Aston (St. Peter and St. Paul)
ASTON (St. Peter and St. Paul), a parish, and the head of a union, in the Birmingham division of the hundred of Hemlingford, N. division of the county of Warwick; adjoining the town of Birmingham, part of which is within its limits; and comprising the hamlets of Ashted, Castle and Little Bromwich, Erdington, Saltley with Washwood, Ward-End, Water-Orton, Witton, Deritend with Bordesley, and Duddeston with Nechells; containing together 45,718 inhabitants, of whom 2896 are in Aston manor. This extensive parish, the name of which was originally Eston (East town), includes several manors anciently belonging to the earls of Mercia, under whom that of Aston, at the time of the Conquest, was held by Godmund the Saxon. The manor, with other extensive possessions, was afterwards granted by William the Norman to Fitz Ausculf, one of his followers, who fixed his baronial residence at the Castle of Dudley in the county of Stafford, of which barony this place formed a part. Fitz Ausculf was succeeded by Gervase Paganell, whose nephew, Ralph Somery, about the commencement of the reign of John, granted the manor to Thomas de Erdington; and in the early part of the reign of Edward I. it became the property of Thomas de Maidenhach, who obtained from that monarch extensive privileges, with exemption from the jurisdiction of the county and hundred courts, and a charter of free warren throughout the whole of his demesnes here. The manor was purchased in 1366 from the heiress of de Maidenhach by John atte Holt, of Birmingham, and remained for many generations in the possession of his lineal descendants, of whom several were distinguished for their talents and for the important stations they occupied in society. Edward Holt, sheriff of the county in 1574, resided in the adjoining manor of Duddeston, there being at that time in Aston only an ancient house, probably of timber, situated on the bank of the river Tame near the church, and the site of which, now overgrown with trees, is discoverable only by part of the moat by which it was surrounded.
On the demise of Edward Holt in 1593, the estate descended to his son Thomas, the most distinguished member of the family, who is represented by Dugdale as eminent for his literary acquirements. He was sheriff in 1600: on the arrival of James VI. of Scotland to assume the crown of England, he attended that monarch in his route from Yorkshire, where he received the honour of knighthood; and in 1612 he was created one of the order of baronets, then recently instituted. Sir Thomas Holt inclosed the park, and erected the present stately Hall of Aston, unrivalled in these parts for beauty and magnificence, which he commenced in 1618, and completed in 1635. On the breaking out of the civil war in the reign of Charles I., he zealously embraced the royal cause, and to the utmost of his fortune assisted the king, who spent two nights at the Hall a few days previously to the battle of Edgehill. He was nominated ambassador to the court of Spain, but was excused on account of his extreme age and infirmity, which also prevented him from following the camp; his son Edward, however, accompanied the monarch to Oxford, where he was during the siege. Sir Thomas was imprisoned for his attachment to his sovereign; and during his absence, the Hall was assaulted, and, after a resolute defence by his servants, plundered by a party of soldiers of the parliamentarian army, who battered it with cannon, the marks of which are still visible on the south wall of the building, and on the massive oak staircase, where the balls that penetrated the mansion are still preserved. The estate was decimated, and subjected to contributions; the damages it sustained being estimated at £20,000.
Sir Thomas died in 1654, aged 83; and the property passed through successive baronets, his descendants, to Sir Lister Holt, who dying without issue in 1770, left it to his widow Sarah for her life, and afterwards to his brother Charles and his heirs male, with succession to his friend Heneage Legge, Esq., the Rt. Rev. Lewis Bagot, Bishop of St. Asaph, and Wriothesley Digby, Esq. After the death of Lady Sarah, and of Sir Charles Holt and the bishop without issue male, the estate passed to Mr. Legge and Mr. Digby, the former of whom occupied the Hall and park; and in 1817, both being widowers and childless, these gentlemen entered into an agreement with the heirs of Sir Lister Holt, Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Charles, her husband Abraham Bracebridge, and their creditors, for the sale of the estate, which was confirmed by act of parliament in 1818. The property, in pursuance of this arrangement, was in part divided, and the remainder sold in lots to pay off the incumbrances. The Hall and park were purchased by Messrs. Whitehead and Greenway of Warwick, bankers, by whom the mansion and the contiguous portion of the park were granted on lease to James Watt, Esq., of Soho, son of the celebrated philosopher and improver of the steam-engine; who in 1823 purchased the manor from the trustees, and in 1828 served the office of sheriff for the county. Since it became the residence of Mr. Watt, this venerable mansion, which is beautifully situated in a park embellished with ancient wood, and with thriving plantations of modern growth, has undergone very little alteration: it has simply been repaired from the injuries of time; a west porch has been added, and several of the offices have been rebuilt. The Hall is a spacious and elegant structure in the Elizabethan style, containing a noble hall in which was formerly a portrait of Sir Thomas Holt from Vandyke, and numerous stately apartments, with a picture gallery, library, and chapel; and, as seen from the public road and from various other points of view, displays a splendid monument of the correct taste and munificence of its founder.
The parish comprises 12,534 acres of land, of which a considerable portion is in a high state of cultivation; and contains numerous populous and thriving villages. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £21. 4. 9½.; net income, £2075; patrons, the Executors of the late vicar, the Rev. George Peake, who obtained it by purchase from the trustees of the Holt family. The church, which was built at various periods, is an ancient structure, partly in the early and partly in the later English style, with a handsome tower surmounted by a graceful spire, which, seen in combination with the foliage of the park and the lofty gables of the Hall, forms a picturesque feature in the landscape. The interior was modernised in 1790, and much of its original character has been lost: a ceiling of plaister has been substituted in place of the old groined roof; and the chantry chapel at the east end of the south aisle, erected by Thomas de Erdington, and the piscina and sedilia, have been removed. In the windows are some fine specimens of painted glass by Eginton. Of the ancient monuments several still remain, among which are, an altar-tomb with recumbent figures, to the memory of William Holt and his wife; two with recumbent figures in alabaster, to members of the Erdington family; and one of similar character, to Walter de Arden and Eleonora his wife, erected in the early part of the 15th century, and of exquisite design. There are additional churches at Castle-Bromwich, Water-Orton, Ward-End in Little Bromwich, Bordesley, Deritend, Erdington, Ashted, and Duddeston. A school is endowed with a house and garden, valued at £25 per annum; and there are several national and Lancasterian schools, and a school of industry, in the parish. A school-house was erected in 1843, in Villa-street, in the district of Lozells, which part of the parish is under the superintendence of the Rev. D. N. Walton, curate of Aston: this establishment is called the Aston Church District Institution; it will contain upwards of 250 persons, and divine service is regularly performed in it every Sunday evening. The district comprises the neighbourhoods of the Lozells, Round-Hills, and Park, and includes a population of about 3000. There is also a society of young men, called the Lozells Society for mental cultivation, who meet at stated times for the reading and discussion of essays. Almshouses for five men and five women were founded in 1656, by Sir Thomas Holt, who endowed them with a rent-charge of £88 on his manor of Erdington. The poor law union of Aston comprises five parishes and places, containing a population, according to the last census, of 50,928.—See Birmingham, and the articles on the hamlets.