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Posts Tagged ‘Oswestry Heritage Comics’

Heritage Under Our Feet – Week 36 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

What were you doing in the summer of 1977? In between watching Star Wars and mourning the deaths of Marc Bolan and Bing Crosby, a keen band of Oswestry volunteers were assisting Professor Barri Jones excavate a Roman marching camp at Rhyn Park. The excavation was a great success – not only did it add to our knowledge of Roman military and frontier archaeology in Britain, but it was the catalyst for the founding of Oswestry’s own archaeology and local history society.

The Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group (OBHAG) grew out of the enthusiasm sparked by the excavations at Rhyn Park. It brought together local people in and around Oswestry who were not only interested in archaeology and local history – but also interested in doing original archaeological and historical research. Since then, the group has worked on range of surveys, excavations and restoration projects in and around Oswestry, Trefonen and the Morda valley. They now support the Oswestry Castle Research Project and the annual excavations at Oswestry Castle. In addition to research, OBHAG sponsors regular talks, lectures and presentations by local, national and international academics and researchers on a wide range of archaeological and historical topics (even on heritage comics!).

OBHAG is forty years old this year. Social media, crowdfunding, open research and new scientific techniques have changed the practice of archaeology and local history significantly in those four decades – and OBHAG, too, is changing. The group is looking for members who can bring experience of new media and new technology. Perhaps you’ve got ideas about an Oswestry history app – or thoughts about how to use Kickstarter to fund a local history research project. It’s ideas like this – and changes like this – that will help keep interest in local archaeology and history alive, and groups like OBHAG going for another forty years.

If you’d like to be part of this change, then get in touch!


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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Why Was It Called Park Hall? Week 35 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Local history is often hidden in plain sight. We get so used to hearing seeing particular historical places in the landscape, or hearing particular historical names, that we sometimes forget to ask: what are they? Where do they come from? Park Hall is, I think, a case in point. Most people around Oswestry know that the exhibition and show ground we see today is the remnants of an army training camp. That is certainly true – and the long, old wooden exhibition halls there are a physical reminder of that camp. Some people will also know that it used to be a farm – the old Victorian brick barns, dairy and sheds are a physical reminder of the Park Hall Home Farm. The replica WWI trenches and the petting zoo of farm animals are both ways of bringing that history of Park Hall back to life. But why was the farm or the camp called “Park Hall” in the first place?

One has to look a bit further afield to find the answer that that. The “Park” in the name refers to the parkland that had been created at the edge of lands attached to Whittington Castle. The Castle was originally a Norman fortification of some kind (although little, if any, evidence of it survives now), and played a small part in the wars between Empress Matilda and King Stephen during the 1130s. The lands were then given by King Henry II to Roger de Powys in the 1160s, and the lordship eventually passed to the FitzWarin family. The castle was rebuilt in stone in the 1220s, following various attacks by the Princes of Gwynedd. The castle was an important border fortification during the turbulent years leading up to the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1404, but itself was never captured.

By the late 1500s, however, neglect had taken its toll: the castle was partly in ruins, and the owners and tenants increasingly plagued by debt. It was probably this that prompted the selling-off of a portion of the castle parkland to Thomas Powell in 1563. A decade later, around 1571, Powell had built a large, spectacular half-timbered hall – Park Hall – named after the parkland on which it stood. Over the next three hundred years, the house passed through many owners, but remained in good condition. In 1864, the house is described as:

[a] singular and interesting timbered mansion… built about the year 1543; few such edifaces are now remaining in England, and perhaps none in so perfect a state of preservation, or exhibiting so true a specimin of the domestic architecture of bygone days.

The document notes the many fine and well-preserved architectural features of the house, including “exquisitly fine carved oak chiminy peaces; and a ceiling of unparralled workmanship” as well as “a beatiful little chapple abutting on the west wing of the house, the windows are of stained glass, the interior in wainscoted, and the whole arched over with oak panneling”. What a great shame then, that in 1918, an electrical fire – apparently starting in this chapel – burned the whole building to the ground. A few photographs of the hall werew taken during the early 1900s, and these show us that it was, indeed, a beautiful building; its destruction was a great loss. But it was to the army’s gain – the destruction of the house allowed the camp to expand during WWII, and to continue as a National Service training camp into the 1960s.

Park Hall now has a number of walks throughout the grounds, but I don’t know whether anything remains to be seen of where the house once stood (Does anyone know – is there a sign up somewhere in the grounds, or evidence of foundations, etc?). Perhaps the name “Park Hall” is the only reminder of this once elegant piece of our Tudor heritage – sadly gone, but not entirely forgotten.


