The History of Tamworth
The Staffordshire town of Tamworth (or more accurately what is now the Staffordshire town of Tamworth) was apparently founded by the Saxons in the 6th century. Given its strategic position at the point where the rivers Anker and Tame meet it is hard not to believe that others would have created some sort of settlement before them.
By the end of the 7th century a royal palace was built in the township, which functioned as de facto capital of Mercia for some years, a religious centre as well as an economic and military one. The significance of Tamworth in this era is emphasized by such facts as the coin Offa’s penny being minted there, currency until well into the Middle Ages; and by King Offa establishing what may have been the first post-Roman watermill in England there. Quite what the significance of the so-called Staffordshire Hoard is we do not yet know – this magnificent treasure recently found near the town was probably buried sometime in the 7th century.
Sacked by the Danes in 874 the town only rose again in 913, its rebuilding inspired by King Alfred ’s daughter Ethelfleda, ruler of Mercia between 911 and 918 when she died in Tamworth. An attempt to co-exist with the Danes was bolstered by the marriage in the town’s church of the subsequent St Editha to Jarl of Northumbria and King of York, Sihtric. He nominally converted to Christianity for the union, then abandoned Editha who went on to a life of piety (and eventual sainthood) as an abbess.
A Saxon fort of some sort must have stood in such an important burh, replaced by the Normans with the castle which still stands to this day (happily the Parliamentary order to ‘slight’ it as revenge for its resistance to Roundhead forces in 1643 never carried out). Over the centuries the castle hosted visits by three kings: Henry II , Edward III , and James I .
Under the Normans, however, Tamworth’s economic significance diminished. It was not until 1319 that a royal charter was granted, 1337 seeing the town given the right to hold two annual fairs, illustrative of a resurgence of local power though sadly the fire that destroyed much of the place in 1345 must have set that back considerably.
Elizabeth I was an important monarch for Tamworth: in 1560 she granted a new charter; and in 1588 the right to a third fair, advantages balanced somewhat by at least three plagues there during her reign.
Standing on the London-Chester route, and with traffic funnelled through the town by its two bridges, Tamworth remained significant as a trading place until the Industrial Revolution and even beyond. It has had two MPs of enormous local and national import: Thomas Guy (of Guy’s Hospital fame), London publisher and bookseller, who built the Town Hall and Almshouses before losing an election in 1707 and falling out with his former constituents; and Robert Peel , 19th century Prime Minister, police force founder , and arguably the creator or part-creator of both the Conservative Party and the Liberal. It is said the Peel was also the man who established the Tamworth pig breed.
In the Industrial Revolution the town benefitted from the building of the Coventry Canal and the Birmingham Canal, whose routes took them through Tamworth; and the arrival of the railways in 1847. The Staffordshire coalfields around the town brought it wealth and were the reasons for the canal building. A rather quirkier transport association should also be mentioned here – Tamworth spawned the Reliant Car Company in the 1930s.
For centuries Tamworth was half in Staffordshire and half in Warwickshire , a situation resolved by act of parliament in April 1888 with the application of the rule that such divided centres should be placed wholly within the county bounds of whichever county had the greater share of the town’s population.
The 20th century saw a rapid rise in the town’s population, more than doubling between the censuses of 1931 and 1951, its growth accelerating further during the 1960s (though it was not designated as a New Town it effectively became one in development terms). Today the population stands well above 70000.