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Posts Tagged ‘Cambrian Heritage Railway’

More Than Trains – Week 39 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Railways connect. In the nineteenth century, railways linked first cities to towns, then towns to the countryside in an ever-expanding network of steam and iron. The first railways were built in the industrial northwest in 1812; by the 1830s, railways hauling trains of both freight and passengers were being built all across the country. The railway changed the way goods, material and people moved around Britain – with significant impacts on local economies. Along the borderlands, the quarries and the mines in the Welsh hills, and the fields and the farms in the English countryside were transformed by the arrival of the railway.

The early history of borderlands railways is both complex and convoluted. A dozen or more small railway companies connected Oswestry with the rest of England and Wales, among them: the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, the Llanidloes and Newtown Railway, the Newtown and Machynlleth Railway, the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway, the Mid-Wales Railway, the Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway, the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway, the Tanat Valley Light Railway. A majority of these railways were less than 20 miles long, and by the early 1860s they (and a few others) had amalgamated to form the Cambrian Railways – a name which survives in Oswestry in the Cambrian Heritage Railways – who run the Museum in Oswestry, as well as the restored lines at Oswestry and Llnclys.

But there’s a lot more to the Cambrian Railway than just trains. From 1864 to 1923 – when the Cambrian became part of the Great Western Railway – the Cambrian Railway was at the heart of Oswestry. Railway trade and railway business turned the town from a primarily agricultural market community to a flourishing, mercantile town. Even the Oswestry Advertizer – where the Oswestry Heritage Comics appear weekly – began as a railway newspaper for advertising local timetables. As a result, the Cambrian connects Oswestry to more than just other places. The story of the Cambrian Railway is the story of Oswestry’s commercial, industrial, military and social history from the end of the Crimean War, through the reign of Queen Victoria, the Boer War, the invention of the motor car, the Russian Revolution to the aftermath of the First World War.

As a result, the Cambrian Railway is linked to just about every aspect of Oswestry’s late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century heritage. You don’t have to be interested in locomotives and rolling stock to appreciate the importance of the railway and its impact on the town. This level of interconnection is unique – and something to be actively celebrated. The late Andrew Tullo understood this. He understood that the Cambrian was more than its tracks, locomotives and rolling stock, and he encouraged the Cambrian Heritage Railway to explore the links to Oswestry’s green heritage, military heritage, and ancient heritage.

Local heritage is a network of interconnected interests and specialisations that can bring different kinds of organisations together. Those of us who are passionate about our shared past should take time to explore how our particular interests connect and overlap with those of others.

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Oswestry’s Apple – Week Eighteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Shropshire used to be a county full of little orchards. During the nineteenth century, just about every farm would have had it’s own stand of apple trees – and some landowners cultivated their own, specific varieties of apple. Some were for eating, some were for cooking, and some were for making into splendid Shropshire cider!

The Reverend John Netherton Parker, owner of Sweeney Hall, was just such a landowner. In 1807 his estate produced the “Sweeney Nonpareil”. In A Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden: Or, An Account of the Most Valuable Fruits Cultivated in Great Britain: with Kalendars of the Work Required in the Orchard and Kitchen Garden During Every Month in the YearA Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden, published in 1831, the authors praise the apple’s balance of acid and sugar, and note that:

This very fine apple was raised by J.N. Parker Esq. in 1807, at Sweeney, in Shropshire. The tree is an abundant bearer, and the fruit sometimes grows to a large size; the largest it ever produced was in 1818, measuring eleven inches and a quarter in circumference, and weighing nine ounces and a quarter. Twenty of its fruit, exhibited at the Horticultural Society in 1820, weighed seven pounds thirteen ounces avoirdupoise.

It seems that J.N.Parker was keen to advertise and promote his apple, although it’s unclear how widely the variety was grown.

The Sweeney Nonpareil is only one of dozens of local Shropshire and Borderlands varieties that have been discovered by the Marcher Apple Network. The group is now actively growing some of these varieties, hoping to revitalise the growing of apples in small urban and rural plots, utilising marginal land. They have pioneered some really great Community Orchard projects, and Tom Adams – Oswestry’s own local apple man – has been instrumental in getting Oswestry’s own Community Orchard Project (CROP) going on land alongside the Cambrian Railway.

Historic apple varieties, botanical research, preservation railways and community projects – this is what local heritage should be all about!

So come along to Oswestry Apple Day at the Bailey this morning and help celebrate our heritage apple varieties and the people who are helping bring them back into our gardens and onto our tables. There will be lots to see and find out, lots of activities and things to do. I think there might even be apple crumble and pies – and maybe even cider made with the Sweeney Nonpareil!


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Week Three: Hillforts, Herbs and Heritage

Timing didn’t quite work out to have this comic in the ‘Tizer two weeks ago (blame the election for disrupting the launch of the Oswestry Heritage Comics!). A fortnight ago Saturday, Natalie Morris lead a herb walk around the Hillfort, organised by the Oswestry Heritage Gateway group, pointing out all the native species up there and talking about their traditional uses as foods and medicines. Last summer, I was quite surprised to discover how much strong interest there way locally about the connection between “green heritage” and built heritage: the idea that sites, monuments and historic places can also provide much-needed ecological niches for endangered, rare or threatened species. The late Andrew Tullo, of the Cambrian Heritage Railway, was a keen advocate of this, and did a lot to ensure that the Cambrian Railway regeneration programme included provision for native species along the track right-of-way. He was also involved in projects like the Oswestry Community Orchard – again, demonstrating the close links that can exist between green and built heritage.

Natalie’s herb walk shows how that connection has historical and archaeological echoes, through the use of native plants as food and medical resources. Some wild flowers such as plantain, were known to the Romans, who wrote about their use in healing wounds. Medicine in the middle ages made extensive use of native herbs and wild plants – among other things! Some of these uses lasted into the Victorian period, particularly in remedies for coughs, aches and pains. Understanding these traditional uses for native plants gives us a glimpse into folk ways and traditions that rarely make it into the history books, but which were well-known to most people. Some of these traditions appear to have a very long pedigree across Europe and the Mediterranean: yarrow, which Natalie pointed out as a healing herb, has long been identified as the healing herb used by Achilles in the story of the Trojan War – a long way away from Old Oswestry hillfort!

Please don’t pick the wild plants on the Hillfort.

And please don’t eat or use wild plants unless you know what you’re doing.

Contact Natalie for more information about using native and wild plants for food or medicine.

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