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Changing times can be cruel for magnificent monuments

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

The lucky ones stay put and are a visible and cherished part of Shropshire's heritage.

The less lucky ones get pushed around, tucked away, bashed by passing traffic, vandalised, or even completely destroyed by officialdom or, less objectionably, storms, lightning, and the remorseless march of time.

In their day these monuments and memorials were precious to those who built them and paid for them.

But times and fashions change, and collective memories fade of those bigwigs and good eggs they commemorate – until in the end the memorials lose their relevance to those of a modern generation who have never heard of the names they bear.

As well as the high profile monuments which stand proudly in prominent places, such as the Charles Darwin statue in Shrewsbury, and Lord Hill's Column on the eastern edge of the county town, there are a host of less well known, or even forgotten memorials, that you can stumble across unexpectedly.

And then there are those which have disappeared.

The Shirlett Obelisk, between Broseley and Much Wenlock, was one of the more wacky memorials, a tall pillar which eventually became masked by growing trees. One story was that it was a monument to one of Lord Forester's favourite dogs, another that it commemorated a favourite horse, and it was also suggested it was in fact a glorified flagpole.

Whatever it was, it was deliberately pulled over for health and safety reasons in about November 2006.

The Captain Webb Memorial in Dawley has been more fortunate, but has been moved several times before being restored more or less to its original spot. It had to be removed for repairs in 2009 after being hit by a milk tanker.

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Another notable "mover" is the Bartlett Memorial Fountain, which once stood proudly in Ironbridge centre, and is now hidden away overlooking a car park, while Church Stretton's Queen Victoria Memorial Fountain's town centre position was its undoing. Bashed at least once by a lorry, it was dismantled in the 1960s.

So let's take a look at the fates and importance of just a handful of Shropshire's monuments.

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1 THE BOUGHEY MEMORIAL

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In its heyday, it had pride of place in the centre of Newport, a memorial erected in gratitude to a local benefactor.

These days, it is more difficult to find, tucked away in an alcove on the western part of Station Road.

Its plaque says: “Erected in memory of Sir Thomas Fletcher Boughey, Bart., of Aqualate, by his friends and neighbours in token of their great esteem & in recognition of the many services rendered by him to the town & neighbourhood of Newport. Born 1836, Died 1906.”

It once had a light, and stood in The Square, but was in the way of traffic, and around the 1950s was moved to part of the frontage road of the then Newport Cottage Hospital.

Around the 1970s it had to be moved again to facilitate the construction of Granville Road.

The nearby bench has a plaque reading: "In memory of Mrs Hazel Robinson MBE. Former Town Mayor and Friend of Newport Cottage Hospital."

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2 THE CANTLIN STONE

You'll need to put on your walking boots and wrap up warm to see The Cantlin Stone, which is in the hills on the Shropshire border a few miles from Clun.

It is a landmark for walkers and in the past has been something of a mecca for thousands of New Age Travellers and hippies, who caused a headache for locals by setting up illegal camps.

The Celtic stone cross is said to stand at the site where William Cantlin, a travelling pedlar, was murdered and robbed over 300 years ago – an alternative version is that he simply dropped dead.

The story goes that the pauper was not of any parish and none of the parishes would bury him, so he was eventually buried at Bettws-y-Crwyn.

The inscription is "W.C. DECSED HERE BURIED 1691 AT BETVS."

So Cantlin is not actually buried under the Cantlin Stone. And according to Wikipedia the cross there now is a modern replica.

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3 HAWKSTONE OBELISK

From the top of Sir Rowland Hill’s Monument at Hawkstone it is reputed that you can see up to 13 counties on a clear day.

Taking a lofty perch at the top of the column is a statue of Sir Rowland, who was the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London in 1549.

But the statue you see there now is not the original, which was either struck by lightning or blown down – we think in 1936, but haven't been able to confirm the date.

The monument itself was erected by Sir Richard Hill in 1795, standing 100ft tall and supporting the statue.

Having fallen into disrepair, it was restored in the 1990s. As part of the revamp, sculptor Guy Portelli was commissioned to create a new statue of Sir Rowland Hill, which was cast in 1992 and now graces the top of the monument.

The Tuscan-style column is a prominent north Shropshire feature which is Grade One listed.

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4 CHURTON MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN

This impressive 26ft-high drinking fountain is a Victorian Gothic monsterpiece – sorry, masterpiece – which used to stand at Green End, Whitchurch, before being moved about 100 yards up the road.

It was officially opened on April 3, 1883, at the junction of five roads, which is no doubt a clue as to why it was moved later.

The lower level had two cattle troughs, and on the north and south faces it supplied water through bronze lions’ heads, each basin having drinking cups.

It had (still has?) a panel saying: “This Fountain was erected by John Churton, J.P., Of Morannedd, Rhyl, In loving memory of his parents William and Anne Churton, and as a memorial of his affection and enduring interest in the welfare of his native town, 1882.”

John Churton was too ill to attend the opening in 1883, but his nephew Henry Churton told the crowd that the fountain would be "a standing memorial to the great cause of temperance," which is ironic since the original position was on the doorstep of the Railway Inn (although it may not have been an inn in those days).

The fountain originally had gas lights – long gone, of course.

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5 THE HODNET FOLLY

Standing magnificent and alone in a field just out of Hodnet are what look like the ruins of a Greek temple.

They must cause headscratching among those who do not know the story, for which the position directly opposite the entrance to Hodnet Hall is a clue.

It is actually a folly created as a memorial to Brigadier Algernon Heber-Percy, of Hodnet Hall, who died in 1961.

The pillars were the portico of Apley Castle, a grand mansion which stood near the site of the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, and which was demolished in 1955.

The brigadier asked if he could have the portico, thinking it might make a nice feature at Hodnet, but died before his dream could be realised. So when it came to having a memorial to him, it was decided to create the folly that he had planned.

The folly was built over three weeks in September and October 1967. For aesthetic and safety reasons the portico was only partly reconstructed.

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6 RODNEY'S PILLAR

You can see if for miles, as this landmark stands on the top of Breidden Hill on the Shropshire/Wales border.

It is 54ft tall, but is showing its age – it's over 200 years old – and there is a fear that its days could be numbered. One lightning strike, and the whole structure could come crashing down.

At least it has some friends. There's a Save Rodney's Pillar group which is looking into how to raise the £160,000 which will be needed to save it from collapsing.

Grade Two listed, it was erected by the "Gentlemen of Montgomeryshire" to commemorate the naval successes of Sir George Brydges Rodney, Admiral of the White.

Rodney led campaigns in the American War of Independence and in the Caribbean against the French.

The link between the spot and Rodney is somewhat indirect – the pillar was erected to mark the role of Montgomeryshire in providing the oak shipped down the River Severn to Bristol where Admiral Rodney’s fleet was built.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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