Category Archives: Local History

From Sheep to Sugar Via Shrewsbury

Research Project by Liz Millman

Some of the researchers met a couple of times in Shrewsbury

Chris Evans came to talk to us

Foundations of the Shrewsbury Drapers

The development of a banking function

Drapers Dynasties and an American Venture

Telling the Story of Negro Cloth and Welsh Plains =

By Professor Chris Evans, author of “Slave Wales: Wales and Atlantic Slavery 1660 – 185

The fall from power of the Shrewsbury Wool Traders


The Shrewsbury Drapers in 1462 were granted a charter by Edward IV to trade in wool, thus formalised the trade that is recorded in the surviving Shrewsbury Guild Merchant rolls of 1209. Shrewsbury was ideally placed in the centre of the Welsh Marches to collect wool from the monasteries’ and later the farmer weavers and bring it into Shrewsbury for finishing. By the sixteenth century Drapers had built up connections, customers and infrastructure and were ideally placed to benefit from the Welsh woven clothes and textiles trade that was emerging in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century in the Marches towns of Oswestry, Welshpool and Newtown.

Trade was disrupted by the Reformation but recovered and early in the Elizabethan era the Shrewsbury Drapers went from strength to strength as in 1566, an Act was passed that secured a vital monopoly over the trade in Welsh cloths. Amongst other clauses it is stated that no person inhabiting in Shrewsbury shall occupy the Trade of buying of Welsh Cottons &c. unless he be a freeman of the Company. This Act appears to have been achieved by collusion with the Shearmen and Mercers, since it also stated that the Drapers must pay members of the other guilds in cash for the finishing of cloths, rather than in kind.[1]

There remained some resistance from other wool traders to the rule of the Drapers and some six years after their monopoly was granted it was repealed after the joint action by the Shearmen, the Mercers and other townspeople. By that time however, although the monopoly had only been in force for six years, it had enabled the Drapers to gain such a strangle-hold on the market that prominent members of other guilds thought it better join them than beat them.[2] Four wealthy Mercers joined the Drapers Company, thus strengthening the Drapers yet further.

Relationships between the various guilds were complex and interdependent. The weaving of jersey baize had been introduced by the Shrewsbury weavers by 1575. When Chester sought to copy or replace this manufacture and attempted to induce Shrewsbury weavers to settle in Chester two years later, the Weavers felt threatened by Chester’s move.  To counteract this and other hostile actions, in 1582-3 all the Shrewsbury guilds joined with the Drapers to frustrate Chester from setting up a staple of cottons and friezes made in north Wales.[3] Shrewsbury’s unity and lobbying skills kept the trade in the town, which secured its prosperity for the next two hundred years.[4]

The trade in Welsh cloth had become increasingly important to the profits of the Shrewsbury Drapers. Cloth continued to be brought from other towns and not just from the Marches but from Yorkshire and East Anglia as can be seen by the various descriptions of cloths that were traded. But as demand increased, many weavers from other Marches towns set up their looms in Shrewsbury and made Welsh cloths in Shrewsbury itself. By 1588 the Weavers Company had 125 members and was the third largest guild in the town and one of the most powerful.[5]

The members of the Shrewsbury Weavers Company did not restrict its activity to Welsh cloth; they wove a wide variety of different types.

Welsh Cloths –   These were the main export. ‘Cottons’– coarse woollen materials whose nap was raised by teasels, or ‘cottoned’ to give the soft, fluffy appearance of true cotton.[6]

Bay Cloths    –   Lightweight woollen fabrics, hand-woven using hand-spun yarns. They were typically simple, plain weave (Tabby) cloths which might vary in weight from about 100 – 200 gms/metre2. They were often supplied in natural or bleached white. [7]

Plains – Simple woven fabrics, with no after dressing.[8] Used for soldiers uniforms and also known as Negro Cloth.

Say Cloths   –   Heavier fabrics, originally hand-woven using hand-spun yarns. They featured 2/2 twill diagonal weaves that were more robust, but slightly more complex to weave than a plain bay cloth. Weights might vary from about 150 – 350 g/m2.[9]

Friezes – Thick rough cloths of ancient origin, having a heavy nap that formed tufts or curls. The term was often used to refer to any primitive or crude garment. [10]

Linings – As the name implies, these were cheaper cloths that served to protect the better fabrics.[11]

Flannels – Coarse cloth used for floor cloths, mops etc.

Penitones – Also known as Forrest Whites, a cheap woollen cloth from the village of Penistone in the West Riding of Yorkshire near Barnsley. [12]

Ossets – Cloths woven on narrow looms.

Kerseys – A thick and sturdy cloth made from yarns that had been spun into large thicknesses from inferior, carded wool. Kersey was a warp-backed, twill-weave cloth woven on a four-treadle loom. The name is taken from a village in Suffolk.

Whether the cloth was woven in Shrewsbury or bought from the other wool towns, it had to be finished, this included washing, stretching or tentering, shearing and dyeing. The stretching of the cloth was done on wooden frames known as tenters. These had hooks on which the cloth was stretched, hence the expression: to be ‘on tenterhooks’.

The cotton-finishing trade alone provided employment for up to eight hundred men.

’This work was done by members of the Guild of Sheermen or Frizers (Scherman, todeur) cloth dressers, who clip off the nap uniformly’.[13]

When finished, the cloth was traded near the Town-Hall in The Square, in the Market Hall that had been built for that purpose. It was built in 1595 by the corporation and continued to be let to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company until 1803. ‘Every Thursday, a large market for Welsh cloths, and flannels, of which great quantities are bought in this town and sent abroad’.[14]  The distribution method was by strings of pack-horses.[15]

‘Every Thursday the central parts of the town were all life and bustle. Troops of hardy ponies, each with a halter of twisted straw, and laden with two bales of cloth, poured into the market-place in the morning, driven by stout Welshmen in their country coats of blue cloth, and striped linsey waistcoats. After dinner, at two o`clock, the drapers with their clerks, and shearmen, assembled under the market – hall, and proceeded up the stairs in seniority, having, by ancient usage, the right of pre-emption in that order. The market being over, drays were seen in all directions, conveying the cloths to the several warehouses: and more than six hundred pieces of web have been sold in a day. The whole was a ready-money business, and as the Welshmen left much of their cash behind them, in exchange for malt, groceries and other shop goods.[16]

In 1600, the French banned the importation of tentered cloth. This was in effect a boycott of Shrewsbury`s trade with Rouen since Shrewsbury was one of the main providers of this material. The Privy Council immediately banned tentering in order to enable the trade in cloth to continue at its previous level. However, within a year, a clause in the `Cloth Act’ of 1601 stated that tentering was an essential part of the finishing process. The ‘Cloth Act’ also specified the precise measurements and weight for various kinds of cloth, which were to be inspected by the London alnager at Blackwell Hall.[17]

The main purpose of the `Cloth Act` was to encourage the French to lift the embargo on tentered cloth but it quickly became apparent that here was a new source of revenue for the Exchequer, since all cloth was subject to approval by the London alnager and, under the Act, substandard cloth was to be forfeited and sold off with the proceeds divided between the informer, the alnager and the Crown.

In 1602 ‘a man of very good credit’ warned the London partners of the Shrewsbury Drapers that, as a result of the Act, problems lay ahead for sub-standard cloth. The London alnager, John Tey, ‘laid informations in the Exchequer against a wide range of clothiers, including twelve Shrewsbury Drapers’. The Company was so concerned for its profits that two members were sent to lobby in Parliament for alterations to the Act.[18]

Their lobbying was partly successful; Welsh cloth priced at less than 15d per yard was exempted from the Act, and the quality threshold for the more expensive cottons was relaxed.

Alnager Tey lost income from this change in the legislation, but he quickly found some earlier legislation to help his cause. Although the requirement for an alnage seal now exempted cheap Welsh cottons, he found a clause in the 1552 Cloth Act; that had not been observed since 1588. This stated that each cloth should include a second seal from the maker specifying its dimensions and weight. Seizures of cloths failing this requirement started at Bartholomew Fair in August 1604. The Shrewsbury Drapers were warned by their London partners that a decree in Tey’s favour could cost them £150 a year in forfeitures.

It was a potential crisis. The Company held half-a-dozen indecisive meetings of the members while they tried to decide how to pay the legal costs that would be incurred in fighting the threat from Tey. In February 1606 they voted to raise a fighting fund by a weekly levy on cloth sales at the Oswestry market. They would use part of the fighting fund to send a representative to their London partners to join in lobbying for a fresh statute during the new parliamentary session.

`Barker and Tate were named to the committee along with the shire knights, Sir Roger Owen and Sir Robert Needham, but Tey was also included, and displayed samples of defective cloth to convince the committee that his activities were necessary. The Drapers enjoined to show more concern for quality, drafted a bill to this effect and sent it to Shrewsbury for the Company’s approval. It was thereafter conveniently forgotten, but this co-operative attitude placated the committee sufficiently to allow the bill to be reported on 17 Mar.; the Drapers later credited Owen with this achievement, sending him a tun of wine in recognition of his efforts.’[19]

The London partners arranged for the closure of the market as a temporary answer, meanwhile asking the Privy Council to suspend all further seizures of substandard cloth.

In November 1606, when the London partners submitted their bill for £237/14s/ 4d for costs incurred in opposing Tey, they reminded the Company of the alternative to such prodigious expense:

`there is not any country that tradeth cloth to London, but one way or other it hath cost them more than our disbursements, besides they are still subject to seizures and impositions and much servitude by that implacable monster of men, that wolf Tey and his ministers, whose taxations are yearly increased and the poor country then grievously polled and vexed, and are remediless.’

Richard Jones refused to pay the cloth levy and various attempts to collect arrears of it resulted in arguments in the Drapers Hall. It took a long time to raise the money and, meanwhile, two of the London agents sued the Company for restitution. The case was finally settled by arbitration in 1609, although it took another nine years before the debt was paid in full.[20]

The dramatic events of 1606 and after serve to underline the dogged determination with which the Shrewsbury Drapers Company clung onto their effective monopoly in Welsh cloths from the Marches region. Fortunately, it was Privy Council policy to encourage the Shrewsbury Drapers Company’s trading monopoly.[21] In 1609 a charter from James merged the Guild of the Holy Trinity and the Drapers’ trading arm.

The Drapers were powerful but others cast envious eyes on their monopoly and there was little chance to relax their guard. Within a few years of their triumph of 1606, their grip on the wool trade was threatened yet again. In 1620 the Privy Council policy on monopolies was reversed. Now free trade ruled and Government policy was to open up markets to all. Inflation had become a feature of the economy in the period 1610-20 and trade activity had reduced and when a depression followed, free trade seemed to offer a solution.

The Act for Free Trade in Welsh cottons, cloths, friezes etc. received its first reading on 26th February 1621. The aim of this and similar bills was to enlarge an open trade area for the free trade in Welsh wool, Welsh butter and Welsh cloth.[22]

Francis Berkeley, Shrewsbury M.P., son of a Shrewsbury Draper and the company’s legal counsel, and Sir Richard Newport M.P. opposed the Bill having been briefed by the Drapers’ lobbyist, John Prowde, member of a Draper dynasty based in Milk Street in Shrewsbury. Their efforts were to no avail and the Act was eventually approved.[23]

By way of a rear-guard action, Prowde advised the Shrewsbury Drapers to `forbear buying but a while’. That way the Welsh would be taught a lesson because in a falling and depressed market it was not a good time for the Drapers’ suppliers to be holding stocks. The Shrewsbury men agreed on the embargo, agreeing not to go to Oswestry or Welshpool, and that they would only buy woollen cloth in Shrewsbury itself. They had the Welsh traders over a barrel. Those wishing to sell had no choice but to come to town. The Drapers were the buyers with cash. Welsh traders continued to travel to Shrewsbury to sell their cloths until the 18th century.[24]

This was a thrusting time and the investment in foreign ventures and expenditure on new furniture continued, but several old issues emerged including the lack of a standard length of cloth. The length of Welsh cloths had been increasing in order to avoid charges that were due ‘per piece’, but this ruse had been exploited to such an extent that in the early years of the seventeenth century some examples where shown to be over a hundred yards long.

It was a system that worked well for those that sold by the yard including the Drapers, the clothiers and the export merchants but the government was losing out because Customs, the alnager, the weaver, the cloth workers, the dyers and the carriers were all paid by the piece. In 1637 the government tried to re-introduce the old standards although there is evidence that some Shrewsbury Drapers continued to over-stretch cloth on tenters, ignoring the loss of credibility and long-term reputational damage that this behaviour inflicted on all members of the Company.[25]

In the year of 1638 a case was brought to the Council of Wales and the Marches by the churchwardens and overseers of St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, concerning eight roods of land on the west side of the churchyard on which the almshouses were built and that the plaintiffs now disputed with the Drapers Company.[26] The Drapers fought off the threat and the almshouses remained there for almost another two hundred years.

The development of a banking function

Local trade was financed mainly in cash but more sophisticated methods of payment were needed for larger and foreign transactions, as we have seen with the livre tournis in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. By the seventeenth century the drapers were well versed in paper financial instruments, bills and bills of exchange and they also used ‘returns’ and ‘bills’ to send taxes to London for themselves and third parties. In 1835 the sheriff of Shropshire used the ‘very sufficient company of drapers in Shrewsbury’ to remit £3,000, which they agreed if given time to pay in instalments.[27] In 1640 the sheriff of Merioneth was specific when he wrote that £416 would be paid on a given date by a bill of exchange drawn on John Prowde and Adam Webb.

During the Civil War in 1642, many members of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company were predominant in the names of delinquents and suspects proscribed by the Crown. The tables were turned in 1643, when three of them Thomas Knight, John Prowde and John Lloyd were made members of the Committee to sequester royalist estates in the county.

Trading was problematic during the Civil War because of damage and pillage caused by soldiers on both sides and production of wool reduced restricting trade. Also between the Civil Wars according to Mendenhall p 208, the Shrewsbury Drapers resolved it self into a joint stock company and delegated four members to travel to Oswestry to buy cloth on behalf of all members who gave them orders.

After 1650, two drapers William King and Richard Bagot were responsible for delivering the sequestered cash in Shrewsbury and transferred it to London by bills of exchange. This role of financiers and bankers continued into the eighteenth century and in 1720 when John Kelsall, of Mathrafal forge, needed bills of exchange to pay his suppliers for pig iron, he turned to the drapers and used their bills to pay the iron masters their dues. In the 1750s Edward Blakeway remitted Excise duties to London and to that extent acted as a banker. Drapers also dealt in Government and commercial stocks like the South Sea Company, East India Company and the Royal African Company stock.[28]

The power of the Company in the seventeenth century is demonstrated by a petition sent by the inhabitants of Merioneth in 1648. In it they request the Company that the market day for white cotton be changed from Friday to Wednesday since they are unable to get back home in time for Sunday observance if they leave Shrewsbury after the Friday market. There are approximately fifty signatures on the petition.[29] There can be no doubt who is petitioning and who has the power to accept or decline their request.

Drapers Dynasties and an American Venture

The Jones’s[30]

The links between Shrewsbury and its Welsh hinterland run deep as is evidenced by the names of several prominent Shrewsbury citizens of the early seventeenth century.

William Jones

William Jones hailed from Holt in Clwyd. He became a Shrewsbury Draper and established a dynasty. His house was built at the east corner of Grope Lane and the High Street, where Costa Coffee is situated at the time of writing, where he raised five children with his wife Eleanor. He died in 1612 after obtaining a grant of arms in 1607 and his wife died in 1623. The couple’s fine tomb, originally in their parish church of St Alkmunds, was moved into the Abbey Church in 1789.[31]  They had four sons, Richard, Thomas, Edward and Isaac, and a daughter Sarah who married Thomas Harris of Breatton.

Richard Jones, first son of William

The eldest son, Richard Jones, was also a member of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company and an alderman. He took on his parent`s house until his death in 1638, an important year for his brother Thomas.

Thomas Jones, second son of William

Thomas Jones, second son of William, became a wealthy merchant, having been admitted as a member of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1592. He would have been heavily involved at the time of the embargo on buying in Wales. He was an alderman and six times bailiff (1601, 1610, 1615, 1621, 1627 & 1635). He was also High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1624/25 and Chief Magistrate in 1638.[32] It was in that year that Charles I appointed him the first Mayor of Shrewsbury having granted a Royal Charter to Shrewsbury and the right to elect a mayor.[33]

For the first time, we can put a face to a name. The portrait of Thomas Jones in Shrewsbury Museum, painted in 1615, shows him in scarlet robes with fur trim. The robes are probably those of the bailiff, an office which could be said to be precursor of the office of Mayor, since the portrait dates from the time he was bailiff, when he was forty-seven years old and he only became mayor when he was seventy. They were purchased by Shrewsbury Museums Service in 1999/2000, with assistance from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, public subscription and the Friends of Shrewsbury’s Borough Museums.

Thomas Jones wife, Sarah, was the daughter of Richard Balland of Chester (Mayor of Chester, 1581). The portrait shows her fine dress and jewellery which may indicate that she was a wealthy woman in her own right although, since Thomas was known as ‘rich Jones’ and was one of the wealthiest men in Shrewsbury, he may have indulged her tastes for clothes and jewellery. She was forty-one years old when her portrait was painted.

Thomas and Sarah moved into what became known as Jones’ Mansion when he bought the property in 1617. It stood under the Wyle, at the bottom of Wyle Cop, a large timber-framed house at the north end of the ‘Stone’ or English Bridge. In the nineteenth century the buildings were acquired by William Hazeldine and were pulled down in 1829.

Edward Jones, third son of William

The third son, Edward Jones, became a lawyer and chief legal advisor to the borough. His home is part of the complex of the present-day Prince Rupert Hotel, the so-called ‘Jones’s Mansion’ (often incorrectly described as the home of Thomas Jones).[34] However, when his brother Thomas (the rich) Jones died in 1642, without issue, he left his property to his brother Edward and Edward moved to his brother Thomas’s house known as Jones`s Mansion at the bottom of Wyle Cop.

Edward had two sons and both became successful lawyers in their own right. One rose to become Sir Thomas Jones, a chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster.

Isaac Jones, fourth son of William

The fourth and youngest son, Isaac, married Elizabeth Prynce, a daughter of Richard Prynce, Lawyer , of Whitehall in Shrewsbury. Isaac left home to seek his fortune in London and he too proved to have the Jones touch for making money. He was succesful enough to afford to buy the Berwick estate in 1619. His son, Sir Samuel Jones, was said to be an apothecary from London, was twice MP for Shrewsbury and made money from property and he died without issue.[35] He left money to found the almshouses and the chapel at Berwick, built in 1672.[36]    He requested his heirs ‘to continue to pay sums each year from his estate for the support of the Almshouses and their residents’.[37]

The Rowleys[38]

One of the leading Drapers of the early seventeenth century was William Rowley who moved to Shrewsbury from Worfield, where his family had been maltsters. He was admitted as a burgess of Shrewsbury in 1594 and to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1597.

In 1605 Rowley moved to Hills Lane to where a Richard Cherwell had been living until his death in that year. Cherwell had been admitted to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1583 and simultaneously had continued the family business, which, since the 1520s, had been that of brewers. It is likely that Rowley and Cherley were in partnership since they travelled to markets together and did business on a significant scale. Both families had a background in brewing and this may have given them common interests. Cherwell was also employed by the Crown to remit tax revenues collected locally in Shrewsbury via his agent in London.

After Cherwell`s death Rowley took possession of most of Cherwell’s property in lieu of £400 that he claimed he had loaned to Cherwell during his life. In the following year he had to defend an action in London, brought by the Cherwell estate, and it took some years to resolve the case. Later, in 1612, Rowley purchased twelve messuages and four gardens in Shrewsbury from a Joseph Cherwell so in some form the family connections continued.

Rowley was a substantial citizen by any standard. He further added to his property portfolio and took a lease from the Shrewsbury Drapers Company on land/property in Knockyn St and the lane to Romaldesham, now Barker Street.

On this land he built the first brick house in Shrewsbury in 1618. It was attached to his timber-framed warehouse in Romaldsham.

Rowley was a member of the minority puritan group and along with another draper, George Wright (Bailiff 1619-20 and 1632-3), was presented for a number of non-conformist offences including: in 1620, for not receiving communion at Easter; in 1626, for not frequenting his parish church; and, in 1633, for not bowing at the name of Jesus. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these affronts to Anglican correctness, he was elected bailiff in 1628-9.

