The village of Drayton Bassett is situated about three miles south of Tamworth in the extreme south-west corner of the county. It is notable as the home of the Peel family and for the nearby pleasure park at Drayton Manor. The Peel presence ensured that this was a village very much influenced in its building and development by the local ‘big’ house, even to the extent of lacking a public house.
The place name, ‘Drayton’, may mean a settlement at a place where loads have to be dragged, deriving from a steep ascent on the Roman road from High Cross to Wall. Bassett comes from the name of the mediaeval lords of the manor and became attached to the place name in the 13th century.
In the Domesday Survey of 1086 Drayton is recorded as ‘Draitone’ and belonged to the King. Within the manor there was land enough for four ploughs to till and there were also two mills. Nine villeins, or tenants who held land in return for labour services, and 3 bordars, or smallholders who had brought land into cultivation on the edges of the village, are recorded. There were also 8 burgesses from nearby Tamworth who “work there like the other villeins”.
In 1532-1533, 31 households were recorded in Drayton Bassett. By the time of the Hearth Tax assessment of 1666, 95 households were recorded. This included the old manor house which had 42 hearths. At that time the manor was in the ownership of the Duchess of Somerset. She was instrumental in restoring to Lichfield Cathedral the illuminated Lichfield Gospels, which had come into her care following the Civil War.
Drayton Bassett’s parish church is dedicated to St Peter. It has a Perpendicular tower but its nave was rebuilt in the 1790s by the 1st Sir Robert Peel. The chancel is mid-Victorian. On his death in 1850, Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, was brought back to Drayton for burial in the parish church and a large Gothic monument erected by his family in his memory.
Sir Robert Peel was Britain’s Prime Minister between 1834 and 1835 and again between 1841 and 1846. Peel’s father, the first Sir Robert, purchased the Drayton Manor estate in 1792. Peel was a cotton manufacturer and calico printer and established cotton mills at nearby Fazeley. He was to rebuild the old Drayton Manor at the end of the 18th century on the profits of textile manufacture. The Manor soon became well known for the beauty of its gardens.
In the 1820s the 1st Sir Robert started to rebuild the Manor again, this time using Sir Robert Smirke, a fashionable London architect. The rebuilding and improvement was continued by his son, the Prime Minister, who in particular added a picture gallery. Once Peel became Prime Minister, there were many famous visitors at Drayton Manor, including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Sir Walter Scott.
The Manor remained in the Peel family until the 20th century. Much of the family fortune was lost by the 4th baronet, a gambler, who is reputed to be the man ‘who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’, using his winnings to pay off some of his debts. His only son, the 5th Sir Robert Peel, married the actress, Beatrice Lillie, in 1920. Their son was the last Sir Robert Peel and was killed in the Second World War.
The Manor had been put up for sale in 1926 but there were no buyers. It was requisitioned in the Second World War and appears to have been demolished soon afterwards. The park was bought 1949 and turned into a pleasure park and zoo.
A school was established by Lady Julia Peel, the wife of the Prime Minister, in 1830 for the poor children of the village and housed in Old School Row. In 1905 this was replaced by a public elementary school, now Manor Primary School. There is no doubt that during their time at Drayton Bassett, the Peel family were considered to be considerable local benefactors, not just in the village itself but also in nearby Tamworth.