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Posts Tagged ‘Oswestry Heritage Comics’

The Stone in the Garden – Week 24 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Heritage is a living thing. Our knowledge of the past – and what it means to us – is constantly evolving. Archaeological excavations, historical research – and even chance discoveries – can bring a new aspect of the past to light, and change the way we relate to it.

Rachel and Mark first got in touch with me via the Hidden Oswestry site, asking whether I could help them identify a piece of carved stone that had turned up in Rachel’s garden on Castle Bank. The photograph they sent showed a fragment of what appeared to be some kind of arch, with a floral motif on one side. As it was a little bit difficult to see some of the details in the photograph, I asked them if they’d mind bringing the fragment to Heritage Open Days so I could have a closer look.

So they did – and everyone got very excited about it when they turned up. Will – at Hidden Oswestry – and I had already talked a bit about a possible date for the stone and where it might have come from – but at our Heritage Open Days stall, we got loads of people curious about the stone and making their own ideas about how old it was and where it might be from originally.

The evidence on the stone itself seems to suggest that the fragment of stone comes from a 19th century ecclesiastical building of some kind – a church of chapel, now demolished. Interestingly, on Beatrice Street – at the bottom of Castle Street – there’s a candidate in the old Wesleyan Chapel: built in the late 1800s and torn down in 1967. Looking at photographs taken during the early 1900s and the 1960s (up on the Oswestry Family and Local History Group site), I can see a couple of possible places where Rachel and Mark’s stone might have come from. It’s possible that the fragment came from the chapel and was used to level the back of Castle Bank during the rebuilding of the Powis Hall Market and laying-out of the Horsemarket carpark.

How do we tell for certain where this stone might have come from? There are a couple of lines of research that we can follow. I’ve asked the Victorian Society for help in identifying the stone; I’ve also asked an online church architecture group if they can suggest any local churches with similar carving – that would help us establish a date for the fragment. Hunting around on the internet, I’ve found what appears to be a similar arrangement of arches and floral carvings on the porch of the Seventh Day Adventist church on London Road in Leicester. A photograph might help us figure out where on a church or chapel Rachel and Mark’s fragment might have originally fit. Don’t suppose anyone out there living in Leicester fancies popping down to London Road and taking a photo of the porch?

I’m planning to revisit this story later in the series. Mark’s already said that, come the spring, he wants to clear more of the rubble at the back of the garden. I’ll be giving him a hand – and there will be another comic to let you all know what we find!

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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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Shropshire’s Prehistoric Reptile – Week 21 of the Oswestry Heritage Comic

Did you know Shropshire had its very own prehistoric reptile?* Rhynchosaurs lived in the hot, dry deserts of the world during the Triassic period (about 220 million years ago). They were herbivores, with strong beaks for chewing through ferns and horsetails. Although earlier species were fairly small, in the later Triassic, Rhynchosaurs grew up to two metres long. These larger species had heavy rear claws for digging out roots and tubers, and much wider heads with very powerful jaws. Their primary food source was the fern Dicrodium – which looked similar to modern ferns, but was tougher and thicker. These ferns died towards the end of the Triassic period, and perhaps this contributed to the eventual extinction of the Rhynchosaur. This dying-out of the ferns may have, in turn, been due to a big climate shift, with huge continent-wide monsoon rains changing the environment of the deserts. By the end of the Triassic period and the start of the Jurassic, the dinosaurs were well and truly established – and Oswestry would have no longer been in the middle of a desolate desert, but at the bottom of a shallow, tropical sea.

Our geological heritage is visible in the rocks all around us – from limestone and coal that date from the Carboniferous period (about 300 million years ago), to the sandstones of the Triassic period, to the rivers and hills formed during the Ice Age (between 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago). These rocks shaped our human history and heritage: the limestone and coal helped power the industrial revolution during the 1700s and 1800s, the gravels and sands left by the glaciers of the ice age are used in our roads and bricks, and sandstone from the Triassic period was used to build some of Shropshire’s finest buildings. Quarries were opened up at places like Grinshill in the late 1700s, and in addition to providing stone for construction, also gave us some very good examples of fossils of plants and animals from the Triassic period – including fossils of our very own species of Rhynchosaur: Rhynchosaur articeps. The fossils were collected by Dr. Thomas Ogier Ward – a member of the Shrewsbury Natural History Society – who kept a look-out for such finds in the midst of quarrying operations at Grinshill. In 1842, the well-known palaeontologist Richard Owen described and identified the fossils in the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (you can read his original article online). The fossils are now in the collections of the Shrewsbury Museum.

