Atherstone Market Square
|Population||8,670 (parish 2011)|
10,573 (urban area 2011)
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
Atherstone // is a small industrial and market town and civil parish in the English county of Warwickshire. Located in the far north of the county, Atherstone forms part of the border with Leicestershire along the A5 national route, and is only 4 miles from Staffordshire. It lies between the larger towns of Tamworth and Nuneaton and contains the administrative offices of North Warwickshire Borough Council.
Atherstone has a long history dating back to Roman times. An important defended Roman settlement named Manduessedum existed at Mancetter near the site of modern-day Atherstone, and the Roman road, the Watling Street (most of which later became part of the A5) ran through the town. It is believed by some historians that the rebel Queen of the Britons, Boudica was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street by the Romans in her final battle near Manduessedum.
The ancient St. Mary's Chapel in Atherstone dates from the early 12th century when the monks of Bec made a donation of 12 acres (4.9 ha) to a house of friars and hermits, later referred to as "Austin friars". During the reign of Edward IV the Crown granted lands in Atherstone (including at least one church) to the Carthusian order situate at Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire. According to Nichols, the chapel was granted to Henry Cartwright in 1542, then left abandoned and neglected until 1692 when Samuel Bracebridge settled a yearly sum for the parson of Mancetter to preach there every other Sunday in the winter season
After this, St. Mary's Chapel seems to have experienced something of a revival. Its square tower being rebuilt in the fashionable "Gothic" style in 1782. This drastic alteration probably aroused some controversy. although the fine architectural drawing of the chapel made by Mr. Schnebbelie in 1790 prompted Nichols to assert that "the new tower provides a good effect". St Mary's was further redesigned in 1849 by Thomas Henry Wyatt and David Brandon.
It is said that the Battle of Bosworth actually took place in the fields of Merevale above Atherstone. Certainly reparation was made to Atherstone after the battle and not to Market Bosworth. Local legend is that they stayed at The Three Tuns in Long Street.
In Tudor times, Atherstone was a thriving commercial centre for weaving and clothmaking. The town's favourable location laid out as a long ‘ribbon development’ along Watling Street, ensured its growth as a market town. While it remained an agricultural settlement in medieval times, attempts were made to encourage merchants and traders through the creation of burgage plots, a type of land tenure that provided them with special privileges. A manuscript discovered by Marjorie Morgan among the muniments of Cambridge's King's College (Ms. C9), refers to the creation of nine new burgage strips from land belonging to seven of the tenants in Atherstone vill.
By the late Tudor period Atherstone had become a centre for leatherworking, clothmaking, metalworking and brewing. Local sheep farmers and cattle graziers supplied wool and leather to local tanners and shoemakers (an industry that continued until the 1970s), while metalworkers, locksmiths and nailers fired their furnaces with local coal and the alemakers supplied thirsty palates on market days.
The surviving inventories from 16th century Mancetter provide a fascinating glimpse into Atherstone's Elizabethan merchants and traders, before the town was economically overshadowed by the bustling cities of Coventry and Birmingham. They show Atherstone at this time as a typical Midlands market town, taking full advantage of its location and agricultural setting.
Atherstone was once an important hatting town, and became well known for its felt hats. The industry began in the 17th century and at its height there were seven firms employing 3,000 people. Due to cheap imports and a decline in the wearing of hats, the trade had largely died out by the 1970s with just three companies remaining, Denham & Hargrave Ltd, Vero & Everitt Ltd and Wilson & Stafford Ltd. The production of felt hats in the town ceased altogether with the closure of the Wilson & Stafford factory in 1999. As of 2018 the factory has received the go-ahead to be redeveloped into canalside residential apartments.
Atherstone is part of the parliamentary constituency of North Warwickshire, with the current MP for the area being Conservative's Craig Tracey. The local authority is North Warwickshire Borough Council, which, since May 2015, has been under Conservative control.
The town is situated 6 mi (9.7 km) northwest of Nuneaton, 9 mi (14 km) southeast of Tamworth and 14 mi (23 km) north of the nearest major city, Coventry. Atherstone is close to the River Anker which forms the boundary between Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Witherley village is on the opposite bank of the river inside Leicestershire, whilst the village of Mancetter is contiguous with Atherstone to the southeast. Other nearby villages include Sheepy Magna, Ratcliffe Culey, Fenny Drayton, Grendon, Dordon, Baxterley, Baddesley Ensor and Hartshill.
Its co-ordinates are 1.(52.5833, -1.5167)
In part due to its central location in the UK, Atherstone's economy has expanded rapidly since the 1980s, with several major companies such as 3M (1964) TNT (1987), Aldi(1990s) setting up their head office operations and/or national distribution centres in the town. The British Home Stores warehouse which had operated in the town for 40 years, closed in August 2016, Now used by Royal Mail Sorting Office.
The Coventry Canal and a series of eleven locks runs through the town, as does the West Coast Main Line railway. Atherstone has its railway station on this line, with an hourly service 7 days a week to both London and Crewe via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent. The current level of service was introduced in 2008, and is a big improvement on the service two decades earlier there were simply 5 trains a day, just going between Stafford and Rugby.