As bailiff, he pursued the ungodly. Those who did not fully observe the Sabbath day were the special objects of his attention. On 5th July, he surprised an evening’s entertainment at a private house, when he knocked at the door and arrested Ozais Lloyd, an apprentice baker who had arranged a party for some friends with music and syllabub and green cheese.  To compound his offence, the ungodly Ozais had not been to church at all on that Sunday, having, as is quoted in the indictment, missed morning prayers at six, the morning service at nine and the morning and afternoon sermons.[39]

There was nothing ungodly about beer however. By 1635 Rowley had created a ‘very vast brew house… the brewing vessels wherein are capable of 100 measures’[40]. At this time there were some 220 alehouses in Shrewsbury and its suburbs and whilst some brewed their own ale, many had started to take deliveries from big breweries such as Rowley’s. Nationally the bigger brewers had become one of the most powerful and political groups, although not in Shrewsbury where the Shrewsbury Drapers Company held the town firmly in their grip, not that this would have concerned Rowley who was sure of his position either way. He had joined the Drapers forty years earlier, becoming an alderman of the new town council when it was first formed in 1638.

When Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham in 1642, he gathered an army and came to Shrewsbury that September. Rowley, who had continued with his support of the puritan cause and had assisted the ‘lecturer’ Julines Herring, to preach in private houses, was named along with twelve others as `persons disaffected to his majesty`s person and government’. All were barred from council meetings and Rowley was added to a list of ‘delinquents’. God did not let him down, however; despite what must have been uncomfortable times during the years of Royalist control, he was alive to cheer when parliamentary forces, led by Captain John Benbow and soldiers from the garrison at Wem, retook Shrewsbury in February 1645. Rowley died later that year, vindicated, and was buried in St Chad`s churchyard on 2nd July.

Johnathan and Roger Rowley

Rowley’s estate was insolvent, mainly because of the plunder and free quarter demanded by the Royalist troops, so it was said. Confronted by this sorry state of affairs, two of his sons, Roger and Johnathan, agreed that the only way the debts could be paid off was by the resumption of brewing. Johnathan had trained as a brewer so he did the brewing and Roger agreed to pay him an allowance of £200 per annum to sustain him.  Meanwhile the estate was put in trust. Johnathan worked hard and paid off most of the debt before he died in 1655, having been Mayor of Shrewsbury the previous year. Roger continued the business until he died in 1670.

Anne and Priscilla Rowley

William`s daughter Anne had married Richard Shalcrosse and inherited the Rowley property at Bridgnorth which was sold in 1684. The Shrewsbury estate passed to Priscilla the eldest daughter who had married John Hill in 1658, an ancestor of the Hills of Hawkstone. John Hill junior, their son, was elected to the town council in 1677 and served as Mayor eleven years later. He was a noted generous host and Hills Lane is named after him. He is said to have been the inspiration for one of the judges in George Farquhar`s play The Recruiting Officer, written in Shrewsbury in 1705, when Farquhar was living here.

Seth Rowley and a West Indian Adventure

In 1661, William Rowley`s son, Seth,  an adventurer who had  invested in the West Indies, was one of seventeen planters, merchants and traders with interests in Barbados who petitioned Charles II, that the then governor of Barbados should be retained in office. Seth returned to Shrewsbury seven years later, where he died. His will makes no mention of Barbados, but the will of his niece`s husband John Hill junior, dated 1731 (see above) shows that he was the owner of a three-sevenths share in a plantation in Barbados. Thus, whilst there is no direct link between Godly William Rowley and the slave trade, there is a strong link between it and his descendants. Helping to protect those British interests in the West Indies, until his death in 1702, was Shrewsbury born Admiral John (Brave) Benbow, nephew of previously mentioned Captain Benbow, who captured Shrewsbury for the Parliamentary forces.

An American Venture

In the first half of the seventeenth century North America was seen as a land of opportunity and was ripe for investment. George Cleeve, ‘a litigious and foul-mouthed man’, a native of the south west of England, came to Shrewsbury and operated the Sextry, the inn known today as The Golden Cross Hotel, where he traded as a vintner.[41] He married a local girl called Joan Price, whose parents ran The Pheasant in Mardol, and the young couple left to go to North America in 1630. George carried with him the hopes of several Shrewsbury Drapers and once there he invested money on behalf of these partners. The venture failed but George persevered and is credited with the founding of Maine. In Portland there is a statue erected in his memory.

In the 1630s a group of Shrewsbury Drapers invested in a joint-stock company to New England, with two-thirds of the subscribing merchants coming from Bristol and the rest from Shrewsbury, including George Wright, a close colleague of the Draper-brewer William Rowley of Rowley’s Mansion, Hill’s Lane. The origins of this company are obscure, but appear to have been associated with a grant in 1631 of lands on the Piscataqua River, near Dover (New Hampshire). The Bristol merchants dropped out in 1633, but the Shrewsbury men, now associated with aristocratic interests and other parties, stayed with the venture until about 1641 when Dover, proving to be of little profit, was transferred to Massachusetts. The involvement of the Shrewsbury merchants was a symptom of the town’s commercial dynamism, one which was to place it among the forefront of English provincial towns at the time.

Today in the city of Portland, beside Eastern Parkway on one of the hills overlooking Casco Bay, there stands a tall monument in stone to George Cleeve, still regarded as the city’s founder. His had been a remarkable life, taking him from his native Somerset, to Bristol, London and Shrewsbury, and eventually across the Atlantic to the New World. And for Cleeve’s wife Joan it must, one fancies, have seemed just as remarkable, and all a long way from The Pheasant on Mardol Head, and the days when her father was the tenant there and she had quarrelled with her step-mother.[42]

In conclusion Mendenhall summarises the success of the seventeenth century but looks forward to the eighteenth century and the growth of trade with the Americas and the West Indies. Not everyone was successful and in 1657 the Shrewsbury Drapers donated £10 to a Mr Obediah Brayae, a poor brethren in New England.[43]

Sheep to Sugar

Telling the Story of Negro Cloth and Welsh Plains

By Professor Chris Evans, author of “Slave Wales: Wales and Atlantic Slavery 1660 – 1850”:

In the eighteenth century Wales was notable for producing a coarse woollen fabric from which clothes for enslaved workers in the New World were fashioned. This was ‘Negro Cloth’, a drab material that is little remembered today. Yet it was important. ‘Who would believe’, asked one eighteenth-century commentator, ‘that woollens constitute an article of great consumption in the torrid zone? Such, however, is the fact. Of the coarser kinds especially, for the use of the negroes, the export is prodigious.’[i]

So it was, weavers of Negro Cloth served a market that underwent an astonishing expansion across the eighteenth century. Between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the War of 1812 the enslaved population of the British sugar islands underwent a more than eight-fold increase, from 87,000 to 743,000. The rate of growth in British North America was even greater, from about 10,000 individuals to 1.19 million. It was a market that could never be satisfied. Slave workers usually required a new set of clothes every autumn, it being taken for granted that a year’s labour would reduce the previous year’s ration to rags. By assuming a standard allowance per slave, we can make a rough-and-ready calculation of how much Negro Cloth was consumed every year. Happily, the sources available to us tell a consistent story: about 5 yards was allotted to every adult. Juveniles were probably allotted something a little smaller, so we might settle on 4 yards per slave as an average for the eighteenth century. That suggests that 388,000 yards of woollen fabric were consumed by the enslaved c. 1690, vaulting to 7,736,000 yards in 1812.

Welsh weavers did not have it all their own way in this burgeoning market. There were rival products. One of them, marketed as ‘Kendal Cotton’, was manufactured in Cumbria. Another type, known as ‘Penistone’ after the moorland parish of that name in the West Riding of Yorkshire, could also be found throughout the plantation world. The dominant variety of Negro Cloth, however, known as ‘Welsh plains’ or ‘Welsh cotton’, was produced in Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire. ‘Good Welch cotton seems upon the whole to answer best’, one slaveholder announced; its rivals were ‘light and insufficient’. The whole purpose of Welsh woollens, one observer went so far as to state in the 1770s, was ‘covering the poor Negroes in the West Indies’.

The making of Negro Cloth was clearly a significant phenomenon, especially in mid-Wales, yet it is little attended to by textile historians and it figures hardly at all in popular memory. Nevertheless, the bare outlines of the story can be told. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, woollen manufacturing spread through upland pastoral districts where impoverished peasant households sought a way of boosting their incomes. The production of low-quality textiles was a way or doing so. The carding of wool and the spinning of yarn could be done in the slack periods that broke up the agricultural routine of the wet uplands. Weaving was performed on looms housed in lean-to additions to farmhouses and cottages. The proliferation of fulling mills along mountain streams in Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is an index of the industry’s growth. It is one of the few indices available, for this widely dispersed domestic trade otherwise left few traces in the form of guilds or cloth halls.

Fulling was the only finishing operation carried out locally. High-value, high-skill processes such as shearing were carried out at Shrewsbury, over the border in England, where the formidable Drapers Company exerted a firm grip on the marketing of mid-Wales textiles. In the seventeenth century, Welsh cloth was sold in Western Europe; in the eighteenth, however, it was sent to Atlantic markets. When, in the 1780s, Elias Ball, a South Carolina planter, investigated the source of the Negro Cloth worn by his slaves, he discovered that ‘the great Markett for that article… is at Shroesberry [Shrewsbury] the Capital of Shropshire’, drawing on production zones to the west. Growing numbers of rural dwellers in Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire were harnessed to the Atlantic economy. The labouring poor resorted to industrial by-employments in response to mounting impoverishment. They were joined by small hill farmers who sought to cover rising rents, rates, and tithes by participating in woollen production. By mid-century parishes in the woollen-producing heartland of Montgomeryshire swarmed with spinners and weavers. Some hamlets registered surges in population that can only be accounted for by the employment opportunities afforded by the woollen industry.

Much of the export went by way of London. When Henry Laurens, a Charleston merchant, visited the imperial capital in 1774 he was confident that ample supplies of Negro Cloth would be available: ‘Shall inspect such parcels as are in the London Warehouses to Morrow or next Day’, he told his partners in Charleston. If stocks were low there was no cause for alarm, for fresh deliveries were never far off: ‘parcels of Plains are hourly expected from Wales’, he told one associate; ‘a large Supply by Sea from Wales’ was imminent, he told another. Nevertheless, London probably played a less central role as the eighteenth century wore on, giving ground first to Bristol, then to Liverpool.

As the decades passed, factors from the slave ports usurped the position of dominance once enjoyed by the Drapers Company of Shrewsbury. Once, weavers had trudged with their cloth to local market centres; now, the agents of international cloth merchants came to them. ‘The Liverpool Merchants have now person on the spot, to purchase of the makers; and to assist the poorer manufacturers with money to carry on their trade’. Cash advances to ‘poor manufacturers’ were no doubt very welcome, but they were also a sure sign that ownership of the product had shifted from the weaver to merchant capitalist. Abject proletarianisation came next.

Indeed, the fate of many of those who worked in the mid-Wales woollen industry was not enviable. Although Welsh plains were used to clothe some of the most savagely exploited human beings of the age, those who carded, spun and wove wool in the mountain parishes of Merioneth and Montgomeryshire were themselves subject to cumulative social and economic degradation. The rural population had turned to woollen production in a desperate effort to meet the increased rental demands of an avaricious landlord class, as we have seen, but much depended on the competitive strength of their product in far distant markets. As the eighteenth century drew to a close that strength became increasingly uncertain.

Although the market was Negro Cloth was expanding, the political context was increasingly unstable. The disruption brought about by the American Revolution was quickly overcome, but renewed warfare in the 1790s and 1800s brought far tougher times. Negro Cloth from Wales continued to circulate in Atlantic markets after the close of the Napoleonic Wars but with increasing difficulty.

By the 1830s the domestic woollen industry of mid-Wales was no longer spoken of as being either thriving or export-driven. The reasons for that have to be surmised. It may be that Welsh weavers were out-flanked by rivals from industrialising New England, whose innovations in the making and marketing of cloth proved too competitive. Things became acute after the War of 1812, which choked off British exports to the United States and acted as a great stimulus to American industry. Textile manufacturers in the United States were now well placed to take over domestic markets that had once been ceded to Welsh products.

Things were no better in other historic markets for Welsh plains. The demand for Welsh-made Negro Cloth must surely have contracted in the West Indies as well. Emancipation in the British Caribbean in the 1830s introduced a degree of consumer choice that had never been known under the old plantation economy. Wherever they had the choice, ex-slaves gave up heavy woollens for more comfortable cotton fabrics. The mountain communities of Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire that relied on the domestic manufacture of plains were plunged into misery as a result. By the time of Queen Victoria’s accession the woollen-producing districts that girdled mid-Wales recorded some of the highest levels of pauperism in Britain. Deindustrialization and depopulation became intertwined processes. Looms were abandoned, the people left, and the memory of Welsh ‘Negro cloth’ left with them. It is time it was restored.”

Now we have the opportunity to add to this story, to find out what life was like for Welsh hill farmers and their families, and also to explore how the cloth they wove was used. 

[i] Edwards B. The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies (1793)

Decay of the Welsh Cloth Trade

The Guild received a setback during the Civil War. In those uncertain times trade was restricted and woollen cloth was likely to be stolen by soldiers of both sides. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought no great relief since many Drapers were parliamentarians and suffered the consequences of their former enthusiasm. They were not treated as favourably as had been the custom in the past.

As long as the transport infrastructure was poor and roads in England and Wales remained primitive, and before manufacturing became more efficiently organised during the Industrial Revolution, the Shrewsbury Drapers were relatively safe from competition. But in the eighteenth century, as the turnpike system revolutionised transport and as Welsh capitalism developed and industrialisation had the effect of reducing costs, there was a rapid increase in the decline in the importance of the Shrewsbury merchants. More efficient manufacturing and weaving processes meant that the old, wool town-guilds were in decline everywhere, although the process was gradual and wool was still important locally at the start of the new century.

There is a good stoare of sheep in this Parish whose wool if washed white and well ordered is not much inferior to the wool of Baschurch and Nesse which beares the name of the best in this County.[44]

Throughout the eighteenth century, apprentices continued to be signed up to serve their term with the masters of the day although the numbers declined towards the end of the century. Their masters, members of the Company and its associates, continued to be prominent citizens of the town, retaining family property and wealth generated in the good times of earlier centuries. They were still at the top of the heap but with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century they became more aware of the needs of the poor. Charity became an important issue for some of the most prominent Drapers, notably Thomas Bowdler and James Millington who both set up schools and in addition Millington`s will left funding for almshouses.

Decline of the wool market in Shrewsbury in the late eighteenth century

From 1790, an early sign of the declining market in Shrewsbury was the frequency with which individuals, not members of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company, began to travel to the manufacturing centres across the Welsh border, thus showing the farmers they could still sell their cloth without the bother and expense of a trip to Amwythig (Shrewsbury). In 1797 the writer, Arthur Aikin, noted that drapers must travel to Dolgelly and Machynlleth to buy whatever they could find to service the demand for cloth for the dye-houses of Shrewsbury and Leebotwood. Other persons, who had no connection whatever with the Shrewsbury Drapers Company, were by then able to carry on the trade unrestricted by the duties imposed on the Company over the centuries by the law[45] and this outside competition had begun to have the effect of increasing the prices the drapers had to pay, thus benefitting the producers.

In 1728, some £200,000 worth of flannel had been sold in Welshpool. Flannels were very important to the market in Welshpool because the drapers needed this flannel to supply to the dyers of Shrewsbury, as is evidenced by the contributions the drapers made later to the construction of the Welshpool market hall in 1798 and to the improvement of the Welshpool road in 1802-10. The drapers were clearly showing more than a passing interest in the flannel trade and the flannel was being exported to the slave plantations of the West Indies and North America.[46]

Charitable giving in the eighteenth century

By tradition the almspeople received fixed sums of money during the year. One tradition survived into the 20th century: the `Easter’ shilling given to each resident by the new master after the annual meeting in Easter week. But in those times the revenue was not regarded as charitable and the members felt they could dispose of the money as they thought fit. So spending £50 on an annual feast was a vast sum compared with the support given to the almspeople.

In the eighteenth century the funds of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company were also applied to civic and public projects, these included the maintaining of a fire engine and payments to the fire crew. This civic responsibility had started in the later Elizabethan period when fire protection consisted of the provision of ladders, leather buckets and fire hooks stored in the Hall.

In the puritan period many organs were removed from churches, but times change and in the Georgian period citizens took pride in the provision of civic organs. The Shrewsbury Drapers Company contributed to a new organ in St Chad’s Church and later another donation was made for a new organ in St Mary’s Church. When St Julian’s Church was rebuilt in 1749, the Company gave fifty guineas; the treasurer was Charles Young, a leading draper at that time.

But times certainly do change, and the trade was in a permanent decline and despite the efforts of a few stalwarts the size of the Company had reduced to a fraction of what it had once been. By 1800 it was down to, at the most, eleven members and only two of them exercised the trade.[47]  The Company’s main function was by then to manage a property and investment portfolio and little was spent on the almshouses and they were in a very poor state of repair indeed.

The almshouses were rebuilt in 1825 and a handful of Shrewsbury Drapers kept the charitable aspects of the Guild alive, after the Corporation Act of 1835 swept aside all the trading rights and benefits of guild membership across all guilds and all of the Country. Small groups of five trustees kept the almshouses operating in spite of many difficulties including the Depression and two World Wars. Then in 1985, the five trustees agreed to increase their number to nine and after further increases to eighty by 1992 and the guild was revived and has continued to thrive.

In Shropshire there are many reminders of the importance of the wool and the woollen cloth trade in the landscape; including a popular visitor attraction near Church Stretton being Carding Mill Valley. How many visitors are aware that carding is a process of lining up wool fibres before spinning? Also in the same area a couple of places are named as Walk Mills which derives from waulk an ancient word for fulling or softening cloth using hammers.

To get an idea of the scale of the Welsh Wool Trade in the Marches towns, I conclude this essay with a contemporary account of the trade at the beginning of the nineteenth century from Walter Davies who wrote a general view of agriculture and the Domestic Economy of North Wales. He sets out the cost of trading with the Drapers from Shrewsbury who expected a 10% kick back on the trade they made whatever the price.

He states that the manufacturers are the wholesale venders of their own flannels, sending them to their dealers in different parts of the kingdom, without the intervening additional charge of commission or agency. The farmers and cottagers, who still make them in the old method, formerly brought each his own manufacture to meet the Salopian and other drapers at Welshpool market; which is regularly kept every alternate Monday throughout the year. Of late, a most useful set of men, although branded by our law, before the principles and theory of trade were well understood, with the odious epithet of forestallers—have appeared; who go about the country, and buy all the pieces they can. They seem well calculated to compel the over-wealthy drapers to allow a more regular and diffusive division of the profits of buying; while at the same time they save the indigent manufacturer the trouble, loss of time, and expense, of coming from 10 to 25 miles (p. 395) to market, for the sake of selling only one piece. Whether these itinerant jobbers rival their masters the drapers, in the manoeuvre of the thumb and yard by measure, is a question that must not be decided at present; it may however be presumed that they do not, for they give general satisfaction to the country.

Several pieces of the finest flannels, measure 132 yards, and some still more; we will suppose, one-thirtieth part of the whole manufacture to be of that length, and the remaining twenty-nine parts to have 110 yards to a piece. On some market days, 500 pieces have been sold; by taking the average at 300, the annual number will be 7800 pieces. Formerly, when the market was lower, the average price of each piece was £4.: it gradually rose to £5, then to £6 and upwards. Of late, the different quantities and qualities of the 7800 pieces supposed to be annually sold, may have been, as nearly as can be estimated, in the following proportions:

2/60 or 260 pieces of 132 yards each,at the average price of 2s. 9d. per yard .’            £4,719

15/60, or 1950 pieces of 110 yards, at 2s.                    £ 21 450

43/60, or 5590 pieces of 110 yards, at 1s 3d.              £ 38 431  5s 0d

                         7800                                                   £ 64 600  5s 0d

Wool in the 260 pieces, 34 lbs. in each, at 2s. per lb.    £884

Ditto 1950 ditto 36 lbs. at Is. 6d.                                 £  5, 265

Ditto 5590 ditto 42 lbs at Is.                                        £11,739

Oil to the manufacture of 7800 pieces, at 3s. each        £ 1,170

Soap 8d ..                                                                     £   260

Fullers earth, 3s. to every 23 pieces                              £      50 17s 4d

£19,368 17s 4d

By this statement it appears that £19,368 17s. 4d. is the fair value of the unmanufactured wool, and other articles; and the remaining sum of £45,231 7s. 8d. ought to be the annual wages of labour: but unfortunately, the drapers reduce this annual profit of industry to £39,358 12s. 8d, by a custom of exacting a drawback of ten per cent. upon the total amount; that is, in a piece of 132 yards they pay but for 120, and in a piece of 110 yards they account only for 100. When the quantity manufactured was small, and the price low, this was a grievous tax upon industry ; but now, the annual amount of the drawback makes it appear thrice more intolerable than ever; and it is high time that the poor manufacturers should awake out of their lethargy, and make a general revolt against such a barefaced imposition.

