Scintillating Southeast Shropshire ! !

 Where trumpets rang
 and men marched by,
 none passes but the dragonfly.
– Mary Webb
     Wroxeter and Ironbridge Gorge are dominate landmarks of southeast Shropshire but at one time both were infinitely more. Ironbridge is a World Heritage site, only a few miles south of Telford, which changed the modern world economy in the form of the iron making industrial revolution. Its rich valley housed and fueled the boom of England’s wealth and influence in the 18th and 19th centuries and was precipitated by the Darby family from the late 17th century to the end of the 18th century. It was the third Abraham Darby who set a mark on his family’s accomplishments when he erected the first cast-iron bridge in 1779. This marvelous icon still spans the river Severn and is nearly a mecca to those who have prospered from all the innovations which the Darby family achieved through the modern age of factories, ships, railway lines, cotton mills, boilers, shops and warehouses.
     Visitors will find that the site is spread out over two miles with ten museums to peruse along the Severn from east to west. Some of these are Coalport Museum which houses the china once made there (now a Wedgewood product which is based at Stoke-on-Trent, I believe), the Tile Museum (at Ironbridge Gorge), Broseley Pipeworks, Bedlam Furnace, Ironbridge, Museum of the Gorge, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Darby Furnace and last but not least the Darby Houses, of course. Rosehill House and Dale House are open to view and include the wood-paneled study (Dale House) where Abraham Darby III worked on the plans for his bridge.
     Wroxeter was once known as Viroconium, which you will find midway between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge. This impressive English Heritage site was revealed during the 20th century through the marvel of excavation from the years between 1955 and  1990. There is plenty to see here with civic center, public baths, basilica, hypocaust  and extensive ditch and ramparts which enclosed the city. During the Roman occupation it was Britain’s fourth largest city and is one of the few which was completely abandoned and never used from that time. Because of this, visiting this site gives us a chance to see Roman life in Britain unaltered and it may be one of the best examples of second century Roman town planning. In its height of glory, during what is now called the Golden Age of the Villa, its prosperity had a hiatus of eighty years when Hadrian ruled and most assuredly built this city to his specifications. However, these examples were much more prevalent and opulent in southern England, by comparison. Wroxeter makes up for that in its size ( 200 acres) and is city building at its most extraordinary. Even today it boasts one of the largest surviving sections of Roman wall in Britain along with theOld Work” which is also the country’s largest sections of freestanding Roman masonry still in existence. Much of the Birmingham Field Archaeological Unit’s excavation artifacts are on display in the museum on the site.
  Wroxeter is located five miles southeast of Shrewsbury on the B4380   T-01743 761330  T- 01952 433522  Freephone 0800 590258 for a free color brochure within England 
     The lone remainder of Bridgnorth Castle, a 70 foot 12th century Norman tower, is a curiosity very much in the tradition of the leaning tower of Pisa. It leans much more, however, at more than three times the angle- 17 degrees- and in a dilapidated state at that. On the internet you can view photos of it with people having picnics at provided tables directly underneath but that may be a bit of cheekiness on the part of the locals. I have included one such photo in my Shropshire photo album so have a look for a bit of fun.  
     Sitting five miles west of the Shropshire/West Midlands border, above the lower part of Bridgnorth town and the River Severn, this castle has seen better times and fared quite well considering the number of sieges it suffered up until the Civil War of the late 17th century. The town began as a bridge and market and the earliest historical records show that a camp was set up by the Danes circa 895 with King Æthelfleda constructing a motte (circa 912)  nearby or on the site of Bridgnorth Castle against the Danes. No evidence of the Mercian King’s castle remains and there are no notations of it in the Domesday book, either. Chirbury town on the Wales/Shropshire border also lays claim to his fortifications.   
     The Norman construction of Bridgnorth started with a grant by King William to Roger de Montgomery in 1101. Roger’s son, Robert de Belleme, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury, ( and William II’s chief lay castle-builder) moved from Quatt ( a town a few miles south downstream ) and built the castle and a church. (He was also a fierce warrior in battle and a skillful artificer who did work additionally at Arundel in Sussex, Gloucester, Shrewsbury and Tickhill Castle in South Yorkshire.) During a three month siege King Henry I captured the castle by constructing a siege castle  (in this case, a large earthwork from which besieging forces could fire catapults and other weapons) to the south west at Pan Pudding Hill. The earthworks, still in evidence today, were used by besieging forces much later on. 
      It was declared a royal borough in 1102 and was set up against attacks from the Welsh. Becoming a royal borough afforded the town certain privileges which entailed franchises and customs, rights and liberties such as being granted a gold merchant guild by Henry III. These early charters were reaffirmed by many English Kings in succession. In 1215 King John granted the town freedom from paying toll throughout England and Henry VI granted assize of bread and ale among other privileges. Yearly fairs and feasts on special days were granted, also. This continued until 1885 when the town was disenfranchised. Conversely, more recently, the town was granted Fairtrade Town status.
                                       Castle grounds 

