A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
MANOR AND OTHER ESTATES.
Before 1066 LILLESHALL was among twelve prebendal estates held by the collegiate church of St. Alkmund, Shrewsbury. (fn. 1) It was said in the 12th century that St. Alkmund's had been founded and endowed by Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians (d. 918), and that ten prebends had been created for the college by King Edgar (d. 975). (fn. 2) In 1086 Lilleshall was held of the college by Godebold the priest, (fn. 3) probably as a prebend. He was a clerk of Roger of Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, (fn. 4) and it seems possible that the college held the manor of Earl Roger (fn. 5) (d. 1094). If the earl and the two sons who succeeded him were the tenants in chief, St. Alkmund's presumably held in chief after Earl Robert's forfeiture in 1102. (fn. 6) Godebold was succeeded as lord by his son Robert. Another clerk of the earls of Shrewsbury, Richard of Beaumais (bishop of London from 1108, d. 1127), was Robert's successor and apparently held the manor of Henry I in chief, which suggests that St. Alkmund's was then under Richard's rule. In 1128 the king granted the manor to Richard's nephew, Richard of Beaumais (II). (fn. 7) About 1145, as dean of St. Alkmund's, he conveyed the manor, with royal consent, to Arrouaisian canons from Dorchester (Oxon.) for a new abbey, which they established at Lilleshall by 1148. (fn. 8) It was many years before the canons could establish full possession, for some land and rights had been alienated since 1086. (fn. 9)
The manor was held in demesne by the abbey until surrendered to the Crown in 1538. (fn. 10) In 1543 James Leveson (d. 1547) (fn. 11) of Wolverhampton, a merchant of the staple, bought the manor from the Crown. (fn. 12) His son and heir Richard (kt. 1553) died in 1560, leaving the manor to his executors for thirteen years and thereafter to his son and heir Walter (fn. 13) (born 1550, kt. 1587). (fn. 14) At Sir Walter's death in 1602 (fn. 15) the manor passed to his son and heir Sir Richard, (fn. 16) who became viceadmiral of England in 1604. (fn. 17)
Dying in 1605 without lawful issue (fn. 18) Sir Richard left the manor to trustees for the payment of legacies and debts and thereafter to his third cousin, (fn. 19) Richard Leveson of Halling (Kent). (fn. 20) The younger Richard's father, Sir John (d. 1615), became sole trustee by 1609 (fn. 21) and left the trust to his widow and executrix, Christian, reserving Lilleshall manor to her as long as she should choose to live there. (fn. 22) In 1616 Lilleshall was seized by the Crown for a debt of Sir Richard's still owing to it; in 1617, however, Christian bought a Crown lease of the manor to trustees to the uses of Sir John's will. (fn. 23) In 1622-3 the Crown debt was paid off and in 1623 Christian discharged her last functions as Sir John's executrix. (fn. 24) By the end of 1623 her son Richard (kt. 1626) (fn. 25) was in possession. (fn. 26)
At Sir Richard's death without lawful issue in 1661 the manor passed under his will (fn. 27) to his widow Katherine (d. 1674) (fn. 28) for life, and thereafter to his grandnephew William Leveson-Gower (formerly Gower) of Stittenham (Yorks. N.R.). William (4th bt. 1689) died in 1691 (fn. 29) and Lilleshall descended from father to son until 1823, the following (fn. 30) being lords: Sir John (cr. Baron Gower 1703, d. 1709); John, 2nd baron (cr. Earl Gower 1746, d. 1754); (fn. 31) Granville, 2nd earl (cr. marquess of Stafford 1786, d. 1803); (fn. 32) George Granville, 2nd marquess (cr. duke of Sutherland 1833, d. 1833). (fn. 33) In 1823 the marquess settled the manor for life on his son George Granville, Earl Gower (fn. 34) (2nd duke 1833). After the 2nd duke's death in 1861 the manor continued to descend with the dukedom. (fn. 35) Most of the manorial estate, except in Donnington Wood, was sold by the 5th duke (d. 1963) in separate lots in 1914 and 1917. (fn. 36) The manorial rights were not sold but by 1919 their nature and value were unknown. (fn. 37) They were settled on the 5th duke for life in 1927. (fn. 38)
The Levesons' first house in the parish seems to have been the hunting lodge in the deer park. In 1604 it was occupied by Sir Richard Leveson (d. 1605). There were then two storeys: above the hall and offices were a great chamber and several other chambers including Sir Robert Harley's. (fn. 39) Harley (1579-1656) (fn. 40) was Sir Richard's cousin (fn. 41) and presumably lived at the lodge. The building was improved c. 1615. (fn. 42) In 1645 Sir Richard Leveson was living at the lodge while the abbey buildings were garrisoned. (fn. 43) The Levesons were never continuously in residence, and Sir Richard (d. 1661) was the only head of the family to be buried in the parish. In the late 17th century day-to-day custody of the buildings was in the hands of the resident keeper of the deer park. (fn. 44) In 1679 the lodge's most prominent feature was a deep balcony supported on an open arcade and with a balustraded parapet; the balcony faced east over the open part of the park. In 1774 the lodge's ground plan was roughly rectangular, with the longer sides facing east and west. (fn. 45) About 1800 the house appeared from the west as a mainly timberframed building with much decorative studding, on stone foundations and with parts wholly of stone. (fn. 46) In the later 18th century the lodge's surroundings became increasingly unattractive. Lord Gower had left it for good probably by 1774, by which time the deer park had been split up, (fn. 47) and certainly by 1783. (fn. 48) Part at least was inhabited in 1796 (fn. 49) but the house was gradually taken down and the remains were demolished c. 1818. (fn. 50)
The Hall (later the Old Hall), the LevesonGowers' Shropshire seat after they left the lodge, is said to have been built in the late 1750s (fn. 51) but it incorporates a timber-framed farmhouse, probably of the 17th century. In the 1820s it was considered too modest for Lord Gower, the new lord of the manor, (fn. 52) and it ceased to be the family's Shropshire seat when the new Lilleshall Hall (in Sheriffhales) was completed for him in 1830. (fn. 53) In 1839 the 2nd duke kept the Old Hall in hand, (fn. 54) possibly as a dower house. (fn. 55) It was later let (fn. 56) and in 1917 the 5th duke sold it to C. & W. Walker Ltd. (fn. 57) In 1930 the firm sold it to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, Booksellers, and Stationers (fn. 58) as a convalescent home for members. (fn. 59) The home closed c. 1972, and the house was vacant until 1977 when, with the assistance of Wrekin district council, Old Ben Homes reopened it as retirement flats for newsvendors and others. (fn. 60)
After its appropriation to Lilleshall abbey the rectory descended with the manor, except that in 1543 Sir Edward Aston bought the rectory from the Crown (fn. 61) and sold it to James Leveson. (fn. 62) The rectorial tithes (which excluded the great tithes of 'Shelton's old farm' and of the vicarial glebe) (fn. 63) were commuted in 1845 to an annual rent charge of £772 17s. 6d., of which the £770 due from the manorial estate was extinguished and merged with the freehold by 1849. (fn. 64)
By 1404 there was only one other freehold within the manor, at Muxton, held of the canons by a chief rent of 4s. (fn. 65) The holder in 1539 was Robert Hakyn. (fn. 66) About 1780 Isaac Hawkins Browne, presumably a descendant, was said to have recently sold the land (c. 50 a.) in three lots, none of it to Earl Gower. (fn. 67) By 1851, however, all except 6 a. belonged to the 2nd duke of Sutherland, (fn. 68) and by 1879 those 6 a. too had been absorbed into the manorial estate. (fn. 69)