The second article of woollen manufacture, consists of what are provincially called webs: and by London drapers, Welsh plains, or cottons. They are a coarse sort of thick white cloth, made in pieces of from 90 to 120 yards. They are exclusively the production of three small districts: the first is the town of Dolgellau in Merionethshire, and its neighbourhood  of about 12 miles round; the second is the town of Machynlleth, and the Vale of the Dovey, in Montgomeryshire; the third is the district of Glynn in Denbighshire, comprehending some few parishes to the north and west of the town of Oswestry. 

With respect to the quantity manufactured in each of these divisions, that in Dolgellau and its environs is by far the most considerable. Dolgellau webs may be divided into two sorts; the coarsest, 3/4 of a yard wide, selling from 31d. to 16d.; and the best, 7/8 of a yard wide, from 16d. to 2s. per yard. By computing that each fulling-mill out of eighteen, in the two former districts, dresses four webs per week, at an average of 96 yards to a piece, of the value of 16d per yard; the annual amount will be £47,923. This estimate may be presumed to be within bounds; for the common report is a thousand pounds per week.

This manufacture is of long standing, as appears by Acts of Parliament, the 1st and 3d of James I.; and by two orders from the Privy Council of Charles I ; [note : * See Nos. VIII. and IX. in the Appendix.] one, to the magistrates of the county of Merionethshire, in the year 1635, complaining that the Welsh cottons made at that time, were of inferior quality, compared with those of former days; and consequently injurious to the interest of the London merchants trading to France: the other, to the Lord President of the Marches, in the year 1637, limiting the length of the webs, and prohibiting the use of fell and lambs wool in the manufacture; which at present are found to be excellent ingredients, and in times of peace are consequently imported to Barmouth, in great quantities from Leghorn, London, and Dover. The warp is now ‘now made of the fleece wool of the country ; and the woof is a mixture, containing about one-third, and sometimes one half, of lambs wool. The Italian lambs’ wool, in 1795, sold at Dolgellau for £8 a pack of 240 lbs.; but since June 1796, when the French entered Leghorn, none of it has been imported, except some little in neutral vessels.[48]

 NOTE THIS WORK IS DRAFT IN PROGRESS and will be updated in due course

[1] Drinkwater Rev C.H., The Drapers` company Charter in Transactions of the Shropshire Archeological and Natural history Society Vol VIII 1896 p. 188.

[2] One of the town guilds was the Fellmongers; they recovered wool from sheep skins obtained from local butchers. They operated in Frankwell until 1974, and the business was owned by Birch & Co from Birmingham.

[3] Champion W.A. (Bill), VCH Shropshire Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 140.

[4] Healey S., with assistance from J Lawson and W.A. (Bill) Chapmen, Parliamentary History on line: Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[5] Champion W.A. (Bill), VCH Shropshire Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 141.

[6] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.


[8] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.


[10] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[11] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[12] Hey D., The History of Penistone (2002, Barnsley) Penistones are also mentioned in The British Customs by Henry Saxby of Customs House in London in 1757.

[13] Drinkwater Rev C.H., The Drapers Company Charter in Transactions of Shropshire Archaeological Society and Natural History Society Vol. VIII 1896 p. 190.

[14] Phillips T., The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1779) p. 134.

[15] The String of Horses was an inn taken from Shrewsbury and rebuilt at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, when Frankwell traffic island was constructed in 1970.

[16] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p.1. Quoting, Owen and Blakeway History of Shrewsbury 1, p. 511-2.

[17] The London Alnager was an official tax collector, responsible for gathering duty on cloth sold in Blackwell Hall, London.

[18] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W. A. (Bill) Champion,    Parliamentary History on line- Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[19] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W.A. (Bill) Champion, Parliamentary History on line Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[20] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W.A.(Bill) Champion,    Parliamentary History on line Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[21] Phillips T., The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury from its Foundation to the Present Time (Shrewsbury, 1779) p. 136.

[22] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 170.

[23] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 184.

[24] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 191.

[25] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 6.

[26] S.A. 1831/1/2/11 Case papers brought before the Council of the Marches.

[27] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p. 3.  Quoting, CSPD. Viii. 1635. p. 503).

[28] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p. 3.  Quoting Mendenhall p. 207.

[29] S.A. 1831/1/1/16 Petition from the inhabitants of Merioneth to change the Market Day.

[30] Champion W.A.(Bill), – ‘In depth’Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion Under the Wyle. p. 1.

[31] The Shrewsbury Drapers Company was asked to contribute to the tomb`s return to St Alkmunds in 1912, but it remains in the Abbey.

[32] Champion W.A (Bill), – ‘In depthThomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion, Under the Wyle. p. 1.

[33] The charter is preserved at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

[34] Champion W.A. (Bill), In depth’Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion, Under the Wyle. p. 2

[35] James R.R., Berwick Almshouses: the will of Sir Samuel Jones, Transactions 4th Series 1920-1 Vol VIII  p. 114.

[36] Champion W.A. (Bill), – ‘In depth’ Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion under the Wyle. p. 2.

[37] Watts S., Shropshire Almshouses (2010 Herefordshire) p. 4.

[38] Champion W.A. (Bill), – ‘In depth’ Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion Under the Wyle. p. 2.

[39]  Champion W.A. (Bill), ‘In depth’ William Rowley.

[40] According to Sir William Brereton on a visit

[41] The Golden Cross Hotel is in Golden Cross Passage. The Golden Cross Hotel is reputed to be the oldest licensed Public House in Shrewsbury and records show that it was used as an inn as far back as 1428, some years before the introduction of formal licensing.

[42] Champion W.A., , In depth’William Rowley`

[43] S.A 1831/1/16/4  De Grey Warter, Copies and extracts from the Muniments and papers and books of the Drapers Company of Shrewsbury taken by the late John Vaughan former Master in 1835 and classified and arranged by De Grey Warter in 1881.p.52.

[44] Gough R., Antiquityes and Memoyres of the Parish of Myddle, (Shrewsbury, 1875) p. 175.  Gough was born in 1634 and wrote his book in 1700 -1. It is the earliest surviving record of a local history reference book. It contains names and descriptions of local people, their occupations and local connections. To see an alphabetical list of the people mentioned in the book visit.

[45] Messrs Adlington Gregory and Faulkner reported on the state of the Company in response to the Charity Commissioners enquiry of 1830

[46] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century, Paper p. 2.

[47] S.A 1831 De Grey Warter, Copies and extracts from the Muniments and papers and books of the Drapers Company of Shrewsbury taken by the late John Vaughan former master in 1835 and classified and arranged by De Grey Warter in 1881 p.52.

[48] Davies, Walter, General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of North Wales, (London, 1810) pp. 390 – 415


Nigel`s Notes on Christmas Carol


Introduction to the film Christmas Carol from the book by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens had given talks in Shrewsbury and stayed at The Lion Hotel in 1858, and in October 2011, in the ballroom of the Lion Hotel, I had the pleasure of hearing his Great great grandson Gerald Dickens give a talk on Charles`s life. During the filming I saw many of the actors around town and in the Prince Rupert Hotel where some of them of them stayed.

Shrewsbury as a setting

In 1983/4 a film crew used various locations in Shrewsbury as the setting for a film Christmas Carol, directed by Clive Donner ( 21 January 1926 – 6 September 2010). He directed nearly forty films, mainly for television amongst his best known are The Caretaker, What`s New Pussycat and Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.

This tour is of many of the exterior locations in Shrewsbury used in the film. Interiors were shot in some locations in town including St Julian`s Church, Tanners Wines and The Nags Head Hall. The VHS video box featured a dome similar to St Paul`s Cathedral to remind us that he film is set in London and not Shrewsbury in the nineteenth century. 

The dialogue for each location is taken from the book by Charles Dickens 


Marley was dead :   to begin with.      There is no doubt whatever about that.

The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.   Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.

But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years.


Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.

And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays;

 3       MARLEY APPEARS   

And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half-expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said `Pooh, pooh!’ and closed it with a bang


Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

`It’s humbug still!’ said Scrooge. `I won’t believe it.’

His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried `I know him; Marley’s Ghost!’ and fell back.

The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel


That is no light part of my penance,’ pursued the Ghost. `I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.’

`You were always a good friend to me,’ said Scrooge. `Thank ‘ee!’

`You will be haunted,’ resumed the Ghost, `by Three Spirits.’

Scrooge’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done.

`Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?’ he demanded, in a faltering voice.

Without their visits,’ said the Ghost, `you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One.’

`Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate.

Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!’


The next night as the clock struck “Ding, dong!”

“The hour itself,” said Scrooge triumphantly, “and nothing else!”

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy one. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The spirit appeared and they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand.

`Good Heaven!’ said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. `I was bred in this place. I was a boy here.’ Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, and tree; until some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it.

`The school is not quite deserted,’ said the Ghost. `A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.’

Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.


The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

`Know it.’ said Scrooge. `I was apprenticed here.’

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:

`Why, it’s old Fezziwig. Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again.’

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

`Yo ho, there. Ebenezer. Dick.’

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-prentice.

`Dick Wilkins, to be sure.’ said Scrooge to the Ghost. `Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick. Dear, dear.’


`Yo ho, my boys.’ said Fezziwig. `No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer. Let’s have the shutters up,’ cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands,’ before a man can say Jack Robinson.’

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it. They charged into the street with the shutters — one, two, three — had them up in their places — four, five, six — barred them and pinned then — seven, eight, nine — and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

`My time grows short,’ observed the Spirit. `Quick.’  Scrooge was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.


`It matters little,’ she said, softly. `To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.’

`What Idol has displaced you.’ he rejoined.

`A golden one.’

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.

`You may — the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will — have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.’

She left him, and they parted.

10. Christmas present at his nephews home

The spirit of Christmas present took him on a journey through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew’s and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability.

`Ha, ha.’ laughed Scrooge’s nephew. `Ha, ha, ha.’

Scrooge’s niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.

`Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha.’

`He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live.’ cried Scrooge’s nephew. `He believed it too.’

`More shame for him, Fred.’ said Scrooge’s niece, indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by halves. They are always in earnest.

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed — as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory.

11. and 12. As a two hander


Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?’

`Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,’

At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,’ said the gentleman, taking up a pen, `it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; sir.’

`Are there no prisons?’ asked Scrooge.

`Plenty of prisons,’ said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

`And the Union workhouses?’ demanded Scrooge. `Are they still in operation?’

`They are. Still,’ returned the gentleman, `I wish I could say they were not.’

`The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?’ said Scrooge.

`Both very busy, sir.’

`Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,’ said Scrooge. `I’m very glad to hear it.’

What shall I put you down for?’ Nothing!’ Scrooge replied.

`You wish to be anonymous?’

`I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge `Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’

`Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’

`If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, `they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.’

`But you might know it,’ observed the gentleman.

`It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. `It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!’


The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

`A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!’ cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

`Bah!’ said Scrooge, `Humbug!’

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. `Christmas a humbug, uncle!’ said Scrooge’s nephew. `You don’t mean that, I am sure?’

`I do,’ said Scrooge. `Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.


John Butterworth in his history of the Lion Hotel quoted Charles Dickens in a letter to one of his daughters, Katie, in 1858 while staying at the Lion Hotel, in Shrewsbury

“…we have the strangest little rooms, the ceilings of which I can touch with my hand. Nigel has added “the floors are uneven and the window tips out into the street”

 People do come to the hotel just to stay in that room.

The hotel has long celebrated its link with Charles Dickens

In his book ‘Four Centuries at The Lion Hotel’ he says Dickens stayed at the hotel at least twice: on 12 August 1858, with his friend and illustrator, Hablot K Browne, and on 1838 when he wrote in his journal that on 31 October he and his wife Catherine had travelled through Birmingham and Wolverhampton on his way to The Lion.


He said Dickens was also known to have included Shrewsbury’s Music Hall on his reading tour of Britain where he read from A Christmas Carol.

Shropshire claims Darwin connections including Tong, near Shifnal, is broadly thought to be the village where Little Nell dies at the end of The Old Curiosity Shop.

John Murfin, who lives in the parish and is a member of the congregation at St Bartholomew’s Church, said Dickens visited the area to see his grandmother who was a housekeeper at Tong Castle.

When The Old Curiosity Shop was published many readers began to visit the village church from as far afield as the United States.

According to Shropshire Tourism’s website the nearby town of Newport was home to a woman called Elizabeth Parker who became a recluse after being stood-up on her wedding day.

It claims she may have been an inspiration for Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

“One of Dickens’ friends William Charles Macready said Dickens had a ‘clutching eye’ – he recorded what he saw for use later so a lot of things could influence a character.”


Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

 Then Bob proposed:

`A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.’

Which all the family re-echoed.

`God bless us every one.’ said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

`Spirit,’ said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, `tell me if Tiny Tim will live.’

`I see a vacant seat,’ replied the Ghost, `in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.’

`No, no,’ said Scrooge. `Oh, no, kind Spirit. say he will be spared.’

`If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,’ returned the Ghost, `will find him here. What then. If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief

Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.

`Mr Scrooge.’ said Bob; `I’ll give you Mr Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast.’

And now undo my bundle, Joe,’ said the first woman.


`What do you call this.’ said Joe. `Bed-curtains.’

`Ah.’ returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward on her crossed arms. `Bed-curtains.’

`You don’t mean to say you took them down, rings and all, with him lying there.’ said Joe.

`Yes I do,’ replied the woman. `Why not.’

`You were born to make your fortune,’ said Joe,’ and you’ll certainly do it.’

`I certainly shan’t hold my hand, when I can get anything in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as he was, I promise you, Joe,’ returned the woman coolly. `Don’t drop that oil upon the blankets, now.’

`His blankets.’ asked Joe.

`Whose else’s do you think.’ replied the woman. `He isn’t likely to take cold without them, I dare say.’

`I hope he didn’t die of any thing catching. Eh.’ said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up.


It’s the best he had, and a fine one too. They’d have wasted it, if it hadn’t been for me.’ `What do you call wasting of it.’ asked old Joe.

`Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure,’ replied the woman with a laugh. `Somebody was fool enough to do it, but I took it off again. He can’t look uglier than he did in that one.’

Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though the demons, marketing the corpse itself.

`Ha, ha.’ laughed the same woman, when old Joe, producing a flannel bag with money in it, told out their several gains upon the ground. `This is the end of it, you see. He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead. Ha, ha, ha.’

`Spirit.’ said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. `I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way, now.

He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a ragged sheet, there lay a something covered up, which, though it was dumb, announced itself in awful language.


Penultimate Scene

Scrooge promised to change his ways and become a better person 

He dressed himself all in his best, and at last got out into the streets.

He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the gentleman, who he had met the day before.

`My dear sir,’ said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. `How do you do. I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir.’

`Mr Scrooge.’

`Yes,’ said Scrooge. `That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness’ to accept this

`Lord bless me.’ cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. `My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious.’

`If you please,’ said Scrooge. `Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour.’

He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house and surprised his family by joining in the fun. 


He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.

He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, `God bless Us, Every One!

Shrewsbury Castle

Nigel`s Notes on Shrewsbury Mystery Plays


These notes have been prepared to support the idea of a resurrection of Mystery plays in Shrewsbury. They provide some historic evidence that Mystery plays were written and performed in Shrewsbury and plays were performed in the villages of rural Shropshire from the sixteenth century.

1561 – 1568      Shrewsbury School

Drama flourished under the new headmaster Thomas Ashton, with school productions of Whitsuntide and mystery plays being performed on regular occasions.[1]

On this place (the Quarry) in former days the Salopians exercised themselves in sports and diversions of the age. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth one Aston (Ashton) exhibited several dramatic performances here, some formed upon moral romance and some on scripture history. The place of the exhibition was on top of the rope walk, a bank there cut in the form of an amphitheatre with seats thereon are still visible.[2] These performances were in general acted about Whitsunday and from thence called Whitsun Plays, by some Mysteries[3]. They were probably the first fruits of the English theatre, which, as Mr Walton observes, were in general confined to religious subjects.[4]

The Drapers Company made a donation towards the cost of Whitsuntide plays put on by Thomas Ashton, the headmaster, who was partial to dramatic performance. He made it a rule that, every school day boys in the top form should `declaim and play one Act of Comedy` before going out to play.[5]

In 1565 Julian the Apostle and another performance of Mr Aston`s, the name of which is not mentioned, were performed on the above mentioned spot, in the Quarry, before a large audience, when, (not withstanding much of the gross and ridiculous appeared) the Salopian audience (not so refined and gay as their descendants) listened with admiration and devotion.[6]

The Queen (Elizabeth) came as far as to Coventry, on a journey to Shrewsbury, intending to see one of these performances in the year 1565, but her Majesty not having proper information mistook the time and when she came to Coventry, hearing it was over, returned to London.[7]

1567 – 1599

1567    Two years after, in 1567, a theatrical representation of the Passion of Christ was exhibited in the same place by the aforesaid performer.[8]

1584    On 17th of July, a stage-play was acted in the High Street, near the Apple-Market by the Earl of Essex`s men.[9]

1590    On 24th of July, a scaffold was set up in the Corn-Market, on which a Hungarian, and others of the Queens players, performed several extraordinary feats of tumbling, rope-dancing, &c. Such had never before been seen in Shrewsbury.[10]

1600 – 1700

1600-1700       On land at Kingsland, leased to the borough, horse racing and entertainment took place. Several guilds maintained arbours where they celebrated at the end of the Corpus Christi procession. After some years this became known as Show Day and the dozen or so companies that still had arbours met on the Monday fortnight after Whitsunday, where the Mayor and his attendants are entertained by them and then return into town, in the same order of procession as they went out.[11]

1880 onwards

1884    Rustic Stage Plays in Shropshire[12]

Sir Offley Wakeman, Bart wrote a paper for Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society from which I have extracted the following snippets.

“Most of the readers of the readers of our Transactions are familiar with many of the ancient traditions and customs here and there amongst the hilly district in this county to the west of the Stretton Hills: so far as I am aware, however attention has not yet been called to the performances of open air Stage Plays, which continued to be held in that district in times within the recollection of some yet alive, and are believed by them to date back for many generations.

These plays were generally held in connection with Parish Wakes[13] and there were those still living who could testify to representations having taken place some forty or fifty years ago (1834), at various places within the border parishes of Chirbury, Churchstoke, Hyssington, Shelve and on one occasion at Aston below Worthen, one man stated that a revival was attempted at Hyssington in Montgomeryshire so lately as twenty years ago (1864) but was stopped as he thinks “by the law” All the witnesses agree there was no harm in the plays. One 87 year old man, who as an actor in his youth, agreed “There was no harm in the plays and that acting was a most innocent pastime with no nasty words or anything”. The witnesses and the actor recalled that these were moral plays performed at Churchstoke in May at Shelve in July and Chirbury in October.[14]   They also confirmed that women were not allowed to act, the girls` parts being taken, as in Shakespeare`s day by boys.”

The action was performed on two carts usually outside and connected to the local pub. This is similar to the pageant wagons of York & Chester. The rustic plays of Shropshire were not necessarily based on the Bible but were moral tales of the time. The popular plays in the district were “Prince Mucidorus” “The Rigs of the Times”  “St George and the Fiery Dragon” “Valentine and Orson” and “Dr Foster (Faust)” In all these plays the Fool or Jester is an important character.[15]

1890    The Shrewsbury Fragment

The so-called Shrewsbury Fragment is a surviving part of an early mystery play it is kept in the Moser Library of Shrewsbury School.[16]

Academic analysis shows this does not originate in Shrewsbury but the dialect suggests it is from the north of England, York or Beverley.

It is only a small fragment of a play; it is believed to be a part script for one actor who played three parts.

There are 36 leaves of 14 Latin anthems

There follow three scenes with dialogue in one hand and cues written in another

The Angels and the Shepherds    (Words of third shepherd with cues from second)

The three Marries at the Sepulchere   (Words of third Mary with cues from second) Played by the male actor who plays the third shepherd

Chorus; Dialogue for Cleophas and cues from. a disciple; Jesus; and Luke?

