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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 13

Heritage Open Days – Week Thirteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

It’s Heritage Open Days this weekend, and the Oswestry Heritage Comics will be at the Oswestry Town Museum’s stall on the Bailey Head all day. I’ve created a special “Oswestry Heritage Comics” town trail for Heritage Open Days this year. The map is printed in this week’s Advertizer as a big double-page spread, and also as separate leaflets and booklets. The trail guides you around Oswestry to twenty of the places and sites mentioned in the comics – which are all reproduced in the special booklet. It’s a great way to get to know Oswestry’s history and heritage – perfect for people who’ve never had a chance to look around the town before. Along the way you’ll be taken down Oswestry’s main shopping streets, and past loads of other Heritage Open Day attractions – including the Oswestry Castle excavations, the Cambrian Railway and the Oswestry Town Museum.

I’ve also produced two new illustrations for the Oswestry Castle Community Research Project, and they’re up as sign-boards at this season’s excavations. One of the illustrations is a big aerial view showing the construction of the stone castle in the 1200s – fun to draw, but also a good way to show how Oswestry began. You can even see how the Bailey Head market, the Horsemarket carpark and Bailey Street all began.

I’ll be at the Museum stall all day today, handing out free copies of the walk leaflet and booklet, and I’ve got some colouring pages if anyone wants to have a go making their own comics! Plus, I’ll be drawing some new Oswestry Heritage Comics LIVE! These are going into the collected edition which will be published just before Christmas.

So join us today at the Bailey Head, and take a tour around the fantastic history and heritage of Oswestry!

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 52Well, the Oswestry Heritage Comics have finished – at least, for the moment. The final comic was printed in the paper a fortnight ago, thanking everyone who helped make the project a success – those who helped administrate it, those who contributed research and information to the comics, and, no least, those who read and enjoyed the series.

But, as I say, the project is not quite over. In September, for Heritage Open Days, the Advertizer will feature a pull-out map of Oswestry, with a town trail based on the comics. We will also be putting out a guidebook to the town trail, which we will be giving out at a stall on the Bailey during the Heritage Open Days weekend. In December, the collected book of the Oswestry Heritage Comics will be published – and we’ll have a special launch event at Qube (and maybe also at the Town Museum). Also in December, I’ll be putting on a session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in Chester on comics and community, hopefully drawing together (yeah, pun intended…) a wide range of artists, archaeologists, comics-creators and illustrators who have all used comics and narrative graphics in a range of community-based projects to do with archaeology, anthropology, heritage and memory.

And, of course, the stories in the comics continue. Simon Jarman will be showing his Soyer stoves at the Wilfred Owen festival in November; Mark and Rachel are continuing to excavate their garden – in order to build a patio and rockery, but also in the hopes of finding more clues about the stone they found there last summer; Diana is continuing to investigate the full story behind her Grandfather’s WWI internment; and I’m meeting Barbara Molesworth later this month to find out more about the work of Rev. William Walsham How, and his documentation of Whittington’s wild heritage.

Some of these follow-on stories will be turned into new comics, which will be included in the collected book published in December. I’ll also use the book as an opportunity to include some stories that didn’t make it into the newspaper series: about the Oswestry antiquarian and suspected spy Edward Llywd, about Old Oswestry’s mythological connections to Queen Guinevere and Arthurian legend, and the way Oswestry writers and artists are continuing to find inspiration in the town’s history, archaeology and heritage.

So, although this summer I’ll be embarking on new and different archaeology and comics projects, the Oswestry Heritage Comics project will continue in the background!


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

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Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 49It was a great pleasure to meet John Pryce-Jones earlier this year – Oswestry’s foremost local historian. He’s the author of a number of books on the history of the town, all of which I’ve used extensively in my research for this series. His clear and precise way of writing, and the way he organises dense historical facts and figures into related themes has influenced the way in which I have written the Oswestry Heritage Comics.

John’s been writing about Oswestry for a long time, and draws both on depth and breadth of experience when it comes to writing about local history. Here he is talking about that process in his own words:

How did you start writing about Oswestry’s history?

