Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

STAFFORD, a borough and parish and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the southern division of the hundred of PIREHILL, county of STAFFORD, of which it is the capital, 186 miles (N.W. by N.) from London, on the road to Chester, containing, with the township of Worston, 5759 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, was originally called Stadeford, or Stadford, from the Saxon Stade, signifying a place on a river, and the trajectus, or ford, across the river Sow, on which it is situated. It is said to have been, in 705, the devotional retirement of St. Bertelin, the son of a Mercian king, upon whose expulsion from his hermitage, at a spot called Berteliney, and Betheney, meaning the island of Bertelin, several houses were built, which formed the origin of the present town. In 913, Ethelfleda, Countess of Mercia, erected a castle on the north side of the river, and surrounded the town with walls and a fosse, of which the only vestige is a small portion of the East gate.

Edward the Elder, brother of Ethelfleda, about a year after the erection of the castle, built a tower, the site of which Mr. Pennant supposes to have been the mount called, by Speed, Castle hill. From this period till the Conquest, the town appears to have increased considerably in extent and importance, and though it had not received any charter of incorporation, it is, in Domesday-book, called a city, in which the king had eighteen burgesses in demesne, and the Earls of Mercia twenty mansions. William, out of all the manors in the county, reserved this only for himself, and built a castle to keep the barons in subjection, appointing, as governor, Robert de Toeni, the progenitor of the house of Stafford, on whom he bestowed all the other manors, with the title of Baron de Stafford.

The castle, after having been rebuilt by Ralph de Stafford, a celebrated warrior, in the reign of Edward III., remained till the parliamentary war, when it was garrisoned by the royal forces under the Earl of Northampton, but was at length taken by the parliamentary troops under the command of Sir William Brereton, and subsequently demolished by order of the parliament. The remains consisted chiefly of the keep, and were situated on the summit of a lofty eminence, about a mile and a half to the south-west. of the town; the walls were eight feet thick, and at each angle was an octagonal turret, with a tower similarly shaped on the south-west side.

About fifty years since, the only visible remains were part of a wall, which the late Sir William Jerningham underbuilt, to prevent it from falling; in doing which it was discovered, that the basement story lay buried under the ruins of the upper parts. Sir George Jerningham afterwards began to rebuild the castle on the old foundation, but has completed only one front, flanked with two round towers, in which are deposited some ancient armour and other curiosities.

The town is pleasantly situated on the river Sow, about six miles distant from its confluence with the Trent: the entrance from the London road is by a neat bridge over the river, near which was one of the ancient gates; the houses are in general well built of brick, and roofed with slate, and many of them are handsome and of modern erection; the streets are well paved, at the expense of the corporation, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The environs are pleasant, abounding with noble mansions and elegant villas. Assemblies are held in a suite of rooms in the town hall; and races take place annually in May.

The principal branch of manufacture is that of shoes, for supplying the London market, and for exportation; and the tanning of leather is carried on to a considerable extent. Stafford, in common with the neighbourhood, is also noted for the quality of its ale. The river Penk joins the Sow near Rudford bridge, an elegant structure of three arches, nearly a mile distant, and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal passes near the town. The market is on Saturday: the fairs are April 5tb, May 14th, June 25th, October 3rd, and December 5th, principally for horses and cattle.

The inhabitants first received a regular charter of incorporation in the reign of John, confirming all privileges previously enjoyed; it was dated one year prior to that of London, and seven years before the signing of Magna Charta. After various confirmations and additions, in the subsequent reigns, it became forfeited in 1826 by the council neglecting to fill up vacancies in the body corporate and, on petition, a new charter was granted by George IV., in 1827, restoring and confirming all previous rights and privileges, with the exception only of exemption from serving on juries for the county. By this charter, the government is vested in a mayor, ten aldermen, and ten principal burgesses, assisted by a recorder, town clerk, Serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers.

The mayor is annually elected by the aldermen and capital burgesses, who fill up vacancies in their respective bodies as they occur; the mayor and the two senior aldermen are justices of the peace within the borough. The freedom is inherited by birth, or obtained by servitude to a resident freeman. The corporation have power to hold quarterly courts of session within the borough, for all offences not capital; but they transfer to the judges travelling the circuit all causes requiring the decision of a jury; they have power also to hold a court of record, for the recovery of debts to any amount, but no process has issued from it for the last twenty years, The custom of Borough English prevails within the town and liberties.

