History of Aston

History of Aston

During the Old English period, as the population in a village grew then some folk left to make clearings in forests, woods and heathland and start new settlements. Aston was one such place. In the Doomsday Book of 1066 it was recorded as Estone, meaning the east farmstead, village, manor or estate. It is debatable as to which main settlement Aston was to the east of. There is little likelihood that it was Birmingham for that manor was to the south and anyway was smaller than Aston in that period. In his history of Aston, J. Newton Friend felt that the manor was east of Wednesbury which he felt had been a major Old English fortified stronghold (burh) during was so called because it was east of the Icknield Street (also known as the Ryknield Street) - the Roman road which ran through Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield (see Stirchley).

In 1066, Aston was one of the many manors held by Earl Edwin. He did not fight at the battle of Hastings and was allowed to keep his lands by the victorious William the Conqueror. These possessions were lost when Edwin fled England in 1071 after becoming associated with Anglo- Saxon rebellions. Eighteen years later, the Domesday Book recorded that Aston was held by Godmund, a Saxon, from William FitzAnsculf, a great lord based at Dudley who in addition controlled the manors of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Erdington, Witton, Handsworth, Perry and Little Barr. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries his successors were also overlords of the manors of Bordesley, Little Bromwich, Saltley, Nechells and Duddeston. Like other powerful lords, William held his land from the king in return for military service. Similarly, this feudal system meant that Godmund owed William military service.

The Domesday Book indicated that Aston had a church, a mill, a wood which was three miles long and half a mile broad, and eight hides. A hide was an area which could support a family and its dependants and varied in size between 60 and 120 acres. The population was made up of 30 villeins, twelve bordars and one serf - and their families. The term villein was introduced by the Normans and it referred to someone who held a virgate of land, between 25 and 30 acres, which was scattered between the open fields of a manor. Villeins were able to support themselves but had to work on the lord's demesne (his home farm), pay rent for their and, and serve the lord in other ways. Bordars were smallholders who farmed plots which had been cleared from woodland and wasteland and which usually were on the edge of a manor. With less land they found it hard to be self supporting. Both bordars and villeins were unfree peasants but unlike serfs, they had houses and some land. The manor itself was worth one hundred shillings and had a population of about 200. This was about five times as many people as Birmingham which did not boast either a mill or a church and was valued at only twenty shillings.

During the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Aston Manor in Warwickshire passed to the de Erdingtons (see Erdington) and then the Grimsarwes - the male line of which died out middle of the I400s. The heiress of the family, Maude, married a wool merchant called John atte Holte - meaning John at the wood. Maude passed on Aston Manor to their son and it stayed in the hands of the Holtes for over four hundred years. This family was 'on the up' and soon they also came into possession of both Duddeston and Nechells. During the reign of King Henry Vlll they further increased their wealth through the actions of Thomas Holte. A lawyer, he benefited from this position as a local commissioner for the dissolution of the monasteries- process which occurred after the king abandoned the Catholic faith and set up the Church of England. Throughout the land, commissioners and others were able to buy cheaply the prime lands which had belonged to religious houses. Thomas was no exception and he lived in splendour at Duddeston Hall. His grandson left this mansion after he built the magnificent Aston Hall between 1618 and 1635. Sited on a hilI, the great house allowed Sir Thomas Holte to look down and over his wide lands.

During the eighteenth century, Aston Manor and other properties passed to Sir Lister Holte who bought streches of Small Heath (then part of Bordsely). He died in 1770 and his will was a strange thing. He left his real estate to his brother, Charles, and his male heirs. However, if Charles had no sons then the Holte lands were to go to Heneage Legge, a nephew of Sir Lister's first wife; and if he had no successors then everything would be passed on to another cousin, Lewis Bagot, Bishop of Saint Asaph.if Bagot's line failed, the properties were to be given to Wriothesley Digby of Meriden and his heirs. Finally, if he had no issue then the Holte estates would revert to Mary, the daughter of Charles and the wife of Abraham Bracebridge of Atherstone. All three men mentioned in the will had no heirs general and on the security of Mary gaining her inheritance, Abraham Bracebridge raised mortgages on the properties.

Because of his business failures he was unable to discharge his loans and in 1818, to meet the demands of His creditors, he had to obtain an act of Parliament allowing the partion of the Holte lands. In this way, the Legge family came to own a great part of Aston, Ashted, Duddeston, Nechells and the Gosta Green neighbourhood, whilst the Digbys took over large swathes of Small Heath in Bordesley (see Small Heath). With a small village based around the parish church, Aston Manor itself remained largely rural! Until 1848 when much of 327 acres of parkland of Aston Hall was sold off. According to Tomlinson's Plan of 1758 this was just over a third of the total area of Aston Manor (943 acres).

Within a few years, new roads had been cut in the pentagonish-looking area bounded by Park Lane, High Street (Aston), Witton Road, Frederick Road/Sycamore Road, Church Road, and the Lichfield Road. This led to the disappearance of Potter's Farm, the house of which had been sited in what became Bevington Road. South west of the former parkland, Aston New Town had emerged by 1860. Bounded by Alma Street on the west, its limit with Birmingham was below Phillips Street and Inkerman Street.

The eastern extent of Aston New Town was provided by Sutton Street and The Retreat, beyond which lay the district of Aston Brook. lts focus was Aston Cross, and it stretched along the Lichfield Road towards Church Road. The final neighbourhood within Aston Manor (excluding Lozells) was that to the south of Salford Reservoir and was focused on Waterworks Street- By the early 1890s Aston had a population of almost 54,000 and building was ongoing. The Staffordshire Pool had been filled and the Nelson Road locality was apparent, whilst Holte Road and others had filled in the space beside Witton Lane. Both neighbourhoods had well- built and terraced houses for the lower middle class. In his novel! Eve's Ransom (1895), George Gissing explained that such properties 'represented a step or two upwards in the gradation which, at Birmingham, begins with the numbered court and culminates in the mansions Edgbaston'.

Within Aston the prosperous middle class lived in the Park district, but most the rest of the town was filled largely with back-to-backs From I869, the whole district and Lozells was under the authority of the Aston Manor Local Board of Health. Fifteen years later, the district had its own Member of Parliament and in 1903 it was incorporated as a borough with council offices at the present Albert Road Library. By this date roads had been cut through the last part of Aston's open land, lying between Frederick Road and Trinity Road and between Aston Park and Witton Road. In 1911, Aston Manor lost its independence and became part of Birmingham. The back-to-back parts of Aston were knocked down in the 1950s and 1960s.

New council houses and flats were constructed in the Newtown and Waterworks Street neighbourhoods, although Aston Cross has few people and is dominated now by businesses. Like Small Heath, the area is best known for its football team, in this case Aston Villa. ' Importantly, Aston Manor (including the modern Aston and Lozells) was much smaller than Aston Parish which included Bordesley (embracing Small Heath and much of Sparkbrook and Bordesley Green); Castle Bromwich (including Bromford, Buckland End, Hodge Hill and Shard End); Deritend (including Highgate); Duddeston (including Ashted, much of Gosta Green and Vauxhall); Erdington (including Short Heath and Stockland Green); Little Bromwich (including much of Alum Rock and all of Ward End); Nechells; Saltley (including Washwood Heath and part of Alum Rock); Water Orton; and Witton. Bar for Water Orton and part of Castle Bromwich all these places are now in Birmingham. For registration purposes, however, they remained within Aston.