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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Blowing Up Oswestry Castle – Week 34 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Plucky George Cranage! The full story of his exploits would make a perfect Hollywood movie – in fact, the whole of the siege of Oswestry would make a great film!

The spring of 1644 was not a good time to be in Oswestry. The town was held by Royalists, under Colonel Edward Lloyd of Llanforda. But in June, General Thomas Mytton and the Earl of Denbigh arrived with a 2,000-strong Parliamentarian army and siege cannon and, on the 23rd of June, began to bombard the town. The Royalists razed most of the buildings outside the town walls, but it was then that George Cranage first sprung into action. According to some accounts, he ran up to the New Gate (where Gilhams and Booka are) and cut the chains (or ropes) of the drawbridge and enabled the Parliamentary army to charge into the town. Abandoning the walls – and then losing the battle for the town itself during fierce fighting – the Royalist forces abandoned the town to its fate and took shelter in the castle. The townspeople of Oswestry offered a ransom of £500 to the Parliamentarian forces not to ransack and loot the town, and the army then took up positions near the castle. Despite the field guns – and despite sappers working to undermine the walls and towers – the Parliamentarian army could not break the Royalist hold on the castle, and the siege dragged on. But now George Cranage sprang into action a second time!

The order was given by General Mytton for a party to fire the gates of the castle with pitch – but the exhausted soldiers couldn’t do it. Recalling, no doubt, his display of bravery at the Newgate, Mytton and the Earl of Denbigh now approached George Cranage. They got him drunk on sack – a very strong wine that later evolved into what we call ‘sherry’ – and convinced him to sneak up to the castle gate and put a bomb called a petard against it. A petard was basically an iron pot packed with gunpowder, with a fuse at the rounded end and the flat open mouth of the pot propped up and tied against a door or gate. When the gunpowder went off, the petard acted like a miniature cannon, blowing a big hole in the door or gate. A dangerous mission (even worse with a sack hangover!), as petards were notoriously apt to go off early, blowing up the unlucky bomber (hence the expression hoist with your own petard, meaning to be caught up in your own plot). But Cranage placed his petard, retired safely, and the gates were blown up. The Parliamentarians captured the castle, and the banner of the Earl of Denbigh flew over its battered walls.

At this point – exhausted, covered in gunpowder soot and hungover – George Cranage disappears from our history books. We know he survived the siege of Oswestry, but not what happened to him after that. The Cranage family was later well-known in Shropshire as innovative iron-workers and foundry men. Did George Cranage’s experience of explosives at Oswestry lead him into a new profession after the end of the Civil War – who knows? But poor Oswestry’s black spring continued. Just three days after the blowing up of the castle gates, a Royalist army from Shrewsbury – about 1,500 cavalry and 3,500 infantry – under Sir Fulke Hunke and Colonel Marrow besieged the besiegers, and fierce fighting once again broke out around the town. This lasted until July 3rd, when a second Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Myddleton arrived and defeated the Royalists at Whittington – pursuing the remnants back towards Felton Heath near Shrewsbury. Oswestry was burned, bruised and battered by war – despite the bribe they had paid to Mytton’s army. But although the Civil War raged around Shrewsbury for the next few years, Oswestry’s part in the war was mostly ended. In 1648, Parliament issued an order that the castles at Oswestry, Boncroft and Dawley be “reduced” so as to render them unusable. By January 1649, King Charles had been arrested, tried and finally beheaded – and the First Civil War had come to its dramatic end.


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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One Love Oswestry! – Week 32 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

In the middle of a long, cold Shropshire winter, summer seems a long way away – and so does summer music. When there’s snow on the ground and it gets dark at 3:30 in the afternoon, “chilling out” takes on a very different meaning. But Oswestry has a special and historical relationship with chilling – and with summer music.

Bob Marley was a distinctive – unique – musician. Born and raised on Jamaica in the 1940s, he performed with his reggae band, The Wailers, until the late 1970s, when he moved to Britain and released a solo album. Reggae music developed on Jamaica in the 1960s, and grew out of complicated roots in mento and calypso – Caribbean folk music traditions that blend call and response, innuendo, social – and political – commentary. Marley’s reggae followed in this tradition, and was anti-colonialist, anti-racist and anti-materialist. His lyrics – his music – were an expression of his deeply-held Rastafarian beliefs, and his music was about raising racial, religious and political consciousness in his listeners. Millions around the world listened to Bob Marley as much for his music as his message. By the time he died in 1981, Bob Marley – through his work – had become an international musical, cultural, political and spiritual icon.

