Much Wenlock

Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

WENLOCK (MUCH), a parish and borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a liberty, in the county of SALOP, 12 miles (S.E.) from Shrewsbury, and 148 (N.W.) from London, containing 2200 inhabitants. This town is of considerable antiquity; its British name was Llan Meillen, or "St. Corporate Seal. Milburgh's Church"; and in the Monasticon it is denominated Winnica, or "the windy place". Its early importance was derived from the establishment of a convent, about 680, by Milburga, daughter of King Merwald, and niece of Wolphere, King of Mercia, who presided as abbess, and at her death was interred here. Having been destroyed by the Danes, it was restored by Leofric, Earl of Mercia, in the time of Edward the Confessor, after which it fell into decay. It was rebuilt, or repaired, by Roger de Montgomery, soon after the Conquest, who largely endowed it, converted it into a priory for Cluniac monks, and dedicated it to St. Milburga: at the dissolution, the revenue was valued at £434. 1. 2.

The ruins, which are situated on the south side of the town, are extensive, and present every variety of the most finished specimens of the latest Norman, and the early and decorated styles of English, architecture. Of the church, the south transept is in the most perfect state: the end tod side walls, including the triforium and clerestory windows, are standing, and exhibit the purest specimens of elegant design and elaborate execution; one Wall of the north transept also is remaining, in which is a continuation of the same details; the bases of the four massive piers which supported the tower, and of those which separated the aisles from the nave and choir, are still uncovered by turf, and mark out the ground-plan of a cathedral, which, for its magnificence and elegant decoration, scarcely had its equal in the kingdom. Three beautiful Norman arches, highly ornamented, form an entrance to the chapter-house, the Walls of which are embellished with successive series of intersecting arches, with clustered columns of exquisite design. Two of the cloisters also remain in a very perfect state; the one of the lighter decorated style, with a lofty ceiling, richly groined, and ornamented with slender shafts terminating in corbels on the walls; the other of the more massive, but finished Norman style, with low clustered pillars ranged upon circular plinths.

The town is situated in a pleasant vale, and consists principally of one long street, from which another diverges at right angles; the houses are in general of brick, and well built, several of them being modern and handsome, with many cottages of stone, with thatched roofs; the "streets are Macadamized, but not lighted; and the inhabitants are supplied with water by pump's attached to the houses. In the time of Richard II. this place was noted for lime quarries and copper mines; the former are still extensive; the latter are not now worked. The market, originally granted to the prior and brethren, is on Monday: fairs are held on the second Monday in. March, and May 12th, for horned cattle, horses, and sheep, and for hiring servants; July 5th, for sheep; and October 17th and December 4th, for horned cattle, horses, sheep, and swine.

Much-Wenlock enjoys many peculiar privileges, with a jurisdiction extending over seventeen parishes, and the extra-parochial district of Posenall, which constitute the liberty. By virtue of a charter of incorporation granted by Edward IV., in the seventh, year of his reign, "to the liege men and residents of the town of Wenlock", and confirmed and extended by subsequent sovereigns, the corporation consists of a bailiff, recorder, and bailiffs peers: the bailiff, recorder, and two of the peers are justices of the peace, and, with the exception of the recorder, who holds office for life, are elected annually by a jury of burgesses on Michaelmas-day; there are also a coroner, treasurer, town clerk, serjeant at mace, and subordinate officers. They are empowered to hold a court of common pleas, every Tuesday fortnight; a court of assize for trying criminals, with the power of life and death, now in part discontinued; a court of record, for the recovery of debts to any amount, at which the bailiff and the recorder preside; as well as a court of requests, under the 22nd of George III., for the recovery of debts under 40s., the jurisdiction of which extends over the parishes of Broseley, Benthall, Madeley-Barrow, Linley, Willey, Little Wenlock, and the extra-parochial place called Posenall: manorial courts are held at Easter and Michaelmas; at the latter constables are appointed. The guildhall is an ancient building of timber frame-work, resting on piazzas, more remarkable for its antiquity than the beauty of its architecture.

The elective franchise was granted, in 1478, by Edward IV., when it returned one member; at present it sends two. The right of election is vested in the burgesses; the number of voters is from five to six hundred; and the bailiff is the returning officer: the influence of Lord Forester and Sir W.W. Wynn is predominant. This borough was the first that possessed the right of parliamentary representation by virtue of a charter from the crown. The freedom is obtained by birth after the father has been sworn, and is also conferred upon residents, by election from a common hall.

Wenlock is the head of a deanery: the living is a discharged vicarage, with the perpetual curacies of Burton and Benthall annexed, hi the archdeaconry of Salop, and diocese of Hereford, rated in the king's books at £12. 9. 7., and in the patronage of Sir W.W. Wynn, Bart. The church, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, is a venerable structure, with a square tower surmounted by a spire: it partakes, in a very remote degree, of the style of the abbey, being partly of the Norman, and partly of the decorated English, style: the interior consists of a chancel, nave, and aisles, separated by clustered piers and obtusely pointed arches. A small theological library, left by one of the vicars for the use of the clergy, has, within the last forty years, been extended by subscription into a circulating library for the use of the inhabitants. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists. The free school, endowed with the interest of £200, in 1778, by the Rev. Francis Southern, and with other small benefactions, is further supported by voluntary contributions: twelve boys are educated on the foundation. There are almshouses for four poor widows.

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