Squared Up Views Of Wenlock’s Antique Buildings


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.

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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.

Square Up #26

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

Thursday’s Special ~ Creative Intervention Rescues A Ruin


Hurrah! Paula’s back at Lost in Translation, and for this Thursday’s Special she has set us the challenge of Creative Intervention. She tells us to interpret it any way we like, but please visit her post for more ideas.

So here we have the remains of Hopton Castle, an upscale medieval tower house that would be a crumbling wreck but for the creative efforts of the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust whose members toiled for 11 years to raise funds to consolidate the remains, and then spent a further five years overseeing the work.

The ruin is full of puzzles. The preservation work revealed hints of 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th century construction, but with no clear evidence for the date of the main surviving structure. It’s been suggested that the Hopton family, who owned it between the 11th and 15th centuries, at some stage deliberately set out to create a faux antique country residence much as the Victorians did with their  mock Tudor ‘cottages’. In other words, the Hoptons went in for some creative intervention of their own.

One theory is that it was a hunting lodge. The interior work of all  three floors appears to have been very grand, and definitely of ‘lordly’ quality.


photo: Hopton Castle Preservation Trust


Also, the tower was clearly not intended as a defensive structure. As you can see from the photo and the reconstruction, any besieger could simply walk up to the front door. Yet the building it replaced, the first ‘castle’ on the mound was indeed a functioning fortification – a motte and bailey castle typical of the Normans’ early conquest of Britain after 1066. Made of timber, they could be constructed swiftly, and as the need arose, later re-built and expanded into domineering stone fortresses.

But this did not happen at Hopton. The stone walls that replaced the 11th century motte and bailey appear to have been built of poor quality stone, unsuited to withstanding a siege. Meanwhile, the interior fittings and design suggest considerable expense.

So it’s a pretend castle then? A place for Sir Walter Hopton, Sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire, to display his wealth and status while entertaining well chosen guests for a spot of deer hunting?


Perhaps some of the answers lie in Shropshire Council’s five miles of archives that include shelves and shelves of unread medieval documents. In which case, they are likely to stay hidden. Probably forever. The on going local authority cuts mean there is little chance that the necessary scholarly research will ever be done. The archivist was one of the first people to be dispensed with, and for years before the cuts the archives were always under-resourced.

But if we don’t know much about the castle’s medieval history, we do know quite a lot about the bloody siege of Hopton in 1644, wherein Royalist forces attacked the staunch Parliamentarian Wallop family, who then owned the castle. It’s a swashbuckling tale, and you can read more about it HERE.

And you can watch the  Time Team excavation.


copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Creative Intervention  Don’t forget to visit Paula for more interpretations of this challenge