Much Wenlock in 1841
Wenlock, sometimes called Great or Much Wenlock, to distinguish it from Little Wenlock, is situated in the borough of Wenlock, and about 13 miles south-east from Shrewsbury. The population of the parish in 1831 was 2424. Wenlock abbey is the object of greatest interest in this neighbourhood. It was founded about the year 680 by Milburga, of the family of one of the kings of Mercia, and she presided over it as abbess. It was subsequently destroyed by the Dane’s, and restored by Leofric, earl of Chester, in the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was again destroyed by the Danes, and was forsaken, but in 1080 Roger de Montgomery, earl of Arundel, according to William of Malmsbury, rebuilt and endowed it. The last refounder placed in it a prior and congregation of monks from Seez in Normandy, who were regarded as a cell of the house of De Caritate in France, and it suffered the fate of other alien priories by confiscation’s and exactions until the reign of Richard II, when it was naturalized. In the reign of Henry VIII it was granted to Augustino de Augustino. Isabel de Say, lady of Clun, had endowed it with the church of St. George at Clun, and seven dependent chapels, which grant was coufirmed by Edward III.
The ruins of this abbey are situated in a valley on the south side of the town, adjoining the churchyard. The remains are considerable, and prove the building to have been of the early Gothic of the thirteenth century. The whole length from east to west was 401 feet, and the breadth of the nave and aisles 66 feet, and the edifice and precincts must have included 30 acre’s.
The borough of Wenlock comprises seventeen parishes, which are scattered over a considerable extent of country. The borough was first incorporated by Edward IV. This charter conferred on the burgesses the privilege of returning one member to parliament, and is said to be the first instance of that privilege being conferred by charter. A subsequent charter was granted by Charles I. Under the Municipal Corporation Act the borough consists of three wards, with six aldermen and eighteen councillors. The boundary of the borough has not been altered for any purpose. It now returns two members, whose return, until the passing of the Reform Act, was vested exclusively in the burgesses. The number of the constituency in 1839-40 was 949, of which 142 were burgesses. The population of the whole borough in 1831 was 17,435. The corporate magistrates hold a petty sessions at Wenlock, which is the seat of the municipal government, every alternate week, and a general sessions twice a year. Capital offence’s were formerly tried before this court ; about a century ago three persons were sentenced to death at the sessions, and executed in the town. There is a gaol within the borough, which however is only used for the detention of prisoners previous to commitment, the magistrates always availing themselves of the power of committing to the county prison.
The police of the borough is efficient, and consists of a high constable appointed by the corporation, and of others appointed by the inhabitants. The revenues of the corporation are very trifling, the only source of income arising from the tolls of fairs and markets in the town of Much Wenlock.
The town of Much Wenlock consists of only two streets. Between 100 and 200 men in this parish are employed in lime-rock and iron-stone works. In the reign of Richard II this place is said to have been famous for copper-mine’s. There are four fair’s here in the year. The living is a vicarage, of the net annual value of £180. There are four day-school’s ; one of them is wholly supported by Lady Wenlock, and another is partly endowed.