Wem History Day and the inaugural VCH Shropshire Annual Lecture

26 June, 2016 (All day)

With funding now in place and two new researchers appointed (Dr. Judith Everard and Wendy Horton), The Victoria County History (VCH) of Shropshire held its first public event since its re-launch in Shrewsbury in October last year. The Wem History Day, organised in conjunction with the Friends of Shropshire Archives was held at Wem Town Hall on Sunday 26th June and included a series of talks, and displays and guided tours of the town organised by Wem Civic Society.

Richard W. Hoyle, Professor of Regional and Local History at the University of London spoke on ‘The Victoria County History in Shropshire - Why Wem?’ He outlined the current work being undertaken by the VCH nationally and its activities as a predominantly volunteer movement. More specifically he discussed aspects of Wem’s history that lay behind its selection as the first publication of the new VCH Shropshire project, for instance the survival of a 1561 survey and 1631 map, the discovery of the papers of Samuel Garbet, as well local debate surrounding the granting of the town’s market charter. This was followed by Dr. James Bowen, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Liverpool who having undertaken a preliminary analysis of a series of historic maps of the town using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) compared the landscape and townscape of Wem in 1631 and the 18-19th centuries. He tentatively suggested the different stages in the town’s development, discussed themes which will feature in the forthcoming ‘Short’ and identified parallels with many of north Shropshire’s other small market towns, for example the occurrence of urban fires and their traditional marketing function.

After lunch a series of walking tours arranged by Wem Civic Society explored the history of Wem’s pubs and breweries, the High Street and the Church. Finally, Dr. Jonathan Worton who completed a PhD at the University of Chester gave the final lecture titled ‘The Women of Wem and a few Musketeers: The Civil War battle for Wem of October 1643’, describing the course of events during this turbulent period. He also spoke about his latest book, To Settle The Crown - Waging Civil War in Shropshire, 1642-1648 published by Helion & Company in their Century of the Soldier series.

Commenting on the study day, Professor Richard W. Hoyle said:

‘The event was a fascinating day for us all. Wem is steeped in history and the programme offered a unique opportunity to learn more about the past life of the town, its people and its buildings. We have chosen Wem for our first VCH publication because its history is reasonably well documented from the later sixteenth century onwards. It has good records including the recently rediscovered papers of the eighteenth-century vicar, schoolmaster and topographer Samuel Garbet (1685-1756), whose History of Wem was published in 1818. Even though our work is only just beginning, we already have some important discoveries to announce which deepens our knowledge of this fascinating town.’

The event had wide public appeal with 90 people in attendance including family and local historians, volunteers with the new project as well as residents of the town. Work has now begun on researching content for a VCH Short on Wem. It is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2017 when a further event will be held in the town. This will be the first parish history in Shropshire to be published by the new VCH Shropshire project. It is intended that this single parish volume will establish a model for the histories of other market towns in north Shropshire and future publications are planned. Interviews given to BBC Radio Shropshire by Professor Richard W. Hoyle and Shelagh Richardson, Chair of Wem Civic Society (broadcast 28th June 2016) are available as a podcast by following the link below:


‘Lancelot Capability Brown – A Tercentenary Consideration of Britain’s Greatest Landscape Gardener and His Shropshire Connections’

The inaugural VCH Shropshire Annual Lecture will be given by Gareth Williams, Curator and Head of Learning to the Weston Park Foundation on Saturday 29th October 2016 at University Centre Shrewsbury. 2016 marks the tercentenary of the birth of Britain's greatest landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Whilst Shropshire has no Chatsworth or Burghley, Brown enjoyed links with several influential Shropshire residents and assisted with bringing to the fore the ‘capabilities’ of a good few acres within the county boundary. His legacy and his influence will be considered in this illustrated lecture which will assess his impact on Shropshire and national history.

The venue will be open from 1.30pm, with the meeting commencing at 2.00pm with an update given on the progress of the new VCH Shropshire project. Tea will then be served. The lecture will begin at 3.00pm and is expected to finish by 5.00pm. Parking is available in the Frankwell car park. Please register via: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/vch-shropshire-annual-lecture-tickets-2592.... A donation of £5 for this event would be gratefully received.