Hadnall Circuit, Shropshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Fenton Allen
Some five miles from Shrewsbury is the pleasant village of Hadnall. It is the head of a typical country Circuit, and comprises fifteen societies, which are centres of spiritual influences to the agricultural villages and wayside hamlets in which they are situated. Apart from Ruyton-xi-Towns, with a population of one thousand people, all the Churches of the Circuit are located in sequestered villages of not more than three hundred and fifty inhabitants.
Form east to west, the Circuit is over twenty miles long, and from north to south it is not more than three miles in breadth. This long, slang, Circuit, before the birth of the bicycle, has necessitated a great deal of “legology,” as well as prayerful oversight to work the Churches efficiently.
The whole of the Circuit lies on the picturesque Shropshire plain, and is intersected with hill and dale and numerous woodlands and streamlets. Within its extensive radius are included several historic houses and romantic localities of more general interest. On the southern boundary is the extensive plateau, where in 1403 the decisive Battle of Shrewsbury was fought, and where Hotspur, Earl of Percy, was slain. At the foot of the Haughmond Hill are the ruins of the famous Abbey, and the burial place of its noble founder – the powerful Earl Fitz Allan. On the steep side of Nesscliffe is “Kynaston’s Cave,” the hiding-place of Sir Humphrey Kynaston, the noted Salopian outlaw. In a beautifully-wooded park on the outskirts of Hadnall is the imposing mansion of Hardwicke, the former home of General Lord Hill, nephew of the eccentric Roland Hill. He was the hero of a score of battles, second in command at Waterloo, and the Commander-in-Chief of the English forces. At Roden, the Co-operative Society have recently purchased an estate of three hundred acres, which they have transformed into profitable fruit gardens. They have also built convalescent homes for the benefit of the members of their society. Rowton will be long-remembered as the birth-place of the godly Richard Baxter, author of “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest.”
The societies in the Hadnall Circuit are of long standing, and nearly all of them were formed by the Shrewsbury Circuit in the “twenties” of the nineteenth century. After being a “branch” for a few months it was separated from Shrewsbury, and granted Circuit independence at the Conference of 1838. The Rev. Edward Jones, one of the earliest of our numerous family of ministerial “Jones’s” was the first superintendent. From 1850 until the year 1860, the Circuit was most aggressive. During that decade the membership was actually doubled, while at the same time a number of village chapels were erected to accommodate the increasing congregations. In this sparsely-populated district there are no denominational jealousies arising from overlapping. Apart from three ot four Congregational chapels, and several parish churches, the moral cultivation of this Salopian vineyard is left entirely to our own agencies.
Until the advent of the Congregationalists and “the Primitives came singing,” the whole of the villages lying on the Shropshire Plain were in a state of spiritual destitution, Sabbath desecration, drunkenness, unlawful sports and pastimes, along with lewdness prevailed to an alarming extent. Clericalism and squiredom were predominant, and numerous are the incidents related of their intolerance and persecution. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, when a few sturdy Congregationalists from the neighbouring town assembled at the village of the Clive to hold open-air worship, the Vicar organized the farmers in the neighbourhood into an opposition party. Around their hatbands they fixed the Mottoes, “For Church and King” and “Down with the Ranters.” These misguided men, headed by the clergyman, approached the peace-loving worshippers and tried to drown the voice of song and praise by their hideous shouts and deafening yells. They further attempted to drive them from the parish by showers of stones. At Ruyton-xi-Towns, where “the people were very ignorant, and of lax morality,” the pioneers of primitive Methodism preached in the village street and were brutally treated and roughly mobbed. Happily these barbarous scenes are a thing of the past. The introduction of Primitive Methodism has improved the moral condition, not only of Ruyton-xi-Towns, but of all the villages within the Circuit radius.
The Hadnall Chapel dates from 1862, and has taken the place of a much earlier erection. It is a well-built, though small, edifice, and it is fronted with a burial ground. Hopton is the oldest chapel in the Circuit and was erected as far back as the year 1833. It is located near the famous Holyhead Road – with its romantic stories of the old coaching days; and also nestles beneath the shadow of rugged Nesscliffe. Marsh Green, Walford Heath and Webscott Chapels were erected in the “Forties.” During recent years Walford Heath Chapel has been greatly enlarged. For a generation the late Mr. G. Morris was a tower of strength to the growing society.
Yorton Heath society has a remarkable if not a romantic history. In the earlier days of cruel persecution and landlord intolerance, the family at whose house the preaching services were regularly held was ruthlessly ejected from their homestead simply because they sheltered the ark of the Lord. Their home was stripped of its furniture, which was deposited by the roadside. Providentially and yet by strategy a building site was subsequently secured in this land-locked neighbourhood. In 1861, a commodious chapel was erected, and a good work has been accomplished. Such was the influence and prejudice of squiredom and clericalism that no brick manufacturer for miles around durst sell building material for a Primitive Methodist chapel. When they were thus boycotted it was fortunately discovered that beneath the surface of the newly acquired site there was a fine bed of clay. The trustees were thus enabled to mould and burn the bricks for their new chapel on the very spot where the present sanctuary now stands. For many years the respected and loyal families of the Edges and the Haywards have been closely connected with this village society. They are liberal supporters and willing workers. They are prominently identified with the various branches of Circuit, Church, and Sunday school enterprize. Mr. William Hayward and Mr. James Edge are local preachers and Circuit officials of long standing. For their works’ sake they are deserving of recognition. Recently and through the generosity of Mr. George Tudor, Yorton Heath Chapel has been licensed under the new Marriage Act, and has the unique position of being the only Shropshire primitive Methodist Chapel which is thus registered.
