The Founding of the Abbey
During the dark ages, Polesworth (or "Polleswyrth") was just one of many tiny hamlets in the kingdom of Mercia. Established during the 7th Century in the Trent valley, Mercia grew to become one of the most powerful English kingdoms, second only to Wessex in the south. Perhaps the greatest Mercian king was Offa, who rose to power in 757 and had his palace at Tamworth. Offa increased Mercia's influence until the kingdom controlled most of England south of the River Humber and between East Anglia and Wales. With some justification, Offa described himself as Rex Anglorum, "King of the English".
Offa died in 796 and, at the Battle of Ellendun, in 825, Mercia was conquered by King Egbert of Wessex. Ironically, Egbert had been expelled from England by Offa in 789. However, he had returned to seize the throne of Wessex in 802, quickly consolidating his position by annexing much of southern England. Following his conquest of Mercia, Egbert secured a treaty with Northumbria in 829 that gave him control of much of England.
Returning from the treaty signing along the Roman Watling Street, the most widely accepted version of events has Egbert resting his troops at "Dore-don" (modern day Dordon). In need of water, scouts were sent out and found the River "Ancor" (Anker) less than a mile away. Egbert and his men camped by the river, near a small village called "Pollysworda" (Polesworth).
In a gesture of thanksgiving (both for the signing of the treaty and for finding water) Egbert promised to found a "monisterie" on the site.
Although a small church and convent dedicated to the Virgin Mary were subsequently built on the eastern side of the river, Egbert's eldest son, Aethulwulf is usually attributed with their construction. The exact site of the buildings is uncertain, although it is possible that they may have stood on what is now the North Aisle of the present day church.
We can only speculate as to how the Abbey would have looked. The village was located deep in the Forest of Arden and wood from the forest was probably used to build the church and convent. Their walls may well have been of wattle and daub and the roofs could have been thatched, covered with reeds, or even tiled. It is easy to imagine even modest buildings like these dominating the tiny hamlet Polesworth was then. The dense forest not only provided building materials, it also afforded the village protection from marauders. When Danish reivers sacked Tamworth, Polesworth and the Abbey were left untouched, so well hidden were they by the forest.
A Benedictine Order, the Abbey's first Abbess was Editha. Undoubtedly of royal birth, some confusion exists over whether she was Egbert's daughter or granddaughter. If the latter is the case, then her youngest brother was Alfred the Great. She was later canonised.