But you don’t have to go to Grinshill quarry to find fossils from the Triassic – next time you see a grand Victorian building with some pieces of carved stone in it, have a look and see whether you can spot any traces of animals and plants from 220 million years ago!

* Eagle-eyed readers of the ‘Tizer will note that I did use the term “dinosaur” in the newspaper. I did so because I discovered in a spot-survey of ‘Tizer readers that the more taxonomically correct “prehistoric reptile” wasn’t a term most people understood. As the word “dinosaur” is generally (if inaccurately) used as a non-taxonomic term to cover all sorts of prehistoric animals, I used that.

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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Barbara Pym – Week Seventeen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

The works of Barbara Pym are from another era. They are deeply rooted in a pre-war ethic that is, almost literally, a world away from the twenty-first century. Yet this Oswestry author still has relevance for contemporary readers, and her books are worth discovering – as I have been doing.

I’ve been reading some of Barbara Pym’s works, and it has to be said, she is not really my sort of author, and her books are not really my sort of books. Yet, in a curious way, I have found a lot to like in her mannered, everyday writing – and discovered that they are, by turns, well-observed, sharp, sometimes extremely funny, and occasionally surprisingly radical. She has been rightly compared to Jane Austen – she shares Austen’s talent for minute observation of the lives of ordinary women. Her talent as an observer was almost certainly honed during her time at the International African Institute, surrounded by anthropologists and ethnographers. But her focus on the quotidian battlefronts of ordinary life (Rhoda’s battle with the electricity board, for example) must have owed a great deal to her early life in Oswestry, and immersion in the tiny dramas of market town life. Whatever Barbara Pym’s writing became (by turn, brittle and sophisticated, outmoded and anachronistic, reborn and rediscovered) it kept its unmistakably small-town flavour; Oswestry is never far away in Pym’s novels.

Pym’s private life was similarly full of surprises. Although she never married, she had numerous affairs, and at least at some points in her life appears to have been scandalously promiscuous and free, given the social conventions of the time. This rather wilder side to her personality perhaps encouraged her to write about “outsider” characters and their complicated sexual lives. The affairs of unmarried and adulterous women, the culture of gay men – both open and closeted, the social awkwardness of oddly inappropriate attachments, the distress caused by uncomfortable romances – such themes of sexual ambiguity, confusion and collision run through all of Pym’s novels, and remind us (particularly today) that such issues are not new. There’s a note of both sadness and seriousness that gets introduced through these characters and their lives, and stops her work being mere brittle social drama, like Wodehouse, or other pre-war authors.

I’m in the middle of reading Less Than Angels at the moment – my favourite so far (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the chaotic cast of anthropologists). I haven’t been reading the novels strictly in order, just roughly chronologically. I’m looking forward to getting to Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died – the two novels she wrote in the 1970s, following her “rediscovery” as a classic British author. I’m really curious to see how Pym dealt with the profoundly different Britain of the seventies – and where her everyday focus and her slightly outsider characters took her.

I’ve found a lot to like in what I’ve read of Pym’s novels so far: I like their focus on the everyday, and the curious but honest characters; I like the “behind the scenes” glimpse they afford into a lost world; I like the sociological  closeness of them, and the highlight that shines on the mundanity and ordinariness of lived experience. I’d highly recommend them – and it would be interesting to see contemporary Oswestry writers take a leaf out of Pym’s books. Something to think about for Oswestry Lit Fest next year?


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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Ice Age Oswestry – Week Sixteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

The Ice Age was, perhaps, not the most exciting period in Oswestry’s history. Like most of North Shropshire, the town was buried underneath 300 metres of glacier – compacted snow and ice that had accumulated slowly over centuries. Just to give you some idea of how thick that ice was, 300 metres is the height of the Eiffel Tower – or twice the height of the Great Pyramid. The surface of the ice was a bleak place. Even the great herds of wooly mammoth we think of when we think of the ice age wouldn’t have spent much time on the top of the ice – there would have been nothing to eat. They would have stayed further south, down in central Europe, where the ice hadn’t built up, and where there was still tundra grass for them to feed on.

