Today, it is only me, sheep and cows at Haughmond Abbey. However, in Medieval times this was a flourishing house of Augustian monks. It started life as a small religious community in the thick forests between the Upper Severn and the Roden rivers.
From the early 12th century it was under the patronage of wealthy local families, including a Norman nobleman William Fitzalan, who later became Earl of Arundel. The abbey enjoyed the good life of a medieval monastery until Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1539.
The monastic buildings were arranged around a cloister (a covered walk). The elaborately carved arches are all that remains of it.
Built around 1180, the refectory (dining hall) was on two levels, with the upper one used for eating in, and the lower one for storage.
The chapter house was where the monks met in the morning and listened to a reading of a chapter from the rule book of the monastery. The font comes from the destroyed church.
In the 14th century the Abbot moved into new comfortable lodgings, which included a big hall to entertain himself and important guests in.
The church is likely to be destroyed at the time, but the rest of the complex passed into the ownership of the Barker family, who turned it into a mansion.
This was destroyed during the Civil Was in the 17th century. The remains were a farm, later becoming a park of a picturesque landscaped park. It is now looked after by English Heritage, – free to visit (free car park, but no toilets!)
A famous savage battle took place on these picturesque fields on 21 July 1403, – the Battle of Shrewsbury. The leaders of the rival armies were King Henry IV and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland.
The Percys were an influential family of Northumberland nobles, who had supported Henry Bolingbroke, as he was known before he became king, in him deposing King Richard II and taking over the crown, and later in Henry’s conflicts with the Welsh and the Scots. Henry IV’s promise of land and favours for the Percys did not materialise, and the disgruntled nobles raised an army in revolt, headed by Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy.
Henry Percy was the eldest son of the Earl of Northumberland. By 1403 he was already a distinguished military commander, with experience of leading troops in England and abroad. He enrolled some Cheshire arches, who were knows as longbow specialists and an expert fighting force, and headed towards the Welsh borders, to meet his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Westmorland, an expert military commander.
Meanwhile Henry IV, unaware of the Percy’s revolt, was marching his army towards Scotland, hoping for the support of this powerful family in the north of England. On 12 of July he found out about the real state of affairs and turned to meet the rebel army. By 20th July both parties reached Shrewsbury and camped on the opposite sides of the River Severn a short distance from the town.
King Henry’s army of around 14,000 was bigger than the Percys’, but he was prepared to negotiate the terms. The Percys refused, and the battled commenced a couple of hours before dusk, with King Henry raising his sword.
The battle site was a field of peas at the time, which probably did not make it easy for the armies to get through!
This was the first time that the longbow was used on English soil by two English rivals against each other, and the bloodiness of the battle confirmed how effective this weapon was, with 5,000 casualties.
Among the commanders of the king’s side was his 16 year old son, Prince Henry – future King Henry V. He was hit by an arrow, which pierced his face. John Bradmore, the doctor who treated him left a detailed account of how he used specially made instruments sanitised with rose honey to remove the arrowhead stuck in Prince Henry’s facial bones. He survived and had a big scar on his face for the rest of his life.
Shakespeare put the Battle of Shrewsbury as the culmination of the play Henry IV Part 1, the conflict of Prince Henry (Shakespeare called him Prince Hal) and Hotspur taking centre stage. Shakespeare made them the same age (in reality Hotspur was about 20 years older), and in the play it is Prince Hal who kills Hotspur. In reality, it is not known who shot the arrow which finished Hotspur off, when he lifted the visor of his helmet to get a better view of the battle. His death signalled the defeat of this side and the end of the battle.
His family buried him in Whitchurch in Shropshire, but when rumours spread that he was still alive, King Henry IV ordered him to be disinterred and his salted body displayed in Shrewsbury in the marketplace pillory, later quartered and sent to various places in England, including London, with the head displayed in York, implanted on the north gate, looking towards his own lands.
Hotspur’s legacy lives even beyond Shakespeare – the name Tottenham Hotspur Football Club pays homage to this warrior, whose descendants owned land at Tottenham Marshes, near the site of their first grounds.
His uncle Thomas Percy and some other noble leaders of the rebellion were hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23 July, with Thomas Percy’s head making it as far as London Bridge!
Soon after the battle a church was built near the battlefield, by order of Henry IV and funded by him, for a college of priests to pray for the souls of the dead on both sides.
The battle took places on the eve of St.Mary Magdalene’s saints day, so the church is dedicated to her.
The church became derelict by the 18th century, but was restored in the Victorian times, now boasting an amazing Victorian tiled floor. The hammerbeam roof dates from the Victorian period too. It displays the shields of knights who fought in the battle.
The church is not operation, but the building is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited for free by obtaining the key from the Battlefield 1403 visitor centre at the farm shop. The Battlefield 1403 complex, entitled ‘Farm Shop, Butchery ad Café’, also features a small exhibition on the battle and the weaponry used.
The walk through the fields takes several routes (not signposted or labelled), which takes one to a car part on the opposite side and back, and present a great and relaxing site on fine summer day.
As Lilia and I wondered around the Shrewsbury museum, we heard a song playing from a little room adjacent to a passageway, and went to investigate.
This is the song, shown on a screen there, with the story of the Admiral Benbow song on the walls –
Lilia instantly remembered that Admiral Benbow was the name of the fictional inn, featured at the start of R.L.Stevenson’s Treasure Island, although it was situated on the Penzance coast, rather a long way from land-locked Shrewsbury.
