This is a brief description of some of the history of WHIXALL.
The oldest documentary reference to Whixall is in the eleventh century Domesday Book and anything earlier than that can only be obtained from archaeological evidence of the area. In 1927 a bronze age axe head was found on Whixall Moss, buried 2½ metres deep in the peat, which is over 3000 years old (1500-1200BC). This is now in the Rowley Museum in Shrewsbury. Several similar axes and a bronze age sword have also been found in the area surrounding Whixall, but there is no evidence of any bronze age camps or settlements, although the people certainly came here. 3000 years ago Whixall was probably woodland and the moss would have been a very marshy place. At this time the British climate deteriorated rapidly and older settlements would have been flooded. The population was reducing and there is no evidence of any iron age people, who followed the bronze age, anywhere near Whixall.
When the Romans came to Britain in 43 AD and stayed for 360 years they built many roads one of which was the London to Chester road. This passed through Whitchurch, which is about 3 miles east of Whixall, and there have been several objects from this time found in the surrounding area, but there is no evidence that the Romans settled in Whixall. When the Romans left Britain the Celtic people living in Britain were invaded by different races from Europe and, despite the efforts of the legendary King Arthur, by 613 AD the Celtic people, apart from Wales, had been conquered by the Saxons. The Anglo Saxons arrived in great numbers and many modern day villages were originally carved out of the forest by these early pioneering settlers. The Domesday book records a Saxon tenant of Whixall and it seems likely that Whixall was originally a Saxon settlement founded after 613 AD but before the Norman conquest of 1066.Whixall was in the Saxon kingdom of Mercia whose best known King Offa (757-796 AD) built the dyke as the frontier with Wales. The long history of border battles between the Welsh and the English meant that Whixall was always in a very insecure area.
It is thought that the Saxons were the first settlers to have ploughs capable of ploughing heavy ground provided it was free from excessive water. A typical Saxon settlement consisted of an irregular circle of houses partly enclosing an open space which became the village green of later times. This space would probably have a stream running through and it would be used as a fold in which their livestock would be kept overnight for protection. Radiating from this central area were the field tracks and roads leading to open pastures and fields. When a church was built it was erected on or adjacent to this open space. The field of about 3 acres immediately west of Whixall Social Centre, near the site of the original Whixall Church, fits this description perfectly. Roads and footpaths radiate from it in 9 different directions and the 3 acre field originally had a stream running through it and it would have been suitable for livestock. The stream is known about because in 1725 Benjamin Rhodenhurst was fined 10 shillings for diverting a stream in le Roundabout which is the name given to the 3 acre field in the 1847 map.
Within 20 years or thereabouts of the Normans arriving in 1066 the Domesday book had been completed and it gave details of every place in Britain. This included the first record of Whixall which was then called Witehala. The entry was :
Witehala is held by Ranulf Peveral as under tenant of Earl Roger. In Saxon times it was held by Aeldid who was a freeman. Here there is one hide (approx 120 acres) taxable. On the demesne (the land held by the lord of the manor) there is one plough (ox team), 2 ploughmen and 2 smallholders and one more ox team might be employed. In King Edwards' time Manor produced an income (for the Lord) of 8 shillings per annum and it now produces 5 shillings.
The purpose of the Domesday book was a survey for the assessment of taxes that could be raised from each place, but it does give a picture of Whixall as a very small settlement some 800 years ago. At around the time of the Norman invasion it shows Whixall as a cultivated area of around 200 acres supporting eight families with two teams of eight oxen raised between them.
The Directory of Place Names gives the origin of the name Whixall as 'Hwituc's Halh', where 'Hwituc' is an anglo-saxon name and 'Halh' means corner, angle or remote nook. From the evidence it seems that Whixall was founded by and anglo-saxon called Hwituc who established a farm here.