But there would have been a few spots in Shropshire where the hills would have poked up higher than the glaciers – a few frozen “islands” in the ice. One of these would have been the Stiperstones, the dramatic ridge of rocks just south of Shrewsbury. And although the glaciers and all that ice has long since vanished from Shropshire – it all melted away about 10,000 years ago – you can still see evidence of the Ice Age right across the county:

  • deep ridges and valleys along the Stiperstones cut by the glaciers
  • sand and gravel deposited by the water from the melting ice
  • big boulders that had been caught up in the ice and dumped when it melted
  • lakes like the Mere at Ellesmere, formed by the melting ice

The Ice Age may be invisible in many ways, but it has left a lasting impression on our history. The hills that form Old Oswestry Hillfort and the Coppie are both made out of sand and gravel left behind by the glaciers. And the warming climate and melting glaciers left behind lush grasslands quickly populated by mammoths and other animals – and our early hunting ancestors – moving north from southern Europe.

And so the Ice Age sets the scene for the whole of the human history of Oswestry – something to think about as you look at the hills and valleys of Shropshire!


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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Oswestry Castle Excavations – Week Fourteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

At the centre of Oswestry – literally and figuratively – stands Oswestry Castle. The lynchpin of the original Norman foundation of the town, the Bailey quickly became the hub around which the market and civic life of the town revolved. And still does revolve – the town’s guildhall, its Powys Market, library and town offices still all cluster at the foot of the castle. The original Norman castle and bailey were timber, quickly replaced with stone – but that stone keep was badly damaged during the Parliamentarian siege of the town during the Civil War, and the remains were torn down sometime in the 1650s. So most people only know the castle from the C.19th redesign of the mound as a public garden. A circuit of footpaths now wind around a pleasant arboretum of Victorian specimen trees – and the only sign of the ancient castle is a stump of masonry poking up at the summit of the mound (along with another lump which is actually a relocated bit of the old mediaeval town wall).

So it has been something of a surprise over the past few years to see how much of the castle’s original foundations, plan and detail the Oswestry Castle Research Project has managed to reveal. This year, once again, the project’s team of volunteer local archaeologists is back atop the mound, opening new trenches along the remaining lines of the keep’s foundations. The excavation is well worth a visit if you’re in town – the Director, Roger Cooper, is always keen to explain the site to visitors and show off the latest finds (which, this year, include munitions dating from the Civil War siege). And later in the year, Roger will be giving presentations about the excavations locally – so it’s worth checking the schedule of talks for the Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeology Society and the Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group.

Oswestry’s castle is something of an overlooked gem. Perhaps not as visually spectacular as Old Oswestry hillfort, it nevertheless is – literally – central to the town’s story, and the current excavation project is long overdue and very, very welcome indeed.


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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Heritage Open Days – Week Thirteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Every year, the whole of England gets a chance to celebrate our shared history, archaeology and heritage in this weekend-long festival. This year, dozens of venues all around Oswestry are holding special events for visitors. There’s tons to see and do – if you’re interested in history or archaeology, like museums or excavations, are curious about re-enactment or living history, then this weekend is for you! All around the region, from Whitchurch to Chirk, historic houses and heritage sites are throwing open their doors and doing something special – showing off what makes heritage important and interesting. Places like Park Hall, Whittington Castle and Chirk Castle are hosting re-enactment events, there are steam trains running at the Cambrian Railway, and special exhibitions at the Oswestry Town Museum. It’s a weekend full of things to do for the whole family.

And around Oswestry, there are some particularly exciting special and one-off events taking place this year: a chance to get behind the scenes of some of Oswestry’s most iconic and important heritage places.

You can:

And much, much more. The Oswestry Heritage Roadshow will also be up and running, on the Bailey all weekend, right next to a display all about the Oswestry Heritage Comics – so drop in and say hello! For a complete listing of all Heritage Open Day events taking place around Oswestry – and beyond! – check out their website.


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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