Cultural Heritage

Old railway bridge at Pontesford

The heritage significance is influenced by human history in the area and this is a special landscape in terms of the survival of archaeology, with evidence of the land having been worked by humans since the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago. The influence of humans has survived in this landscape more than in many other areas, with some of the remains of border turbulence, centuries of strife, mining and farming apparent for all to see, and others needing a more trained eye.

Much of the area in Wales and some of the area in England are within the Vale of Montgomery Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest due to:-

“A high concentration of defensive works from the prehistoric to the medieval periods, providing ample evidence of the historical struggle for territory so typical of Welsh history.”

This is one of the few cross border Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest areas and demonstrates the commonality across the border. There is an aspiration for these areas to become statutory designations in the future.

Stone has been used by humans since pre-historic times, with stone circles, forts, cairns and evidence of an axe factory on Corndon, amongst the remains. Evidence of prehistoric mining is sketchy but it is felt that copper mining was likely on the western flanks of the Long Mynd. One of the finest moulds for casting tools and weapons in the early Bronze Age in England, was found at Whalleybourne near Pontesford Hill and had four faces for six objects: five axes and a rod or awl.

There is an Iron Age hillfort at Roveries Wood that is one of the earliest known settlement sites in Shropshire and there is evidence that human activity predates the fort by some 2,000 years, going back to the Neolithic era. Earl’s Hill also has an impressive Iron Age hillfort, built about 600BC.

At the end of the 8th Century King Offa of Mercia and his armies fought with the British, who fled to the unassailable strongholds of the Welsh mountains, and he then established Offa’s Dyke just a few miles away. The reasons for building the dyke where it is are unclear but the presence of rich lead mines may have influenced the decision. Continuing skirmishes mean the border has moved many times before settling into its current position around 500 years ago.

The village of Chirbury is thought to have originated as an Anglo-Saxon ‘burh’ and be the village referred to by Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians in AD915, called Cyricbyrig. The importance of this village at the head of the Rea and Camlad valleys is thought to be partly to deter Viking excursions into the Upper Severn Valley. The church of St Michael was an Anglo Saxon minister church, thought to have originated at the beginning of the tenth century. It became a priory for Augustinian canons in around 1200. The small villages of Churchstoke and Hyssington each began or became Mercian settlements in the period between 7th and early 11th Centuries.

When the Normans invaded they met stiff resistance in the area led by Edric Sylvaticus, or Wild Edric. He besieged the Normans at Shrewsbury and burnt down part of Roger de Montgomery’s unfinished fortifications, but was later forced back and eventually made peace with King William, much to the resentment of other, more loyal Saxon Lords. Wild Edric is remembered locally in a number of legends.

Following continued turbulence at the border, King William settled some of his most lawless and warlike followers to the Shropshire Hills as ‘Marcher Lords’, granting them privileges and any land they could conquer from the British. They were not subject to English law, however, and often fought each other as well as the Welsh.

Welsh forces under the command of brothers Llewellyn Ap Gruffudd (Llewellyn the Great) and his brother David captured some of the Marcher Lord fortresses in 1282 but were killed shortly afterwards. The Marcher Lords continued to rule the area until Henry VIII passed the “Acts of Union” with Wales in 1536 and 1543.

There are some significant medieval monuments in the scheme area, including the Mottes and Baileys at Hockleton and Hyssington. There are many impressive medieval houses such as Rorrington and Minsterley Halls. Medieval field systems remain and there is a particularly good example near Wentnor. The history of farming is illustrated with examples of piecemeal enclosures of the 16th Century and Parlimentary Enclosures which date from the 1850s. Commons still exist at Stapeley, the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd.

Sunken green lanes, drovers roads, ancient hedgerows and characteristic stone banks are found across the area and are worthy of further study and interpretation. Parallel tracks lead south-west to north- east across the top of the three ridges: Stapeley and Corndon, the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd and would have been used for moving livestock, local people and armies over the centuries.

Mining has been important in the area since Roman times and remained so until the 1950s, with many relics of lead, copper and barytes mining remaining. There are a number of significant sites. Roman Gravels lead mine is an Scheduled Ancient Monument, dating from around AD120. Pigs of lead imprinted with the name Emperor Hadrian have been found there, along with pottery and Roman coins. According to the Schedule of Monument for Roman Gravels lead mine:-

“Mining was certainly taking place in the 12th Century, when sheriff’s records mention “the King’s miners at Shelve” and during the 13th Century the mine provided lead for Glastonbury Abbey”

John Lawrence and Co. ran Roman Gravels from 1784. The mine became famously productive in the 1870s, striking rich veins at depth, but became a victim of a slump in European lead prices and closed in 1895.

