Posts Tagged ‘Whittington Castle’

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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Week Seven: Bringing Heritage to Life

I really enjoyed my visit to the re-enactment day at Whittington Castle put on by the 5th/60th Regiment and other Napoleonic War era groups. Huw invited me along to meet his group and have a look at the research that had gone into their uniforms and equipment. I don’t know a great deal about the Napoleonic Wars. So it was a great opportunity to really get immersed in all the history, and see the connection between the facts and the dates of who fought what battle when, where and how – and what that all meant for the men and women caught up in the actual, day-to-day experience of the war.

Historians and archaeologists often study these violent and world-changing periods through somewhat abstract evidence: musket balls, earthworks, maps, regimental records, etc. It’s all too easy to forget that all of these things had a real and lasting impact on the lives of real people, essentially not much different to ourselves. Each musket ball we see in a museum could be a life lived blinded and disabled, or even a life cut short; every campaign map speaks of days of marching and hardship for troops in all sorts of conditions. Every cooking pot, every button-shining kit, every writing desk or pair of shoes contains stories of the people who used them. Sometimes we concentrate on the object and forget about the people behind them.

We shouldn’t overlook these human stories – and re-enactment groups do a fantastic job of reminding us that’s what history and heritage is really all about. Getting a close look at the way ordinary people lived and survived in extraordinary circumstances can be a unique window into our past.

We’re lucky around Oswestry to have so many visit Whittington Castle. So next time Huw and the 5th/60th are at Whittington Castle, I definitely recommend you visit!

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 5th/60th Rifles at Whittington Castle.

Britain at war with Europeans over the future of a continent-sized polity? No, not the slow-motion car-crash of Brexit – but a Napoleonic re-enactment at Whittington Castle at the weekend. British and French armies met below the battlements, giving firing demonstrations, showing off their kit and uniforms, doing parade drills and – to wrap the whole thing up – re-enacting part of the siege of Almeida. It was a spectacular display: big enough to make the volley fire really echo around the village, but with groups small enough so that you could walk around and talk to everyone who was taking part.

Re-enactments like this are part of the whole idea that history can be “brought to life” – that past lifeways and behaviours can be reconstructed in the present. Archaeology is often a lot more interested in the material remains themselves than this phenomenological engagement, but the process of archaeological interpretation now owes a fair amount to such ideas. Experimental archaeology validated the logic of re-enactment by demonstrating that archaeological features and artefacts are understood differently when the life-histories of structures or items of daily use are replicated and studied. Construction, use, re-use, discard and deposition take on new meanings when observed first-hand.

Watching history “come to life” – whether a Napoleonic siege or a neolithic flint-knapper – is part and parcel of public interaction with “the past”. Most non-archaeologists engage with the past much more readily when seen as a series of lived moments and used objects. Allowing artefacts, features, sites and monuments to tell their stories by making their life-histories visible is key to successful engagement with public and non-specialist audiences. Even when those narrative life-histories are incomplete or compromised, they importantly still communicate the past as real and lived – more present and more relevant.

For more on Whittington Castle events, check out their Facebook page.
For more on the 5th/60th Rifles, check out their website, and find photos from the Whittington siege at their Facebook page.

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Whittington Castle sketches.

Spent Saturday out at Whittington Castle sketching. It was very, very cold – but still managed to last a good three hours! We were fortified by a welcome lunch in the White Lion; warmed through, we managed to brave it out through the rest of the afternoon.

For a small ruin, there’s quite a lot to draw. There’s a lot of interesting arrangement of stonework and big features – gaping holes in the castle walls, the curve of the moat, even the stacked Victorian and modern additions at the back of the gatehouse. Well worth going up there with a camera or a sketchbook if you’re in the area.


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