Oswestry

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Oswestry (/ˈɒzwəstri/; is a town and civil parish in Shropshire, England, close to the Welsh border. It is at the junction of the A5, A483, and A495 roads.

The town was the administrative headquarters of the Borough of Oswestry until it was abolished on 1 April 2009 and is the third largest town in Shropshire, following Telford and Shrewsbury. The 2001 Census recorded the population of the civil parish as 15,613, the urban area as 16,660, and a 2008 estimate suggested that the latter figure had grown to 17,116. The town, located just five miles from the Anglo-Welsh border, is known for its mixed Welsh and English heritage, and is the home of the Shropshire libraries’ Welsh Collection.

The area has long been settled. Old Oswestry is the site of a large Iron Age hill fort with evidence of occupation dating back to the 550s BC.

The Battle of Maserfield is thought to have been fought here in 642, between the Anglo-Saxon kings Penda and Oswald. Oswald was killed in this battle and was dismembered; according to a legend, one of his arms was carried to an ash tree by a bird, an eagle, and miracles were subsequently attributed to the tree (as Oswald was considered a saint). Thus it is believed that the name of the site derived from a reference to “Oswald’s Tree”. The spring Oswald’s Well is supposed to have originated where the bird dropped the arm from the tree. Offa’s Dyke runs nearby to the west.

Alan FitzFlaad (d. c1114), a Breton knight, was granted the feudal barony of Oswestry by King Henry I who, soon after his accession, invited Alan to England with other Breton friends, and gave him forfeited lands in Norfolk and Shropshire, including some which had previously belonged to Ernoulf de Hesdin (killed at Antioch while on crusade) and Robert de Belleme.

Alan’s duties to the Crown included supervision of the Welsh border. He also founded Sporle Priory in Norfolk. He married Ada or Adeline, daughter of Ernoulf de Hesdin. Their eldest son William was made High Sheriff of Shropshire by King Stephen in 1137. He married a niece of Robert of Gloucester. But two of their younger sons, Walter and Simon, travelled to Scotland in the train of King David I, Walter becoming the first hereditary High Steward of Scotland and ancestor of the Stewart Royal Family.

The town, being very close to Wales, has many Welsh street and Welsh placenames and the town’s name in Welsh is Croesoswallt, meaning Oswald’s Cross. The Domesday Book records a castle being built by Rainald, a Norman Sheriff of Shropshire: L’oeuvre (meaning “the work” in French) (which was reduced to a pile of rocks during the English Civil War), and the town changed hands between English and Welsh a number of times during the Middle Ages. In 1149 the castle was captured by Madog ap Maredudd, and remained in Welsh hands until 1157. Occasionally in the 13th century it is referred to in official records as ‘Blancmuster'(1233) or ‘Blancmostre'(1272), meaning “white minster”. Later, Oswestry was attacked by the forces of Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndŵr during the early years of his rebellion against the English King Henry IV in 1400; it became known as Pentrepoeth or ‘hot town’ as it was burned and nearly totally destroyed by the Welsh. It eventually became known as Oswald’s Tree in English, from which its current name is derived.

In 1190 the town was granted the right to hold a market each Wednesday. After the foot and mouth outbreak in the late 1960s the animal market was moved out of the town centre. In the 1990s, a statue of a shepherd and sheep was installed in the market square as a memorial to the history of the market site. With the weekly influx of Welsh farmers the town folk were often bilingual. The town built walls for protection, but these were torn down by the Parliamentarians after they took the town after a brief siege on 22 June 1644, leaving only the Newgate Pillar visible today.

Park Hall, a mile east of the town was one of the most impressive Tudor buildings in the country. It was taken over by the Army in 1915 and used as a training camp. On 26 December 1918 it burnt to the ground following an electrical fault. The ruined hall and camp remained derelict between the wars. For decades following World War 2, Oswestry was a prominent military centre for Canadian troops, later British Royal Artillery and latterly, a very successful training centre for 16-18 year old Infantry Junior Leaders. This long and proud military connection came to an ignominious end in the mid-1970s, shortly after some local licensed wildfowlers were shot by the young military guard one winter’s night, mistaken for an attacking IRA force, as the locals discharged their shotguns at some passing ducks. The area previously occupied by the Park Hall military camp is now mainly residential and agricultural land, with a small number of light industrial units.

Attractions in and around Oswestry include: Whittington Castle (in nearby Whittington), Shelf Bank and the Cambrian Railway Museum located near the former railway station. The town is famous for its high number of public houses per head of population; there are around 30 in the town today, many of which offer real ale. A story incorporating the names of all of the pubs once open in Oswestry can be found hanging on the walls of the Oak on Church Street. Brogyntyn Hall belonged until recently to the lords Harlech.

Oswestry is located at the junction of the A5 with the A483 and A495. The A5 continues from Shrewsbury to the north, passing the town, before turning west near Chirk and entering Wales. Running near the town is a navigable section of the partially restored Montgomery Canal, which runs from Frankton Junction to Newtown.

Oswestry no longer has an open railway station, but it was once on the main line of the Cambrian Railways. Opened in 1840, the section from Whitchurch to Welshpool (Buttington Junction), via Ellesmere, Whittington, Oswestry and Llanymynech, closed on 18 January 1965 in favour of the more viable alternative route via Shrewsbury, leaving only a short branch line of the former Great Western Railway from Gobowen to continue to serve Oswestry until 7 November 1966. The GWR branch had once run into a separate GWR Oswestry terminus, now long since disappeared. Trains were switched to the main Cambrian station from 7 July 1924.

The main building of the Cambrian station is still a prominent landmark within the town centre, a large handsome edifice that had once housed the headquarters of the Cambrian Railways company. After restoration, this building was reopened as the Cambrian Visitor Centre in June 2006 but on 11 January 2008 closed due to the terms of the lease not being settled (it later reopened but has since closed again). A single railway track, overgrown and rusting, still runs through the station, and is the subject of an ambitious plan to reopen the line between Oswestry and Llanyblodwel, and eventually Oswestry to Gobowen. Already the main platform at Oswestry station is being reconstructed.

Immediately to the south is the Cambrian Railway Museum, while a short distance to the north are former Cambrian railways works, now occupied by a variety of industrial concerns. However, the nearest currently active station is at Gobowen. Local railway preservation societies have plans to reinstate the line from Gobowen station (where it meets the mainline), through Oswestry and into Wales.

Oswestry has had a mixed Welsh- and English-speaking population for centuries. The parish church conducted services in Welsh until 1814. English is the dominant language today, but there is still a substantial number of Welsh-speakers. Oswestry has one of the few Welsh-language bookshops outside Wales.

There are two Church of England churches, which are part of the Diocese of Lichfield – St. Oswald’s Parish Church and the Holy Trinity Parish Church. St Oswald’s church was first mentioned in the 1085 Domesday book and a tithe document in Shrewsbury the same year. St Oswald’s Church has a Norman tower dating from 1085. There is a new window in the East nave designed by prestigious stained glass artist Jane Grey in 2004.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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