Whitchurch, Shropshire

Whitchurch is a market town in the civil parish of Whitchurch Urban, in the north of Shropshire, England. It lies 2 miles (3 km) east of the Welsh border, 2 miles south of the Cheshire border, 20 miles (30 km) north of the county town of Shrewsbury, 20 miles (30 km) south of Chester, and 15 miles (24 km) east of Wrexham. At the 2021 Census, the population of the parish was 10,141.[1] Whitchurch is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire.[2] Notable people who have lived in Whitchurch include the composer Sir Edward German, and illustrator Randolph Caldecott.

Black Bear Inn,
at the junction of Church Street and High Street
Whitchurch is located in Shropshire
Location within Shropshire
Population10,141 (2021)
OS grid referenceSJ541415
Civil parish
  • Whitchurch Urban
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townWhitchurch
Postcode districtSY13
Dialling code01948
PoliceWest Mercia
AmbulanceWest Midlands
UK Parliament
List of places
52°58′08″N 2°40′55″W / 52.969°N 2.682°W / 52.969; -2.682

History edit

Early times edit

There is evidence from various discovered artefacts that people lived in this area about 3,000 BC. Flakes of flint from the Neolithic era were found in nearby Dearnford Farm.[3]

Roman times edit

Originally a settlement founded by the Romans about AD 52–70 called Mediolanum (lit. "Midfield" or "Middle of the Plain"), it stood on a major Roman road between Chester and Wroxeter. It was listed on the Antonine Itinerary but is not the Mediolanum of Ptolemy's Geography, which was in central Wales. Local Roman artefacts can be seen at the Whitchurch Heritage Centre.[4]

In 2016, archaeologists discovered the remains of a Roman wooden trackway, a number of structural timbers, a large amount of Roman pottery and fifteen leather shoes during work on a culvert in Whitchurch.[5] In 2018, a collection of 37 small Roman coins was unearthed at Hollyhurst near Whitchurch. The small denomination, brass or copper alloy coins, known as Dupondii and Asses, were from the reign of the Emperor Trajan, AD 98–117. Some dated back to between AD 69–79 from the time of Emperor Vespasian.[6]

Æthelflæd may have had an Anglo-Saxon fortification or fortified settlemen ('Burgh') at Whitchurch, understood to be the Saxon place Weardbyrig

Anglo-Saxon times edit

Certain sources suggest that St. Alkmund, the son of Alhred, King of Northumbria (d. c. 800) was first buried in Whitchurch;[7] he was certainly first buried in Shropshire.[8]

It has been suggested that Whitchurch is Weardbyrig, which is the site of a Saxon Burh of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great Lady of the Mercians which would have been operational in the early 900s CE.[9]

Norman and Medieval edit

In 1066, Whitchurch was called Westune ('west farmstead'), probably for its location on the western edge of Shropshire, bordering the north Welsh Marches. Before the Norman conquest of England, the area had been held by Harold Godwinson. After the conquest, Whitchurch's location on the marches would require the Lords of Whitchurch to engage in military activity.[10]

By the time it was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086), Whitchurch was held by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey,[10] and Roger de Montgomery.[11] It was part of the hundred of Hodnet.[12] There was a castle at Whitchurch, possibly built by the same Earl of Surrey,[13] which would predate the birth of Ralph. The Domesday Book estimates that the property was worth £10 annually, having been worth £8 in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066).

The surrounding hamlets became townships and Dodtune ('the settlement of Dodda's people') is now fully integrated into Whitchurch as Dodington. The first church was built on the hill in AD 912. After the Norman Conquest a motte and bailey castle and a new white Grinshill stone church were built. Westune became Album Monasterium ('White Church'). The name Whitchurch is from the Middle English for "White Church", referring to a church constructed of white stone in the Norman period. The area was also known as Album Monasterium and Blancminster,[10] and the Warennes of Whitchurch were often surnamed de Albo Monasterio in contemporary writings.[14] It is supposed that the church was built by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey.[15]

In 1377 the Whitchurch estates passed to the Talbot family. It was sold by the Talbots to Thomas Egerton, from whom it passed to the earls of Bridgwater and eventually to Earl Brownlow.[16]

Henry ("Hotspur") Percy was briefly buried in Whitchurch

After the Battle of Shrewsbury, the body of Hotspur was taken by Thomas Neville, 5th Baron Furnivall, to Whitchurch for burial. However, when rumours circulated that Percy was still alive, the king "had the corpse exhumed and displayed it, propped upright between two millstones, in the market place at Shrewsbury".[17]

The town was granted market status in the 14th century.

