Much Wenlock is a small town and parish in Shropshire, England, situated on the A458 road between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth. Nearby, to the northeast, is the Ironbridge Gorge, and the new town of Telford. The civil parish includes the villages of Homer (1 mile north of the town), Wyke (2 miles northeast), Atterley (2 miles southeast), Stretton Westwood (2 miles southwest) and Bourton (3 miles southwest). The population of the civil parish, according to the 2001 census, was 2,605, increasing to 2,877 at the 2011 Census. Notable historic attractions in the town are Wenlock Priory and the Guildhall.
The Wenlock Olympian Games established by William Penny Brookes in 1850 are centred in the town. Brookes is credited as a founding father of the modern Olympic Games, and one of the London 2012 Summer Olympics mascots was named Wenlock after the town.
Much Wenlock is historically the chief town of the ancient borough of Wenlock. "Much" was added to distinguish it from the nearby Little Wenlock and to show it is the larger of the two settlements. The name Wenlock probably comes from the Celtic name Wininicas, meaning "white area" (in reference to the limestone of Wenlock Edge), plus the Old English loca, meaning "enclosed place". The town was recorded in the Domesday Book as Wenloch.
Richard Fletcher mentions Much Wenlock as one of the possible locations where a Sub-Roman British Christian community may have survived the Anglo-Saxon occupation and eventually integrated with the conquerors and influenced their culture.
The town of Wenlock is known to have grown up around an abbey or monastery founded around 680 by Merewalh, a son of King Penda of Mercia, with the small town within its parish boundaries. King Penda installed his daughter Milburga as abbess in 687. Milburga of Wenlock was credited with many miraculous works. The abbey flourished until around 874 when it is thought that a Danish Viking attack occurred.
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the manor as 'Wenloch' and forming part of the hundred of Patton. It was already at this time a fairly large settlement, with 73 households. The abbey is also recorded in the book, separately. In the 11th century another religious house was built on the same site by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Countess Godiva his wife. In the 12th century this was replaced by a Cluniac priory, established by Roger de Montgomerie after the Norman conquest, the ruins of which can still be seen and which is now in the hands of English Heritage.
Early in the 12th century the hundred of Patton was merged with Culvestan to form the hundred of Munslow, but in 1198 Much Wenlock, together with the other manors held by Wenlock Priory, was transferred to the hundredal jurisdiction of the Liberty of Wenlock (also known as Wenlock Franchise).
Borough of Wenlock
In 1468 Edward IV granted the men of Much Wenlock a charter forming the Borough of Wenlock, at the request of Sir John Wenlock, and "in consideration of the laudable services which the men of the town performed in assisting the king to gain possession of the crown." The charter was confirmed in 1547 by Henry VIII after Wenlock Priory was suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The charter was again confirmed in 1631 by Charles I.
Over the years the borough asserted jurisdiction over the liberty of Wenlock. The lands of the liberty included rural areas and a number of detached parts well outside the town, and this resulted in an unusual, geographically dispersed borough. At its height, it was – by area – the largest borough in England outside London and encompassed several of the towns that now constitute Telford. The borough had unusual boundaries, covering Much Wenlock itself, but also Little Wenlock, Broseley and Ironbridge, a total area of 71 square miles (180 km2). In 1836 the borough was reformed as a municipal borough under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and lost some of its rural areas and detached parts. The borough was further reduced in size in 1889, and was finally abolished in 1966.
11-year-old Alice Glaston from Little Wenlock was hanged together with two men in Much Wenlock on 13 April 1546, for an unknown crime. She is the youngest known girl legally executed in Great Britain.
Sir Thomas Wolryche, 1st Baronet (1598–1668) was an English landowner and politician who sat in the House of Commons for Wenlock between 1621 and 1625. He fought in the Royalist army in the English Civil War, serving as military governor of Bridgnorth. In 1611, Thomas Wolryche's father, Francis, had taken over the mortgage of the manor of Hughley, about 6 km from Much Wenlock. The debt was cleared in 1623 in return for the freehold of Hughley, an estate of 1,400 acres.
