Elford Village

Village History

Based on the History of Elford document written for the Son-et-Lumiere in September 1986. Revised and updated by John Bridgman in November 2018.

The name Elford probably derives from"Ella'sFord".  Ella was the son of Elthelred, King of Mercia in Saxon times. He is believed to have been buried in the tumulus on the hill at Elford Lowe. Alternative suggestions for the village name derive from"Elder Tree Ford" or the "El" may refer to eels which abounded in the river.Elthelred, King of Mercia

The village of Elford is located off the A513 road between Tamworth and Alrewas. The location of the settlement is highly significant, situated as it is on the banks of the RiverTame, surrounded by fertile agricultural land and near to a strategic crossing point. There has been continuous human habitation in this location since the Neolithic period.

The exact derivation may never be proved but it is certain that the area has been populated since long before the Roman occupation.  Neolithic tumuli have been identified at Elford Lowe and Elford Park.They may have been the burial grounds of nomadic tribes, but it is more probable that settlements existed along the river banks between Elford and Fisherwick and on the fringes of nearby Lichfield and Needwood forests.

The Roman invaders built the great arterial roads, Watling Street and Ryknield Street, which intersected at Wall.  From then onward the area assumed importance as a farming region which supplied wool, leather and food to the garrisons and marching legions. Remains of Roman farms have been found at Whittington.

In the seventh century Chad brought Christianity to Lichfield and established his church. From Lichfield itinerant monks visited outlying settlements to preach the gospel at fixed sites, often in the shadow of an erected cross of wood or stone.  Eventually churches were built on the ground hallowed by countless such acts of worship.

This is how the church at Elford developed as in the 600s a wooden cross was erected on the site of the present church grounds. The river was forded nearby at a point which later came to be known as the hall ford and it is probable that the churchyard, as we know it, was used as a Christian centre from the time of Chad.

The latter part of the first millenium A.D. was a turbulent period in local history with frequent skirmishes between invading Angles and Danes and the Celts, who were the local people. Offa established the Kingdom of Mercia and declared Tamworth the capital but it was destroyed by the Danes, who established Danelaw North of Watling Street.

In the next century Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great defeated the Danes and restored Tamworth. Life became more tranquil.

Wulfric SpotIn AD1004 Wulfric Spot, Earl of Mercia, founded Burton Abbey and bequeathed Elleford as part of the Abbey estate to his daughter. After the Conquest in 1066 the Manor of Elleford was forfeited to the Crown and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Elleford is described as a settlement of 24 villagers, 8 small holders with 8 ploughs. Two mills are also recorded.  After Domesday it was held by the Crown until the middle of the sixteenth century.

At the end of the twelfth century the Lordship of the Manor of Elford was held by the Ardernes, a Cheshire family, who were Lords of Aldford and Alvaney.  The Ardernes occupied  Elford until 1408 when Sir John, who did not have a male heir, died.  In 1254 Walkelin de Arderne was granted a charter to hold a market in Elford on Fridays. The market had ceased by 1500. In 1385 King Richard II granted a licence to Sir Thomas de Arderne to enclose 300 acres of land in Elleford as a park.

The most famous Arderne was Sir Thomas who fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and Poitiers and who is reputed to have distinguished himself with "noble deeds and feates(Sic)ofarms".

Matilda Arderne married Thomas Stanley and founded the Stanley line at Elford which lasted until 1508.

The Stanleys, and before them the Ardemes, lived at Elford Park, in a moated house on the site of the present farm. The first hall,  adjacent to the church, was not built until the beginning of the sixteenth century.

On the 21st August, 1484, John Stanley, the Lord of the Manor, is reputed to have joined amongst others, Lord Stanley and Henry, Duke of Richmond at Haselour Hall, the home of Lord Stanley and his wife Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Duke of Richmond (to become Henry VII). Lord Stanley's decisive intervention into the Battle of Bosworth next day, changed the course of English history. Richard III was killed and Henry VII became the first of the Tudor monarchs.