1909    York Mystery Plays revived at an Early Music Festival Played every four years 2018 next due in 2022[17]

1951    Chester Mystery Plays revived as part of the Festival of Britain[18]

1986    Chester Mystery Plays Limited formed as a charitable trust to ensure continuity of the plays.  Played every five years 2018 next due in 2023

2019 Potential date for the performances of Shrewsbury Mystery Plays in various locations around the town.


Nigel`s Notes on Lord Hills Column

This is the largest “Grecian Doric Column” in the world, from the base of the pedestal to the top of the statue it is 133 feet and 6 inches.

The Column was designed by Carline of Shrewsbury and is made of Grinshill stone. The statue is made of artificial stone was modelled by Joseph Panzetta. (1789-1830) who worked with Coade and Sealy of London.

Work started on the Column in 1814 when the first stone was laid in Masonic Order by the Salopian Lodge of Free Masons on 27th December. 

There are 326 stones in the structure weighing a total of 1120 Tons. Within the structure there are 172 steps with a cast iron balustrade a gift from John Straphen the builder of the column. After 18 months and 18 days the work was finished on 15 June 1816 on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

A cottage in a Doric design was then built for the residence of a veteran soldier appointed to show visitors around the column. This cottage was removed in 1962.The first appointee was Colour Sergeant Thomas Davies of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.


Rowland Hill was born 11 August 1772 the second son of Sir John Hill Bart of Hawkestone.  His mother was Mary Chambre of Petton and Rowland was one of 12 of whom survived and 6 of the brothers joined the army.

Rowland joined up in 1788 and his first commission was as an Ensigney in the 38th regiment where and he obtained leave to study in a military academy in Strasbourg. His duty started in Edinburgh where he was received well into society and made useful contacts that resulted in an offer of a Lieutenancy in Captain Broughtons regiment.

Before he was 21 years old he had purchased a Captaincy and was Aid-de-Camp to the successive Generals based in Toulon and it was here that he received many commendations for the work he was doing. This led on to the offer of a Majority in the 20th regiment which was closely followed by a step up to Lieutenant Colonel with action in Gibraltar and the Egyptian campaign. He continued with distinguished service until his return.

In 1809 he was appointed Colonel of the third Garrison Battalion and inherited Hardwick Grange from his uncle Sir Richard Hill. His military career flourished against the Spanish and French and he was on stand by to lead our forces against the Americans prior to a peace deal being struck.  

The war in Europe was over he returned home in 1812 and was elected to Parliament as MP for Shrewsbury. He received many testimonials, public dinners from a grateful country and prepared to retire to his estates in Shropshire.

However when Bonaparte set out from Elba in March 1815, Hill was ordered back to the front line to take command in Netherlands and was therefore present at the Battle of Waterloo when his horse was shot from under him and two of his brothers were injured. 

Throughout his very full life he was held in universal high regard by his fellow officers and all other ranks and the general public and he retired to his Estate at Hardwick and he improved rebuilt and replanted the mansion.  

Copyright                 NIGEL HINTON    SHREWSBURY MARCH 2005  



























To their countryman, Rowland Lord Hill

“Baron of Almarez and Hawkestone,

“His Neighbours in the County and Town of Shrewsbury have

Erected this column and statue A.D. 1816

“To his military Prowess let Portugal, Spain, The south of

France, the Netherlands, the Duke of Wellington, The

Armies of the Allies and even those of the enemy, bear



#ROLICA                                                      #PYRENEES

#VIMIERA                                                    #NIVELLE

#CORUNNA                                                 #NIVE

DOURO                                                         HILLETTE

#TALAVERA                                                           #ORTHEZ

BUSACO                                                       AIRE

ARROYO DEL MOLINO                           TARBES

ALMAREZ                                                   TOULOUSE

#VITTORIA                                                  WATERLOO



Nigel`s Notes on Agricultural Improvement in Shropshire 1813-1914

Aspects of Agricultural Improvement in Shropshire (1813 -1914)

Edited extracts from a dissertation submitted by Nigel J Hinton as part of the requirement for the degree of MA in West Midlands History.

University of Birmingham

17th September 2014


This work is a micro study of agricultural improvement in Shropshire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It comments on some key elements of improvement by owners, agents, farmers, breeders and others with a financial interest in agricultural in the areas of land, livestock and agricultural societies.


Cover                                                                                                              1

Abstract                                                                                                           2

Contents                                                                                                         3

Abbreviations                                                                                                  4

Acknowledgements                                                                                        5

Introduction                                                                                                     6

Chapter 1 – Improvement – Land                                                                 15

Chapter 2 – Improvement – Livestock                                                           26

Chapter 3 – Improvement- Societies & Shows                                            36

Conclusion                                                                                                               48


Tables & Illustrations                                                                                            54



Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England: JRASE

Royal Agricultural Society of England: RASE

Shropshire Archive: SA

Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture: SCoA

Shropshire & West Midlands Agricultural Society: SWMAS


Firstly I have to acknowledge and thank Dr Malcolm Dick for his enthusiastic support for the subject of Midland History. He is a superb supervisor. His combination of approachability and scholarship has made working on this dissertation a most enjoyable experience. His supervision has been supportive as he attempted to keep me focused on the title. I would also acknowledge the support received from Dr Matt Cole and other members of the staff at the University of Birmingham who have greatly added to my knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of our West Midlands history.

Thanks to the Trustees of the Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society who gave of their time freely and permitted me full access to their archive and gave permission to use some of their images. I would also commend the commitment of my fellow students over the last two years this has added to the enjoyment of this very special experience. In the course of the preparation of this dissertation I very much appreciate the help and assistance received from Mary Mackenzie and team at the Shropshire Archive. Other supporters include Dr Nigel Baker, Dr Roger White and the late Sylvia Watts.

During my time on the course I have reduced my other activities and would like to acknowledge the support from my many friends and business colleagues who kept more than a polite interest in my progress. These include the directors of Andrews, Orme & Hinton, Chartered Accountants, fellow Drapers, Shrewsbury Concert Band members and the Duffers.

History and its study has been very important to me it is a real pleasure to share this interest with my wife, Bridget, who is also a keen local historian and a qualified town guide in Shrewsbury, I could not have started and finished the course without her encouragement and full support.


This work is a micro study of agricultural improvement in Shropshire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It examines some of the people and organisations who were the key to improvement in Shropshire. The improvers included land owners, their agents, farmers, breeders and others with a vested interest in the success of the agricultural sector. The need for improvement followed a Board of Agriculture review of Shropshire, and recommendations were made by archdeacon Joseph Plymley and published in 1813. Plymley’s programme suggested the main themes for the three chapters of this dissertation as land, livestock and societies. The study seeks to answer these questions. To what extent were Plymley`s recommendations implemented? To what extent did investment in improvement achieve the expectations of land owners and farmers? To what extent did improvement continue and develop during the study period?  This chapter will look at how other writers have commented on improvement and offers a discussion on methodology and primary sources used.

Improvement was dependent on control of land. Open field systems, commons and waste land were not under control before enclosure gave it to new owners and farmers, as Robert Allen sets out in 2004, in his chapter on agriculture during the Industrial Revolution.[1] The Enclosure Acts were widely used throughout England and Wales but according to Trevor Rowley there was a difference in Shropshire, where much was achieved by agreement. He wrote extensively about this aspect of improvement in his work in 1982.[2] Rowley describes the enclosure of upper common land in detail, in his follow up volume in 1986.[3]

Henry C. Darby produced a paper for the British Agricultural History Society which looked at early topography in all the counties of England.[4] He quotes Henry Tanner, who produced the first topographical survey for Shropshire in 1858, in his award winning essay for the Royal Agricultural Society of England. It was Government policy to support under-draining of wet land by granting loans to land owners, in 1989 A.D.M. Philips published his findings, which analysed the government and other loan data to estimate the amount of under-draining done in England.[5]  James P. Bowen`s study of the impact of James Loch Chief Agent of the Lilleshall estate has made an important contribution to this micro study.[6]

The improvement of cattle by high levels of feeding to achieve higher levels of profit, described as high farming, was featured by Guy M. Robinson in 1983 in his study of West Midland farming from 1840s to 1970s[7].   He follows the section on high farming with a description of the great agricultural depression, but pointed out, it was not all doom and gloom for the increasingly profitable dairy farmer in North Shropshire, in the later period covered by this study.[8] J. Phillip Dodd contributed a study on high farming in Shropshire 1845-1870, and suggested that Shropshire`s mixed farmers were ideally placed to benefit from the move to high farming.[9] High farming was made practical by the coming of the railways to Shropshire after 1848, which led to reduced costs of transport of imported grain and also gave wider access to market for Shropshire produce as described by Barry Trinder in 1982.[10]

In 2004, David Wykes wrote a paper on Robert Bakewell, livestock improver, and his controversial methods of inbreeding will be contrasted with the development of Shropshire Sheep in the section on breeding improvement.[11] The success of Shropshire as a wool-producing area is evidenced in Mendenhall`s detailed study of the wool trade in Shropshire and the Marches.[12] Robin Hill described the development of the breed in an accessible way in his history of the Shropshire sheep written in 1984.[13]

Keith Ritherdon wrote about the background to the formation of the Shropshire & West Midlands Agricultural Society, SWMAS, and its first Show in 1875, in a centenary publication.[14] T.C. Morgan`s study of implements and machinery was set out in the same publication.[15] Although it was celebratory publication much of the material was written by local historians with access to original sources. Another celebration marked the 125th anniversary, and used material from the centenary publication, and was also published by SWMAS, written by local journalist Gordon Riley.[16] This included useful and previously unpublished material on agricultural engineer Thomas Corbett.[17] The Corbett family of Shrewsbury and Wellington had an impact on improvement of implements in the second half of the period and have been the subject of research by Tamsin Rowe.[18]

Christabel S. Orwin and Edith H. Whetham wrote a wide ranging history of British agriculture from the period following the repeal of the Corn Laws, it has useful references for the dissemination of knowledge by the Royal Agricultural Society of England and local references to Shropshire and Shropshire sheep[19] Heather Williams study of the history of the Harper Adams College includes a chapter on the life of the reclusive agriculturalist Thomas Harper Adams, 1817-92, whose estate funded the college. This study also highlights the important input from the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture in the establishment of education for teachers in the county.

This micro study of Shropshire agriculture has been greatly assisted by being able to select from the rich seam of agricultural historiography from local historians, many of which have been published in Midlands History and the Agricultural History Review. The writer has not attempted to compare agricultural improvement in Shropshire with other midland counties, but this could be the subject of further study. More evidence of individual farmer’s profits in Shropshire would further enlighten this study and further analysis of the maintenance costs of draining would have been useful. The study will now move to discuss the methodology for utilising the primary source material.

The starting point for this study has been chosen as 1813. The date that archdeacon Joseph Plymley published his Agricultural Survey of Shropshire, this identifies the need for improvement in many aspects of agriculture.[20]

Plymley was not a full time farmer; he had some experience in managing the Church`s glebe land and was a member of the board of Agriculture. He acknowledged the original work done by John Bishton and his revised and standardised work could be seen as an edited edition of the 1803 publication. The advice is generic and because of the various types of land and soils varied, care had to be taken in the practical application of his recommendations. This study will use aspects of his book to form the chapter titles. This study will not pursue the wider interests of the moral welfare of farm labourers and their families, and will concentrate on the main improvement areas he identified. The records of the Lilleshall estate are held in the Shropshire Archives, SA, and these records will be used in the micro analysis of under draining and liming and manuring as improvement measures.[21]

The Lilleshall estate was owned by the Marquis of Stafford, and in 1820 he appointed the leading agent of the day, James Loch, to look after his estates in England and Scotland.    Some extracts of the accounts of the Home Farm for the 1840s have survived and were marked as being sent to Loch in February, 1849. [22]  The author has abstracted amounts of expenditure related to improvement and these throw light on the level of investment the Home Farm in the 1840s. The income and expenditure schedules as presented have been entered onto a spreadsheet and extracts have been included in this chapter on land.  Full extracts are included in the appendix. There are some questions that arise from the critical review of the income and expenditure statements and the findings are included in the first chapter of this work. After enclosure draining was the next most important element of improvement on wet lands and data has been extracted from the estate Draining Book to inform the study of the nature of land and the costs of improvement.[23]

The bi-annual journals produced by the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) are substantial volumes edited by Philip Pusey, containing several hundred pages of articles, correspondence, reports, plans and illustrations, relating to local national and international agriculture. Two volumes have been selected for further analysis. 1850, as it includes recommendations for improvement to buildings and 1885, as it includes a report and criticism of one of Corbett`s implements shown in Shrewsbury the previous year.[24] This study will include extracts from the journal relating to prize winning essays and agricultural education. Matters relating to agricultural societies and agricultural shows were an important method of improvement used by societies as the way of disseminating knowledge.[25] These comprehensive journals were written by wealthy gentleman farmers for their peer group. The small farmers in Shropshire may have had limited access to the journals but some of the knowledge may have trickled down via agents and meetings of societies and agricultural shows.

There were a number of agricultural societies where only a trace remains in the Shropshire Archive and these have been selectively quoted from as they illuminate the improvement climate of the time. Included is a talk on Agricultural Chemistry by the Reverend C.A.A. Lloyd and delivered on the 3rd April 1840.[26] There was also a speech by Shrewsbury MP Benjamin Disraeli in 1846 on free trade,[27] and a printed version of a talk given by Jasper More MP, referring to Broseley pipes for use under the 5th clause of the Agricultural Holdings Act.[28]  The Marshbrook Agricultural Society reported on discussions with of the Royal Commission of Agriculture in 1879.[29]

Flock and herd book societies were published annually with details of the pedigree of breeding stock available and other information for breeders. Volume VII of the herd book of Hereford cattle was produced by T. Duckham in 1869, and although this was published for marketing purposes the content gives an insight into the competitive nature that existed amongst breeders of Hereford cattle.[30] The Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep was compiled by Alfred Mansell published in 1898.[31] A small uncatalogued and private archive of the Shropshire Bee-Keepers has been used to demonstrate another local contribution to improvement illustrating how knowledge has trickled down to the cottagers.[32] A flyer, for a bee-keeping competition, was found inside the cover of a manual of bee-keeping published in 1839.[33]  Extracts from a contemporary bee publication will be used to demonstrate the importance of education.[34] The source material described in the last two paragraphs are all published by groups with a limited perspective and narrow interest in their own chosen specialism , they contain propaganda and tend to report the positive aspects of organisations that produces them.

An uncatalogued library and archive of agricultural books, journals, papers, catalogues, illustrations and other material is held by the SWMAS in its offices in Shrewsbury.   This includes cash books with details of the monies received and paid are available in the original hand written cash books from 1874 until 1900. There are also audited statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875 for five years. These have been summarised on spreadsheets. The main sources of income and expenditure will be examined and further analysed.[35]

The success of the society can be illustrated by the numbers of members and from the summaries referred to above data on the number of members can be abstracted. Another pointer towards a successful show is the value of exhibitor’s fees, and whilst the number of entries can vary an overall trend can be established.[36] All committee reports and material produced by organisations depend on the skills and bias of the writers and care needs to be taken in the interpretation of such material.  The dissertation will examine the subjects for each chapter in the following way.

The first chapter examines the need for improvement of land and buildings identified by Plymley and his recommendations. Beginning with a brief examination of the management structure of the Lilleshall estate and then the study looks at other examples from Shropshire of the enclosure of waste, field systems and upper common land. Then a micro analysis of the draining work done on the heavy and stiff lands of farms on the Lilleshall estate follows. Then the chapter concludes by addressing the question what level of investment did owners and farmers make to improvement and to what extent did the investment in agricultural improvement achieve the returns they were expecting?

The second chapter examines improvement to stock by selective breeding and follows with a review of the work of Robert Bakewell and compare his methods with the development of a distinct breed of Shropshire sheep. This section will examine the development of the breeding and improvement of Hereford cattle. High farming was a method of improving returns from livestock was fashionable for a few decades from the 1840s. The essay answers the question what happened to profits and farm rents after the so called golden age?

The third chapter looks at the establishment of societies as lobby groups of farmers and the development of agricultural societies and shows. Innovation in the design of new implements was an important element of improvement and prizes were offered by show organisers for new implements. The study will answer how did the RASE respond to the increasing number of entries of new implements that did not feature new or improved technology?

The conclusion will answer to what extent Plymley`s recommendations were followed in Shropshire? Did the investment in improvement achieve the expected returns for land owners and farmers? Did improvement continue throughout the study period?  The writer hopes that the data abstracted from the Lilleshall estate and the SWMAS may add to the detailed knowledge of under-draining and the formation of societies as improvement in the period of study.  The conclusion will finish by making some recommendations as to what to do with the archive held by SWMAS.

Chapter 1: Improvement – Land

The need for improvement in all aspects of agricultural practice in England was the reason why the Board of Agriculture originally set up an agricultural review for each county in 1793.[37] In 1813, a revised and standardised edition of the second Shropshire Survey was based on the work of John Bishton ten years earlier, was published by archdeacon Plymley.[38] In the preface he stated that part of the Board`s objects were to improve conditions of labourers, their morals and their outward prosperity. He added that it was important for clergy to know about the management of glebe land and to see that it was properly cultivated. He concluded by stating that `the income from most livings was so small that the benefit of raising provisions from glebe or hired land had become requisite to the maintenance of Country Clergymen`.[39]

Plymley reviewed the geographical nature and agriculture in Shropshire and then made several recommendations. He identified shortcomings in most areas, beginning with land and property, farm buildings, occupation, costs of leases, tithes and the poor rate. He then looked at implements, enclosure and the management of land giving details of crops grown. Grass management, hay and feeding followed with sections on gardens orchards and wastes. His chapter on land improvement recommended draining, paring and burning, manuring weeding and watering and then his thoughts on live-stock and bees followed. His final chapter dealt with issues of the rural economy, labour, the poor and obstacles to improvement and he noted the absence of agricultural societies in the county.[40] This chapter will answer to what extent Plymley`s recommendations were followed and will review the return on investment for land owners and or farmers and assess evidence for improvement continuing throughout the study period?

The main source documents for this chapter relate to the Lilleshall estate and Plymley noted the importance of appointing good land agents.[41]  The Lilleshall Estate, had several farms and substantial interests in Industrial enterprises in and around the area of Ironbridge, with other estates and farm-land in Staffordshire and Scotland under one owner. George Granville Leverson-Gower, the marquis of Stafford, later the first duke of Sutherland,  He appointed James Loch as chief agent  in 1812, He was the leading exponent of estate management at the time.[42] As Loch was based in London, and had several estates to manage, he set up a management structure of local agents, who implemented his improving policies and became the contact point with the tenants of the estate.[43] This structural change meant that the farmers had less contact with the land owner and the new agents became an elite group in rural society.[44]

Loch`s improvement programme continued with the policy of land consolidation and acquisition, with the aim of increasing the size of the estate farms. Plymley had recommended that any new farm house should be constructed in the centre of the farm land, rather than at one end of it or in the village. Preferably it should be built on high ground so that water would drain away from the fold yard.[45] By 1820 Loch had already instituted some major reorganisation of the estate and had built new farmsteads in local parishes around Lilleshall, including Edgmond, Ercall Magna, and Sheriffhales.[46] His private enclosure program reorganised fields into rectangular shapes of a good size, existing land holdings and waste land were acquired if available. His improvements included the building of new roads leading to the new centrally located farmsteads, so that access was improved and less time was wasted travelling between farm house and field.[47]

Loch achieved some success in his policy of consolidation and rebuilding as is illustrated in the figures quoted by James Bowen. The number of farms in the manor of Lilleshall had fallen to 18 by 1839 with an average size of 228 acres compared with 25 farms with an average size of 160 acres in 1804.[48] Loch believed that tenants holding tenancies for life were not profitable but of course tenants differed. Some farms held under long leases gave the tenants security, some invested in improvement, others were indolent and they exhausted the land and let the farmsteads run down. This was also the case in other parts of the county as on the Craven estate in South Shropshire, and mentioned by Plymley.[49]

As these long leases came up for renewal many tenants found their new lease was for just twelve months and this change enabled the agent to renegotiate the rent annually in line with current market conditions and to remove unsatisfactory tenants.[50] The structure Loch put in place incurred extra costs as more agents were appointed, however these costs were supposed to be offset by increased rentals received from the increased size of farms and by charging market rents, the writer has not seen evidence of this.

