Victoria County History Staffordshire: Volume X - Tutbury and Needwood Forest

The VCH of Staffordshire is part of a national series, founded at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, which aims to provide an authoritative account of the history of every town and village in England from the earliest times (starting with pre-history) to the present day

The long awaited volume of the VCH that covers Rolleston, Anslow and the other villages surrounding Tutbury and the Needwood Forest has appeared at last. It follows on from Volume IX, Burton upon Trent, which was published in 2003.

In the Spring 2008 issue of Rollestonian (and reproduced here) we include-

Publisher’s Preview

The volume leads with articles on the feudal honour of Tutbury and its castle, which became part of the Duchy of Lancaster estate in the later middle ages and was used as a prison for Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots. Following are articles on Needwood Forest which provided hunting for the lords of Tutbury as well as common rights for the inhabitants of surrounding villages until its enclosure in the early 19th century, and on the villages themselves.


Besides Tutbury itself, the area covers four multi-township parishes which originated in the Anglo-Saxon period. Tutbury maintains its medieval borough lay-out whilst the large villages of Barton-under –Needwood, Rolleston and Yoxall stretch out along their main streets. The earliest settlements, however, were besides the river Trent where a prehistoric woodhenge has been discovered at Catholme.


Pasture along the rivers Trent and Dove was important for dairy farming, as were the parks of Needwood Forest once they had ceased to be hunting reserves in the early modern period. Alabaster was mined at Tutbury, which became partly industrialised from the late 18th century with cotton and glass works. Most of the large villages are now residential in character.

Religious History

A Mercian princess, St Werburh, ruled a monastery at Hanbury whose site is identified in the volume, and a Benedictine priory was founded at Tutbury after the Norman Conquest. The mother churches of the large parishes guarded their rights and discouraged the independence of their chapels. One at Barton-under-Needwood, was completely rebuilt on the eve of the Reformation. Hoar Cross was a centre for Catholics in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the later 19th century the estate owner there funded the remarkable church of Holy Angels as a memorial to her husband.


Several medieval timber-framed buildings survive in the area, some of them formerly lodges in Needwood Forest, and there is an especially good example of a 17th century yeoman’s house at Marchington Woodlands. After the forest was enclosed, substantial mansion houses were built notably by the Bass brewing family of Burton upon Trent, whilst less wealthy men were responsible for the several distinctive 19th century villas in Barton-under-Needwood

Rolleston and Tutbury Section

Completing its coverage of the eastern corner of the county, the most recent volume of the Victoria County History of Staffordshire (the VCH) covers Tutbury and the Needwood Forest area, including Rolleston and Anslow. Each volume in the set comprises fully-referenced articles on the main aspects of the history of each town and village in the county from prehistoric times to the modern day: the ‘Victoria’ in the title refers to the Queen, to whom the national enterprise is dedicated, and so the books are not confined to the Victorian period. The intention of each volume is to provide a secure framework for any future work that other people may with to pursue.

For Rolleston, there are still some unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions, such as what was the place called originally? The first part of the place-name refers to a Scandinavian lord (either when the Vikings first appeared in the later 9th century or possible at the time of King Cnut in the early 11th century), but that must mean that the village had an earlier name coined by the first Anglo-Saxons settlers.

Otherwise the documentation for both Rolleston and Anslow is quite rich, and it has been possible for example to provide a descent for the medieval lords of the manor down to the Mosleys. They of course figure largely in Rolleston’s history, in particular Sir Oswald Mosley (d. 1871) who, for instance, according to detailed accounts in the Staffordshire Record Office, took a close paternal (if somewhat overbearing) interest in the distribution of poor relief in the earlier 19th century.

The Mosleys acquired the manor in the 1620s, much to the chagrin of William Rolleston (d. 1672), the representative of the former lords of the manor: William was clearly desperate to stake his claim as the ‘true’ lord of Rolleston (at least morally), and his founding of the village almshouses should be seen in this light. (Interestingly, the almshouses might never have been built, as the first call on the income that formed the endowment was held by Charles II’s queen Catherine of Braganza, who lived as a widow back home in Portugal (perhaps thankful to be at a distance from her husband’s paramours) for another 30 years until 1705.)

Rolleston also benefited from a grammar school, founded in 1524 by a native who had gone on to become bishop of Chichester (the entry in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gets his birth-place wrong!). The original rules for the school (which survive in the West Sussex Record Office) make interesting reading: the school day was modelled on that at Winchester College, and parents were to make sure that the boys wore clean cloths and were free from worms. Some masters (in the 17th and 18th centuries) were not very content with their lot, and correspondence in the archives of New College, Oxford, provides a vivid picture of their travails: one rival in 1645 threatened the master that he would make the school ‘too hot for him to hold’ unless he paid him off with £30.

Anslow got a school in the mid 19th century, when Sir Oswald Mosley also paid for the present church at Anslow Gate with its distinctive Norman style design. There was, however, an earlier chapel, in the late middle ages, dedicated to St Leonard (and so perhaps supported by Burton abbey, which owned the manor at that date). In more recent times, Anslow acquired parts of Needwood forest on its inclosure in 1801, and the volume includes a large article on the forest from its earliest origins: the name is apparently derived from a Celtic word referring to a stream that ‘drops’ (i.e. disappears underground), a reference to the instability of the geology associated with gypsum deposits.

Naturally, the volume does not say everything that could be said about a place -- such a volume would never get finished, and the imperative is to get on with the job of covering the whole county so that every town and village gets covered. Nonetheless, volume X is one of the longest so far and includes a mass of information from a great range of sources (much of the earlier material being in Latin and difficult to interpret). Although rather expensive as first published, the volume will never date and will still be of value for many years to come, and within 2 years the text will be available online.

I hope that there are no errors in the volume, but if you think that there may be or wish to inquire further about anything that has been said then do please contact myself as County Editor:
Nigel Tringham

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Last updated: 15 March 2008