Monthly Archives: December 2012

Poverty knocks (in Much Wenlock)

Our dynamic band of volunteers working with the historic records of Much Wenlock Borough have been spending some weeks cataloguing the records of Poor Law administration in the historic borough of Much Wenlock. The records are probably the most comprehensively surviving example of pre 1834 Poor Law records that I have ever come across.


1834 is a key date in the history of the Poor Law in that it was the Poor Law Amendment Act of that year that brought about the amalgamation of parishes into ‘unions’ for the purpose of Poor Law Administration and indoor ‘relief’. Much Wenlock, however, had a workhouse by 1732 which by 1776 could accommodate 30 people. In 1793, all 27 of the workhouse inmates were women or children. That some of the older children were apprenticed to Lancashire  textile mills presumably explains why several of them, such as Mary Goodall, in 1818 (ref. WB/H/1/4/10/52), subsequently have to explain to the churchwardens and overseers that they have become pregnant by Lancashire cotton workers!


The records reveal a great deal oMuch Wenlockf bureaucracy: there’s settlement examinations, pre-birth bastardy examinations, post-birth bastardy examinations, pauper apprenticeship indentures, bonds of indemnification and removal orders, to name but seven! These documents reveal a human story of migration, struggle and poverty as poignantly as any Thomas Hardy novel.


Volunteers Enfys, Sylvia, Richard, Beverley, Barbara and Anne have been doing a great job of revealing these hidden histories of people about whose lives we would otherwise know nothing. Because the records are so comprehensive I am sure that at some point it must prove possible to reconstruct the story of one or more of these characters (that’s the poor of Much Wenlock, not Enfys, Sylvia, Richard, Beverley, Barbara or Anne!)


We’re very grateful for the contribution of all our volunteers: together they are unlocking Shropshire’s heritage.

John Benson, Project Manager

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The Shrewsbury Borough Archive: Who said the Mayor’s Receipts were boring?

You never know what will turn up when cataloguing the Mayor’s Receipts and none more interesting than those of 1813/14.  The first glimpse into something of interest were two receipts for payment in 1813, one for apprehending the alleged Duke of Brunswick as a possible French prisoner of war and the second paid to the Sergeant at Mace for hire of horses and looking after the Duke.  However, it is in the following year’s accounts where the story fully unfolds.

The receipts for July 1813, paid in 1814, add more information to this unusual story.  It would appear that the Prince of Wales, later to become George lV, was on a tour of Wales and his brother in law, the Duke of Brunswick, was travelling to meet his relation.  As a foreigner in town with no proof of who he was, Messrs Wingfield, Barber and Williams, the Mayor’s Officers, detained him and held him at the Lion Inn, who ‘being unfurnished with the usual passport was mistaken for a French Officer having broken his parole’.

The difficulty was, in an age long before photographs, that nobody knew what the Duke of Brunswick looked like.  A letter was sent to the Honourable Mr Jenkinson, asking him to come to Shrewsbury and identify the prisoner.  As he was unable to come Mr Forrester was asked, and he was able to confir

Shrewsbury Borough Archive: Book of the Mayor's Accounts 1674-1753

Shrewsbury Borough Archive: Book of the Mayor’s Accounts 1674-1753

m, ‘from conversation’, that the Duke of Brunswick was who he said he was, despite them never actually having met before.  Lord Liverpool was advised of the subject and the King’s messenger delivered a passport to the Duke with a letter from the Lord Viscount Sidmouth, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary at State for the Home Department, approving the steps which had been taken and authorising the Duke’s release.

The matter didn’t end there.  The Mayor wrote a ‘long letter’ to the Earl of Powis, the Recorder, of all the circumstances of the case.  The Earl had to attend Lord Sidmouth and the Prince Regent to explain the matter to their satisfaction.  The Mayor also wrote to Lord Sidmouth regretting that the Duke had been detained and enclosing a statement from those who had apprehended him.

Letters were sent to Mr Wingfield, Mr Barber and Mr Williams suggesting that if £100 were paid to Salop Infirmary no legal proceedings would be taken as no disloyal or improper motives were the reason for detaining the Duke. Mr Jenkinson received a letter from the Duke thanking him for the ‘polite attention paid to him’ and this put an end to the matter.

Julie Burden, Volunteer


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December 20, 2012 · 2:55 pm

John Bridgeman’s Snuff Box

Tasked with cataloguing a collection of military and personal items, perhaps the most intriguing piece was a steel snuff box dated 1757, donated to the museum by the Viscount Bridgeman in 1984.  The box, made of white metal, presumably steel, is inscribed ‘John Bridgeman of Little Stretton 1757’.  Carved above the writing is a man smoking a pipe beneath a tree.


