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Whitchurch Town Defences

In the civil parish of Whitchurch Urban.
In the historic county of Shropshire.
Modern Authority of Shropshire.
1974 county of Shropshire.
Medieval County of Shropshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SJ540416
Latitude 52.97069° Longitude -2.68513°

Whitchurch Town Defences has been described as a probable Urban Defence.

There are no visible remains.


There are no published documentary references to town defences at Whitchurch but archaeological and topographical data suggest that they did exist:-
(1) To the west of the town 21m west of Newtown a large U shaped depression 5m wide containing one sherd of C15 pottery was observed. This was interpreted as the truncated town ditch (SA2704).
(2) The turn of this ditch eastwards, as located at Castle Hill. The excavators interpreted this as the castle ditch, but this was based on the suggestion that consolidation of the side of the ditch would not have occurred in a town ditch and also that there was not enough rubbish in the fill for it to be a town ditch. Both these arguments seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the function of town ditches and have no validity.
(3) There is a distinct break in the plot boundaries between the High Street and Castle Hill. This connects St Mary's St with the turn in the excavated ditch discussed above and seems to mark the SE line of the town defences.
(4) St Mary's Street turns NW and forms the NE line of the defences. This line is carried on by the back of the medieval church yard. The town defences would have joined the castle defences at the junction of Sherry Mill Hill and Newtown and just to the W of Bargates. There would have been gates at these points therefore and probably one at the south end of the High Street. The date of the defences is not known but they may be contemporary with the laying out of the burgages fronting the High Street and perhaps date to the late C12. Evidence from the excavation on Castle Street suggests that the ditch in this area finally backfilled some time after that late C13/ early C14. This fits with documentary evidence which indicates that Newtown was laid out (over the area of the defences) by 1400. The defences were probably a ditch and earth and timber rampart but large blocks of stone are found all over the town and it is possible that they were rebuilt in stone. (Shropshire SMR record based mainly on Buteux 1996)

There are no published documentary references to medieval town defences at Whitchurch (Bond 1987, 102), but archaeological and cartographic data has provided evidence of their existence. In 1978 a large U-shaped ditch 5m wide, running parallel to and 21m to the west of Newtown, was observed (SA 2704, Anon 1978). At its northern end this would have joined the castle defences at the point just to the west of Newtown where Yardington joins Sherrymill Hill. At its southern end this ditch was observed where it turned eastwards across Castle Hill (SA 5837, Thompson 1993). Pottery from layers of silting within the ditch dated from the 12th century. The ditch was backfilled with clay, perhaps from the rampart, at some time after the early 14th century. This ditch was interpreted by the excavator (Thompson 1993) as a castle ditch but the arguments presented for this are not convincing.
The line of the defences to the south of the town can be seen in a break in the plot boundaries between Castle Hill and High Street which coincides with the section of excavated ditch discussed above. St Mary's Street continues this line and is, in its turn, continued by the eastern boundary of the churchyard as shown on the 1761 map (Anon nd). At this point the defences may have turned westward around the churchyard to join the castle just to the north of Yardington.
From the available evidence it would appear that town defences consisting of a clay rampart and ditch were constructed to protect plots fronting the High Street and may be contemporary with the laying out of those plots. Documentary and ceramic evidence (SA 5837) suggest that this occurred by the mid or late 12th century. The defences would have had gates at the west end of Yardington and at the north and south end of the High Street and the name "Bargates" may refer to this. At some time in the 14th century, at least in the Newtown area, the rampart was levelled and the ditch backfilled. (Dalwood and Bryant 2005)

Given map reference is for parish church of St Alkmunds although it is not clear if this was within or just to the north of the circuit of defences.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:29

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