It’s kind of extraordinary that someone like this has a connection with Oswestry – okay, so it’s kind of tenuous. By all accounts, Bob Marley’s father really didn’t enjoy his time at Park Hall, and his time there was admittedly extremely brief. Norval Sinclair Marley was a peripatetic soul – his journey through Oswestry appears to have started in Jamaica by way of Cuba before heading on to Africa and ending up back in Jamaica; his family were apparently originally Jewish emmigrants from Syria. Perhaps those itchy feet were something Norval’s son inherited – prompting him not to explore the world, but his own sense of self.

So when summer does finally arrive, and the sun is shining and you’re sitting in Cae Glas park listening to Bob Marley’s music while you’re properly chilling out, think about Oswestry and the heritage we share with this extraordinary musician.

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The Walls of Willow Street – Week 32 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Like most mediaeval towns across Britain, Oswestry was protected by its town walls. Few reminders of these walls survive – and the most obvious is one which hides in plain sight.

Oswestry historian John Pryce-Jones, in his excellent book Street-Names of Oswestry, relates how the word “willow” in the name of Willow Street is actually an anglicisation of the Welsh word walia (or, with the soft mutation, gwalia) meaning “wall”. The word itself being a reference to the fact that the road once led up to the gate that originally stood around the junction with Castle Street. Pryce-Jones makes the linguistic connection with “Wyle Cop” in Shrewsbury, the name of which might also refer to the town’s walls.

But there are other possibilities. “Willow” (and, indeed “Wyle”) might be derived from the Welsh word hwylfa, which means “a road leading up a hillside” – a term which could describe Willow Street quite well, particularly as it climbs away from Oswestry up towards the racecourse. The word might also derive from the Welsh word gwylio, meaning “to watch” – referring to the watchmen, or the half-tower that might have once stood flanking the gate (the poet John Ceiriog Hughes favoured this interpretation, incidentally). Pryce-Jones notes too that the process of anglicisation resulted briefly – around the early 1600s – in the name of the district around the street being referred to as “Wool” rather than “Willow”. Pryce-Jones himself, applying a sort of linguistic and antiquarian Occam’s Razor, favours the walia/gwalia interpretation, which I have followed in the comic.

“Willow”, as an English synophone to walia/gwalia, appears fairly early on. Pryce-Jones lists some of the English references to the street from as far back as 1337:

  • Wyliastret (1337)
  • Stryd Wylyw (1530s)
  • Williho Gate (1560)
  • Walliowe Street (1631)

Speak these names out loud and I think you can hear why he favours the walia/gwalia interpretation over gwylio or hwylfa. By as early as 1706, the name finally settles as “Willow Street” – the name we know it as today.

Oswestry’s town walls were finally pulled down following the Civil War – sometime after 1652 or so; certainly before 1660. Short lengths of wall around the gates were left standing; Derrick Pratt suggests interestingly that this was to facilitate the control of trade through tolls and tarriffs (a theme locally that goes back as far as the construction of Offa’s Dyke). However, these surviving portions of wall were also in bad repair, and between 1772 and 1782 these last remnants were torn down. Around Black Gate (near Sainsbury’s) this allowed Salop Road to be widened to allow the passage of carriages and stagecoaches into town from the new toll road (now the A5).

There is a plaque which commemorate the old gates of Oswestry up at the end of Willow Street – and you can follow the line of the old walls around town if you know where to look; there are patterns in new brick by Hermon Chapel, a map which shows the line of the walls at the entrance to the Castle, and a memorial down opposite Booka to the old gate which once stood there. Oswestry’s town walls are gone – but if you know where to look, they are not forgotten.

Oh, and the pun about the financial district I made on Facebook? Oswestry’s “Wall Street”, of course!

John Pryce-Jones “Street-Names of Oswestry” is available (reference only) in the Oswestry Library’s local history collection. If you’re interested in local history, these are great resources. Ask the members of the Oswestry Local & Family History group for help finding this and other books by the same author.

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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In With The New – Week 29 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

2017 is drawing to a close – it’s a time for reflection and resolutions; a time for looking back and looking forward. History, archaeology and heritage are all about looking at the past while also looking to the future. It’s impossible read about the Romans, help excavate a mediaeval site or put together a family history without in some way thinking about how our world and the way we live might look to people in years to come. And it’s impossible to visit an old castle, walk an ancient footpath or look at old family photographs without wondering whether these things will be around tomorrow. Reflecting on the past shines a particular kind of light on things we take for granted today.

It’s not a perfect light, of course – you can’t use the past to “predict” the future: history doesn’t repeat itself in quite that way. But understanding how our grandparents and great-grandparents lived through the experiences of two World Wars, understanding the way the border between England and Wales has changed and developed over the centuries, understanding the way in which conflict, commerce, culture and religion have shaped the history of Oswestry – as local researchers like Dr. Rachel Pope have pointed out: all this helps build up an idea of how similar things might affect us today, and might affect the world we will be living in tomorrow.

