Withington: A history of the Village and Parish, published 1950

THE VILLAGE AND PARISH OF WITHINGTON, SHROPSHIRE

Short Guide produced on the occasion of the Withington Local History Exhibition, December 1950

WITHINGTON today is a compact village of just over two hundred inhabitants, situated five miles east of Shrewsbury, half—way to Wellington, but not on the main route by road, nor touched by the railway. In area the parish is one of the smallest in the County. Its boundaries on the south and east are defined by the rivers Tern and Roden; on the north there is an irregular line made by watercourses and the edges of fields; on the west the boundary runs in a straight line for more than a mile and a quarter. From the highest point in the parish — only some 200 feet above sea level - the view is dominated from the south-east by the great hog-back hill of the Wrekin; further away to the south may be seen the outlines of the Shropshire Hills. Due west lie the Breiddens, but masking these from view is Haughmond Hill. Northward stretches the Shropshire plain, diversified by eminences such as the hill of Hawkstone.

The archaeological and historical records of the parish give no grounds for supposing a settlement earlier than Saxon times, but it is possible that the Iron Age inhabitants from their Hill Fort on the Wrekin passed this way on their hunting or raiding excursions. Many other Hill Forts like that on the Wrekin are to be found round about, for example Caer Caradoc, Pontesford Hill and the Breidden.

In Roman times an important strategic road led from Viroconium (now Wroxeter, a few miles south of Withington) to Deva, a Legionary Fortress (now Chester). Viroconium was the Tribal Capital of the Cornovii. The significantly straight stretch on the western parish boundary of Withington when linked with roads and field edges on the same line to the north and south (Drury Lane is an example in the parish) produces a convincing line for the Roman road. It should be possible to prove this by conducting a small-scale excavation at some point on the course indicated by the maps and aerial photographs. If the inference is correct, it means that when the limits of the village and parish were first laid down, the Roman road was already in existence, and, even if in decay, was a sufficiently recognisable landmark to form the western boundary. The nearness of Viroconium, a city which Professor Atkinson estimates to have contained some 5000 inhabitants in the Second Century A.D., suggests that Roman relics may yet be found in the soil of withingtun.

For the earliest organised settlement of Withington, however, we must look to the period when Rome was no longer in control of the Province of Britain. The Anglo-Saxon invaders, moving westwards and fighting many a battle with the existing inhabitants of the land were beginning to found their settlements along the valleys of the Tern and Roden. Cynddylan, an ancient Prince of Powys celebrated in early Welsh poetry, is said to have been slain near Withington in one such armed clash. lt was the Saxons who gave the place its name of Withington - the 'tun' or enclosure in the willows (Old English 'withing‘ meaning a willow or withy). They cleared the land and brought it under cultivation, building themselves stockade villages. This area lay in the west of the kingdom of Mercia and escaped the Danish invasions.

ln Edward the Confessor‘s time, just before the Norman Conquest, the Manor was worth fifteen shillings per annum (in money of that period L It was divided into arable land demesne and was held jointly by Ulwin and Uluric. After the Conquest it was granted to Earl Roger of Montgomery and was held by Fulcuius who, according to Domesday, "found it waste" The Domesday spelling of the village is 'WIENTONE'.

The Manor passed to Roger titz Henry, an ancestor of the Haughtons, and about 1170 he granted the Mill of Withington and a fishery on the Tern to Haughmond Abbey. This Abbey had been founded about 35 years earlier by William Fitz Alan for Canons Regular of the Order of Saint Augustine. It later acquired further lands in Withington by gift or purchase, and continued in ownership until it was dissolved by King Henry VIII’s Commissioners in 1541.

There are a number of Mediaeval documents which contain a reference to Withington. One of these is the “lNQUISITION POST MORTEM OF THOMAS DQ HAUGHTON“ 1282 A.D. This is an example of the customary return made to the King on the death of a manorial lord and formed the basis of assessment for the amount payable to the Crown on inheritance. It gives details of the lands held at Withington by the deceased Thomas.

The earliest mention of the church is in the year 1150 but the mediaeval building has disappeared; it was rebuilt completely in 1870, to the design of G.E. Street, during the incumbency of John Halke. The lines of the present church are plain without being severe. The deep red of its sandstone walls form a pleasing contrast with the salmon-pink brick frontage of the Queen Anne Vicarage alongside. On the west side of the churchyard is the canal.

The Church is dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was originally a chapel of Upton Magna and the two livings have frequently been held by the same incumbent, Its chief glories are two 16th century brasses – one in memory of John Onley and his wife, Joan, and the other commemorating Adam Grafton, a former curate of Withington. These were transferred to the present building from the old one.

