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HODNET: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1824.

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"HODNET, a parish in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. A rectory in charge, in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, the deanery of Newport, and archdeaconry of Salop. 360 houses, 2,117 inhabitants. 6 miles east of Wem. See appendix. Hodnet is the seat of Richard Heber, Esq., M.P. for Oxford, whose brother, the present bishop of Calcutta, was long the rector of this parish.

A man whom but to name is to give him the highest praise; not more conspicuous for his elevated rank in the church, than for his virtue and his piety, his erudition and his refinement,- and now placed in a situation, which, connected with his talents and his disposition, justifies the brightest hopes of the friends of religion and of human nature. His lordship even in very early life gave to the world a specimen of his exqnisite skill in the Greek language, and of his cultivated taste, in his translation of some of the odes of Pindar.

Dr. Arnway, a celebrated divine of the sixteenth century, was born in Shropshire, and most probably either at Hodnet, or Ightfield, the rectories of which places he held till he was dispossessed by the civil wars both of them and his temporal estate. Dr. Arnway was educated at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he took the degree of M.A. In 1640, he was created Doctor in divinity, at Oxford, and the King gave him the archdeaconry of Coventry, as a mark of royal goodness, but of no benefit, the contest between Charles and the parliament commencing about this time. After the murder of the King, Dr. Arnway passed over into Holland, where he wrote some pieces against the nobles, and defended the character of the King against Milton. He afterwards went to Virginia, where he died in 1653."

" BLETCHLEY, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 7½ miles southeast of Whitchurch, 2½ miles west of Drayton."

" HAWKSTONE, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 4 miles north-east of Wem.

The seat of Sir Rowland Hill, Bart. The mansion, long the residence of the ancient family of the Hills, is situated on the north side of a hill, a little out of the road from Shrewsbury to Whitchurch. The West Portico, the pillars of which are of the composite order, and are large and lofty, is considered as admirable piece of architecture. The Saloon, the Chapel, and the Library, are particularly deserving of attention. The former, a lofty, spacious room, is fitted up in a costly manner, and adorned with some fine paintings. Among these is the siege of Namur, of which piece, the principal characters were taken from life. They are William the third, the Elector of Bavaria, the Duke of Marlborough, Count Cohorn, and the Right Honourable Richard Hill, (great uncle to the late Sir John,) at that time paymaster to the forces, a member of the Privy Council, and Envoy at the court of Turin.

It does not certainly appear by whom the house was originally built; but Sir Rowland Hill, Bart., great grandfather of the present proprietor, added the wings, and made other considerable additions; and the family mansion, it is said, was at this place in the time of Sir Rowland Hill, Knight, who was Lord Mayor of London, in the reign of Edward the sixth, A.D. 1549.

The Chapel and Library are in the north wing, which is separated from the rest of the mansion, by a Colonnade. In the ceiling of the former, is a very masterly painting designed as emblematical of the reformation. Truth is represented appealing to Time to bring her to light, and Falsehood flies away affrighted.

The Park, which is very extensive, contains beauties which have often engaged the attention of persons of taste, for days together. Scenes, which in any situation, would merit the denomination of sublime, are here rendered doubly striking by their appearance in the midst of a fine fertile champaigne country, bounded on all sides by ranges of distant hills. On a clear day the eye may command the view of twelve, and sometimes thirteen counties, viz., Shropshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Montgomeryshire, Merionethshire, Radnorshire, and Blackstone Edge, in Yorkshire.

An easy ascent from the mansion, through the side of a wilderness of lofty trees, chiefly beeches, conducts to the Summer House, a handsome octagonal building, of free stone, the interior of which is painted in fresco, and represents the four seasons. From the window there is a pleasing prospect of a grand piece of water, and some verdant meadows, and in the distance appear the Broxton Hills, and Delamere Forest, in Cheshire. This scene is agreeably diversified by a farm house, built in the Gothick style, representing an Abbey, or Priory, among some scattered trees by the water side. A spacious Cold Bath, under the Summer House, is supplied by a chrystal spring issuing from the side of a bank, a few yards distant.

A pleasant walk interspersed with trees, leads from the summer house to a deep valley called the Gulf, which separates the Grotto rock from an opposite hill. Emerging from a beautiful lawn, the most romantick scenery suddenly presents itself to the eye of the spectator, and the valley on the left is scarcely inferior even to the Thessalian Tempe. Proceeding along a rising walk on the side of the rock, variegated with shrubs and trees, through which the water appears below, the traveller is at length conducted to the solemn entrance which leads to the grotto.

