Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hugh Owen and John Brickdale Blakeway

Meet Hugh and John. Owen and Blakemore. The Reverends Owen and Blakemore, my new best friends.  I met them in Candle Lane Books, which is where I also, years ago now, bumped into those other good friends, Georgina Jackson & Charlotte Burne. Thanks to Burne’s ‘Shropshire Folk-Lore’, my writing life has been enlivened by all sorts of fascinating Shropshire characters, including Wild Edric, the highwayman Humphrey Kynaston and Sabrina, goddess of the River Severn.  And thanks to Jackson’s ‘Shropshire Word-Book’ [one of the first dictionaries of the vernacular, interestingly], I’ve been able to converse with @Shroppiemon [another post, another day] on Twitter using Old Shropshire, which, believe me, is no mean feat.

The friends one makes through books are friends for life. Now Owen and Blakeway have joined that happy number, their ‘History of Shrewsbury’ taking pride of place upon my desk. Two hefty, glorious volumes which, like Burne and Jackson, I’m hoping will enrich my writing – and tweeting - life. There’s no doubt that they’ll enrich My Tonight From Shrewsbury too.   

Here's a painting by Philip Corbet of Hugh Owen and John Blakeway, taken from the collection of Ludlow Library & Museum Resource Centre.  John Blakeway was born in Shrewsbury in 1765 and educated at Shrewsbury School, Westminster School and Oriel College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1789, but after a career change entered the Church of England and in 1794 was presented to St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, where he became their vicar upon the death of his uncle. In 1807 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Nineteen years later, he died at the Council House, Shrewsbury, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, where a monument, executed by John Carline, was erected to his memory.

Hugh Owen was the son of a Shrewsbury physician. He was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, and became vicar of St Julian’s in Shrewsbury in 1791. During his ecclesiastical career he also became Prebendaries in Salisbury and Lichfield Cathedrals and vicar of Bampton Oxfordshire. In addition he became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Mayor of Shrewsbury and, after the death of his friend, the Reverend John Blakeway, vicar of St Mary's.  

Like Blakeway, Owen produced and contributed to a number of publications, in his case some anonymously.  The History of Shrewsbury, for both men, was a major work. It was published in 1825, and that 1825 first-edition copy is what I have sitting on my desk.   

Expect a fair amount of history dotted around my posts over the next few months.  Owen and Blakemore are an oft-quoted authority on the history of the Shrewsbury.  Whenever  I read anything to do with our town's history, their names are always in the  footnotes. There are modern facsimile copies of their 'History of Shrewsbury' [one notable American version with snow-capped peaks on the cover, as if Shrewsbury was in the Alps]. But to have the original version sitting on my shelf is so exciting that I can scarcely contain myself. 

From Roman times until the early Victorian period Owen and Blakemore have covered it all.  Here, for example, is an engraved facsimile of the script on the Pillar of Eliseg, regarded in 1824 as the only authentic memorial to the kings of Old Powis, who reigned in Shrewsbury in the middle centuries of the first millenium.  Archbishop Usher had a perfect facsimile copy apparently, and it is now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The column itself was destroyed during the English Civil War. To have come across this copy in the 'History of Shrewsbury' is to unearth a small treasure.

But it’s only the first of many treasures.  Slowly, backing themselves up with careful research, Owen and Blakeway wend their way through the centuries. Here’s our town in the days of Canute, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, in the days of Edmund Ironside [which is of particular interest to me because I have Edmund’s portrait in stained glass hanging in my window].  Here's Shrewsbury as described in the Domesday Book. Here's the impact Henry II had on our town, and here's a copy, engraved in facsimile, of his son, Richard the Lionheart’s charter to the burgesses of Shrewsbury. 

This, again, is a bit of a treasure. It’s dated three months after the royal Coeur de Lion’s return to England from fighting in the Crusades [a brief return, as it turned out].  It grants the town of Salopesbiri to be ‘holden by the burgesses thereof’ for forty marks of silver in annual rent. 

But this isn't the only charter in the book. I find another, Henry III’s this time, revealing the conditions under which freedom should be granted to slaves, or ‘natives’ as the charter refers to them:  ‘If any native of any person shall remain in the said borough [ie Shrewsbury], and hold himself in the said gild and hanse, and in lot and scot with the said burgesses for one year and one day without challenge [ie. without being claimed by his lord]: he may not be again demanded by his lord if he freely continue in the said borough.’

And I thought slavery was something that happened elsewhere, predominantly the southern states of the USA.  Well, it happened in Shrewsbury too.  

Moving on through the book, I find this. How many of you watched 'The White Queen' on television recently?  Well, according to Owen and Blakeway, Edward IV, then as Earl of March, happened to be spending his Christmas in Shrewsbury when his father died, after which [give or take a battle or two] he ascended to the English throne. Here’s Owen and Blakeway's description of his effect upon our town:  ‘It is easy to conceive the powerful effect which the presence of the heir of the crown, with a brilliant court, may have produced upon the opulence and civilization of Shrewsbury, by imparting to it somewhat of the consequence of a second capital.  Hardly surprising, therefore, that Edward’s IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen herself, was sent to Shrewsbury to be delivered of their second child, named appropriately Richard Shrewsbury [later to be murdered, one of the famous Princes in the Tower].

There’s more and more like this, all fascinating stuff.  I haven’t got to the Tudors yet, or the town’s part in the English Civil War, or the Jacobean period when the town’s medieval street plan was added to by a spate of new-build Georgian houses. Owen and Blakeway’s History is a big book in every sense.  Well, it’s two books actually, one volume on the history of the town, the other on its ecclesiastical history.  They set Shrewsbury in a national setting, which is fascinating to discover.  But they’re rich in local detail too – as you’re going to discover over the next few months.

The volumes are rich in illustrations too.  I thought I’d leave you with a few. Interesting how recognisable they are if you know Shrewsbury today:

Castle Gates - Shrewsbury Coffeehouse on right

High Street - Starbucks on right, Costa on left

Continuing the coffeehouse theme, old St Nicholas's church [Now Seremity] with Shrewsbury School [now the library] in the background

Butcher Row

The old Welch [Owen & Blakeway's spelling, not mine] Bridge

Rowley's House

St Julian's & St Alkmund's, looking up Fish Street

The last remaining Norman arch in Shrewsbury Castle. Is it still there now? Go and find out.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, lucky you! I am jealous. I have nothing that old on Shrewsbury. (Arthur Mee's "Shropshire" is my oldest book on the county.) I look forward to reading your discoveries. I find with old needlework books that I get to know the authors and learn their likes and dislikes, their hobby-horses and their favourite ways of doing things. I'm sure you'll do the same with these two Reverends in due course. Wonderful to see how much Castle Foregate and St Nicholas have altered and how very little Butcher Row and Fish Street have changed.