Brewood in Saxon and Roman Times
Nearly two thousand years ago the Romans constructed their great road, Watling Street. The modern trunk road follows this same route, defining the northern boundary of the parish boundary as it has done from early times.
Just inside the parish boundary, the Romans established a military station called Pennocrucium where archaeologists have made interesting discoveries.
The Saxons settled in this part of Staffordshire towards the end of the 6th century, becoming known as Mercians, or Men of the Marches, which was the designation of the countryside from Staffordshire to the Welsh border.
The Royal Forest of Brewood is first mentioned by name in 1188. It was a royal game preserve but was disafforested by King John in order that the district should not be subject to the harsh forest laws. This repeal saved the life of John Giffard of Chillington in 1276. A stag hunted by Edward I was sighted by Giffard when it had run some distance, and he drew his bow and shot it. Mortally wounded, it died in a forest pond and the irate royal hunter had Giffard charged before the Forest Court of Cannock. His defence that King John had disafforested Brewood saved his life and he escaped with only a fine.
The Giffards were Counts of Longueville when they came over to England with William the Conqueror. He rewarded them with titles and English estates. After fighting with Strongbow in Ireland, Peter Giffard succeeded to the manor of Brewood by marrying the heiress in 1178.
One of the most illustrious descendants was Sir John Giffard. He became Standard Bearer to Henry VIII and attended him at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. After the dissolution of the monasteries the King presented him with the Brewood nunnery.
The Giffards were staunch Roman Catholics, and many of them suffered for their faith. They supported Charles I in the Civil War. Dr Bonaventure Giffard was appointed Vicar Apostolic of England under James II.
Leland records that: “Sir John Giffard dwelleth at Chillington where hee hath a fayre house and a parke. This Giffard married Sir John Montgomerik’s wife and Thomas his sunne married the eldest of Montgomerik”.
The Giffard family crest bears the French motto: “Prenez haleine, tirez forte”, meaning: “Take breath, pull hard.” It is said to have been granted to Sir John Giffard in the 16th century as a result of the following incident:
A wild panther kept at Chillington Castle escaped and was pursued by the household. Sir John himself came upon it as it was stalking a woman carrying her child through the park. As he drew his crossbow to save the woman his son came up behind him exclaiming the French words quoted above. He shot and killed the panther as it sprang and the King, hearing of the gallant deed, granted Sir John the crest of a panther’s head with his son’s urgent injunction as the motto. A wooden cross in the park marks the spot where this is alleged to have happened.
Standing in richly wooded park with a large lake, Chillington Hall is a Classic style mansion in red brick built in 1787 from the designs of Sir John Soane, who was a much patronised architect in late Georgian times.
This imposing family seat of the Giffards is approached by two splendid avenues which extend for a distance of some two miles. The present mansion occupies the site of the Norman castle to which the Giffard family succeeded by marriage in the 12th century and the site of the medieval manor house with which they replaced it when times became less hazardous.
The Blackladies was a Benedictine Priory (the nuns wore black habits), established prior to 1150. It is thought to have been founded by Roger de Clinton, the Mercian Bishop who also founded Farewell Priory in Chorley, just south of Lichfield and Builtwas Abbey on the banks of the Rover Severn.
The Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and a year later purchased by Thomas Gifford of Chillington. Black Ladies remained in the Giffard ownership, with the exception of two short periods, until they sold it in 1918.
The existing buildings with garden walls are Grade II listed. Much of the structure pre-dates the Dissolution, adapted and enlarged during the Giffard ownership.
A recent archeological dig on the chapel site revealed some medieval floor tiles and other interesting items including shallow graves. This was featured on the television programme House Detectives.
The house is the home of David and Pat Bywater and has been fully restored by them over the last twenty or so years.
Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
Although Boscobel was occupied by the Penderels, it was owned by the Giffards who arranged for Charles II to hide there after his defeat at Worcester.
The story of the Boscobel Oak is well known. The spot where the original tree stood, and its successor now stands, is just beyond the Brewood Parish boundary in Shropshire.
Accompanied by Richard Pendrell, Charles II fled from Whiteladies, having been urged to flee from the Parliamentary troops known to be quartered at Codsall. Disguised as a farm worker, he reached Boscobel where he was given food before being secreted in the huge oak tree with his companion Colonel William Carless, who had fought with him at Worcester. They remained safely hidden for many hours before they left and separated, not meeting again until they were both in France.
In the Parish Council Office grounds, at the junction of Shop Lane and Stafford Street, stands an oak tree which was planted to commemorate the King’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. This tree is a seedling from the Boscobel Oak.
Somerford Hall, a Grade II listed building, was built in about 1730 - a typical Georgian mansion of the period, set in an extensive park which was landscaped by Humphrey Repton. It was acquired by General Robert Monckton, who was first Governor of New York in about 1764, and has remained in the same family ever since, although the Monckton family residence changed from Somerford Hall to Stretton Hall in late Victorian times.