A Brief History of Alcester
The earliest traces of habitation around Alcester date back nearly 6000 years ago. Neolithic people left traces of their lives including, flint tools and some of the earliest pottery found in Warwickshire. Bronze Age (2 500 – 700BC), pottery, a small gold ring and at least two bronze cauldrons have been found in the area. There is also some evidence that during the Iron Age (700BC – AD43) people lived in and around the area where Alcester later developed. Iron Age pottery coins and a rare bronze miniature shield have also been found in the town.
The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43. The advance of the army across the country led to the first fort at Alcester being established around AD 47 (on Primrose Hill to the south). This was replaced by a later fort built on lower land (near Bleachfield Street) and a busy civilian settlement soon grew up around it. Two Roman roads, Ryknild Street and the Saltway cross at Alcester. These were major routes for both the army and later for trade. They linked Alcester with other important Roman centres in Britain. In about AD 200, a rampart was built around the north-east part of the town. This was replaced by a stone wall in the later 4th century. The part of the town which lay outside the rampart (‘extra mural’ area) continued to thrive. Excavations around Birch Abbey revealed a long, open gravelled area with ‘booth’ type structures around the edge. This is thought to be the site of a market place. Many Roman coins have been found both from excavations and from chance finds. These show that from the 4th century Alcester probably had a market economy. The town grew and became wealthy as people from the Arrow Valley area moved into Alcester. Life in Alcester had many attractions including opportunities for trade, new service industries and all the trappings of a romanised lifestyle. Goods like Samian ware pottery and amphorae containing wine and olive oil were imported from other parts of the Empire. Industries such as leather and metalworking would have produced items for sale both in Alcester and beyond.
The Decline of the Roman Town and After
A large part of the Roman army in Britain had left by AD 410, never to return. At the same time town life began to break down in many areas. Towards the end of the 5th century people from Northern Europe, known to us as the Anglo-Saxons began to settle across southern Britain. Excavations show that Alcester continued to function into the 4th century. Only a few Anglo-Saxon objects have been discovered in Alcester itself and this may mean that a local British population continued to live there for some time. Burial evidence indicates that the focus for the Anglo-Saxons in the Arrow Valley was probably around Bidford-on-Avon.
Alcester is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but may have been included as part of a local manor such as Bidford. The first medieval reference to Alcester is in the 12th century when an abbey was founded by Ralph de Boteler in 1140. Excavations in School Road show that pottery was being made in Alcester in the 12th and 13th centuries. Alcester was a borough by the 13th century and through Medieval Post-Medieval times Alcester rose as a market town and later an industrial centre.