Lords of Whitchurch edit

William fitz Ranulf is the earliest individual of the Warenne family recorded as the Lord of Whitchurch, Shropshire, first appearing in the Shropshire Pipe Roll of 1176.[10] In 1859, Robert Eyton considered it likely that Ralph, son of William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, was the father of William and that he first held that title.[18] However, other theories have been put forward.[19]

During the reign of Henry I in the 12th century, Whitchurch was in the North Division of Bradford Hundred which by the 1820s was referred to as North Bradford Hundred.[20] In the 18th Century many of the earlier timber-framed buildings were refaced in the more fashionable brick. New elegant Georgian houses were built at the southern end of the High Street and in Dodington.

The replacement third church collapsed in July 1711 and the present Queen Anne parish church of St Alkmund was immediately constructed to take its place. It was consecrated in 1713.

As dairy farming became more profitable Whitchurch developed as a centre for Cheshire cheese production. Cheese fairs were held on every third Wednesday when farm cheeses were brought into town for sale. Cheese and other goods could be easily transported to wider markets when the Whitchurch Arm of Thomas Telford's Llangollen Canal was opened in 1811. The railway station was opened in 1858 on the first railway line in North Shropshire, running from Crewe to Shrewsbury.

During the Second World War a secret Y station for enemy signals interception operated in Whitchurch at the Old Rectory in Claypit Street, run by the Foreign Office.[21]

On 23 November 1981, an F1/T2 tornado passed through Whitchurch as part of the record-breaking nationwide tornado outbreak on that day.[22] The Whitchurch tornado was the longest-lived tornado of the entire outbreak, having first touched down 35 miles away in the south Shropshire village of Norbury. After passing through Whitchurch, the tornado dissipated.

Governance edit

Town edit

Whitchurch has its own town council which is responsible for street lights, parks and the civic centre which is located in the centre of the town. The council organises various events throughout the year including markets and the Christmas Lights.

In 1891 the civil parish had a population of 6647.[23] In 1894 the parish was abolished and split to form "Whitchurch Urban" and "Whitchurch Rural".[24]

County edit

The town is part of Shropshire Council which is the local authority for Shropshire (excluding Telford and Wrekin). It is a unitary authority, having the powers of a non-metropolitan county and district council combined. The residents of Whitchurch elect three councillors to this council.

National edit

The town is located within the North Shropshire parliamentary constituency. This constituency is largely rural with the main urban centres being Oswestry, Market Drayton and Whitchurch. It has been in existence since 1832 although it was abolished in 1885 but re-established in 1983. The residents of the constituency elect one MP; the seat is currently held by Helen Morgan (Liberal Democrats) who was elected in the 2021 North Shropshire by-election following the resignation of Owen Paterson (Conservative Party).

Landmarks edit

Bargates, Whitchurch
High Street shops, Whitchurch

Buildings edit

There are currently over 100 listed buildings in Whitchurch, including the churches detailed in the religion section lower down.[25]

St Alkmund's Church (rebuilt 1712–13) is a prominent landmark in the town and a Grade I listed building. Other notable landmarks include the former almhouses founded by Samuel Higginson (1697) and by the former girls' school founded by Jane Higginson (1708) and then the old Whitchurch Grammar School which was founded in 1548. The grammar school building dates from 1708 (Grade II listed) and was latterly used as an infants' school. Further buildings were added in 1848 and 1926. All have now been converted into apartments.[26]

Two of the oldest buildings in Whitchurch include the Old Eagles pub built in the 16th century and 17, 19 and 21 Watergate Street, otherwise known as Raven Yard Antiques. The properties 17, 19 and 21 Watergate were first built in 1625 and were called the Raven's Inn. Over the last four centuries, the Raven's Inn has seen a great deal of alteration but more recently has seen a significant part of the property restored to its original half timbered facade. 17-19 Watergate exists as a private property and 21 Watergate is now called Raven Yard Antiques, a family owned antiques business with a speciality in Victorian military uniforms.[27]

Streets edit

The street names in the town centre reflect the changing history of the town.

  • Roman: Pepper Street, a common name in former Roman settlements. It is a derivation of the Roman Via Piperatica, the street on which pepper and spices were sold.[28]
  • Norse: Several streets end in 'gate' which is Norse for street (e.g., Watergate, Highgate, Bargates). Watergate Street being named after the old Medieval or Roman Watergate which used to exist. Others refer to the castle which was located here (e.g., Castle Hill or Yardington referring to the castle yard).
  • Modern: Some refer to local industry (e.g., Claypit Street, clay was used for making bricks; Mill Street, named after the local water mill; and Bark Hill, bark was used for tanning.
Chemistry, Whitchurch

Place names edit

The areas of Whitchurch have interesting names. These include:

  • Dodington – this is derived from Dodtune (the settlement of the people of Dodda – a local Anglo-Saxon chieftain)[29]
  • Chemistry – this is derived from an oak-acid making business located nearby which was used in the tanning industry in the town[30]

