Shropshire and Everything After

When I started writing my PhD, I made a conscious decision to include North-West Shropshire with the parameters of my data collection. Which, on the face of it, doesn’t appear to be that exciting or ground breaking.

Apart from the small matter that Shropshire is in England and I was also looking at sites in Wales.

When I began reading round the topic I noticed how the Wales – England border defined the remit of book writers, even when the border, in this case, is a permeable construct. Families have, and will always live on both sides of the border for various reasons, so I failed to understand why the books stop when the archaeology, history, geology and topography don’t?


In some cases I do understand why. Books can be commissioned by national organisations, who by definition, have to stop at the border. But other books, not bound by this parameter, do not.

North-West Shropshire is an integral part of my study. Without reference to it, how would I understand the influences being passed by medieval families living both sides of the border?

Goods and Services also travelled across the border, and can now be found as archaeological finds or written records.

The research into the area around Wem, Oswestry, Whitchurch and Ellesmere is progressing very well, and I’m looking forward to be able to add the information I’ve collated to the already rich record. And as an example the medieval park at Coton near Whixall is perfect.

The park at Coton is mentioned in the Domesday Book. But then, for some reason, references are lacking. It may be that the park didn’t attract any paperwork, simply because the family who owned were not litigated against. Normally, a park only crops up in the record when somebody either breaks into it, or feels they should own part of it for one reason or another.

The park is mentioned in a Survey of 1561 – but appears by this date to be much reduced in size, and by 1833, it surrounded Coton Hall.


The park is still visible – the oval can be seen running to the west of Coton Hall, south to Coton Farm, north with Woodend Hall on the left and then round to Woodside Farm and Home Farm.

This one example also has some visible archaeology outside the park, whilst I was mapping this park I found a building close to Coton Farm.

Coton AP

The Red Circle highlights the foundations of a building, whilst the blue arrow is pointing at the south east boundary of Coton Park.

Further work will enable me to work out the relationship between these two monuments and add to the archaeology of North West Shropshire.


I’m Welsh…my Father had me tested…

When I began my PhD research in 2004, I was working as the researcher and archaeologist for a Welsh Language Television Series entitled ‘Tywysogion’. Seven one hour programmes examining the history and archaeology of the medieval princes of Wales from Hywel Dda (c.890-950) to Owain Glyn Dŵr (c.1346/56-c.1415/16).

Although the programmes have since been taken down from the online player, the website is still maintained http://www.s4c.co.uk/tywysogion/e_index.shtml and gives some idea of what the programme set out to achieve.

Part of my remit was to arrange the interviews with the various academics who would provide their perspective on the events and themes which were discussed in each programme. As someone who had spent time working away from academia in the commercial world of archaeology and surveying, some of the names were unfamiliar to me, particularly those people working in disciplines such as medieval Welsh literature.

As each interview was recorded, and as I read more about the history and archaeology of the period through the articles, journals, books that each person had published, one theme came through above all others.

That theme? How European in its outlook medieval Wales was.

For someone brought up on the Wales / England border, I found this fascinating. The teaching of medieval Wales when I attended a Welsh language secondary school in the 1980s felt like a very much ‘us’ and ‘them’ siege mentality.

We lost, they won…simple.

But it is so much more subtle than that…

In 2011 my father and I supplied DNA samples to a University of Sheffield project
http://shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/copper-mines/index after an appeal for contributors http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-14173910

As with such projects, analysis of the results takes a little time, but eventually my father received a e-mail from the project team. It turned out that our Patriarchal DNA showed we had lived in the Wrexham area for 1000 years. 1000 years!

So our ancestors had been here prior to the Norman Conquest and had watched the town of Wrexham growing and changing…they had survived the Edwardian Conquest, the Black Death and the revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr.

What I found most fascinating however was that their names must be somewhere in the medieval extents of Bromfield and Yale taken in 1315 and 1391. I use these every day as part of my research and I get a thrill out of knowing that I am writing about my ancestors and their lives, and that they knew the world was far wider than any distance they might have travelled in their individual lifetimes.


Tweeting isn’t only for the birds…

You might have read last week’s post about Cefn Park near Wrexham (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521) https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/patterns-in-the-palimpsest/ and how I identified that it dates back to at least the turn of the thirteenth century.

However, I made a mistake in attributing its ownership, and I’ll explain how and why this week.

After completing my blog post, I sat back and thought I might carry on developing a theme within my the introductory chapter of my PhD. So, I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. In the hallway between the Living Room and the Kitchen I have hanging up two old maps.

One is an original John Speed map of Denbighshire and Flintshire, left to me by my Paternal Grandfather, and the other is a hand-tinted Robert Morden map of Denbighshire, which came from the estate of my Maternal Grandfather. I look at them often, sometimes from inspiration and sometimes for motivation.

So, whilst the kettle boiled, I stood looking at the maps…and ever so slowly one of the many pennies which have dropped and I’m sure will continue to drop during this research, dropped.

How could the park have been disparked and then re-parked on the same boundaries? It was intact on the early 17th century maps, and so few of the parks I’ve been studying are actually recorded on the maps? With tea made, I went back through the sources.

As I wrote last week, the Extant of Bromfield and Yale was taken in 1315 for the new English Lord describing who owed what service to the him after he had replaced the Welsh Prince following the Edwardian Conquest of 1282-1283. One-fifth of Abenbury, within which Cefn Park is situated, is recorded as being held by the Queen (the wife of King Edward II). So, I tweeted Kathryn Warner, all round Edward II expert to ask her advice.

One of the other parks in my study area, that at Eyton, which I wrote about in https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/making-the-familiar-unfamiliar/ was given, in part, to Eleanor of Castile by her husband, King Edward I. Could the one-fifth of Abenbury mentioned actually be Cefn Park, and have been given to the Queen by her husband. It would explain why the new English Lord John de Warenne had to create two new parks at Holt and Glyn if he didn’t have access to Cefn Park.

Whilst I waited for Kathryn’s reply, I set to measuring. Cefn Park measures roughly 200 acres, and the area of Abenbury is 1,000 acres, so this calculation appears to correlate with the available evidence.

Kathryn got back to me, and said although she hadn’t come across this park specifically, the grants of land to Eleanor, wife of King Edward II were scattered through several different sources and because of the mangling of Welsh words, it might take someone who spoke Welsh to spot it when it was found.

This then appears to be how the park survived the fourteenth century, as a Royal possession, before being granted to a favoured family in the following century. That this could happen elsewhere can be found in a document of 1318 for the park at Brynkir, one of the parks I found last year and which has recently been the news here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-23882385

The manor of ‘Dolpenmayn’ (in which the Park of Brynkir is situated) was one of those given by King Edward II to his son and daughter ‘for their sustenance’. The relevant blog post by Kathryn Warner is here: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/edward-iis-daughters-eleanor-and-joan.html

I’m pleased that I was able to work out how these Parks all relate to each other, and also how historians and archaeologists can work together to answer questions about the medieval world.