Wenlock: “A Rip Van Winkle Kind Of Place”

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A Rip Van Winkle kind of place – that’s how Shropshire writer Mary Webb described Much Wenlock around a century ago. It was the home town of her teenage years, and the place where I now live and indeed have known for much of my life. Even when we lived in Africa we would visit Wenlock whenever we were on ‘home leave’. We had friends who drew us, and finally led us to settle here on our return to England.

And once we had arrived, we soon found that many of our neighbours, pitched up from far-flung places themselves, had also lived and worked all over Africa. I was therefore only briefly surprised to find that Henry Morton Stanley had once been in Wenlock, staying as a house guest of the Milnes Gaskells, the local gentry who once lived in the old Prior’s House and owned the ruins of Wenlock Priory from which the town had grown up throughout the Middle Ages.

Stanley is not a man I admire, although his brute tenacity is certainly impressive. We also have him to thank for selling the idea of the Congo to another brute of a man, King Leopold II of Belgium, a circumstance from which that Central African state has probably yet to recover.

Still, I won’t go into that now, but I do have a mind’s eye image of Stanley sitting up on Wenlock Edge (the Milnes Gaskells took all their guests there), and picture him scanning the Shropshire plains below as he contemplated the writing of In Darkest Africa.

The landscape that spread before him, with its distant ranges of Welsh hills, could well have reminded  him of that continent. I have seen such vistas in East Africa. But he was a man who ever took his darkness with him. And this makes me wonder. What might our grim legacy have been, in PR terms that is, if he had written of ‘darkest Shropshire’; would the tainted words still be sticking to us today?

It’s a rhetorical question obviously. And I mention all these dark tones and undercurrents only as counterpoint to the  quaint, quiet images above. Much Wenlock definitely has ‘chocolate box image’ tendencies in its now gentrified, ancient streets. I find it good to remember, once in a while, that all is not necessarily what it seems.

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This post was inspired by Paula’s Black & White Sunday Challenge: ‘surreptitious photography’. It is a fascinating theme. The role of surreptitious photographer is something I rather relish, but rarely put into practice. I have a feeling that in this Rip Van Winkle place it risks becoming an obsessive pursuit and, as a writer, I already have enough of those.

But please visit Paula at the link above and be inspired by her photographs. There’s still time to take part. Also check in HERE to see her gallery of  slide shows of all participating photographers’ work. It’s a real treat.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

34 thoughts on “Wenlock: “A Rip Van Winkle Kind Of Place”

  1. Well, I am not a bit surprised that you’ve decided to settle here. You’ve preserved the spirit of old Wenlock in your photos magically. YOUR post is a treat, Tish 🙂

  2. It is the kind of place that suits black and white photography, timeless.

    “a Rip van Winkle kind of place”

    is definitely more apt than ‘darkest Shropshire’

  3. Definitely a place I wish to see,
    Stop off for a chat, and a cup of tea,
    At some point an invite I shall have to fish,
    Then one day you may hear a knock, and someone say, ‘Hello, Tish”

  4. Much Wenlock has taken on a sense of magic for me….and that is because of your photographs and stories. I have yet to visit the place to see for myself but hope to do so one of these days. Meanwhile, have a lovely weekend…janet. 🙂

  5. Interesting piece Tish. It prompted me to see if there was any connection between the Milnes Gaskells and Elizabeth Gaskell (only because I know Knutsford so well). There isn’t but I enjoyed the mini research 😉

    1. That’s a lovely thought, Gilly. We do have quite a few eyesores too, but we’re lucky that we’re mostly an agricultural county, and a pretty big one at that, so the eyesores sort of shrink.

  6. What a parade of noteables have passed through Much Wenlock, and how “period” your photos look in b&w. We’re scraping the barrel here to find any noteables: the first native born Australian poet, Charles Harpur, lived around here as gold commissioner, but his poetry is unreadable. Oh, and Mel Gibson’s grandmother was a local. Not on a par with Henry James!

    (By the way, I suspect you don’t mean to epithetise Leopold as Kind. Sorry to be picky, but I was amused. A sort of reverse Freudian slip!)

  7. Our town is Rip Van Winkle-ish. Not to the same degree as Much Wenlock, but it is forever 1958 in our little town. It’s funny how small towns can resist becoming part of the future. The smaller the town, the easier. I love your stories and pictures from your town. It’s looks (sounds) very idyllic.

    1. ‘You know you are living in good times when the people you do not admire are all dead’. That is so funny I.J. I should thus remind myself to be grateful on that score. Thanks a lot for visiting 🙂

  8. Those first two shots are stunningly beautiful in black and white, Tish! I love them. Haven’t had time to ‘catch you up’ since I got back and I’m popping off to see what Paula’s come up with today, but I’ll be back 🙂

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