Outside of the large estates some of the small farms and villages in Shropshire, were still farming on open-field systems and grazed their stock on common land, to improvers this was inefficient.. Rowley comments that the enclosure of open-fields by agreement in Shropshire is in marked contrast to other Midland counties. He highlights only one Shropshire example of enclosure of open fields by Act of Parliament in the nineteenth century, that being Sheinton in 1813.[51] However, he states that with regards to open commons on upland moors, during the Napoleonic wars, they were seen by agricultural commentators as not reaching their cultivation potential. Thirty-seven Acts of Parliament for enclosure of upland commons were brought in during the time of war or threat thereof. Later more legislation followed the last being in July 1891, on the common in Llanfair Waterdine.[52]

Independent commissioners were appointed to supervise the process of enclosure, and they allocated parts to the freeholders, a surveyor was appointed to `form roads at least forty feet wide` and the costs of enclosure were met by selling off part of the land, the squatters and poor were the losers.[53] There was a formal process of consolidation which Plymley set out as `the appointment of commissioners to make such improvements when called upon to do so by the persons forming the majority of landed property`.[54] Whilst this process benefitted land owners and farmers enclosure and consolidation were controversial, as in some cases the process led to the demise of many small rural hamlets. As in the case of the enclosure of the remaining ninety one acres of Balaam`s Heath, in Tugford, in 1815. Seventy-three acres were allotted to Lord Craven and the remainder to six other freeholders, after consolidation of land and the building of new roads the hamlet of Baucott was reduced to two tenants by 1841 compared with eight in 1770.[55]

The new owners set about improving their newly acquired land, they started by erecting new fencing and consolidated their lands where practical. Many Shropshire villages were owned and acquired by the great estates. Trinder distinguishes between `open` Villages that were inhabited by small freeholders and `closed` villages that were owned and controlled by the great estates or squires. Only essential estate workers were allowed to live in the closed villages and the more casual workers travelled in from the open villages. Trinder suggests this was done to keep the costs of poor relief down, he adds that in the period between 1831-1871, properties in the closed villages were demolished when they became vacant, and he lists a number of Shropshire villages where this happened, including Ditton Priors, Eaton-under-Heywood and Stoke on Tern and others.[56] By 1873 the great landowners of Shropshire owned 51.59% of the land, compared with the average for England and Wales of 41.18%.[57]

Not all landlords demolished property and indeed some appear to have been more enlightened, as evidenced by the new `Model cottages` built for the labourers in the closed villages at Dudmaston, Caynham Court and Alberbury.[58] Some of the labourer`s children from the age of 12 or 13 worked as indoor servants for some farmers and at Huck`s Barn, Richards Castle, five farm labourers lived in with the farmer and his family. However the aspirations of farmers towards gentrification saw this practice decline after the 1860`s.[59] At this time children`s lives were subject to the demands of agriculture and the season. Education had become compulsory but frequently took second place to the economic need for the children to earn money for the family. It was difficult for labouring poor parents who had to pay for the school but needed the income to make household budgets balance.[60]

Having enclosed the land the next task was to improve the condition of the soil to make it suitable for arable or to improve its condition to grow grass. Darby looked at early topography in all the counties of England. He quotes Tanner, `there is a variety of types of soil in Shropshire`.[61]  The available statistics (see next section) show that at least 50% of the land in Shropshire was wet and therefore needed draining. The next section will undertake an in-depth review of under-draining and use the Lilleshall Estate Home Farm as an example of expenditure on improvement.

Phillips writing in 1990 said that land draining was an important improvement undertaken in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and it came to the fore in the nineteenth centuries.[62] Underdraining became a panacea for farmers of wet lands. Phillips quotes Chambers and Mingay: `under-draining is a major technical element of the agricultural revolution`.[63] In most areas the land could be described as wet. How much of the wet land was drained? What were the effects farming practices in the areas that had been drained? Contemporary estimates of the area drained vary and are unreliable; Phillips uses J Bailey Denton as an example of the difficulties. In 1842, as a young drainage engineer Denton estimated that 10 million out of 12 million acres of arable in Great Britain should be drained. By 1880 he revised his estimate upwards, stating that some 3 million acres out of 20 million acres, requiring drainage had been drained.[64]

Denton`s figures are unreliable according to Philips, as they varied and he changed his methods of calculation.[65] However he reports that his is the only detailed analysis available for the nineteenth century, which shows a breakdown by county or county groups, with a comparison of the situation in 1855 and 1883. The figures for Shropshire are included with Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and for 1855 of 2,666,500 Total acres with wet-lands of 1,497,000 and 56.1% in 1883 Denton quoted total acres of 2,715,200 with wet-lands as 1,450,000 53.4%.[66] It would be preferable to have another source to corroborate the figures and any conclusions should be drawn with caution.

To avoid the problem of basing his assessment on estimates Phillips has used contemporary government data relating to the land–improvement legislation in his work. He has used money advanced from government and other lenders to land owners for expenditure on draining as the basis of calculations of the area drained. His detailed analysis of money advanced under the various schemes follows. The sources of loan capital were from 1) Public Money Draining Acts, 2) General Land Drainage Company 3) Land Improvement Co 4) Land Loan Co, and 5) Improvement of Land Act. He has also further analysed the data by county and calculated expenditure per acre of soil with impeded drainage. Shropshire appears to have made good use of the schemes.

Phillip`s tables show that in the period 1847-1899 Shropshire land owners were granted loans amounting to £233,972 for expenditure solely on draining. Shropshire was the county that borrowed the third largest amount after Northumberland £698,786 and Yorkshire £671,641.[67] Shropshire land owners borrowed a further £147,574 for combined loans for draining and other improvements. Again Shropshire land owners borrowed the third highest amount behind Yorkshire £172,872 and closely behind Northumberland £145,647.[68] Within the county, the larger estates applied for the largest loans and of the eight owners with large estates over 10,000 acres, seven of them used loans.[69] In Shropshire the smaller holders did not take up loans, there were 3841 owners that held less than 99 acres and only .1% that is 31 land owners borrowed money.[70] He concludes that about 4.5 million acres were drained or 35 per cent of the total wet-land area in the period 1845 and 1899.[71]

It is clear from those figures that the estates were committed to draining but clearly almost all of the small farmers did not borrow money and a question remains as to whether they did any draining work themselves or not?

Extracts from the Draining Book 1846 where the nature of the soil has been described[72]

The writer concludes that from an analysis of the figures extracted from the Lilleshall Estate Draining Book for 1846 it clearly throws light onto the nature of the soil being drained. As would be expected from a draining book most of the soil is described as stiff with clay and rocks. Looking at the field names it can be seen that in February and March Harriet Belliss had draining work done in fields named `New Enclosure` no 49-52 on her farm in Wappenshall. Of course this year 1846/47, may not be representative, but the main months for draining work were in early spring when the ground was fairly dry in February, March, April and May and again August & September.  A number of the tenants were female.

The next detailed work was a review of the expenditure on the Home Farm. The following extracts are taken from a bundle of Lilleshall estate papers and relate to the expenditure analysis of the Home Farm accounts. They have been marked as sent to James Loch in February 1849. The full expenditure is shown in the appendix but these figures show expenditure on improvement, including draining and lime and manure. Note the figures for 1851 were in the same bundle and have been included for completeness.

Extracts from the expenditure of Home Farm Lilleshall estate.[73]

From the information in the above table, the writer has concluded that expenditure on draining substantially increased in 1846 and 1847. The average expenditure on draining in the five years to 1847 was £280, which was14.56% of the average total expenditure. There are notes in the financial statements which show the amount spent on draining is added back to the profit.[74] The writer also noted that in 1851 there was no expenditure on draining work at all at Home Farm, this is after the figures were submitted to Loch in 1849 and this observation would need further work to establish if there was a change in policy or just a temporary pause.

The writer also be concluded that the percentage of total expenditure on manure and lime increases from 6.30% in 1843 and is more than doubled in the years after 1845. This could mean the expenditure in 1843 and 1844 was low or later there was a significant price increase or there was a greater emphasis on the importance of manure and lime. The writer`s conclusion is that in the period 1843-1847, the Home Farm spent an average of 12.51% of total costs on lime and manure and an average of 12.29% on draining. This equates to almost 25% of the total expenditure of the Home Farm in the years under review, this level of investment shows the commitment to improvement.

Plymley gave specific broad suggestions for the timing of farming work.[75]  This gave farmers some discretion to adjust for local climatic conditions and the timing of a particular season. The location of the farm land had a bearing on the temperature of the soil. He also recommended that a rotation of crops would be beneficial to the land and he followed the rotation suggested by Mr Harris.[76] Clover was followed by Wheat which was followed by Barley or Oats then Clover, Pease would also follow clover before wheat. Plymley had the answer for everything including grass Improvement of pastures and meadows.[77]

This chapter has examined aspects of improvements in land and to answer the question did the investment show an increased return we refer to Richards. He stated that the farm rental income on the Lilleshall estate increased to £24,772 in 1817 of this 20% related to non-agricultural rents and did not achieve that figure again until 1841 and by 1855 rental of £27,800 was achieved including industrial rents that contributed about one third of the total.[78] Therefore agricultural rents had lost considerable ground. A long-term view was taken that returns would come through in future; the psychic well-being was seen by some land owners as a return equal to the economic.[79] Further work would be needed to establish that the policy of appointing agents and moving to short term leases increased the profitability of the estate. From the micro analysis of the Home Farm information in the five year period to 1847 it was demonstrated that 25% of total costs were spent on improvement.

The focus of this first chapter was on preparing the land to increase output, the next chapter will ask if Plymley`s recommendations were followed as regards the improvement of livestock.

Chapter 2: Improvement – Livestock

Enclosure brought control of the land and offered choice as to how it was husbanded.[80] The first part of this chapter examines the selective breeding of livestock that resulted in improved breeds of cattle and sheep.[81] The work of Robert Bakewell, the eighteenth century breeding pioneer, is compared with the development of the Shropshire sheep. High farming, a fashionable improvement technique, from 1850-1870, is considered in the next section. The third section examines the benefits that the general decline in grain prices brought to the resourceful dairy farmers of north Shropshire. This chapter will ask to what extent were Plymley`s recommendations followed in relation to livestock improvement? Did the investment in livestock improvement achieve the expected returns for owners and farmers? Did livestock improvement continue throughout the study period?

Wykes re-assessment of Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) in 2004, informs us his father and grandfather, were enlightened improvers.[82] Robert`s father, `a most ingenious and able farmer` encouraged him to make a tour around the this country Ireland and Holland, to learn what other farmers were doing.[83] Bakewell enjoyed some early success in 1763 as a breeder of prize-winning horses.[84] He achieved the qualities he was looking for in livestock by in-breeding within families, and particularly sheep.[85] His Leicesters reached maturity and could be ready for the butcher as early as 27 months, about the time of second shearing.[86]

The breed had other problems, as well as the concerns of consanguinity, it had low fecundity and rarely had more than one lamb and was described as `delicate and unhealthy`[87] Its lack of wool was due to changes in diet, as sheep started to be fed with turnips and coleseed, when grass was scarce.[88]   Inbreeding and associated problems can be contrasted with the development of the Shropshire sheep, which was achieved by centuries of natural selection, which may have included some in-breeding.

In Shropshire and the marches wool and woollen cloth produced from local sheep have been economically important to the region for centuries, as `much of upland Wales is good for nothing but cattle grazing and especially the grazing of sheep`.[89] These upland-sheep had developed similar characteristics in several areas of heath and common land in the Marches, Shropshire and Staffordshire.[90] Hill quotes William Youatt writing in 1878 `The cultivation of the sheep and the manufacture of the fleece have, from the earliest period of history, formed the most important branches of the agriculture and commerce of Great Britain`.[91]

Some breeding improvements had been made and the Shropshire sheep was now described as having black legs and faces and a fleece that gave between 6-8 lbs of wool of best quality. Broad shoulders, well covered ribs, a long and level back and very heavy hindquarters, average weight at sixteen months 20-22 lbs per quarter.[92] Alfred Mansell wrote, in his history of the breed in 1913, that at the 1857 meeting of the RASE two Shropshire Breeders won two first and one second prize and Mr Adney`s shearling ram was afterwards let for the season to Lord Aylesford for 65 guineas.[93] In 1859 RASE had given the Shropshire sheep their own class for competition.[94]

In November 1862 the Parlington Tenant Farmers Club conducted a second grazing experiment with four breeds of sheep to see which would most profitably adapt to their locality.  The results confirmed results from the first experiment that the Shropshire put on most weight between May 20th and October 20th in 1862. [95]

Results of test by Parlington Tenant Farmers Club November 1862

Table of weight increase

The writer concludes from this trial that a comparison of the weights above clearly demonstrates the value of improvement but no information is available on the costs of this improvement in terms of higher inputs or consumption of feed. Questions will remain unanswered about the selection of the twelve sheep and their history.

Robinson endorses the value of inputs and writes that local breeds had been improving by crossing with Southdown breeds and that the Shropshire Down breed gained from the rise in wool and mutton prices in the golden age.[96]

In 1882, the Shropshire was the first breed of sheep to have its own flock book and an early compiler was previously mentioned, local auctioneer Alfred Mansell, College Hill, Shrewsbury[97] The flock book provided a listing of animals and their owners together with some details of the pedigree of the animal. Flock books contain useful information about the breed and news of prize winners.[98] These books were written by the compiler who like Mansell would have a vested interest in the success of the breed.  They were used by subscribers as advertising the quality of their rams and they gave information to breeders who were looking to improve their own herds and their own for stock for breeding.[99] In 1887 Mansell wrote in his report that in spite of the depression, the long drought and the shortage of winter Shropshire sheep have maintained their reputation as producers of mutton for the million, and had won many awards at recent shows.[100]

The cattle equivalent of the flock book is a herd book and Ritherdon claims an element of the improvement in Hereford cattle for Shropshire, stating that Mr T.C. Eyton of Eyton Hall, Shropshire[101], obtained the information and produced the first two volumes of the Herd Book of Hereford Cattle in 1845 and 1846.[102] The Hereford bull was a bred as a draught animal and has the distinction of colour-marking the next generation, with the distinctive white face, irrespective of the colour or breed of cow he serves.[103] After 1865 the US and Canadian government offered inexpensive land for settlement made practical as  the railway pushed west and with the buffalo almost extinct there was space by the 1870s for cattle to be farmed and many Hereford bulls were exported.[104] Some of the exported animals owners entered them into herd books. As in this example in 1869 from Canada, `Hebe the Second` bred by Mr F.W.Stone, Moreton Lodge, Guelph, Canada West, the property of Mr Cochrane, Compton, Canada East.[105] The gentlemen farmers of Shropshire were interested enough to add details of their cattle including Lord Berwick of Cronk Hill, near Shrewsbury.[106]

Hereford Ox at Four Years Old Winner of the Gold Medal Smithfield Club 1868[107]

Another element of improvement was launched nationally by Philip Pusey of (RASE), in 1842, the same year the Rothamstead Experimental Station was started up and its reports of the experiments were included in the Journal of RASE.[108] The system of High Farming involved feeding high levels of inputs such as oil cake to cattle. This high level of feeding produced high quality dung, which enriched the arable land, that was used to grow feed for the livestock, which grew bigger and quicker than with traditional methods, this virtuous circle produced increased returns to the farmer.[109] Robinson sees high farming, as it developed in the West Midlands, in the 1850s and 1860s as requiring an increase in investment from the farmer as he had to operate a more intensive system of feeding more cattle per acre, which meant more cake was consumed, which in turn increased dung and thus improved the condition of the soil.[110]

Dodd suggests that the county`s mixed farmers were ideally placed to benefit from a move to high farming.[111] Robinson states that this higher investment from the farmer resulted in higher profits because he was able to produce more and was able to access a larger market, thanks to the railways, due to the population growth in the towns and cities of the West Midlands.[112] Trinder agrees that high farming was facilitated by the coming of the railways to Shropshire after 1848, leading to reduced costs of transport for inputs of feed and fertiliser but also saved on transport costs and provided access to wider markets.[113]  Dodd writes that the details of availability and price of artificial fertilisers were reported in the local press. Liverpool was the main port of entry for Peruvian guano, River Plate cattle bones Linseed and cotton seed cake and could be all delivered by rail.[114]

The benefits of these and other high feeds were the subject of correspondence and reports under the title of `Rape-Cake as Food for Stock` was started by Pusey and received copies of correspondence from Charnock.and Milburn.  Charnock stated his land was inferior but that he stocked heavily, he went on to give details of his feeding regime of half a pound for each ewe each day. He left the stock in the field which saved transporting manure compared with an indoor system and he had kept statistics which show his losses were lower than previous systems. To summarise 1) Sheep were given cake all the year round.2) The health of the flock was above an ordinary standard. 3) The subsequent corn crops were superior 4) `By feeding on the land the cost of cartage was saved and the manure was distributed in the most uniform manner`.[115]  In a lecture Duckham recommended changing the feed for stock and did not believe in giving excessive quantities of cake as it may exceed the assimilating powers of the animal and valuable matter passes into manure.[116]

Some Shropshire farmers were not convinced of the benefits of high farming and Tanner said that the costs of extra feeding and the extra work and cost involved with taking feed into the cattle and then removing the manure to put onto the land double expenses.[117]  Tanner added that farmers in parts of south-east Shropshire were too reliant on arable and economically unbalanced and conversion to grassland would be a great boon. Dodd concludes this started a progressive change across Shropshire and low yielding arable was converted into grassland in the period 1850 -1870. The agent of the Clive estate in South Shropshire reported lime and manure was needed to improve the existing permanent grassland. Clive promoted grassland improvement and with the coming of the railways, see Trinder above, Clive was able to get artificial fertiliser onto his land.[118]

The twenty years after 1850 has been described as a golden age of farming and land ownership as higher rents followed draining improvement. Farmers were able to use railways to get their products to markets further afield and the increasing population of the towns and cities of the West Midlands demanded more and better quality food. This was surprising as it followed the repeal of the Corn Laws and improved communications should have driven prices down, but the Americans were occupied in Civil War and the Crimean War interrupted supplies from Europe, so markets were enjoying good prices.[119] Another stimulus to farming growth brought about by the coming of the railways was the development of the fresh milk market for delivery into towns, this helped the outlying dairy farmers and the Shorthorn breed was developed for milk and beef as their Cheshire cheese products could get to the West Midlands.[120]

By 1856-7 the grain price fell almost 20% from 69s.2d. per quarter to 56s. 4d.and after 1861 prices did not achieve previous levels and Shropshire farmers started grassing down arable to permanent pasture land.[121] But the graziers had their own problems and serious cattle plague hit Shropshire in 1865-7. It was first noticed in London in June 1865, with the death of large numbers of dairy cattle, a quarter of a million animals were slaughtered or died in the first year, and it quickly spread to the Midlands.[122] This had a longer term benefit for rural milk producers as there was a move away from milk production in towns and cities.

By 1870, Dodd states, everywhere in Shropshire except for the grass regions of Whitchurch and the hill region of south west Shropshire, the less productive arable land was being grassed down, with reductions of 20% in the southern and central wheat lands to 40% in Oswestry and Whitchurch areas.[123] This was timely as Robinson states cereal prices `fell dramatically from the early 1870s`at the same time grain imports were increasing as freight rates were also coming down, this had the effect of reducing the price of wheat in the West Midland markets  by over £1 between 1870 & 1900.[124]

Nationally these price reductions discouraged grain farmers and encouraged more imports, so that by 1880 more than 25% of the agricultural produce consumed in Britain was imported This was serious enough to warrant the setting up of a Royal Commission on the `Depressed Condition of Agricultural Interests` it met in 1880-82. The depression was felt most, on heavy land and on the poorer light soils in the east of the country. Between 1875 and 1895 the move away from arable increased the amount of pasture by 2.7 million acres and extended dairy and cattle farming. Fortunately this helped cattle farmers as there was an increased customer demand for young beef cattle to be ready at two years old.[125]

The fall in wheat prices had consequences for landlords. Locally in Bridgnorth and South Shropshire the fall in wheat prices from 60s. per qtr to 40s.between 1870 and 1890 was reflected in a report of the chairman of the joint committee of Shropshire County Council and the Chamber of Agriculture. W H Lander, reported to the Royal Commission on the Agricultural Depression, rents in Bridgnorth and Shifnal had fallen temporarily by between 10% and 40% and 10% permanent reductions.[126] The fall on Sutherland`s farms rented out for more than £50 was 14.65 per cent in the period 1873-7 and 1896-1900.

In north Shropshire the dairy farmers were doing well with an occasional downward swing. Robinson reports the results for Peatswood Farm, Tyrley near Market Drayton with profits in 1881-5 at £88 per annum. They then increased in 1891-5 to £351 per annum and then in 1901-5 increased further to £545 per annum. Robinson noted a downswing in the mid-1890s.[127] On the Sutherland estates as dairying was manageable on less acreage, farms were being divided into smaller units in the 1870s and 1880s.[128] A contrast to the expansion in the days of James Loch described in the first chapter.

