By Tim Lambert
Saxon and Medieval Stafford
In 913 the king’s sister, Ethelfleda, created a fortified settlement at Stafford called a burh. It was probably protected by a ditch and an earth rampart with a wooden stockade on top. (Later it was replaced by stone walls). In the event of a Danish attack, all the men from the area would gather in Stafford to fight.
However, Stafford was more than just a fort. It was also a little town. From the 10th century to the 12th century there was a mint in Stafford. Furthermore, in the 10th century, Stafford was made the county town.
By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Stafford was a small town with a population of around 800 to 900. To us, it would seem tiny and even by the standards of the time, it was small. Later Stafford grew larger but it is unlikely that the population was more than 1,000 during the Middle Ages.
In 1070 William the Conqueror built a wooden castle at Stafford. Later in the Middle Ages, it was replaced by a stone castle.
In 1206 King John gave Stafford a charter (a document granting or confirming certain rights). During the Middle Ages Stafford was a busy little market town. As well as markets Stafford had fairs. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area).
In the Middle Ages, the church was very important and powerful. St Chad’s Church dates from the 12th century and from the 13th century there were Franciscan friars in Stafford. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach. Franciscan friars were called grey friars because of the colour of their costumes.
Ancient High House was built in 1585 and a survey in 1622 showed that Stafford had a population of 1,550. It was growing steadily despite outbreaks of plague. Like all towns in those days, Stafford was sometimes struck by plague. However each time the town recovered and continued to grow.
During the 18th century, Stafford was a prosperous little market town. The main industry in Stafford in that century was the manufacture of cloth.
A man named William Chetwynd built Chetwynd House in 1746. Then in 1766, a general infirmary was built in Stafford. The first theatre in Stafford was built in 1792 and the Shire Hall was built in 1798.
Stafford in the 19th Century
In 1801 the population of Stafford was just under 4,000. Even by the standards of the time, Stafford was not a large town. However, during the 19th century, the population of Stafford exploded. It grew especially fast in the late 19th century. By 1881 the population of Stafford was almost 20,000.
Life in 19th century Stafford gradually improved. In 1830 an Act of Parliament created a body of men called Improvement Commissioners who had powers to pave and clean the streets of Stafford and light them with gas. However, like all towns in the early 19th century, Stafford was dirty and overcrowded.
Nevertheless, things improved at the end of the 19th century when the council created sewers and a clean water supply. Furthermore, from 1895 Stafford had an electricity supply and Victoria Park opened in 1908.
Meanwhile, the railway reached Stafford in 1837 and the Borough Hall opened in 1877.
From the late 18th century there was an important boot and shoe-making industry in Stafford. In the 19th century, shoemaking came to dominate the town.
Stafford in the 20th Century
During the 20th century, the population of Stafford continued to grow rapidly. By 1951 the population had reached over 40,000. The first council houses in Stafford were built in 1901-02. Many more were built in the 1920s and 1930s and after 1945. Many private houses were also built. Stafford Guildhall was built in 1934.
In the early 20th century the boot and shoemaking industry in Stafford went into decline. However, during the 20th century, Stafford was known for its electrical engineering industry. In recent decades manufacturing has declined in importance but service industries have grown rapidly. Guildhall Shopping Centre opened in 1990.
Stafford in the 21st Century
Today Stafford is a thriving time. Riverside Stafford opened in 2016. In 2022 the population of Stafford was 72,000.