Alrewas.-About five miles from Lichfield, in the south valley of the Trent, is situated this ancient, straggling, quaint, and picturesque place. Its name was formerly spelt Alderwas, which is doubtless derived from the profusion of alders on the banks of the river. Before the Conquest it belonged to Algar, earl of Mercia; and is thus described in Domesday Book:- "The king holds Alrewas; Earl Algar formerly held it. Here are three hides. The arable land is eight carucates. In demesne there are two, and one bondman, twenty villans, and six bordars, with a priest, have six carucates. There are twenty-four acres of meadow, and a fishery that yields a thousand five hundred eels. Also a wood one mile in length and half a mile in breadth. In the time of King Edward the Confessor it was worth ten pounds, it is now worth eleven pounds." The village continued the property of the king until John granted it to Roger de Somerville. It passed from the Somervilles by the marriage of Joan into the family of the Griffiths, and so continued "for many generations." Sir Francis Boynton inherited it from his mother who was sister and heir to the last Sir Henry Griffiths. In 1660 it was sold by this possessor to Mr. Turton, his steward, of whom the old chronicler thus speaks:-
"There is at Alrewas, the seat of William Turton, a good freeholder, who married the daughter and heir of Thomas Holmes, of Olgreave, a copyholder, whose estate he possesses, and some other lands he hath purchased, and built a pretty house. He is a man much employed as a commissioner, and in other county business, and was for the rebels, but not in arms." Lord Lichfield is now lord of the manor.
From its antiquity the place possesses one or two very curious customs. The tenants have a right to catch fish a certain number of times, a "uno ingenio vocato, a strike;" "which is," says Plot, "I believe, a stall net, or a net put across to stop the fish, for stricare is the same as impedire, to stop or hinder." They have also the custom of borough, which means that the youngest son is heir, and the lands not to be divided amongst the daughters, but the youngest daughter to have all, as at Stafford, Nottingham, Derby, and other places." Dr. Plot adds that "this in some places is indefinite, but here at Alrewas, of the copyhold lands only, not, the fee simple."
It will take a lover of antiquity some time to pass through Alrewas. Nearly all the houses are old, gabled, half-timbered, thatch-roofed; and all, even those which neglect has suffered to fall into decay, are picturesque to look at. Every house is a study, or as tourists express it, a picture. They are put up in all odd and seemingly out-of-the-way places; dotted about here and there, each in the most delightful disregard of its neighbour, and the utmost indifference to any plan of orderliness; and yet there is about the place something very attractive, and would be more so if only the people were a little cleaner, and had a fuller faith in soap and water.
Alrewas seems to have been alive once, and to have taken a part in the politics of the day. To go about it now, and talk with the natives, you might doubt such a fact, did there not exist a monumental proof. Places change in their characteristics, and this village, once famous, with the rest of Staffordshire, for its Jacobites, in the great Reform Bill struggle, threw its energy into the cause of Reform. When, in the reign of William and Mary, Sir John Turton was made justice of the King's Bench, a poet, all unknown to fame, thus celebrated his lordship's politics:-
"You've many Jacobites in Staffordshire,
Therefore your goodness we the more admire.
This makes you truly good and truly great,
That you are loyall e'en in Satan's seat.
Loyalty only's not the jemm that shines,
True worth and honour 'bout your forehead twines,
Integrity and honesty we find
Are couch'd in Mr. Justice Turton's mind.
Justice now has its course; and wholsom laws
Display the glory of our royall cause.
Now no corrupted judges mount the seat,
It's only well-try'd virtue makes them great.
Our king picks out the choicest and the best,
Such as will make this nation truly blest;
And, amongst all the twelve, there is not one
Dearer than you about the English throne.
You ease the kingdom, and the laws defend;
You're the king's favourite, and the subject's friend.
Long may you hold Artica's scale in hand,
And beat down vice within this sinfull land,
Drawn, written, and composed by, my lord,
Your lordshipp's most dutifull servant,
JOSHUA BOWES, late Lieutenant."
Joshua Bowes would not have complained of Jacobites had he lived here in or about 1832. In the village green is erected a pole, and on it is placed a scarcely legible inscription informing an ungrateful generation that it was erected to celebrate the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, and in commemoration of the noble earl of Lichfield, for his untiring energy in obtaining for the people a just measure of reform. We suppose the sudden spurt into life thus indicated soon relapsed into more than ordinary village somnolence. On our visit to Alrewas we asked a fine-made and intelligent looking native, about the same age as the inscription, what it was put up for, but he replied that he didn't know anything about it. So I told him what it meant; and he said, "Did it?" doubtingly. Then I asked him why the authorities, the 'squire, or the parson, or the constable, or the inhabitants, didn't have the hoard re-painted. He didn't know; and he didn't think that anybody in Alrewas would give five shillings to have it done. "None on 'em knowed anything about it." And it was evident that our good-looking stalwart countryman knew nothing either; nor did he seem at all interested in the past glories of his native place. The inscription board, or whatever its material is, has served evidently as a target for testing the skill of the Alrewas juveniles in hitting a mark with a stone; and, judging from the effects produced, some of them made very good shots indeed.
The church is a very fine old building, with a fine stone tower, and having at the west end a Norman doorway. Domesday Book inform us that there was a church here at the Conquest; and Malmesbury says that it was one of the "prebends first instituted in the church of Lichfield, by Athelwold, bishop of this see, in 822." Whether this be so or not, its great antiquity cannot be doubted. It is one of those fine old ecclesiastical buildings with which this country abounds, and beneath the shadow of which so many of our "rude forefathers" sleep. A laudable attempt has been made to supply the churchyard with trees-always great ornaments in such places. A few young ones have recently been planted, and are full of promise.
A noble patriot of Lichfield, attracted, we suppose, by the reform enthusiasm of the people of Alrewas, was buried here in 1833, and of him we are told that he was
A freeman of the city of Lichfield;
A successful defender
Of the freeman's right
In the sacred cause of liberty.
Shaw informs us that the register here is "curious and singularly well kept.
Alrewas is a station on the South Staffordshire Railway, and the Croxall station on the Midland line is within one mile of the village, through which also passes the Grand Trunk Canal.
The parish includes the township of Orgreave and Fradley, and contains 4329 acres, 1541 inhabitants, 364 houses, and real property valued at £11,287. Alrewas itself has a population of 926, and 250 houses. The living is a vicarage worth £328, in the patronage of the bishop of Lichfield. The Wesleyans and the Primitive Methodists have chapels, and the charities amount to £26 a year. The manor was given to Lichfield Cathedral as early as 822.