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 1227: Baschurch

Keywords: Baschurch new towns Shrewsbury abbey mesne boroughs charter privileges burgage tenure market licences crossroads marketplace urban decline

Baschurch is located about seven miles north of Shrewsbury, unfavoured either by watercourse or through-road of any consequence. By the time of Domesday the manor, named for a church that had belonged to someone with a Saxon personal name and held by King Edward before the Conquest, was in the hands of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury; he had assigned the church to Shrewsbury Abbey and one of his successors, Robert de Bellesme, followed suit with the manor itself around 1101.

In 1227 we hear of of a novus burgus there, pointing to an abbatial act of foundation, possibly at a location neighbouring the village; the foundation retained the name Newtown in later ages. The abbot obtained royal licence in 1256 for a Tuesday market and a four-day fair from the feast of All Saints (the dedication of the church); this is recorded in the abbey's cartulary, though not in the royal charter rolls. The cartulary also records the abbot granting, in 1339, a charter to his burgesses and other (non-servile) tenants of Baschurch Newtown permitting them to hold their existing or any future burgages for a hundred years at an annual rent of 2s. in lieu of feudal services, to be exempt from tolls throughout England (this being a delegation of the abbey's own privilege), and to administer the assizes of ale and bread through their own elected bailiff. Such a charter might suggest the market town to be prospering enough to give its burgesses the confidence to press the abbot to concede such privileges.

However, being one of the market towns close both to the Welsh border and to Shrewsbury told against Baschurch Newtown; poor harvests and depopulation contributed to requests for taxation relief in the fourteenth century. Before the close of the Middle Ages it had lost its urban character and the rent owed the abbey by its Baschurch tenants was being paid in the form of hens. This decline of the town has resulted in property boundaries not being well preserved. The location of the marketplace is consequently unknown; but a crossroads in present-day Newtown (assuming that still represents the site of the medieval planted town) is a candidate, even though we cannot be sure that those crossing roads are themselves medieval. What look like regularized burgage plots can be made out in the northwest and northeast sectors of the crossroads, but not the southern sectors. The church, and likely the village it served, lay a little south-west of Newtown. Baschurch still retains, at its core, this bifocal structure, but only thanks to some economic revival experienced at Newtown in the eighteenth century.

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