Wroxeter, Leighton and Much Wenlock
A trail to Mary Webb’s birthplace at Leighton, to the small market town of Much Wenlock close to which she lived for fourteen years, and along Wenlcok Edge - a remarkable fifteen mile limestone escarpment.
Click on the map to enlarge.
Take the B4380 from Shrewsbury , the ‘Silverton’ of Mary Webb’s novels. You will pass the gates of Attingham Park (National Trust) at Atcham with fine views of the Wrekin. This is the ‘bosky hill, Mount Gilbert ’ in Mary Webb’s uncompleted novel Armour Wherein He Trusted (1929).
WROXETER ROMAN CITY
Wroxeter Roman City (Viroconium) was the fourth largest city of Roman Britain . It is now in the care of English Heritage with a small museum on site. Viroconium was one of Mary Webb's favourite historical places to which she came often, from childhood onwards. She wrote about it in an imaginative essay and in her poem 'Viroconium':
‘Virocon – Virocon –
Still the ancient name rings on
And brings, in the untrampled wheat, The tumult of a thousand feet….’
Drive to Leighton to see Mary Webb’s birthplace. Park in the layby on the right just beyond the Kynnersley Arms. In the Inn you can see an old Corn Mill and a water wheel and furnace hearth which were excavated by The Time Team from the Channel 4 television programme.
Walk through the village to the gates of Leighton Hall on the right. Alongside is Leighton Lodge (privately owned), where Mary was born on 25 th March, 1881 . Walk down the Hall drive to the little church of St. Mary the Virgin, in which Mary was baptised (Mary Gladys Meredith).
Drive on through Buildwas with the sweeping meanders of the River Severn on your right. Turn R. onto the A4169 for Much Wenlock.
On your right are the romantic ruins of Buildwas Abbey, a 12 th century Cistercian monastery, which might well have inspired Mary Webb in the writing of her medieval novel Armour Wherein He Trusted, in which Sir Gilbert becomes a Cistercian abbot.
On your left are the massive towers of Ironbridge Power Station, and the town of Ironbridge , where Henry Webb was born in 1885, now home to the world-famous Ironbridge Gorge Museum – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This historic town is rich in associations with Mary Webb. Her family, the Merediths, moved to The Grange near Much Wenlock when she was about fifteen months old, and she spent fourteen formative years, from 1882 to 1896, living near the town. Mary described Much Wenlock in a memoir as ‘a very Rip van Winkle of a borough. Somewhere in the Middle Ages it had fallen asleep’.
She spent many hours in Wenlock Priory (English Heritage) fascinated by the ruins of this 12th century Cluniac foundation, and by the legend of St. Milburgha, whose 7th century abbey was also on this site. In the cottage at the end of the row nearest Priory Hall, Mary, age ten, used to read the bible to the old beadle John Lloyd.
Around the corner is Holy Trinity Church , partly 12th century, in which Mary was confirmed. A few yards further on is the splendid Tudor Guildhall. In the churchyard, immediately behind the Guildhall, there is a bronze commemorative plaque of Mary Webb, the millennium tribute of the Mary Webb Society.
Opposite the Guildhall is Much Wenlock Museum and Tourist Information Centre – an enriching experience not to be missed.
On the B4371 you will pass, on the left, the gates of ‘The Grange’, Mary’s childhood home.
This large redbrick house was greatly loved by Mary and the Meredith family. Her five brothers and sisters were born here. Privately owned, it can be seen from the road.
From the National Trust Car Park there are walks (available from a dispenser on site for £1) taking you up onto Wenlock Edge, a limestone escarpment, rich in woods, wildflowers and grasses.
Mary’s father drove her along the Edge in their pony and trap on many occasions, pointing out prominent features and associated legends of the Shropshire landscape, such as Major’s Leap. One of the walks takes you to Major’s Leap – a crag from which the Royalist Major Smallman is said to have leapt out on his horse to escape pursuing Roundheads in the Civil War. This story helped to inspire the tragic ending of Mary Webb’s novel Gone to Earth.
There are several other pull-in places along Wenlock Edge, with wide and spectacular views of Shropshire’s hills and valleys.
Multiple-tinted, magical, still
Is the plain, where the blue cloud-shadows pass
The silver tree, the forget-me-not hill.
Ippikin’s Rock viewpoint, opposite Wenlock Edge Inn, is the site of another local legend. The Inn has monthly storytelling sessions in the bar.
Mary Webb Trail
- Trail One - Meole Brace & Lyth Hill
- Trail Two - Wroxeter, Leighton & Much Wenlock
- Trail Three - Pulverbatch, Thresholds & The Long Mynd
- Trail Four - Pontesbury, Lordshill & The Stiperstones