The assizes and sessions for the county, which had previously been held here, were restored by Queen Elizabeth, the inhabitants having represented to her, on visiting the town, that to their removal its decay, at that time, was, among other causes, to be attributed. The borough first exercised the elective franchise in the 23rd of Edward I., since which time it has regularly returned two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in all resident burgesses & non-residents, who are eligible to become burgesses, may vote on being sworn in, but if they continue to reside out of the borough, they lose their franchise, unless they again become inhabitants for six months before the election.

The number of electors is upwards of eight hundred; the mayor is the returning officer. The county hall is a spacious and handsome modern building of stone, in the centre of the High-street, and occupying nearly the whole of one side of a spacious square, appropriated as a market-place, over part of which is a room for one thousand stand of arms, for the Staffordshire militia; towards its erection the corporation contributed £1050: it is one hundred and twenty feet in length, ornamented in the front with finely-sculptured figures of Justice and Peace, and contains several handsome apartments, with an assembly-room in the centre, elegantly fitted up, and occupying nearly the whole length of the front; on each side of it are the court-rooms for the assizes and sessions, approached by a central staircase, on the landing of which are the grand jury room and other apartments.

The county gaol and house of correction is a spacious and substantial modern edifice, comprising the governor's house, an infirmary, a chapel (in which service is performed regularly every Sunday, and twice during the week), a school-room, nineteen wards, nineteen day-rooms, seventeen work-rooms and shops, and nineteen airing-yards, with two tread-mills, of which one is used for the grinding of corn, and the other for raising water for the supply of the prison, which is well adapted to the classification of prisoners, who are employed at their trades, and receive a portion of their earnings on discharge: the building occupies an airy and healthy situation, and is under excellent regulations, being calculated for the reception of two hundred prisoners in separate cells.

Stafford comprises the united parishes of St. Mary and St. Chad, in the archdeaconry of Stafford, and diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. The living of St. Mary's is a rectory not in charge, in the patronage of the Crown: the church, formerly collegiate for a dean and thirteen prebendaries, is an ancient and spacious cruciform structure in the. early style of English architecture, with a lofty octagonal tower rising from the intersection, the upper part of which is of later date; the north entrance is richly ornamented with delicate shafts, and bold hollows embellished with flowers and foliage; the interior is beautifully arranged; the piers and arches are of the early English, passing into the decorated, style, and, to the east of the transepts, diminish gradually in height; the windows are generally in the decorated style, though intermixed with others of the later English, of which the east window is an elegant specimen; the chancel is spacious, and the roof is supported on finely-pointed arches, and piers of clustered columns; in the north transept is an ancient font of great beauty, and highly ornamented with sculptured figures and animals; there are many ancient monuments, among which the most conspicuous are those of the family of Aston of Tixall.

The living of St. Chad's is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Prebendary of Pipa Minor in the Cathedral Church of Lichfield; the church is a small edifice, originally in the Norman style of architecture, with a tower of the later English style between the chancel and the nave; the former is still in good preservation, and, with the exception of a modern east window, retains its original character; but the nave is of more recent date. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists of the Old and New Connexion, and a Roman Catholic chapel; which last, in that part of the environs called Forebridge, is a small but handsome edifice, erected by the late Edward Jerningham, Esq., and contains several of the ancient stone stalls removed from Lichfield cathedral.

The free grammar school, which, according to Leland, was originally established by "Sir Thomas, Countre Parson of Ingestre by Heywodde, and Syr Randol, a chauntre preste of Stafford", and further endowed with subsequent benefactions, was, on petition of the inhabitants, refounded by Edward VI., who augmented the endowment, in 1550; the income exceeds £370 per annum, of which two-thirds are paid to the headmaster, and the remainder to the usher, both of whom are appointed by the corporation, subject to the approval of the bishop of the diocese: the school is open to all boys of the town, of whom there are at present thirteen on the foundation.

A Lancasterian school is supported by subscription; and there are Sunday schools in connexion with the established church and the dissenting congregations. The institution for the relief of the widows and orphans of poor clergymen of the "Archdeaconry, the several Peculiars, and County, of Stafford", is supported by liberal donations and annual subscription, and has also an income arising from property vested in old South Sea stock, amounting to £2400: such clergymen as are disabled by age, sickness, or infirmity, and have not an income sufficient for the necessary support of themselves and their families, participate also in the benefits of this institution.

