THE 1500s were yet another traumatic century for the good folk of Oswestry. Although the wars with the Welsh were over for now, Oswestry would find itself facing two different kinds of battles – fire and plague.

Three major fires occurred in the town, in the years of 1542, 1544 and 1567, respectively. Each time ravaging the many buildings and properties and, in turn, destroying the livelihoods of the burgesses. We covered the fire of 1542 back in 2017, in the article entitled ‘The eclipse that burned the town’, where we learned that around 200 dwellings were destroyed and two major streets were ruined.

If three major fires were not enough for the burgesses to contend with, they would also have to face two major outbreaks of plague in 1559 and 1585. These outbreaks were part of the Great Plague of 1331-1770, or The Black Death, which was sweeping across Europe at the time, killing millions.

To combat the spread and contamination, the Croeswylan Stone (or ‘Wailing Cross’) was located at the Town’s southernmost boundary, which is now where The Marches School stands; the stone would act as a makeshift wailing post, where items destined for the town would be deposited for taking inwards by the burgesses. Furthermore, a cemetery was built to bury the victims of these two outbreaks, in an area now known as The Broadwalk.

Large tracts of land were in possession of the Church, under the governance of the Abbeys of Haughmond and Shrewsbury. In a previous article we discussed Oswestry’s many chantry chapels and how they were abolished in the English Reformation, initiated by King Henry VIII. St John’s Hospital in Church Street – Oswestry’s first hospital – was closed and the many tracts of land and properties once in possession of the Church were sold off to local families of influence.

On the town’s most eastward border was a portion of land that was in possession of the lordship until 1563, when the Earl of Arundel and Lord of Oswestry sold the land to Thomas Powell of Whittington, who had the intention of building a grand, half-timbered mansion on the land. This mansion would be called Park Hall and would stand until Boxing Day 1918, when a fire ravaged the building.

Around the time, the current Earl and Lord, Henry FitzAlan, did not have a male heir to inherit the title. His son and first daughter, Henry and Jane, died in 1556 and 1576. His second daughter, Mary, was married to Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and it was decided that the duke would inherit the Earldom of Arundel and the Lordship of Oswestry upon the earl and lord’s death in 1580. As both Mary and Thomas died, the earldom and lordship would pass to their son, Philip, bringing to an end the rule of the FitzAlans.

Philip Howard gave patronage to a book entitled The Book of Constitutions, Decrees and Articles, which was drawn up to provide a constitutional framework for the “good and quiet government” of Oswestry. ratifying the rights and responsibilities that the bailiffs and the common council had to the burgesses, and vice-versaThe book cost £100 to produce and could be described as a predecessor to the standing orders that govern the operation of parish and town councils in the area.

Sadly, falling victim to the anti-Catholic sentiment that gripped England at the time, Philip was tried by Queen Elizabeth I for treason and sent to the tower in 1585. Four years later, the lordship was seized by the Crown.

Despite the turbulence that Oswestry found herself in throughout this 16th century, the town and lordship was able to rebuild itself from the ravages of warfare in the previous century. Welsh market trading resumed, particularly in the wool trade, and the weekly market was dominated by the sales of wool and cloth. It was from here that Oswestry’s markets would start modernising into the local trading centre it is today.

n Next time: Oswestry during the 17th century


- ‘Oswestry through the ages’ [Pages 10 & 11], by John Pryce-Jones (1991)