Cattle farming required less labour than arable and although agricultural wages had increased in the 1870s, they fell in the 1880s, and did not increase much until after 1900.[129] Since the 1870s there had been a decline in the numbers employed in agriculture. Labourers left the countryside to work for higher wages in factories in the towns and cities. Some farmers invested the savings on wages on new equipment and agricultural machinery and this trend of increasing mechanisation continued although this study will not be exploring the development and agricultural uses of steam.

Plymley`s recommendations were still valid but as so often happens in agriculture the market had changed so that by the time the Royal Agricultural Society of England made its third visit to Shrewsbury in 1914 agriculture represented about 10% of GNP compared with 33% in 1800.[130] In the 1850s the coming of the railways had opened up new markets in the towns and cities of the West Midlands for Shropshire farmers. But then, after the American Civil War, in the 1870s railway technology had spread across North America and reduced the costs of imported wheat which flooded into the UK. The technology of refrigeration and deep freezing enabled the North Americans and Canadians to start shipping meat products to the UK. Later Wool was shipped from Australia and New Zealand and dairy products from Canada and Europe.[131] This competition reduced wheat and wool prices by 40% and butter and cheese prices fell by 25%.

To conclude this chapter on livestock the writer concludes that livestock improvement was essential and profitable for Shropshire`s mixed farmers and the farmers who grassed over their marginal land if they found markets for their cattle and sheep. So to this extent Plymley`s recommendations continued to be followed where they had become best practice. In Shropshire there was great support for the development of Shropshire Sheep and Hereford cattle and to answer did the investment in livestock improvement achieve the expected returns for breeders and farmers the answer is yes. Certainly for the top breeders who were able to command top fees for their rams, as illustrated by the fee for a ram for the season of sixty five guineas paid by Lord Aylesford.  Livestock improvement continued throughout the study period and was given impetus by the flock books and their own breeding societies. The study will now move to the third chapter to review the contribution to improvement made by agricultural societies who put on agricultural shows where the agricultural implements were shown and livestock competed for prizes.

Chapter 3: Improvement – Societies

Plymley stated, in his review published in 1813, that there were no agricultural societies based in Shropshire, although Shifnal and Market Drayton had affiliations to Staffordshire based societies.[132] This chapter will examine to what extent were Plymley`s recommendations were followed by the setting up of agricultural and related societies in Shropshire.  The second section of this chapter will examine how effective were agricultural shows, organised by some societies, as a method of communications of improvement ideas, and to ask if standards were improved by competition.  The final section of this study will examine the contribution made by agricultural implements to improvement in Shropshire

One of the early references to an agricultural society in Shropshire Archive is the `Shropshire Agricultural Society in 1845`[133] this is in the Eyton Family papers and there is an opportunity for further research.[134] The Royal Agricultural Society of England, (RASE) was formed in 1838 had the motto `Practice with Science`.[135] Supported by the nobility, the owners of the great estates and gentlemen farmers, the Royal Agricultural Society of England contributed greatly to improvement when it established prizes for essays on agricultural practice and published them its journal.[136] Prizes were awarded at its annual show for other improvements, including livestock and the design of new implements.

RASE visited Shrewsbury three times in the period under review and held agricultural shows in Shrewsbury. In four years leading up to the show in 1884 R. Jasper More reported the Shropshire membership of RASE as follows in 1880:420, 1881:396, 1882:382, 1883:371.[137] The programme of the RASE meeting held on the Racecourse on Monkmoor Street in Shrewsbury in 1914 started on Saturday with the exhibition of implements and systems only. It was then open to the public on five days starting on Monday, on Wednesday there was a lecture on Bee Management and in the working dairy there was a demonstration of the butter making using French and Danish methods.[138]

The start-up of RASE may have encouraged a number of other agricultural societies and groups to become interested in agricultural improvement, such as the Wenlock Farmers Club in 1843, the year before the Central Farmers Club of London.[139] Other organisations arranged talks on agricultural topics, for example a talk on `Agricultural Chemistry` by the Reverend C.A.A. Lloyd and delivered on the 3rd April 1840.[140] Other individuals such as the Honourable Thomas Kenyon offered a two sovereigns prize to the cottagers of Oswestry if they would adopt a new plan for managing bees, this illustrates the trickle down of knowledge from Gentry to cottager.[141]

Speeches made by members of parliament and agricultural leaders were printed and sold. Such as a speech in Parliament on 20th February 1846 by Shrewsbury MP Benjamin Disraeli in the debate on `Free Trade`, he spoke against repeal of the Corn Laws and this was printed and sold on behalf of by the Shropshire Agricultural Protection Society.[142]

At this time agricultural societies were being formed to discuss matters of agricultural interest, to support agricultural research and to lobby parliament. In 1866 the first meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture was held in London, and the first chairman was Mr A. Pell of the Northampton Chamber and Mr R. Jasper More, MP for south Shropshire, was elected Vice Chairman.[143] The Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture, (SCofA) was formed two weeks later, it is now the only survivor of the many county Chambers of Agriculture that formed in the nineteenth century and affiliated to the Central Chamber of Agriculture in London.[144]

The farmers of Shropshire gathered at the George Hotel, Shrewsbury in August 1866 to form the SCofA. A number of issues had been giving them cause for concern including, the commutation of tithes, the enclosure of common land and the repeal of the Corn Laws. But according to Ingleson, the tipping point had been reached in 1865, when the cattle plague hit Shropshire. It brought home to every farmer that they had no one to represent their interests inside or outside parliament.[145] It was serious for Shropshire, as by March 1866 3,406 cattle had been slaughtered, 2,742 had died, 788 recovered and only 347 were unaffected, [146]

The Shropshire Chambers had two objectives set out by the Chairman Mr J Bowen Jones. 1) Political action to hold and improve our position with regard to other interests that have accomplished a reduction in taxes. 2)  General improvement of agriculture and the accompanying advancement of the respective interests concerned with the land.[147] The Chamber grew to have 612 members, the largest membership in the country, and it supported the idea of an agricultural show in Shropshire.

On 17th December 1873, in Eddowe`s Shrewsbury Journal, the editor praised the quality of entries in a pre-Christmas show and sale of fatstock, held on the previous Friday. He mooted the idea of making an annual show of mutton and beef. He then commented on the positive support received from local landlords and traders who helped the promoter with prize money. The editor continued that Shrewsbury was the natural centre of a great feeding district unsurpassed for quality and quantity and that, surely, the breeders and feeders would prefer an exhibition in their own neighbourhood.[148] The following week J. Bowen-Jones, a leading agriculturalist in the county, who later became president of the Shropshire Sheep Breeders` Association and Flock Book Society, supported the idea in a letter to the editor. He then commented the fact of Shropshire not having a county society, or forming part of an area of a still larger one, is a standing reproach to the agriculturalists of this important agricultural county. He ends his letter by saying that he is sure there would be co-operation between landowners and practical farmers, and that such a show would be of substantial benefit to agriculture of the north-west and west-midlands districts.[149]

Thomas Corbett, proprietor of Corbett and Peek, Perseverance Ironworks, Shrewsbury, a manufacturer of agricultural implements and secretary of SCofA was in agreement with the idea of a show and he agreed to raise the matter at the next meeting of the SCoA. He offered to be secretary of the new show without charge for the first year. A meeting was held on Tuesday 20th January 1874, the day of the annual dinner, with the president, Mr R Jasper More, in the chair, Mr J Bowen Jones spoke on the desirability of forming a large Agricultural Society for Shropshire and adjoining districts. After discussion some members said that it should not just be for Shropshire but is should be for the West Midlands. [150]

A sub-committee of members was appointed to look at the whole question of a show. Eddowes`s Journal commented in the changing phases of practical agriculture:

Whether we like it or not, we shall be forced to regard it as a national industry and partially scientific profession. We have noticed that at local shows little encouragement to improved agricultural implements and too much attention paid to leaping contests for hunters.[151]

According to Ritherdon not all of the public were thrilled to be having an agricultural show in the Quarry in Shrewsbury and one objected to using the most beautiful park in England half of which will be boarded up for months just for a two day show.[152]

On 26th January 1875 the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, the Rt Hon. The earl of Bradford, was elected as patron and Thomas Corbett as honorary secretary and a list of over 1300 rules was approved and the Shropshire & West Midlands Agricultural Society was formed. The first show was to held in Shrewsbury in 1875 and needed the support of the Shrewsbury Council

They paid the agreed amount the first show was a financial success. The writer would point out that analysis of the figures shows that there would be a substantial loss without the contribution from the host town and donations from other sponsors. The membership Income Subscriptions and Donations have been summarised for the first year and in 1874/5 there were 375 members who paid a subscription of £1. Other monies were received amounting to £41.77 and donations amounting to £403.18.[153]

The writer has analysed the results of SWMAS for the first five years and the moves around the county achieved mixed results. The show in 1876 at Oswestry lost £235 and in 1877 in Whitchurch made a small surplus of £41, in 1878 Ludlow made a surplus of £432, and the show returned to Shrewsbury in 1879. Data has been abstracted from the general cash book and comparisons can be made between the shows income and expenditure for the first five years.[154]

Press comments were favourable, in one editorial on second day of the show, the improvements in the agricultural situation of 1875 were compared with 1845 when the Royal Show was previously held in Shrewsbury.

Jasper More commented about the changes in agriculture “the well-furnished farmstead has a battery of machinery. Science had invaded the farm, consulting chemists analyse drainage water and veterinary surgeons are retained to make diagnosis upon subjects of mysterious disease”

After supporting the launch of SWMAS the SCoA began to interest itself and support technical agricultural education. After a meeting with Mr Buckmaster of the Department of Science and Art in 1879, the Chamber invited school masters to qualify as teachers of agricultural science and develop classes for the sons of farmers.[155]  Nine years later it lobbied for the establishment of agricultural and dairy schools to be implemented nationally. In 1890, together with members of SWMAS, a deputation was sent to the Technical and Educational Sub-committee of Salop County Council, to support grants to provide instruction in agricultural science subjects and practical farm-work, and for the establishment of dairy institutes.[156] This sub-committee was set up to allocate the spending of the so called `whiskey money`, following collection of extra duties on beer and spirits, and allocated to Shropshire by central government for technical education.[157]

With the support of the Chamber a dairy college at Radbrook in Shrewsbury opened its doors to girls from rural areas in 1901. They were trained in domestic science and dairy work on the dairy farm based at the college.[158] In the same year on 26th September, again with the support of the Chamber of Agriculture, Harper Adams College officially opened its doors to students.  Thomas Harper Adams, died in June 1982 and his will stated that his estate should be used for teaching practical and theoretical agriculture in England. His niece, Mary Ann Minor challenged the will on the grounds of his insanity, after a legal wrangle she accepted a settlement £11,000 and costs, an amount that equated to her mother`s dowry, acquired by Adams on his marriage.[159] He was a controversial character and locally unpopular but his legacy, the balance of his estate £45,496, went to found Harper Adams College.[160]

The third part of this chapter will look at the changes brought about by improved design of agricultural equipment and ask if there was real improvement or was it just simply an expression of marketing?  Thomas Corbett was a Shropshire man that designed many implements and the chapter will analyse the contribution agricultural engineering made to improvement. Thomas came from a family of agricultural engineers and when he set up his business in 1865 in Shrewsbury it was in direct opposition to his family in Wellington.

In the early days he sold his products through Richard Chipchase, of Albert Street and Castle Foregate Shrewsbury and they worked together until 1877.[161] Thomas worked with another seller, Arthur John Peele, until 1881.  Thomas then became sole proprietor of the firm. He was a successful marketer and a good designer.[162]

Thomas Corbett`s design for a winnower No 2435, in JRASE.[163]

See next page

Other companies saw the value of winning prizes, including Ransomes of Ipswich, they entered teams in ploughing contests, they signed up the best ploughmen for their company.[164] Thomas claimed his machines had won many prizes at the Great Clunside Match, the Marshbrook Match and many others including Ludlow, Knighton, Tenbury and Wenlock.[165]

Thomas Corbett was not always successful and on one occasion he was severally criticised by the judge for his Three-Horse Whippletree No 2438. It was entered at the RASE show at Preston in 1885. The implement judge reported in the Journal of RASE:

“It will be seen that this is a very ingenious arrangement, and in their 4 horse version even more complex. No horse has its two traces attached to the same whippletree, the consequence being that with every variation of draught each horse has one trace taut and the other one slack, — a fatal defect.”[166]

Thomas Corbett – The fatally defective whippletrees No 2438.[167]

In the same publication the senior steward of the Implement section, the Hon Cecil T. Parker, commented that exhibitors were still claiming that they were entering some of their articles as `New Implements` `without considering their claim to rank as such`. The new rule agreed at Shrewsbury in 1884, was that entrants had to deposit £1 for each new implement, this ruling reflected in the numbers of new entries in 1885 at just over 100, which was down to one third of previous year’s total, the judges and stewards retained the deposits of several entrants.[168]

The Marshbrook Agricultural Society reported on discussions with of the Royal Commission of Agriculture in 1879. In the same report a letter was received dated October 23rd from V. Menier, from Paris who had been invited to demonstrate his electric plough at Marshbrook, but he was unable to attend because of  “ever-increasing business absolutely prevents our doing so” he invited any member to visit Noisiel to see a trial in November to demonstrate the Electric Plough.

See illustration of the electric plough in the Engineer 13th June 1879.[169]

Other technical advances continued and some sustained and became useful and major savers of manual labour, including the sheaf binder in 1882.[170] But many other ideas did not work effectively a prime example is the electric plough. Further advances came with the introduction of the petrol engine and in 1903 the earliest petrol driven tractor the `Ivel` was demonstrated.[171] Development continued and in 1910 four tractors took part in RASE trials at Baldock in Hertfordshire.[172]

Agricultural shows were an ideal way for promoting agricultural implements and for keeping an eye on technical developments the competition were making. In 1890 at the Royal Agricultural Society of England show in Plymouth, S. Corbett and Son, Wellington claimed the first prize of £20. The firm produced the ‘Plymouth’ variant of the grinding mill and advertised it as ‘The World’s Best Grinding Mill’.[173] Thomas would have enjoyed the Royal Show in Shrewsbury in 1914 when he welcomed King George V onto his exhibition stand and demonstrated some of his equipment.[174]

In conclusion to this chapter the writer can state that agricultural societies created an impact on the agricultural community by providing farmers a platform to give voice to their concerns. The agricultural shows provided a place to show their stock and compare them with other owners who they may not meet at the market. The show was also a place to see some of the latest machinery ideas some of which may not have worked as well as the farmer hoped. The question asked if new societies had been formed in Shropshire in the period and these are the ones the writer has identified as agricultural, horticultural and show societies.

Burwarton Show, Bishops Castle Agricultural Show, Eckford Sweet Pea Society, Oswestry and District Show, Newport and District Show, Market Drayton and District Agricultural and Small Holding Society and Minsterley Show, Tenbury Agricultural Society, and the Shropshire Horticultural Society.

The third section of this chapter examined agricultural societies their shows and implements and examined the journal produced by RASE which informed gentlemen farmers of the latest news and trends in agricultural practice. RASE organised an agricultural show each year, which moved to a different location each year and visited Shrewsbury in 1845, 1884 and 1914. The show included lectures and demonstrations of best practice and included an implement section where the latest agricultural machinery was shown. Prizes were also given for agricultural essays and these covered all aspects of the subject from methods of growing to the design of farm buildings.

Local societies became important lobby groups giving the farmer a voice when various difficulties beset the agricultural sector. The Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture was formed after a serious bout of cattle plague hit Shropshire in 1865 and supported the setting up of SWMAS in 1875 it also supported agricultural education and supported Harper Adams Agricultural College in 1901 which is strong evidence of a desire for improvement.


The publication of an agricultural survey of Shropshire in 1813 by Plymley on behalf of the Agricultural Board identified areas of improvement that were needed in Shropshire at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This micro study set out to answer to what extent Plymley`s recommendations for agricultural improvement were followed in Shropshire? The second question was to answer if the investment in improvement achieved the expected returns for land owners and farmers? The final question asked if improvement continued throughout the study period from 1813-1914?

In the first chapter the study examined of improvement of land. The Lilleshall estate was used for the study. It was managed by the leading agent James Loch appointed in 1812. He set up a management structure and was successful in increasing the professionalism of his sub agents. Farm sizes increased and new farm buildings were constructed near the middle of the farm land which improved profitability by reducing travel time. Enclosure was the first step to the improvement of some village field systems and upper common land in Shropshire and was achieved by agreement. If wet land was enclosed, under-draining would be undertaken to improve soil condition, this was seen as a long-term benefit.  To improve soil fertility for arable crops and grassland it was top dressed with dung and treated with lime. The Home Farm of Lilleshall spent an average of 12.5% of total expenditure on under draining in the period to 1847 and 12.1% on improving soil condition by adding manure and lime. The farm had to generate income to cover these costs and to that extent the farm was able to pay its way. In spite of improvements the evidence from the Lilleshall estate showed that agricultural rents did not improve in the period from 1817 to 1855. Drainage improvement was evident in the period to 1847 and enclosure of upper common land continued in Shropshire to 1891.

In the second chapter the study examined livestock improvement by inbreeding as practiced in the seventeenth century by Robert Bakewell compared with the natural selection that had gone on for centuries in the uplands of Shropshire and Staffordshire.  After selective breeding improvement to Shropshire sheep, they were given their own class at the show organised by the RASE. The fleece from a Shropshire produced 6-8 lbs of quality wool. The meat output had also doubled and the average weight at sixteen months was 20-22 lbs per quarter. Whilst the output had increased, it coincided with an increase in demand for meat and wool and some breeding costs increased as improvers charged more for their best rams. The railways arrived in Shropshire and this brought the price down of artificial fertilisers, guano and bones, given as top dressings to improve the quality of the soil. The golden age was a time of improved profits for farmers and land owners as foreign wars restricted imports of grain and prices were high.

Following the resolution of the American Civil war imports of grain forced market prices down and profits of grain farmers fell. Land lords had no choice but to reduce rents. Mixed and arable farmers turned their attention to livestock farming and large areas of arable were grassed over, some farmers benefitted from the demand for milk from the expanding West Midland Towns. By 1910 25% of food was imported and although the population was increasing and demand was higher the number of farmers and people who worked on farms was falling. The improvement of Shropshire sheep was continued as the Flock Book Society, formed in 1882, offered breeders the opportunity to choose from a wide selection of rams.

The third chapter of the essay examined agricultural societies their shows and implements and examined the Journal produced by RASE which informed gentlemen farmers of the latest news and trends in agricultural practice. The society organised an agricultural show each year, which moved to a different location each year and visited Shrewsbury in 1845, 1884 and 1914. The show included lectures and demonstrations of best practice and included an implement section where the latest agricultural machinery was shown. Prizes were also given for agricultural essays and these covered all aspects of the subject from methods of growing to the design of farm buildings.

Local societies became important lobby groups giving the farmer a voice when various difficulties beset the agricultural sector. The Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture was formed after a serious bout of cattle plague hit Shropshire in 1865 and continues to be active in Shropshire in the period to 1914. SCoA supported the setting up of SWMAS in 1875 to organise an annual agricultural show and supported the setting up of Harper Adams Agricultural College, in 1901.

This micro study set out to evaluate to what extent were Plymley`s recommendations for agricultural improvement followed in Shropshire and from the evidence it can be seen that many of his recommendations were implemented eventually.

The second question asked if the investment in improvement achieve the expected returns for land owners and or farmers, it appears that on the Lilleshall estate from 1817 to 1855 there was little increase for the landlord and to establish individual farmers results would need further work to have been done by the writer. Later in the study period there is evidence the dairy farmers of north Shropshire were enjoying increased profits.

The third question asked if improvement continued throughout the study period and the findings are that improvement continued in many areas but the nature of it changed. The standard improvements aimed at the fertility of the soil and improved breeding to increase yields were followed by more sophisticated improvements. Self-powered implements and machinery became more important as labour left the land to work in towns.

Finally the writer would suggest areas for further research include the many annual shows held by the towns of Shropshire and the West Midlands and some of the individual improvers mentioned in this study including Eyton. The writer would state that Plymley`s improvements were fundamentally about sharing knowledge and with support from local agricultural societies, the establishment of an agricultural educational base in Shropshire is viewed by the author as an example of continuing agricultural improvement.

Tables and Illustrations


The Lilleshall Estate Collections   in S A.