     Hugh de Mortimer, the Lord of Cleobury Castle, seized Bridgnorth during civil unrest between King Stephen and his cousin Matilda which is referred to as The Anarchy. He was dislodged from place by Henry II in 1155 for siding with King Stephen. Henry II fortified the castle afterward with two high-walled baileys, as well as a square tower keep circa 1170. A barbican is also believed to have been erected at a later date. The importance of Bridgnorth Castle diminished by the time of the late 13th century when Edward took the throne and was not used for a period of 350 years. It did suffer damage during the Baron’s revolt of 1321. Garrisoned by royalist forces in 1642 because of its status, when Cromwell showed up with the parliamentarians on March 31, 1646 they leveled the high town with gun fire setting fire to many buildings including St Leonard’s Church. Some 16th and 17th century half-timbered buildings remain, however.
     Within a month after the lengthy siege, Bridgnorth fell to Cromwell who ordered the castle to be blown up. Unfortunately for castle enthusiasts, plans or drawings of the Castle before its demolition are nonexistent but remnants of the castle can be found behind the Post Office and in Pound Street.
     Today the castle grounds comprises a substantial section of the aforementioned keep but most of the demolished stone was quarried away to repair the severely damaged town. In essence, only two of the four sides remain somewhat intact. The castle ruins form the centerpiece of a castle walk and gardens which include a statue of Sabrina and several war memorials. St Mary Magdalene Church sits adjacent on East Castle Street and its dome can be seen from quite a distance. The town itself still operates a small market underneath the Town Hall running the whole length of High Street on Saturdays. It is divided in reference to the elevations which are relative to the Severn river as Low Town and High Town of which the latter is on the right bank and the former to the left. A railway which links these two portions is worth trying because of the steep ascent. Fun ! !
 On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves

 A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

  The Wrekin summit
     During my research I found some intriguing blogs and web sites which expound on a hilltop area not far from Bridgenorth called The Wrekin which overlooks the Wroxeter Roman Site at 1200 feet above! Natural hilltop sites to visit in the area are the already mentioned Stiperstones, Long Mynd, Stretton Hill, Wenlock Edge (which boasts a fifteen mile double escarpment full of marine fossils!), Clun Forest, Clee Hills and Nescliffe Hills which has an ancient hillfort hidden within the woods! Shropshire residents recite folklore about The Wrekin’s origin and has inspired local sayings which may or not make sense to Americans. In this area, Charlton Castle remains go back to the 13th century which include some stonework. Sir John Charlton was given license to crenellate in 1316 for what was essentially known to be a manor house. It was used as a residence by the Lords of Powys in the early part of the 16th century and sold to Sir Francis Newport in 1588 but eventually fell into disuse. It is assumed that it was finished off during the Civil War.
     In the Telford area Dawley Castle was once situated at Castle Pools and Castle Ironworks location(which was a Darby family concern) and prior to demolitions of the ironworks and extensive landscaping for the creation of Telford New Town, much of the castle ruins were still detectable. By the 1980s this area was buried under thick topsoil and planted with trees. Not a fitting ending for a castle built by Richard II in 1361 but we’ll always have the memories won’t we ?  
     In an attempt to save face, this summer the town decided to put up a sign on a hillside bank that reads DAWLEY in the fashion that the Hollywood sign in LA is situated and got quite a bit of attention from the local paper. By June 8th 2010 over 1,000 Telfordians joined a Facebook group showing support for this nonsense. Did they save Facebook, though? 
     Broncroft Castle is also in the vicinity south of Bridgnorth just a bit west of Tugford and very close to the castles Corfham and Holdgate. In actuality it is a renaissance late 14th century fortified manor house built by Sir Roger Burley. It is so convincing it was held by the Royalist in 1642 and was slighted but restored in the 17th century. It received further restoration in 1889 under the direction of James Whitaker . The two square towers were entirely rebuilt from the top storey portions and a new range built in the fashion of the times, dormer windows and all.    
     Found west of Tugford, off Sandy Lane on the A49-B4371-4368 juncture
      a remaining tower of Holdgate
      Three miles northeast of Broncroft, a remaining tower of an 11th century motte and bailey earthwork, Holdgate Castle, founded by Helgot de Reisolent, can be found on the northern end of Holdgate village. Helgot also held sixteen other manors besides the castle which was known as Stanton during his occupation. His superior, of course, was Roger de Montgomery and this castle was Helgot’s main residence- among three of the earliest to be documented in Shropshire!
      The ovular motte on the grounds of Hall Farm stands nearly thirty feet high and the farm actually sits on the former northeast bailey. A few stones remain visible where a tower keep once resided on the flat summit of the motte. A large 13th century semi-circular flanking tower is fused with the farmhouse and is purported to have been built by Robert Burnell, the Bishop of Bath and Wells (and Lord of Acton Burnell, of course.)  During that period it housed a college of secular clergy which dissolved by 1373. Its appearance is that of an abbey with medieval features. Some 12th century fabric of a previous church survives at the still present Holy Trinity Church which resides on the former castle grounds. This Royalist ecclesiastical stronghold was besieged during the Civil War and was recorded as being left desolate by 1645. The D-shaped tower which remains was refaced in the 19th century but is well representative of the original structure.   
      Foundations of the walls can still be clearly seen and what is left of the rectangular tower on top of the motte along with remnants of castle amongst the farm buildings which have taken over the area. Earthworks and ditches remain in evidence and southeast of the motte and bailey, rectangular earthworks with enclosures are believed to have been an area of formal gardens associated with the castle.
      The site is visible from the road. Car parking is by the side of the road.
     Only a little downstream south of Bridgnorth in the Severn Valley  Quatford Castle  happens to be the older settlement of the two, at a ford in the river near Quatt. It began life as a bridge and eventually perhaps a lookout point for Bridgnorth and by the late 11th century a small castle was built up high above the bridge. This was the work of Roger Montgomery and was most likely built sometime between 1066-86. Seated an incredible 930 feet high and 35 feet across it was perfect for its purpose. If you visit the site you’ll find a rock-cut ditch three meters deep on the eastern side. The castle was completely demolished rather early but visiting the motte is an adventure if you’re not afraid of heights.
     Castle Pulverbach  was once a castle of incredible size. It is actually two motte sites one of which can be seen from Wilderley Hall Farm. If you look in the photo album for Shropshire you’ll see its position on Shropshire’s map. It is referred to as a manor in the books of the 12th century and was held by Roger Venator in 1086. Its situation is in a small valley where a route from Shrewsbury to Bishops Castle existed. It may have already been nearly demolished by 1202. 
      Most of what you would see on the dangerous site is the outline of two rectangular buildings in the north angle of the inner bailey. The earthworks are extensive and quite interesting with two mottes and two bailies with amazing counterscarps. To imagine what must have been here in the way of stonework will be more work than you would want to put into it. As I have said before, bring your imagination with you. The aerial photo link* will be interesting for true enthusiasts.
     As a part of the Welsh Marches a regulated village surrounded it like those of which were controlled by the new castles such as Cheney Longeville and More. There are many more such examples all over England. Domestic houses often occupied the enclosure or bailies of a castle. Just as in towns, castles were also placed in rural settlements, at first made of timber, but later (in lesser amount) in stone.    &    (Friends of Castle Pulverbatch)
     Cleobury Castle remains at Cleobury Mortimer are seated in the highest hills of Shropshire, Clee Hills, and the Wyre Forest not far from the border with Worcestershire.  As you might guess, the town gets part of its name from Roger de Mortimer whose dynasty held land here throughout the middle ages. There were once two castles here but the chief seat castle was destroyed in 1155 and mere earthworks remain. A smaller motte and bailey, referred to as Castle Toot,  most likely housed a timber fortification but its role seems to be very confused with the chief manor occupied by the Mortimers in the 12th century. This castle still existed in some form clear up to the 18th century and foundations plus coins and artifacts have been discovered during archaeological investigations carried out in 1993. A kiln, Roman and medieval pottery have also been found. The larger castle was  captured along with Bridgnorth by Henry II and destroyed.
     Middlehope Castle has been highly questioned by experts because investigations revealed nothing substantial for earthworks and the outlines were obscured from plowing. A rampart and ditch are barely visible and much of its area is only a low mound and trees. It is, however, supposed to have existed on the northeast side of Middlehope Village very close to Rushbury and Holdgate Castles. There are many such sites in Shropshire.
With kisses and high hopes,
The Castle Lady
 Full size photos can be found of these castles and more in the new Shropshire album ! Take a look !

About Evelyn

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