A profound and extended cleft in the rock had continued for ages undiscovered. The late Sir Richard Hill, uncle of the present Sir Rowland, caused all the earth, rubbish, and leaves, to be removed, when it was found that the two sides of the rock corresponded so nearly with each other, that it is not an improbable conjecture that they were once united, and that their separation was caused by an earthquake. Through this majestick aperture of massy stone, there is a gradual ascent to a sombre passage, which extends about one hundred yards, and from which all light is excluded. This passage conducts to the grotto, a vast subterranean cave, supported by rugged pillars, hewn in the solid rock. The grotto is formed of the most costly shells, inlaid with petrefactions and fossils.

The superb grandeur of this apartment is perfectly in character with the sublimity of the surrounding scenes, and its effect on the admiring stranger surpasses all description.

Through a colonnade of rude pillars, tinged with copper, this labyrinth of wonders is quitted by a door on the west, which opens on an awful precipice, and commands a view of huge pending crags, coloured with copper, or hoary with age, and of gaping chasms between the rocks, while the verdant lawn, the fertile, distant prospect, the wood and water below, form a fine contrast of the sublime, and the beautiful.

The traveller is next conducted to a delightfully retired spot in the midst of the thick wood, where he may repose himself on a rustick sofa, made of different sorts of curious mosses.

Turning under the grotto hill, by a stair-case cut out of the rock, and looking upwards, you behold enormous shelves of green copper hanging over you, as if on the very point of felling. This view is most striking near a place cut in the rock, where there are two opposite seats, called the Vis-a-vis.

This grand hill stretches itself out towards the south-west; and the stately rocks remind the beholder of the ruins of Palmyra, or Persepolis. They resemble so many demolished castles, fallen into ruin, and heaped upon each other. The noble Corsican general, Pascal Paoli, declared that in all his travels, he had seen nothing which had given him so much delight. This distinguished foreigner appeared to be most struck by a view under the grotto hill, where the red castle rock, breaks in upon the eye. This place is now distinguished by the name of Paoli's Point.

Leaving the grotto hill, you proceed by the side of stately oaks and rugged cliffs, [The most remarkable of these, called the SHIP'S BEAK, seems as if it had been once separated from the main rock by some violent convulsion of nature.] till you arrive at a natural cave called the Retreat, the top of which hangs in small rocky clouds overhead, and has in it some veins resembling mortar, and of a brackish taste. In this cave are some beautiful lines written by the pious Sir Richard Hill, while engaged in contemplating these delightful scenes.

Passing by the Canopy and the Indian Rock, which are both deeply tinged with variegated copper, you reach a little cottage in which there is the figure of a hermit, in a sitting posture, and with a table before him, on which are a skull, an hour glass, a book, and a pair of spectacles. The figure rises at the approach of strangers, and appears to repeat some lines which are fixed up in the inside of the habitation, under the motto,-

'Memento Mori.'

From the hermit's cottage the stranger is conducted to a place called the Fox's Nob, because a fox, some years ago, leaped from the top into a deep valley, and being followed by some of the dogs, the pursuers and the pursued perished together,

The next curiosity is Sir Francis's cave, the entrance to which is under the curious twisted root of a venerable yew-tree. After having groped for some time in darkness, a sudden transition into the light presents a most enchanting prospect of wood, hills, lawn, and water, mingled with the busy scenes of agriculture.

A turning a little to the left, leads by a gentle ascent to the summit of the Terrace. It is a verdant walk, with forest trees of every kind on each side, with openings at proper intervals, through which the distant prospect bursts upon the view, while hundreds of the feathered tribe charm the ear with their melodious notes.

A walk under the Terrace, which leads from the Fox's Nob to the Tower Glen, exceeds perhaps all the rest in its wonderful variety of fine large timber trees, lofty rocks, solemn dingles, natural caverns, and diversified prospects.

On the highest spot on the Terrace is erected the Grand Obelisk. It is built of white free stone, and is about one hundred and twelve feet high. From the top of this column, in the inside of which is a stone stair-case, the most unbounded prospect presents itself to view: hills beyond hills discover themselves all around, and England and Wales vie with each ether, in the loftiness of their mountains, and the richness of their plains.

The gallery of the obelisk forms an observatory for the astronomer, while the inscription on the base transmits to posterity the piety and noble acts of a venerable ancestor, a handsome statue of whom, in his Lord Mayor's gown, copied from an ancient monument, which stood in the church of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, before the fire of London, is placed on the top, holding the Magna Charta in his hand. The following is the inscription at the base,-

THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL BE HAD IN EVERLASTING REMEMBRANCE. Psalm cvi. 6.

