Along The Moors
The canal age reached Wappenshall at the end of the 1700s, when Thomas Telford drove the Shrewsbury Canal through the village on the section leading to Trench and the east Shropshire coalfield. Although the waterway was vital in providing the county town with raw materials, it remained isolated from the rest of the national network and local industrialists wishing to send goods further afield were unable to do so without incurring a laborious road trip, or by shipping goods along the River Severn to Stourport… where they were then put back on the canal again!
Fortunately, help was at hand from the promoters of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, who were desperate to secure trade for a new venture linking the second city to the Mersey. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure a connection with the Donnington Wood Canal, in the coalfield itself, they approached the directors of the Shrewsbury Canal Company with a proposal to construct a 10-mile link from the mainline at Gnosall, in Staffordshire, to Wappenshall via Newport.
Up the Junction
The new waterway was completed in January 1832, after several delays, although boats did not reach Shrewsbury for another two years; the bridges and locks of the existing canal serving the town, which had been built in the same dimensions as the tub-boat system of the east Shropshire coalfield, required widening to accommodate the standard narrowboats plying the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction route and the new branch to Wappenshall.
Financial constraints ensured such alterations were never carried out on the Trench section and the canal basin at Wappenshall was rapidly developed by the Duke of Sutherland (who was the Lord of Wappenshall Manor) as a transhipment point, where goods were unloaded for passage between the mainline and the tub boat system of the coalfield. According to contemporary accounts, the road to the new wharf was reckoned to be among the busiest in the county and, by the 1840, the erection of several new houses and a pub in the vicinity of the waterway created a brand new community entirely dependant on the canal for its existence.
Wappenshall’s monopoly on the transport of local goods in east Shropshire was relatively short-lived and effectively ended when the railway network arrived in east Shropshire during the mid-19th Century. By 1870, the public house which had opened to take advantage of passing trade from the thriving waterway had closed, although the canal managed to struggle on until abandonment by its owners, the LMS railway company, in 1944. Despite closure, the wharf complex developed by the Duke of Sutherland remains as a remarkable survival of Wappenshall’s golden age.
On private land just off the main road through the village, the former office of the clerk to the canal company (whose job it was to collect tolls and check cargoes) and the Duke of Sutherland’s transhipment warehouse, which was built in the years following the opening of the waterway, stand adjacent to the filled-in remains of the basin. The impressive two-storey building retains many original features, including a covered, internal dock and trap doors cut into the floor to allow goods to be hoisted from the barges below. Beyond the warehouse, the ‘wide waters’ where boats would once have turned to head for Trench and the coalfield also remain and are straddled by a fine ‘roving’ bridge over the junction of the Shrewsbury and Newport branches of the canal.
Salt Springs Eternal
By the time Wappenshall acquired its reputation as an important transport hub for east Shropshire, the locality had already been a key centre for at least one other local industry — salt production. At Kingley Wych, a little way east of Kinley Farm, two saltworks were established by the early 1700s to utilise the considerable outpourings of a local brine spring which was reckoned, by contemporary accounts at least, to produce up to 5000 gallons of brine on a daily basis.
One of these saline-related enterprises belonged to the Trustees of Preston Hospital and was fittingly known as the ‘Charity Salt Works’. It proved to be something of a short-lived endeavour and appears to have closed by 1736, only 30 years or so after it had first opened for business. A far more successful venture was undertaken by the influential Charlton family, of nearby Apley Castle, whose own saltworks at Kinley survived for most of the 18th Century. The brine was extracted with a horse-powered pump from a pit and stored in cisterns, before being boiled in large iron pans, where blood was added to the mix in order to speed evaporation. Although salt production had ceased by 1799, the works buildings remained intact until the 1960s, while the brine spring itself was filled in about 1970.
The first edition Ordnance Survey map of the Weald Moors from 1881 reveals evidence of an unusual discovery at Kinley in the first half of the 19th Century. Twenty yards or so to the southeast of the culvert carrying the Crow Brook under the road to Preston, a cross symbol, annotated with the cryptic remark ‘Celts found’, marks the site where local farm worker William Pickering stumbled upon a hoard of five Bronze Age axes. Sadly, the ancient cache, which was unearthed during the course of drainage work in the area sometime between 1832 and 1833, was subsequently split up and the whereabouts of the prehistoricimplements are now unknown.
However, the story does not end there. In 1954, the venerated Shropshire archaeologist Lily Chitty examined a middle Bronze Age artefact at nearby Eyton Hall that she felt sure must once have belonged to the hoard. The 7 inch axe, which Miss Chitty defined as a palstave (meaning it was designed to fit into a split wooden handle), weighed nearly one and a half pounds and contained fine detailing which she believed to belong to an early Irish tradition of craftsmanship. The hoard was the largest of several prehistoric finds around the fringes of the local peat deposits, indicating a long history of human activity on the Weald Moors; other finds include the discovery of several struck flints near Kynnersley and Adeney and a Bronze Age spearhead recovered on Dayhouse Moor around 1910.