I had graduated from Exeter University (where I had studied History) and found myself back in Oswestry at that time without a job.  This was in 1977.  I spent some of my spare time in the library and discovered the wonderful local studies collection, starting with standard works such as Watkin’s Oswestry and Cathrall’s History, and working through the collection of Kelly’s Directories with their lists of shops, tradespeople and pubs, and the miscellany to be found in Bye-Gones.  I drafted a longish piece on Oswestry’s pubs and offered it to the Advertizer and was pleasantly surprised when the editor Dai Lewis published it – and then asked if I had anything else.

Your research has been pretty extensive – has anything surprised you? Anything about Oswestry’s history that really made you say: Wow – I didn’t expect that!

Coming across images of the parish church, and Oswestry Castle, from Tudor times, at the National Library of Wales. 

When I first learned of the prisoners of war who were lodged in Oswestry during the Napoleonic Wars – men from France, but also from the Netherlands, Spain and Poland.  Also finding a large collection of models carved from animal bones by prisoners in Oswestry, on display in a museum in Peterborough. 

And the vivid eye witness accounts of life in Oswestry in Tudor and Stuart times to be found in the records of Star Chamber, including fierce disagreements over the make-up of the local council, between the vicar Nathaniel Tattersall and his parish, and between Edward Lloyd of Llwynymaen and almost everyone he came into contact with.

Is there an aspect of Oswestry’s history that seems neglected or under-appreciated to you? If there is, why do you think it’s been passed over?

I have believed so a long time that Oswestry’s place on the edge of things – on the fringe of Shropshire, over the border from modern Wales – has meant that it is often neglected in works on Shropshire, or on Wales.  Here in Oswestry we know the part we have played in Anglo-Welsh conflicts, in the wool trade and the railways, for instance, and the recent excavations on the Castle Bank are making people appreciate the importance of our castle.  It is puzzling how little is made of our 18th century history, and of the two hundred years between the Civil War and the coming of the railways – plenty of records exist for these years, there are many attractive buildings from this time, and a lot went on in the town at this time – perhaps the reason it’s largely neglected is because there wasn’t a single game changing event or development, instead it was incremental change. 

Any advice for people interested in local history? Any advice for someone keen to do research?

Spend time at Oswestry Library and get to know the resources available in its local collection. 

These days there is much that is available via the internet, including details of records for Oswestry that are held by the National Archives at Kew, the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth and the British Library, as well as our own Town Council Archives, and local library collections.  That said, the records themselves must still be consulted by the traditional method – by visiting libraries and archives, and spending time working through a surprisingly large number of documents – some dating right back to the 13th century.  Don’t limit yourself to what you can find online by a Google search – and question what you find there – there is much that is helpful, but there is much that is not.

Don’t limit yourself to the well-trodden paths – though there are often new angles to explore with the better-known themes.  Take a theme from history generally – one that interests you – and see what can be found out about it at a local level.


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

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Heritage and Memoir – Week 23 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Many of us will know Vicky Turrell as the author of “Nature Notes” – the Advertizer’s regular column on the wildlife of our Borderland region. But did you know that she’s also the author of her own novel? Vicky’s book, It’s Not A Boy! is based on her childhood, growing up on a farm in Yorkshire in the 1940s. Although it’s fiction, it’s based on her own life experiences, and draws heavily on memoir. Vicky regularly gives talks around Oswestry about how to write memoir and family history. She says that while internet ancestry sites are useful, they only go so far. “People don’t realise how much information there is right around them,” she says. “If you pay attention to stories told by older members of the family, have a look at names on the back of photographs, do a little bit of research in the local library about your surname – you’ll find there’s lots to start with”. She says that people also don’t realise how easy it is to transmit information about family history to the next generation: “Keep a journal – it’s never too start!”. Recording memories of your family and its history – even on a free phone app – can also be a way to pass that information on.

