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The Domesday Book

Domesday10
The villages of Romsley and Hunnington are tied together by a millennium of common history. For hundreds of years, the two southern-most hamlets of the Black Country town of Halesowen have been ruled by the same lords of the manor, preached at by the same churchmen, and taught by the same schoolmasters.

Their farmers have toiled in their common fields and carved their pastures out of Uffmoor and Ell Wood. Their labourers have taken fuel from the woods and wrought nails in their cottage workshops. Together they have tramped the ancient road to Halesowen and haggled with the merchants there. Even the misguided reformers who submerged the old Borough of Halesowen under a greater Dudley at least kept Romsley and Hunnington together under Bromsgrove District Council.

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The Legend of St. Kenelm

St Kenelms Lych GateThe concept of Romsley as a hunting resort ties in well with the legend of St. Kenelm, the boy-king of Mercia who was reputedly murdered whilst hunting in the forest near Clent. The legend suggests that Kenelm was the grandson of Offa (King of Mercia from 757-796), but apart from the signature of a witness called Kenelm on several Mercian charters around the year 800, there is no record of him.

Place-name evidence, however, provides a link with the Mercian Royal family in the form of Uffmoor (meaning Offa's moor). The death of a member of the royal household in a mysterious hunting accident could well have provided inspiration for the medieval monks who compiled lives of the saints. The earliest manuscripts which recount the life of St. Kenelm are contemporary with Domesday Book and specifically mention Clent as the place of his murder.

Despite its doubtful origin, the legend of St. Kenelm caught the public imagination. A shrine was erected on the boundary of Clent and Romsley at the supposed site of the murder and pilgrims calm to the place seeking forgiveness of sins and healing of ailments. The immediate area became known as Kenelmstowe (stowe meaning a place of importance).

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Halesowen Abbey

Halesowen Abbey10In 1214, the manor of Halesowen was granted by King John to the Bishop of Winchester, on condition that an Abbey was built there. The first Abbot arrived in 1218 and records of his court, where all land transactions and ordinances for regulating the common fields of Halesowen were registered, survive from 1270. Here we find the first direct references to Romsley and Hunnington. The early court rolls refer to many individuals whose surnames were derived from the location of their farmsteads, such as Henry of Hunnington, Alexander of Kenelmstowe and William of Westley. Others had occupational surnames like William Miller, Thomas Faber (smith) and Walter the Archer. A few had names reflecting a family characteristic like Adam Snow, who was probably white-haired, or Thomas Squire, who enjoyed high status in the community. The court rolls also refer to familiar places such as Romsley Hill, Farley Wood and Shut Mill.

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The Common Fields

Most of Romsley's farms were situated on the north side of a row of common arable fields, stretching from Romsley Hill in the east, to Clent Hill in the west.

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The Black Death

Halesowen HamletsThe plague of 1349, widely known as the Black Death, reduced the population of Romsley and Hunnington by about one third. Some historians have suggested that the hamlet of Kenelmstowe disappeared as a result of the plague, but contemporary Halesowen court rolls show that whole communities were not wiped out and most farms where the tenant had died were taken over by surviving relatives. Whilst some prominent families, like the Westleys of Romsley and the Lynacres of Hunnington, did succumb to the plague, other wealthy families, like the Squires of Romsley and the Gregorys of Hunnington, continued to farm there long after 1349.

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Enclosure of the Open Fields

The strips in the common arable fields of Romsley and Hunnington were consolidated into private hedged enclosures earlier than those in most Midland parishes. This may have been the work of wealthy tenants like Thomas Squire, who accumulated strips in a particular area and fenced them in, creating the hedged landscape we are familiar with today. They also paid the lord of the manor to let them cut down more woodland and extend their pasture. Other tenants saw this process as a threat to their common rights and were inclined to destroy or burn the new fences. The names of farms like Oatenfields, Dovehousefields, Newhouse and Fieldhouse suggest that they were built on former common arable fields. The Breach, a moated farm in Hunnington, appears to be ancient, yet its name means newly broken land A remnant of the pre-enclosure landscape can still be seen in the ridge and furrow between Romsley Hill and Fieldhouse Farm and the diverse ownership of these strips is recorded in the Romsley Tithe Award of 1844. A similar pattern can be seen on the Hunnington Tithe Award, where some of the land between Hunnington Farm and The Breach remained in strips.

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Some contents of this website are taken from the book Romsley and Hunnington, a Millennium History,
written by Joe Hunt and Julian Hunt and published by the Parish Councils of Romsley and Hunnington, in association with the RHHS.

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