A Brief History of Whittington

During the 1950s the Shropshire village of Whittington with neighbouring Babbins Wood was described as possessing an old world charm, even though the busy main London to Holyhead route used to run straight through it at that particular time.

In present times even so it has been by-passed; the traffic is steadily increasing year by year running through this village.

During the 1880s, William Walsham How was a rector of the parish of Whittington. One annual local event he was involved with concerned the old men’s dinner which initially took place in 1885 on January 1. This continued every year on no less than 26 occasions while this rector was in charge.

At this time the village consisted of approximately 1,500 inhabitants, so undoubtedly there were plenty of older men available to enjoy a good meal and merriment! These men of senior years were apparently described as being prodigious. The rector of Whittington parish was always there to give them a warm welcome on these new year junctures.

Every year one particular custom was to drink a toast to an associate of the men gathered who had been born with the century. A song called ‘Tomorrow’ would be sung by all present which would be led by the esteemed rectory gardener, who was described as a ‘liquid tenor’!

Many years later in 1922 was introduced the Whittington bell ringers’ supper which had a similar theme to Walsham How’s dinners during the previous century. At the onset, these suppers, supported by the Reverend Pell Edmunds, were the preserve of the Whittington bell ringers. This, however, was later to change and invitations were allowed for their friends and acquaintances. At one particular dinner there were more than 50 people in attendance.

The main contributor to these feasting occasions was a certain ‘Uncle’ Joe Forest who was an aged man who had given so much over the years in order for these suppers to take place. He was most generous in the way he supplied the food. It was said that the tables were struggling to take the weight of the food he provided!

Other clergymen mentioned were the Rev Pell Edmunds and the somewhat lanky Rev Thursby Pelham, who was stated as having a most “dry” sense of humour. A captain of the Whittington bell ringers was a certain Harry Morris who was deemed a most well-liked character in the village, who it appears made interesting speeches.

I would say although Harry Morris was popular he would certainly not be any more liked than a certain Alf Barclay from Welsh Frankton. Alf Barclay was the man who prepared the hot mulled ale for these feasting occasions! He was said to put in much effort to perfect this ale in a cauldron over an open fire with nothing short of great enthusiasm.

When these most happy people had finished eating their village banquet there were the New Year’s Eve speeches. These oratories were said to offer much fun and enjoyment for those present. They were of a most witty nature. When midnight approached it was the local tradition of the guests to go with the bell ringers to the church. The bells would then be rung to bring the new year in. Some of the bell ringers would obviously be quite sluggish in their practice after eating all that generously supplied food and of course the ale!

Another vicar with a certain connection to Whittington was the Rev AR Lloyd. This man was stated as having quite a rare character. He was born in 1817 at the Whittington Rectory. It appears he took his early education at home. In 1837 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. Three years later in 1840 he underwent his ordination and was to become a curate at Padiham in Lancashire. After that he was placed at Everton and St John’s in Liverpool.

In 1846 his father, who was already the rector of Whittington, was made the rector of Selattyn as well. His son (AR Lloyd) was also allowed the privilege being acting rector of Selattyn church. When AR Lloyd’s father died in 1851 he had to relinquish his post as acting rector of Selattyn when another rector was given the post at Whittington.

The Rev AR Lloyd then had the church of St Barnabus erected at Hengoed and was the first vicar there until he died in 1895. He also instigated the creation of the vicarage, which he gifted to the church. This vicar was of an unusual personality but despite this, he was greatly admired by the local community and his parishioners.

When referring to the church it was described as having distinctive furnishings. For example the reading desk and the pulpit were identical heights, apparently nearly to the roof! A barrel organ was used for the provision of the music and kindly rotated by a blind man. The hymns were of the Rev Lloyd’s own work in vivid red binding of large type.

As the years went by, the reverend’s sight was gradually failing. At one Sunday church service he was having difficulty locating a certain passage in the Bible. So from the lofty pulpit, he requested the assistance of one of his congregation to overcome this problem.

His garden was filled with revelations. This vicar would allow his friends to wander around it where they would come across unusual sights. The stream running through the garden was very decorative with a make-believe Lady of the Lake.

On one occasion the Hengoed vicar escorted a visitor around the garden and took him to a certain location and the guest was suddenly surrounded by a ring of flames which the reverend had previously prepared to be lit by a match at the crucial moment for the unsuspecting visitor.

This eccentric vicar was also interested in the workings of electricity. He would at certain times take his friends to a dark passage in order to give them an electrical shock. The Rev AR Lloyd was quite a joker!

For some reason he had an intense aversion to candles. When anyone was using a candle he would ask for it to be extinguished. The vicar would then find a small tin lamp from his pocket which had a lengthy tube as a wick. Out of his other pocket would be produced some fuel in the form of benzine. This apparatus and fuel etc would then be used in place of the usual candle.

The Rev AR Lloyd of Hengoed may have been quite a joker but he was obviously of a very caring nature. Market day in Oswestry in those days took place on a Saturday and a Wednesday. During the gloomy wintertime nights on market days the vicar would place a light on the spire of his church helping the travelling locals on returning to their homes in the Hengoed area.

Another practice he exercised was the ringing of the church bells at 3 o’clock every Saturday. This was to jog the memory of members of his congregation to put a shine on their footwear etc in preparation for church on Sunday!

His last sermon was preached just nine days before he died. It must have seemed ironic because the sermon was entitled ‘Escape thy life, look not behind thee.’

The sermon lasted for nearly an hour and none of the congregation displayed any symptoms of tiredness.