It turns out, Admiral Benbow was a native of Shrewsbury, and quite a character.
Born in 1653 in Shrewsbury, John Benbow joined the navy at 25. This was a great time to be at sea – with Britain ‘ruling the waves’, both with merchant navy and the military fleet.
Captain Benbow commanded several ships in the Nine Years War against France (end of 17c), and fought the French in the West Indies during the War of the Spanish Succession (beginning of 18c), as well as fighting against pirates and serving in the merchant navy. By 1701 he became an admiral.
Benbow comes across as an outspoken and brave character, and his exploits at sea earned him public notoriety. It was his last action that cemented his reputation and put his name on a few pub signs across England.
In 1702 he commanded several ships that fought the French off the coast of South America. Three captains refused to follow his orders to pursue enemy ships, while Benbow continued to command the battle, despite his leg being fractured by a shot. When the fleet returned to England, Benbow had the captains arrested and court-martialled.
He lived long enough to see them punished, but died soon afterwards, likely from the infection of his leg wound. Admiral Benbow is buried in Jamaica, but there’s a monument to him in St.Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury, paid for by public subscription, commemorating “a skillful and daring seaman whose heroic exploits long rendered him the boast of the British Navy and still point him out as the Nelson of his times.”
And, of course, a pub or two, and the song.
Come all you seamen bold
and draw near, and draw near,
Come all you seamen bold and draw near.
It’s of an Admiral’s fame,
O brave Benbow was his name,
How he fought all on the main,
you shall hear, you shall hear.
Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight, for to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail for to fight.
Brave Benbow he set sail
with a fine and pleasant gale
But his captains they turn’d tail
in a fright, in a fright.
Says Kirby unto Wade:
We will run, we will run
Says Kirby unto Wade, we will run.
For I value no disgrace,
nor the losing of my place,
But the enemy I won’t face,
nor his guns, nor his guns.
The Ruby and Benbow
fought the French, fought the french
The Ruby and Benbow fought the French.
They fought them up and down,
till the blood came trickling down,
Till the blood came trickling down
where they lay, where they lay.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
by chain shot, by chain shot
Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain shot.
Brave Benbow lost his legs,
And all on his stumps he begs,
Fight on my English lads,
‘Tis our lot, ’tis our lot.
The surgeon dress’d his wounds,
Cries Benbow, cries Benbow
The surgeon dress’d his wounds, cries Benbow.
Let a cradle now in haste,
on the quarterdeck be placed
That the enemy I may face
‘Til I die, ‘Til I die.
Ralph Vaughn Williams used this song as part of his arrangement of sea shanties for the English Folk Song Suite.
One of Benbow’s sons, also called John, followed his father in the navy, briefly serving with him, and then sailing with a merchant ship, when he was captured on Madagascar and later on wrote one of the first descriptions of this island.
Wikipedia gives us an interesting ‘Russian Connection’ –
Benbow signed a three-year lease on Sayes Court in June 1696, a house belonging to diarist John Evelyn. Six months later, Evelyn wrote to a friend complaining, “I have let my house to Captain Benbow, and have the mortification of seeing everyday much of my former labours and expenses there impairing for want of a more polite tenant.” In January 1698, Tsar Peter of Russia arrived in London to study British shipbuilding and seamanship. He and his entourage were provided with Sayes Court to reside in during their stay by William III. The Russians spent three months in London before leaving to tour the country. Benbow promptly asked for reparations from the Treasury, in order to be able to reimburse Evelyn and recover his own losses. He complained that the Russians had caused considerable damage to his house, with “much of the furniture broke, lost or destroyed”.Christopher Wren was instructed to survey the property and declared it “entirely ruined”. Benbow lost “twenty fine paintings” and “several fine draughts and other designs relating to the Sea” from his personal property. The Treasury eventually allowed payment of £350 9s. 6d. in compensation
Shrewsbury is an ancient market town in Shropshire, about 3 hours drive from London. Its streets were quiet and relaxing, when we visited on Easter Sunday.
During the Roman occupation, this area was an important centre, with many Roman finds now on show at the local history museum, which is now in an old Music Hall building.
The history of Shrewsbury goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, when it was the capital of the kingdom of Powys.
Being only 9 miles (14 km) from the Welsh border, it has seen many a conflict between the Welsh and the English, as testified by the Norman Castle, built in 11th century. The Shrewsbury Abbey was built around the same time, and closed by Henry VIII in 1540.
The town flourished in the middle ages, with Shropshire’s booming wool trade, and the river Severn and Watling Street being major trading routes.
The River Severn is the longest in the UK and the greatest in terms of water flow in England and Wales. Looking quite and serene today, it has presented the local area with flooding problems in the last 20 years.
Local soldier and statesman Robert Clive was Shrewsbury’s MP from 1762 until his death in 1774. Clive also served once as the town’s mayor in 1762. Known as Clive of India, he was instrumental in establishing British control in that country. Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on 12 February 1809. He went to Shrewsbury school and spent his formative years studying wild life here.
The industrial revolution largely by-passed Shrewsbury, as it was at some distance from large manufacturing centres or ports, and it suffered little during the Second World War – resulting in the town largely preserving its medieval street plan, with 660 listed buildings.