In the 19th century the town and much of the surrounding land came into the possession of James Milnes Gaskell, from his wife's family the Williams-Wynns. James was MP for Wenlock for many years. His son Charles Milnes Gaskell restored the Priory lodging as a home with his wife Lady Catherine, daughter of the Earl of Portsmouth. There they entertained many famous people of the day, writers, politicians, artists and explorers, among them Thomas Hardy, Henry Adams, Henry James, Thomas Woolner, Henry Morton Stanley, Isabella Bird and Phillip Webb.
Much Wenlock has become known as the birthplace of Wenlock Olympian Games set up by William Penny Brookes and his Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) in 1850. In 1861 he was also instrumental in setting up the Shropshire Games and later in 1866, the National Olympian Games. Dr Brookes is credited as a founding father of the Modern Olympic Games. In 1890 it was the turn of the Raven Hotel to be the venue for the annual post Wenlock Olympian Games' dinner, and Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the guest of honour. Copies of some of the WOS's archive images are on display in the hotel, including letters from Coubertin to Brookes. The Wenlock Olympian Games, a nine-day event staged on eight sites across Shropshire, are still held annually during July, and are still organised by WOS. Much Wenlock's secondary school is named after Dr Brookes.
The London 2012 Summer Olympics mascot was named Wenlock to honour Brookes, WOS and Much Wenlock. On 30 May 2012, the Olympic flame of the 2012 Summer Olympics, was carried through Much Wenlock to acknowledge the founding footsteps of Brookes. WOS Vice-President, John Simpson, carried an Olympic torch from the town into the William Brookes School.
When the Borough was abolished in 1966 the core Wenlock parts became part of the Bridgnorth Rural District, with other parts also going to Dawley Urban District and to Wellington Rural District. In 1974 Much Wenlock joined Bridgnorth District until it was abolished in 2009.
Much Wenlock was the first community in the West Midlands to have a neighbourhood development plan. The plan was put to a parish referendum on 22 May 2014. There was a 42% turnout, and 85% of those voting said "yes" to the referendum question: "Do you want Shropshire Council to use the Neighbourhood Plan for Much Wenlock to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area." The Neighbourhood Plan was "made" (adopted) by Shropshire Council on 17 July 2014. Planning applications in the town and surrounding parish must be considered against the Neighbourhood Plan as well as existing planning policy where appropriate, such as the Shropshire-wide Core Strategy and as well as the National Planning Policy Framework.
In 2019, Much Wenlock was featured by The Sunday Times as one of the best places to live in the UK.
Holy Trinity Church, in Wilmore Street, is the Anglican parish church. The first church on this site was built in Anglo-Saxon times. The present church dates from 1150 and was built by the Cluniac monks from Wenlock Priory. Features of interest include the plain Norman tower which had a spire until early in the 20th century, and a memorial inside the church to W. P. Brookes as well as the refurbished family gravestones in the churchyard. The churchyard is a large, open, green space with some tall trees. The Shit Brook ran along the road towards the church before it was culverted. There is also a Methodist church in King Street. The town's former Roman Catholic Church of St Mary Magdalene, in Barrow Street, closed in 2008, was demolished in 2012 and domestic properties built in its place.
Other architectural attractions include the 16th-century Much Wenlock Guildhall, many other historic buildings in the Early English style, and an annual well dressing at St Milburga's Well on Barrow Street.
- St. Milburga's Well was supposed to cure eye diseases and the town was a destination popular for medieval pilgrims, coming to worship at St Milburga's Shrine.
- The Victorian era romantic painter and sculptor Robert Bateman (1842–1922) lived near Much Wenlock, at the 16th century Benthall Hall. In 1907 Walter Crane described his painting as of... "a magic world of romance and pictured poetry ... a twilight world of dark mysterious woodlands, haunted streams, meads of deep green starred with burning flowers, veiled in a dim and mystic light."
- The novelist Mary Webb (then Mary Meredith), lived in childhood at The Grange just outside the town, on the Church Stretton road, from 1882 to 1896.
- Nearby is Wenlock Edge, an important geological feature. Both the Edge and the town are the subject of several poems by A. E. Housman in his work A Shropshire Lad, such as: "On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble..." and "Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town...". In 1909 six of these poems were set to music by Vaughan Williams as On Wenlock Edge, Song cycle for tenor and piano quintet.
- The 2012 Summer Olympics mascot, Wenlock, is named after the town in honour of WP Brookes and his Wenlock Olympian Society.
