Little Wenlock

Pages 77-78

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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Little Wenlock village lies 4½ km. south of Wellington and 3½ km. west of Dawley. (fn. 1) The civil parish, lying immediately west of Dawley (later Telford) new town, was greatly extended in 1966; until then it had formed part of the borough of Wenlock and its boundaries had remained those of the ancient parish, the area here treated.

The ancient boundaries rarely followed watercourses or roads, for in early times Little Wenlock was separated from its neighbours by woodlands in which boundaries seem to have been defined in the 13th century by man-made clearings. (fn. 2) At the southernmost tip the boundary followed Birches brook and a tributary. Except for a narrow arm of territory extending northwards from the northeast corner, the ancient parish was compact in shape. It covered 2,764 a. (fn. 3) (1,119 ha.). The parish's western edge lies on the flank of the Wrekin, at a height of c. 245 metres above O.D. A small valley along the base of the slope separates the Wrekin from an eastern outlier, called Darrow Hill in 1839, (fn. 4) which occupies the north-west quarter of the parish and rises to 258 metres above O.D., the parish's highest point. The ground descends gradually from it southwards and eastwards to the parish boundaries. The ancient parish's northern edge lay along an east-west watershed at c. 235 metres above O.D., a long eastern spur of Maddock's Hill (in Wellington parish). Streams from the sides of Darrow Hill and the spur, flowing through valleys southwards and eastwards, drain almost all the parish, several of them converging on Lyde brook. The undulating landscape was always predominantly agricultural, but before the 19th century the eastern half was marked by many small coalpits and in 1980 by post-war opencast workings. The high terrain, well wooded in parts and without main roads or large settlements, gave most of the parish a character of quiet seclusion in the late 20th century, especially by contrast with its neighbour Telford.

The presence of early man is suggested by two hoards of Bronze Age weapons found in the parish's north-west corner, at Willowmoor, c. 1790 and in 1834. (fn. 5) A nearby group of mounds, however, may be of natural origin. (fn. 6) A burial place below the Wrekin was noted in 975, (fn. 7) apparently where Little Wenlock and Wroxeter parishes met Aston township. (fn. 8) The parish probably took the Celtic main component of its name from Much Wenlock, (fn. 9) a few kilometres away, and the presence of Celtic speakers at Little Wenlock cannot be inferred from it.

In 1727 there were three principal roads out of the parish, beginning at Little Wenlock or Huntington; the short Huntington Lane (fn. 10) linked the two places. (fn. 11) Of the three the only one still used as a highway in 1980, Spout Lane, ran west from Little Wenlock to Shrewsbury; it formed the parish boundary south of Wrekin wood and was mentioned in 1232. (fn. 12) By the 1320S another of the three ran south from Little Wenlock to Buildwas bridge (fn. 13) and thence to Much Wenlock; known as Buildwas Lane in 1980, it was then only a track. The third road ran north-west from Huntington to Wellington, by way of the Hatch. It was superseded in the 19th century (fn. 14) by the road from Little Wenlock to Wellington, which in 1727 had been only a cartway as it left the parish.

Another cartway, from Huntington to Arleston, had been a highway (alta via) in 1301 (fn. 15) and formed the western boundary of the parish's northern arm. The growth of a mining settlement later revived its importance, as New Works Lane. Cartways from Little Wenlock to Coalbrookdale and Horsehay assumed importance only in the later 18th century as settlements there developed; minerals were usually taken by waggonway. (fn. 16)

The Wellington-Coalbrookdale turnpike road authorized in 1817 (fn. 17) crossed the parish's northern extremity and its eastern edge. It was the parish's only classified road in 1980. The principal unclassified roads were those from Little Wenlock to Wellington and Horsehay. (fn. 18)

There were six alesellers in the late 1780s, (fn. 19) and in the earlier 19th century many public houses. In 1839 Little Wenlock had five, Coalmoor three, Horsehay two, and Huntington and Smalleyhill one each. (fn. 20) By 1881 (fn. 21) there remained only the Swan (closed by 1901) (fn. 22) and the Spread Eagles (closed 1958) (fn. 23) at Little Wenlock, and the All Labour in Vain, Horsehay (still open in 1980). The Huntsman opened in Little Wenlock c. 1964. (fn. 24)

