The History of Stafford
Human settlement in Stafford started at least as far back as 900-700BC when Iron Age man came here to take advantage of the rich mineral deposits and vast forest. The forest, Cannock Chase , still exists, albeit in a much-shrunken form. The Romans also favoured Stafford and there’s plenty of evidence of their presence in the area, but little else is known about settlements in Stafford after the Romans prior to the 9th Century.
The town got it’s name in Saxon times when it was the centre of attempts to hold back the marauding Danes. Stafford, or Staith Ford, means ford by the landing place. After William the Conquerer defeated the Saxons in the Battle of Hastings the Normans re-fortified Stafford. They were forced to build the stone castle , and many more forts and outposts in the surrounding area, due to the stout and prolonged resistance put up against them by the local Saxons.
Stafford was granted its Charter of Liberties in early in the 1200s by King John . This was an important event as a charter gives a town or borough a legal entity. This ancient charter remains at the heart of the town’s legal existence to this day. The Middle Ages saw the town prosper, particularly on the back of the wool trade it being perfectly placed as a market town for the surrounding agricultural lands. Finished cloth was also important to Stafford’s economy. The ruling Stafford family suffered financially during the crusades and took some while to recover. Later an Earl of Stafford was to become one of the most important men of England and was made Duke of Buckinghamshire in 1444. A future Earl faired less well, the third Duke of Buckinghamshire was executed by Henry VIII on trumped up charges.
Stafford campaigned to replace the ruling bailiffs at the council with a mayor. They were successful and Matthew Craddock was the first Mayor of Stafford during the reign of James I . The King visited Stafford and was suitably impressed with its buildings, especially the Shire hall and remarked that the town was like a “little London”. His successor also visited Stafford, however Charles I was at war with the Parliamentarians when he stayed three days at the Ancient High House during the early days of the Civil War . The town changed hands several times during the conflict. Stafford’s Parliamentary representative during the time of the Commonwealth was John Bradshaw. Elected in 1658 he is notorious as the head of the court that tried Charles I.
The author of the ancient and well known angling guide “Compleat Angler” Izaak Walton is from Stafford. He famously saved one of the Crown Jewels, the Lesser George, following Charles II ’s defeat at the Battle of Worcester .
The town’s subsequent growth was initially very slow. A survey in 1622 showed a population of 1,550 only reaching just under 4,000 by 1801. By 1881 this had increased significantly to almost 20,000. When the railway arrived in 1837 Stafford was a busy country market town. The town’s boot and shoe industry grew steadily in the 18th century and by the 19th it was the dominant industry. Boot and shoe making reduced significantly during the 20th century although the town has since continued to grow steadily and now has a population of around 62,000.
Electronics took the place of shoes in the town’s economy with big employers like GEC, Evode and RAF Stafford dominating the town in the late 90s. The ready supply of labour skilled in electronics and computing has meant that Stafford has attracted technology parks over the past 30 years, hopefully securing its future as a thriving Staffordshire town.