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 1245 : Shifnal

Keywords: Shifnal manors villages planned towns market licences topography

Shifnal is situated atop a low north-south ridge above a shallow valley carrying the Wesley Brook. It is believed to have been within the manor of Ideshale, which has an entry in Domesday Book, though it is not clear whether Shifnal was a separate area from that of Ideshale or whether these were a single district with alternate names, both of which allude to the valley location. The Domesday entry makes no reference to a church, but it is strongly suspected there was a minster church located, along with the manor-house immediately to its south, on the west side of the brook, on raised ground.

In 1086 the manor was held by one of Earl Roger's feoffees, who gave the advowson of its church to Shrewsbury Abbey. For reasons unknown, the manor came into the hands of Henry I, who granted it in the early 1130s to Alan de Dunstanvill (d. by 1156), younger son of Reginald de Dunstanvill. Alan's son Walter temporarily forfeited his estates (which were mainly in southern counties) for rebellion and died (1194) leaving as his heir an infant son, Walter II, whose wardship was competed for by his Basset relatives and WIlliam Brewer, so that the estates subsequently became tied up in legal contests involving the Bassets and dower claims of Walter I's widow. Walter II attained the age of majority about 1213, when he married a daughter of the late William II Fitz-Alan. In 1215 he obtained a licence for a market and fair at Heytesbury, and a few years later reacquired from Shrewsbury Abbey the advowson of Ideshale's church. Walter II died in 1241, and it was his son, Walter III de Dunstanvill, who in 1245 obtained a licence for a Monday market at Ideshale and a two-day fair in September; these are also mentioned in an inquisition post mortem of 1369, by which time they had already moved out of the Dunstanvill orbit and were about to move into that of the Mortimers. It seems probable that Walter III was the lord who established a planned town at Ideshale/Shifnal, although we have no reference to burgages there until 1402. However, Shifnal, was evidently not the site of his main residence, for in 1260 the king had to order him to take up residence in the Marches, so as to make them more secure in the face of hostilities from the Welsh; in the years that followed we continue to see signs of his presence in the south, closer to the base of his barony at Castle Combe, and he fought with the rebels at Lewes (1264). His daughter and heir was first married to a Montfort, and subsequently to John de la Mare, who at the county assizes of 1292 had to defend, on the basis of 'courtesy of England', his rights to market, fair, assize of bread and ale, and other privileges at the manor of Ideshale.

John de la Mare was still holding that manor in 1309/10, when Petronilla's son, William de Montfort, sold it, along with most of the estates of the barony of Castle Combe, to Bartholomew de Badlesmere. It is only after this that we encounter the name Shifnal, although its form suggests an authentic Saxon place-name. Since the 1245 licence was granted only to Dunstanvill and his heirs, Badlesmere had to acquire a new one. That he did not do so until 1315 might lead us to wonder whether profits from commerce at Shifnal were uninspiring at the time he acquired it. However, it seems more likely that he was waiting for some favourable opportunity to take action; for when he did so it was in a big way. On 12 August 1315 the king was staying at Thundersley, in Essex, when Badlesmere obtained from him a licence for markets at Shifnal each Monday and Friday and fairs at Easter and in September; at the same time he obtained licences for markets and/or one or more fairs at 15 other manors – several from the Dunstanvill barony – most in Kent, but some in Shropshire, Wiltshire, Sussex, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, and Rutland. These included a few places that acquired urban characteristics, such as Heytesbury and Thaxted.

This was the only business the king is recorded as then conducting at Thundersley. It was one of Badlesmere's manors and Edward II is seen on a number of occasions stopping overnight there, it not being far from Westminster; either it was a very convenient location or Edward had a particular fondness for it, for Bartholomew later gave it to him in exchange for a manor in Sussex (although his son Giles retained some propertied interest at Thundersley). We must suspect that Badlesmere was taking advantage of wining and dining the king, whose gratitude for lavish hospitality was manifested as the extraordinary list of licences as well as grants of free warren. This almost unprecedented mass grant of markets and fairs ran counter to an underlying principle of the licensing system to guard against over-saturation. Whether Badlesmere actually went ahead and put each of the licensed markets or fairs into operation, or whether he was simply obtaining an option to do so at a convenient opportunity, is unclear; although one of the licences was subsequently cancelled, we have in most other cases no information on whether markets or fairs were held, and one of the manors for which he obtained a licence Badlesmere gave to the king in 1318 in exchange for Leeds Castle and manor – which later proved the source of Bartholomew's downfall. Nor does it seem that Badlesmere engaged in any new town creation in association with implementing his licences; so with relatively little effort and expenditure he obtained the ability to add new revenue streams to his already considerable wealth, and enhance the value of his manors. His interest in Shifnal seems purely financial; archaeological evidence suggests he made no use of the manor-house there.

Bartholomew de Badlesmere (1275-1322) proved himself as a soldier in foreign campaigns of Edward I, and under Edward II would add to that the role of diplomat in various international negotiations, including at the papal court; he served as deputy Constable of England, keeper of various castles, Steward of the King's Household, and Warden of the Cinque Ports. However, he became associated with Roger Mortimer by marrying a daughter to Roger's son, and joined the group opposing the growing influence of the Despensers over Edward. Not long after the defeat of that party at Boroughbridge he was captured, tried and executed. His forfeited estates, which were extensive, were later restored to his widow and heir Giles; the latter having died without issue in 1338, however, the Badlesmere estates were divided among four of Giles' sisters, all of whom were married to barons, including a de Vere Earl of Oxford and a de Bohun Earl of Northampton.

In Edward IV's reign Shifnal was held by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and he obtained licence for a Tuesday market and fairs in July and November. Whether this reflects a growth in commerce or an attempt to boost a moribund commerce remains open to question. We know almost nothing about its medieval economy; but Shifnal maintained its role as a modest market town into the post-medieval period.

Topographic evidence suggests a planned town was established east and north of the manorial village, on the opposite side of the brook, with burgages laid out along a south-north through-road running past it; that road connected to Watling Street further north. Parts of this street central to Shifnal were later associated, suggestively, with the names Broadway, High Street, and Cheapside. The market was probably held in a particularly wide stretch of the street, into which ran, from the west, the road from Shrewsbury. That wide stretch terminated at the south in a triangular area, closest to the original village and with another street branching off it south-westwards to cross the brook and reach the church and manor-house, around which the village had developed. The triangular area – later reduced by encroachment to a street still today known as Market Place – was possibly the earliest focus of the market. The narrower stretch of the through-road, north of the posited market area, is lined on its west side with tenement plots whose shape and size make it appear that this, together with the sides of the marketplace, represents the core of the planned town; the plots extended westwards as far as the brook. It is conceivable that the town may have been developed in two phases, the first focused on the marketplace, and the later an expansion further north along the through-road.

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Created: December 31, 2018.
© Stephen Alsford, 2018