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Introduction To Elford


 A short local history of Elford


The village of Elford is situated at the apex of a triangle formed by the River Tame and the A513 road, halfway between Tamworth and Alrewas.

The name probably derives from Ellas Ford or Elder Tree Ford. The El may refer to eels which abounded in the river up to the 18th century.  The exact derivation may never be proved but it is certain that the area has been populated since long before the Roman occupation. Stone age tumuli have been identified at Elford Lowe and at Elford Park. They may have been the burial grounds of nomadic tribes but it is more probable that settlements existed along the river banks and on the fringes of the nearby Lichfield and Needwood forests.

The Roman invaders built the great arterial roads Watling Street and Ryknield Street, which intersected at nearby Wall. From then onwards the area assumed importance as a farming region which supplied wool, leather and food to the garrisons and marching legions. Remains of Roman farms have been found at Whittington.

In the 7th century Chad brought Christianity to Lichfield and established his church. From Lichfield itinerant monks visited outlying settlements to preach the Gospel at a fixed sited, often in the shadow of an erected cross of wood or stone. Eventually churches were built on the ground hallowed by countless such acts of worship.

This is how the church at Elford developed. The river was forded nearby at a point which came to be known as the hall ford and it is probable that the churchyard as we know it was used as a Christian centre from the time of Chad.

The latter part of the first millennium A.D. was a turbulent period in local history with frequent skirmishes between invading Angles and Danes and the indigenous Celts. Offa established the Kingdom of Mercia and declared Tamworth the capital, but it was destroyed by the Danes who established Danelaw north of Watling Street. Nearby Croxall, Aldergate and Gungate are all Scandinavian names.

In the next century Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great defeated the Danes and restored Tamworth. Life became more tranquil. In 1004 A.D. Wulfric Spot, Earl of Mercia, founded Burton Abbey and bequeathed Elleford as part of the Abbey estate to his daughter. After the Conquest in 1066, the Manor of Elleford was forfeited to the Crown and is mentioned in the Domesday book. After Domesday it was held by the Crown until about the middle of the 16th century.

At the end of the 12th century the Lordship of the Manor of Elleford was assumed by the Ardernes, a Cheshire family who were Lords of Aldford and Alvaney. The Ardernes held Elford until 1408 when John Arderne, who had no male heir, died. The most famous Arderne was Sir Thomas who fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and Poitiers and who is reputed to have distinguished himself with noble deeds and feates (sic) of armes.

Matilda Arderne married Thomas Stanley Esq. and founded the Stanley line at Elford which lasted until 1508.

The Stanleys, and before them the Ardernes, lived at Elford Park in a moated house on the site of the present farm. The first Hall, adjacent to the church, was not built until the start of the 16th century. On 21st August 1484, John Stanley, the Lord of the Manor, is reputed to have entertained amongst others the Lord Stanley and Henry, Duke of Bosworth. Lord Stanley's decisive intervention at the Battle of Bosworth the next day changed the course of English history. Richard III was killed and Henry VII became the first of the Tudor monarchs.

John Stanleys only son was killed by a real tennis ball which apparently severed his jugular vein. The famous effigy in the Stanley Chapel, depicting the small boy holding a tennis ball, commemorates his death. The title of Lord of the Manor passed via the female line to William Staunton, then to Richard Huddlestone, William Smythe and finally to Sir John Bowes. Thus began the line of the Bowes/Howard family in Elford which lasted until the end of the 1930s. Henry Bowes, who became Earl of Berkshire and Suffolk built a new Hall on the site of the old one, circa 1725. Several of the cottages now standing in the village were built at the same time.

During the Civil War, Richard Bowes espoused Parliaments cause and was able, with the help of his Rector Thomas Dowley, to protect the Church and its monuments from the ravages of Cromwells troops. However, situated between the parliamentary forces at Tamworth and the royalist forces at Lichfield, he had cause to complain about the raids on his cattle, by both sides. Legend has it that Gore Hill is so named because of the blood which flowed down it after a skirmish between the advance companies of the opposing troops.

In the latter part of the 18th century the most notable resident of Elford was Robert Bage who owned a paper mill adjacent to Mill House. He wrote six novels, three of which were included in Sir Walter Scotts list of the fifty best novels of the time. No other author had so many titles in the list.  A great writer he may have been, but the opinions expressed in his writing did not endear him to the establishment. He believed strongly in the equality of man and the equality of woman with man. He was sceptical of organised religion and he accused its leaders of hypocrisy. All were dangerous views to hold at the time of the French Revolution. In his private life he was a kind and generous individual, well liked by all who knew him.

It is of passing interest that this mill site has a long history - Birmingham Central Library contains a manuscript which is a Grant from Leouca, Lady of Elleford to the monks at Mirau (Merevale, Warks) of the mill about 1140 A.D. This manuscript has the distinction of being the oldest document held by the Library.

In the following century two figures dominated Elford. The one was the Hon. Mary Howard and the other her cousin, Francis Edward Paget, Rector of Elford from 1835 to 1882. Mary Howard was a benefactress to the village. She rebuilt the Church and modernised the cottages of her tenants. Francis Paget was a spiritual guiding force with social ideas far ahead of his time. He ran evening classes, a library, a savings scheme, a choral society and he was a prolific author. The proceeds from the sale of his books were given to the Parish.

The Howard line of Lords of the Manor ended during the mid 1930s. The Hall, property and land were bequeathed to the City of Birmingham. During the Second World War, the Hall was used to store the Citys art treasures. After the war it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1962.