One thousand years ago, the area now known as Weoley Castle was, like most of the British Isles, covered in forest and woodland. Small areas had been cleared for farming by the Anglo-Saxons who had also settled in Nordfeld (Northfield).
Wulfwin, a rich Saxon, became the owner of the land about the year 900. He and his family had not been the owners long when William the Conqueror, a Norman king in France, invaded and conquered England. The year was 1066.
William gave a lot of land to his own loyal barons and the “Weoley Castle” area was taken from Wulfwin and given to one of the king’s barons William Fitz Ansculf. He became the Baron of Dudley and we know ·that he liked to come to this area to hunt for deer and wild boar.
Although there is no trace of any building put up by the Saxon Wulfwin the name “Weoley” comes from the Old English WEOH-LEAH which means “a wood or clearing with a heathen temple”, (a Saxon holy place), so perhaps he did! Archaeologists have not explored this yet. Perhaps there are remains of a heathen temple that have yet to be discovered.
In the year 1086 King William decided to make a full survey of all the lands he controlled so that he could work out how much tax everyone should pay. The records from this survey became known as “The Domesday Book”. Weoley is not mentioned but experts believe that it was included in the area called ESCELIE (Selly Oak).
The first “castle”…
The first “Weoley Castle”, or fortified manor house, was built in the 13th century (about 1260). The land was still in the possession of the Fitz Ansculf family and it’s lords. They owned it from 1066 to 1322.
This is how the first “castle” might have looked.
- The stone hall with thatched roof.
- The wooden kitchen with a covered corridor to the stone hall to keep the food hot.
- Another wooden building, possibly a workshop.
- Where the chapel might have been.
- A wooden bridge across the moat.
- X. The site of the present museum.
Somewhere between the years 1000 and 1200 archaeologists have discovered the remains of a rectangular timber building, some pits and hearths. At the site where the chapel might have been they have found some stone gargoyles with Gorgon heads. The palisade fence, ditch and bridge also seem to have been there before the “castle” was built.
Between the years 1200 and 1260 the area was made larger again. A stone hall was built with lavatories at one end. The wooden kitchen with with it’s covered corridor was added. Archaeologists have found in the soil remains of animal manure and straw, which means that the area inside the fence was used as a farmyard.
Ten years later (1270) the area was enlarged once again. The moat was made deeper.
The moat was somewhere to throw all your rubbish and has been a really good site for archaeologist to find out just what life was like at that time,
As the moat was made deeper the soil from the digging was thrown into the middle of the “castle” and covered up the site of the earlier buildings.
The second “castle”
Earlier we read that the land of Weoley belonged to the Fitz Ansculf family, the Barons of Dudley and it’s lords for a long time. Over two and a half centuries in fact, from 1066 to 1322.
But the Fitz Ansculf name did not continue after William Fitz Ansculf died because he did not have a son. He did, however, have a daughter called Beatrice who married a man called Fulke Paganel who became the Baron of Dudley. They had a son called Ralph Paganel who eventually became Governor of Nottingham Castle.
Apart from Ralph there were two more Paganels, Gervase 1 and Gervase 2
Ralph Paganel lost Nottingham Castle when the town was plundered by the King’s nephew Stephen.
Gervase 1, however, held Dudley Castle. During this time he formed the church of St. Laurence in Northfield. But he upset the king and he ordered that the castle in Dudley should be demolished. The question is, did Gervase move to Weoley and begin building the Great Hall and chapel when he lost Dudley?
Paganel to Somery
We are not quite sure what happened to Gervase Paganel 1, but his brother Gervase 2 died a bachelor in 1194 and the family possessions passed to his sister Hawise who had married to Ralph de Somery.
King Richard 1 was fighting in the Crusades at the time and had been captured by the Archduke of Austria. Ralph and Hawise paid a large sum towards the king’s ransom and he rewarded them by giving them the Paganel estates.
For several years things become extremely complicated.
An uncle, Roger de Somery, took over the estates and had permission from the king, who was then Henry III, to “make a castle of his manor house at Dudley and the like at his Manor of Welegh”. The year was 1265. Roger had four daughters by his first wife Nicole d’Albini, and two sons by his second wife Amabel. He died in 1272 and his son Roger III, who was eighteen, took over the estates. He did not do much at Dudley but there is every chance that he enlarged Weoley, deepened the moat and built the first stone chapel.
Roger died in 1292 and his brother John took over as Baron of Dudley. John was a lawless baron who “used to beset men’s houses for to murder them and also extorted sums of money from them.” People were probably very pleased when he died on the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Martyr, 2967 December 1321.
Somery to Botetourt
When John Somery died he left no heir to his estates so they were divided between his two sisters, Margaret and Joan. Margaret was married to John de Sutton and stayed at Dudley Castle. Joan was married to Thomas de Botetourt and went to live at Weoley Castle. The close links between Dudley and Weoley thus came to an end in 1322.
The Botetourts were Lords of Aston, Bordesley and Heyborn in the County of Warwick.
Joan and John may have been responsible for improving Weoley Castle by building a more permanent kitchen and a stone Great Hall. They may have had stained glass in the chapel windows and and patterned floor tiles. For added security they may also have added the gateway, with inner and outer towers, and the drawbridge over the moat. About this time a Lady Chapel was added to the parish church of St. Lawrence in Northfield.
In 1339, on Joan’s death her son John took over. He was very young at the time but eventually became knighted by King Edward III. When he died in 1384 his cousin Joyce was his nearest heir and she and her husband Sir Hugh Burnell became the landlords.
