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Atherston in 1835

ATHERSTON, or ATHERSTONE, a town in Atherstone division, in the hundred of Hemlingford, in Warwickshire, close upon the border of Leicestershire, and on the road from London to Lichfield, 105 miles from London, and 16 from Lichfield.

This place, which owes its origin to the Saxons, stands on the great Roman Way, Watling Street. The manor was given by William the Conqueror to his nephew Hugh Lupus, earl of Chester, and is called in Doomsday Book Aderestone. By Hugh Lupus the manor was bestowed on the monks of Bec in Normandy, who obtained by charter from Henry III in 1246 and 1247 a yearly fair, to last three days, beginning on the eve of the nativity of the blessed Virgin, and a market weekly on Tuesday. The market increased very much, from its convenient situation. Upon the seizure of the lands of foreign religious houses in the reign of Henry IV, this manor was taken by the crown ; and after having been successively granted to many individuals or religious houses, it passed to the family of the Repingtons, in which it long remained. King’s College, Cambridge, to which it was granted by Henry VI, still receives £16 yearly from it.

Atherstone consists chiefly of one street, in which ancient and modern houses are mingled together. It is paved and lighted. The market-place is on the north side of the street, and the market-house, with a spacious room in the upper part of it, was erected not many years since. It is a chapelry in the parish of Manceter, or Mancester, of the yearly value of £11, 5 shillings : patron, the vicar of Manceter. The chapel is ancient, having been the nave of the church belonging to an Augustinian friary, founded by Lord Basset of Drayton in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. Some time after the dissolution of the monasteries, the nave was granted to the inhabitants for a chapel of ease to the church at Manceter. A south aisle, of brick, added to this edifice, and ‘ a humble imitation of a modern Gothic tower’ erected in the place of the former tower, have entirely deformed this ancient building. The former chancel has been appropriated to the free school endowed by Sir William Devereux and two other persons in 1573.

The chief manufacture of Atherstone is that of hats. Ribands and shalloons are also made. There are four fairs in the year, at which considerable business is done : at one of these, held in September, much cheese is sold. The Coventry Canal, which passes close by the town on the west, contributes to its trade. At a short distance on the east flows the river Anker, a tributary of the Tame, which itself flows into the Trent. The population of Atherstone was, in 1831, 3,870.

Atherstone has a subscription-library and news-room ; and there are two dissenting meeting-houses, one for methodists and one for independents ; one infant school (if not two), an endowed charity-school, and a dispensary.

It was at Atherstone that the earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII, and his army halted on the night of the 20th August, 1485, two nights before the decisive battle of Bosworth Field. The troops encamped in a meadow to the north of the church, since called the Royal Meadow ; and during the night, Henry held a conference in Atherstone with the two Stanleys, in which the measures were agreed upon which resulted in the defeat and death of Richard III.

Mr. Dugdale’s park, adjacent to Atherstone, contains some of the tallest and finest oaks in England. A remarkable bed of trap runs through this park ; and there are many other formations in the neighbourhood of Atherstone highly interesting. Among the anomalous rocks by which the coal-field is bounded on the south-east, is a peculiar quartzose sandstone, of extraordinary hardness, which is extensively quarried, and sent to a great distance for the purpose of road making. Nearly adjacent to this is a rich bed of manganese, which at Hartshill has yielded a very profitable return. Manceter includes also the hamlets of Hartshill and Oldbury. Manceter itself, though now a poor village, is worthy of notice, on account of its having been a Roman station, Manduessedum. On the Roman way, Watling-street, and near the present village, are the remains of works of considerable extent. The dimensions of the area included within the works are 627 feet by 438 feet mean breadth ; the contents are six acres, one rood, four perches. The station Manduessedum was near these works, or rather these are the remains of the station itself. Fragments of buildings, and Roman coins, have often been found in the neighbourhood ; and at Oldbury are the remains of what is supposed to have been a Roman summer-camp. Three sides of this are yet well preserved ; the ramparts are about twenty feet broad at the bottom, and six feet high. On the north side of this fort some stone axes, or heads of weapons, were dug up ; one of which is now in the Ashmolean museum at Oxford. Manceter is a vicarage in the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry.

Michael Drayton the poet, and Dr. Obadiah Grew. a puritan divine of the 17th century, were natives of this parish : the first was born at Hartshill, in 1563, and the second at Atherston, in 1607.