This Adam Grafton is probably the most important person who was connected with the village. He held a number of high offices in the church. including those of Archdeacon of Stafford and Dean of St Mary‘s College, Shrewsbury. As Warden of Battlefield he was responsible for the tower of Battlefield church where the words 'Maister Adam Grafton‘ may still be seen. He is also credited with the building of the steeple, clerestory and oak ceiling in St Mary‘s, Shrewsbury. Grafton was appointed rector of Uppington and Withington in 1494, but resigned the living of Uppington in 1529. He continued as curate of Withington, however, and settled in the village on his retirement. He was buried here on his death on 24th July, 1530.

There are two bells in the church which are reputed to be of silver and date probably from the 14th century. They are small, curiously shaped and bear no inscription, but they are mentioned in records as early as 1553.

The earliest volume of the Parish Records begins in 1591. This was a 'General‘ Register, that is, it contained entries of baptisms, burials and marriages. A second volume was begun in 1713 and this lasted until 1784. After that date two registers were kept, one for baptisms and burials and another for marriages; in 1813 a separate one was begun for burials. These records sometimes contain references to national events but their main interest to us is in the families of the parish and their names.

Churchwardens‘ Accounts began to be kept in 1776, The origin of accounts of this kind is uncertain; They were primarily concerned with the upkeep of the church, but we find many items concerned with the upkeep of the poor, a problem which had become widespread by the Seventeenth Century, owing to the increasing numbers and movement of the population generally.

Another well known incumbent of Withington was James Smith, minister during the Commonwealth, who survived the Restoration and continued to officiate until 1684. The Corbet Brownes, father and son, held the living for over a hundred years between them and their monuments are in the church. They are said to have been important landowners and farmers in the parish. Withington is now a perpetual curacy, the patron being the rector of Upton Magna.

Withington has always been secluded and rural in character and the spectacular events of history have passed it by. From the time for which statistics are available, it can be seen that the population has not varied widely. ln 1676 there were 91 'conformists‘ above the age of 16 in the parish. In the census of 1801 the total population was 170. By 1831 this had increased to 193 and by 1841 it was 219. At the latest census in 1931 it was 217.

The Shrewsbury branch of the Shropshire Union Canal passes right through the parish and has had to be bridged four times. Just before the time of the railways the passage of barges carrying coal and other heavy commodities must have provided some excitement for the villagers.

The railway, which reached Shrewsbury in 1849, came no nearer Withington than to Upton Magna and Walcot, both stations being two miles away in either direction along winding country lanes.

Today (1950) the village contains sixty-five houses, two only of these having been erected in recent years. A fair number show timber-framing in black and white; in some cases this has been masked by later brick facading. The Manor Farm, a pleasing brick structure built, according to the inscription under the eaves, in 1710 is now owned by the Rural District Council and has been sub-divided in order to house two families.

There is one substantial house built during the Victorian era in 1875; this is marked on the Ordnance map as withington Hall. In the centre of the village, opposite the Inn and the Shop-cum-Post—Office, stands the Forge. In this quaint timbered building one can still see the tools of the blacksmith laid out in meticulous order around the anvil, and through the gloom the great bellows can be discerned. The forge is not much used today, but it is said that in the time of Telford some of the links for the Menai Suspension Bridge were forged here. There is no school nearer than Upton Magna or Alscott, and it is to these that most of the Withington children go.

The land is still the main preoccupation of the inhabitants. About half the fields are devoted to pasture and half to arable farming. Besides the older crops of wheat, barley, oats, mangolds, little kale, potatoes and carrots, there is the now important crop of sugar beet. In the last two decades Shropshire has become a great producer of sugar beet, a crop which otherwise is almost confined to the Eastern Counties. In late Autumn the country roads are traversed by lorries carrying the beet to the Refinery at Allscott, only a few miles from Withington. The bright lights of the factory are a landmark for miles around and the ever-smoking chimneys fill the countryside with the smell of boiling beet. Withington, in brief, presents a picture of the typical English village, unbroken in its continuity from the time of its Saxon founders, little moved by the rush and turmoil of modern life and world events. The original open—field system has given way to the enclosures; the expansion lf the parish on its northern boundary may be traced today from a study of the outlines and names of the fields.

In place of the Norman Lords of the Manor we find independent farmers and smallholders. Haughmond Abbey is in ruins; its former possessions passed into other hands four centuries ago. The canal is but a picturesque stretch of stagnant water, its surface now broken only by a pair of swans. The only place of worship in the parish still remains the church.

Grateful acknowledgements are made to all who have contributed information towards the production of this guide, especially to the Reverend R.F.Edwards, Vicar of Withington, Miss E.M.Jancey, Assistant County Archivist, Mr W.J.Slack of Shrewsbury, Miss L.F.Chitty of Pontesbury and Mr A.Kelsall of Withington.

JOINT EDITORS: JOHN L.HOBBS (Chairman) & DONALD MOORE (Hon.Secretary) THE SHROPSHIRE LOCAL HISTORY COUNCIL

December 1950
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