This is why heritage is important, and this is why we need to think carefully about the place we make for our past both now – and tomorrow. The Oswestry we’re building for ourselves today is based on the Oswestry of yesterday: the Oswestry that our grandparents, great-grandparents and generations of our ancestors before them built. In the same way, the Oswestry of tomorrow will be built on what we do today – and this will be the world in which our children and grand-children will live in. What kind of place will we leave them? What kind of Oswestry will they live in?

Planning for the future – like thinking about 2018, in this week between Christmas and New Year – needs to be done with one eye on the past. As we think about what kind of Oswestry we want – what we want in terms of housing, roads, schools, social services, hospitals, jobs and training – we need to bring together reflection and resolution: we need to look back as well as forward, and learn some lessons from the past.

Happy New Year!


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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In Praise of Oswestry! Week 27 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Some people, it seems, just can’t say enough good things about Oswestry! During the 1400’s, someone with a particularly long list of good things to say about Oswestry was the Welsh poet, raconteur, drover and soldier, Gruffudd ap Siancyn – known by his pen name “Guto’r Glyn” – “Guto” being short for Gruffudd, and “-r’ Glyn” meaning from Glyn. The “Glyn” in his name might mean either Glyn Ceiriog, in the Ceiriog valley, or Glyndyfrdwy between Corwen and Llangollen. It might also refer to Valle Crucis Abbey.

Unusually, we have a very good physical description of Guto via the mocking of other poets: he was big, strong, with a black beard, a nose “like a billhook”, and balding – “tonsured almost like a monk”. One poet even said Guto alarmingly resembled a big bear. He was known as a joker and wrote humorous and satirical verse, often gently mocking local figures. However, he was best known as a master of “Praise Poetry” – a form of poetry common in the 1400s which was addressed to a noble patron. These were not simply fawningly sycophantic verses – these were nuanced and sophisticated works. Praise Poems adhered to complex rules that governed both content and structure, and served an important social and political function. Guto’s clients included gentry – both men and women, as well as abbots and bishops, local government and military officials between Llangollen and Shrewsbury. Sometimes these poems were clearly part of an ongoing conversation between Guto, the client, and other poets. But Guto’s prowess with words gained him nationally-important clients, too: John Talbot, second Earl of Shrewsbury and even King Edward IV.

But Guto was no Chatterton – no starving aesthete shivering in a garret. Although he was clearly well-educated (possibly at either the abbey of Strata Florida or Valle Crucis) he was not a member of the nobility or the gentry. His father might have been a smith – and, indeed, he may have followed him into that profession as a young man. He worked as a drover, kept flocks of sheep, travelled widely, and was renowned as a horse rider, a sportsman (particularly known for weight-lifting), and an archer. He had a career as a soldier – fighting in France in the Hundred Years War, and then later for the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses. He was a complex man, too – a Welsh poet working in England; a Yorkist who fought for Richard III and yet praised his killing on the battlefield; a writer of feisty, satirical verse who also penned haunted elegies in his final years.

Poet, archer, weight-lifter, soldier – and Oswestrian! Guto lived for many years in the town, ran several businesses there (as did his wife, Dyddgu), knew many of the top people in town, worked for them – and was one, too: a Burgess. When he wrote his poem “In Praise of Oswestry” in about 1460, Guto was an old man (probably in his sixties), and he freely admitted to giving up the wandering and carousing of his youth in favour of the comforts and security of town living. His description of the town’s delights, fame and wealth is no exaggeration: at that time, Oswestry – an important and significant border town – could indeed be favourably compared to London. His poem also shows a genuine and deeply-rooted affection for the town (and, despite old age, an eye for the ladies!).

Guto’r Glyn ended a long, eventful life as a kind of “poet-in-residence” at Valle Crucis Abbey, thanks to one of his patrons. Here, his last poems look back on life’s experiences from the vantage point of old age:

Woe to the weak man, two lifetimes old, who doesn’t look, – who doesn’t laugh,

Who doesn’t walk further than the furrow’s width…

Could we call this couplet “In Praise of Curiosity?”

Guto’s life, world and poetry is all worth discovering – and fortunately, that’s easy to do: the University of Wales and the Arts and Humanities Council have recently completed – under the directorship of Pr. Ann Parry Owen – a complete online database of Guto’s works, including an excellent biography and fully-annotated texts and English and modern Welsh translations. Thanks to Pr. Owen’s project, the work of Guto’r Glyn – “one of the foremost poets of fifteenth-century Wales” – will be able to reach the larger audience it deserves.


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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