North West Shropshire

Welshampton lies to the north-east of Ellesmere on the Welsh border, and perhaps suffers a little from having the sometimes busy A495 passing through the village. When the church was first opened, it was described as "One of the prettiest specimens of ecclesiastical architecture of the this or any other county can boast." Perhaps it is still true today that the views of local newspaper reporters simply echo the views and opinions of its readers, but some might feel that their description of the church was a little "over-the-top"!

Around the time the church was opened a burial took place many thousands of miles from the deceased's birthplace, for the man in question was no less a person than the son of the King of Basutoland. This unfortunate young man was visiting Welshampton whilst studying in England when he was taken ill and died. One hopes it wasn't the result of drinking the water!

The town of Wem is some ten miles north of Shrewsbury, and there is little in the town today to hint at its turbulent past. Wem was chosen as a garrison for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, and one can imagine that being so close to Shrewsbury, Wem was a continual thorn in the Royalist side, and the constant threat of attack led a Parliamentarian news-sheet to declare, somewhat sarcastically, that a fortified Wem and the presence of Parliamentarian troops in the county was 'somewhat offensive and prejudicial to the ladies of Shrewsbury who, by this means. are prevented of taking the fresh air and repairing to their country habitation, by which it is presumed their blood will wax pale, and they frustrate of that delectable recreation as the county might afford them."

West Felton is a parish and village once cut by the old A5. The original hub of Feltone, as it was mentioned in the Domesday Book, was a little way from the main road, gathered in quietude around the former castle, Norman church and manor house.

At the northern end of the village is a new and tasteful housing estate built in the grounds of a former 18th century house. This was once the home of John Dovaston who was a keen collector of plants and trees. Standing in this housing estate is one of his most famous which was bought from a passing tinker in 1777 which he planted so that its roots would shore up the sandy sides of a well. Many are the offspring, planted the world over, from this single cultivor which, perhaps due to the exotic trees around it and the love of John Dovaston, took on an appearance different from the common yew.

Across the new bypass stands St. Michael's Church with 12th century Norman origins still visible, a 16th century roof, an eighteenth century tower and 19th century additions. It stands close to the site of a former castle, a grassy motte now the only reminder of its former existence.

Further to the west stands the township of Woolston which is famous for its site of St. Winifred's Well. Legend has it that a prince cut off Winifred's head when she rejected his advances. The murder took place at what is now Holywell, in Flint , where a spring developed on the spot where the deed took place. Later, the relics where transported from North Wales to Shrewsbury Abbey, and on their way rested at Woolston where another spring developed which was reputed to be excellent for curing sore eyes and healing wounds, bruises and even broken bones.

Weston Rhyn is that parish in the extreme north-west of the county which I doubt most people have ever really visited, other than skirting its parish boundary on the A5 heading north into Wales. The western boundary of the parish, which is also the county boundary, follows the line of Offa's Dyke as it mutely marches across the rural countryside. Legend has it that the Dyke was made in a single night by the Devil himself with a plough pulled by a gander and a turkey-cock. The Dyke in effect marks a dynastic boundary of the Mercian kings and was built by King Offa to mark an agreed border with the Welsh in an attempt to bring peace to the region.

Of the many crossing places between Shropshire and neighbouring counties or countries, Weston Rhyn must have four of the most spectacular. First is the old A5, which dips down the hillside into the valley to cross the river, then sweeps up the Welsh hillside into Chirk. Further downstream is the new A5 crossing on a bridge which gives spectacular views of the valley far below. A little way upstream from the old road crossing, both rail and canal cross the river in spectacular style on multi-arched viaducts. The railway viaduct is the highest and youngest, having been built in 1846-8. The aqueduct was the work of Thomas Telford and was built in 1796-1801, towards the end of the country's era of 'canal

Whittington can be found just off the A5 to the north of Oswestry. It is Whittington Castle to which most of the village's history is attached. The castle was started by Roger de Montgomery after the Norman Conquest, and has recently been linked with Fulk Fitz Warine on whom the Legends of Robin Hood were based. (See Shropshire's Secrets). A mile to the east stands Halston Hall, former home of Shropshire's best-remembered sportsman and drunkard, Squire Mad Jack Mytton. He died at the age of 38, having packed into his short life more escapades, adventures and exploits than a dozen men would in a full lifespan.

The parish of Whixall lies just north of Wem on the Welsh border, and was always a rather wet, boggy area until modern draining methods did something towards reclaiming the land for agricultural purposes. For centuries peat was cut here for fuel, the blocks of peat sometimes being referred to as Whixall bibles. This industry, for fuel at least, seems to have died out. By all accounts the smell of peat burning on a cottage fire is one to be remembered.

The Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal cuts through the north-west of the parish with the mainly derelict Prees branch heading south. A little way down the Prees branch lies Whixall Marina. It is a rather pleasant spot and a sign indicating a marina deep in the Shropshire countryside can come as a surprise to those not prepared for it.

The village of Whixall is generally described as a large, scattered community but the scattering is such that the village is hard to define. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Witchala but
it it not clear what the derivation is. The church is dedicated to St. Mary and was built in the mid-19th century. It is quite a plain red-brick structure but with a simple charm of its own.

Wollaston is a tiny rural parish on the Welsh border to the west of Shrewsbury. It is cut by the A458 Shrewsbury to Welshpool road. Without a doubt, the parish's most famous character is "Old" Thomas Parr. He was reputed to have been 152 years old when he died and has the distinction of being buried in Westminster Abbey. He was a man of the earth and worked the land all his life, even at the age 145! His diet, perhaps the secret of his longevity, was simply; rancid cheese, coarse hard bread, and small drink, generally whey. He never smoked or needed medicine and was never examined by a doctor, until after his death when the scientist and physician, William Harvey, examined his body and declared all his organs to be perfectly healthy.