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A history of Whitchurch and The Black Bear

I’m no historian but this piece was written by our heritage consultant for the planning application and I find it fascinating. If anyone has links to other interesting information it would be gratefully received.

Old Map Whitchurch

Whitchurch was originally a settlement founded by the Romans about AD 52–70 called Mediolanum (lit. "Midfield" or "Middle of the Plain"), it stood on a major Roman road between Chester and Wroxeter.  In 1066, Whitchurch was called Westune ('west farmstead'), probably for its location on the western edge of Shropshire, bordering the north Welsh Marches. Before the Norman conquest of England, the area had been held by Harold Godwinson. After the conquest, Whitchurch's location on the marches would require the Lords of Whitchurch to engage in military activity.

By the time it was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086), Whitchurch was held by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, and Roger de Montgomery.  It was part of the hundred of Hodnet.  A medieval castle existed with a bailey, and it is reputed that a planned town was laid out at the end of the 12th century. A market and fair existed in Whitchurch in the 13th century. The medieval ditch and rampart defences provided the basis of the medieval street pattern in the fourteenth century, with the High Street, running from north to south, in evidence at time. Burgage plots were laid out and high-status town houses were built, using timber framing. The town expanded beyond its defences by the late Middle Ages, to include the market area known as the Bull Ring, where the first Market House was built in 1638.


Old high street Whitchurch

The name Whitchurch is probably a derivative of ‘White church’. Both the market and church were referred to in literature by eminent travel writers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many buildings seemed to survive the Civil War, which seesawed between the Royalists and Parliamentarians between 1643 – 4. There was a period of prosperity towards the end of the 17th century. Architecturally this is expressed by the introduction of alms houses in Bargate in 1699, and the rebuilding of a new church, following its partial collapse of the previous church in 1712-13. In1718 the New Town and Market Halls were built, along with several town houses. Temporary market stalls were laid out in the 17th century, which in time became permanent shops. Consequently, several existing buildings were extended forward from their original building line, enclosing, and narrowing the High Street.

The construction of the Ellesmere Canal in 1805, dates from the late 18th century, linking major rivers. A 1793 Act of Parliament allowed for its engineered by Thomas Telford and William Jessop, key internationally renowned civil engineers. Its first section, the Wirral line, linked the River Dee at Chester, to the River Mersey in Liverpool, and opened in 1795. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and canal, in North East Wales, was built between 1795 and 1808. The Whitchurch branch of the Ellesmere canal opened in 1811. 

BB and church

North Shropshire's first railway line, running from Crewe to Shrewsbury via Whitchurch, was opened in 1858 with lines to Chester and Welshpool in the 1860’s. Modest developments in the 19th century include the establishment of the town’s gasworks and a school, a Working Men’s Hall, a cottage hospital, and newspaper.

Electricity was established in 1931. The town remains principally a market town in character, with two notable industries in the late 18th and 19th century - James Joyce Clockmakers in 1790, and Dutch barns by William Smith.

The Black Bear was built as a high-status timber framed town house in the late 16th - early 17th century. In 1670 it was owned by John Eddowes who had other property in St John’s Street. Various members of the Payne family, notable innkeepers in Whitchurch of the period, were recorded at the property until 1720. It had five further occupiers up until 1750. The landlord at the end of the 18th century was J. Florris.


Old high street Whitchurch 2

At the beginning of the 19th century auctions at The Black Bear are recorded. The Poor Rate Valuation Book (1827) lists 127 High Street properties, with seven public houses, of which The Black Bear is one. During the 19th century there were eight landlords. Pigot’s Trade Directory of 1828 records Joseph Thelwell, James Large in 1851, and George Windsor in 1895, where it was in the ownership of Sykes & Co. brewery. The building, along with several others close by, was substantially remodelled in the later 19th century.

In 1896 it comprised four rooms and a bar downstairs, with a further six rooms on the first floor for up to ten lodgers. The 1896 Returns described its clientele as mainly agricultural, and carrier services existed for Shrewsbury, Nantwich, and Manchester. By the turn of the century, the Shrewsbury & Wem Brewery owned the building and in 1913, William Nash was its landlord.

Pigs were kept in the inn’s yard in 1720, identified as a public nuisance in Church Lane. In 1750 the yard included a timber-yard and smithy. By the late 19th century up to 50 horses could be kept in the yard. A line of outbuildings on the 1879 Ordnance Survey map create a continuous frontage onto Church Street. By 1937 the area had an agricultural character, with a Dutch Barn in the grounds, with the entrance from Church Street like that of today.