Transport edit

Roads edit

Whitchurch has roads to Wrexham, Nantwich, Chester and Shrewsbury; the A41/A49 bypass opened in 1992. There are bus services from Whitchurch to surrounding settlements including Chester, Nantwich, Wrexham and Shrewsbury.[31]

Stub of the Whitchurch Arm of the Llangollen Canal

Railway edit

Whitchurch railway station is on the former London and North Western (later part of the LMS) line from Crewe down the English side of the Welsh border (the Welsh Marches Line) toward Cardiff. However, Whitchurch was once the junction for the main line of the Cambrian Railways, but the section from Whitchurch to Welshpool (Buttington Junction), via Ellesmere, Whittington, Oswestry and Llanymynech, closed on 18 January 1965 in favour of the more viable alternative route via Shrewsbury. Whitchurch was also the junction for the Whitchurch and Tattenhall Railway or Chester to Whitchurch branch line, another part of the London and North Western, running via Malpas. The line closed to regular services on 16 September 1957, but use by diverted passenger trains continued until 8 December 1963.

Canals edit

Whitchurch has its own short arm of the Llangollen Canal and the town centre can be reached by a walk of approximately 1 mile along the Whitchurch Waterways Country Park, the last stage of the Sandstone Trail. The Whitchurch Arm is managed by a charity group of local volunteers.[32]

Economy edit

Cape Town City Hall, Clock Tower, with its clock supplied by J. B. Joyce & Co. of Whitchurch

Historically the town has been the centre of cheese-making. Today Belton Cheese continues to be a major employer. It has been in existence since 1922.[33]

The major employer in the town now is Grocontinental, a logistics provider to the food industry, which employs over 350 people.[34] This family firm which was established in 1941 was taken over by the Dutch multinational AGRO Merchants in 2017,[35] which was then subsequently sold to Americold in December 2020, for a reported $1.74 billion[36]

The town also provides a range of services for the surrounding countryside of the North Shropshire Plain. The majority of retail stores in Whitchurch are small to medium-sized businesses concentrated in the High Street, Watergate street and Green End. There is a Tesco supermarket in the town centre (White Lion Meadow), a smaller Lidl store and a larger Sainsbury's supermarket in London Road. An Aldi store opened on the edge of town in 2020.[37]

The town was the home of the J. B. Joyce tower clocks company, established in 1690, the earliest tower clock-making company in the world,[38] which earned Whitchurch a reputation as the home of tower clocks. Joyce's timepieces can be found as far afield as Singapore, Kabul and Cape Town (see right). The firm also helped to build Big Ben in London. However, J. B. Joyce have now left and an auction house has moved into the building.[39] Whitchurch also has a local chamber of commerce recently retitled as the Whitchurch Business Group, an organisation setup with the aim of improving the town's business environment.[40]

By rail Whitchurch is within commuting distance of Liverpool and Manchester (both about one hour north) and Shrewsbury (30 minutes south).

Arts and culture edit

Whitchurch Heritage Centre

There are a wide range of arts and culture activities, festivals and facilities and societies in Whitchurch.

Cultural activities edit

  • Poetry Whitchurch run poetry activities throughout the year, including:

- Poetry Open Mic - new poetry performances, held on the third Monday of every month alternating between the Civic Centre and online

- Poetry discussion groups held roughly once every month at Sainsburys Barn

- Poetry development groups, held in person and online, mentoring and developing local poets

- Poetry Slams, spoken word competitions held once each year, where competitors take each other on to win a prize


Cultural venues and facilities edit

  • Alderford Lake - various cultural performances throughout the year
  • Bookshrop - local bookshop acting as a hub for many cultural activities
  • Whitchurch Civic Centre – hosts various performances throughout the year. It also contains a public library.[41]
  • Whitchurch Heritage Centre.[42]
  • Talbot Theatre – located in the Leisure Centre at the Sir John Talbot School.[43] It offers regular theatrical and musical events as well as film.
  • Doodle Alley.[44]
  • Whitchurch Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.[45]
  • Whitchurch Little Theatre Group on Facebook.

Festivals edit

  • Blackberry Fair[46]
  • Party in the Park
  • Whitchurch Food and Drink festival[47]

The periodic televised Sir Edward German Music Festival, hosted by St Alkmund's and St John's churches, also uses Sir John Talbot's Technology College as a venue. The first festival was held in 2006 and the second in April 2009. Participants have included local choirs and primary schools, including Prees, Lower Heath and White House, as well as internationally known musicians and orchestras.

Historic cultural activities edit

On 19 January 1963 The Beatles played in the old Town Hall Ballroom (now the location of the town Civic Centre). That night a recording of the group appeared on the television show Thank Your Lucky Stars, an appearance which changed their fortunes. "Please Please Me" had just been released as a single.[48]

Sport edit

Whitchurch Rugby Club[49] currently competes in the Midlands 1 West league, the sixth tier of English rugby. Founded in 1936, the club plays at Edgeley Park and has a full complement of mini rugby and junior teams as well as under-19s (Colts), a ladies team and four senior teams. In 1998–99, it was promoted to National Division Three North, a position it maintained until the 2002–03 season.