' The first stone of this Pillar was laid by Sir Richard Hill, Bart., member in several parliaments for this county, on the 1st day of October, in the year 1795, who caused it to be erected, not only for the various uses of an observatory, and to feast the eye by presenting to it at one view, a most luxuriant and extensive prospect, which takes in not less than twelve (or as some assert fifteen) counties;- but from motives of justice, respect and gratitude to the memory of a truly good man, viz. Sir Rowland Hill, Knight, who was born at the family mansion of Hawkstone, in the reign of King Henry the seventh, and being bred to trade, and free of the city of London, become one of the most considerable and opulent merchants of his time, and was Lord Mayor of the same, in the second and third years of Edward the sixth, anno 1549, and 1550, and was the first Protestant who filled that high office.

'Having embraced the principles of the reformation, he zealously exerted himself in behalf of the Protestant cause, and having been diligent in the use of all religious exercises, prayerful, conscientious, and watchful, (as a writer of his character expresses it) yet trusting only in the merits of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, he exchanged this life for a better, a short while after the death of that pious young monarch, being aged nearly seventy years.

For a considerable time previous to his dodge, he gave up his mercantile occupations, that he might with more devotedness of heart, attend to the great concerns of another world.

His lands, possessions, and church patronage were immense; particularly in the counties of Salop, and Chester: the number of his tenants, (none of whom he ever raised or fined) amounting to one thousand, one hundred and eighty one, as appears from a rental yet preserved, and copied front his own hand writing.

But his private virtues, good deeds, and munificent spirit were quite unlimited, and extended like the prospect before us, East, West, North, and South, far surpassing all bounds. "Being sensible" saith Fuller, (speaking of him in his Worthies of England,) "that his great estate was given him of God," it was his desire to devote it to His glory. He built a spacious church in his own parish of Hodnet, and likewise the neighbouring chapel of Stoke, at his own expense. He built Tern and Atcham bridges, in this county, both of hewn stone, and containing several arches each. He also built other large bridges of timber. He made and paved divers highways for the publick utility. He founded exhibitions, and educated many students at both Universities, and supported, at the inns of court, others who were brought up to the law.

He was the unwearied friend of the widow and the fatherless. He clothed annually, three hundred people in his own neighbourhood, both with shirts and coats; and in the city of London, he gave £500 (an immense sum in those days) to St. Bartholomew's hospital, besides (saith Fuller) £600 to Christ church hospital. He also gave most liberally to all the other hospitals, and at his death bequeathed £150 to the poor of all the wards in London.

He had no children, but his relations and kinsfolk were numerous; who all partook largely of his bounty, both in his life time, and at his death. He constantly kept up a great household, where be maintained good hospitality. Many resorted to him for his wise and salutary advice, and none who came to him were sent empty, or dissatisfied away.

Go and do thou likewise, as far as thy ability will paint, without injury to thy relations.

The following Latin inscription is under a portrait of him now in the house at Hawkstone.

Rowlandus Hill, miles Salopiensis, vir bonus et sapiens, quondam Major civitatis Londini, se dignissimus consul ejusdem existens. Qui auctoritate opibusque temporibus Regum Henrici Octavi et Edwardi Sexti florans, diversas terrae, praedia ac possessiones perquisivit, eaque omnis, salva conscientia, abeque omni aliorum injuria vel darane. Quo jam senescente (it should be Qui jam senescens) ac in ultimam aetatem vergente (vergens) a rebus acquirendis prorsus abstinuit, ac sua "sorte contentus, sibi quiete vixit, neque plura optabat. Multa praeterea praeclara opera egit, magnam alebat familiam. Bona qua acquisivisset (acquisivit) liberaliter impendit, pauperibus dedit. Scholastieis in utraque academia exhibuit, leguleios aluit, atque in alios pios usus eregavit. Liberos suscepit nullos, ideoque terras possessionesque suas inter cognates ac consanguineos divisit. Breviter, tanta pietate clariut, quod fama facta extendebet, quamque vitam suam vigiliis, timore ac contemplatione continuit, ad honorem summi Dei, ac in perpetuam nominis gloriam.

It is worthy of remark, that as Sir Rowland Hill was the first Protestant Lord Mayor, anno 1649, so his father, Thomas Hill, of Hawkstone, Esq., was the last Lord Mayor of the Roman Catholick persuasion.