Yorton Heath, Somer Wood, and the Clive Chapels were erected in the year 1859. In the insignificant hamlet of Yorton Heath there are a prosperous Church, a flourishing Sabbath school, and a promising Band of Hope. The combined spiritual activities of the society are being led by Mr. J. Forrester who is an earnest and godly toiler in the Master’s cause. Mr. William Ball is the oldest local preacher on the plan and is spending his well-earned eventide in fellowship with the Church at Yorton Heath. This sparsely-populated hamlet is the home of the forebears of Sir George Newns, M.P., the originator of the popular Tit-Bits and editor of the well-known Strand Magazine. When Sir George was a boy he frequently stayed with his Aunt Manning whose husband was a devoted local preacher, and along with them he was a worshipper with our people.
At Somer Wood the name of the late Mr. Holbrook is as familiar as a household word. Mr. W. Elkes and his stepdaughter, Miss Chesters, have contributed praiseworthy service, and have been true to principle and the Church of their earlier choice.
At the Clive, the late Mr. S. Cank befriended and found a home for the Rev. William Wright,when he as a youth had to leave his relatives for conscience’ sake, after his conversion at a Camp Meeting on the picturesque Grinshill. From the neighbourhood of the Clive John Walford entered the ministry, being “sent out” by what was then the Shrewsbury Circuit. In his earlier days and before his remarkable conversion he was exceedingly “wild and wayward.” By trade he was a stonemason and as a craftsman he had the reputation of being exceptionally clever. At stone-letter engraving he excelled, and he is said to have been able to earn “nine shillings before his breakfast.” He carved the “Elephant and Castle,” the coat-of-arms of the Corbet family, which still fronts the licensed house of that name at Grinshill. Specialists speak of it as being a finely executed work of sculptured art for a village mason! For his second wife, John Walford married a daughter of Mr. James Bourne, of Bemersley. When he retired from the ministry he settled for a time at Marston Grove, Hadnall. Subsequently he removed to the Hough, in Cheshire, where he wrote what has become the standard biography of “the venerable Hugh Bourne.”
For many long years the family of Powells have been prominently associated with the Hadnall, the Shawbury, and the Shawbury Heath Societies. Mr. John Powell is the present Senior Circuit Steward. He is a devoted lay preacher and a most enthusiastic temperance worker. His brother, Mr. Richard Powell, has also rendered considerable service. Their father, the late Mr. John Powell, was widely read, and was one of the best-informed men in connection with our village Churches. He was a genius of no common order. As a village wheelwright and carpenter he has gained the distinction of being the builder of the first “Shawbury,” as the familiar “Duchess” car is frequently called. Respecting this notable achievement his relatives and friends throughout North and Mid-Shropshire are justly proud.
High Ercall Chapel is situated at Osbarton – nearly a mile away from the village. Through the personal influence of Mr. T. Lockyer, whi is still in membership, the society was gladdened, even with difficulty, to secure a building site in an out-of-the-way place. Blackbow Hill is on the extreme western edge of the Circuit, and has a neat village chapel built as recently as 1893. Roden is adjacent to the Co-operative Farm, where a monthly service has been instituted, with Mr. Nowell as the Society Steward.
Ten of these thirteen village chapels, which cost over £3,500, are debtless. The entire financial liability on the remaining three is only some £54. The Circuit is happily possessed of a number of willing and average-gifted local preachers who, Sabbath by Sabbath, acceptably minister the Word of Life to the village congregations. The Sabbath schools are in a flourishing condition and untold good has been accomplished upon the lives of the young people. Several of the schools take an active interest in the Connexional examination on Biblical subjects. The children, who have not the same distraction of thought as those of the manufacturing towns, have been very successful in acquiring a large percentage of district prizes and certificates. The people are mostly engaged in agriculture and live on what are locally known as “small places,” The younger generation, as they approach early manhood, after being trained in the Sabbath schools, migrate to the large towns and important commercial centres. In numberless instances the sons and daughters of this country Circuit carry a spiritual influence with them and become a benediction to the larger Churches. Having been well grounded in moral truths and Nonconformist principles, they remain eminently loyal to the traditions of the Church that has accomplished so much for their fathers and mothers.
The Circuit has been favoured with a succession of godly and plodding ministers. Without being invidious the names of the Revs. John Heath, George Whitehead, Eli Illingworth, Samuel Peake, John Quarmby, Adam Glegg, and Thomas Tanfield are as fragrant as ointment poured forth. At the last Conference the Rev. Isaac Cousin was appointed to the superintendency of the Hadnall Circuit. He is young, strong and energetic. He is hopeful to be able to lead the churches to fresh spiritual victories.
In addition to the Revs. John Walford and William Wright, the Revs. G Straffen, Richard Wycherley, and William Newns spent their early days within the wide-stretching radious of this rural Corner of our Connexional Vineyard. Hadnall Circuit, although purely agricultural in character, has played an important part in the history of village Primitive Methodism in Shropshire.
Christian Messenger 1906/78