Old Stones of Wenlock: repurposing the Silurian Sea


I like the idea that I, like many in and around Much Wenlock, live inside blocks of repurposed, and well-travelled seafloor – the compressed and decomposing shells, sponges, bony fish, sea scorpions, trilobites and corals of  the Silurian Sea. It is also intriguing to know that some 400 million years ago, this shallow tropical ocean was part of a land mass that lay off East Africa, somewhere near the Comoros Islands. We even have our own geological epoch – The Wenlock that lasted from 428 to 423 million years ago. And yes, I know, it is hard to fathom – this mind-boggling vastness of geological time, the tectonic shunt and shift across the globe to create the continents we all now recognise.


My own view of the world, I find, is firmly fixed, and distinctly two-dimensional, being the usual flat configuration found in an atlas. And of course, when I consult the world map I can surely see that Much Wenlock is definitely in the northern hemisphere, in England’s Midlands to be exact, nudging towards Wales. Yet the proof that this was not always so, is all around me – in the stones of church, priory, and the many barns and cottages, even in my chimney breast – this place, this ground beneath the wooded ridgeback of Wenlock Edge, where the stone was quarried, WAS ONCE IN THE TROPICS. And since I once lived in the tropics myself, I like to think that returning to Shropshire has brought me back to the place where I was in Africa, but in a different time zone – a bit like a Time Lord, a Doctor Who without a Tardis.


The Farrell Silurian fireplace built c 1830


But back to the stones. The circular sections you can see in the first photo  are the remains of crinoids or sea lilies. These were animals, echinoderms, not plants, and looked something like this:

From McGraw-Hill Science and Technology Encyclopedia; Articulata


Bony fish also made their first appearance during the Silurian:

File:Silurianfishes ntm 1905 smit 1929.gif

Artist’s impression of Silurian Fish (creative commons copyright expired) from  Nebula to Man by Joseph Smit 1905


And the landscape may have looked like this, although was apparently entirely inhospitable above water, with roaring winds and hot flying dust, and no signs of life.

Silurian Sea reconstruction by Richard Bizley: http://www.bizleyart.com/


And here is bed of the Silurian Sea today, the upthrust levels that form the fifteen-mile wooded ridge of Wenlock Edge. Its geology is of international importance. (For more on Wenlock Edge, see its Facebook page here.)

The Edge has been quarried for centuries, but the quarries lie mostly empty now, waiting to be repurposed themselves. In the town our earliest surviving stone buildings date from monastic times. (In Much Wenlock An Inspector Calls.) But old buildings have always been recycled into new buildings, and you can see signs of this as you walk along the streets nearest the priory ruins.









And finally  (below) is the Farrell establishment – a blend of old and new construction. Hopefully the inhabitants are not yet as fossilized as their surrounding walls, although clearly it is only a matter of time.


Travel theme: stone

© 2013 Tish Farrell

25 thoughts on “Old Stones of Wenlock: repurposing the Silurian Sea

  1. This is wonderful. The movement of land masses intrigues me. I can’t imagine plates shifting to form new land masses and mountains.

  2. How insignificant are we, with our boasting and false pre-eminence. We are no more than another bunch of boney fish.
    I have visited MW several times. It has the feel of a hill town with a sense of isolation and a long view on life. I will remind myself to look much more closely and not concentrate too much on wondering why the queue outside the butcher’s is so long.
    Such a rich post on ‘stone’, thank you.

    1. How very nice that you know Wenlock. As to the butcher’s queue, it’s a little bone of contention with me: largely unnecessary and somewhat contrived, but something of an institution. On Wednesdays when the butcher’s is shut, the town slumbers.

  3. Much Wenlock looks lovely – we are about 40 miles north at Overwater Marina near Audlem, holed up on the narrowboat for a few days. I had thought to do something similar on stone in Audlem but I have left my USB cable at home 😦

  4. Finally I get to see what Silurian Sea looked like. I appreciate your insight as archaeologist into this fascinating place you now call home.

  5. Tish, this post is even more fascinating than I had already anticipated. I learnt new things today.
    I do know of all the moves of the tectonic plaques but not so much of all details of where they ended up.
    You in fact went back to Africa!
    Thank you again. Heading to more.

  6. Thanks for this interesting insight into Wenlock Edge. We went there for the first time today, even though it’s not very far from where we live. Fascinating to learn about it.

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