Initially the box was considered broken as the button one assumed opened it failed to function.  On further inspection it was discovered that on its acquisition it was described as a ‘trick’ snuff box.  Assuming therefore, that there was a less obvious method of opening the item, detailed observation was conducted.  However, as a unique hand crafted piece, finding anything remotely similar on the internet was impossibility.  Luckily, careful observation of the object revealed that within the intricate hinge there is a hidden catch and the box was finally opened, presenting a elegant mechanism attached to the under side of the lid utilising a hand made spring similar in appearance to a treble cleff.


The history of the snuff box is one relatively unknown, indeed the Bridgeman family had acquired it by chance.  Bearing their name it was sent in  the belief that it belonged to a member of their family. Alongside the snuff box the museum received a series of letters from Ernest Bridgeman to William Bridgeman and after deciphering the hand writing it was found that they were discussing the likelihood of ‘John Bridgeman’ being a member of their family tree.


The challenges that this, on first appearances, simple task has presented has made the work particularly interesting and somewhat Indiana



Charlie Foxhall





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The ‘Old’ Poor Law in Shrewsbury

Volunteer Bob Kiernan reports upon some details he happened upon relating to the ’old’, i.e., pre 1834 Poor Law. MI5531 comprises two pieces of local legislation relating to Shrewsbury ’and liberties’ in 1784 and Atcham ’and Salop’ in 1792. Bob highlights the following relaBeadleting to children:

  • Children taken in as apprentices: it seems that all children aged 14 and in the care of the corporation should be apprenticed to ’any reputable person in England or Wales’ for up to 7 years or until males were 21 or females 18 or married. There did not seem to be any limitation on what art, trade or occupation  they could be taught.
  • Children could be discharged or hired out. From the age of 14 children could be hired out to be servants in husbandry, housewifery or otherwise for at least one whole year. Those under 14 could also be hired out at harvest time or ’at any other time for the benefit of the said corporation…and for such time and terms as the corporation and the person or persons hiring said poor shall agree and determine.


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Volunteering for Shropshire’s Heritage: One Year On

Astonishingly, we’re now a year into this project, so this may be an appropriate moment to reflect on the course of the last twelve months. It’s been a busy, interesting year working with lots of people from different backgrounds. We’ve all been learning lots of things, not least being the number of people there are who are interested in heritage related volunteering activities. And they’ve been working very hard indeed! In percentage terms we’ve been making much more progress with the collections than we anticipated we would at this stage. Not surprisingly really, given that at the time of writing volunteers had contributed an astonishing 2,117 days’ work. That’s a huge resource and everyone deserves a very big thank you for all their hard work. And very diverse work it’s been, with our volunteers working with everything from medieval subsidy rolls to 400,000,000 year old fossils. Some of our volunteers have been working with both museum objects and historic records and some of them have been travelling a long way, one person, for example, travelling all the way from Whitchurch to Ludlow, a distance, I think, of some forty five miles! All of this is, of course, very good news for Shropshire’s heritage and we’ve been bowled over with people’s enthusiasm and their willingness to contribute so much. On this journey of discovery thus far we’ve already found out so much about subjects like plans to impose martial law in Shropshire in 1940 in the event of a Nazi invasion, about the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria, about Shrewsbury’s medieval pavements and the impact of plague on the town. We’ve travelled with the Rector of Cound to the coronation of the Tsar and we’ve marvelled at the seriously bad (17th century) behaviour of the Shropshire clergyman reported by his parishioners to the high court of Parliament.


Looking to next year, highlights already look like being the creation of a brand new local history centre and an exhibition of Joseph Lewis Della Porta’s Victorian photographs of Shrewsbury shops. No doubt we’ll be discovering more from the collections and promoting them and, perhaps best of all, continuing to work with the volunteers we have and meeting new ones. To all our volunteers we say a very big thank you for all of your hard work. And, of course, a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2013!

Merry Christmas

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Double checking!

Margaret Williams is a volunteer with Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and also with Shropshire Archives. Here Margaret relates a good example of the way the different collections complement each other.

I am lucky to be Execution of Charles Ia volunteer taking care of Shropshire Museum Service’s costume collection. Among the many interesting items in our care is a piece of red woollen cloth with blood stains which is on loan from the Walcott family. The museum records state that William Walcot was a 16 year old page in attendance on Charles I at his execution, the cloth was part of a cloak worn by Charles. After the execution the cloth was cut in half and one half was given to each of the two pages who attended Charles. The other page was a member of the Herbert family; they later gave or sold their half to Queen Caroline, Consort of George II. In the museum records there is a suggestion that the cloth may have been laid on the block, under the black cloth which was known to have covered it, therefore there is some uncertainty as to what purpose the cloth served.

Imagine my excitement as a new volunteer at Shropshire Archives, when I was presented with a box of documents to be catalogued, which contained family histories relating to the Walcot family. After reading through these, I was delighted to find a reference to the cloth, confirming that it was part of a cloak worn by Charles I at his execution.



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December 20, 2012 · 2:34 pm