundant Anglo-Saxon evidence which is still in use every day: our local placenames. The name Bromwich, earlier Bramewice (and other spellings), is Anglo-Saxon and derives from brom wic = broom (ie. the shrub) dairy farm - so ‘broom farm’. Broom is a plant typical of sandy gravelly soil. Indeed, the bright yellow flowers of broom can be seen in summer on top of the Castle Hill. Broom was a clear indication to Anglo-Saxon travellers that here was a firm river crossing. A wic was a dairy farm usually belonging to a settlement elsewhere. The cows from the mother village would have been brought here in summer to graze the lush water meadows along the River Tame. The original settlement may well have been at Aston which is believed to have been the centre of an extensive and wealthy estate at that time. In the Middle Ages our village was known as Woody Bromwich. And some woodland survives, principally along the northern side of the M6 motorway, but also that long thin strip between Green Lane and West Avenue. Castle was later added to Bromwich in order to distinguish it from Little Bromwich, now known as Alum Rock.

Both the Angles and the Saxons were worshippers of the Teutonic gods. These included Tiw, Woden, Thor, and Freya after whom the weekdays are named: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Similarly pagan are the placenames of Weeford near Lichfield and Weoley Castle both of which include the Anglo-Saxon word, weoh , meaning a heathan temple. Grim in Grimstock Hill near Coleshill was a nickname of Woden, chief of the Anglo-Saxon gods. And at Baginton near Coventry pagan Anglo-Saxon burials have been excavated dating from as early as 500 AD. Though where our local Anglo-Saxon ancestors were laid to rest in Castle Bromwich can only be guessed.

...and Christians
In 653 AD Christianity officially came to Mercia when Prince Paeda, son of King Penda (reigned 632-654) married the Christian daughter of King Oswy of Northumbria. Soon afterwards the priest Diuma was created first bishop of Mercia. He introduced practices influenced by Celtic tradition.

Apostle of the Midlands
Most famous of the early Christians hereabouts was St Chad, the fifth Bishop of Mercia. Chad was consecrated in 669 AD and lived at Nether Stowe in Lichfield. It was he who united the ancient Celtic customs with the Roman traditions brought to the Anglo-Saxons by St Augustine and by subsequent missionaries from Rome. Although bishop for only 3 years, St Chad is regarded as the Apostle of the Midlands . He is our region’s own patron saint.

After his death 2 March 672 AD the saint’s tomb at Nether Stowe became a place of local and national pilgrimage. About 700 his shrine was transferred to the newly-built Lichfield Cathedral where it remained for nearly a thousand years until the Civil War. At that time his bones were hidden to prevent their desecration by Parliamentary forces. His remaining bones now rest in St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham.

The Kingdom of the Hwicce
It was the Celts of Gloucestershire, Hereford and Worcester who held out longest again the Saxons. However, in 577 they were defeated by West Saxons at the Battle of Dyrham near Marshfield, Gloucestershire. The old Roman towns, by then Celtic strongholds, of Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester soon fell. And a West Saxon people known as the Hwicce (pronounced Whichee ) began to move northwards up the Rivers Severn and Avon, to subsequently establish a Hwiccan kingdom with its capital at Worcester. Their territory reached as far north in Birmingham as Northfield, Kings Norton, Moseley and Balsall Heath. Lands north and east of those areas, including Castle Bromwich, were in Anglian hands.

Archaeological evidence suggests sparse Saxon settlement in Worcestershire and it seems likely, therefore, that the Hwiccan kingdom remained predominantly Celtic well into the Anglo-Saxon period. It is more than probable that Celtic Christianity also survived here, possibly continuously until after the conversion of the Saxons.

There is no evidence here of a local pagan site, nor of an Anglo-Saxon church. Both are possible. Evidence in this area would be post marks of wood. These are hard to detect and very easily destroyed. The population at this time would have been sparse, perhaps only some 200 people in the whole extensive manor of Aston which included Water Orton and Castle Bromwich and stretched all the way to Deritend. Recent research suggests that Aston church was an important minster church at the centre of extensive wealthy estates reaching beyond the manor itself. It is probably unlikely that a hamlet would have had its own place of worship. The later church at Castle Bromwich was only a chapel-of-ease of Aston parish church and remained so until the 19th century.