Little Wenlock: Growth of settlement

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

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'Little Wenlock: Growth of settlement', in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985) pp. 78-80. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]


In the Middle Ages the only centres of population were Little Wenlock, the manorial and ecclesiastical centre, and Huntington, always a smaller place. Eight inhabitants were recorded in 1086. (fn. 1) By the 1320s there were 42 tenants (fn. 2) but in 1540 only 24; (fn. 3) in both periods undertenants seem to have gone unrecorded. In 1642 the protestation was taken by all 82 men in the parish who were over 18. In 1660 there were 147 poll-tax payers, 31 of them at Huntington, (fn. 4) and 174 adult inhabitants were returned in 1676. (fn. 5) In the 18th century workers' cottages were built in brick in the industrial parts of the parish. The population, 980 in 1801, fell to 941 by 1811, (fn. 6) perhaps because of a reduction of coalmining in the parish. (fn. 7) The opening of the Lawley ironworks in 1822 (fn. 8) and the expansion of coalmining in neighbouring parishes (fn. 9) caused Little Wenlock's population to rise to 1,091 by 1841, when there were 202 inhabited houses. (fn. 10) There was a gradual decline 1841-61. A sharp drop (988 to 783) 1861-71 was probably due to the closure of Lawley ironworks. (fn. 11) Further industrial closures in neighbouring parishes (fn. 12) and agricultural depression combined to cause large-scale emigration from the parish between 1871 and 1891, when the population fell to 420. It remained at that level for sixty years or more. (fn. 13) The number of houses halved 1841-91. (fn. 14) The unemployed who remained suffered severe privation. (fn. 15) From the 1960s, however, with the development of Dawley (later Telford) new town on its boundaries, the parish became an attractive rural home for middle-class newcomers, whose influence on the character of its buildings, though not on the size of its settlements, was marked.

Little Wenlock village occupies a south-east spur of what was called Darrow Hill (c. 220 metres above O.D.) in the centre of the parish, with extensive views south, east, and west. By 1727, and probably much earlier, its houses and farms lay close together along the arms of a T formed by the junction of the roads to Shrewsbury (west), Much Wenlock (south), and Wellington via Huntington (east). The church, rectory, and Old Hall (the former manor house) lay at the end of the southern arm, on which stood also the capital messuages of the Smitheman and Warham estates. It therefore seems likely that the village had grown from that single street. By the later Middle Ages the outer ends of the eastern and southern arms were linked by a curving lane, called the Alley, along which by 1727 stood more houses, (fn. 16) including a cruck-framed cottage (standing in 1983).

By 1980 the early 18th-century pattern had hardly changed, though since the Second World War there had been much in-filling with private houses, and some of the old ones had been lavishly improved. Private houses of good quality had been built on the west, along Spout Lane, ground (c. 220 metres above O.D.) in the north on the upper Lyde brook. In 1727 it consisted of four farms and some cottages, (fn. 17) about the same number of dwellings as were there in the early 14th (fn. 18) and on the south, off Witchwell Lane. There was a block of three council houses, and a group of old people's bungalows had been provided.

16th- Century Little Wenlock

Huntington, existing by 1190, (fn. 19) stands on high and early 16th (fn. 20) centuries. They were linked by an irregular triangle of lanes, (fn. 21) through which the brook ran. By 1839 a few houses had been added southwards in Huntington Lane, (fn. 22) and by 1980 the buildings in that part included two modern private houses. Huntington nevertheless remained a loosely knit hamlet rather than a village.

Of the small groups of workmen's and miners' cottages that had been built by 1839 in the eastern half of the parish, as at Coalmoor, Huntington heath, Little Worth, Lawley Furnaces, and Smalleyhill, (fn. 23) the most populous was probably New Works, which had attained its full extent by 1798. (fn. 24) The cottages straggled along both sides of the southern end of the lane to Arleston, where it formed the western boundary of the parish's northern arm. They included at least two brick rows by 1798, which survived in 1980 though thoroughly modernized. New Works changed little in the 19th and earlier 20th century, (fn. 25) but by 1980 there had been much recent modernization and in-filling with small private houses and bungalows.


  • 1. V.C.H. Salop. i. 312.
  • 2. S.R.O. 1224/2/10. For the date see below, Econ. Hist. (Agric.).
  • 3. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/3021, mm. 10d-11d.
  • 4. Ho. of Lords papers 1641-2, Protestations Oxon. and Salop. f. 200; P.R.O., E 179/168/219, mm. 17d.-18.
  • 5. T.S.A.S. 2nd ser. i. 91.
  • 6. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 229.
  • 7. Below, Econ. Hist.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 230.
  • 10. S. Bagshaw, Dir. Salop. (1851), 566.
  • 11. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 229, 233; below, Econ. Hist.
  • 12. Above, Madeley, Econ. Hist.; below, Dawley and Wellington, Econ. Hist.
  • 13. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 229. There are no separate figs. for the ancient par. after 1951.
  • 14. Census, 1891, Area, Hos., and Pop. i. 302.
  • 15. I. Gregory, 'E. Salop. Coalfield and the "Gt. Depression" 1873-96' (Keele Univ. M.A. thesis, 1978), 177.
  • 16. S.R.O. 1224/1/59; below, plate 56.
  • 17. Cart. Shrews. ii, p. 354.
  • 18. S.R.O. 1224/1/59.
  • 19. Ibid. /2/10.
  • 20. S.R.O. 1224, box 342, Prior Gosnell's reg., f. 38.
  • 21. S.R.O. 1224/1/59.
  • 22. S.R.O. 2142/3.
  • 23. Ibid. /2-3; P.R.O., RG 10/2753, ff. 6-7, 9 and v., 18 and v., 21, 23v.-24v.
  • 24. S.R.O. 1224, box 259, deed (with annexed map).
  • 25. S.R.O. 2142/2; O.S. Map 6", Salop. XLIII. NW. (1889, 1903, and 1928 edns.).