The Etymology of the Name Handsacre

The Domesday spelling of the name is Hadesacre, but there should probably have been an 'N' in the name, since all later records have it, although they differ a lot in other respects. Other spellings are: Hendesacra (1167); Hundesacra (1176); Handesacra (1196); and Hondesacre (1242). Acre, when occuring in a place-name, generally means an area of marginally cultivable land, often on the edge of heath, high moor or marsh and in this case refers to marsh. The first part of the name is a lot harder to decipher; a hypothetical name Handa has been proposed as the origin, which seems more likely than any other suggestions. The meaning in that case is 'the land beside a marsh belonging to Handa. (Gelling & Cole, p.264, 266; Mills, p.163; Poulton-Smith, p.58)

Stone-Age Handsacre (c.10,000 - 2,000B.C.)

There is no archaeology of the Stone-Age period in Handsacre itself, but there is some interesting stone-age stuff in the neighbouring parishes. A Neolithic stone axe-head was found at Wychnor Glebe in King's Bromley (SK 099165) in 1888 and is now held at Lichfield Museum. The stone used in the manufacture of the axe is of Petrological Group VI and it is very likely, therefore, that the stone was quarried somewhere in the local area. By far the most interesting New-Stone-Age site in the entire Cannock Chase area lies opposite Handsacre on the north bank of the River Trent in Mavesyn Ridware (SK 085168), where a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure has been recorded on aerial photographs. (AHDS)

Bronze-Age Handsacre (c.2,500 700B.C.)

The only Bronze-Age artifactual evidence from the area is a hoard of two polished stone socketed axe-heads and two bronze spearheads which were found in Armitage (SK0716) in 1782. The most interesting archaeological site in Handsacre itself belongs to the Bronze-Age period and lies north of the A513 Kings Bromley Lane about ¾-mile to north-east of the village where no less than six bronze-age round barrows have been recorded as circular cropmarks on aerial photographs (centred on SK 103169); this clustering of ancient burial mounds is known as a 'barrow cemetery'. Another Bronze-Age round barrow has been identified from circular cropmarks on A.P.'s on the opposite bank of the River Trent about ½-mile north of the Handsacre barrow cemetery in the neighbouring parish of Hamstall Ridware (SK 103175), and a further three ring ditches, very likely representing more of these burial mounds have been located on A.P.'s on the north bank of the Trent (SK 083167) close by the Mavesyn Ridware causewayed enclosure. (AHDS)

Iron-Age Handsacre (c.800B.C. - A.D.43)

The only archaeology of this period comes in the form of an Iron-Age field system and pit alignment which has been recorded as cropmarks on aerial photographs about ½-mile north-east of the village in the area to the south and east of the Bronze-Age barrow cemetery mentioned above, near Echills. The pit alignment consists of three large holes aligned roughly south-east to north-west and spaced roughly ¼-mile apart (SK 100170 : SK 104165 : SK 107161). (AHDS)

Roman Handsacre (c.A.D.43 410)

There is no record of any Roman archaeology in Handsacre or the surrounding area.

Early-Medieval Handsacre (c.A.D.410 1066)

Again, the archaeological evidence for an entire historical period is represented in the area only by cropmarks, this time in the form of field boundaries displaying characteristics of the early-Medieval or Norman periods lying just south of the A513 Kings Bromley Lane (SK 1024 1684), between the road and the football ground. (AHDS)

Domesday Hadesacre (A.D.1086)

"LICEFELLE (Lichfield). It has already been described before. A woodland, 8½ leagues and 7 furlongs long and 6½ leagues and 8 furlongs wide, belongs there. These members belong to this manor: ... HADESACRE (Handsacre), land for 5 ploughs; Robert holds it. ... In these lands or outliers, 7 ploughs in lordship; 60 villagers and 22 smallholders with 25 ploughs. Between them all, meadow, 52 acres; a mill. The valuation is accounted for in the manor." (The Domesday Book, 1086, 2.22)

The Domesday Book lists fifteen villages, including Handsacre and nearby Pipe Ridware, which lay within a very large area of woodland belonging to the city of Lichfield, measuring approximately 13½ miles long by 10¾ miles wide and covering an area of over 146 square miles or 93,740 acres. The Hadesacre entry states that there were five 'ploughs' of farmland attached to the village, amounting to an area of about 600 acres, which was held by Earl Robert of Stafford. The actual number of villagers living in Handsacre during Domesday remains unknown, as does the amount of land farmed by them, also the amount of meadowland attached to the village and the amount of land, if any, farmed by the lord of the manor; these figures were presented as a total for all fifteen dependant 'vills' at the end of the entry.

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Medieval Handsacre (A.D.1066 - 1540)

In 1795 the stone foundations of a small rectangular building were discovered in a field named Mill Croft, directly opposite the north front of Handsacre Hall (SK 0898 1586). The building was identified at the time as a small church, possibly a manorial chapel associated with the nearby Hall, based on the fact that the neighbouring field was named Church Croft. The site now lies at the end of Station Drive close to the signals at the end of the railway platform and has been partly demolished by the railway cutting; nothing of the site is now visible. The only other remains of the Medieval village are three stone crosses: one wayside cross lay beside the A513 at the entrance to Church Lane (SK 0769 1626), and another lay beside the A51 at the entrance to Bardy Lane (SK 0666 1523) about a mile south-west of Armitage, both of which have been lost. The only visible remnant is the shaft of a churchyard cross, now in two pieces, at the end of Church Lane in Armitage (SK 0771 1648 : SK 0773 1646), which was originally thought to be Norman but is probably of 19th century provenance. (AHDS)

