Discover the history of human occupation in Shropshire’s Great Outdoors from prehistoric times
There are many exciting places to visit and see the length and breadth of Shropshire. There is so much to observe, and with modern techniques of aerial photography and Lidar (check out the new Lidar Survey of Stiperstones and Corndon) no doubt more sites still to be discovered.
A number of cross-ridge dykes, over twenty prehistoric Barrows dating back to the Bronze Age, and the ancient track way of The Portway, can be found on the Long Mynd above Church Stretton. Just to the west, over the cairns of the Stiperstones and near the summit of Round Hill are the Pennerley Barrows, with a bit further west one of the County’s best known prehistoric monuments, Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle on Stapeley Common. There are other stones and tumuli sited nearby, and a further stone circle at the Marsh Pool.
With the Iron Age came the dominance of Hill forts, and Shropshire has over fifty.
The Wrekin, capped by a 20 acre Iron Age hill fort, was once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe, and was of strategic importance. From the top, picture the Cornovii looking down on the approaching Roman Legions.
To the north Old Oswestry Hill Fort, dating from the early Iron Age, is reputed to be one of the best preserved, and easily accessible hill forts in the country with its many ramparts and ditches, and evidence of early round houses and more recent practice trenches from the 1st World War. The 64 km Wat’s Dyke which Oswald’s Trail follows here, can be seen skirting the hill.
To the south of Oswestry, is Llanymynech Hill Fort, recognised as one of the largest hill forts in Britain. It straddles the Welsh Border, but parts of it have been lost due to limestone quarrying. You can find out more about this area by visiting the Llanymynech Limeworks Heritage Area.
South east of there is Nesscliffe Hillfort, in the Nesscliffe Hills and the Cliffe Countryside Heritage Site, with its commanding view over the Severn Plain. The site bears evidence of human occupation through many periods of time. Search out the quarries which provided stone for local properties and for many of the churches, castles and bridges in Shropshire, follow the old track ways to find the evidence of past human occupation associated with the quarrying around the hills, and discover trenches, and an observation post from World War II. To the north of the site at Ruyton XI Towns you can visit the castle remains, thought to have been built on an earlier settlement. East of here, The Berth, on private land to the north of Baschurch, has many myths attached. An unusual lower lying hill fort, yet in a commanding position, it is set on two mounds linked by a causeway, with another causeway connecting it to higher ground. Once surrounded by water, just the deep foreboding Berth Pool now remains.
Bury Ditches Hillfort in southern Shropshire is another well preserved hill fort.
South of Clun is Caer Caradoc which has evidence of later defensive works (you can get a great view of this on one of the Walking with Offa walks). The other Caer Caradoc hill fort, where settlement was aided by a spring fed pond, is set on a majestic volcanic ridge with panoramic views. Named after Caratacus, the legendary prince who led the British resistance against the Roman army, it overlooks the Church Stretton valley where the Roman road of Watling Street led north east to Viriconium (Wroxeter). Once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, Wroxeter has been the site of many excavations. Now owned by English Heritage, you can see the largest piece of free-standing Roman wall in the country, and visit the Bathhouse and a reconstructed town house, to see how Romans lived. Wonderful finds from here are displayed in The Roman Gallery at the Shrewsbury Museum .
West Shropshire has some of the finest surviving sections of Offa’s Dyke, which are best seen by walking Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail. Reputed to have been built by the 8th Century King Offa between Britain and Mercia, it is the longest archaeological monument in Britain.
Some of Shropshire’s religious houses date from this period including St Eata’s Church, Atcham, near to Wroxeter, which contains reused stones from the Roman City of Wroxeter, as does St. Andrew’s Church, Wroxeter, where a pair of Roman columns flank the churchyard gate.
Barrow Church, near Much Wenlock, contains the only surviving Anglo-Saxon chancel arch in Shropshire. Route 2 of the Jack Mytton Way passes right by the church before leading on to Much Wenlock where the 12th-16th century Wenlock Priory,one of the most historic monastic sites in England, occupies the site of a 7th century Anglo Saxon monastery. West of Shrewsbury are the remains of Haughmond Abbey which dates back to the 11th century. The extensive remains of a 12th century Cistercian abbey can be seen at Buildwas.
There are many castles in Shropshire dating from the Norman period, and mottes and baileys abound in the borderlands. 11th century Caus Castle, near Westbury, once so important that Henry II garrisoned it, was a multivallated hillfort, a motte and bailey castle, and a medieval borough. On private land alongside a minor road from Westbury, little but earthworks now remain. Acton Burnell Castle is believed to have been where the first Parliament of England at which the Commons were fully represented was held in 1283. Further south the Shropshire Way passes by 13C Stokesay Castle, which is the finest and best-preserved medieval manor house in England. Castle Pulverbatch is now just an impressive mound and earthworks, alongside an old track way, but once commanded the ancient valley route from Bishops Castle to Shrewsbury, and two mottes lie nearby at Wilderley on what was once a Kings Highway. You can access it on the Humphrey Kynaston Way. Shrawardine Castle, recorded in 1165, was one of two castles controlling an important crossing of the River Severn. It was finally destroyed following a siege in 1645, with little now remaining, its stone being taken to repair Shrewsbury Castle.
Settlements increased in the Medieval period and moated sites grew, but later some fell into decline and were deserted; some through the collapse of arable cultivation, others due to plague and the Black Death. Some medieval field systems, holloways and chapels are all that remain at some places such as Arlescott near Broseley, Cold Weston near Clee St. Margaret, and nearby Heath, with just its small Norman Chapel still standing.
Check before visiting archaeological sites as some are on private land and require permission.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Ancient Monument without consent, or remove archaeological evidence from any site without proper authorisation, recording and reporting. Metal detectors should not be used at any site without authorisation.
There is lots more detail about the fascinating history of Shropshire on the Discovering Shropshire’s History website.
To see information on Shropshire’s archaeology and artefacts discovered at sites, visit Shropshire’s Museums.
Shropshire Archives holds many historic documents relating to sites.
Clubs and Societies
Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group – formed when enthusiasm drew like minded people together following the discovery of a Roman marching camp at Rhyn Park, St Martins in the mid 1970’s. Meetings are held in the Memorial Hall, Oswestry, where visitors are welcome. Site visits are also undertaken.
A guide to Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology is a website dedicated to the history and archaeology of Oswestry and its Welsh borderland, holds a wealth of information, and has useful links under ‘Organisations’ and ‘Publications’
Shropshire Archaeological & Historical Society – Formed in 1877, it campaigns for the recording and protection of Shropshire’s rich and varied archaeological heritage. It also promotes and publishes original research into the county’s history and prehistory.
South West Shropshire Historical & Archaeological Society was formed in 1980. Its broad aim is to promote active involvement in the study of history and archaeology, with particular emphasis on south-west Shropshire and the Welsh Border.
For cross border sites visit Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust
The Council for British Archaeology ‘Archaeology for all’ West Midlands, is an independent charity to give archaeology a voice and safeguard it for future generations. It lists other archaeological and historical societies in Shropshire.