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The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"SHROPSHIRE, (or Salop), an inland county in the W. of England, is bounded on the N. by Cheshire, E. by Staffordshire, S. by Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and W. by the Welsh counties of Radner, Montgomery, and Denbigh. It lies between 62° 18' and 53° 0' N. lat. and between 2° 14' and 3° 12' W. long. Its extreme length from N. to S. is 48 miles, and its greatest breadth from E. to W. is 40 miles. The area of the county is 1,343 square miles, or 859,520 acres, of which 790,000 acres are arable, meadow, and pasture. The population at the commencement of the century was 169,248; in 1851 it was 229,341; and in 1861, 240,959, or 42 per cent: over the number in 1801.

At the time of the Roman invasion the county was chiefly inhabited by the Ordovices and Cornavii, whose territory was divided by the Severn, and was subsequently included in the Roman province Flavia Cæseriensis. The Romans appear to have been stoutly opposed by the Britons in this part of the country, as evidenced by the camp called Caer Caradoc, supposed to be that of Caractacus, and the earthworks at Caer Ditches, near Clun, where Camden and others are of opinion the great battle was fought between this chief and Ostorius Scapula, which effected the subjugation of the W. of the island. The principal Roman station was at Wroxeter, on the Severn, called by Latin writers Uriconium, where a wall, rampart, and ditch still mark the extent of the Roman city. There are besides Roman remains at Rowton, Market-Drayton, The Walls, Bury Ditches, and other places in this county.

For many centuries it formed part of the kingdom of Powisland, with Pengwern for its capital, but the Saxons under Penda succeeded in conquering it in 626, and it became incorporated with the kingdom of Mercia, which extended to the base of the Welsh mountains, and was known as Myrcna-rice, the kingdom of the borderers; this was Latinised into Mercia, and finally was corrupted into the Marches of Wales. For the protection of his territory from the inroads of the Welsh, Offa made a dyke or rampart 100 miles long, which still bears his name, and extended along the confines of Wales, from Flintshire on the N. to the Bristol Channel on the S., with the Severn for an inner boundary.

Shortly after the union of the Saxon kingdoms under Egbert, this part of the country became a prey to the ravages of the Danes, who arrived here in great force in 849, and pushed on to Wales. At Cleobury Mortimer is a camp, supposed to have been formed by this people, and near Bridgnorth are traces of a fortification. When Alfred the Great had expelled the Danes he formed this district into a county under the name of Scrobbesbyrigshire, after its capital, then a city of much importance, of which its present name is a corruption.

During the two following centuries the county was frequently invaded by the Welsh, and at the Norman conquest was given by William I., with the adjoining county of Montgomery, and the title of the Earl of Shrewsbury, to Roger de Montgomery for his services in the reduction of Edric the Forester. About this period most of the castles in the county were erected by the Norman nobles, who obtained grants of land on condition of maintaining their castles garrisoned against the Welsh, and were appointed Lords Marchers, with power to decide all questions of grievance between the English and Welsh, establish courts of judicature, build towns, &c., but the Welsh continuing to harass the border, Edward I. determined on their subjugation, and having taken David-ap-Llewellyn, the last prince of Wales, summoned a parliament to meet at Shrewsbury in 1283, by which the prince was declared guilty of treason, and condemned to be hanged and quartered, which was accordingly done. A parliament was again appointed to meet here by Richard II. in 1397.

During the revolt of Owain Glyndwr in the reign of Henry IV., the county was the scene of many lesser conflicts, and the final battle was fought at Shrewsbury in 1403, when the Prince of Wales, afterwards Henry V., with a portion of the king's army, defeated the joint forces of Glyndwr and the Percys, and slew Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland, which terminated the war. In the struggle between the rival houses of York and Lancaster the county was again engaged, and many important events took place. On the landing of the Duke of Richmond in 1485 he was proclaimed as Henry VII., and joined by the tenants of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and many others, who rendered him signal service in the battle of Bosworth Field. When Charles I. became obnoxious to a portion of his subjects he retired to Shrewsbury, and many of the towns in this county declared in his favour, but in 1644 the parliamentarians gained the ascendency, and continued to hold it, notwithstanding the unavailing efforts of the royalists, who rose in arms in 1655, and again in 1659.

The county is remarkable for the variety and beauty of its scenery, which in some places displays itself in rugged mountainous districts, and in others in rich and well-cultivated tracts, diversified by gently rising elevations with intersecting valleys. The county is divided by the Severn into two almost equal parts, the southern portion assuming the mountainous character of the adjoining counties of Montgomery and Denbigh, while the northern district is nearly level, relieved only by a few solitary hills and finely-wooded valleys. The elevated summits on the S.E. are for the most part extensions of the great western, or Welsh, range of mountains. The highest points are Brown Clee Hill, 1,805 feet above the sea-level, and Titterstone Clee Hill, 1,750 feet; W. of the Clee hills is the mountainous district called Clun Forest, formerly a wooded tract, but now well cultivated and divided into small freehold properties. Separating these two districts is a mountainous tract which stretches to the N.W. in a range of hills, the loftiest of which is Longmynd, 1,674 feet high, and still further N. is Stiperstones, a very peculiar mass of rocks. The remaining most important mountain ranges are the Berwyn range, which enters from Montgomery and terminates in this county in Selattyn Hill, 1,300 feet high; the Breddin hills, extending for about 4 miles, but in no place of considerable altitude; and the Wrekin, an isolated elevation of 1,320 feet, near Wellington, which forms a conspicuous object, being much higher than the neighbouring hills. It is connected with the Caer Caradoc hills, which border on the Longmynd.