John Stanley's only son was killed by a tennis ball which severed his jugular vein. The famous effigy in the Church, of the small boy holding a tennis ball, commemorates the death. The title of the 'Lord of the Manor' passed via the female line to William Staunton then to Richard Huddlestone, then to William Smythe and finally to Sir John Bowes. Thus began the line of the Bowes/Howard family in Elford which lasted until the end of the 1930s. Henry Bowes, who became Earl of Berkshire and Suffolk, built a new hall on the site of the old one,  circa 1720/1730. Several of the cottages, now standing in the village, were built at the sametime.

During the Civil War, Richard Bowes espoused Parliament's cause and was able, with the help of his Rector Thomas Dowley, to protect the Church and its monuments from the ravages of Cromwell's troops. However, situated between the parliamentary forces at Tamworth and the royalist forces at Lichfield, he had cause to complain about the raids on his cattle, by both sides.  Legend suggests that Gore Hill is so named because of the blood which flowed down the hill after a skirmish between advance companies of the opposing troops.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the most notable resident of Elford was Robert Bage who owned a paper mill adjacent to Mill House. He wrote six novels, three of which were included in Sir Walter Scott's list of the fifty best novels of the time. No other author had so many titles in the list.Elford village hall

A great writer he may have been, but the opinions expressed in his books did not endear him to the establishment. He believed strongly in the equality of man and in the equality of woman with man. He was skeptical of organised religion and he accused its leaders of hypocrisy. All were dangerous views to hold at the time of the French Revolution. In his private life he was a kind and generous person, well-liked by all who knew him.

In the following century two figures dominated Elford. The one was Lady Mary Howard and the other was her cousin, Francis Edward Paget, the Rector of Elford from 1835 to 1882. Lady Mary was a benefactress to the village. She rebuilt the Church and modernised the cottages of her tenants. The Howards were descendants of Catherine Howard, once wife of King Henry VIII before her execution. It is said that a wooden travelling trunk with a hide cover that once belonged to Queen Catherine.

Francis Paget was a spiritual guiding force with social ideas far ahead of his time. He was a ‘hellfire preacher’ from the Oxford Movement’ who cared for the community as he ran evening classes, a library, a savings scheme, a choral society and he was a prolific author and wrote in protest at the use of child labour. The proceeds from the sale of his books were given to the parish.

The Howard line, of Lords of the Manor, ended in 1936. The 640 acre estate including the hall, property and land were bequeathed to the City of Birmingham by Francis Edward Howard Paget. He fought in World War I and returned obsessed by a vision for a better world. He made donations to restore the church in Elford. He endowed the Royal Masonic Hospital, London, with an ‘Elford Wing’ also contributing to the operating theatre and nurses’ home.  In addition, he maintained a block of beds for Cancer patients in Middlesex Hospital.

The Hall was bequeathed to Birmingham Corporation for the use of Birmingham people to visit and enjoy the countryside. This did not happen. The period of the Spanish Civil War between 1936-1939 saw Birmingham Corporation offer sanctuary to Basque children fleeing the war. They were housed at the Hall despite opposition from the Parish Council.

During the Second World War, the Hall was used to store the City's art treasures. In 1941 a German bomber flying over Model Farm on the outskirts of the village, ditched two 2000kg bombs before flying home following an air-raid on Coventry. The bombs missed the farm house but blew off the roof and caused extensive damage to other buildings and a large crater in the fields.

Elford Hall was demolished in 1964. The Hall had fallen into ruin. The kitchen walled gardens have been restored by volunteers and is well worth a visit.

This has been a very brief history of Elford, which is more fully expounded by the Son-et Lumiere. We hope that you have enjoyed both seeing and learning about our village. Thank you for your support and please visit us again.

Images of Elford's past

Photos have been kindly supplied by villagers and ex-villagers and compiled by former resident John Bridgman.  For additions, corrections, copyright and further information please contact the Parish Clerk.

More information can be found on the History of Elford site run by Ron & Jean Chamberlain.  

Click any image to enlarge and access gallery.