A walk from the terrace, leads to the Tower, a large handsome building, in what is called the Gothick style, situated on a lofty projection on the south-west side of the Terrace, which forms a fine prospect of the country for several miles round.

The hill now turns round to the Vineyard, which is laid out like a fortification with turrets, walls, and bastions. Being well screened by the woods and rocks, behind and on each aide, and open only to the south sun, the situation was considered peculiarly adapted to the growth and culture of the vine; but though every effort was tried, the attempt did not succeed, and there is every reason to believe that no vineyard in this climate can ever be brought to any greater degree of perfection.

From the tower may be seen the town of Shrewsbury, and many of the Cambrian hills, with their pointed tops, propping the clouds;- Caer Caradoc, famous in history for a bulwark of stone, where Caractacus, the British chief, bravely defended himself against the Roman forces; (See Caer Caradoc,) and that magnificent mountain the Wrekin. There is a view also of the Briedden, Moel-y-Golva, and Caverokesken hills, the former of which is the pillar erected in honour of Lord Rodney.

About a mile from the tower is a hanging wood, called the Bury Walls. Here are the remains of a grand Roman camp, which is allowed by Antiquaries to be the most perfect in the kingdom. It encompasses nearly twenty acres of ground, and is secured on all sides but one, by an inaccessible rock. That side on which there is no natural defence, is strongly guarded by a triple entrenchment, which must have been a work of immense labour. [On the top of Hopley, a neighbouring bill, belonging to Andrew Corbet Esq., are some vestiges of another encampment, supposed also to have been Roman.]

From these heights, a beautiful walk, closed up with trees and rocks on each side, winds on to the Tower Glen, a steep dingle, into which the immediate descent is by a narrow walk, and many rude steps. On each side is a range of the most grotesque rocks and caverns, interspersed with underwood, and lofty, venerable oaks and elms.

Here there is an extraordinary cave (accessible by steps in the rock,) which is remarkable as having been the hiding place of an ancestor of the Hill family, in the reign of Charles the first. In memory of this gentleman, Sir Richard Hill caused a handsome urn, with the following inscription, to be placed near the cave,-

Anno 1784. This Urn Was placed here by Sir Richard Hill, Bart., Eldest son of Sir Rowland Hill, Bart., One of the Knights of this Shire, As a token of affection to the memory of his much respected Ancestor ROWLAND HILL OF HAWKSTONE, ESQUIRE;

'A gentleman remarkable for his great wisdom, piety and charity; who, being a zealous Royalist, hid himself in this glen in the civil wars, in the time of King Charles the first. But being discovered was imprisoned in the adjacent castle, commonly called Red Castle, while his house was pillaged, and ransacked by the rebels. The castle itself was soon afterwards demolished. His son Rowland Hill, Esq., coming to his assistance, also suffered much in the same loyal cause.'

The above account, taken from Kimber's Baronet age, as also from the traditions of the family, holds forth to posterity the attachment of this ancient house, to an unfortunate and much injured sovereign.

Passing over the top of the valley, you arrive at the foot of the Elysian Hill, on the south side of which is the Menagerie, in which there was formerly a choice collection of beasts and birds, both foreign and domestick.

At the distance of about a hundred yards is the Green-house, built of rough unhewn stone, from which, directing your course round the south-east end of the Elysian hill, and having crossed another part of the enchanting valley beneath, you arrive at the Red Castle Hill, which is so denominated from the colour of the rock, and of the stone, with which the castle is built.

Having ascended this lofty and delightfully romantick hill, you enter the edifice through a strong door, or gate way.

This venerable fortress, long the seat of warriors, and remarkable for its strength, and the prodigious thickness of its walls, is now a heap of ruins, and inhabited only by birds of prey.

Dugdale informs us that this castle was erected in the reign of Henry the third; but there is an ancient manuscript in the Audley family, which proves that its original existence was of much earlier date. It is there said that 'Maud, or Matilde, wife of William the Conqueror, gave to John de Audley and to his heirs, the lands about Red Castle, in the county of Salop, for certain services done by him to the state.'

On the Red Castle hill is a deep well, commonly called the Giant's Well, the circular walls of which, above the rock which forms the lower part, are of immense thickness, and are best seen by looking in at a door on the side.

By the side of this well, a coffin, almost entire, was found a few years ago, which on being exposed to the air mouldered into dust, and discovered several human hones, with the iron beard of an arrow, by means of which it is supposed that the person buried there, received his mortal wound.

Near this place is an immense excavation in the solid rock, at the end of which stands the stone statue of a lion.

