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Oswestry is an ancient market town located in the North of Shropshire close by the English - Welsh Border. Its strategic position as a 'frontier town' has given it a turbulent history. Today the town still retains its vital function as a market and shopping centre serving North West Shropshire and Mid Wales. The narrow passageways link streets whose names conjure up images of the past: English Walls, Welsh Walls, The Bailey and the Horsemarket. It is a locally important shopping and agricultural centre and still retains the intimacy of a rural town serving local people and home to a number of specialist and independent shops.
The origins of the town are uncertain although the towns market dates back to 1190. The name Oswestry is thought to be a corruption of 'Oswald's Tree' and the legend that Oswald the Christian King of Northumbria fought a great battle against the pagan King of Mercia - Penda. Oswald was defeated and killed in the battle. Penda - as a warning to others who might challenge his rule - dismembered Oswald's body and hung his limbs on the branches of a tree - hence the name 'Oswalds Tree'.
Oswestry's first school founded in 1407 is now a Heritage centre and holds regular exhibitions of local arts and crafts. The town Tourist Information Centre can be found in the same building.
Most of the town centre has been designated a Conservation Area conveying a mixture of architectural styles. There are many old timber framed houses, for example Llywd Mansion on Cross Street, the Heritage Centre, the Blackgate, the Fox Inn and the shops along Beatrice Street. Georgian architecture is also represented particularly around St Oswald's Church where there are a number of imposing town houses complete with grand entrance staircases and front doors.
It has a significant Victorian legacy. Many of the Shop fronts and facades, the many terraced houses and churches and railway buildings reflect this period.
Oswestry, has a troubled past and was once encircled by town walls which is shown on the medieval street plan of a walled town. The Oswestry Town Trail leaflet is available from the Heritage Centre and the Tourist Information Centre at Mile End and can be used to tour the town's many sites of historical interest for example: St Oswald's Church. Cae Glas Park, the town's old gates and Castle Bank are just a few of the places of interest.
History and Town Records
Few records survive from before 1674, the year of the charter granted to the Town by King Charles II, some deeds, charters, accounts and memoranda of the Bailiffs do exist but little else.
From 1674 to 1835 records are plentiful, consisting of minutes of the Council, accounts of the Mayor, proceedings of the Quarter Sessions and Court of Record, and correspondence and papers relating to the business of the Guildhall, the gaol, markets and fairs, and other matters of Local Interest.
Post 1835 Oswestry saw was a period of great development. In the late 1840’s new Markets were built in the late 1840's and the construction of reservoirs followed from the late 1860's to the late 1880's. The events were well recorded in the minutes of the Council and its committees and numerous bundles of deeds and documents on all and sometimes trivial aspects of the administration of Town affairs.
Dating to around 1086, the castle L’oeuvre was recorded in William I’s Domesday Book as being built by Rainald, Sheriff of Shropshire in the Hundred of Meresberie, it was once a frontier outpost that saw both Welsh and Anglo Saxon mix together prior to the Norman conquest.
The earliest reference to the town was recorded 1272 and the settlement of Blancminster, which derives from its white stone church. The Welsh refer to a ‘Creos Oswallt’ in 1254, and an obvious link with St. Oswald, the Northumbrian King who was killed at the nearby Battle of Maeserfelth in 641 AD. Regardless, it is generally accepted that Oswestry was once a strong Welsh settlement and the Castle had a role of domination to subdue Welsh resistance.
Following the conquest, the region was granted to Roger de Montgomerie by William I. This passed to Rainald who is attributed as having built the first castle. Then came Alan Fitzlaad, descendant to the mighty Fitzalans and later to become the Lords of Arundel and Clun.
The Civil War between Stephen and Matilda saw William Fitzalan I join forces with Matilda and he was forced to give up the castle and its area. The Welsh appear to have taken this chance to reclaim what they once lost and the occupation of the castle by Madoc ap Maerdudd the Prince of Powys, between 1149 and 1157, along with the Lordship of the area followed.
The accession of Henry II saw the Fitzalan’s recover their estate, but they failed to establish a peaceful reign and troubled times followed. There was significant conflict between the Welsh and the English, which saw the area and its castle sacked numerous times. In 1165, Henry II adopted it as a base for his campaign against Owain Gwynned and in 1211, it was used by King John in his war against Llewlyn Fawr.
By 1270 the castle’s walls embraced the town. In the 14th Century one Owain Glyndwr attempted to establish himself as the rightful Prince of Wales and throughout this period the town became recognised as a strategic trading point. For example, the Short Charter granted by William III at the end of the 12th Century awarded the area similar customs and liberties as the larger and already prosperous Shrewsbury.
A second charter in 1263 followed and in 1399 it received a Royal Charter. Despite this, it remained a fully fortified military base and this function continued for many years.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 revived its status as a military stronghold and it was once more strengthened to some degree, following the town’s declaration of support for Charles I, and prepared for hostility. In June 1644 the castle was under the control of Colonel Edward Lloyd of Llanforda. It was laid to siege by Thomas Mytton of Halston Hall (near Whittington) who was soon joined by the earl of Denbigh. The town gates were battered into submission by cannon and infiltrated by troops who rapidly descended upon the castle, surrounding. The following day, ‘Buttars,’ a kind of early grenade, were used to storm the gates and the royalist troops surrendered.
Following the Civil War, Oswestry Castle were rendered uninhabitable as part of a campaign to quash further resistance and it was reduced to a simple collection of stones.
Other Places of Interest
The Old Grammer School
A 15th Century, Grade II listed timber-framed property. Originally the Oswestry Grammar School, founded by David Holbache in 1407, the building occupies a prominent position on the boundary of the churchyard of St. Oswald. Now the property of Oswestry Town Council and opened in 1992, the Centre contains civic and local items of interest reflecting the long established and magnificent Heritage of Oswestry.
Iron Age Fort
There is a large Iron Age fort just to the North of the town. It was started over 2500 years ago. Nowadays, only the Earthworks remain, but it's worth a visit. It can be seen from the A5 going North out of the town. It is maintained by English Heritage
This is at the top of a hill and is the site of an old racecourse. It is possible to walk around the old circuit and there are a number of walks is this area including some through the adjacent Candy Woods. The Offa's dyke path passes through the common and the woods.
Offa's Dyke footpath (goes right through the area)
This long distance footpath , which goes from Prestatyn to Chepstow along the Welsh border, passes about 3 miles to the west of Oswestry. It is a well maintained footpath (some other paths in the area are not so good) and can be picked up at many points in the area. The path follows an ancient earthwork which is thought to have been a defensive dyke built by the Saxon King Offa .
Whittington Castle 2 Miles East
There are quite a few remains of the castle which can be found in the Centre of Whittington village. There are plenty of ducks to be found in the old castle moat.
Morgan Fire and Security, Mile End Business Park,
Oswestry, Shropshire, SY10 8NN
Bowen Son and Watson (Estate Agents), 35 Bailey
Street, Oswestry, Shropshire SY11 1PX.
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