The principal river is the Severn, which is noticed in a separate article. Its course through this county is winding and navigable through its entire extent of 70 miles, during which it receives from the E. the waters of the Tern, and its tributary the Roden, and of several small streams from the W. The S. is also watered by the Teme, which is joined by a number of small tributaries, and after forming part of the boundary between Herefordshire and Shropshire, falls into the Severn below Worcester. The Dee washes the N.E. corner of the county, separating it from Cheshire. The only lake of any size is Ellesmere, near the town of that name, which covers an area of 116 acres. The canal accommodation is very excellent, all the lines being to the N. of the Severn; the principal are the Donnington, which extends from Donnington Wood to the neighbourhood of Newport, where it is joined by the Shropshire canal of about the same length, which runs into the Severn below Coalbrookdale; a branch communicates with Ketley. The Shrewsbury canal, starting from the Severn at Shrewsbury; runs along the left bank of the river, and then, turning to the N.E., joins the Shropshire and Donnington canals near Wellington. It is 17 miles long; at Atcham it passes through a tunnel 970 yards in length, and it crosses the valley of the Tern by the first cast-iron aqueduct that was ever made; besides several other minor canals.

The county is well supplied with railways; Shrewsbury, its capital, being in direct communication with Chester and Liverpool by Crewe, Stafford, Birmingham, and Gloucester and South Wales by Hereford. Coach roads were formerly very bad, but have of late years been much improved. The principal is the London and Holyhead road, which enters the county between Wolverhampton and Shiffnal, and, passing Shrewsbury, leaves it near Chirk.

Shropshire is as important from the richness and variety of its minerals as it is interesting from the beauty of its scenery and the numerous remains of antiquity which may yet be seen there. The New Red sandstone formation occupies the whole N. of the county, and the Old Red sandstone extends over most of the S., the Severn being in most parts the boundary between the two systems. The northern limit of the older formation is the coalfield of Coalbrookdale, and on the E. it extends to the Wyre, or Bewdley coal district which passes into the adjoining county of Worcester. Its south-western boundary consists of an extensive tract comprising nearly one-fourth of the entire county, and composed of stratified rocks of the Silurian and Cambrian systems, but there is a considerable outlying district of the Old Red sandstone nearly 100 square acres in extent, separated from the larger portion of the Silurian rocks, which reaches into Radnorshire, and includes nearly the entire of Clun Forest. The Ludlow hills belong to the Silurian system, and rise from the Old Red sandstone at Corvedale to elevations of 1,000 to 1,100 feet, and from these to Coalbrookdale extends an unbroken escarpment called Wenlock Edge, consisting of Wenlock limestone. W. of this rise the Caradoc, or Church Stretton hills, where Ostorius is said by some to have defeated Caractacus, and which are formed of amorphous trap; Longmynd, which belongs to the Cambrian system, and raises its square-topped head to a height of 1,674 feet; and Stiperstones, rough and ragged, in which is a rich lead mine. The New Red sandstone formation in the N. of the county is broken towards Market Drayton by a bed of lias containing fossils corresponding to those found in the great lias formation of Warwick and Worcestershire, from which it is distant upwards of 60 miles. The plain of Shrewsbury is in most parts formed of the newer sandstone, but several patches of coal are scattered through it, and they are also found at intervals between the transition chains which indent this same plain.

