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A brief history of Birmingham

The Manor of Birmingham

The name of Birmingham indicates that in Saxon times the family (ing) of Berm (man’s name) made their Ham (home) here. This was probably in a clearing on the outskirts of the Forest of Arden, he largest of Britain’s forests or royal hunting grounds (Sutton Park, near Birmingham, is a remnant of this forest). During the last five centuries it has been variously written Brumwycheham, Bermyngeham, Bremingeham. Bromwychham, Burmyngham, Bermyngham, Byrmyngham and Birmingham. Even as late as the seventeenth century it was written Bromicham. The word Brom comes from Broom a shrub, for the growth of which the soil is favourable and Wych, a descent, this corresponds with the descent from High Street to Digbeth.

The first official mention of Birmingham occurs in Domesday Book in which the Manor of Birmingham is thus described:— ‘‘Richard holds of William four hides in Bremingeham. The arable employs six ploughs; one is in the demesne. There are five villeins andd four bordars with two ploughs. Wood half a mile long and four furlongs broad. It was and is worth 20s."

Birmingham Manor in the sixteeth century Birmingham Manor in the sixteenth century. No map exists of the Domesday period, but in this one the general plan still follows that of the Norman Manor. The area shown as common land was partly arable and partly used for grazing. I lies near the centre of the kingdom in the north-west of the county of Warwick, bounded by Handsworth, in the county of Stafford, and the southern by King's Norton in the county of Worcestershire: it is also the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, and in the deanery of Arden

Birmingham Manor was a small one, for there were only nine households, probably about fifty people, besides the entourage of the Lord of the Manor. The extent of the land which comprised "Richard’s" Manor is given as four hides. A hide is thought to have been about 120 acres—so in all there were only 480 acres, and not all of this would be the arable land mentioned.

William the Conqueror taxed the arable land at the rate of six shillings per hide, so as one hide only was in the demesne or lord’s lands, the other three-quarters of the tax would probably be squeezed out of the poor peasants of the Manor.

Life on the Manor

There were three kinds of land: the arable fields (taxed), the meadow or grazing land, and waste land or commons. The arable or ploughed land was divided into three large fields, and these were sub-divided into strips with low mounds of earth between: each villager was allotted a number of strips in each field, comprising roughly thirty acres, while the bordars got only about one acre in similar fashion.

"The first year, one of these fields grew wheat; the second year barley for the ale which was consumed in great quantities; and the third year it was rested or lay fallow to strengthen the soil. The meadow land was kept for hay in the summer, but at other times could be used by the villager as pastures for his sheep and cattle while the waste land or commons were always free for grazing purposes".

The Lord of the Manor lived in the largest and best house in the village. It was built of stone and fortified against attack by a moat and wall. Generally, in the manor house there were three important rooms, namely: (1) the hall used mainly for meals in the daytime and as servants’ quarters at night, when rushes were strewn on the mud floors; (2) the kitchen leading from the hall; and lastly (3) the solar or sun room which served as bedroom and sitting room for the lord and his lady

The outbuildings included stables, bakehouses, and barns, and the whole was surrounded by a park. Here grazed the lord’s sheep and cattle, and here were his arable land—usually the most fertile on the estate—his orchards and his deer park. Nearby, the church was built—St. Martin’s parsonage adjoined the Holme Park and was moated like the manor house.

"The villagers and bordars lived in mean huts of wattles plastered with clay. A hole in the roof served as a chimney and there were narrow openings in the walls for windows, and straw or rushes covered the muddy floor.’’

These huts clustered on either side of the muddy track which led from the Manor Park to the River Rea. To the extreme left of the plan stretched Rotton Park (now a populous suburb of Birmingham), and to the north lay the boggy heathlands of short scrub which later became of the busiest factory centres in Birmingham, round Hockley and Winson Green.

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