Shropshire suffered severely from the Norman conquest and also by raids by the Welsh. In 1071 a revolt by two Saxon earls resulted in severe punishment against Derbyshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire causing hordes of refugees from these counties to seek sanctuary in Evesham. It will never be know exactly what happened here but by 1086 Whixall was reduced to four working men with one ox-team cultivating 120 acres. The adjacent manors of Alkington, Steel and Coton were similarly reduced, but the larger manors of Prees (8 hides), Sandford(3), Edstaston(2), Lowe(1), Wem(4) and Wolverley(3) were recorded as being reduced to waste when taken over by Norman tenants.
There are references to Whixall found in a book titled "Antiquities of Shropshire written by the Reverend R.W. Eyton, published in 1859. Three of the most interesting references in Reverend Eytons' book are these:
In 1255 the size of Whixall was given as half a hide, reduced from one hide in the Domesday book.
In 1256 the boundaries of a piece of land of 10 acres in Whixall are stated as , the cross of Richard Scrupe, Northwood bosc, the field od Edestaneston, Le Oldebuttes, the field of Eylburgrene, Le Horehalk, Le Charkingok, Rakenhurst, Shytenhurst, the boundaries between Wemme and Lake, Le Fermbuttesford, Le Longenhaleshurst, Foxeleg-hedge and Okenhulleshurne.
In 1290 Robert de Wemme was suing four people for the return of tenements and land in Whixall, being: William son of Matilda of Wyckeshale to return a tenement and 3 acres, Madoc son of William of Wyckeshale to return a tenement and one bovate (15 acres), Heylen of Wyckeshale to return a tenement and 12 acres, Wyon son of Madoc of Wyckeshale to return a tenement and 4 acres.
The entry for 1290 does not say why Robert of Wem was claiming the 4 dwellings in Whixall or what the outcome was. There is also mention of 4 other Whixall people which means it is reasonable to assume that there were 8 dwellings with about 68 acres between them. This seems reasonable if Whixall extended to half a hide (60 acres) in 1255. These acreages would refer to the cultivated land and not include the common pasture, woodland and waste.
The records say nothing about life in Whixall in those times but scattered details suggest that a number of people of Welsh extraction held some of the land. There are records of a "kilch" (a welsh 'rent') being paid in Wem in 1290 and Tilstock in 1328. In the years 1315-21 there was a series of bad seasons when crops were destroyed by storms and rotted in the fields and sheep and cattle died like flies. Famine and pestilence haunted Britain and by 1327 the Lay Subsidy Roll lists only 16 householders in Whixall. The Lay Subsidy Roll was an assessment for tax.
There are no entries for Whixall during the time of the Black Death in 1348-9, when between a third and a half of the population died of the plague leaving only about 2.5 million people alive in the whole country. Some of the manors around Whitchurch at this time recorded "the farm servants are all dead and nobody will take the land". It would appear that not everybody in Whixall was wiped out as at least two of the family names on the 1327 roll also appear in the 1407 records. There are no records of Whixall from 1370 t0 1406 but it is known that during this period that there were many Welsh border battles involving Owen Glendower. Records from 1408 refer to places such as Whitchurch, Clive, Myddle, Stanton, Redcastle and many others , saying "...were wasted, burnt and destroyed ...and the tenants have fled." No building from this time survive in Whixall today.
Bostock Hall was built around 1550, but the site is much older being the site of an old manorial house from the period 1200-1400. The moated site midway between the Alders and Abbey Green is the site of a farm house of the same period. The 1668 survey also refers to "Land called Le Foxholes which was conceived to be land in which was a manorial house adjoining to that parcel of common known by the name Poole Bank". The actual position of this third site is still unknown.
The manorial records for Whixall begin with an entry for the court held on August 1407. The entry is as follows:
Court held at Wixsale of Nicholas Sandford on Monday next before the feast of St Nichomedes in the 8th year of the reign of King Henry IV. The township there present that Thomas the Smyth has died who held divers lands, after whose death the lord shall have one cow worth 9 shillings...
