all in a name
This short series of articles considers some of the place-names in Shrewsbury and the reasons for those names. These articles are all written by Martina Chamberlain. Simply scroll down the page until you reach the articles you are interested in.
(Article first appeared Winter 2018)
An elegant terrace of early nineteenth century houses that would not look out of place in Kingsland stands lost in the middle of post-war housing. This impressive row of five Georgian redbrick three-storey houses with roofs of Welsh slate was the original Mount Pleasant. And the failed property venture of ironmaster William Hazledine, who supplied the ironwork to the Flaxmill.
In the 1830s he bought a countryside site that belonged to the Shropshire hunt kennels – known as Dog Kennel – and hoped the stylish houses he built there would be the first step in creating a swanky new suburb to the north of Shrewsbury. However, it never caught on – Holywell Terrasse and eventually Kennedy Road assumed that role – but instead gave its name to the whole area.
The canal had arrived in the late part of the eighteenth century and in 1858 the railway dissected the areas of Mount Pleasant and Ditherington. The terrace stood alone through this period and into the twentieth century, apart from a few small speculator cottages. These were demolished in the 1950s to make way for the ‘modern’ housing that now engulfs it, in the housing boom that followed the Second World War. The terrace “Old Mount Pleasant” is grade II listed.
(Article first appeared Spring 2019)
The origin of the name of Kingsland is uncertain but it is likely that it was Crown land that was gifted to the town corporation. In the late eighteenth century, it was described as 27 acres, also known as the Common, that belonged to the burgesses. It formed a green and pleasant plateau, south of the river and high above the town.
A key feature of the common was its association with the Shrewsbury guilds and Show, which dates back to 1591.
Eleven guilds leased small plots from the corporation and built themselves single storey ‘arbours’ or small halls (originally known as harbours) where the mayor and members of the corporation were entertained on the day of the Show, and possibly at other times too. They included bakers, blacksmiths, saddlers, butchers, carpenters and hatters, skinners and glovers, shearmen, shoemakers, tailors and weavers.
The Show had its origins in the pre-Reformation Festival of Corpus Christi, held originally on the Thursday after Whit Sunday. On this day all the religious and secular parts of Shrewsbury society paraded to church, and this was followed by celebrating and feasting.
The first arbours the guilds built were tent-like constructions, but became more substantial, made of brick, stone and wood over time. They were furnished with a long dining table and benches. At one end there was a platform where the invited dignitaries sat, and at the other a buttery where food was prepared. However, the wealthy drapers’ guild did not have an arbour and were never involved in the Show on Kingsland. They will have used their own Drapers Hall in St Mary’s Place for social functions.
The dominant building on the site was the foundling hospital, built in 1760 for the reception of orphans from Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital in London. In 1784 this became a Poor Law Workhouse, and subsequently a flannel mill. The building was later adapted to form part of Shrewsbury School. This moved to Kingsland in 1882, when the public schools commission recommended a move to more spacious accommodation.
Opened in the same year, the Kingsland Bridge was proposed to serve the upmarket properties now being built there, including masters’ houses. The Home Secretary had banned the Shrewsbury Show from using the site in 1878, partly because of this proposed development.
A grand Victorian suburb rapidly took shape, with a tramway laid specially to connect to the brick yards set up in Copthorne.
(Article first appeared Spring 2020)
There is nothing like a good story to give life to facts and make them memorable – and perhaps even win an argument – and Reverend EA Paddock in his short history of Meole Brace, written in the 1950s, asks us to imagine Welsh-speaking Britons working under the Romans on the roads running through the village and using the Welsh word ‘Moel’ (rhymes with ‘spoil’) which means ‘bare’ hill or rise. This was the lie of the land from the (Rea) brook forded by the Romans to the higher ground of Kingsland and Nobold, he says.
To prove his point, over others who favour the meaning of ‘mill’ – there was one until the late 19th century working on the Rea – in 1374 the village was known as Moelbraci. The latter part of the name comes from the Norman family De Bracy. Following a dispute over the manor and its lands with the de Mortimers, de Bracy triumphantly added his name to the village to avoid any future doubts. He demolished the Saxon manor house and built his castle on the site. How wonderful to find the frontier history of the Marches hiding in both parts of the village’s name.
During the Anglo-Saxon period the village had been known as Melham or ‘milltown’ when it grew to a large manor and village with lands that encompassed Nobold, Pulley and Edgebold.
There is evidence of the Roman road on Stanley lane that joined up with Mousecroft Lane, a Roman burial ground on Hereford Road, and the Roman ford over the brook was used until the 16th century. In 1811 a very bad storm destroyed a bridge of ‘tymbre’ and Thomas Telford engineer and county surveyor at the time built one of his earliest iron bridges to replace it. This was superseded by the present concrete one in 1932.
In the nineteenth century, historian Barry Trinder describes the village as inhabited largely by people on invested incomes or working directly or indirectly in agriculture. So, a moneyed class was present, but the essential life of the place was rural.
It was in 1930, when the ministry of transport bypass (one of the first in Britain) cut a swathe through the parish, that the twentieth century arrived. This caused the demolition of the village inn and smithy. A license was granted to a private house, the Brooklands, to replace the inn. It was around this time that Meole Crescent was built, providing almost a hundred houses “suitable to the needs of the average working man”.
With the bypass Bill Morris writes that the parish was jolted into the motor age. Still in 1930 villagers hung on doggedly to their separateness, voting against absorption into the borough of Shrewsbury that year – this only delaying the inevitable with car ownership accelerating suburban development. However, it could be said that the road has helped Meole Brace to retain its “feeling”, if not the fact, of separation from the rest of the town.
In the 1950s it was still a rural parish, councillor Bill Morris says, with village life centred around – what I think is – its exceptionally beautiful 19th century church. The Holy Trinity, built in 1869 in Redhill and Shelvock stone, has stained glass windows designed by Pre-Raphaelite painters Ford Madox Ford and Edward Burne Jones, and produced by William Morris. A local lad who had made his fortune in Canada provided much of the money to replace the rather unprepossessing 18th century church.
The writer Mary Webb who lived in the village from 1901 to 1912 was married there. Her father was a church warden.
In 1953 the borough Council, in its contribution to post war construction, began building the Money brook estate of 600 houses, across the Rea Brook from the old village. Apparently, road links were planned but not implemented, leading it to develop “its own social identity.” Meole Brace secondary school was opened in September 1956 to provide extra school places, while it was still being built. Land adjoining Washford Road was developed for housing in the 1970s.
In 1994 there was still enough provision in the village for self-sufficiency: a post office, butchers, grocers, hardware store and newsagents. Meole Brace retail park had arrived in 1992 but took a while to have an effect. In the twenty-first century none of these kinds of businesses remain in the village centre.
Meole Brace might now be a suburb of Shrewsbury with most of its surrounding green fields lost. But on a summer’s evening with the birdsong drifting through the leaded lights of the church’s lovely Trinity Centre and the peace and verdure of its ancient glebe field bewitching the air, you couldn’t be anywhere but in a village.