Snailbeach Mine was a major lead mine in Europe in the 19th Century with some very rich veins, and Huglith Mine was one of the most productive barytes mines in the country (and might have been the largest, though this is not proven); it produced more barytes than anywhere else in the UK between the two World Wars. Farming remained important, with many local people preferring to be referred to as farmers than miners. Other miners came to the area from Derbyshire, Cornwall and North Wales and many stayed after the mines closed, adding to the diversity of the communities. Underground working at Snailbeach Mine ceased in 1955, with a limited amount of surface working for calcite for pebble dashing etc continuing until the 1980s. The mine was restored in the 1990s and is now owned by Shropshire Council and managed by the Shropshire Mines Trust as a museum where people can still go underground and get a taste of the conditions the miners faced. Other engine houses and mining relics have been restored, but others such as the Tankerville Mine and 1784 Engine House (Pontesford Colliery) are still under threat. Tankerville Mine, now owned by the Shropshire Mines Trust, has the deepest mine shaft in Shropshire at 1,690ft. Coal was mined around Pontesford and used to smelt the lead from Snailbeach Mine in the mid 19th Century, and an extensive ropeway system was developed to transport barytes from the hills initially to the railway at Malehurst before, later, running to a grinding mill (to which a second ropeway also ran). The Bog ropeway also carried coal back up to the mines to fuel the steam engines.

One final economic mineral just creeps into the scheme’s area where the northern boundary at Pontesbury crosses the southern portion of the Hanwood coalfield.  Though very limited in area, thickness and quality the coal was, prior to the coming of the railway in 1861, of some local importance not least as the fuel for smelting the local lead in smelt-houses at Pontesford, Pontesbury and Maleshurt.  Significant coal mining ceased during the 1860s, though there were unsuccessful attempts to revive the industry until the end of the century.

One of the former local schools for the mining district is now a visitor centre. The Bog Centre is managed by volunteers to interpret the area and provide tea and cakes. It is still seen as a focal point for the area and is the only visitor centre.

Squatters’ cottages are characteristic of the mining areas of the Shropshire Hills, and Natural England has recently completed the restoration of two of these at Blakemoorgate on the Stiperstones. They have been stabilised and an outbuilding converted to become an education facility for local school children.

Some estates still exist, with extensive parklands associated with Linley Hall and smaller estates such as Gatten and Rorrington. Much of the land on Corndon and Stapeley and many of the buildings in and around the village of Chirbury are owned by the Earl of Powis.

All the mining activity meant there would have been significantly more people in the area in the 19th Century. This, and the nature of the work, was reflected in the number of pubs in the area, most of which have now closed. The few that remain still reflect the mining history, with the Old Miners’ Arms at Priest Weston and The Nag’s Head (associated with the Nag’s Head Mine) at Pontesbury amongst them. There were also a number of chapels, which are unusual in the areas outside the mines. A few shops exist in the area but most people shop in Bishop’s Castle, Tuffins supermarket at Churchstoke, or for more choice, the larger towns of Shrewsbury, Welshpool and Newtown. The only scheduled public transport service in the area is between Shrewsbury and Minstereley approximately every 40 mins and to Bishop’s Castle, which runs every 2 hours, Monday to Saturday with reduced Sunday service. The Shropshire Hills Shuttles run from Easter to end September on weekends and Bank Holiday Mondays. This is a tourism service that connects Pontesbury and Minsterley to the Stiperstones and Long Mynd.

Today, the main publicly visited heritage interests include the Bog Centre, Snailbeach Mine, Mitchell’s Fold stone circle and the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve but there is much more to see, understand and enjoy.

In more recent years established families from both sides of the Welsh – English border have been joined by people from around the country looking for a more tranquil way of life. These include the early retired, commuters and people with young families wanting to escape the rat race. There are also some Eastern European workers, notably from Poland, who have come to the area to work for two of the larger employers – Uniq Creamery at Minsterley and Tuffins supermarket at Churchstoke. The area continues to be a melting pot of people from different backgrounds with different perspectives on the landscape and the communities it supports.