Monday, 6 November 2017

MSc Historic Conservation: A Shropshire Miscellany

Students on the MSc Historic Conservation travelled to the Shropshire Hills last week for the annual October field trip. This remote upland region of the Welsh Marches, immortalised in AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad, has a rich architectural and archaeological legacy that its relative seclusion has helped to protect. Our aim: to see as much of it as possible in a single day…

From John Rocque's Actual Survey of the County of Salop (1743)

Our first visit was to Ludlow. This small market town, once the de facto capital of the Marches, is famed today for its superb historic townscape and its equally outstanding regional cuisine. (Alas, we didn't get much opportunity to sample the latter.) Perched on a hilltop at the confluence of the rivers Teme and Corve, Ludlow was founded in the late 11th century as part of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of the region, and became the regional seat of government as well as a centre for the lucrative wool trade. It is a classic example of a medieval planned town, its streets forming a compact grid encircled by walls and protected by the mighty castle of the De Lacy and Mortimer barons.

Ludlow Castle, etching after JM Turner 1831

Our walkabout examined the distinctive built form of the historic centre - much analysed by urban designers and morphologists - as well as the magnificent variety of the local architecture and materials: the huge red sandstone bulk of the late-Gothic parish church, the elaborate timber-framed merchants' houses and commercial buildings of the 15th-17th centuries, and the overlay of brick Classicism marking Ludlow's status as a fashionable retreat during the 1700s.

View of Broad Street, Ludlow with 13th century town gate

After an all-too-hurried lunch we moved on to Stokesay Castle. Built in the late 1200s by the local wool magnate Laurence of Ludlow, said at the time to be England's richest commoner, Stokesay is now this country's best-preserved example of a fortified medieval manor house. It is also an unforgettable spectacle, the gabled grey-stone hall with its flanking towers and yellow half-timbered gatehouse standing serene in its moat amid steep wooded hills by the banks of the small river Onny. Local specialist Stephen Treasure - of the venerable building firm Treasure and Son, established in Ludlow in 1747 - showed us round, explaining some of the conservation challenges he and his colleagues have faced in over 30 years of conservation work at the site.

Stephen Treasure explains the finer points of stone conservation at Stokesay Castle

Our final visit was to Titterstone Clee Hill. This 1700-foot summit, encircled by an immense Bronze Age enclosure of unknown purpose, has been an important site of human activity since prehistoric times, and its mineral-rich Carboniferous geology has been exploited since at least the Middle Ages as a source of iron ore, coal, sandstone, limestone and dolerite or 'Dhustone'. Guided by archaeologist Glynn Barrett of the Titterstone Clee Heritage Trust, we picked our way amid swirling fog across an eerie landscape of wild moorland, abandoned quarry workings and the wreckage of machinery, including an array of huge ferro-concrete rock-crushing plant that recalled the petrified remains of titanic robots.

Crusher and stone sorter in Titterstone West Quarry - an early (c.1915) example of reinforced concrete construction

This too is one of Housman's 'blue remembered hills'; but it hardly lends itself to the picture-postcard treatment. What, if anything, should be done to conserve this remarkable archaeological landscape - historically eloquent but aesthetically challenging, geographically remote and prey to vandalism, erosion and decay - for the future?

Conservation students in their element on Titterstone Clee Hill

Thanks to David Garrard for the report and photos. For more information about the MSc Historic Conservation click here:

Reports on the Planning and Urban Design Blog
Website for the MSc Historic Conservation

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