The reference to the lord is Nicholas Sandford, Lord of the Manor, who was entitled to have the best beast from the stable of the man who died. The names of many Whixall tenants of the time are given, being: Thomas the Smyth, David Moyle, Thomas Hedley, Richard de Cattisda, William Hallmarke, Phillip de Cawardyn, Agnes de Wixdale, William Glaswas, John Hicsons, William son of Madoc, Richard Hallmarke, John the Smyth(son of Thomas), Hohn Catsidar(and Cesilia, his daughter), John Maddock, Nicholas Apey, John le Hinton, David Len, John Madoc, William le Yonge, Thomas de Haddeley, John le Leche, Richard Biggut, Thomas Apley and William de Holbuge.
At this time much of North Shropshire, which is now mellow farmland was a wide barren heath and marshy moors. There were lagoons, thickets of birch and furze and patches of coarse grass of little value to stock much as Brown Moss has remained. Villages were small islands of cultivation with farms that were open, bare and almost hedge less and these areas of cultivation were not extensive.
There are no entries in the court records at the time of the Civil War(1642-1646) but lying between Cromwell supporters in Wem and Royalists in Whitchurch it is likely that there would have been some minor action here. The manor records during Cromwells' time record many individuals being fined "for gettinge turves upon Whixall heath and afterwards for selling them out of the Manor"
The hearth tax in 1672 lists 67 homes in Whixall at that date. Paupers were exempt from the tax and are listed separately by name for Blandford Hundred, North, in which there are about 1700 homes and 336 exempt paupers. If Whixall had the same proportion of paupers, then there would have been 13 homes in Whixall exempt from the hearth tax, making a total of 80 homes here in 1672.
The record for 1729 contains a long entry on the customary Rights of Turbary, which the lord of the manor claims allowed freeholders and copyholders of Whixall to get wood and turves from the Moss only for burning in their own homes, and not elsewhere. A payment was due to the bailiff before turves could be sold. There is then a specification of means of an individual proving his Right of Turbary, and how the right is conveyed. Mr Sandford was lord of the manor, but Lord Gower also owned a part of the manor and his tenants seemed to have similar rights. These no longer have any legal significance since manorial rights have now been extinguished by law.
The involvement of Lord Gower in Whixall stems from 1539, before which time the monks of Lilleshall Abbey owned some of the land in Whixall, probably near Abbey Green. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the land passed to James Leveson whose family became Earl Gower, and later Marquesses of Stafford. There is a record in the Staffordshire County Records Office of the sale in 1673 of the manor house of Whixall by Viscount Stafford to Rosamund Revell, but the position of the site is not given in the details. There are manor records for Whixall in the Gower collection at Stafford for the years between 1595 and 1740, after which time Sir Rowland Hill became sole owner. For the period from 1150 to 1740 Whixall was effectively two manors with two lords. The original part with the house on the Bostock Hall site as manor house with the Sandford family as lords, and the church lands, later Lord Gowers', in the south of the manor with its manor house somewhere near the present Whixall Hall.
The history of Whixall Hall is almost unknown, since the deeds of the original house have not been found. More is known about Bostock Hall. Ralph and Cicely Bostock lived in a Bostock Hall, Moulton near Middlwich and had a son Robert who married Anne Soulton of Whixall in the early 1500's. The Soulton family were landowners in Whixall and it is probable that Robert obtained land in Whixall by his marriage to Anne. Robert and Anne settled in Whixall and it was they who had Bostock Hall built here. They had a son, Thomas born about 1520, and the family line continued from Thomas to George to Andrew to George to Richard to Nathaniel Bostock, born in 1655, Nathaniel became a renowned "Doctor of Physic" and it is assumed that the family sold up to move to a more populated area for him to continue his practice since there is no record of them after 1717.
