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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Looking back: A Pictorial visit to Brewood Part I

t   We visited Brewood in mid February. I am looking back and attempting to catch up so our blog is more timely. It is hard to find time between traveling to new places so frequently, working online instructing my courses, and the activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. My days are not dull and I find myself surprised by how quickly each one fills up.
   Here then is a two part pictorial journey to and through Brewood. I designed these posts mainly for Americans who have never been on a narrow boat or traveled along a canal, and for those folks who have never lived aboard or continuously cruised.

Extracts from A Corner of Old England James Penderel Brodhurst,

                                     May 12th 1883. (

old picture   “Within 130 miles of London there surely cannot be another spot where the England of the day before yesterday can be studied so perfectly. Brewood consist of half a dozen streets and a market place. Every street contains something interesting to the rambler in this forgotten town.
   It enjoys the title of town by reason of the market which was granted to its men by Henry II six hundred and sixty two years ago. The market has disappeared this hundred years, but the lazy, dreamy life of the old place goes on as always.
   The annual wake is the one excitement of the year, and then there is the brave gathering of the clans from the country round and from over the little river Penk, which is the natural boundary between Stafford and Salop.”
   The Famous Brewood Wake, which was held in Medieval times to commemorate St. Mary’s birthday on the Sunday nearest September 8th, is still held, albeit every four years.
Market Square    Although the population has expanded, Brewood retains its original character and has been designed a conservation area. There is an abundance of listed buildings: half-timbered old houses and cottages in the traditional black and white style, alongside dignified houses of the Georgian and Queen Anne period. It is difficult to isolate any for special mention, but Dean Street is particularly appealing, providing a very attractive setting for the Parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin, and Saint Chad." (Accessed online 04/12/12).
   The Norman Domesday Book documented the village as 'Breude'. The name is probably a compound made up of a Celtic, Brythonic word with an Anglo Saxon, Old English word.[1] The first element is the British word 'briga', which appears in modern Welsh as 'bre'. This is the most common of a number of Celtic place-name elements signifying a hill.[2] It appears in various combinations, but sometimes on its own, as in Bray. Margaret Gelling, a specialist in West Midland toponyms, suggested that it was often misunderstood by the Anglo-Saxons as a name rather than as a common noun. So they thought they had come upon a place called by the natives Brig or Bre, rather than simply a hill. This is why the word is often combined tautologically, as in Breedon on the Hill, where all three elements have the same meaning.
The second element is probably obvious: the Anglo-Saxon 'wudu', signifying a wood. Hence the name Brewood means either "Wood on or by a hill" or "Wood near a place called Bre". (Wikipedia, accessed 04/12/12).
   The old Roman road, Watling Street, (now the A5 trunk road) runs one mile to the north of the village. There were small Roman stations along this route... however...the history of Brewood really begins with the Anglo-Saxon settlement, when it emerged as a village within Mercia.
   The place name suggests that it came into existence during the earlier part of the Anglo-Saxon period, when there were still people in the area of Celtic language and culture. However, the first real documentation comes after the Norman conquest of England.
   At the Domesday survey, in 1086, Brewood fell within the Cuttlestone Hundred of Staffordshire. The survey records that it was held by the Bishop of Chester and that it had been a church property before 1066. However, the landholder of the manor of Brewood in the Middle Ages is generally stated to be the Diocese of Lichfield. This is not a contradiction, but reflects the shifts in the seat of the diocese.
   In 1075, Peter, bishop of Lichfield, had transferred his see to Chester, and there it remained until 1102, when it moved to Coventry. From 1228, the official title was the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield.
   Brewood was assessed for tax purposes as 5 hides, the hide being notionally an area of 120 acres, although at this time it had become simply a unit of tax liability, irrespective of actual area. Domesday also records Brewood as consisting of enough land for 20 ploughs.
   The bishop had twenty slaves cultivating his land in the village. The rest of the population consisted of 24 villagers, 18 smallholders and a priest. There were two mills, presumably on the River Penk. There was also a substantial area of woodland, tending to confirm the accepted etymology. However Domesday records that the value of the village was £10 in 1066, and had halved in the twenty years since. Hence we can be sure that it had prospered in the late Anglo-Saxon period but had suffered a check to its growth during, and perhaps because of, Norman rule.
   Norman rule brought Forest Law to the area, and it was not until 1204, in the reign of King John, that Brewood Forest was abolished. It should be noted that a forest was a royal hunting reserve, not necessarily wooded. The area of the parish to the east of the Penk was not part of Brewood Forest, but belonged to the Forest of Cank or Cannock Chase. It was not deforested until about a century later.[4]
Shortly after deforestation, in 1221, a charter for a Friday market at Brewood was granted to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield suggesting considerable growth and increased prosperity since the Domesday survey.
   From the mid-12th century, two religious communities of women developed in the Brewood area. The priory of St Mary, Brewood, generally known as Blackladies, was a Benedictine house, to the west of the village. It owned land and property around Brewood, and elsewhere in Staffordshire and Shropshire. 
   There is much ancient history in and around this village worth looking into if you are a history buff.
   In 2012 Brewood is a village in revival due to the automobile which allows folks to reside in Brewood and commute to work.

   Here we  go then, part I of a pictorial journey in and around Brewood...