Handsacre Hall

Three connected arms of a large rectangular moat, now drained of water with the northern arm partly filled-in, may be viewed at the end of Mellor Way off the Shropshire Brook Road (SK 0900 1565), and is all that survives of the former Medieval mansion of Handsacre Hall. The hall was built in the 14th century but the moated platform which housed it probably dates from the 12th century and was at first furnished with a wooden homestead. The drawbridge of the Medieval 'cruck house' building was still in place in the early-18th century but Stebbing Shaw states that the timber-framed mansion was derelict in 1798; he also reported a timber dated 1663 which probably records a major rebuild. The site was finally abandoned in the early-1960's and damaged by vandals in 1973 after which the majority of the house collapsed leaving only the front wall and parts of the side wings still standing. Excavations conducted by Staffordshire County Council in 1986-87 prior to the development of the modern housing estate recovered pottery ranging from the 12th to the 19th centuries. The architectural finds from the Medieval hall are now in the Avoncroft Museum and the excavation reports were published in The Journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology in 1987, also in West Midlands Archaeology of 1986 and 1987. A substantial pond-bay associated with the hall lay to the south in the field known as Pool Meadow. (Salter, CMMS, p.30; AHDS)

Hawksyard Hall and Priory

Hawksyard hall was built in the Medieval period just south of the road between Rugeley and Handsacre (SK 0699 1667), where the remains of the house within its moat and an associated fishpond, now dry, may still be seen in the northern part of Saint Thomas's Priory Golf Club, which now occupies much of the former deer park attached to the Hall. The Medieval deer park is perpetuated in the name of Park Farm which lies close to its western perimeter (SK 061161), while Upper Lodge Farm close beside the A513 Rugeley Road on the western outskirts of Armitage (SK 076162) probably marks its eastern extent. (AHDS; OS)

Hawksyard Hall was bought by the Dominican Order in 1896 who built a new priory within the grounds which was originally occupied by nuns of the order until the early 20th century at which time the nunnery was changed to a monastery and run by the monks as a boarding school for boys. The extensive gardens of the Priory and Hall include a rock-hewn cave which was said to have been constructed by unemployed minors in the late-19th century on the orders of the master of Spode Hall. The buildings of the former priory have found new use as Hawksyard Priory Nursing Home which was opened on the site in 1989 after the Dominicans left. The buildings of Hawkesyard Hall itself have been restored and are now being used as a "prestigious office complex", while the grounds of the original deer park have now been converted into a golf course. (WEB)

Post-Medieval Handsacre (A.D.1540 - 1901)

There are a number of interesting post-Medieval sites in the parish of Armitage with Handsacre. According to old documents the Old High Bridge, situated just north of Willow Cottage (SK 0934 1686), was built in 1622-3 and widened in 1784 but the only surviving remnants are the masonry stubs of its four piers which remain in situ. Situated on the south side of the Trent and Mersey Canal about a mile outside the western outskirts of Armitage (SK 066163), Spode House and Coach-house (SK0815) was built out of red brick in the Gothic style for Nathaniel Lister in 1760 and extended in rough-faced ashlar by the widow of Josiah Spode in 1840. The building now stands just outside the northern perimeter of Saint Thomas's Priory Golf Club. Another interesting site lies close to the southern end of Lower Lodge Residential Mobile Home Park (SK 069158), where soil marks and crop marks noted on aerial photographs have revealed the site of a former tilery, comprising a number of tile kilns, a metalled road surface and an enclosing bank, presumed to date to the post-Medieval period. (AHDS)

The Church of Saint John the Baptist

Situated at the north end of Church Lane in Armitage (SK 0772 1648), the original Church of Saint John the Baptist was built on a bluff overlooking the River Trent in the 13th century with additions including the chancel made in the 14th. The oldest part of the surviving church, however, is the west tower which dates to 1632, the church having been almost completely rebuilt in a neo-Norman style in 1844. Parts of the original Norman south doorway survive, having been incorporated in the churchyard cross, and the font within the church is thought to date to the 14th century or earlier. (Salter, OPCS, p.18; AHDS)

Modern Handsacre (A.D.1901 - Present day)

The River Trent was undoubtedly the first means of travel along the Trent Valley and has probably seen traffic since the Mesolithic or Neolithic periods, whereas the A513 Road has possibly been in existence only since the early Medieval period. These ancient communication routes were augmented by the Trent and Mersey Canal which was designed by James Brindley but completed after his death in 1777 and now delimits the northern extent of the two villages of Armitage and Handsacre. Armitage Railway Station (SK 088159) was opened on the Trent Valley Railway in 1847 but was closed to passengers in 1960 and to goods traffic by 1969. (AHDS)

The only modern archaeology of any note in the village is a Second World War Air Raid Shelter situated just to the west of Boat House Lane (SK 080161) within the grounds of the Armitage Shanks Ceramics Factory, which remains in 'fair' condition according to the CBA Defence of Britain Archive. (AHDS)
Hawkesyard Hall from


Domesday Book - Staffordshire Ed. by John Morris (Phillimore, Chichester, 1976);
Staffordshire Place-Names including The Black Country by Anthony Poulton-Smith (Countryside, Berkshire, 1995);
The Castles and Moated Mansions of Staffordshire by Mike Salter (Folly, Malvern, 1997);
Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford, 2nd Ed. 1998);
The Landscape of Place-Names by Margaret Gelling & Ann Cole (Shaun Tyas, Stamford, 2000);
Domesday Book - A Complete Translation Ed. by The Alecto Domesday Editorial Board (Penguin, London, 2002);

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