The important coalfield of Coalbrookdale, the most extensive and most productive in the county, extends from Wormbridge to Coalport on the Severn. It is 8 miles in length and 2 in breadth; the coal is of the kind called slate coal, and contains from 1 to 3 per cent. of ash. Some of the beds are very sulphurous, and the coals are only used in making lime on account of the foetid odour which they emit when burning. The most productive parts of the field are about Hadley, where 16 seams have a total thickness of 15 yards; Dawley, where the coal seams are 14 yards in depth; and Madeley, where the beds are narrower, and 24 of them only measure 10½ yards. The entire field is much faulted, some of the dislocations amounting to 600 or 700 feet. Coal is found at every part of the district at varying depths, and alternating with ironstone, sandstone, and other substances. The ironstone is not rich, but being accompanied by the coal and flint supplies all the requisites for smelting, which is extensively practised. The ores of iron are peroxides in sandstone, argillaceous carbonates in shale, and sulphurets in coal. Brown Clee Hill and Titterstone Clee Hill, a few miles S. of Coalbrookdale, have their summits covered with overlying masses of granite, but coal is worked midway from the base. In the former it is found only in their strata, but in the latter the principal bed is 6 feet in depth. At Cornbrook there is a very valuable field 1 mile long and a quarter of a mile in breadth. The Billingsley tract, to the E. of the Clee hills, stretches from Dense Hill on the N. to the borders of Shropshire and Worcestershire, a distance of 8 miles, but it is doubtful whether this is one continuous field, or consists of several smaller ones adjacent to each other. The rocks which bound or separate these coal fields consist principally of sandstone, limestone, trap, and schists, containing lead and calamine, the most important of which, as already mentioned, are in Stiperstones mountain. The matrix is crystallized quartz, with sulphates and carbonate of barytes, and carbonate of lime. The ore is sulphuret of lead, carbonate of lead, red lead, ore, and blends, which contains besides calamine, or zinc, and the rock at Pimhill is strongly tinctured with copper. Mineral pitch exudes from the red sandstone at Pitchford. Freestone, marble, slate, and pipe-clay are raised. Saline springs are found among the New Red sandstone and coal measures in the N. and there is one also at Saltmoor, near Ashford, on the banks of the Tern, where salt is said to have been manufactured before the Norman conquest. Chalybeate springs also occur near Wenlock, at Moreton Bay, and in other places, and on the W. side of Longmynd, on Prolley Moor, there is a spring containing chloride of lime.

The climate is generally salubrious, but varies much according to the elevation above the sea and the nature of the soil, the lands in the E. being level, are dry and warm, so that the harvests there are frequently ripe a fortnight earlier than in the W. and middle. The soils are too varied and intermixed to admit of any general description, but the land is for the most part fertile and well cultivated, except the elevated districts, which are generally too rugged and barren to admit of much use being made of them except as sheepwalks. Agriculture is improving, grass lands receiving less attention than arable. The meadows near the Severn are very fertile, and are often enriched by the overflow of the river.

The county is not remarkable for dairy produce, but a fine quality of cheese is made and sold as Cheshire. The cattle are generally of the improved Hereford, Lancashire, Leicester, and Cheshire breeds. The horses are of good quality, but of no particular kind. The sheep are remarkable for the excellence of their wool. In many parts there is a species of horned sheep peculiar to this county and resembling South Downs. They are small and hardy, weighing about 10 lbs. the quarter, and yielding fleece of about 2½ lbs. Pork and bacon are much used by the people. Large flocks of turkeys are raised, and there are fine orchards, particularly in the S., where hops also are grown.

China of delicate and elegant pattern is made at Coalport and Caughley; earthenware at Coalport, and a coarse quality is also made at Broseley. There are glass works at Brockwardine, and porcelain is made at Bridgnorth, also carpets and cloth. Flannels are manufactured at Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Worthen, and Church Stretton, and linens and linen thread at various places. Gloves and paper are made at Ludlow, and there are paper works also in different parts of the county.

The principal industry, however, is devoted to coal and iron. The collieries under inspection number 59. The yearly produce is estimated at upwards of 300,000 tons, most of which is consumed in the iron furnaces at Coalbrookdale, Lightmoor Ketley, Donnington, Madeley Wood, and Snedshill on the N. of the Severn, and Calcot, Willey, Broseley, and Benthall S. of that river. Seven-tenths of the iron produced in the county, or 7 per cent. of that in the entire kingdom, is raised at Wellington, Dawley, and Madeley. The manufacture at Wellington and its neighbourhood is yearly increasing by the establishment of iron foundries, saw mills, new workshops and forges for the making of bar iron, which is there extensively carried on.

The county is divided into North and South Shropshire, the former containing the hundreds of Oswestry, Pimhill, North Bradford, South Bradford, and the liberty of Shrewsbury; and the latter the hundreds of Brimstrey, exclusive of Halesowen parish, Chirbury, Candover, Ford, Munslow, Overs, Purslow, including Clun, Stottesdon, and Wenlock franchise. It comprises 231 parishes, distributed among the dioceses of Hereford, Lichfield, St. Asaph, and Worcester, but all in the province of Canterbury. The civil government is entrusted to the lordlieutenant and custos rotulorum, high sheriff, and about 138 deputy-lieutenants and magistrates.

The county is in the Oxford circuit; the assizes and quarter sessions are held at Shrewsbury, where the county gaol, lunatic asylum, and Shropshire infirmary are situated, and there are 14 market towns. The county returns 12 members to parliament, two for the northern and two for the southern divisions, constituency 5,315 and 4,170 respectively, in 1865, and two each for the boroughs of Shrewsbury (1,505), Bridgnorth (647), Ludlow 382), and Wenlock (999). The detached district of Halesowen is included for elective purposes with the county of Worcester. The election for the northern division is held at Shrewsbury, and for the southern at Church Stretton."

[Transcribed and edited information from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868]