In ancient times the suffix "ley" at the end of a place name here in the Black Country signified a clearing. The Old English (or Anglo- Saxon Englisc) word laege was used for fallow, a piece of land put down to grass, clover, etc., for a single season, or a limited number of years, and each and every day, when the likes of Cradley, Dudley, Coseley and Wordsley are mentioned, the echoes of our distant ancestors can be heard.
Of the few Anglo Saxon traits that have survived and been handed down to us, language is by far the greatest, and that's why modern day Cradley still resonates to its Anglo- Saxon past. And although there is a certain mystery about the Anglo Saxons who inhabited England during the so called Dark Ages, their time spent in Cradley will be illuminated by Margaret Bradley when she gives her third in a series of illustrated talks on the early history of the town at Overend Methodist Mission, Banner's Lane, Cradley, on Thursday 29 November starting at 7.30pm. The following notes provided by Margaret give us a brief flavour of the sort of ground that will be covered at the talk: "Immediately before the Norman Conquest, Cradley (Cradeleie) was held by a Saxon thegn or nobleman by the name of Wigar, whose name derives from ‘war spear’, and it's doubtful whether Wigar ever took up residence in Cradley as he held other estates, including Churchill.
“King Edward the Confessor had granted him the right to receive rents from the ceorls who farmed the land, which amounted to 40 shillings, and in return Wigar was obliged to perform military duty for the king and fight for him whenever required.
Wigar and the farmers residing in Cradley were of Germanic descent and arrived on the east coast of England in the 5th century, soon spreading west and settling in a land that held better prospects than their own homeland.
“Precisely when they arrived in the vicinity of Cradley isn't known, but when they did venture into what would have been a Black Country landscape dominated by woodland, they soon replaced any Celtic names that existed with their own, and the word ‘ley’ was used all over this part of the Midlands, from nearby Lutley, to Hagley in the south and Dudley in the north, and many more besides, describing a homestead in a clearing.
“Various suggestions have been made regarding the origin of the prefix "Crad", and one view proposes that it was the personal name of a humble pioneer called Crad(d)a. Some have linked it with the Saxon warlord Cridda who moved into the Midlands c. 582 and founded the Kingdom of Mercia. A modern alternative suggests the word derives from a position nestled between small hills, like a baby in a cradle.
“Derivations of other place names within Cradley are more certain.
For instance, Oldnall appears in the form Holdenhale (holden healle) meaning a pleasant hall; Shelton first appears as Chilton (cyl tun) meaning a settlement on clay; Homer (Hill), Hanmore (hana mor) meaning cock hill; and a field near here was known in later times as Cockshutt or coccscute, denoting a place where woodland birds were trapped and shot. The Hayes (haya) indicated a hedged boundary; Netherend (Nither ende) was the lower end of the manor; Lyde Green (hlio grene) means a green slope; Slade Piece (slaed) a valley on the side of a hill; and Burfield was the location of one of the large open fields, and originally would have been called berefeld (barley field).
“The Anglo-Saxons were heavily dependent upon cereal crops and growing them was a cooperative effort. The name of the Cradley common fields were Over (upper) Feld, Nether (lower) Feld, Commol Feld and Beare Feld. The present-day Fatherless Barn Estate was built on the first two fields. Commol Field was in the area of Colman Hill, and Bere Feld was around Burfield Road.
The fields were divided into strips to give every family a holding of about 30 acres, and each strip was around a furlong in length, the distance a plough team could go without turning round.Furlong Lane was in Commol Feld.
“Cradley's boundaries were established by the middle of the 10th century, and a Royal Charter (c.952-9) defining Oldswinford's boundaries determines Cradley's western limits, with the others being fixed by Ludley Brook and the River Stour. One of the reference points in the charter is Deon's Bank Ford, by the existing Ye Old Saltbrooke Inn. The area on the other side of the Stour is still known as Dunn's Bank, and this was followed by the Hollow stream which became known as the Saltbrook.
Before entering the Stour it flowed down from higher ground between The Hayes and Oldnall.
“The next points were the earth bridge and the tile well. It would appear that tiles were made at this time at Oldnall, using the readily available clay and water. The field that was once called Well Close is occupied by a house in Denton Road, on the Oldswinford side of the ancient Holloway that marks the boundary with Cradley.
“When the Anglo-Saxons settled in Cradley they brought with them their language, and we have benefited from this Germanic spake ever since, an indelible part of our heritage that is used every day of the wik. For example ‘Where bist thee a-gooen?’ “Then there's ond for hand, claen for clean, and a swill for a wash comes from swillen. When we refer to flowers sheeding, not many people know that this comes from the Anglo-Saxon word scead, meaning to separate; blarting comes from blaeten like the sound of an animal; and a glede was a glowing ember in the fire.
“Much of the Anglo- Saxon era may still be shrouded in mystery, but their influence is still around us today.” jworkman@ blackcountrybugle.co.uk Cradley is still resonating to its Anglo Saxon past Anglo-Saxons at work.