Mealtime in the Great Hall. The Lord and Lady say on a raised area at the end. Everyone else say on benches at trestle tables that could be folded away to make a large space. There was a fire in the middle which gave warmth but also made it very smoky. Apart from the tables and benches there were only a few chests for clothes.
Botetourt to Burnell to Berkeley
Sir Hugh Burnell Knight was Govemor of Bridgnorth Castle and was summoned to Parliament from time to time in his role as Baron of Weoley Castle.
Sir Hugh and Joyce made several changes to Weoley Castle. They improved the Great Hall and the kitchen and built the nearby octagonal tower. They may have built the large guest house. Joyce died childless on New Years Day 1407 but Hugh lived on for nine more years.
There were five people who laid a claim to the estate at this time. Three of them were Botetourts; Maud, Agnes and Catherine. Joyce Peshall and Joyce Wykes were cousins. Maud and Agnes were nuns and were not interested. The estate was shared by the two Joyces and Catherine.
The Joyces sold their share to a Lady Beauchamp but two years later a court decided that the estate should belong to Catherine. She had married Sir Maurice Berkeley and was now lady Berkeley.
Now Weoley Castle was under the ownership of the sixth feudal family. Sir Thomas Berkeley took over in 1464 when both his parents died. He fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field for King Richard III. But Henry Tudor won the battle and took his lands off him. They changed hands a few times and eventually the estates of Weoley and Northfield were sold to Richard Jervoise, a rich merchant from london.
The second “castle”
As it probably looked during the ownership of the Berkeleys.
- Entrance and wooden drawbridge
- Guest house
- Great Stone Hall
- Stone kitchen
- Site of present museum
From feudal families to merchant families
The manor at this time had about 300 acres of arable land with tenant farmers, a deer park, forest, fishponds and two water mills. The total income from the estate was about £54 a year, “a very considerable sum.”
The “castle”, or fortified manor house, looked much as the reconstruction shows on the previous page.
Unfortunately Richard Jervoise was not interested in Weoley Castle, he only bought it as an investment and retired from dealing in silks in London to a home in Worcester.
Apparently he rented his estates of Weoley and Northfield to man called John Churchman and the park to John Statham. Within a hundred years the building became described as “a ruyned castell.”
The estate remained in the Jervoise family for 273 years. It is thought that Thomas Jervoise, a captain in Cromwell’s army retired to the area and lived in a farmhouse built from the stone from the neglected and ruined castle.
Around 1809 the Jervoise family sold Weoley manor to a Daniel Ledsam.
The last family owners
Thomas Ledsam, Daniel’s father was an apprentice gun maker in Snow Hill, Birmingham.
Daniel had gone into partnership with Samuel Rudder who made steel toys, buttons and buckles.
When Daniel died his nephew Joshua Frederick Ledsam took over the Lordship. Joshua had many business interests in Birmingham but he was also involved in the community. Apart from the Theatre, the Hospital and Eye Infirmary, the Deaf and Dumb Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the National School Movement he also gave land for the building of St Mary’s Church and school in Selly Oak.
The final private owner of Weoley Castle and it’s estate was James Coddington Ledsam. He lived more or less as a recluse in a big house “surrounded by an eight foot brick wall and approached by a long tree-lined avenue (Prinncethorpe Road) from near the gates of Lodge Hill Cemetery.”
Princethorpe Junior and Infant Schools are now built on the site of “The Big House.”
1820 “The Sale of Properties”
Seven large farms with farmhouse, out buildings, barns, stable, cowshed and foldyard.
- New House
- Shendley Field
- Shendley Court
- Weoley Castle Farm including the quarry and Quarry Wood.
On the death of James Coddington Ledsam in 1929 the remainder of the estate was sold to The City of Birmingham.
Weoley Castle Housing Estate is now built on this land.
Some sites that can no longer be seen include:
- Shendley Court Farm opposite the school
- Shendley Fields and Yew Tree Farms by Shenley Green shops
- Street Farm, (the YMCA in Northfield)
- Bell Farm, (Victoria Schools)
- Ley Hill Farm, (the recreation ground)
The fishpond at the end of Witherford Way is still there.
Ordnance Survey Map of 1905
Weoley Castle from 1930
Weoley Castle Estate was built to help solve a housing problem n the city. It was a “show” estate in it’s time. Wide main roads with broad green frontages to houses and many trees make it very attractive. The island in the centre of the “square” is apparently the second largest in the city.
After the Second World War this island was used to build pre-fabs on and the pathways remain today to remind us of this.
There used to be a cinema on Barnes Hill where the petrol station now is.
There are approximately 3,000 houses on the estate with 12,000 people living in them.
Ordnance Survey map of 1964 showing pre-fabs
“Weoley Castle” Ancient Monument and Museum
The principal ancient monument of Birmingham
The ruins of Weoley Castle are administered by the Department of Archaeology of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
These ruins have been the subject of a series of excavations from the 1930’s to 1962. There is a museum on site containing many fascinating artefacts discovered during these excavations.
The site itself retains the outline structure as it was c.1424. Opening times are very restricted and it is worth checking on these before planning a visit.
The City of Birmingham and the Weoley Castle Museum have detailed information on these excavations and the very varied and valuable “finds” which were discovered.
Outline plans of the site now
The Landlords of “Weoley Castle”
The Feudal Families
William Fitz Ansculf
Beatrice and Fulke Paganel
Roger de Somery
John de Somery
Thomas de Botetourt
Sir Hugh Burnell
Lady and Sir Maurice Berkeley
The Merchant families
Joshua Frederick Ledsam
James Coddington Ledsam
The final owner
Birmingham Corporation 1930