Although family history can be very personal, it can also be much more than that. The stories of each of us combine to make local history and local heritage. Personal history – family history – becomes something that links us to our neighbours and our community. Oswestry’s history is the history of the people who live here: from families who have been here for generations, to those who have just arrived. In that sense, the comings and goings of ordinary people and their families – who married who, who lived where, who moved away and who moved back – is a hugely important part of the story of Oswestry. It’s up to us – each and every one of us – to remember those family stories and record them.

If you’re interested in family history, Vicky is hoping to give some workshops in the New Year about how to go about starting your own memoir. Get in touch with her via the Advertizer for more details.


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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The Oswestry Heritage Comics begin – again! Every week from now until June 2018 in the Advertizer and online.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are back – this time, for a whole year! With help from Qube – Oswestry Community Action, the comics are being supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. That means a complete year of new comics: 52 weeks, from next week until June 2018.

For those of you who followed the 13-week series last summer, you’ll know what to expect: a look at the archaeology, history and heritage of the Border market town of Oswestry and its environs. There will be comics about the region’s geology and ecology, its military history and its medical history, the Normans, Romans and Victorians who called it home, and their marching camps, castles and railways. There will be comics about some unexpected inhabitants of Old Oswestry Hillfort, about the violent history behind Oswestry’s own white horse, about a missing hospital and about a hidden burial ground.

And this time, I’ll be getting a lot of help from the people who make Oswestry’s heritage possible: the local archaeologists and historians, the metal detectors and the genealogists, the re-enactors and the researchers – those who preserve, protect and present what we know about the past.

The project will also feature plenty of school and community workshops, talks and exhibitions; there will be an anthology collecting all the comics at the end of the project, and even a conference about using comics to talk about community heritage – so stay tuned for a very full year!

Comics online weekly at Oswestry Heritage Comics on Facebook.
For more information about comics workshops, contact Qube: Oswestry Community Action.

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It’s the end of September, we’ve only a few weeks to go until Heritage Open Days, and the Oswestry Advertiser has now published half of the twelve-week run of Oswestry Heritage Comics – and so I thought it would be a good time to pause and reflect on some aspects of the project.

When I first proposed the idea of “a comic about Oswestry heritage”, my aim was to try and create something which would help introduce the subject to an audience which maybe didn’t know a great deal about it. What I perhaps hadn’t anticipated, however, was just how broad that subject was.

I’ve always been interested in the history and heritage of Oswestry and its outlying regions – after all, it’s on my doorstep – but I’d never really delved into it to any great degree. I knew, of course, that local history of any kind is fractal in nature – the more you investigate it, the more detail reveals itself to you, and the more you discover there is to learn. I originally assumed that I could accommodate this infinite level of detail by confining the comics to a brief overview of any given aspect of heritage. That, I feel, I’ve been able to do fairly successfully. Each of the comic strips has a very definite “theme” – military heritage, transport heritage, business heritage, etc. – which has provided me with ample material to fill each comic. What I had not anticipated, though, was the extent to which each of these “themes” would be connected.

I now understand much better that it’s the restricted nature of the overall subject – the history, archaeology and heritage of a small market town – that makes these connections so much more important. It simply isn’t possible to talk about the Cambrian Railway without mentioning its role in WWI, connections between transport and agriculture, the role of Oswestry’s markets, and Oswestry’s position and character as a settlement on the border between England and Wales. As such, even a brief visitation of a topic such as “Business and Heritage” becomes an act of picking a single thread from a very, very tangled web of historical and heritage interactions. At times, I’ve felt like the process of simplification – so much a part of writing a short, four-panel comic – has tipped over into “over-simplification”: there just isn’t enough time or space to explore all the connections between themes that give the individual historical facts and figures their real interest.

But, herein also lies the great strength of the comics medium – and of the use of a local newspaper as a means of publication. Each comic is not an independent informational entity – each comic is simply an element in a twelve-part informational entity. The fact that the comic has a regular weekly slot has made it possible – over the course of multiple episodes – to continually reference multiple elements of the “Oswestry story”. By re-visiting those elements, it has been possible to build up a sense of connection. The “whole” story emerges “interactively” out of all the shorter stories I have simplified for the individual strips.

