Shropshire Star

'Exquisite' 278-year-old mourning ring discovered in 2019 linked to the wealthy Shropshire family

A 278-year-old mourning ring found in 2019 has been linked to the wealthy Hill family of Shropshire.

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A ring dedicated to Sarah Hill of the 'Great Hill' family of Shropshire. Found 275 years after it was created, the ring would have been given to close friends and family members

Tim Saylor, who was visiting the county at the time, made the remarkable discovery while out metal detecting.

The gold ring – dating back to 1744 – is typical of a style popular at the time, with elegant wavy hoops or scrolls, set with a crystal gemstone.

A ring dedicated to Sarah Hill of the Hill family of Shropshire. Found 275 years after it was created, the ring would have been given to close friends and family members

The find has links to one of Shropshire’s most important families – The Hill family of Hawkstone.

It tells the story of a woman, whose contributions to the creation of one of Shropshire’s finest historic houses, has all too often been overlooked.

Chris Langston, local detecting host and tour guide said: "As soon as Tim showed me the ring I was gobsmacked and I immediately thought that there may be a slim chance it might be associated to Shropshire's Hill family and may be connected to Lord Hill’s monument."

Chris contacted the Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire, and following research by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Shropshire Museums, it turned out that Chris’ hunch was right.

“Little did I know that it would shine the light on an almost forgotten but truly inspirational Shropshire woman,” Chris added.

Sarah Stubbs came from Kingsley, Staffordshire and was the eldest daughter of John Stubbs of Saw.

On February 12, 1699, Sarah married John Hill of Wem, who was working as an apothecary – he was around 43 when they married, whereas Sarah was only 18.

John was the younger brother of Richard Hill of Hawkstone, who became known as the "Great Hill" – born in Hodnet on March 23, 1655 and died on June 11, 1727.

The Revd and RT Hon Richard Hill of Hawkstone. Picture: Shropshire Museums

"The Great Hill" was a public servant and statesman, who served as a diplomat during the War of the Spanish Succession and later became ambassador at the court of The Hague in the Netherlands.

In 1700, Richard Hill inherited Hawkstone Hall on the death of his father, and due to his accumulated wealth extended his estates at Attingham Park and at Shenstone, Staffordshire.

When John Hill died in 1713, Sarah Hill moved in to her brother-in-law's home at Hawkstone with her children.

Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery curator Emma-Kate Lanyon said: “Sarah was clearly a capable woman, managing the house and land on behalf of her brother-in-law.

"In 1720, Richard decided to rebuild Hawkstone, much as we see the house and grounds today, and Sarah remained on site to oversee the works.”

Hawkstone Hall

As a result of Sarah’s endeavours, her eldest son Rowland inherited Hawkstone from his uncle aged 22 and also became the first baronet, Sir Rowland Hill.

Sir Rowland Hill of Hawkstone. Picture: Shropshire Museums
The statue of Rowland Hill, the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London, on top of the Monument at Hawkstone Park.

When Sarah died on March 10, 1744, the family – like many other wealth mourners of the period – commissioned a mourning ring.

These rings were given at the funeral to close friends and family members as specified in the will of the deceased.

The ring which was found almost 300 years later, is engraved with Sarah's name, death date and age.

“If we can uncover Sarah’s Last Will and Testament, we might be able to trace who may have owned the ring,” added Emma-Kate Lanyon, “for now, we can only imagine who may have dropped it”.

The ring has been kindly loaned to Shropshire Museums for display at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery where is can be seen alongside a portrait of her brother-in-law Richard Hill (attributed to the painter Charles d` Agar and dating from 1700) and her son Sir Rowland Hill (by an unknown artist and dating from c.1750-60).

It will also be displayed with two fine porcelain trays from a dining set commissioned by the Hill family and decorated with views of their houses at Hawkstone and Hardwick, near Hadnall.

These have been kindly loaned to Shropshire Museums by the Rev. Richard Hayes.