Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings


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Giles's to draw wood for their firing. Presently the gently-flowing river Cound is seen, travelling Severn-wards through a pleasant, agricultural country; and then, detraining at the next station, we shoulder our knapsacks and trudge away in the direction of Stapleton. Old hawthorn hedges fling their scented sprays athwart the dusty highway, and the verdant wheat-fields beyond them are fringed with feathery cow's-parsley, looking for all the world like green carpets edged with white lace.

The oaks are beating the ash trees this Spring in their race for precedence, and in yonder grounds a copper beech rears its magnificent purple dome against the deep blue of the sky—a sight for sair e'en! Arrived at Stapleton church, we notice that it appears to consist of two separate and distinct churches, the one superposed upon the other; the two having been at some past time united by removing the floor of the upper one, giving to the interior somewhat the appearance of a college chapel.

The lower portion of the fabric, with its thick, massive walls and curiously narrow windows, mere loops, appears to be of early Norman date; while the plain lancet lights above might belong to the early part of the thirteenth century. On the south side of the chancel is a [Pg 23] pair of two-light windows filled with simple tracery, and between them is seen the door that formerly gave entrance to the upper church.

Near to the latter is an arched recess, which it has been conjectured was originally a nativity grotto. Farther east upon the same wall rises the pretty sedilia, surmounted by the double cusped arch seen on the right in the adjoining view. There are little trefoil lights under these arches, but they are later insertions. Upon the pulpit hangs an antipendium, worked in gold and silver thread with a beautiful scrolly pattern, which, if we are to credit the local tradition, was wrought by the hands of Mary, Queen of Scots. An Easter sepulchre, invisible in our sketch, is in the wall beyond; and the two tall processional candlesticks on either side the altar are exotics here, having been brought, it is said, from Nuremberg, in Germany.

They are excellent specimens of Gothic wood-carving, and are richly coloured and gilt. Returning into the highroad, we follow it for about a mile, and then strike away to the right through leafy by-lanes that land us eventually at Condover, a pleasant, rural-looking village, almost encircled by the waters of the little river Cound. Near the entrance to the village stands a very ancient dwelling-house, built after the manner of a ship turned keel upwards; the huge oak beams that support both walls and roof curving upwards from the ground, and passing through both storeys to meet at the ridge-pole.

Presently we come to the parish church, a large stone edifice surrounded by luxuriant foliage, and espy, hard by the churchyard wicket, an old derelict font doing duty as a flower-vase. The transepts are evidently of Norman date; while the nave and the fine west tower, though they look considerably older, were built no longer ago than the middle of the seventeenth century. From the church we pass on to Condover Hall, a noble structure of the Elizabethan period, situated on the outskirts of the village.

Viewed through the tall entrance gateway, the old mansion, with its picturesque gables, stone-mullioned windows and clustered chimney-stacks, [Pg 24] presents a delightfully old-world appearance, which is enhanced by the quaintly clipped shrubs flanking the broad carriage-drive. The west front, shown in a neighbouring sketch, overlooks a wide tract of park land, studded with gnarled hawthorns and ancient oaks, and watered by the meanderings of the stream whence the place derives its name.

The estate of Condover having been originally purchased by his father, Thomas of that ilk, Sir Roger Owen, in the year , erected the existing mansion; calling in master Walter Hancocke, a celebrated craftsman of that period, to assist in planning his residence. Condover passed in after years to the Cholmondeleys, an ancient family in whose hands the estate continued for many generations, having only recently been disposed of, and its interesting treasures dispersed. We now push on for Pitchford, striking the main road at a place called Cantlop Cross, and following it until we get a glimpse of the old mansion itself, seated on a verdant slope amidst masses of shadowy foliage.

A winding pathway, overarched by beech trees and ancestral oaks, meanders through the park, and leads us down to a low stone bridge, where we pause awhile to enjoy the charming view of Pitchford Hall, which our artist has portrayed. Built by William Ottley, Sheriff of Shropshire, in the early part of the seventeenth century, Pitchford Hall remains a beautiful and interesting example of an old English homestead of that period.

