The small town of Much Wenlock has been continuously occupied for at least a millennium. It grew up to serve the demands of Wenlock Priory. In Saxon times there would doubtless have been a smallish population of servants and slaves to do the menial tasks around the monastic domain. There were also local providers of goods and services with weekly fairs pre-dating the Norman Conquest.
St. Milburga was the first prioress whose name we know. Her father, the Mercian king, Merewald, sent her to France to be educated for the role. From around 670 CE she returned to preside over a double house of monks and nuns who lived and worshipped in separate quarters. She also commanded large estates – from the Severn Gorge to the Corve valley. This was very much a pattern for Saxon princesses – ruling over human souls and securing physical territory.
The original monastic house was greatly expanded in the years preceding the Norman invasion of 1066. Saxon Earl Leofric and his consort, Lady Godgifu (Godiva) footed the bill. But their considerable improvements were not good enough for the new Norman earl, Roger de Montgomery. From 1091 the place was taken over by incomer French monks from Cluny and it was they who, over succeeding centuries, undertook the work on the buildings whose ruins survive today. (See last week’s post for a tour of some of the ruins).
The town’s big break came in 1101 with the apparent discovery of St. Milburga’s bones in the ruins of Saxon women’s chapel. This convenient fortunate find put Much Wenlock on the pilgrims’ map, kick-starting a thriving service industry to cater for the many visitors. So were sown the seeds of the busy market and manufacturing town, and though still under monastic authority, the early Middle Ages saw the rise of freemen and burgesses and the growth of an urban elite.
With the Dissolution, the Prior’s dictate and ecclesiastical court rulings were exchanged for secular management by bailiff and burgesses – tanners, weavers, wool merchants, the new owners of monastic lands. In 1540 they built the town’s Guild Hall and later added the debating chamber where the Town Council still holds its meetings. They also set about building grand homes for themselves, enhancing and expanding earlier structures.
The header photo is Ashfield Hall, rebuilt in the 1550s by local worthy, Thomas Lawley, who extended an earlier stone building with the eye-catching timber-framed wing. In 1642 it was better known as the Blue Bridge Inn, and it was here that Charles I apparently spent the night during Civil War manoeuvres.
Here’s another view of Ashfield Hall. It is said to have been built on the site of St. John’s Hospital which was run by monks in the 1280s for the benefit of ‘lost and naked beggars.’ It had gone by the 15th century though evidence of its existence lived on in the street name of Spittle (hospital) Street, later renamed the High Street.
Much Wenlock’s Tudor Guild Hall is still used as a market hall (downstairs) and a museum and council chamber above. Sitting in the heart of the town beside the parish church t is absolutely the town’s ‘signature’ landmark.
The Bastard Hall up the street from the Guild Hall has seen many phases; its stonework certainly suggests some repurposing of priory ruins. It and its attached neighbour were the subject of an early Time Team television programme, the latter found to be housing the remnants of an early medieval hall. See link at the foot of this post for the full programme and insider views.
Reynald’s Mansion is perhaps the most singularly impressive building on the town’s High Street. The striking timber facade was built onto an existing medieval house in 1682. For a time it was the town’s butcher’s. The post with cross-bar by the front door was used to make hefting heavy loads easier.
This small architectural round-up was inspired by Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists. Striped and checked is her challenge this week.
Lens-Artists: striped and checked
Inside the Guild Hall and more about Bastard Hall: Time Team in Much Wenlock in 1994:
Time Team Season 01 Episode 03 The New Town of a Norman Prince. Much Wenlock, Shropshire UK – YouTube
40 thoughts on “Squared Up Views Of Wenlock’s Antique Buildings”
Sigh. You have so much history! Our oldest buildings go back almost 500 years — and there aren’t many of them left. Most of our antique buildings were build in the 1800s, which historically makes them downright modern. I miss living in a country where “the new walls” were built in the 1500s, as opposed to the old ones, build by maybe Solomon? David’s city was next door, one small valley over.
I remember when I came home and people came referring to things as “old” I would mentally sneer because old had to be at least 500 years and really old was at least 1000 years or more. You live in such a beautiful little town and it’s so full of luscious bits of history! I hope someone has written a history of the town. You maybe?