972/3/19/2/2   Farm Draining Book 1840-49

Extracts from the draining book     Nature of the Soil drained in 1846         

9723/12/1/1/1–7   Statement of Income and Expenditure 1843-1851

Extracts of expenditure   on Drainage – Lime & Manure – Implements       

Account books of the Shropshire & West Midlands Agricultural Society

First Cash Books from 1874 to 1882 with details of receipts and payments.

Extracts from the Cash Books income                                                                      

Details of membership subscriptions received                                                         

Summary of major donors                                                                                         

Illustrations used with permission of SWMAS.

Three Shearling Ewes, Shropshire Sheep                                                             

Winners of First Prize at Darlington RASE 1895

From Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep Vol 14, p.11.

Hereford Ox at 4 years old                                                                                          

From Eyton`s Herd Book Vol VII, p.437.

A Corbett Winnower No 2435                                                                                     

From JRASE 2nd S Vol XXI p725.

The fatally defective whippletrees, No. 2438.                                                           

From JRASE 2nd S Vol XXI p.696.

Electric Plough *                                                                                                        

Illustration from the Engineer 13th June 1879, p.434


1. Primary Sources 

  • Unpublished and privately held records not yet catalogued
  • Held at the offices of the Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society in Shrewsbury (SWMAS)

Account books of the Society

  • First Cash Books from 1874 to 1882 with details of receipts and payments.
  • Summary Statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875-1882.
  • Details of Subscriptions received.
  • Details of Donations received.
  • Details of Entry Fees – paid by exhibitors.

Other Published Material and illustrations owned by the Society

  • Pusey P., (ed) Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, (London, 1850).
  • Pusey P., (ed) Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, (London, 1885).
  • The Royal Agricultural Society of England, Catalogue of Stock and Implements Royal Show in Shrewsbury (London, 1914).                                            
  • Mansell A., The Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep Vol.14 (Shrewsbury, 1896).
  • Duckham T., Eyton`s Herd Book of Hereford Cattle, Vol VII (Hereford 1869).

Held in the personal collection of Mr B. Goodwin (B G) 

  • Taylor, H., the Bee-Keepers` Manual; or Practical Hints on the Management and Complete Preservation of the Honey Bee (London, 1839).
  • Extracts from `the British Bee Journal (London,1885).
  • Poster for Competition New Plan of Managing Bees – Competition for Cottagers      (Oswestry,1840.

Primary Sources held at Shropshire Archive or Library (SA) 

The Lilleshall Estate Collections  

  • 972/3/19/2/2   Farm Draining Book 1840-49
  • 9723/12/1/1/1 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1843
  • 9723/12/1/1/2 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1844
  • 9723/12/1/1/3 Receipts and Payments
  • 9723/12/1/1/4 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1845
  • 9723/12/1/1/5 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1846
  • 9723/12/1/1/6 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1847
  • 9723/12/1/1/7 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1851

1.2.2 Contemporary Published Sources held at (S A)

  • Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).
  • C22/624. – Royal Agricultural Society of England 1845 Show in
  • Shrewsbury, newspaper cuttings pasted into a book.
  • qD22 1164 – Royal Agricultural Society of England 1914 Show in Shrewsbury Newspapers.
  • C22v.f. 14536/1. – Marshbrook Agricultural Society.  Report on discussions of the Royal Commission of Agriculture. (Marshbrook 29 October 1879).
  • C 01/1651 – R. Jasper More. Hints to Strangers who may visit the Royal Agricultural Society`s Show at Shrewsbury in 1884. (Shrewsbury 1884) Reprinted from the Journal of the Newcastle upon Tyne Farmers club.
  • 665/4/245 – Speech by Shrewsbury MP Benjamin Disraeli 1846 on Free Trade, Reprinted in Eddowe`s Gazette at the request of the Shropshire Agricultural Protection Society.
  • C01/235 – Talk on Agricultural Chemistry by the Reverend C.A.A.                                                          Lloyd Written and Published at the request of the Members of the Shropshire Natural History Society, and delivered before them on the 3rd April 1840.  Shrewsbury Printed and published by G. Matthews, Public Library, 10 High Street 1840

Secondary Sources

Books and Book Chapters

Allen R.C., `Agriculture during the industrial revolution 1700-1850`, in Floud R. & Johnson P., (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume 1 (Cambridge, 2004). P. 96-116.

Dinnis E.R., History of the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866 – 1986 (Shrewsbury 1986)

Hill R., Shropshire Sheep a History (Shrewsbury, 1984).

Ingleson F., History of the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866 – 1966 (Newport, 1966)

Kenny R., `Education Training and Advice` in F. Ingleson (ed.), A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury, 1975).

Lee C., `Regions and Industries in Britain` P. Johnson (ed.), 20th Century Britain Economic, Social and Cultural Change (Harlow,1994).

Mansell A., `History of Shropshire Sheep` reprinted by permission from Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Vol. 74 (London, 1913).  

Mendenhall T., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries (London, 1953).

Morgan T.C., `Development of Agricultural Machinery over the Century` in F. Ingleson (ed.), A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury, 1975).

Orwin C.S. & Whetham E.H., History of British Agriculture 1846-1914 (London, 1964)

Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989).

Riley G., 125 years of Excellence (Shrewsbury 2000).

Ritherdon K.,  `The formation of the Society and its first Show in 1875`. in F. Ingleson (ed) A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury 1975).

Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge 1983).

Rowley T., The landscape of the Welsh Marches (London, 1986).

Rowley T., The Shropshire Landscape (London, 1982).

Trinder B., A History of Shropshire (Chichester, 1983).

Trinder B., `Life and times of the Agricultural Community over the hundred years` in F. Ingleson (ed.), A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury, 1975).

Turner M., `Agriculture, 1860-1914,` in R. Floud & P. Johnson (eds.) The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume 2, Economic Maturity, 1860-1939 (Cambridge 2004).

Tweddle T., `A hundred years of livestock improvements`, in F. Ingleson F., (ed.), A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury 1975).

Williams H., Lure of the land: A century of education at Harper Adams (Newport. 2010).

Winstanley M., `Agriculture and Rural Society` in C. Williams (ed.), A Companion to Nineteenth Century Britain (Malden, 2007)


Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire`, Midland History, Vol. 35, No2, (Autumn, 2010), pp 191-214.

Darby H.C., `Some Early Ideas on the Agricultural Regions of England`. Agricultural History Review Vol. 2.1 (1954), p.30-47.

Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`, Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (Jan1983),  pp.148-168.

Grundy J.E., `The Hereford bull: his contribution to New World and domestic beef supplies`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2002), pp. 69-88.

Hewitt P.B., `Some Thoughts on the `Cattle Plague` 1865-7 and its effect in NE Shropshire`  in (ed) R. Cromarty`, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol LXIX 1994.

Miskell L., `Putting on a show: The Royal Agricultural Society of England and the Victorian Town, c1840-1876`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (2012), pp. 37-59.

Richards E., `Leviathan of Wealth” West Midland Agriculture, 1800-50`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 22, No. 2 (1974), pp. 97-117.

Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), pp. 38-55.

Lecture notes and papers accessed via websites

Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett.

Lecture notes to the Friends of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, January 2014. Notes supplied by the author.

De Silva C., A Short History of Agricultural Education and ResearchSome key places, people, publications and events from the 18th to the 21st Centuries, (Newport, 2012).

[1] Allen Robert C., `Agriculture during the industrial revolution 1700-1850`, in Floud R. & Johnson P., (eds) The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume 1 (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 96-116.

[2] Rowley T., The Shropshire Landscape (London, 1982).

[3] Rowley T., The Landscape of the Welsh Marches (London, 1986).

[4] Darby H.C., `Some Early Ideas on the Agricultural Regions of England`, Agricultural History Review Vol. 2 No 1. (1954), pp. 30-47.

[5] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989).

[6] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire`, Midland History, Vol. 35, No2 (Autumn, 2010), pp 191-214.

[7] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983).

[8] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983).

[9] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`,  Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January, 1983), pp.148-168.

[10] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire (1982).

[11]Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), pp. 38-55.

[12] Mendenhall T., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries (London, 1953)

[13] Hill R., Shropshire Sheep A History (Shrewsbury, 1984).

[14] Ritherdon K., `The formation of the Society and its first Show in 1875`. in F. Ingleson, (ed) A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury, 1975).

[15] Morgan T.C., `Development of Agricultural Machinery over the Century`, in F. Ingleson, (ed) A hundred years of progress (Shrewsbury, 1975).

[16] Riley G., 125 years of Excellence (Shrewsbury, 2000).

[17] Riley G., 125 years of Excellence (Shrewsbury, 2000),

[18] Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett (Ironbridge, 2014) Lecture Notes.

[19] Orwin C.S. & Whetham E.H., History of British Agriculture 1846-1914 (London, 1964).

[20] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[21] Shropshire Archives, SA, The Lilleshall Estate Collections, Ref 972.

[22] SA, 972/3/12/1/1/1-7 Statement of Income and Expenditure 1843-1847 +1851.

[23] SA, 972/3/19/2/2 Farm Draining Book 1840 -49.

[24] Pusey P.,   Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, (London, 1885).

[25]  SA, C22/624, 1845 Royal Agricultural Society of England Show in Shrewsbury – News Cuttings.

[26]  SA, C01/235.  Talk on Agricultural Chemistry by the Reverend C.A.A. Lloyd (Shrewsbury, 1840).

[27] SA, 665/4/245 – Speech by Shrewsbury MP Benjamin Disraeli 1846 on Free Trade, Reprinted in Eddowe`s Gazette at the request of the Shropshire Agricultural Protection Society.

[28] SA, More R.J., Hints to Strangers coming to the Royal Agricultural Show at Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1884).

[29] SA, C22v.f.14536/1,   Marshbrook Agricultural Society.  Report on discussions of the Royal Commission of Agriculture (Marshbrook, 1879)

[30] SWMAS,   Duckham T., Herd Book of Hereford cattle (Hereford, 1869).

[31] SWMAS,   Mansell A., Shropshire Sheep Herd Book (Shrewsbury, 1898).

[32]  Brian Goodwin Archive (BG) New plan for managing bees, details of a competition for cottagers (Oswestry, 1840).

[33] BG, Taylor, H., The Bee-keepers` Manual; or Practical Hints on the Management and Complete Preservation of the Honey Bee (London, 1839).

[34] BG, Extracts from the British Bee Journal (London, 1885).

[35] SWMAS Cash Books from 1874 to 1882 with details of receipts and payments. Summary Statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875-1882.

[36] SWMAS  Cash Books from 1874 to 1882 with details of receipts and payments. Summary Statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875-1882.

[37] De Silva C., A Short History of Agricultural Education and Research; (Newport, 2012), p.12.

[38] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[39] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[40] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[41] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813), p.92.

[42] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire`, Midland History, Vol. 35, No 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 193.

[43] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire` Midland History, Vol. 35, No 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 194.

[44] Bowen J. P., A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire. Midland History, Vol. 35, No 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 194.

[45] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813), p.102.

[46] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire`, Midland History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 201.

[47] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire`. Midland History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 201.

[48] Bowen J. P., A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire. Midland History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 196.

[49] Rowley T., The Shropshire Landscape (London, 1982), P. 158.

[50] Bowen J. P., `A Landscape of Improvement: The impact of James Loch, Chief Agent to the Marquis of Stafford, on the Lilleshall Estate, Shropshire` Midland History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Autumn, 2010), p. 199.

[51] Rowley T., The Shropshire Landscape (London, 1982), p. 145.

[52] Rowley T., The Landscape of the Welsh Marches (London, 1986), p. 209.

[53] Rowley T., The Landscape of the Welsh Marches (London, 1986), p. 208.

[54] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[55] Rowley T., The Shropshire Landscape (London, 1982), p. 158.

[56] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire. (Chichester,1983), p. 102.

[57] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s , (Cambridge, 1983), P.21.

[58]  Trinder B., A History of Shropshire. (Chichester, 1983), p. 102.

[59] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire. (Chichester, 1983), p. 103.

[60] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire. (Chichester, 1983), p. 104.

[61] Darby H.C., `Some Early Ideas on the Agricultural Regions of England` Agricultural History Review Vol. 2.1 (1954), p.46.

[62] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.3.

[63] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.3.

[64] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.5.

[65] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.6.

[66] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.29.

[67] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.74.

[68] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.75.

[69] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.183.

[70] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.179.

[71] Phillips A.D.M., The Underdraining of Farmland in England During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.242.

[72] S.A., Lilleshall Collection 972/3/19/2/2, Farm Draining Book 1840-49.

[73] S.A., Lilleshall Collection 9723/12/1/1/1, Statement of Income and Expenditure 1843.

[74] (Authors note: Draining was viewed as having a long term benefit and was not related to the current year.)

[75] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813), p.152.

[76] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813), p.152.

[77] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813), p. 181.

[78] Richards E.`Leviathan of Wealth West Midland Agriculture, 1800-50`. Agricultural History Review, Vol. 22, No. 2 (1974), p. 100.

[79] Richards E.`Leviathan of Wealth West Midland Agriculture, 1800-50`. Agricultural History Review, Vol. 22, No. 2 (1974), p. 102.

[80] Allen Robert C., `Agriculture during the industrial revolution 1700-1850`, in Floud R. & Johnson P., (eds) The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume 1 (Cambridge, 2004), p.99.

[81] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 39.

[82] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 39.

[83] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 39.

[84] Wykes D.L.` Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 40.

[85] Tweddle T., `100 years of Livestock improvement 1875 – 1975`, Century of Progress 1875-1975, (Shrewsbury, 1975). p.32.

[86] [86] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 49.

[87] [87] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 50.

[88] Wykes D.L. `Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley: farmer and livestock improver`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2004), p. 39.

[89] Mendenhall T., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries (London, 1953). p.1.

[90] Hill R., Shropshire Sheep a History (Shrewsbury, 1984), p.1.

[91] Hill R., Shropshire Sheep a history (Shrewsbury, 1984), p.1.

[92] Hill R., Shropshire Sheep a history (Shrewsbury, 1984), p.4.

[93] Mansell A., `History of Shropshire Sheep` reprinted by permission from Royal Agricultural Society of England Journal, Volume 74 (London, 1913), p. 6.  

[94] Orwin C.S. & Whetham E.H., History of British Agriculture 1846-1914 (London, 1964), p. 142.

[95] Mansell A., `History of Shropshire Sheep` reprinted by permission from Royal Agricultural Society of England Journal, Volume 74 (London, 1913), p.9.

[96] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 27.

[97] S.A., Mansell A., The Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep (Shrewsbury, 1896), p. 5.

[98] S.A., Mansell A., The Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep (Shrewsbury, 1896), p. 9-22.

[99] S.A., Mansell A., The Flock Book of Shropshire Sheep (Shrewsbury, 1896), p. 23-105.

[100] S.A., Mansell A., Shropshire Sheep Herd Book (Shrewsbury, 1898) Secretaries Report.

[101] Eyton Hall is near Lilleshall and T.C. Eyton was a friend of and corresponded with Charles Darwin.

[102] Ritherdon K., `The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875`, Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975), p.9.

[103] Grundy J.E., `The Hereford bull: his contribution to New World and domestic beef supplies`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2002), p. 70.

[104] Grundy J.E., `The Hereford bull: his contribution to New World and domestic beef supplies`, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2002), p. 72.

[105] SWMAS ArchiveDuckham T., Eyton`s Herd Book of Hereford Cattle, vol. VII, (Hereford, 1869), p.270.

[106]  SWMAS Archive, Duckham T., Eyton`s Herd Book of Hereford Cattle, vol. VII, (Hereford, 1869), p.271.

[107]  SWMAS Archive, Duckham T., Eyton`s Herd Book of Hereford Cattle, vol. VII, (Hereford, 1869), p.438.

[108] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`. Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January, 1983), p.152.

[109] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`. Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January, 1983), p.152.

[110] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 20.

[111] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`. Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January, 1983), pp.148-168.

[112] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 27.

[113] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire (Chichester, 1983)

[114] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970`,Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January 1983), p.155.

[115] Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (London, 1850), p.615.

[116]SWMAS ArchiveDuckham T., Eyton`s Herd Book of Hereford Cattle, vol. VII, (Hereford, 1869), p.14, in lecture reprinted after p.438.

[117] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970,` Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1.(January, 1983), p.154.

[118] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970,` Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1.(January, 1983), p.154.

[119] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983). p.27.

[120] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983). p. 28

[121]Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970,` Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1.(January, 1983), p.165.

[122] Hewitt P.B., `Some Thoughts on the `Cattle Plague` 1865-7 and its effect in NE Shropshire`  in (ed) R. Cromarty` Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. LXIX 1994. p.132.

[123] Dodd J.P., `High Farming in Shropshire 1845-1970,` Midland History, Vol. 8, Issue 1.(January, 1983), p.165.

[124] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 30.

[125] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 37.

[126] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 47.

[127] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 51.

[128] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 51.

[129] Robinson G.M., West Midlands Farming 1840s-1970s (Cambridge, 1983), p. 55.

[130] Winstanley M., Agriculture and Rural Society in Editor C. Williams, A Companion to Nineteenth Century Britain (Malden, 2007), p.218.

[131] Winstanley M., Agriculture and Rural Society in Editor Williams C., A Companion to Nineteenth Century Britain (Malden, 2007), p.209.

[132] Plymley J., Agricultural Survey of Shropshire (London, 1813).

[133] SA, 665/4/240, Shropshire Agricultural Society, Eyton Family Papers (1845) further work needed.

[134] Chester Courant., Oswestry Agricultural Society The writer has subsequently found reference to the awarding of prizes in the edition published on Tuesday 12th December 1820  (Chester, 1820)

[135] De Silva C., A Short History of Agricultural Education and Research; Some key places, people, publications and events from the 18th to the 21st Centuries (Newport, 2012).

[136] Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1885

[137] More J. Hints to Strangers who may want to visit the Royal Agricultural Society Show at Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1884) p.16.

[138] SA. D22 vf ls 25534  Royal Agricultural Society of England., Program of the Show in Shrewsbury (London,1914)

[139] SA, More J. Hints to Strangers who may want to visit the Royal Agricultural Society Show at Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1884) p.4.

[140]  SA, C01/23 5 `Talk on Agricultural Chemistry` by the Reverend C.A.A. Lloyd. (Shrewsbury, 1840).

[141] Poster for Competition New Plan of Managing Bees – Competition for Cottagers (Oswestry,1840). See appendix

[142]  SA, 665/4/245, Speech on Free Trade by Shrewsbury MP Benjamin Disraeli, 1846 Reprinted in Eddowes Gazette at request of Shropshire Agricultural Protection Society.

[143] Ingleson F., A Century of Service History of the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866 – 1966 (Newport, 1966), p. 2.

[144] Ingleson F.,  A Century of Service History of the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866 – 1966 (Newport, 1966),p.2

[145]Ingleson F., Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866-1986 (ed) E.R.(Dick) Dinnis (Shrewsbury, 1986), p.6.

[146] Ingleson F., Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866-1986 (ed) E.R.(Dick) Dinnis (Shrewsbury, 1986), p.6.

[147] Ingleson F., Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture 1866-1986 (ed) E.R.(Dick) Dinnis (Shrewsbury, 1986), p.6.

[148] Ritherdon K., The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875,  Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.4.

[149] Ritherdon K., The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875,  Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.4.

[150] Ritherdon K., The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875,  Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.4.

[151] Ritherdon K., The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875,  Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.4.

[152] Ritherdon K., The Formation of the Society and its First Show in 1875, Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.7.

[153] SWMAS, Summary Statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875-1882,

[154] SWMAS, Summary Statements of Income and Expenditure from 1875-1882, appendix.

[155] Williams H., Lure of the land: A century of education at Harper Adams (Newport, 2010). p.10.

[156] Kenny R., `Education, Training and Advice`. A Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975), p. 38.

[157] Williams H., Lure of the land: A century of education at Harper Adams (Newport, 2010). p.11.

[158] Trinder B., A History of Shropshire (1982). p.105.

[159] Williams H., Lure of the land: A century of education at Harper Adams (Newport, 2010) p.5.

[160] Williams H., Lure of the land: A century of education at Harper Adams (Newport, 2010) p.1.

[161]Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett.

Lecture notes to the Friends of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, January 2014. Notes supplied by the author. Here after referenced as Lecture Notes2014.

[162]Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett.  Lecture Notes 2014.

[163] Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England,2nd s. XXI (London, 1885). P. 725

[164] Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett. Lecture Notes 2014.

[165] Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett. Lecture Notes 2014.

[166] Roberts C.G., `Report on Implements at Preston,`  Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, (London,1885) p.698.

