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St Editha, Tamworth, Staffordshire

(52°38′0″N, 1°41′38″W)
SK 208 040
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Staffordshire
now Staffordshire
medieval St Editha
now St Editha
  • Ron Baxter

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Tamworth stands on the river Tame in the extreme SE of the county. The Warwickshire border is just 2 miles to the E, but until 1888 it ran through the centre of Tamworth. The historic centre is on the N bank with Tamworth Castle overlooking the river and St Editha's church just to the N, occupying the N side of St Editha's Square, which is now a market place.

The oldest parts of the church show that it was once a 12thc. cruciform building, and of this there remain the N and S crossing arches; the W crossing arch embrasures and the S chancel wall containing a doorway and a window above, and now enclosed by a later aisle. For the rest, the church is largely that built by Dean Baldwin de Witney after a fire in 1345. It was then that the decision was taken to replace the crossing tower with one at the W end, and to remove the E and W crossing arches, so that there is an unbroken vista from W to E. The aisled nave is of four bays with a clerestory; the arcades and clerestory dating from the 14thc., but the N aisle wall and its doorway of the 13thc., indicating that a N aisle had been added before the fire. The transepts do not project beyond the aisles. The chancel E wall is 19thc. The N chancel chapel (St George's Chapel) is separated from the main vessel by a row of three open tomb canopies dating from the post-fire rebuilding. They contain the effigies of (from W to E), a couple, probably Sir Baldwin Freville (d.1400) and his wife, a lady, possibly Lady Joan de Freville (d.1339), and Sir Thomas Ferrers (d.1512) and his wife Ann. St George's chapel extends as far as the E wall of the chancel. On the S side of the chancel the Romanesque wall extends to the E end (with two levels of 14thc. windows added at the E). The E end of the S aisle is all 19thc. work, containing the organ and a vestry. Photography of the exterior of the 12thc. S chancel wall is thus seriously impeded. At the W end of the nave, the tower dates from the 14thc.-15thc., and boasts a double spiral stair at its SW angle. It has heavy pinnacles at the angles and an embattled parapet, behind which an octagonal stump of masonry suggests that a spire was intended.

The church was restored three times in the 19thc.; by Ferrey and later Scott in the 1850s, and by Butterfield in the 1870s. Prints and drawings in the William Salt library are: NE view 1792 (SV X 91), E view undated (SV X 95a), NE view Buckler 1838 (SV X 92), SW view Buckler 1838 (SV X 94), SE view Buckler 1838 (SV X 93).


Tamworth was razed to the ground by the Danes in 874, and rebuilt in 913 by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great. In 925 King Athelstan offered his daughter Editha in marriage to Sihtric, the Danish King of York, who had embraced Christianity following his defeat by Athelstan. They were married in the presence of Ella, Bishop of Lichfield, but after Sihtric died in the following year, Editha entered the convent of Polesworth. She may have brought her community to Tamworth at some time before her death in the 960s, and it is unclear whether she was buried at Polesworth or Tamworth. VCH suggests that there was a cult of St Editha centred on Tamworth by the year 1000. Tamworth is only mentioned in passing in the Domesday Survey, possibly owing to confusion over who should record a town which was then divided between two counties. By c.1095 it was in the hands of Robert de Marmion. Philip Marmion, the last of the male line, died in 1291, and his coheirs were his three daughters and a granddaughter, Joan, who married Alexander de Freville, the manor thus passing to his line. Sir Baldwin, the last male Freville, died in 1418, and the honour passed to Thomas Ferrers, the husband of Baldwin's sister and heiress Elizabeth.

