Houses of Interest: Shropshire
A major revamp for the Shropshire entry. Shropshire was a hot bed of Royalist support. The ECW travelogue takes in not just those sites associated with the fighting of the Wars, but also the many places that claim to have helped save the life of the future Charles II. And, of course, an infamous oak tree.
I’ve wanted to visit Stokesay Castle ever since I discovered that it was in fact a real castle and not somewhere made up.
|The gatehouse at Stokesay has to be up in the premier league of timber framed buildings|
Cared for by English Heritage, Stokesay Castle is "one of the best-preserved medieval fortified manor houses in England" (English Heritage castle expert Dr Henry Summerson - makes a change from the traditional quote from Pevsner). A seemingly eclectic building programme over 400 years has resulted in the site that we have today.
Owned by Sir William Craven, an ardent supporter of the Queen, providing considerable sums of money to the Royalist war effort; Stokesay had been leased to Charles Baldwyn, and his son Samuel in the early 1640s. It was the Baldwyns who rebuilt the iconic gatehouse. When war broke out Craven installed a garrison to hold the Castle for the King. Shropshire became firm in its support of the King, and conflict appeared to be passing the Castle by. In 1644 a local clubmen uprising marched upon Stokesay demanding the removal of the garrison (spoiler alert – they did not achieve much, sorry @Clubmen1645).
Early 1645 Parliamentary forces seized Shrewsbury. In June 800 Parliamentarian men pushed south towards Ludlow, attacking Stokesay en route. The garrison were heavily outnumbered and defending what was now essentially an ornamental castle. A bit of back and forth parlay and the garrison surrendered.
The Royalists attempted to retake Stokesay not long after, but this was swiftly dealt with, the Royalists fleeing and were routed at a small skirmish in Wistanstow. Parliament ordered the slighting of the castle in 1647, but only pulled down the castle's curtain wall.
What’s there now?
Along with the inevitable tea rooms and gift shop, Stokesay really is beautifully presented. Restored during the Commonwealth and Restoration periods – these renovations were purely cosmetic (wood panelling and extra windows added). The Castle even survived the Victorians unscathed: William Craven, 2nd Earl of Craven was very much ahead of his time preferring to conserve rather than rebuild.
Wistanstow was the site of a small skirmish (see Stokesay Castle); whilst there is no evidence of the skirmish visible, there are a number of buildings still standing that witnessed the events. Most notably the eleventh century Holy Trinity Church. If you have the time, a stroll around the village is worth the effort.
Hopton Castle was a Parliamentarian thorn in the side of Royalist Shropshire. In February 1644 a Royalist force of 500 men besieged the castle and its garrison of about 30 men. The siege lasting about 3 weeks, with considerable losses on the Royalist side. The Royalists undermined the castle and brought two siege guns to bring about the garrison’s surrender. The garrison would eventually request quarter, but this would be refused. Accounts then differ but when the castle finally fell the garrison were either executed/had their hands cut off/ were stoned/drowned in a ditch.
What’s there now?
Hopton is a ruin, but incredibly atmospheric. The keep still stands and can be visited free of charge.
Time Team visited Hopton, the episode featuring the dig can be found here: if you are intending to visit I would recommend watching prior to your trip.
There is a small car park at the entrance; an interpretation board 'book'; and a free leaflet dispenser. The ruins have been beautifully and sympathetically stabilised, facilitating visitor access. The Hopton Castle Trust should be commended for their work.
In 1642 King Charles I stayed overnight 'in the environs of' Wellington when on his way from Newport to Shrewsbury to rally support for his cause (and to exchange cash for honours), and while here he made his 'Wellington Declaration' in which he said that he would uphold the Protestant Religion, the Laws of England, and the Liberty of Parliament. Again, nothing in Wellington to note this event.
|Information panel at Shrewsbury Museum recording the events at Wellington|
Shrewsbury, Shropshire’s county town was strategically important in holding the county and the route into Wales. A castle was built, and defensive town walls in the eleventh century. The castle fell into decay in the fourteenth century but was hastily refortified at the outbreak of the Civil Wars. The castle was briefly besieged before it surrendered to Parliamentarian forces from Wem in February 1645. It is believed that Parliament’s men were let into the town by a sympathiser through St Mary's Water Gate (now also known as Traitor's Gate). Following the conventions of the day, a dozen members of the garrison were selected to be killed after picking lots (they just happened to all be Irish men). Prince Rupert was incensed by this, and would respond by executing Parliamentarian prisoners in Oswestry.
What’s there now?
The castle can be visited, and contains a number of regimental museums.
Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery
Has a number of items pertinent to the Wars in its collection. The first floor Tudor and Stuart galleries are the main focus for these items.
|Judging by its appearance this buff coat looks to be late C17th/early C18th, or it could have been altered for a slightly later conflict (museum label provided no further clues)|
|Shrewsbury mint coinage|
|There are a number of items of arms and armour on display, some contemporaneous with the Wars, some replicas, and some much newer pieces (this cuirass being C18th)|
The Golden Cross pub was a rallying and recruiting point for Royalist sympathisers.
There are a number of buildings, which witnessed the events of the Wars, most notably on Wyle Cop. (if visiting Shrewsbury there is a good, large NCP car park which would serve you well).
A small section of the town walls survives behind the Christian Bookshop at 18 Wyle Cop, still with Civil War loopholes cut into it.
|As Shrewsbury was flooded due to the Severn bursting its banks, this area was inaccessible - picture from shrewsburylocalhistory.org.uk|
There are larger remains of the town walls along the road named Town Walls, including Town Wall Tower (aka Wingfield’s Tower, Attingham’s Town Wall Tower). The Tower opens sporadically (National Trust).
Shrewsbury Abbey was damaged during the Parliamentarian assault, but in 1646 the Parliamentarian County Committee instigated a survey and set aside timber for repairs.
High Ercall Hall was besieged by Parliament three times, before it eventually fell. The Hall is a private residence, but its fascinating story is best viewed via a Time Team investigation here.
|High Ercall Hall as it looked during the Wars - or did it?|
Boscobel House is located on the Monarch's Way a 615 mile walking route that is based upon the somewhat circuitous route Charles took when he fled to France after Worcester. It would be quite achievable to walk the 10 mile section from Boscobel to Northycote Farm, finishing at Moseley Old Hall in a day.
Boscobel's role in Charles's flight is responsible for inundating British High Streets with pubs called The Royal Oak.
It is, somewhat saddening to note that the Royal Oak pub closest to the actual Royal Oak has such an underwhelming pub sign (a stylised oak leaf).
It was here in Boscobel Wood that Charles allegedly hid in an oak tree. Samuel Pepys publicised the story of the tree, and claimed that he was told the tale personally by Charles. The original oak had been pollarded; it takes quite a stretch of the imagination to make a pollarded tree into a hiding place for two men.
The original tree was felled by seventeenth and eighteenth century souvenir hunters; 'Son of Royal Oak' can be visited via a path from the House. 'Son' was severely damaged in a storm and so has a fence around it to protect the public.
Son of Royal Oak, and great grandson* of Royal Oak, just in case 'son' falls over.
Boscobel was converted from a timber framed farmhouse into a grander affair in the 1630s. The rear of the property, a Victorian brick addition, is rather incongruously painted to resemble a timber framed building.
Owned by the Giffard family, the house was originally surrounded by woodland. The Giffards were Catholic recusants (who refused to participate in CofE worship) so there are a number of priest holes in the property. One of which was put to use by Charles.
This box was carved from the original Royal Oak, and features scenes of Charles hiding from the Parliamentarian soldiers
What's there now?
Please be aware that Boscobel is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
View from the first floor towards the Royal Oak.
The priest hole in the attic that Charles is supposed to have hidden in
Boscobel is cared for by English Heritage, so as expected there is a gift shop and a rather good (independent) café. Certified Royal Oak saplings are available to purchase from the shop: makes a change from pencils and rulers.
The main attractions are the oak, and the main downstairs room. Well presented with very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers.
If you are visiting Boscobel it is well worth combining with a trip to Moseley Old Hall, which features in Houses of Interest: Staffordshire.
Just down the road from Boscobel is White Ladies Priory. Charles spent the night after Worcester here in a house that is believed to have been built in the ruins, incorporating the remains of the prioress's residence. He would attempt to cross the Severn the next day, but failed and returned to the Giffard's estate and Boscobel House.
What's there now?
Cared for by English Heritage, the site is free to visit during daylight hours. Little remains of the priory other than the remains of its medieval church and the 19th century boundary wall of the small graveyard. There is limited parking at the layby at the end of the track which leads to the priory.
* planted by Prince Charles on the 350th anniversary of the 'hiding'. If this is great-grandson, then grandson is located in the garden of Boscobel House.
Stokesay Castle , Craven Arms SY7 9AH
Holy Trinity Church, Wistanstow SY7 8DQ
Hopton Castle, Craven Arms SY7 0QF
Golden Cross, 44 High St, Shrewsbury SY1 1ST
Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XE
Shrewsbury Castle Castle Street, Shrewsbury SY1 2AT
Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, The Square, Shrewsbury SY1 1LH
Town Walls, Shrewsbury SY1 1TN
High Ercall Hall, Wrekin TF6 6BE
Boscobel House ST19 9AR
White Ladies Priory WV8 1QZ
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