The Four Parishes Heritage Group
The Four Parishes Heritage Group (FPHG) is a newly-formed group of individuals who wish to find out more about the history of Kinlet, Stottesdon, Highley, Billingsley and surrounding areas. We are particularly keen to discover how the countryside and villages have physically changed over the past: ‘landscape history’.
Why pick these four parishes? They all share a number of important features in common. They include parts of the Wyre Forest Coalfield. Not only does this mean that they have had similar industries but, more importantly, they all also have similar soils, so the way farms have developed is also likely to be similar. All parishes still have extensive areas of woodland; this was far more extensive in the past. For most of their recorded history they have been part of the same area of local government, be that Bridgnorth District Council today or the Stottesdon Hundred in medieval times. Finally, the parishes complement each other. For example, Kinlet and Highley have good survival of documentary records from medieval times; Stottesdon and Billingsley have good examples of abandoned medieval hamlets and fields. By putting all this together we can get a much fuller picture of our area.
We want to undertake historical and archaeological research. We can do much ourselves. There is a lot that can be learnt by simply walking the countryside with a keen eye. It is possible to pick up flints that date from the Stone Age (Neolithic, about 4000-2000 BC), when man settled permanently in the area. During the Roman period, good quality pottery was first used and fragments of this can still be found in fields; by use of aerial photos we are starting to learn where the users of this pottery lived. In medieval times villages and hamlets expanded enormously, creating fields with distinctive ridges and furrows as they ploughed the land, platforms and hollow ways as they made houses, and roads and dams and ditches as they built water mills. Many of these sites were later abandoned, but the earthworks remain, often lost in woodland. In this and later periods we can add evidence of quarrying, mining, iron working and other industries. These sometimes created their own roads, railways and villages which were later abandoned. Even the last 100 years have left distinct signatures in the landscape: the defences that were built in the Second World War. A site does not need to be abandoned to be interesting to study; for example, we can learn a lot about how Highley developed around 1900 simply by looking carefully at the different shops and houses that were put up around that time. A second strand is documentary research. There are numerous documents in record offices in Shrewsbury and London (as well as people’s attics!) that can help us recreate the past. For the most recent period these can be supplemented by recollections of individuals: ‘oral history’.
Whilst we can do much ourselves, there are some forms of research that we would need help with. Anyone who has watched archaeology on TV will know about the power of ‘geophysics’ to help unravel sites without disturbing them. This has to be done by specialists. We hope that we can do some excavation ourselves, but we need to be properly trained before we can attempt this. There are also a lot of medieval documents in Latin which are not for the faint-hearted; we really need them translating by experts.
We have two immediate aims. We hope that in the new year we can start our own research, both by field-walking and in the archive. We are also putting in a bid to the Local Heritage Initiative for money to pay for translation of medieval documents and to fund training in archaeological techniques so that we can ultimately undertake our own digs.