A History of Tamworth

By Tim Lambert

Saxon Tamworth

Tamworth began as a Saxon settlement in Staffordshire. It was the Tame worth or the enclosure by the River Tame. It was made into an important place by King Offa of Mercia (a Saxon kingdom that roughly corresponded to the Midlands of England). Offa reigned from 755 to 796. He built a palace at Tamworth and it could be said that Tamworth was the capital of Mercia. However, it was burned by the Danes in 874.

A Saxon warrior

Tamworth was rebuilt in 913 by Ethelflaeda the king’s sister. She was called the Lady of the Mercians. In those days both Saxons and Danes created fortified settlements where the local men could gather to fight in the event of an enemy attack. These fortified settlements were called burhs. Tamworth was one such burh. It was surrounded by a ditch and an earth rampart, probably with a wooden palisade on top.

However, Saxon burhs were more than forts they were also, usually, little towns. There was a mint in Tamworth by the 10th century. Tamworth probably also had weekly markets and it was a busy little town. Unfortunately, the Danes attacked Tamworth again in 943. However, Saxon Tamworth soon recovered.

Tamworth in the Middle Ages

Normans built a castle at Tamworth, which has stood guard over the town ever since.

In the Middle Ages Tamworth was a small market town. However, the king gave it charters in 1319. (In the Middle Ages a charter was a document granting the townspeople certain rights or confirming existing ones).

In 1337 Tamworth was granted the right to hold two annual fairs. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from far and wide).

To us, Medieval Tamworth would seem tiny. We do not know what its population was but if we say 1,000 or 1,200 we are probably not far wrong. However, towns were very small in those days.

In 1345 Tamworth suffered a disastrous fire. Much of the town burned. (Fire was a constant hazard in the Middle Ages because most buildings were made of wood with thatched roofs. On the other hand, if they burned they could be easily rebuilt).

Tamworth 1500-1800

Through the centuries Tamworth gradually grew larger although it was only a small market town. Queen Elizabeth granted Tamworth another charter in 1560.

In the 16th and 17th centuries Tamworth, like all towns, suffered from outbreaks of plague. It struck in 1563, 1579, 1597-98, 1606, and 1626. Each time the plague struck many people died but each time the population recovered. Fortunately, the outbreak in 1626 was the last one in Tamworth.

In 1678 a man named Thomas Guy founded almshouses in Tamworth (they were rebuilt in 1913). He also built Tamworth Town Hall in 1701 and later founded Guys Hospital in London.

Tamworth in the 19th Century

In 1801 Tamworth was a small market town with a population of a little over 3,000. To us, it would seem very small. However, by the standards of the time, Tamworth was a respectable size. Furthermore, Tamworth grew rapidly in the 19th century.

In 1834 Robert Peel wrote the Tamworth Manifesto before a by-election in Tamworth. The manifesto was first and foremost for local people but it was printed in the national press. The Tamworth Manifesto laid out the principles of the Tory Party. Today it is seen as a milestone in the history of the Conservative Party. A statue of Robert Peel was erected in Tamworth in 1852.

There were several improvements to Tamworth during the 19th century. In 1807 the pavements were flagged. From 1835 Tamworth had gaslights. In the late 19th century a piped water supply was created.

Furthermore, the railway reached Tamworth in 1847 and a newspaper, The Tamworth Herald, was founded in 1868. The first cemetery in Tamworth opened in 1876. The Assembly Rooms were built in 1889. In 1897 the corporation bought Tamworth Castle.

Meanwhile, a hospital was built in Tamworth in 1880. An infirmary was built in 1903.

Until 1889 Tamworth was partly in Warwickshire and partly in Staffordshire. In that year the boundary was changed so Tamworth became located entirely in Staffordshire.

Tamworth in the 20th Century

In 1901 Tamworth had a population of 15,000 but it grew rapidly during the 20th century. The first council houses in Tamworth were built in 1900. More were built in the 1920s and 1930s and after 1945. Meanwhile, the first public library in Tamworth was built in 1905. Tamworth gained an electricity supply in 1924.

During its long history, Tamworth has been a market town rather than an industrial centre although there was an industry making agricultural machines in the 20th century and Reliant made cars in Tamworth until 1999. There was also a paper-making industry in Tamworth as well as a textiles industry and one making aluminium ware.

Ankerside Shopping Centre opened in 1980.

Tamworth in the 21st Century

In the 21st century, Tamworth grew slowly but the town is flourishing. In 2023 the population of Tamworth was 78,000.