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History Of Aston - early period

Old Aston Cross

The suburb we now know as Aston was once part of a large parish in Warwickshire which stretched as far eastwards as Castle Bromwich. The townships of Duddeston and Nechells and Deritend and Bordesley were included in the borough of Birmingham in 1838, while the area known as Aston Manor stayed outside Birmingham, along with other manors such as Erdington, Witton and Little Bromwich. From 1869, Aston Manor was governed by Aston Manor Local Board. It became an Urban District in 1903 and was finally absorbed into Birmingham in 1911.

Aston was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was recorded as Estone, having a mill, a priest and therefore probably a church, woodland and ploughland. The church of St. Peter & Paul was built in medieval times to replace an earlier church. The body of the church was rebuilt by J.A.Chatwin during the period 1879 to 1890; the fifteenth century tower and spire, which was partly rebuilt in 1776/7, being the only survivors of the medieval building.

Aston Hall, which now belongs to the City of Birmingham and is open to the public during the summer months, was built by Sir Thomas Holte in 1618-1635.In 1643, it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War. The great oak staircase still bears the scars of this bombardment. In 1818 the hall was sold and was let to James Watt Junior, the son of James Watt the engineer, who lived there until his death in 1848. In 1858, the hall was purchased by the Aston Hall and Park Company and opened as a place of public entertainment. Queen Victoria was invited to perform the opening ceremony, the first of only two visits she made to Birmingham as Queen. Birmingham Corporation bought the hall in 1864.

Besides the church and Aston Hall, Aston village consisted of only a few houses, taverns, the Holte almshouses completed in 1656 and a fine Georgian rectory unhappily demolished when Aston Expressway was built, some scattered farms, a mill and Aston Furnace. The area began to expand in the early nineteenth century and this is when Lozells and the area between Aston and Birmingham began to develop into a mix of workers' housing, small factories and workshops and small shopping centres such as High St., Newtown, Six Ways, Aston and Lozells Road. A few larger factories such as Aston Manor Brewery, Hercules Cycles, Hudson & Co. Whistles, Norton Motorcycle Works, Martindale's Crocodile Works in Alma Street and the HP Sauce factory helped to give the area its industrial character.

Aston's excellent transport links helped in its industrial development. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal runs northwards on the eastern side of Aston and joins the much later Tame Valley Canal at Salford Bridge. The Grand Junction Railway was built in 1837 and although there was no station at Aston until 1854, the area was opened up to the rail network. A branch from Aston to Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield was opened later. The Lichfield Road and Walsall Road had always been major road routes. With the building of Aston Expressway and Spaghetti Junction,the area is now at the heart of the country's road system. The river Tame was used for water-powered mills. Aston also has water from artesian wells which favoured the establishment of breweries. The old breweries have all disappeared, leaving the more recent Aston Manor Brewery as one of the few left in Birmingham.

Around the turn of the century, two important buildings in the history of the area were built - the Aston Hippodrome(demolished in 1980), and the Barton's Arms public house. Both were built by the same firm of architects, James and Lister Lea.

Perhaps Aston is most famous as the home of Aston Villa, one of the great football clubs. In 1897 the club took over the site of Aston Lower Grounds, which had been a place of entertainment since it was opened in 1873. Aston Villa still occupies the same site, although all the old buildings, which included a theatre, aquarium, menagerie and restaurants, have now disappeared. Aston also had the well known Aston Unity Cricket Club, which is still in existence.
Aston has some literary associations - Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, lived here for a while, and Washington Irving wrote a novel based on Aston Hall.

Apart from the magnificent Aston Hall in its much reduced park and the parish church, there is little left of the old Aston. Much of the old housing has been demolished and replaced with new houses and flats, although some older houses were refurbished under the Urban Renewal Scheme. Some churches and schools have also disappeared as local needs changed, but it remains an area with a fascinating history.