It had been previously supposed that this name had something to do with wolves, but the first element is now known to be the personal name Wolgar. The last element is Old English leah, occassionally meaning 'copse' but this time with the more common meaning 'woodland clearing'. The name therefore means 'Wolgar's woodland clearing'. (Gelling & Cole, p.; Mills, p.; Poulton-Smith, p.)
This occupation site dating to the middle-Stone-Age consists of a shallow cave about 2.5 metres deep and a maximum 1 metre in height (c. 8 x 3½ feet) and is located on the southern side of a small sandstone outcrop overlooking a shallow, dry valley running north towards the Trent. When excavated, the cave was found to contain a hearth together with a 'lithic assemblage' of 267 stone tools dating to the Mesolithic period (10,000 – 4,000BC), with an early-Bronze-Age (2,500 – 1,500BC) knife which may have been purposefully deposited. The site was discovered by accident in 1978 when the remains of two human skulls were unearthed by children playing within the cave entrance. A forensic investigation of the two skulls concluded that they were probably both females, 'one [aged] 18-20 years and the other considerably older,' both having died in prehistoric times. The skull fragments were located in a stratified layer above and unconnected with the Mesolithic occupation deposits in the cave, which is evidence that they are later in date, perhaps belonging to the late-Stone-Age or Neolithic period. The cave is now back-filled and buried in order to preserve the site. (AHDS)
The Stafford Brook rises in Bevin's Birches to the north of Penkridge Bank and runs east, then northwards passing Etching Hill on the west and joining the Trent at Wolseley Bridge. A geophysical survey conducted by the Staffordshire County Council in 1990 revealed a burnt mound, tentatively dated to the Bronze-Age, on land belonging to Stafford Brook Farm (SK 0192 1817) to the immediate south-west of the farmhouse on the west bank of the Stafford Brook just south of Stafford Brook Road. (AHDS)
Etching Hill is a Triassic Sandstone outcrop lying just over a mile (1.6km) WSW of Rugeley town centre, at a height of 450 feet (137m) above sea level, the hill is surmounted by an outcrop of Lower Keuper Sandstone of the Sherwood Sandstone Group. These rocks have been upthust by the Cannock Chase Anticline and subsequently exposed by surface erosion. They would normally overlie - and are thus younger than - the pebble beds which form the Chase Uplands. On its summit is a shallow "cist" cut into the sandstone and measuring around four feet square by about two feet deep, used in modern times to support the base of a flagpole on the hilltop which was removed only recently (SK 0277 1875). The hole was not dug to contain the concrete base for the flagpole but was apparently already present on the hilltop and may even date back to prehistoric times. It is possible that this feature represents a Stone-Age 'cist burial' or tumulus, which originally may have contained the interred remains of an ancient chief or clan-leader; no evidence has been found in support of this theory. An old art teacher of mine, Mr. Bateman, once told me a story regarding the naming of this local landmark, which is said to stem from early Victorian times when the area was a favourite of the neuveau riche, who built houses here with profits from the industrial revolution and who reputedly went on painting or etching trips on its slopes. I cannot verify the authenticity of his statement, however. Another suggestion for the derivation of the name is thought to be from 'Hitching Hill', alluding to the times in the late 19th century when horse races were held in the area to the west of the hill in Wolseley Park. Several apparently man-made mounds once thought to have been the remains of stone-age barrows situated in fields between Bower Lane and Crabtree Way (SK 033191), but now beneath the houses and gardens of Cambrian Lane in the northern suburbs of Rugeley just south of the A51 Wolseley Road, were investigated prior to the development of the area in the 1970's but were found to have been formed naturally. (AHDS)
A supposed ancient trackway leading northwards off the Cannock Chase plateau towards the River Trent along the eastern periphery of Oakedge Park, also forming the western boundary of Wolseley Park and marked as 'South or Sow Street' on the Ordnance Survey Landranger maps (SK 0112 1995), emerges onto the A513 Road about ½-mile to the west of the Wolseley Bridge roundabout. The path has been assigned to the Iron-Age or Roman periods and is actually marked '(Roman Road)' on old OS maps of the area (i.e. 1887, 1902), but the road was discussed in an article by F.W. Dennis in the Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club for 1936-7 (LXXI, p.72) which concluded that its attribution as an antiquity is doubtful. The authors are of the opinion that the actual route taken by this trackway was very likely in use during the Iron-Age, probably even earlier, as its gradual incline presents an easy access route from the banks of the Trent onto the hunting grounds of the Cannock Chase upland plateau. It is deemed unlikely, however, that the trackway had ever been metalled during the Roman administration of Britain, but it is a reasonable assumption that the route remained in use during the Roman period. (OS; AHDS)
There is no proven Roman archaeology anywhere near Wolseley (see above).
