If you say you live in Whixall, a likely response is …..”AARGH! That village of endless winding lanes where you get lost before ending up in a scrap yard on the side of a great peat bog like Siberian tundra where ‘Bog-
In his history of Shropshire published in 1854, Samuel Bagshaw writes, “Whixall is a village which at the census of 1841 contained 211 houses and 978 inhabitants. There is some good meadow and pasture land which produces a fine herbage and cheese is made to a considerable extent. The houses are chiefly cottages built of brick and slated, with a small portion of land. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in cutting the moss, which they dry and then take to distant parts of the country for sale”. Today there are about 350 houses and a population of approximately 630 living in the village. Children are not included in this figure whereas the previous figure of 978 inhabitants was for the whole household.
Bagshaw’s evocative snapshot of Victorian Whixall is explained by a number of unusual earlier historical factors. From the late middle ages on, land was usually owned outright by the greater aristocracy, local gentry, or prosperous yeomen farmers. Yet Whixall doesn’t fit this model.
In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, though they might claim authority and landowners rights, in reality, power and influence of landed families such as the Hills of Hawkstone tended to end on the borders of Whixall. The Hill empire ended at Coton; the Hanmer estates at Fenns and Bettisfield. Bostock Hall, familiar as an area to anybody who has gawped endlessly at signposts while navigating a way around Whixall (but originally a substantial house resembling Alkington Hall, built probably in the late sixteenth century, demolished in the 1960s), would have been the home of a wealthy yeoman farmer.
Elsewhere the picture described by Bagshaw would have begun to emerge with a number of small independently owned cottage dwellings each with a small parcel of land and peat digging rights on Whixall Moss, an obvious surviving example is the tiny abandoned cottage (see photo) on Moss Lane.
This was a most unusual historical situation: many Whixall cottagers would have been outside the control of landed estates or large farms. Together with working on the vast, wide open, windswept, curlew echoing, spaces of the Moss, it would have been likely to produce a fiercely independent spirit, which in the past was often remarked Whixall people displayed. Some cottages will have been of the type where if a person was able to erect a hearth, walls and roof in one day, they had full possession.
Hearsay evidence exists that querulous, unpaid soldiers (a disruptive element you would wish to get rid of into a spot off the beaten track), were given small parcels of land with the right to build such a dwelling in Whixall. Some of these may have been veterans of the English Civil War (1640-
Trying to shine a light on life in Whixall in the early middle ages, the Saxon or pre-
Historical generalisations, however, may not contain the whole truth; one should be wary of too much certainty. The Doomsday Book calling Whixall Witehala, suggests that in 1086 there was a sole Lord of the Manor with absolute authority, Ranulf Peveral. On his demesne there were “one ox-
At that time even the independent cottagers of Whixall existed in a world defined by deference. The writer’s grandmother told of an incident, the recounting of which she was present at as a child. An old man returning from digging peat on the Moss, told how he met Sir Wyndham Hanmer strolling on the Moss, smoking a cigar. Sir Wyndham enquired of the peat digger how he would feel if their positions were reversed. The old man charmingly but dutifully replied: “like a great shining silver sixpence amongst a lot of old half-