In 1803 there were six friendly societies, with 246 members. (fn. 25) By 1812-13 membership had fallen to 140, but it rose to 162 in 1814-15. (fn. 26) The societies included one formed at Little Wenlock in 1791, another formed at Coalmoor in 1801, and a Union Society formed in 1812, which met at Smalleyhill. A Beneficial Society, formed in 1845, met at the Spread Eagles. (fn. 27)

There was a church room belonging to Lord Forester (fn. 28) opposite the church by 1895. The vestry (fn. 29) and the parochial church council (fn. 30) met there, and in 1898 it was open for recreation on Saturdays. (fn. 31) Social gatherings were held in the school until 1934 when a new village hall opened south-east of the village. (fn. 32) A local committee raised the money (fn. 33) and Lord Forester contributed the proceeds from the sale of the church room. (fn. 34) The National Coal Board provided a large hall near the village centre in 1963 and demolished the old one in advance of opencast working. (fn. 35) A youth club formed in 1942 (fn. 36) later lapsed; in 1980 it had recently been revived, the number of young people having increased. (fn. 37)


  • 1. This art. was written 1980 and revised 1982-3. Thanks are d ue to Mr. N. J. Clarke for his comments on it in draft.
  • 2. Below, Econ. Hist.
  • 3. Census, 1951, Co. Rep. Herefs. and Salop. 8.
  • 4. S.R.O. 2142/1, 3.
  • 5. SA 1779-80.
  • 6. SA 1781.
  • 7. Cart. Sax. ed. Birch, iii, no. 1315.
  • 8. O.S. Nat. Grid SJ 629 077. But cf. T.S.A.S. lvi. 32-3.
  • 9. E. Ekwall, Concise Oxf. Dict. Eng. P.N. (4th edn.), 506.
  • 10. So called by 1982: local inf.
  • 11. In this section details of rds. in 1727 are based on S.R.O. 1224/1/59.
  • 12. Cal. Close, 1231-4, 94.
  • 13. S.R.O. 1224/2/10.
  • 14. The Huntington-Wellington route is the only one marked in R. Baugh, Map of Salop. (1808).
  • 15. Cartulary of Shrews. Abbey, ed. U. Rees (1975), ii, p. 247.
  • 16. Below, Econ. Hist.
  • 17. Below, Wellington, Communications.
  • 18. O.S. Map 1/50,000, sheet 127 (1977 edn.).
  • 19. S.R.O. 1224, box 206, man. ct. presentments of 1787, 1789.
  • 20. S.R.O. 2142/1.
  • 21. O.S. Map 6", Salop. XLIII. NW. (1889 edn.).
  • 22. Ibid. (1903 edn.).
  • 23. M. E. R. Jackson, 'Notes on Hist. of Madeley' (microfilm in S.P.L.), bk. 3A, p. 91.
  • 24. S.R.O. 1490/1, p. 126.
  • 25. Abstr. Rel. to Poor, H.C. 175, p. 423 (1803-4), xiii.
  • 26. Abstr. Rel to Poor, H.C. 82, p. 377 (1818), xix.
  • 27. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 285, friendly socs. reg., s.vv. Coalmoor and Wenlock, L.; Registrar of Friendly Socs. List of Friendly Socs. in Co. of Salop, 1793-1855 (H.M.S.O. 1857), pp. 9, 39 (copy in S.R.O.).
  • 28. Par. rec., vestry min. bk. 1818-1958, 17 Apr. 1935.
  • 29. Ibid. passim.
  • 30. Par. rec., P.C.C. min. bk. 1929-44, passim.
  • 31. L. Wenlock Par. Mag. Jan. 1898 (copy in par. rec.).
  • 32. Local inf.
  • 33. Shrews. Chron. 26 Oct. 1934.
  • 34. Par. rec., vestry min. bk. 1818-1958, 17 Apr. 1935.
  • 35. Local inf.
  • 36. Par. rec., youth club min. bk. 1942-4.
  • 37. Local inf.