The county infirmary was instituted in 1766, and the present building erected in 1772; the premises, situated in the Foregate, were considerably enlarged a few years since, and are well adapted to the reception of eighty patients, who receive professional assistance from two physicians, three surgeons, and a chaplain attached to the institution, which is under the superintendence of a president and committee; the average number of patients admitted in the course of a year is six hundred, and about eight hundred out-patients receive the benefit of medical assistance at their own dwellings; attached to it is a house of recovery from fever, recently erected, designed for the reception of twenty-four patients: this institution has funded property, amounting to £2347, and is further supported by donations and annual subscriptions; within the last few months it has received the name of hospital, and confers, on pupils who have attended it, the same advantages and privileges as the hospitals of London.

The county general lunatic asylum was established in 1818, for patients from all parts of the kingdom, upon moderate terms, regulated according to the circumstances of the patients; those from the county are received upon lower terms than others, and in all cases the deficiency is made up from the funds of the institution, which is liberally supported by subscription, and has funded property to the amount of £2351. 15. in the three per cent, consols. It is admirably conducted, and ranks among the principal establishments of this kind in the kingdom. The buildings are spacious, and well adapted to the health and comfort of the patients; the gardens and pleasure grounds comprise thirty acres, in which they may take exercise, and every kind of rational amusement is afforded them; a small stream runs through the enclosure, and warm air is introduced into the buildings, which are well ventilated, arranged according to the rank and condition of the patients, and provided with warm and cold baths; one hundred and seventy patients may be received into the institution.

Almshouses for twelve aged and infirm persons were erected, in 1640, by Sir Martin Noel, at an expense of £1000; twenty poor families at present reside in them, and receive among them fifteen shillings and sixpence weekly, paid by the corporation from the rental of land in the Coton fields which sum will be increased with £12 per annum, arising from the Marston tithes, and the interest of £50 left by Dr. Binns; these houses are in a very dilapidated state; two of them have been repaired by Lord Talbot, who appoints two inmates, the rest being nominated by the corporation.

A priory of Black canons was founded by Richard Peche, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, in 1181, and dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket, the revenue of which at the dissolution was £198. 0. 9.: a small portion of the buildings now converted into a farm-house remains, about two miles east of the town. A house of Friars Eremites, of the order of St. Augustine, was founded in the suburb of Forebridge, by Ralph, Lord Stafford, to which, on the suppression of the priory of Stone, the monuments of the Stafford family were removed; it continued till the dissolution, at which time these splendid monuments were destroyed. A priory of Franciscan friars was founded at the north end of the town walls by Sir James Stafford of Sandon, in the reign of Edward I., the revenue of which at the dissolution was £35. 13. 10.

In addition to these were a free chapel, in the castle, dedicated to St. Nicholas; a free chapel, or hospital, of St. John, near the river, in Forebridge, for a master and poor brethren, the revenue of which at the dissolution was £10; and a free chapel, or hospital, dedicated to St. Leonard, of which the revenue was £4 12. 4. Several silver coins, of a later date than the reign of Edward VI., a silver cross, the lower portion of an ancient font or piscina, a cannon ball, and two small millstones, were found, on repairing the walls of the castle, some few years since.

Among eminent natives were, John de Stafford, a Franciscan monk; Edmund Stafford, Bishop of Exeter, and Chancellor of England, in the reigns of Richard II. and Henry IV.; Thomas Ashebourn, a strenuous opponent of Wickliffe; Thomas Fitz-herbert, a learned Roman Catholic divine of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and principal of the English college at Rome; and Izaak Walton, the well-known author of the treatise on the art of angling. Stafford gives the title of baron to the family of Jerningham, and that of marquis to the family of Gower.

COTON, a liberty, joint with Hopton, in that part of the parish of ST-MARY-STAFFORD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of PIREHILL, county of STAFFORD, 5¾ miles (E. by S.) from Stone. The population is returned with Hopton.

HOPTON, a liberty, joint with Coton, in that part of the parish of ST-MARY-LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of PIREHILL, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (N.E. by N.) from Stafford, containing 517 inhabitants. There is a lunatic asylum within the liberty, containing upwards of one hundred patients. [Ed: Other sources suggest this should be ST-MARY-STAFFORD]

TILLINGTON, a township in that part of the parish of ST-MARY-LICHFIELD which is in the southern division of the hundred of PIREHILL, county of STAFFORD, 1 mile (N.N.W.) from Stafford, containing 39 inhabitants. [Ed: Other sources suggest this should be ST-MARY-STAFFORD]

WORSTON, a township in that part of the parish of ST-MARY-and-ST-CHAD-STAFFORD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of PIREHILL, county of STAFFORD, containing 23 inhabitants.

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