- Much Wenlock is host to an annual Poetry Festival, held the week-end after Easter. Founded by Anna Dreda of Wenlock Books, its patron is Carol Ann Duffy.
- The annual Live Arts Festival held during March is a section of Wenlock Olympian Games. There are competitions in music, creative writing and dance for young people aged 18 years and under.
Other notable people
- Peter de Leia (died 1198), Bishop of St David's, Wales, was previously prior of Wenlock Priory.
- Rosemary Leach (1935 in Much Wenlock – 2017) English stage, television and film actress
- Tony Levin (1940 in Much Wenlock – 2011) was an English jazz drummer, who played at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in the 1960s
- Dame Rosemary Butler DBE (born 1943 in Much Wenlock) politician and Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales 2011 to 2016.
- Gabrielle Drake (born 1944) the actress, lives in Wenlock Priory
- John Constable (born 1952 in Much Wenlock) is an English playwright, poet, performer and activist, author of The Southwark Mysteries.
- Mary Beard (born Much Wenlock 1955) an English scholar and classicist, the New Yorker characterises her as "learned but accessible"
- Roger Preece (born 1968 in Much Wenlock) was professional midfield footballer between 1986 and 2004, playing over 350 games mainly for Wrexham A.F.C. and Chester City F.C.
- Isobel Cooper (born Much Wenlock 1975), operatic pop soprano singer, known professionally as Izzy.
- In 1950 the town and its surrounding countryside were the locations of the film Gone to Earth by Powell and Pressburger. In 1985 the film was fully restored by the National Film Archive, and premiered to great acclaim. The New Statesman review claimed the restored film to be... "One of the great British regional films ...(and)... one of the most beautiful films ever to be shot of the English countryside". The film was based on the 1917 novel of the same name by the Shropshire writer Mary Webb, which was partly inspired by the Diary of Francis Kilvert.
- The John Cleese film Clockwise was filmed partly in and around Much Wenlock.
- Much Wenlock Primary School
- William Brookes School
- The Arriva service 436 connects Much Wenlock with Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth with hourly services. A less frequent service links the town to Telford.
- A Shropshire Hills Shuttle service at weekends and on Bank Holidays during the spring and summer started in 2012, but ceased in 2013. The route, called the "Wenlock Wanderer", connected the town with Church Stretton and operated mostly along the B4371 which runs atop the Wenlock Edge, before turning off to Acton Scott and then to Marshbrook and the market town of Church Stretton.
Much Wenlock used to be served by trains between Wellington and Craven Arms. The station became a terminus when through running southwards to Craven Arms ceased in 1951. The branch closed in 1962, just before Dr Beeching published his report.
The nearest active network railway stations are Shrewsbury and Wellington although Bridgnorth has a heritage railway to Kidderminster.
Much Wenlock is twinned with:
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- See H. P. R. Finberg, Early Charters of the West Midlands (1961), 197–216; A. J. M. Edwards, 'An early 12th century account of St. Milburga of Much Wenlock', T.S.A.S. lvii. 134–42. The publication of this new material relating to St Milburga involves a revision of the older accounts of the early history of Wenlock in Eyton, iii. 225 and Jnl. Brit. Arch. Assoc. 3rd ser. iv. 117.
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- Map showing the boundaries of Wenlock Borough in the early 1800s
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- Archived 7 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- "Day 12: Olympic Flame visits Much Wenlock and the Ironbridge Gorge – London 2012 Olympics". London2012.com. Archived from the original on 17 August 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Great Britain Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Much Wenlock CP/AP. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
- "Programmes – Most Popular – All 4". Channel4.com. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- "Much Wenlock, Shropshire – Best Places to Live in the UK 2019". The Sunday Times. London. 14 April 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
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- IMDb Database retrieved 13 February 2018
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- BBC News Wales, 1 September 1999, UK: Wales: AMs retrieved 13 February 2018
- IMDb Database retrieved 13 February 2018
- The Observer profile, Sun 29 Apr 2012, The classicist with the common touch retrieved 13 February 2018
- SoccerBase Database retrieved 13 February 2018
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- http://www.muchwenlock.shropshire.sch.uk/ Much Wenlock Primary School
- http://williambrookes.com/ William Brookes School
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