Hawkstone park is highly adorned by a most magnificent piece of water, in the form of a navigable river, about two miles in length, and in some parts near one hundred yards in breadth, one end of which loses itself in a thick wood near the Lodge, on the road going to Prees and Whitchurch, and the other meets all the grand scenery in the park, concealing its termination behind the Red Castle hill, in the middle of a fine fertile valley. In sailing along this water, which is a boundary to the north and west sides of the Park, [the Menagerie water or river Eden is the boundary on the south-east.] all the enchanting and romantick scenes before described, open upon you as you advance. When the cannons of the yacht are discharged, the echoes, particularly on a calm day, are amazingly grand.

Immense as this undertaking was, on account of the strong high dams which go the whole length of the river Hawk, (as it is called) yet as Sir Richard Hill kept a great number of men constantly employed, this large piece of water was entirely completed in about three years. It is supplied as well from its own internal springs, as by a very large Toad cut out in stone, through the mouth of which, a copious torrent of clear water issues out, when the wind will serve to set a neighbouring mill at work, with sufficient force. [This mill is used for the purpose of making oil cakes, with which the cattle at Hawkstone are fed.]

[Hawkstone Inn stands at that end of the neighbouring village of Weston which is nearest the Park. It is very genteelly fitted up for the reception of company who resort thither to see the Park, and though secluded from the noise and inconvenience of a publick road,- is little more than 12 miles from Shrewsbury, 4 from Wem, 9 from Whitchurch, and the same distance from Drayton. It has the advantage of a very good road which leads through the park, and comprehends views of the House, the water, and some of the finest scenes among the rocks.]

At the commencement of the Park, near the Inn, is a plantation into which you enter under two large whale bones, over which are the following lines:-

Here, friend of taste, thy course begin, And Nature's charms admire; Where varied landscapes feast the eye, The feet forget to tire.

The distance is but a few steps to Neptune's Whim, which takes its name from a colossal statue of that god which, some time ago, stood behind the buildings, at the river's head. This figure had an urn under the arm, from which the water fell over some broken pieces of rock, while his Nereids below threw up the stream to a considerable height. Here Neptnne sat in great dignity, enthroned in a canopy of laurels and other trees, between two large ribs of a whale.

This whimsical edifice is built in the exact taste of the houses in North Holland, (with a windmill on the opposite bank of the river, painted quite in the Dutch style) and is ornamented in the inside, with a number of beautiful Swiss prints, and other curiosities. The stained glass in the windows has a very pretty effect.

Here are a Chinese temple and a flower garden, (called Amphitrite's flower garden,) in the middle of which, during the summer season, is pitched a tent which was brought by Colonel Hill, (the father of the present Sir Rowland) when he returned from Egypt. Over the entrance of this tent, is the following inscription,-

'This tent was brought by Colonel Hill, from Egypt to England. It originally belonged to the famous Murad Bey; was taken at the battle of the Pyramids, by the French; and taken from the French when Grand Cairo surrendered to the English, June 25th, 1801. Sir Sidney Smith assured Colonel Hill, it was the tent in which the Convention of El Arish was signed.'"

" HOPTON and ESPLEY, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 6 miles south-east by east of Wem."

" KENSTON, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 6 miles east of Wem."

" LITTLE BOLAS, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 6½ miles north-west of Newport."

" LITTLE BOLAS, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North, 7 miles north-west of Newport.

" LONGFORD, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 2 miles west of Drayton."

" LOSSFORD, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North."

" MARCHAMLEY, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 6 miles east of Wem."

" MORETON SAY (or MORETON SEA), a township in the parish of Hodnet, (but having a separate minister and assessment) and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North, a chapel to Hodnet, in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, the deanery of Salop, and archdeaconry of Salop. 138 houses, 762 inhabitants. 3 miles north-west by west of Drayton.

" PEPLOW, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 7½ miles north- west of Newport. The seat of Joseph Clegg, Esq."

" STYCHE and WOODLANDS, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. The birth place of Lord Clive. 2½ miles northwest of Drayton. See Drayton."

" WESTON and WIXHILL under RED CASTLE, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 3½ miles east of Wem. Weston is a chapel to Hodnet, in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, the deanery of Newport, and archdeaconry of Salop. 58 houses, 322 inhabitants."

" WOOLLERTON, a township in the parish of Hodnet, and in the Drayton division of the hundred of Bradford North. 7 miles north-east by east of Wem."

[Transcribed information from A Gazetteer of Shropshire - T Gregory - 1824](unless otherwise stated)

[Description(s) transcribed by Mel Lockie ©2015]