[167] Whippletrees are part of the harness used by working horses. They should share the load evenly between the horses.

[168] Parker Hon. C.T.,`Report of the Senior Steward of Implements at Preston`, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (London, 1885), p.682.

[169] C22 v. f. Marshbrook Agricultural Society.  Report on discussions of the Royal Commission of Agriculture (Marshbrook, 1879), p. 4.

[170] Morgan T.C., `Development of agricultural Machinery over the Century`, Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975), p. 26.

[171] Morgan T.C., `Development of agricultural Machinery over the Century`, Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.26.

[172] Morgan T.C., `Development of agricultural Machinery over the Century`, Century of Progress 1875-1975 (Shrewsbury, 1975) p.26.

[173] Rowe T., Victorious over all Thomas Corbett and Samuel and William Corbett. Lecture Notes 2014.

[174] Riley G., 125 years of Excellence (Shrewsbury 2000).

Charles Darwin outside Shrewsbury Library - previously Shrewsbury Boys School

Nigel`s Notes on Local History Groups and Information on Talks, Lectures and History Walks

The following list of local history groups regularly offer talks and publications on a range of Local History matters

Charles Darwin outside Shrewsbury Library - previously Shrewsbury Boys School

Victoria County History (Shropshire) Ltd since 1899 VCH has the aim of writing the history of each parish, village, town and city in a high academic standard. This is ongoing with many parts of Shropshire still to be written about. There is an annual lecture in October and other meetings throughout the year. ( Note this work was previously done by Shropshire Council but finished in the cuts around 2009, is now run by volunteers as a charitable company. In addition to Red Books and shorts the work is published on line.  

Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society – Annual subscription entitles members to attend meetings with talks each year many of them are held at The Shirehall. The Society also publishes Transactions an annual Blue Book that is written by the leading historians in the County.

There is a huge back catalogue of articles on every aspect of Shropshire history.

Friends of Shropshire Archives. – Annual Subscription entitles members to a copy of the Salopian Recorder written by local historians about various aspects of history in Shropshire.. Members also have visits around the county to great houses and places of interest that are not always open to the public. There is an annual meeting with a talk. The Friends also arrange talks and research classes from time to time. They also train voluntary researchers on a variety of projects. The group also raise funds to buy equipment for Shropshire Archives

University Centre Shrewsbury – The University arranges a number of talks by specialist speakers usual subjects include history and business

Friends of Shrewsbury Museum – Arrange a number of local and some national speakers on history and matters relating to collections within the Museum

U3A University of the Third Age – There are a number of U3A groups throughout Shrewsbury and the County, within each branch there are special interest groups including Music Art History Engineering and each group arrange speakers on the appropriate subject.

Shropshire Family History Society – Annual subscription or pay for individual meetings. Guest speaker followed by tea coffee etc and a short business meeting..

Shrewsbury Library arranges talks by writers and local historians.

Visitor Information Centre arranges daily walking history tours during the summer and will arrange bespoke and themed tours for groups and parties. During the Autumn ghost tours and during the winter weekly history tours.

Many Other Groups including – W.I., Rotary Groups, Ex -Service Clubs and other groups have weekly meetings some have speakers on local history.

If you have a group you would like listed on this page please contact me.

Nigel`s Notes on the history, landmarks and people of the Portland Nurseries area of Shrewsbury


A brief glance at the Portland Nurseries Area of Shrewsbury including The Column to the Severn written for a history day held by The Portland Community Hub on 29th June 2019 at the NAGLO Club.

The Column, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK

The Landmarks

  1. The Column designed by Chester architect Thomas Harrison is 40mtrs or 133ft high. It commemorates the part played in the Napoleonic Wars by Rowland, 1st Viscount Hill. Started in December 1814, it was completed on the 18th June 1816. The statue is 17ft high and is made of Codestone. The staircase was the gift of John Straphen an engineer who worked on the Holyhead Road. [i]
  2. The Shirehall was designed by Ralph Crowe and built in 1964, and is used by up to 800 employees of Shropshire Council. It has 34 meeting rooms for use of Council members and several other local bodies including Crown Courts, Connecting People, County Training, Domestic Abuse Forum, Heritage England hot-desks, Kier, WSP, Royal Voluntary Services and Women’s Aid. According to the Shropshire Star, Shropshire Council are planning to spend £24.1m on refurbishment in addition there will be a six-figure sum for the removal of asbestos.[ii]
  3. Sainsburys and Barnardo’s, until recently it was the site of the Shrewsbury Ambulance Station. Prior to this the land was occupied by Mr William Wybergh How, and his family, he built Nearwell in 1868, next to Sparrow Lane. Beyond the lane are the Column Buildings by Thomas Carline, built  about 1840. Opposite is the Lord Hill Hotel previously a villa, The Shrubbery, which was converted to a hotel in 1964. The former occupants were a grocer John Bagnall, and corn merchant Alfred Attfield.[iii]
  4. St Giles Vicarage is at the rear of The Shirehall, it is a free-standing building in the car park and it features on the 1888 and 1902 maps. In Shropshire Archives there is a letter from the Ecclesiastical Commission regarding the erection of St Giles vicarage, dated 9th April 1868 and a covering letter to the owner W.M. How. These set out an agreement whereby How sold the land for £150 and the Commissioners agreed to fund the build of the vicarage for £650.
  5. The Elms was planted on a narrow strip of land and the house was built in the 1840s, by a London-born landowner, Thomas Girdler Jones. There was a lodge at the gates, which are both lost. The Elms is now in the hands of Shropshire County Council and accessed via Belvidere Avenue. The Scout Hut is a well-known polling station and the Scouts annual muck haul a useful facility for the local gardening community.
  6. Belvidere Walk, Belvidere Avenue and Elmfield Road, known as The Belvidere Garden Estate was built in the 1930s by A. G. Roberts, he lived in `Elmfield` on Preston Street. The view of the Murrell rose nursery was said to be a selling-point [iv] Mrs Pat Maddocks recalls that 4 Belvidere Walk was built for the mother of Mr Roberts and had superior fittings and decorative plaster work on some ceilings.[v]
  7. Belvidere Road, built around 1840, linked Abbey Foregate to Portland House. Later in the 1930s it was linked to Belvidere Avenue and Belvidere Walk. In Dark Lane the former Police Authority houses back onto allotments and the lane gives access to a play park for children, near the footbridge over Bage Way giving access to Cherry Orchard.
  8. Portland House built before 1851, but by 1861 Henry John Olroyd, a nurseryman had moved his business to the site.  Now much changed and extended Portland House is a nursing home. Part of the land appears to have been built on and is now occupied by Belvidere medical practice.
  9. Portland Nurseries was acquired by Edwin Murrell from 1885, he lived in a house built amongst the greenhouses. In the 1888 map the Nurseries are marked on the left side of Belvidere Road and in the 1902 map are marked on the other side. A nursery shop operated in the former Shrewsbury Market and in the 1960s there was a shop at the bottom of Grope Lane. The business relocated in 1961 to Percy Thrower`s garden centre.
  10. Frensham Road, Cornelia Crescent, Portland Crescent, Peace Drive, Carmen Avenue and Allgold Drive were all built on the land vacated following Murrells relocation and appropriately all the roads are named after roses. The H M Land Registry entry for Allgold Drive shows that on 1 April 1958, Edwin Murrell agreed covenants with The Mayor Aldermen and Burgesses of Shrewsbury (Corporation), not to build over or within six feet of the water main. On 30th August 1967 land was transferred from The Metropolitan Railway County Estates Limited to Desmond John Phillips and Pauline Phillips. The development plan includes four bungalows beyond Allgold Drive and 4 houses on the other side of Portland Crescent. After this phase of development in the late sixties the road did not link up with Preston Street and the limit of the development was delineated by an ancient boundary hedge, which still exists in reduced form.  Watkins Starbuck and Jones from Oswestry started the next stage of development in 1973/4 by building No 89 and 91 Portland Crescent and some houses opposite. In 1980, local builder Mr Perkins started building from the Preston Street end and after his death his son continued for a while and the project was completed by Second City Developers in Sedgeford Drive.
  11. St Giles School relocated to Portland Crescent in the 1960s from the school buildings at The Column.
  12. Access to Belvidere or Preston Boats, Railway Bridged Although there is access to the River via Belvidere Lane, Northwood Road and Hillside Drive it is easier via Preston Street and Robertsford. The right of way goes over private farmland please remember and use the Country Code. Please also note the fishing is private.
  13. Ferry, fish weir and barge gutter. At the end of Preston Street follow the track down to the River Severn. On the opposite bank of the River the buildings are marked on the Ordinance Survey map as Ferry House. Beyond this a right of way leads to Preston farm, the hamlet of Preston and Preston Boats, the right of way crosses the re-routed A5. This is also the edge of a former coalfield, which was mined and used locally for industrial and domestic purposes. The weir was a fish trap, started by the monks of Haughmond in the 12th century, set across a shallow part of the river, it consisted of a timber framework on which fish nets were suspended into the water. A channel or barge gutter was left for boats and some fish to pass through.
  14. Upstream the Robertsford or Belvidere Rail Bridge crosses the River Severn in the north of the area with a railway bridge designed by William Baker and cast at Coalbrookdale. The bridge opened in 1849.
  15. Preston Street leads from Abbey Foregate to site of the former Preston Ferry. According to the 1896 directory it served the houses up to the Hermitage, the brick works and Weir Hill and Robertsford farms, It also provides a rear access to Highfield House, which became part of Prestfelde School in 1946. Highfield House was built for Thomas Howells, a retired farmer and father of Thomas Middleton Howells who landscaped the gardens. On the site of Weir Hill Farm, Lily Hay is a new development by Taylor Wimpey that is now (June 2019) released for sale.
  16. The Highfields Model Dairy was designed and built by Treasures, for the above mentioned Thomas Middleton Howell of Highfield House, adjacent to and acquired by Prestfelde in 1946. The mini parklands, now used as sports fields, were originally laid out by Howell in 1879. The model dairy is of rendered brick construction with applied timbering, with a sandstone plinth and dressings which include the chimney stacks. Originally it contained a south-west facing sitting room, kitchen (which was used as the dining room), together with the dairy and scullery (both now knocked into one and added to, to form the present kitchen). Upstairs were originally three bedrooms for the maids and a ‘man’s room’ which was accessed from a back staircase and – for propriety’s sake had no access to the main upper floor, where the maids might have been sleeping. Adjoining the garage of the house remains the milk room, with sliding door and a ‘fridge’ with heavy insulated door; this was built in 1890 by a builder from Abbey Foregate by the name of Edward George.[vi]
  17. Highfields Estate was built by George Wimpey & Co from 1959. Part of the site is built on the former claypit and from Preston Street there is a sudden drop in the contour which indicates this former use.
  18. The original St Giles School was built in a gothic style popular for school building in 1874, it was mainly a girls school, as boys left age 7[vii]. It relocated in 1968, to a purpose-built school on the Portland Crescent estate. The land used by the school for play and sports had been given originally by Miss How, of Nearwell, when the land was required for the new courts, Shropshire Council relocated the play park to Dark Lane. The former school buildings are now the home of The Shrewsbury Muslim Centre, a new prayer centre, which opened by the Grace of Allah swt for the first prayers on 4th April 2014.
  19. The Shops are on the site of the former St Giles Hall, initially Morris & Co had a grocery business later branded as SaveRite, a news-agents has operated since the shops opened in the 1960s.

Background and General Information about the area

In Domesday (In Shrewsbury Hundred) In the City of Shrewsbury Earl Roger is building an Abbey and has given it to the monastery of St Peter Where the parish church of the City was. From his burgesses and mills (he has given) to the monks as much as pays £12.[viii]

(In Shrewsbury Hundred) St Milbura`s (Wenlock) itself held (Before Domesday) and holds Sutton. 1 Hide, 8 men, both freemen and villagers with 4 ploughs. The value was 12s now 16s. [ix]

20) Lidar Mapping[x] Offers some evidence as to the early history of the area, and hints of medieval ridge and furrow of an open field system, can be seen on the Lidar Mapping of the Portland area. (Attached)

Nigel Baker says  you’ve got two fields of ridge & furrow bottom right: there’s a square field and a half field with narrow ridge & furrow (narrow meaning it’s probably narrow post-medieval strips formed by sub-dividing earlier, medieval, broader strips) running north-south, ending on a east-west headland with broad east-west ridging surviving in the corner of the field to the north. All of it cut diagonally by a later track to the farmyard, bottom right. And what look like old field boundaries surviving in the gap in the housing, centre left.

20A) Field Names Map. In a later period following the change in agricultural practices fields as we know them began to appear as farmers consolidated their lands. The field names map[xi] give more clues as to the land use for example, the Shirehall is built on the Wheat Leasow. Looking at field names of Preston St the field names include Brickyard; Windmill; Close`s Fields, some un-named fields then Upper Six Pound Field; Boat Field; Lower Quarry Leasowe; Weir Leasow and next to the River is the Boat Meadow. This gives is adjacent to the river on the site of the fish weir and ferry. On the other side of Preston Street, the Nursery Grounds are marked as a field followed by Summerhouse Garden, Claypit Leasow, Lady`s Leasow, Lower Leasow and Weir Leasow next to the Boat Field and Boat leasow.These were part of holdings of Farmer E.Mullard of Weir Hill Farm and William Bather of Robertsford Farm mentioned in the Wilding`s Trade Directory of 1896.

Bage Way is the name of the inner ring road linking Crowmere Road to Old Potts Way it runs in a cutting of the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway line and joined the present line to Wellington, Wolverhampton and the West Midlands behind the former site of Portland Nurseries. See 1882 map. This rail link was discontinued in the 1950s. This is the western perimeter of the research area.

Charles Bage was born near Derby and moved to Shrewsbury in the 1780s. He started a business as a vintner but this was just one of his many skills. He was a trustee of the House of Industry or workhouse which is on the site of Shrewsbury School from 1882.His business connections included Dr Robert Darwin; Thomas TelfordWilliam Hazledine, and the Benyon brothers, who built the Flaxmill Maltings for which Bage designed some of the ironwork. He was Mayor of Shrewsbury in 1807 and continued to design and build including factories and the original Lancasterian School in 1812.[xii]

21) St Giles Church The district of Shrewsbury St. Giles was formed on 15 Jan 1857, as a distinct chapelry from the parish of Holy Cross and St. Giles. Prior to this time  it held funeral services for local people and some afternoon services were held during Eel Pie Wake in July and Cherry Pie Wake in August.[xiii]  The original church of St. Giles was founded in the 12th century to serve a leper hospital, c1154-62 and became parochial (united with Holy Cross) in the mid-15th century. Prior to 1836, however, services were held only twice yearly. The church was completely rebuilt in 1852 (the west end), 1860 (the aisles) and 1863 (the chancel). Vestries and an organ chamber were added in 1895.[xiv]

The C12 font, with chevron base and primitive figures in an arcade round the basin is contemporary with the original chapel. Other fittings largely date from the Restoration with several later additions including the twentieth century stained glass by Kempe and also by Evans. Flemish glass has been re-sited in the north aisle chapel window.[xv]

22) Column House No2 London Road, was built in the 1850s for a solicitor, Christopher Hicks, after a spell as a girl`s school it became the home of Alfred Mansell, a land agent. It was converted to offices during the second World War and after, became the county architect`s office until 1966, after this it was taken over by the county library. In 2006 it was acquired by Messrs Turner Peachey a firm of chartered accountants who moved out from an office in St Maru`s Place that included part of the upper floor of Drapers Hall. in the centre of Shrewsbury. They merged with Baldwins in 2015 and were joined by Andrews Orme & Hinton in 2016.

23) Woodlands, on the opposite side of Abbey Foregate, survived the alterations of the changes to the road system around the Column s. It was built, of red sandstone by John Hazledine, son of William Hazledine the iron founder, his son lived in it until his death in 1910.Since then the 12 acres of grounds have had houses built on them, and the Woodlands itself has been used as a boys home, military billets during the Second World War and a Youth Hostel until the 1990s, after which it was developed into apartments and in June 2019 the further development continues.[xvi]

Lost Buildings around the Column include

24) The Column Hotel was lost when the traffic island, adjacent to the Column was built, it stood on the Junction of Wenlock Road and London Road.

25) The Column Keeper`s Lodge was lost when changes were made to the road system around the column.

People of the area

26) Solicitor and Banker William Wybergh How built Nearwell, an Italianate villa north of the Column in around 1850. He was the son of a clergyman and born in Whitehaven. In turn he had sons, Thomas Maynard How and William Maynard How who were both solicitors whilst William Walsham How ended as a bishop. William Walshom How wrote over fifty hymns and several books during the 28 years he was rector at Whittington, Shropshire, where he is buried.  Nearwell remained occupied until 1963, when it made way for the building of the Shirehall.

27) Hilda Murrell was born at Eaton Cottage, on 3rd February 1906. She attended Shrewsbury High School, then went on to Cambridge to read English, French and Medieval Languages, graduating in 1928. Although she would have preferred an academic career, she returned home to join the family business, at Murrell`s Nurseries in Belvidere Road and a shop in the High St at the bottom of Grope Lane.

Hilda Murrell used her intellect to improve the business and devoted herself to increasing her horticultural skills. She specialised in old, old-fashioned and miniature roses and won many gold awards at flower shows in Shrewsbury, Southport and Chelsea. Murrell`s She was a successful business women, but in the spring 1961, the rose-nursery was forced to relocate because of the building of the Shirehall and later she retired when the business was acquired by Percy Thrower and Duncan Murphy who set up a Garden Centre on Oteley Road in the 1970s.

Hilda`s interest in conservation led her to become a founder member of the `Soil Association` and   `Shropshire Trust for Nature` where she was a council member for many years. She also founded the Shropshire Branch of the `Council for the Protection of Rural England`. In the 1970s her concerns for the problems associated with nuclear power and its waste was demonstrated when she submitted a paper to the Sizewell inquiry, which challenged the so-called experts.

Sadly, on 24th March 1984, her body was found a few miles outside Shrewsbury three days after she disappeared. Although the police investigated at the time, no one was convicted for her murder until 2011, this followed a cold case review in 2005. Andrew George, at the time of the offences, was a 16-year-old petty thief, was convicted of her murder and related offences. Much controversy about the case continues and was a sad end to a popular and gentle lady. [xvii]

Illustrations, photographs, maps and references used with thanks

1)The Column and Keepers Lodge

2)The Shirehall


4)St Giles Vicarage

5)The Elms

6)The Belvidere Garden Estate

7)Belvidere Road

8)Portland House

9)Portland Nurseries

10)The early development in the 1960s

11)St Giles School

12)Ferry and Fish Weir

13)Belvidere or Preston Boats Railway Bridge

14)Highfields House

15)The Highfields Model Dairy

16)The Highfield Estate

17)St Giles School 1874

18)The Shops by the Column

19)Lidar Map showing housing and remaining ancient field system

20)Field Names Map

21)St Giles Church

22)Column House, No2 London Road


24)Column Hotel

25)Column Keepers Lodge

26)William Wybergh How

27)Hilda Murrell

28)1888 Ordnance Survey Map

29)1902 Ordnance Survey Map

30)Murrells Shop External  Courtesy David Trumper

31)Murrells Shop Internal   Courtesy David Trumper


[i] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.68.

[ii] accessed 16th June 2019

[iii] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.56.

[iv] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.69-71.

[v] Mrs P Maddocks, record of conversation 16th June 2019

[vi] Williams G. Information supplied with images by former resident Gareth William M.A.

[vii] Mrs P Maddocks, Record of conversation 16th June 2019.

[viii] Domesday Book Shropshire (Phillimore- Chichester – 1986) 252c.

[ix] Domesday Book Shropshire (Phillimore- Chichester – 1986) 252d.

[x] Lidar Mapping uses precision terrain measurement that uses laser reflection and time delay analysis to develop accurate surface modelling, a 3D image of land even with trees and crops growing on it.

[xi] Field Names Map reproduced by HDGF in 1973

[xii] accessed 16th June 2019.

[xiii] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.79

[xiv] S.A. XP255 St Giles Parish Records 1830-1968     Note further research to be done – Historical Miscell P255

[xv]  (The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Shropshire: Harmondsworth: 1858-).

[xvi] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.69-71.

[xvii] Sinker C. Hilda Murrell`s Nature Diaries 1961 -1983 (London 1987)

Copyright Nigel J Hinton June 2019


Acknowledgements and thanks for advice and contributions to Bridget M.W Hinton, David & Judy Roberts; Pat Maddoks; Gareth Williams; Jean & Tony Dudgon, Brian & Teresa Mobberley, Prestefelde School.