The first mention of the manor of Wolseley occurs in a document dated A.D.975 recording the grant of the manor by King Edgar of Wessex to the family who were later to become known as the Wolseleys. The only archaeological evidence for early-Medieval or Anglo-Saxon occupation in the entire Rugeley area is a loom weight or spindle-whorl found near the Stafford Brook at Wolseley Bridge (SK 020203) and dated c.A.D.600; the artifact now resides in Stafford County Museum. (AHDS)
"[Land of the Bishop of Chester ... in Pirehill Hundred ...] VLSELEI (Wolseley). Nigel holds from him. ½ hide, which belongs to Haiuuode (Haywood). 4 villagers and 2 smallholders with 1 plough. Meadow, 3 acres. The value was and is 40s." (The Domesday Book, 1086, 2.7)
The village of Ulselei was the property of Robert de Limesey, the Bishop of Chester in 1086, but rather than manage the vill himself, he preferred to lease the lordship of the manor to Nigel of Stafford, who was a minor land owner in Domesday Staffordshire with another dozen holdings scattered throughout the County, some of them owned outright, some of them leased from major land-owners such as Earl Robert. The village was assessed for tax at half of one 'hide' and was counted amongst the holdings of Great Haywood for administrative purposes. The actual amount of available farmland in the village is not recorded but the inhabitants, comprising four land-holding villeins and two lease-holding bordars, were able to field a whole plough-team of eight oxen and were thus able to farm a maximum area of about 120 acres effectively.
Etching of Wolseley Hall in the 19th Century
Courtesy of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust
As mentioned above the Wolseley family have been resident in the Trent Valley between Rugeley and Colwich since A.D.975, and it is also known that in 1469 Ralph Wolseley was granted by King Edward IV a 'license to crenelate', that is to fortify his mansion by the addition of substantial stone defences. It is evident from the etching of Wolseley Hall above that this building, which was completely demolished in 1966, bears no signs of any such fortification and indeed, was built no earlier than the mid-17th century. It is possible that this post-Jacobean building was built upon the site of an earlier fortified manor house and may even have incorporated some of its foundations, part of which may still be viewed in the garden of the Wolseley Centre which now occupies the site (SK 0241 2027). Given the lack of evidential proof it is equally likely, however, that the Medieval manor was associated with the pool to the west of the Centre, which may represent the remains of its defensive moat. The buildings of Wolseley Hall were meticulously recorded by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England prior to and during its demolition in 1966 but no evidence of any former building was positively identified. An archaeological watching brief conducted in 2002 by the Potteries Museum Field Archaeology Unit which monitored groundworks at the site recorded a number of post-Medieval walls, some of which were associated with earlier features, but again, no positive evidence of a fortified Medieval manor house was uncovered. The Wolseley family moved out of Wolseley Hall in the mid-1960's to live in Wolseley Park House (SK 017183) about 1¼ miles to the south, but due to financial problems were finally forced to leave the ancestral manor in early 2008 and are now living on the opposite side of Cannock Chase on the Teddesley Estate. (AHDS, EHNMR)
There are a number of interesting post-Medieval developments in the Wolseley area. The stone-built triple-arched span of Wolseley Bridge (SK 0205 2038) has carried the Stone Road now known as the A51 over the River Trent since 1789. The bridge was built upon the same site as a previous crossing, the wooden remains of which may still be seen in the waters of the Trent beneath the arches of the existing bridge when conditions permit. Four artificial fishponds along the line of the brook in Abraham's Valley (SK 006203) just east of the Seven Springs local beauty spot were probably created sometime during the 17th century or perhaps later. There have been several sightings of otters (Lutra lutra) in this area over the past few