However, given the multiplicity of topics, elements and themes, some have, inevitably, received greater focus than others. For example, there’s nothing specifically on the heritage of churches and chapels – although St. Oswald’s parish church does feature, as does the man himself and his well. There’s plenty more on transport that hasn’t had much of a mention – not just the Cambrian Railway, but all the early industrial horse and tramways in the area. And there’s a lot of industrial heritage that hasn’t been covered in any detail, either – although the Llanymynech limekilns do feature a bit. Something else that I haven’t been able to cover is the surprising number of re-enactment and “living history” groups which operate in and around Oswestry: the House of the Blackstar at Whittington Castle, and the World War I trenches at Park Hall farm, for example, make appearances in individual panels, but it would be great to cover them in a bit more depth.

So much heritage – so few panels! I think the title of the first strip, “Small Town – Big Heritage” says it all. What I think I’ve enjoyed most about this project is being able to make a start at getting at least some of the extraordinary depth and breadth of Oswestry’s history down in comic format. What would be nice now is to get the chance to continue. There’s so much history, archaeology, built and natural heritage in and around the town, it seems a shame not to try and do it justice.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 1

Oswestry Heritage Comics – Week 1. Click on image for larger view.

The first episode of my Oswestry Heritage Comics is published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer this morning. It is an attempt to broadly introduce the scope of the 12-week series, namely: the diversity and richness of Oswestry’s heritage. It’s an impossible task, of course, since at four panels and less than one hundred words a week, one has to leave out more information than one can include. But this 12-week series isn’t an attempt to cover every subject in exhaustive detail – after all, what would be the point? There have been many books and articles written on Oswestry’s archaeology, history and heritage, and an attempt to replicate them would be pointless.

No, the object of this comic strip series is to provide a kind of introduction to the subject that hasn’t been done before. In other words: to create something new, not reproduce something old but just in a different format. These comics shouldn’t be seen as any kind of attempt to displace existing histories or research available in book or article form – but as an attempt to give an overview of “local heritage” in a way that is accessible and engaging.

A key element in this is, of course, the use of a local newspaper as a vehicle. And a great vote of thanks must go to Colin Channon, the Advertizer’s new editor, for supporting this project by offering me space in the paper. Without his support, it’s unlikely this project would have got off the ground. Historically, of course, comic strips originated in newspapers – and having Oswestry Heritage Comics in the Oswestry Advertizer is a chance to re-visit that century-old partnership. It’s a partnership I’ve wanted to explore for a number of years – back in 2011, when I gave a presentation to the Visualisation in Archaeology project in Southampton, and first put forward ideas about using comics more widely in archaeology, I suggested that publication in local newspapers would be an ideal (as well as historically-appropriate) format. In 2012-2014 I tried (but failed) to interest island newspapers in the Caribbean in publishing the comic Archaeology in the CaribbeanSo the enthusiastic support of Colin and his team at the newspaper have been crucial.

So: how to summarise the history and heritage of a borderlands market town in four panels and one hundred words? It wasn’t easy – after all, we’re talking several thousand years of history and pre-history. I decided to rely less on the places, sites, monuments and buildings to represent this heritage and more on the people – both past and present. While there is a place, site or monument in each panel (the Bailey and Guildhall in panel one, Oswestry Castle in panel two, Old Oswestry iron age hillfort in panel three, and the Cae Glas park gates war memorial in panel four), the focus is really on the people: those who made Oswestry’s heritage in the past, and (perhaps more importantly, and certainly more visibly in the strip) those who intersect with it in the present. If the physical reminders of Oswestry’s past are to be valued, cherished and looked after, they must be regarded by those who live in Oswestry now as part and parcel of their everyday present.

After all, heritage may have its origins in “days gone by”, but it only has meaning in the “here and now”. Places like the Guildhall, the Bailey, Old Oswestry, Oswestry Castle and the Park Gates only have meaning if people engage with them. Archaeological research, projects like The Men on the Gates (run by Qube), and events like Heritage Open Days are just some of the ways in which engagement with heritage helps memorialise, preserve and disseminate information about the past.

And finally, here’s a bonus question from this week’s comic strip: Who are the four people shown in panel two?

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