NB Valerie heading under Avenue Bridge 10 on the Shroppie. Look at the beautiful balustrades used on the bridge top, and stairs on the right leading up from the canal.  
Through the bridge... 
...and out the other side; looking back through at Chillington bridge 9 in the distance.
My first view of the village of Brewood from the canal. The church spire is a constant, seen from every place in the village. The canal sits atop an embankment offering splendid views across the fields of Brewood. See the kissing gate on the lower right which opens to a public footpath into the village?
The boat ahead of us is exiting Deans Hall bridge 12...
..through which we entered. After School bridge 13 the canal drops from an embankment overlooking Brewood into a cutting with quite steep sides. The village is up at the top. NB Valerie is moored to the right, with Brewood bridge 14 ahead.
Walking from the boat, we come back down the towpath toward School Bridge...
...and out the other side. The towpath leads on to a public footpath up the embankment. Brewood school is up on the right.
At the top of the path to the gate. The bridge is on the left, and the school is there on the right. We will turn right, walk past the school...
...and follow the small dirt lane around into the village, keeping an eye on the church spire in the distance.
Large privet hedges enclose the road, leading us onward... 
"Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.." a sign which says "public footpath", and points toward a long, narrow walkway between a building and a tall hedge.
A sharp left off the dirt lane and the 21st century falls away.. we follow a well worn path trodden by countless feet over many, many centuries; looking back the way we came...
...and facing forward the way we are going, into an ancient, narrow warren of brick walls. The church spire directs us of toward the heart of the village.
What appears to be a proverbial brick wall to nowhere...
...actually leads on to the right and a sharp left.
And here we are! A doorway onto the sidewalks of Brewood, with the church yard adjacent. I literally felt as though I had traveled centuries back through time, as well as a mile from the canal and the comforts of our floating home.

Crossing the street from the magical doorway in time and walking up the pavement (sidewalk) brought us to this tiny police station. The church is out of sight just to the right. You can see the corner of the churchyard wall there...
...and looking back the way we've come. The main or high street of Brewood is lined with interesting little shops.
My favorite boater taking a break on our way to the Cooperative store for a few groceries.
This is the water trough and village water pump which appears in the 1800's black and white picture near the top of this post. The Cooperative food store is across the street.
on our way back now, Les leads the way..
..."this is a public footpath and it is an offense to ride motor cycles and horses beyond this point..."
Back down the long, narrow pathway...
where Dear Sir waits for me to catch up.
Les with one of our many reusable grocery bags in hand. He is standing in front of a very old hedge which blocks the view across the fields to the canal. 
Back down the lane, past the school to the bridge and back into the 21st century.
 Les walks down the public footpath...
 which connects at the bottom with the towpath on the Shroppie.

 Back under School bridge we walk..
 getting a horse's eye view of the rubbing strake which caught the friction of the rope leading the horses which used to pull the canal boats before the age of the engine. 
 Here is a close up of the gouges in the metal from the ropes!  
Home again, home again to NB Valerie.
Now my American family and friends have an idea of life on the cut. Everything we have on board must be located, procured, and carried back on foot!


Mike Muir, Garnet, Ontario said...

Fascinating stuff. As a soon to be not-ex-pat Brit perhaps an expansion on British Public Rights-of-way maight be in order at this point. UK on Wednesday, hooray!
Mike in Garnet.

Les Biggs said...

Hi Mike,
Wow! Wednesday is just around the corner. I am so excited for you both to begin your boating life.

Les is planning to do a more indepth blog on public footpaths since there is really nothing to compare in the U.S. and Americans are fascinated by the idea but don't always understand how it works.

Much love to you and Phill, and safe journey back to the UK,

Anonymous said...

I loved this although I couldn't see the first two photos. Great to see your life in more detail. The footpath reminds me of the one along the side of my brother's interesting to watch who goes by!


Les Biggs said...

Hi Sally
Can`t understand why the 1st 2 pictures are hiding from you.
Say a big hello to Joe for me.

Anonymous said...

Tell Les this American is reading your blogs! Just last night I was enjoying sharing it with my 26-year-old son.

Shirley Collier

Les Biggs said...

Hi Shirley,
Les says thanks for letting him know. He says please, please post your comments on our blog rather than emailing. That way you become a part of our community and it makes it easier to answer you.
(I cut and pasted Shirley's email comment so it would appear here.)

We are so happy to hear from you and thrilled you are sharing our adventures with your son.
Our best to you both!
Jaq and Les

Anonymous said...

OK...this is not so hard to reply! I love this detailed picture tour...very complete. It is the next best thing to being there. Thank you for the cultural/history lesson.

Anonymous said...

Oops! I forgot to sign my name! I guess it is not as easy as I thought it was. My bad! This is Carla M. I appreciate the pictorial history lesson.

Les Biggs said...

Hi Carla! I will answer your lovely email when I get a bit of time this week; it is great to hear from you via the blog. I am so glad you are still reading and following along with us.
Love jaq

Charm said...

Hi, Jaq--
Your meandering walk along the public paths from the canal to the town center reminded me of the long, elaborate shortcuts home I and my gradeschool friends created by cutting through other people's yards. How obliging of Brits to arrange for public land.

What an adventure you are having! Thank you for sharing it.


NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs