Sitting astride the famous Roman Watling Street, Tamworth, despite its bustling modernity enjoys a fascinating and turbulent history. The town is first referred to in the 8 th century AD when it held the prestigious position of capital of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Here it was that King Offa built his palace. Danish sea raiders twice destroyed the Saxon capital and it was later invaded by Scandinavians who left their mark upon the town, as seen in street names such as Gungate. In AD913 Aetheflaed (Ethelfleda), King Alfred's daughter established a fortress on the site, part of which has been excavated; this fortress enclosed the entire Saxon township.
Dominating Tamworth today is the fine Norman motte and bailey castle set in the Pleasure Grounds, where beautifully coloured floral terraces cascade down from the splendid castle. Tamworth Castle stands high on a steeply inclined artificial mound in the town centre, at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Anker. Typical in construction of other Norman motte and bailey castles it dates from the 1180's, having replaced the original wooden defensive tower. It was William the Conqueror's Royal Champion, Robert de Marmion, who built the castle on part of the site of the fortress erected by Ethelfleda. The castle was rebuilt of sandstone during the 12 th century and today all that remains of de Marmion's castle are the keep, tower and stretches of herringbone curtain wall.
The Norman polygonal keep has the unusual addition of a square tower set into its walls on the East Side. Down the centuries various owners have made numerous alterations and additions to the structure, these include the early 15 th century Banqueting Hall, the Tudor Warden's Lodge and the early 17 th century South Wing. The Jacobean apartments are decorated with intricate woodwork and a fine heraldic frieze, while the Castle Museum houses models of Tamworth's Saxon fortifications and includes examples of ancient silver pennies from the Tamworth Mint. The Castle was purchased from the Marquess of Townsend by Tamworth Corporation in 1897 and opened to the public in 1899.
A Saxon nun, Editha, is purported to haunt Tamworth Castle, for it is said that when Robert de Marmion took possession of his lands he expelled the nuns from a nearby convent. The order had been founded by Editha in the 9 th century and the expelled nuns summoned her spirit from the grave. Editha supposedly attacked de Marmion in his bedroom and as a result of her severe beating he restored the nuns to their convent, now a wiser man. The Parish Church of St Editha, founded in AD963, is a vast structure that was rebuilt after the Norman Conquest of 1066; it again underwent reconstruction when the Great Fire of Tamworth destroyed much of it in 1345. The marvellous 15 th century tower at the West End contains a most remarkable double staircase, while the mixture of Victorian and modern stained glass found within blends together surprisingly well.
The noted writer Daniel Defoe remarked upon Tamworth as "a small but very handsome market town", and despite much having disappeared since his time there still remains some remarkably attractive 18 th century buildings in Market Street and Lady Bank. Built in 1701, the Town hall is a charming structure displaying open arches with Tuscan columns below. The building was financed by Thomas Guy, the local Member of Parliament, more famous as the founder of the London hospital bearing his name. Tamworth's other famous son was Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister under both William IV and Queen Victoria. In 1834 Robert Peel made a pre-election speech to his constituents in which he outlined his plans for political reform - known as the Tamworth Manifesto it was the forerunner of modern electioneering addresses. Fronting the Town hall is a goodly bronze statue of Peel.