The history of the college of St Editha is given in detail by VCH, on which this account is based. It may have been founded by King Edgar after 943, in which year the Danes had again destroyed Tamworth. Certainly there was a college of priests there by 1002 to 04, when land was left to it in the will of Wulfric Spot. At that time it consisted of a group of priests sharing the tithes of the parish of Tamworth. The prebendal system, first expressly recorded in 1267, was probably instituted under Marmion patronage in the second half of the 12thc. The college consisted of five canons headed by a dean, each holding a prebend. These six prebends were Amington (held by the dean), Bonehill, Coton, Syerscote, Wigginton and Wilnecote, and all were named from farms or hamlets within the ancient parish of Tamworth. Each canon received the tithes of his prebend, and by the end of the 13thc. the college also held privileges and endowments in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties, the revenues of which went into a common fund or were divided between the canons. Most of these assets were obtained from the Marmions. The first dean whose name is known was William Marmion (died c.1240), a younger son of Robert III, so it is clear that the Marmions were profiting from the college.

In 1291 the income of the college was given as £36 13s. 4d, all derived from spiritualities rather than rents. Of this the dean's average annual income was given as £10 and the canons received between £4 and £7 each. VCH argues convincingly that these figures were underestimates. The events after the death of Philip Marmion, the last of the male line, in 1291 provide an object-lesson in the appropriation of rights by the crown, and are thus dealt with at some length. Philip left four female heirs who divided the advowson (the right to present to the offices of dean and canons) between them. The four were his three daughters; Joan I, married to William de Morteyn; Maud, married to Ralph Butler and Joan II, a minor who later married Henry Hillary; and his grand-daughter, another Joan, married to Alexander de Freville. The crown's first challenge to the heirs' rights of advowson came only two years after Philip's death.I n 1293 Edward I claimed the whole advowson of the college, on the grounds that it had been exercised by Henry II. The heirs claimed that they could not plead as the fourth of them was still a minor, and the case lapsed. The crown was, however, to use the presence of minorities in the family to gain its ends. Between 1342 and 1359 there were two successive minorities in the Butler family, during which period Edward III as feudal overlord exercised the rights of the minor. The prebend of Wilnecote became vacant in 1342-43, and the king claimed the right to present, arguing that the heirs exercised their rights in turn, and it was the turn of the Butlers. His claim was upheld, but when the same prebend was vacant again in 1347 he presented a different argument, this time claiming that the right to present to Wilnecote belonged to the Butlers by a decision of 1317. His previous position would, of course, have given the right of presentation to the next of the coheirs, the Hillarys, but again his claim was upheld. The final steps were taken when vacancies occurred in 1358 and 1359, and the king claimed that all the advowsons that Philip Marmion had held were now his. The heirs largely gave up the unequal struggle after this, and thereafter all presentations were made by the king. By the end of the 14thc., the Chancery clerks had taken to referring to 'the king's free chapel of Tamworth'.

In fact, the members of the chapter were largely absentees or pluralists, both under the king's control and under the Marmions before him. The only difference was that the king now reaped the benefits of the situation, since many chapter members were also Officers of the Crown or members of the royal household. In taking over the advowson of the college the king was effectively expanding his own powers of patronage. The actual pastoral work was undertaken by vicars and the more menial routine tasks by deacons. The vicars had little security of office, their stipends were low and sometimes went unpaid, and there was no provision for pensions. Inevitably it was difficult to attract good candidates and the college suffered. Dean John Bate (1436-79) introduced new statutes aimed at improving the conditions for vicars and attracting better candidates. They, and to a degree the deacons too, were to live a common life in a house in the town, and they were given higher stipends that were paid regularly. Dean Bate's reforms also extended to the regulation of worship. Interestingly he made no attempt to enforce attendance on the canons; his statutes implicitly accept that college and parish work was done by the vicars, and attempt to ensure that it is done efficiently. The reforms apparently worked; in the 15th and early 16thc the college received a series of gifts and bequests, mostly from local people and mostly of land and property in the town. It was dissolved in 1548, and its canons, vicars and deacons provided with pensions, and St Editha's became a parish church served by a preacher and two curates.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 274-77.
Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Views Collection, William Salt Library SV X 91, 92, 93, 94, 95a. Available online at http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/portal/page?_pageid=47,71124and_dad=portaland_schema=PORTAL
Victoria County History: Staffordshire. III (1970), 294-96. (for online text see http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=37874).