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Nothing can exceed the picturesqueness of this venerable house, its weather-stained walls chequered by oaken timbers, its solid stone-tiled roofs carpeted with lichens and moss, and surmounted by huge crumbling chimney-stacks of curious design. Embosomed amidst tall trees and luxuriant shrubberies, with a lordly peacock taking the air upon the sunny terrace, and a clear stream whimpling along at our feet, the scene is one to be remembered; such an one, indeed, as this rural England of ours alone can shew.

But let us take a nearer look at the old Hall. The building, after the custom then in vogue, is fashioned like a capital E, the shorter [Pg 25] member being represented by a central gable of very unusual appearance, containing a curious clock.

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By the courtesy of Lieut. In one wainscoted chamber our attention is directed to a secret closet, or hidie-hole, ingeniously disguised by a sliding panel very difficult to detect; indeed, every corner of the mansion has its interest for the antiquary. After having been the seat of the Ottley family for considerably more than three centuries, Pitchford Hall passed in the year into the possession of the late Lord Liverpool, who had the honour of entertaining Her Majesty here when, as Princess Victoria, she visited in this locality with the Duchess of Kent, in the year of the great Reform Bill.

Before taking leave of Pitchford, we pass out into the grounds to visit the so-called House in the Tree. As shewn in the picture here, this consists of a small chamber, about 9 or 10 feet square, and covered with a peaked roof—not much in itself, yet curious from the fact that [Pg 26] it is built, high and dry, aloft in the fork of a huge old storm-rent lime tree, and is approached by a crooked flight of steps.

Tradition avers that a 'house' has existed in this tree any time these two centuries past, having been formerly used as a dwelling; and the broken stump of more than one huge limb shews how severe have been the gales this venerable lime tree has weathered. Upon a slight eminence hard by the mansion rises Pitchford church, a plain, simple structure, evidently of great antiquity.


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Built into its southern wall we notice a rude stone slab, apparently older than the church itself, with a raised cross enclosed by a circle cut in low relief upon its surface. An otherwise ordinary-looking interior is relieved by the handsome, recumbent effigy, of which a sketch will be found on p. This remarkable monument is entirely composed of oak, black and smooth as ebony from lapse of time.

The figure, some 7 feet in length, is that of a Crusader, habited in chain-mail, the hands clasping a sword, and the spurred feet resting upon a couchant dog, or talbot. Upon the base of the structure are seven trefoil arches, enclosing shields charged with armorial bearings, all excellently wrought, and in a good state of preservation. From its general character there can be no doubt this monument is of very early date; indeed it is supposed to represent Sir Ralph de Pitchford, who died in Retracing our steps to the bridge, let us turn aside there for a moment to look at the ancient Pitch Well, a feature probably unique of its kind, whence the adjacent Hall derives its name.

The Well proves to be a largish shallow affair of an oval shape, and about 2 feet in depth, while the surface of the well which is almost dried up this drouthy season has little 'pockets' of semi-liquid pitch, oozing up from below and partially caked on the top.

This bituminous spring appears, indeed, to have altered but little since Marmaduke Rawdon visited the spot, during a tour in the seventeenth century. Sketches completed, we now make for the village, and pace on through the quiet, weedgrown street, where the martins are nesting under the lee of the old stone-tiled roofs, and the still, sunny air is redolent of lilac and early honeysuckle. Yonder gable-end with its rough yellow plasterwork, Venetian shutters, and mantle of purple wistaria, greets the eye with a pleasant scheme of colour, calling up visions of far-away Italy.

Thus we take the road again, until, coming to a green, grassy lane—part of the ancient Watling Street—we proceed to follow it up. At a point where the lane crosses a streamlet between hollow, sandy banks, we find unmistakable traces of a very ancient stone bridge, which, though undermined by rabbit burrows and damaged by tangled roots and brushwood, still shews the springing of a massive arch, apparently of semicircular form, while tumbled blocks of mossy sandstone cumber the stream below.

So away we go once more, with the blackbirds and thrushes warbling in every hedgerow; until ere long the homely house-roofs of Acton Burnell come in sight, backed by the rolling woodlands of the park, which spreads away in gentle undulations up the slopes of a neighbouring hill.

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A pretty, rustic spot is Acton Burnell, its comely thatched cottages, half submerged amidst oldfashioned country flowers, extending crosswise along the lanes, and never an inn to be found in all the place! Yet, despite its present bucolic aspect, Acton Burnell has figured in the annals of English history, as we shall presently see; so let us now go in search of records of those far-away times.

