TAMWORTH

Grid Ref: SK 226 013 at the church
Date: 1 July 2009

The first mention of Tamworth in history is in 781, when King Offa of Mercia signed a document in his palace at Tamworth. Alfred the Great's daughter Aethelfleda fortified the town in 913 and at the Norman Conquest the area was given to Robert de Marmion. Tamworth has a rich history at the heart of England.

bridge Bandstand
Bridge over the confluence of the Tame and Anker Bandstand in the park
Castle Keep Tower
Castle Keep Tower in the Keep

There has been a bridge here over the confluence of the rivers Tame and Anker since 1294. The current bridge was constructed in 1839. This is the view from the nearby bridge over the river Anker, which leads from the park towards the castle. The Bandstand was built in 1900. Beyond is the Ankerside Shopping Centre. This is view of the keep of Tamworth Castle from the park. The castle is open to the public and full of both interesting artefacts and descriptions of the history of the castle, its residents and the town in general. There has been a keep on this site since 1070 and it is now owned by the town. The castle mound is a man-made feature dating from the Saxon Period. It was built during the time of Aethelfleda, who ruled from 913 to 918.

Wall with gate Town Hall
Part of the wall near the wooden bridge over the moat. Town Hall
Sir Robert Peel Lady of the Mercians
Sir Robert Peel. Lady of the Mercians
Silver Street Brewery House
Silver Street Brewery House
Castle Hotel Drill Hall
Castle Hotel Drill Hall

In Market Street, there is this fine statue of Sir Robert Peel, made by Matthew Noble in 1853. He was born in Lancashire in 1788 and became MP for Tamworth from 1830 until his death in 1850. He was twice Prime Minister and was the founder of the police force, hence their nickname as Bobbies. He defined the philosophy of the Conservative Party in the Tamworth Manifesto. This manifesto issued 1834 is widely credited by historians as having laid down the principles upon which the modern British Conservative Party is based. It was relatively modest by modern standards and the main aim was granting as small a reforms as were needed to survive. The Great Reform Act had been only two years earlier and had been opposed by Conservative. Peel accepted it but as a "a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question". It had extended the franchise only marginally and it would be another 88 years before Britain had universal suffrage. He split the Conservative Party by repealing the Corn Laws which had imposed a tax on imported grain to protect land-owners interests. The provisions kept the price of bread high and was opposed by manufacturers who wanted cheap bread for their workers to avoid giving them pay rises. He promised that the Conservatives would undertake a "careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical". Where there was a case for change, he promised "the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances". He offered to look at the question of church reform in order to preserve the "true interests of the Established religion". Peel's basic message, therefore, was that the Conservatives "would reform to survive", i.e. to avoid civil unrest, but he opposed what he saw as unnecessary change, fearing "a perpetual vortex of agitation".

The town hall built in 1701 at the expense of Thomas Guy of Guy's hospital fame. At the west end of Market Street is the junction with Silver Street and to the left is Holloway, running down to Ladybridge. The stone building is Bank House built in 1848 for the Tamworth Savings Bank, which was founded by Robert Peel in 1823.

Near the foot of Holloway through the arch of the Holloway Lodge, one sees the statue of Aethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred. It was erected in 1913, to commemorate the 1,000 years since she fortified the town by building the castle mound. Aethelfleda, known as the Lady of the Mericans ruled from 913 to 918. By her side is her nephew, Aethelstan, who became the first King to rule over the whole of England. On the west side of Holloway is the Brewery House. It was a workhouse from 1750 and was later owned by Edward Morgan who had a brewery behind the house.

Turning from Aldergate into Corporation Street is the North Staffordshire Drill Hall, built in 1911 by the Staffordshire Territorial Force Association and converted in 1994 into the Phillip Dix Centre for public use.

Offa House Library
Offa House Carnegie Library
Former Chapel Georgian House
Former Congregational Chapel Georgian House
Colehill Glazier Hotel
Up Colehill towards Lower Gungate Colin Glazier hotel
Memorial Top of monument
Colin Glazier Plaque Top of Glazier's monument
Alms Houses Chapel
Guy's Alms Houses Former Weslyan Chapel

Returning along Lichfield Street towards the cross roads, there is a footway into the end of Orchard Street. Here is Offa House, the former Tamworth Industrial and Cooperative Society, which was unoccupied when I visited except for a modern bistro seen at the left. On the East Side of Corporation Street is the Carnegie Centre, built in 1905 as a Carnegie Library. It was one of 660 such libraries built in Britain with the aid of funds from the Scottish-American millionaire philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. He sponsored more than 2,500 libraries world wide, mainly in America, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Turning from Aldergate into Corporation Street is the North Staffordshire Drill Hall, built in 1911 by the Staffordshire Territorial Force Association and converted in 1994 into the Phillip Dix Centre for public use. On the west side of Aldergate is the former Congregational Chapel, now an Indian Restaurant.

On the corner of Corporation Street and Church Street stands a Georgian House of five bays with angle pilastres, which has been used as Municipal Offices. This Georgian House was formerly the Police Station but since 2001 it has been a hotel, named after Colin Grazier a local hero.. The plaque on the monument to Colin Glazier (1920-1942) the unsung Tamworth hero, who lost his life recovering Enigma code-books from a German submarine. Enigma was kept secret for so long after the war that his story was not known. Sadly, Hollywood has retold the story as complete fiction with American heroes and Polish villains when in fact the Poles made some progress towards the solution of Enigma before the war. The recovery of Enigma machines and code-books was by the Royal Navy and the man who endangered the whole business was an American who spied for the Germans. So much for Stephen Spielburg's integrity in the film U571.

Guy's Alms Houses in Lower Gungate were founded in 1678. However, when Tamworth refused to elect Guy to Parliament in 1708, Tamworth citizens were barred from using them. The houses were rebuilt in 1913.

I also show a view up Colehill towards Lower Gungate with the Co-operative Buildings on the left. The Co-oop here was opened in 1897 replacing the smaller premises on Aldergate. Wesleyan Chapel at the top of Mill Lane, has now been converted to apartments.

Sources

Notes on Tamworth Heritage Trail from the Tourist Information Office
The Buildings of England, Staffordshire, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin, 1974, ISBN 0 14 071046 9
The Collegiate and Parish Church of St. Editha, Tamworth, a pamphlet available in the church for 40 pence in 2009

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