Studying the etymology of Oswestry requires a clear head, for conflicting sources give an accurate recollection of when Oswestry began to be referred to as such. Prior to this moment in time, Oswestry was once referred to by various names, such as ‘Mersete’ and ‘Meresburie’, which loosely translate into English as “the people of the border country”. Anglicise these names further and we arrive at ‘Maesbury’, the village in Oswestry Rural which was once the centre of the Saxon District of Mersete.

The Domesday Book, compiled by King William I in 1086, refers to the whole of what exists today as Oswestry Town and Oswestry Rural as ‘Mersete’, but is not generous to the existing infrastructure at the time. The Book describes the area’s only places of significance as “a church”, possibly the Parish Church, and the Castle, built by the Norman Sheriff of Shropshire, Rainald.

The Conqueror’s Survey, on the other hand, gives a rather scathing yet articulated account of the area. The Survey refers to Oswestry as “wasteland”, formerly belonging to King Edward ‘The Confessor’ and ravaged by both Prince Gruffydd ap Llewelyn and the Earl Alfgar during their war with Edward.

Following the end of conflict with the Normans, King William gave a significant portion of English land to Earl Roger of Montgomery, thus making the Earl the overlord of Oswestry, to be succeeded by Warin the Bald, a member of the FitzWarine family, and then by Rainald. It is also worth noting that following construction of Shrewsbury Abbey in 1083, the Earl passed governance of the Parish Church to the Abbey, thus creating one unified parochial body.

Next time, Hidden Oswestry looks at Oswestry during the Twelfth Century.


‘Oswestry through the ages’ [Page 5], by John Pryce-Jones (1991)