years, but these claims has not yet been substantiated by photographic proof. On the north bank of the Trent opposite the site of Wolseley Hall lies the Deserted Medieval Village of Bishton, for the most part buried under the farmyard and outbuildings of Bishton Hall Farm (SK0220). A watching brief conducted in 1995 by the Stafford Borough Council Archaeology Section during excavations of five trenches on a development site thought to lie within or adjacent to the site of the DMV recorded only post-Medieval remains. There was a Race Course in Wolseley Park (SK 011194) which is marked 'Race Course' on the OS maps of 1887 and 1902, and 'Race Course Plantation' on the maps of 1923/4 and later. It is possible that the name of a local landmark now known as Etching Hill may have been originally known as 'Hitching Hill' in memory of the activity which was once viewed from its western slopes. (AHDS; OS)
Close to the Wolseley Arms pub on the A513 Stafford Road there is a stark reminder of the fear of imminent Nazi invasion which gripped the country during the Second World War. A square pillbox built of red brick and concrete sometime during 1940-1 overlooking the crossing of the A51 over the Trent at Wolseley Bridge (SK 019203). This strongpoint formed part of Defence grouping Western Command Stop Line No 6 which stretched from Tamworth along the Trent Valley to the east of Stoke-on-Trent and then onwards via Macclesfield and Stockport to Manchester. The building still survives in good condition and is relatively free of the smell of urine. (AHDS)
Study of the field names on 19th century Tithe Maps has indicated the presence of a park of uncertain date and heritage in the area between Wolseley Bridge on the A51 and Stafford Brook Farm about 1¼ miles due south. The northern end is marked by the field name 'Park Field' (SK 020198) about ¼-mile south of the double roundabout on the A51 at Wolsley Bridge in the clearing between Long Covert to the east and Wet Slade to the west, and the southern end is marked by several field names including the word 'park' lying on the east bank of a tributary stream of the Stafford Brook north-west of Scarborough Farm (SK 019188) on the Stafford Brook Road. Even a perusal of the old Ordnance Survey maps of the area throws further light on the murky history of this possible park. A farm named 'Middle Lodge' is situated on the south side of Round Hill (SK 0195 1928), the name 'lodge' generally being an indication of a former hunting establishment. Also shown on old OS maps is 'Wolseley Corn Mill' located at the northern end of Long Covert, which is shown to have a spring fed millpond just to the south (SK 0227 1991) and there is a millpond further upstream along the Stafford Brook (SK 0233 1960) which is too far away to have been associated with the corn mill so must represent the site of another water-powered mill of some kind. Yet another artificial water feature is situated at the southern end of Long Covert along a tributary stream of the Stafford Brook (SK 0210 1901), named 'Cattail Pool' on the 1887 map and 'Head Pool' on the maps since 1902. Incidentally, the name 'covert' used in association with a small wood is also indicative of a former Deer Park, a 'covert' being a place from which a hunter may view a prey animal without being seen.
Just within the western confines of the suspected park about ½-mile west of Etching Hill and the Stafford Brook Road on the edge of a field abutting onto the south-east side of the confirmed post-Medieval Wolseley Park, a curious site of unconfirmed date has been identified on aerial photographs. The site is represented by cropmarks of an ovoid enclosure with a circular feature at one end (SK 017189), half of which lies to the west of the fence marking the perimeter of Wolseley Park and is thus obscured, but this at least proves that the enclosure must have preceeded the Wolseley Park Pale. Another interesting site has also been identified from OS maps to the east of the suspected park about ½-mile south-east of Wolseley Bridge and south of the A51 Stone Road between the sewage works and the Long Covert along the Stafford Brook (SK 026197). The place is still marked 'Chapel Hill' on modern maps and is indicative of an otherwise undocumented Chapel in this area. (OS; AHDS)