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Romans & Normans

Gnosall Parish - Roman invasion in AD43 to the Norman invasion of 1066.

The Romans The incoming Romans were quick to expand their Empire here and soon built strategic roads such as the 'Watling Street' and the main road South from Chester and on to the Caerleon, via Wroxeter. This meant a long detour to Chester from the Southeast and so the Romans built a 'bypass' which leaves the A5 near Gailey at the 'service station' called Pennocrucium and cuts North East across what we now know as 'Gnosall Parish'. A shorter route, which forms the foremost Roman remains in our Parish. This road is known as 'The Longford'- a corruption of 'Langffryd'- ancient British for 'longroad'. Let’s follow this road across the Parish to see the arrival by going a few hundred yards out of the Parish At Grid Ref.SJ 822 171 on the Ordnance Survey map. Go out of the village up Cowley lane towards Church Eaton, turn right and pass through Cowley. After Goosemoor, go down a dip and onto a straight length, until you se a 'public footpath' sign in the hedge on your right near an oak tree. Look right , to the North West and you will see an irregular 'hump' across the first pasture field over the hedge. This marks the 'agger' or raised area in which the Romans built their metalled road. The slight dips on either side are the scrape marks where the ground was dug to make the aggar and ditches either side of the road. All this remains after 1800 or more years! Next, go to NGR: SJ 793 197 If the field is recently ploughed and harrowed down, then you will see a broad band of pebbles stretching away to the Northwest- the ploughed out remains of the Roman metalling. There is a very slight 'hump' in the A518 at this point where the toll road builders failed to wholly remove the agger as they laid the new road! By NGR: SJ 785 206 You will have covered a length of the Roman Road; once past the slight bend abut two hundred yards up the lane from the Wilbrighton cross-roads on the A518, the Longford comes back on alignment at NGR: SJ 778 213. Look across the hedge on your right at about where there is an old metal gate and you will see a slight dip in the fields where the Romans evened out the slope of the road as it approached the then ford over the Woodbrook. There are other evidences of Roman activity in our Parish. These are, firstly, the huge masonry blocks of stone at the base of the NE and NW tower piers in St Lawrence’s Church. These are certainly not Anglo Saxon and very unlike Norman work and may have come from a near buried Roman building in the immediate neighbourhood which the Normans found and used. In addition, an incised stone was found locally featuring what was considered to be Roman in origin as was the snake carved square block also found locally. The first item was authenticated as Roman by Oxford University Archaeological Dept, who were also very interested in the other artefact mentioned above. After the Romans left in about 430 AD we pass into the 'Dark Ages' -the Anglo-Saxon period until the Normans came in 1066.

'Dark Ages'

Before we move on to the Norman 'invasion' of 1066, we must briefly recall the 'Dark Ages' or period between the departure of the Romans and the Norman arrival. This period is characterised by the rise of the Celtic culture and its being pushed Westward by the 'invading' Anglo- Saxons. Gnosall being placed where it is, within sight of the Welsh hills, must have seen some of this action. Similarly, with the movement Westward of the Danes in the 8th century and the Norse - Irish Eastwards in the 10 century, some local effects must have been felt- the 'Danelaw’ touched the rim of East Staffordshire. ; there are two 'Toft' farms names in West Staffs and these are Scandinavian in origin. Until about the 7th century, much of the local pattern would have been of a pagan culture, but the coming of St Chad, who died in AD 672, and his visitations , founded the Christian Church in this area. An example is St Chads' Well, and Great Chatwell named after 'Ceatta' which was the ancient name for 'Chad' This illustrates how names change over the years as part of the language developments. A good local example is the farm called 'The Sushions (manor) towards High Onn. This farm was known as 'Sceoscetan' in the Domeday Book! As we look around our present Parish, established by about 1000 AD, what evidence is there of all the upheavals and quiet periods as between the 5th century AD and that key date - 1066? The best we can do is to look in the church, where there are some small evidences of Anglo- Saxon and Saxo- Norman influence, in some of the early stonework. For example, a filled-in half doorway and pagan references in some of the stone carvings. These details are all available in the church 'Blue Guide'. Time and space does not permit me to dwell further on this period; it was much richer culturally than once wrongly assumed- the discovery and contents of the 'Staffordshire Hoard' proves this point once and for all. After the Romans left the Celtic form of Christianity became stronger and developed into the accepted form. When St Augustine arrived in Kent, he was commissioned by the Pope to clarify matters in such a way as to bring the British Church under the sway of Rome. At the Synod of Whitby in Ad 664, the matter was debated; the Roman cause won and the Celtic form of Christianity withered away. Nonetheless, there are allusions to Celtic decorative forms in St. Lawrence Church, so some art forms lingered on.

Arrival of the Normans

The Normans were very energetic and purposeful; but we must remember that at the time of their arrival, Gnosall was quite remote and marked mainly by the small Anglo-Saxon Minster 1 , the Christian focus in the West Cuttlestone Hundred 2 . The 'Roman' form of Christianity had overtaken the old Celtic forms as a result of the Synod of Whitby in AD 664. Probably the first time an awareness of the Normans arrival on the locality was when the collectors of local data (for the Domesday Book as produced in 1068), arrived in the neighbourhood. The old 'Hundred' System of administration slipped into desuetude but there is ever a period of adaptation as one regime takes over from another. The concept of 'the Parish' was strengthened by the Normans, as they built their new churches, as at Bradeley, Church Eaton and High Offley, for example. The major effort- and what a huge and dramatic effort and effect it possessed, was the rebuild of the Parish Church here at Gnosall. How the locals must have marvelled at the energy, purpose and scale of this new building, built of locally quarried stone as it rose among and high above them and their little basic single storey dwellings. The Domeday Book records that there was land, for tax as well as area purposes of “2 hides and three virgates and for 2 ploughs and with 4 ploughs in desmesne' There were 8 villeins and 4 bordars” These apply as titles for persons owning or as tenants of 'farm' land. The “4 ploughs in desmesne” tells us that there were 4 'tenants' who held this land was 'clerks or priests' who held the land on behalf of the owner, in this case the King with the Diocesan Bishop as their overlord and Patron. Post Domesday An excellent post Domesday history about Gnosall can be found on the “Church of St Lawrence, Gnosall” website. Peter Gillard Footnotes 1. Anglo-Saxon Minsters were the form in which the Church held its Ministry before the building of Parish churches. Each Minster served its own Hundred or more than one Hundred. Gnosall had four 'clerks' or 'portioners. ( form of priest) to serve the Minster church dedicated in those days to St Peter and St Paul. There were Minster churches in Stafford and at Penkridge. 2. The Hundred was a division of a Shire for tax and administrative purposes. Its size was related , among other criteria, by the amount of cultivable land and population. Staffordshire was a poor County with much land classified as 'waste'. The Hundreds in Staffordshire were:- Totmonslow, Pirehill. Seisdon, Offlow and Cuttlestone. The latter was a large area and was divided into East and West. Gnosall was in the latter and the church here was the West Cuttlestone Hundreds' Minster. Each Hundred was administered by a group of local notables and village representatives and met at the appointed place about once a month.
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