We have a very good brief history, published locally, by a chum, Vivien Bellamy (A History of Much Wenlock). I should have given her a shout-out here. We also have a more detailed monastic history published yonks ago (Mumford), but otherwise the history is probably mostly in antiquarian type volumes. There’s masses of archival material in our local record office including the burgesses’ 1496-1658 minute book which has only recently been conserved and also photographed so people can now work on the contents.
I appreciate what you mean about feeling the lack of the truly ‘old’. The multi-layered sense of history in Jerusalem must have been absolutely tangible, tasteable.
What a fantastic post, you live in such a lovely place. Every now and again I do look at what’s up for sale.
You’ve made me giggle though with the fortunate find. Winchester is still searching for King Alf!
You can beat the advantage of discovering some celebrity relics 🙂
Well they’ve found a hip bone in a box that might be his!!
Well! You do wonder how these disassociated bodily parts end up lying about the place.
Apparently King Alf got moved by builders when they were rebuilding the site centuries after the dissolution but it’s all a bit unclear.
I love the black and white buildings, sad that I never did get around to doing the trail through Herefordshire, though we did of course go through several of those villages.
Oh yes. All those lovely villages in Herefordshire. These days it seems a long way from Shropshire!!!
Lovely old houses and I do love Time Team!
Happy to please on both fronts then, Maria 🙂
Love these historic buildings..great images.
You do live in a fabulous place, Tish! How come I didn’t come for a look around when I was down your way? Silly me! Like Becky I’ll have to come back for Time Team. Don’t think we saw that episode. 🙂 🙂
I think you covered a lot of territory in a short time. You were doing a big walk for one thing, weren’t you.
tish – enjoyed the lines and various photos that were integrated into this nice history post! amazing how repurposing and other things connect the past to the now
Thanks, Yvette. And yes, humans repurposing their surroundings through the ages. Not far from us there’s a little parish church, now redundant, but with its origins in Saxon times. At some point, probably long after the Saxon period, the locals repurposed a pair of Roman pillar sections from a nearby archaeological site and duly hung their wrought iron gate from same.
oh that is cool to imagine the gate
The oldest histories of the royals and their subjects as well as the saints of old are so fascinating to those of us in the US who think of history as being in the 1600s Tish! I really enjoyed this read and would love to see these places some day.. In the meanwhile, thanks for sharing the images and the info – terrific!
Happy to offer vicarious tour of Wenlock, Tina. I wonder when actual visits will become an option. Not soon, I’m sorry to say.
Enjoyed the history and Bastard Hall made me laugh. The buildings certainly work for both challenges.
Oooh. Fascinating dissertation, all with the obligatory stripes and checks surreptitiously lingering. Very well done.
Cheers, John. It was your photos of high-rises that made me think that Wenlock had its own versions of architectural stripes and checks 🙂
Looks like an amazing place, especially with your photos. The timber-frame construction is so eye catching, and the contrast with stone walls is delicious. The Bastard’s Hall photo is especially lovely because you caught both textures of the building.
Thank you for that appreciative comment, I.J.
what a delightful read, Tish! fascinating history and lovely photos of old!
So pleased you enjoyed this, Lola.
Your stories make me want to go visiting – but I guess that will just have to wait… Love these old houses and the stories in them…Beautiful stripes and checks, Tish. Especially love the windows with diagonal checks. We don’t have them in Sweden I think. Sepialove too. Thank you for joining in!
Thank you for the lovely challenge, A-C.
Splendid. Is all your region a mere succession of ancient well-preserved villages and towns?
The Welsh-English border country is pretty much agricultural – so yes, loads of ancient and pretty villages, especially in South Shropshire and Herefordshire. Also very attractive market towns of medieval origins. But we haven’t been so careful with the towns as the French are in Normandy and Brittany: we mostly haven’t kept modern development separate from the ancient quarters.
I see. I will have to go and have a look for myself then. Kwaheri sassa Memsahib.
A thoroughly enjoyable bit of time-travel Tish. And I can barely imaging how wonderful it must be to live in a place so steeped in history.
For a very small place, it does have a lot of layers. So pleased you enjoyed this quick glimpse of them, Alison.
Beautiful photos, Tish! Thank you for the tour. Enjoyed reading the history. 🙂
Many thanks, Amy. So pleased you enjoyed this.