The historic station building, built in 1847, was under threat of demolition in the early 1980s. Thanks to a local group, the Railway and Steam Traction Society, listed status was obtained, with the building celebrating its 150th anniversary in 1997. Building work won a special Ian Allan conservation award. As of 2008, the railway station building is occupied by a local veterinary practice.
The major football team in the town is Atherstone Town, known as 'the Adders'. This is after the tradition which has Atherstone being a corruption of the name "Adders - stone". Their ground is located on Sheepy Road. Atherstone's team started out as Atherstone Town Football Club in 1887 but folded in 1979, from 1979 to 2003 Atherstone's football team was known as Atherstone United Football Club but folded yet again mid-season in 2003. The team then reverted to the previous name Atherstone Town Football Club. The club made the national headlines in October 2013 when during an FA Cup 3rd Qualifying round against Barrow A.F.C. crowd violence erupted during the first half when a small "minority" of Atherstone supporters ran across the pitch and attacked a number of Barrow supporters. The ringleaders and other participants of the crowd trouble were subsequently arrested, charged and sentenced to various jail terms. Since this incident the club has established itself as a family and community orientated club.
The rugby union team is Atherstone Rugby Football Club who play in the Warwickshire Two League. Their ground is at Ratcliffe Road.
Atherstone Leisure Complex is at the north end of Long Street and consists of a swimming pool and gym. Atherstone Memorial Hall is also part of the leisure complex. Pool, Darts and Dominoes are also favorite pastimes within the town.
Atherstone is also famous for its number of Pubs. At one time in the early 20th century there were reported to be 30 alone covering the length of Long Street. There are still a number of pubs still open though some are following the recent decline and closing. Amusingly most locals never refer to the pubs by their actual names but instead local nicknames. Classic examples are The White Lion (Sweeties), White Horse (Conkies), White Bear (The Clock), Barge & Bridge (Shanghai), Hat & Beaver (Flying Handbag) Wheatsheaf (The sheaf), Market Tavern (Crics) and Bar 93 (Tuns). The legal age for consumption of alcohol in these establishments is 18 although anyone above the age of 12 in the presence of an adult will usually be served a beer.
The town is also noted for its distinct dialect which is a fusion of Brummie, Coventry and Tamworth accents. The general greeting is "alright yuff" which follows a strict order of precedence. persons of the same age can greet each other this way and those older can address their younger associates the same but it is an absolute no-no to address someone senior to yourself as "Yuff" and may result in being excommunicated within the social order.
Shrovetide Ball Game
An annual tradition in Atherstone is the Shrove Tuesday Ball Game played on a public highway with large crowds. The game celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1999.
The game is a complete free-for-all played along Watling Street (the old Roman road) at the point where it forms the main street of Atherstone town. The ball is decorated with red, white and blue ribbons that are exchanged for money by who ever is able to obtain one and is made of thick leather to make it too heavy to kick far. The match starts at 3:00pm when the ball is thrown from the window of Barclays Bank and continues until about 5:00pm. However the ball may legitimately be deflated or hidden after 4:30pm. There are no teams and no goals, though in the last century the match was played between a team from Warwickshire and one from Leicestershire. There is only one rule: players are not allowed to kill one another. Whoever is able to hang onto the ball at the end of the game not only wins the game but is allowed to keep the ball as well. The game is controlled by a number of "marshalls" some of whom are former winners. Police are present but for the two hours the game is in progress stand back and allow the action to continue. Legend has it that many an old feud is settled on Ball Game day. This Shrove Tuesday ball game has been held annually since the early 12th century and is one of Atherstone's claims to fame. The 2019 edition of the game was noted for being extremely violent with several videos of the event being uploaded to social media. Event organisers disputed the accounts of violence as "nothing new".
The 'ball' used is specially made each year and is 'thrown out' by a prominent sporting or show business personality. Shop windows are boarded-up and traffic is diverted on the afternoon whilst the game, in which hundreds of people take part, progresses along the town's main streets.
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- Arthur Johnson (1903–1987) an English professional footballer
- Rhoda Sutherland (1907–1989) an academic of the French language, Old French and Old Provençal
- Jack Barnes (1908–2008) an English pro footballer, also played for Atherstone Town F.C.
- Bernard Hunt MBE (1930–2013) an English professional golfer
- Johnny Schofield (1931–2006) an English footballer who played as goalkeeper, later he ran an off-licence in Atherstone
- Frank Upton (1934–2011) an English professional football player and manager.
- Les Green (1941–2012) an English footballer and manager
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- Leigh Lawson (born 1945) a British film and stage actor, director and writer 
- Sara Thornton (born 1950's) local resident convicted and later acquitted of murdering her violent and alcoholic husband
- Andy Green OBE (born 1962) a British RAF fighter pilot and World Land Speed Record holder
- Paul Broadhurst (born 1965) an English professional golfer
- Steve Webster (born 1975) an English professional golfer.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Atherstone.|
- Atherstone History : A comprehensive history of Atherstone and the surrounding area from the Romans up until the 20th century
- Atherstone 16th-century inventories and map of the township printed in John Nichols' Antiquities of Leicestershire
- Archdeaconry court case from Atherstone Fair with 18th-century Bracebridge estate map of the town showing the market square
- 1100s–2007 Atherstone Ball Game from Atherstone History