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Aldridge in history

The first mention of Aldridge is in Domesday Book (1086) when 'Alrewic' was sparsely inhabited farmland taxed at 15 shillings a year. Alrewic is a Saxon word meaning 'Alder village', suggesting that by Saxon times people had formed a settlement there in a grove of alder trees. Ancient flint tools have been found at Bourne Pool, and merchants and Roman soldiers would have travelled along the nearby Ricknield Street. The place name of Druid's Heath was named for a man named Drogo, who lived c.1200 - there is no evidence that Druids were ever there.

After the Norman Conquest the combined manor of Great Barr and Aldridge was granted to William son of Ansculf. The manor was farmed in the Middle Ages by the old open field system by which farmers worked strips in the big communal fields, having names such as Brantial, Daniel, Middlemore and Wetstone.

St. Mary's Church (c.1250) was probably founded by Nicholas de Alrewych - the effigy in the church may be his. The original church is thought to have been built of local limestone, combined with sandstone in the 14th century. Rebuilding of the south aisle took place in the 1840's and the north aisle a decade later.

There were only 93 households in Aldridge at the time of the Hearth Tax (1666) and the population of the village increased slowly to 736 by 1801.

There had always been a few charcoal burners, nailers and people mining for limestone and coal, but development of heavy industries was hindered by the poor condition of the roads. Improved transport was the vital factor that changed Aldridge into an industrial village. The canals were opened between 1803 and 1847 and a visit to Hay Head Wood shows the scale of the activity in the area - mine shafts, brick mounts for a steam engine and five kilns of this lime works, abandoned in 1870, on the meandering contour canal. The railways (opened 1879 and 1884) served the brick and tile making works and several local coal mines. Jobs in mining resulted in a population surge to 2,478 by 1901, and by 1906 two of the mines known locally as 'Drybread' near Coppice Road and 'Bare Bones' at Leighswood together employed nearly 1,500 men. The mines closed during the 1930's, resulting in considerable hardship.

After the Second World War, people and businesses moved into Aldridge from the congested parts of Birmingham. Large new housing and industrial estates were developed and the population increased from 11,500 in 1921 to 26,500 in 1981. The old shops and cottages of the High Street were replaced by a modern shopping centre and there were administrative changes, with the formation of Aldridge UDC (1934), amalgamation with Brownhills (1966) and absorption into the new Walsall Metropolitan Borough (1974).

Harold Barber