A Brief History of Rolleston

When was it first settled? Domesday Book (1086) defined the estates of East Staffordshire and showed that Rolleston led the "pecking order", having considerable acreage under cultivation by the efforts of the Saxon settlers. The estate had a priest, a cornmill and a clay soil on the gentle hills, suitable for the growth of cereals and beans, with access to meadows in the Dove valley and a huge area of forest to the west and south-west as far as Branston and Barton. The Saxons practised subsistence farming, the whole village working communally to share the labour and the available (draught) oxen. The social structures of the Saxons were to persist through the centuries, the Normans having accepted their value and effectiveness. The Saxon charters of land holdings in East Staffordshire were recorded by the monks of Burton Abbey and study of these charters since 1950 would indicate that the estates were founded well before the Conquest. The rise of Christianity in the 7th century and the establishment of religious houses at Repton, on the Trent at Andressey, and at Hanbury etc. would suggest that a potential congregation was available then. It was also a time of relative peacefulness in the kingdom of Mercia. The period after this was characterised by repeated incursions by the Danes culminating in the late 9th century in the area being over-run by these people. The Mercian kings probably used Tutbury and Tamworth as mustering points for their armies to repel the invaders. There is practically no documentary evidence to support this theory but enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it might be true. A great regret is that archaeologists have shown little interest in the structures that pre-dated the Conquest at the site of Tutbury Castle. The sacking of Repton Priory at the end of the 9th century was followed by a more settled state. Place-names suggest that the Danes came as far west as Derby and East Staffordshire was solidly Saxon. Rolleston was thus a frontier township. Tutbury, by comparison, was less a productive estate than a defensive point. Burton hardly existed until the Abbey was built in 1004 AD.

The Place-name. The earliest mention is in a document of AD 942 from where it was translated by Sawyer as Rolfestun. Later in 1008 AD when the Abbey had the estate it was Roluestun. Ton, or tun, is Saxon and a debate centres on whether Rolfe was Danish or Saxon: if a Dane called Rolfe took over the village in the 9th century then what was the name before that? We do not know.

Feudal lordships. Until the Mosleys left in 1919 Rolleston was always a feudal estate, first under the Saxon Earls , Kings and their thegns, ; second, under the overlordship of the Normans (the de Ferrers, then the Dukes of Lancaster, then the crown); thirdly under the Mosleys, who, because Edward Mosley (early 1600s) was Attorney-General of Elizabeths 1ís duchy of Lancaster, bought the manorial rights. The Rolleston family were squires of a small manor of about 200 acres between the 12th and early 17th centuries. Thus the Rollestons were nearer the villagers than the Mosleys, working alongside the tenant farmers on that part of the estate under the lord of Tutbury, as well as on their own manor. It is thought the Rollestons ran out of funds in the 17th century and this precipitated the sale to Edward Mosley. The Mosleys own decline came in the early 1900s, not from lack of money, but from other factors possibly too painful to recount here.

Rolleston Hall was undoubtedly built by the Rollestons. It was altered by the Mosleys in the 1770s, suffered fire damage in 1872, and was finally demolished in 1928. Little is now left of the Hall.

Village industry was agricultural almost entirely up to 1919. In the 17th century, enclosures started and a dairy industry began to grow alongside the conventional growing of cereals and beans. Infinitely better flood control in the 20th century saw the meadowlands growing cereals, but farming ceased to have much importance as the century wore on. Today, Mosley farm, the Spread-Eagle farm, Barn farm, Brookside and Brookhouse farms, Westfield and Stud farms and Craythorne farm have all ceased working and land near the village is the prey of building speculators.

Village growth. The village remained remarkably steady in size until the 1950s when a rise in engineering activities in the east midlands caused middle-class workers and professionals to pay a premium to live in such a pretty village. The housing stock rose from about 120 houses to 1200 and what was an attractive area is rapidly suffering from congestion in housing, roads, and other amenities. The rise of local democracy since the departure of the Mosleys has coincided with this period of rapid growth. To halt the slide towards suburban anonymity, the local councillors will have to equal the conviction and performance of their opposite numbers in Tutbury , who have resisted the trend far better.

I.G.Bowen, Barn Farm

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© This site was created by Richard Bush

Last updated: 5 April 2000