The local football club, Whitchurch Alport F.C., was founded in 1946. It is named after Alport Farm in Alport Road, which was the home of local footballer, Coley Maddocks, killed in the Second World War.[50] They were founder members of the Cheshire Football League and played in that league until 2012, before a spell in the Mercian Regional Football League. Since 2015, Whitchurch Alport has played in the North West Counties Football League premier Division.[51]

The Chester Road Bowling Club has been in existence since 1888. It was originally a bowling and tennis club. It has over 160 members and fields 23 teams (mostly men and women) in six different leagues.[52] Another bowling club, the Whitchurch and District, was founded in 1924.

Whitchurch Leisure Centre is located at the Sir John Talbot School on the edge of town. It offers a range of exercise facilities and classes.[53]

The Whitchurch Walkers is an active group of residents interested in walking and the protection of footpaths. It organises a range of events, including an annual walking festival.[54] The Sandstone Trail starts/end at the Whitchurch arm of the canal. It forms part of the Shropshire Way.[55]

On the northern edge of the town is the Macdonald Hill Valley Hotel, which has a fitness centre, a swimming pool and two golf courses.[56]

Since August 2019, Alderford Lake, just to the south of the town, has hosted a parkrun, which is a free, weekly timed 5 km run/walk, every Saturday morning at 9am.

Local media edit

Regional local news and television programmes are provided by BBC West Midlands and ITV Central. Television signals are received from the Wrekin TV transmitter.[57]

Local radio stations are BBC Radio Shropshire on 96.0 FM, Free Radio Black Country & Shropshire on 103.1 FM, Capital North West & Wales on 103.4 FM and Greatest Hits Radio Black Country & Shropshire on 107.1 FM.

The Whitchurch Herald and Shropshire Star are the town's local newspapers. [58][59]

Education edit

The Old Grammar School, Whitchurch
Whitchurch CE Junior School

Whitchurch has a long history of schools. Whitchurch Grammar School was established in 1548 by Rev Sir John Talbot, the Rector of Whitchurch in the 1540s. The school opened in 1550 making it one of the oldest schools in England. It was restricted to boys. Next door to it a school for girls was established. They both closed in 1936 and became part of the new Sir John Talbot’s School[citation needed] which is located on the edge of the town. It has about 500 students aged 11–18. This school is now part of the Marches Academy Trust.[60]

The main primary school in the town is Whitchurch CE Junior School, which has about 300 pupils aged 7–11.[61] Younger children attend Whitchurch CE Infant and Nursery School.[62]

There is an active branch of the University of the Third Age with over 350 members.[63]

Religion edit

St Alkmund's Church, Whitchurch

The town's most prominent place of worship is St Alkmund's Church of England parish church, built in 1712 of red sandstone on the site of a Norman church. It is a Grade I listed building. St Catherine's in Dodington was built in 1836 as a chapel of ease for St Alkmund's, which at that time was over-crowded. It is Grade II listed,[64] but ceased to be used for worship in the 1970s. It featured in the 1995 BBC One Foot in the Past programme,[65] when it was being used as a builder's store. It has now been converted into apartments.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, preached in Whitchurch on 18 April 1781.[66] St John's Methodist Church, built in 1879, stands on the corner of St John's Street and Brownlow Street.[66] It is Grade II listed.[67] The Wesleyan Chapel in St Mary's Street, which opened in 1810, closed shortly after St John's opened and is now the Whitchurch Heritage Centre. The Primitive Methodist Chapel in Castle Hill opened in 1866 and closed in the 1970s.

The Dodington United Reformed (formerly Congregational) Church (built in 1815 and Grade II listed[68]) is now closed, as is the Dodington Presbyterian Chapel (built in 1707). A Baptist chapel was built in Green End in 1820 but closed in 1939; it is now an antique showroom.[69]

St George's Catholic Church has been located in Claypit Street since 1878.[70]

Whitchurch Cemetery includes 91 Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burials: 24 from the First World War, in scattered plots, and 67 from the Second World War, mostly grouped in a CWGC section; 52 of the latter are Polish or Czechoslovak, as No. 4 Polish General Hospital was at Iscoyd Park just over the border in Wales.[71] The ashes of locally born composer Sir Edward German are also buried at the cemetery.[72]

Notable people edit

Early times edit

Sir John Talbot's effigy in St Alkmund's Church
This Is the House That Jack Built, a book illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

More modern times edit

Sport edit

Twin town edit

Whitchurch is twinned with

See also edit

References edit

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Sources edit