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Seat of the Mercian Kings

Close to the center of England is the large market town of Tamworth, boasting a population of approximately 77,000. It lies in the Tame Valley, and lies near the confluence of the River Tame and the River Anker.Tamworth means “enclosure by the River Tam”.

In Roman times the area was the home of the British tribe known as the Coritani. There is some evidence of Roman occupation in the area, and Watling Street, a major Roman road, runs directly next to it. The arrival of the Saxons in the late sixth century or so meant that the area came under their control, and eventually, Tamworth became the seat of the kings of Mercia.

In the seventh century, Tamworth was therefore the royal seat of Penda of Mercia, one of the most powerful kings of the Anglo-Saxon era. Although Penda was a typical king of the period, who would have spent much time visiting his noblemen of the kingdom, gathering (and distributing) tribute, and strengthening alliances, Tamworth was the place he would always return to with his family and royal retinue.

Tamworth (the red in the main map) lies in Staffordshire (the red in the smaller inset map). You can see that it is right in the centre of England.

Of course today nothing remains of those original buildings. They would have been timber as well as wattle-and-daub buildings, consisting of a great hall and other buildings such as residences, cookhouses, stables, and other necessary buildings. In the seventh century, when Penda was king, one building you would not find there is a church. That is because Penda was a pagan, and followed the old Anglo-Saxon beliefs. The church in today’s Tamworth, St. Editha, stands on the ground of the first church built there in the 8th century.

There were defensive earthwork and timber walls built around Penda’s Tamworth (possibly built on top of Roman fortifications), these defenses were strengthened in the 9th century by Aethelfled, the Lady of the Mercians, after she rebuilt the town following the destruction the Danes brought with them.

One of the most exciting Anglo-Saxon finds of recent years, the Staffordshire Hoard, was found near Tamworth, close by the ancient Roman road of Watling street. Archeological work is ongoing at the car park close to today’s Church of St. Elditha, where some interesting finds could point to some of the 7th and 8th-century buildings of Tamworth’s history.

Although today’s Tamworth is more of a sleepy town than a tourist magnet, it boasts a long and rich history, and looms large in the landscape of 7th-century England. Once pandemic restrictions are over and I can get on a plane, my delayed trip to the UK is definitely going to include a stop in Tamworth!