We recently received a visit to the Guildhall by the Shrewsbury Drapers Company. The visit gave the modern day Drapers the opportunity to learn more about the strong connection their predecessors had with the town of Oswestry during the 16th and early 17th century as part of their involvement with the woollen-cloth trade of north and mid Wales. The event included talks by local historian John Pryce-Jones, and Nigel Hinton of the Drapers, along with a display of original documents from the Town Council Archive.
During this period, Oswestry was the official 'staple town' for the sale of Welsh cloth. As a result, the Drapers were required to make the dangerous journey from Shrewsbury to Oswestry via The Old Three Pigeons Inn at Nesscliffe. During his talk, John Pryce-Jones commented that in 1619 the Drapers were reportedly spending roughly £2,000 each week in the town, and were joined by merchants from other areas such as Whitchurch and Coventry.
Documents displayed on the day highlighted the strong influence the woollen-cloth trade and the visits of the Drapers had on the town at this time. The 1582 Book of Constitutions includes a clause barring Shrewsbury men from becoming burgesses unless they are resident in Oswestry. (OTC/A20/6)
Plans (OTC/C23/1) and photographs (PH/O/5/3/10) showed the location of the Three Tuns Inn. Situated in Bailey Street, the Inn played a significant role in the trade as it allowed a private setting for important negotiations to take place between weavers and drapers. The Inn was demolished in 1902 to make way for the extension of the Cross Market, yet the mantelpiece from the Inn, dating back to the start of the 17th century, still survives and is on display in the Council Chamber at the Guildhall.
In June 1621 Oswestry lost this vital income as the trade was declared open and as a consequence the Drapers were no longer required to travel the sixteen perilous miles to the town. Alternatively, it was the Welsh weavers and clothiers who were forced to travel the extra distance, having to venture deeper into the county in order to sell their goods in Shrewsbury.
Documents shown to the Drapers evidenced the negative effect this decision had on Oswestry. A copy of part of a letter from Arthur Kynaston to Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk (circa 1623) highlighted the decay of the market, referring to "the great loss in my lord's revenue and to the utter undoing of his town & tenants" (OTC/A75/1/14) An Order of the Privy Council, dated 21 December 1622, showed support for the trade to remain at Oswestry. (OTC/A75/1/8)
If you would like to see any of these documents you are very welcome to visit the Town Council Archive, please email the Town Council Archivist to make an appointment: enquiries(at)oswestry-tc.gov.uk
The collection contains:
- records of the unreformed Borough of Oswestry (1324-1835)
- records of the reformed Borough of Oswestry (1835-1967)
- records of the Rural Borough of Oswestry (1967-1974).
The oldest document, a grant by the Earl of Arundel of two shops to the Burgesses of Oswestry, is dated 1324. However, most of the collection dates from 1674. The collection contains public records such as Quarter Sessions and records of the Court of Record. It also contains a small collection of local photographs and maps.
The collection can be searched using the catalogue.
The collection contains the Oswestry Borough charters, which set out the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Burgesses. The first charter was granted in 1262 by John Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. This was followed by later royal charters granted by Richard II (1398), Henry IV (1407), and James I (1617). The final royal charter was granted by Charles II (1673) following a petition by the Lord, Bailiffs and Burgesses of Oswestry.
The charter remained in force until 1835 when local government was reorganised under the Corporations Act of 1835. Under this Act the administration of Town affairs was placed in the hands of the Mayor, six Aldermen and eighteen Councillors. Whereas under the charters the Common Councilmen had been elected by the Common Council itself, the Councillors were now elected by the ratepayers of the Town. The Mayor and Aldermen continued to be elected by the Council. The Town Clerk was appointed by the Council, as is the case today.
The new style Council was a major force in developments in Oswestry for the next 130 years. Health and housing, water and electricity, the fire brigade, allotments, markets, parks, street works were all under its administration. Some of these responsibilities were eventually lost in subsequent legislative changes.
In 1967 a reorganisation of local government in Shropshire resulted in the creation of the Rural Borough of Oswestry. Some of the functions of the old Borough Council were transferred to Oswestry Rural District Council, leaving the Rural Borough Council to operate in much the same way as a traditional parish council, but retaining responsibility for markets, car parks, parks (until 1972) and open spaces in the Town.
In the major reorganisation of local government in 1974 the Rural Borough Council became the Town Council, with sixteen instead of eighteen Councillors from 1975.
The majority of the Council's older archives were at one time stored in Oswestry Library, which until 1959 was based in the town's municipal buildings, the Guildhall. Others, and more recent records, were in the Powis Hall. In 1985-9, all the archives were brought together in the Guildhall. The Town Council took the decision to keep all the records in Oswestry and to apply for it to become a recognised place of deposit. An air-conditioned strong room was installed, search room facilities were provided for in the public rooms, a conservation programme was set up and a part-time archivist appointed to catalogue the archives. The Guildhall was appointed a place of deposit in 1989 under the Public Records Act 1958.
In 1999, following a successful application for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund the Guildhall was renovated for Council and community use. An additional room was equipped for storage of archives, and improved searchroom facilities were provided. The catalogue of the archives was published to mark the re-opening of the building.
In 2005-6 the first Town Council Archivist, Eileen Simpson, retired. Shropshire Archives was appointed to provide the services of a part-time Archivist, Kerry Evans, to attend the archives on a regular basis. Additional advice is also provided by the Shropshire Archives' conservation, outreach and reprographics departments.
Town Council Archivist - Kerry Evans
Assistant to the Archivist - Joanne Williams
Oswestry Town Council,
Tel: 01691 680222
Search room opening hours 09:30 to 12:45, 14:15 to 16:30 every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Friday 09:30 to 12:45, 14:15 to 15:45 except public holidays. By appointment only.
Please provide proof of identity and/or CARN or Shropshire Archives card.
Guided tours are offered to local groups (numbers restricted to 20). Talks and study days can be arranged - please contact the Archivist.