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After passing the cosy-looking rectory, with its cedar trees and sweet-smelling lilac, we soon come to the church, a beautiful structure replete with interest to the lover of old-world scenes; for Acton Burnell church was built just at the time when Gothic architecture [Pg 27] [Pg 28] had attained its high-water mark, and, though of modest dimensions, so perfect is every detail, that the little edifice is worthy of close examination. The annexed sketch shows the fine geometrical east window, and a beautiful three-light window in the north wall of the chancel.

The tower, though modern, harmonizes well with the older work beside it, and contains a peal of very sweet-toned bells:. Say the Bells of Acton Burnell. There is much to be seen in the interior. Near the porch we observe an elegant font, with small, well moulded arches supporting it. Overhead is a good oak roof, though not so massive as that of the chancel.

A curious feature of the latter is a small square window low down in the north wall, supposed to be a leper's, or anchorite's, window, as it appears probable that an anchorite had his dwelling here in very early times. Or may not this have been what was known as a 'dead-light,' a little window whence a light was shown into the graveyard to scare away the ghosts! Passing into the north transept, which has ancient tiles upon the floor, we are at once attracted by the very handsome and well preserved marble monument of a knight clad in rich armour, a ruff around his neck, a lion at his feet, and a quaint little figure supporting a helmet above his head.

Near the right hand lies a gauntlet, and within it crouches a diminutive dog, the emblem of fidelity.

Alongside the knight reposes his lady consort, her costume of ruff and stomacher, girdle and flat head-dress, bespeaking the time of Queen Elizabeth; while in the background appear their nine children, habited in the stiff, formal gear of that period. In the angle of the adjacent wall is another marble tomb, less elaborate than the last, but considerably older. Its arcaded sides are wrought with consummate skill, while the upper surface is inlaid with a handsome brass effigy of Nicholas de Handlo, who in the year married the heiress, and assumed the name, of the Burnell family. A glance at the sketch will show how well this fine old brass has withstood the wear and tear of more than years.

The knight's head is crowned by a peaked hauberk, and the soldierly face, with its long, flowing moustache, looks out from a richly cusped and crocketed canopy. A leather jerkin is worn over the tight-fitting coat of chain-mail, and a jewelled belt supports the long-handled sword and dagger. The legs are encased in greaves; and huge spurs, flexible foot-gear, and gauntlets upon the uplifted hands, complete the tale of this warrior's battle harness.

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A couchant lion, or griffin, keeps ward beside the feet, and upon a brass plate at the head we read the following inscription:. We have by no means exhausted the attractions of this interesting interior, but, to make a long story short, will merely remark, en passant, there are numerous objects worthy of note in other parts of the church. A stone's throw distant from the sacred edifice, overshadowed by stately trees, rise the ivy-mantled walls and turrets of Acton Burnell Castle, originally founded by Sir Robert Burnell, sometime chaplain [Pg 29] [Pg 30] and private secretary to Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward I.

It is recorded that in the year Burnell received the royal license to crenellate his castle at Acton, and the picturesque ruin now before us is a work of that period. The castle stands four-square, its length from east to west somewhat greater than the width, a slender turret rising at either corner. These massive old ruddy-grey sandstone walls are pierced with mullioned windows, whose vacant cavities still retain fragments of geometrical tracery; while a pathetic-looking wooden turret, in the last stages of decay, peeps out from the mantle of ivy that envelopes the western front.

One or two noble old cedar trees, rising close at hand, fling their cool, dappled shadows athwart the level greensward; and beyond them we catch a glimpse of richly timbered park land. Out there beneath a clump of elms, where the rooks are making merry, certain fragments of grey crumbling stonework are seen, so thither we now bend our steps. These prove to be two lofty massive gables of early Edwardian, or perhaps Norman, date, the last survivals of the hall of the original castle, or manor-house, of Acton Burnell.


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This secluded spot has become famous from the fact that here, for the first time in history, Lords and Commons sat in council, under the presidency of King Edward I. That took place in the year of grace , just a year before Sir Robert Burnell began the erection of the later mansion, whose ruins we have just visited.

Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings
Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings Shropshire houses : past & present ; illustrated from drawings

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