North West Shropshire


Oswestry is a town with a history. The name comes from Oswald's Tree. Oswald was King of Northumbria, who was defeated here by Penda. Legend says that a bird carried away a limb or the head of the dead king and where it fell a spring bubbled forth, since known as Oswald's Well. This was all in the 7th century, but Oswestry's history goes back even further, as the massive Iron-Age hill-fort of Hen Dinas, or Old Oswestry, proves. The hill-fort can be seen in passing from the new by-pass on the north of the town, and must be the best advertisement for historic Oswestry that could be imagined. Watt's Dyke, another reminder of the area's history skirts the massive ramparts, then cuts through Oswestry and on southwards along the Maesbury road.


Petton is a parish on the A528 Shrewsbury to Ellesmere road, and the bulk of this small parish lies to the west of this road. Unlike some of its larger neighbours, Petton did get a mention in the Domesday Book as Pectone. The church at Petton stands on a small rise close to sites from an earlier age such as the fish pond and a moated site of Norman origin, and was built in 1727 with some remodelling in the following century. The church is comparatively modern and also a rather simple structure but inside, apparently, there is a wealth of glass, mosaic and woodwork.

A little way to the north is Petton Hall, now a school, which was built in the late 19th century to replace an earlier structure. For some time it was the home of the Spalding family, and later the Cunliffes who were related by marriage. Details of these families are well-documented and accounts of the customs, festivities and happenings at Petton are often typical of such households elsewhere in the county. As in any family there are those members whose activities are worthy of mention. One Spalding son died on a voyage to Barbados when he was a captain of a slave ship. Then there was a daughter who, by marriage, became Mrs. Cunliffe. She tended to set the standards in the parish, and woe betide any girl or boy who did not acknowledge the passing of her carriage either by a curtsy for touching of forehead. Such lack of respect would result in a letter to the vicar who would pass it on to the schoolteacher before the offending child was taken to task.

Pimhill is a parish to the north of Shrewsbury, but with no village by that name it seems few even now of its existence. In the west of the parish are Grafton, Forton Heath and Mytton, each a pleasant hamlet but none with sufficient of merit to get a mention in most books on Shropshire. But Fitz, which stands with its back to the Severn, is a different spot. It was here that the Reverend Waldegrave Brewster went after he left Middleton Church. (see Legends & People)

In the centre of the parish the B5067 cuts it vertically, and here can be found the township of Leaton with its rather splendid church and vicarage standing alone beside the road. It is not an old church, having been built in the mid-19th century.

In the north of the parish is Bomere Heath, a thriving village which has grown dramatically over the years. East of Bomere Heath is Preston Gubbals, with its church dedicated to St. Martin. It is a pretty spot just off the busy A528. The name is said to be derived from one Godbold, a Norman priest who once preached in this church which has, despite its mainly 19-century appearance, a history which goes back to Norman times.

Ruyton XI Towns
has probably had more written about it, and more books or chapters dedicated to it, than any other place in Shropshire. It is also said to be the ONLY place in the world with Roman numerals in its name. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Udeford and Ruitone. The "XI Towns" came later with the 14th-century Charter, and the full eleven which made up the original manor are Ruyton, Coton, which is now a farm to the west of Ruyton, Eardiston which is now a hamlet to the north-west, Shelvock also to the north-west, Shotatton, a hamlet to the West-north-west, Wykey to the north and the following which are now in the parish of West Felton - Felton Sutton, Haughton, Rednal and Tedsmore.

Today the village stretches in a crescent along the banks of the Perry, although at times this crescent scales the heights of Brownhill, giving spectacular views of the river and surrounding countryside. The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and is a mainly 12-century structure built, it appears, to serve the adjacent castle. The ruins of the castle stand in the churchyard, the walls of its keep appearing even more ruinous in the long grass to be found in this part of the churchyard. The castle was built in the 12th century by Le Strange, and probably finally destroyed by that scourge of Shropshire castle, Owain Glyndwr, in the 14th century.

To the west of Ruyton stands Ruyton Manor, a little way from the road and with its back against Grig Hill. It is a 19th-century Victorian, almost make-believe, castle with elaborate garden terraces. It was designed and built by the original owner, a man of no architectural skills but with a vivid imagination.

Saint Martins is in the north-west of the county. Its northern and north-western boundaries are the rivers Ceiriog and Dee. From the rivers the land rises steeply at first, and gives superb views to the north and west. Apart from the sprawling village it is a rural spot, although its industry has not simply been that of farming, as there has been a mine at Ifton Heath on the outskirts of St. Martin's.

Pride of place in the village is the area around the church. It is basically a 13th-century church with repairs and refashioning over the centuries to produce what has been described as one of the best 13th-century churches in Shropshire. Its magnificent stone and sturdy buttresses give it a permanence which is reassuring. Next to the church is a row of almshouses which are much older than first impressions suggest.

The Romans once were here as there are signs of Roman roads and the site of a large Roman camp. Such a site would be halfway between Shrewsbury and Chester, perhaps implying a greater Roman influence on the area than we have been led to believe.

The parish of Selattyn & Gobowen lies to the immediate north of Oswestry. In the east of the parish is Gobowen, a not overly attractive village which has grown up on Watt's Dyke and the junctions of the A5 and A483. To the north of Gobowen, Watt's Dyke is followed by road or by footpath making it easy to trace this ancient earthwork. To the south of Gobowen a footpath traces the Dyke to Hen Dinas or Old Oswestry in the south-east corner of the parish.

Gobowen is also the home of the hospital founded by Shropshire's own Dame Agnes Hunt, which has over the years done so much in the field of orthopaedics. Dame Agnes Hunt was born at Baschurch, and as a child suffered from osteomyelitis which left her a cripple. Despite this, she trained as a nurse and eventually opened her own convalescent home for crippled children in Baschurch. After the outbreak of the First World War wounded soldiers were sent to Baschurch, and at the end of the War the hospital moved to a former Army camp on the outskirts of Gobowen, and many are the disabled people of today who owe a great debt to this hospital which not only helped them overcome their disabilities but has also taught them crafts.
The memorial to Dame Agnes Hunt reads:- "Reared in suffering thou shalt know How to solace others' woe. The reward of pain doth lie In the gift of sympathy."

In the west of the parish, where the landscape leans more towards Wales than England, is the village of Selattyn. The church in Selattyn is dedicated to St. Mary and is believed to be mainly 15th-century with 18th-century additions and improvements. With the hills in the background it is hard to believe that this peaceful spot is where a certain embarrassment to the Government of the day was once banished. The person in question was Dr. Saacheverell. He seems to have been a perfectly ordinary person who became the victim of circumstances when his impassioned sermon was publicised extensively, which shot him into the public's eye. He became something of a hero and the more the Government tried to suppress him the more the public supported him.

The name Selattyn is said, in an amusing tale, to be derived from a schoolmaster to moved to the village, and to promote his services he put up a sign above his door which read: "I Sell Latin"

To the west of the village is Selattyn Hill with a monument to local heroes who fell in a battle between the Saxons and the Briton. It is said that the views from the hill are magnificent. On the west side of the hill, again with magnificent views, Offa's Dyke crosses the hill. There was an obvious strategic advantage in building the dyke up and over the hill, and some say that it is at points like Selattyn Hill that it can be deduced that Offa's Dyke may have, in places, utilised earlier defensive dykes.

Further south in the parish is the former Oswestry race-course. Its course can still be clearly seen, and tales are told of Squire (Mad Jack) Mytton, and his many horses from Halston in the neighbouring parish of Whittington, who raced here.