Posts Tagged ‘Park Hall’

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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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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Week Five: Oswestry and the Roman Army

Oswestry’s spectacular Roman marching camp is yet another piece of local heritage we don’t celebrate enough. The excavations in 1977 unearthed the remains of a spectacularly well-preserved Roman military site, with evidence that the camp was used and reused throughout the Roman occupation of Britain. Features such as the ovens built into the early phases of one ditch, and the large wooden gateway – one side of which was blocked off – make the Rhyn Park marching camp both notable and worth making something of. There is some material from the excavation in the Oswestry Town Museum, and the excavation report is available online – but the original excitement of those 1977 excavations has long passed, and Rhyn Park’s archaeological past seems in danger of being forgotten.

There’s no pressing need to do more excavation at the site, so more archaeology perhaps isn’t the answer. But what about more heritage? What about a timber gateway (rather like the one at The Lunt Roman Fort) down at Park Hall? A Rhyn Park reconstruction there would make the connection between Oswestry’s ancient military heritage and its historical military heritage. It could become the focus for a whole range of educational and economic opportunities that would connect Oswestry with the rest of Roman Britain, tapping into the visitors that at the moment bypass Oswestry in favour of Wroxeter or Chester. A Rhyn Park replica could even become the home of a re-enactment Legio Oswestria!

Roman Britain is an important part of our history and archaeology, and it’s a shame that Oswestry doesn’t benefit more from its links with this period. There are few market towns in the country with such a wealth and diversity of heritage monuments and science; it’s one of the things that makes Oswestry unique. Their contribution to the educational, economic and cultural life of the town could be immense – but it’s local interest and enthusiasm that is the catalyst.

What would it take to bring Rhyn Park back into the limelight?

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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Art and Remembrance - John S. 2011

I’m putting together a new project for 2011-2012 through the Inside Out art group called “Art and Remembrance”.

The Shropshire borderlands area around Oswestry is rich in military sites, from Park Hall, Bank Top and Rednal Airfield back through Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke to Old Oswestry Hillfort. Often, however, our acts of military remembrance are centred on recent monuments and overlook the military landscape that combat, imprisonment, military training and military logistics have created. I’m interested in the idea of art as an act of remembrance in the landscape, and using it to link the memories of vanishing places and sites to contemporary observations of remembrance.

I’m looking to bring together artists who are interested in similar themes, and whose work can create links between outdoor practice such as land-art, installation or performance and gallery/studio-based practice such as painting, drawing or sculpture. The idea of the project would be to create a series of linked works – some outdoor, some studio-based – which explore themes of landscape and remembrance with a focus on places around the North Shropshire borderlands.

The project would culminate in a year’s time, with a series of exhibitions and/or events timed to coincide with the 11th of November, 2012. I’d be interested in hearing proposals from any local artists, not just those currently in the Inside Out group. I’d also be interested in hearing from any artists not from the Shropshire borderlands area who might like to ‘link in’ somehow with this project.

I’ll mention this project at our upcoming Inside Out “Notebook Meeting” on Dec. 7th in the Willow Gallery, Oswestry, and there will be more information about the project as it develops on the Inside Out art group blog.

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