The MERE at Ellesmere – part of Shropshire’s own little Lake District – in present times serves mainly to attract passing tourists travelling along the A495.

Many years ago, it displayed a somewhat different function. In the medieval period, it seems it provided an abundant supply of fish for local people.

Eventually, the Mere was to become the private property of the Bridgewater Estate, which apparently initially inflicted restrictions on fishing rights.

However, during the 1700s the rules were relaxed with permission granted for boating and fishing. Nevertheless, it seems the agent for the estate would hinder local fishermen by using extensive netting of his own for the estate in the Mere.

For quite a few years, old Tom Kennersley was rewarded with the sum of £3 for baiting the meres and making sure the swans were properly fed.

Major Dymock in the 1830s was allowed complete management of the entire fishing practice concerning the meres.

Adjacent to the Moors, an attractive boathouse was constructed for the sole use of hiring boats.

The attendants in charge of the boats were dressed in appropriate uniform.

Meanwhile, Oteley, on the opposite side of the Mere, also built a boathouse in direct competition, which was to irritate the agent somewhat.

However, permission was granted for them to be allowed sailing boats but they were not to exercise a fishing practice in the Mere.

The significant and delightful boathouse situated at Colemere was the venue for an annual picnic.

The Mere was to suffer severe frost during the years 1812-13, 1842-3, 1886-7, 1897, 1917, 1918, 1940 and 1947, but it is believed the worst winter was that of 1963-4.

According to some recollections, the ice in places was between 1ft and 2ft thick.

According to my research, I discovered it appears the islands on the Mere at Ellesmere are artificial.

The large one closest to the Boathouse was created during the winter of 1812-13.

They were the brainchild of the Bridgewater family’s agent during that severely cold winter., when he employed workers who otherwise would have been out of a job at that time.

They would carry earth from the end of his garden and from the coppice nearby. It was relatively easy to make an island as the Mere had frozen hard, allowing the conveyance of vast quantities of soil and the like across the ice during the that tough winter season.

As the ice eventually melted, the mound of earth would obviously spread out to its own level to form an island.

This island was initially named Moscow Island, because at that time Napoleon had set fire to Moscow.

After a while it was renamed Charlotte Island and, after a period of time, had its name changed yet again to Cowhill.

Near to the north-west shoreline of the Mere is Neddy Jebb’s Island. It was established when the churchyard was renovated and when the entrance to Church Hill and the Vicarage was formulated.

It was Neddy Jebb who carried the materials needed for the task.

There was a gruesome entailment of skeletons and bones, which had been buried for years, being thrown out, a bit further on from the entrance to the Workhouse which filled in the shallow edge of the Mere.

Neddy Jebb also put up a bridge but, in the course of time, this fell down.

Until the middle of the 1700s, the local inhabitants of Ellesmere took advantage of the free use of the Mere to quench the thirst of their livestock as well as for washing their clothes. The pits were using for tanning and there was no charge for this facility.

Tanning once thrived in Ellesmere, until cheap hides were imported via Merseyside from Australia and America.

Shooting was prevalent but under a controlled method. Trying to claim coot – an aquatic bird of Europe and Asia – was once a tradition for shooting parties at Ellesmere.

The initial mention of tanning in the area appears to be in 1706 when a Thomas Bailey and William Kynaston formed an agreement with a certain Thomas Holland concerning the trade.

Later on in the century – in 1764 – Edward Kynaston of Oteley executed a leasing contract of the main tannery to a certain Whettall.

A few years later, in 1787, a beneficiary of Edward Kynaston, Penelope Vaughan, leased the tannery.

The period of this hire was of 99 years and was to cost £42 a year and two fat swans – and, in every second year, a consignment of coal.

It appears Miss Vaughan eventually sold the tannery business to a John Edwards, whose father was the owner of Kilhendre.

When John Edwards sold the concern it was to Menlove, whereupon the business was to prosper for the next 50 years. This was a time when agriculture was steadily progressing and leather goods were required for the horses.

Menlove and S Yiney increased their tanneries alongside the Mere and to the north of Church Street in Ellesmere.

The extent of this growth is allied to the record of oak bark sales from the estate. On an annual basis, Menlove paid thousands of pounds to the Bridgewaters for the bark from the Duke’s Woods.

This had been planted originally, it appears, by the Canal Duke after he had sold many assets from the estate to raise money to aid his canal venture.

Mrs Menlove, the daughter of the Reverend Edward Edwards, vended the tannery in 1855 to the estate and then it doors were closed for the very last time.

When the canal was constructed, between 1790 and 1805, the adaptations to the Blackwater meant the Mere was drained at its south eastern side and the Sparbridge channel from the Mere was made deeper to the Newnes and Tetchill Brooks.

This project was to noticeably change the conditions of the marsh area of the two commons, which was the property of Ellesmere citizens.

The achievement of this was, by 1806, the moors were more resistant to flooding.

As a result of the enhanced drainage came the creation of the toll-gate road which was to run alongside the Mere.

Until then the primary thoroughfare into Ellesmere from the south was along Sandy Lane, which led into the narrow route of St John’s Hill.

The toll-gate road was much more level, making it easier for coaches and wagons. Allied to this, Church Street and the Watergate could easily be used for traffic approaching the canal Wharfside.

The churchyard was bordered by its present walls of stone, which had been extracted from some of the remains of Myddle Castle during the middle part of the 1800s.

In 1819, the Earl was presented by the Turnpike Trust with some of their land which made it possible, at his own expense, to make straight the Mere road and improve his view in the direction of Oteley.

Later on, a brick wall was built which surrounded the gardens of Ellesmere House at the Mere side.