The time of the Bostocks in Whixall was a period of great change in England. When Robert Bostock arrived in Whixall the national population was still hardly more than it had been in 1806. By the time the Bostocks left 200 years later, the open fields and commons had been enclosed into more efficient farms, producing surplus produce for sale, and the population had risen to 6 millions. The rising population is reflected in the Whixall manor records. Between1609 and 1708 there are many records of fines being imposed for unlicensed enclosure of waste land. The record for 1738 records fines for building cottages on waste land. Two more were fined for the same offence in 1748 and three more in 1743. It was common at that time for squatters to build cottages on roadside verges or on the manorial waste as a result of the rising population. The houses shown on the 1847 tithe map at Welshend, Platt Lane and Hollinwood and at the edges of the Moss fit this description well. The original construction of the houses was poor being built of timber or just turves and many were subsequently rebuilt in brick. In 1704 the whole of the common lands were surveyed and, by agreement, two thirds were allotted to the freeholders and copyholders and the remaining third was allotted to Lord Gower and Squire Sandford in the proportions of one quarter and three quarters respectively. In 1722 there was a court ruling which decreed that all the lords' copyhold and leasehold property had to be offered for sale to the occupiers if they wanted them or the best bidder which further dismantled the old manorial system.
Whixall Moss was not included in the 1704 enclosures, and remained common land until enclosed by act of parliament in 1823. The whole of the area was left as unenclosed waste land in 1704 being too wet to be of any use. This condition changed in 1801, when in preparation for the building of the canal, a two mile long drain was dug to drain off the water. Then in 1861 there was further drainage work done for the building of the railway across the moss.
The final breakdown of the remains of the original manor of Whixall was caused by Messrs. Corser, Hassall and Naylor. On 21st August 1824 the last manorial court was held with Sir Rowland Hill as lord of the manor. The next court held on 29th January 1827 records George Corser, Joseph Hassall and George Naylor as joint lords of the manor. By 22nd April 1829 these three gentlemen had gone bankrupt and the manor lands of Whixall were auctioned in the White Lion Inn, Whitchurch. The manor lands amounted to 1067 acres.
The earliest detailed map of Whixall is the Tithe Map of 1847 which shows every field and house and gives the owner and tenant of each house.
In the book "A History of Shropshire" by Samuel Bagshaw published in 1851 Whixall is described at that time as below:
"Whixall is a village which at the census in 1841 contained 211 houses and 978 inhabitants. There is some good meadow and pasture land which produces fine herbage and cheese is made to a considerable extent. The houses are chiefly cottages built of brick and slated, with a small portion of land to each and have a comfortable appearance. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in cutting the moss, which they dry and then take to distant parts of the country for sale. The moss is cut from a depth of 16 to 30 feet and in some instances to a greater depth. The moss is mostly submerged in water. A company of gentlemen have recently taken a lease for a term of years foe a considerable tract of the moss, and are about to erect works for converting this hitherto comparatively useless commodity into articles of appliance for useful purposes. It is said to be superior to the Irish moss for some purposes. Sir John Hamner is the owner of about two thirds of the moss.
The Church is a plain unpresuming edifice of brick, erected in the form of a cross, and has the date of 1640 upon it. It was enlarged and beautified in 1826, when 155 free sittings were added. The living is a perpetual, valued at £107 subordinate to the vicarage of Prees, and enjoyed by Rev John Evans MA whose income arises from certain lands, £5 yearly from the lord of the manor, and £4 per annum from the Vicar of Prees. The Parsonage is a pleasantly situated residence near the church.
The National School, a commodious structure with a residence for the teacher, was built during the years 1848 and 1849. The cost of the structure was £655 13s 6d of which the Committee of Council on Education gave £100 and £50 towards the masters' residence; the National Society £50; the Diocesan Society £40 and £10 for fittings; the sum of £405 18s 6d was raised by subscriptions and donations, of which £276 18s 6d was given by the incumbent of Whixall. About 100 children attend the school.
The independents have neat chapel here, which is numerously attended. The Primitive Methodists also have a small chapel there.
The Llanymynech, Ellesmere, Whitchurch and Quina Brook canals intersect the township.
Whixall Hall and Bostock Hall are two ancient residences, now occupied as farm houses.
James Foster Esq. is Lord of the Manor, and holds court leet and baron.
The poor have a yearly sum of 5s, the gift of Mr Minshull, which is paid out of land in the parish of Wem"