After Blist’s Hill we drove out through Coalport and some interesting roads to Shifnal, which looks like a town worth exploring, and up to the A5. Then I saw a sign to English Heritage Lilleshall Abbey, so we followed it. SJ737142. A short walk from the road, and a rather peaceful spot.
It was founded in about 1148 for a community of Augustinian canons – they originally came from Dorchester in Oxfordshire (a town I have never been to), there were probably about 13 canons originally. It was a powerful place by the C13, deriving its income from gifts and legacies, farmland, two windmills and investments in property. They also had the tolls for the use of Atcham Bridge over the Severn. Henry III was entertained here twice around 1240. This picture is by Terry Ball and is on the EH interpretation board.
The Abbey suffered a financial crisis in the C14 and the abbot was accused of mismanagement. The number of canons was down to about ten before the abbey was suppressed in 1538. It became a private house, owned by James Leveson of Wolverhampton, but the buildings were severely damaged by several weeks of a Parliamentary siege in the Civil War. It was then abandoned and left to decay.
In 1767 the Donnington Wood canal was dug through the abbey precinct. It stretched from coal mines at Donnington Wood, with another branch from a lime quarry at Lilleshall, down to a basin beside the Newport/Wolverhampton turnpike road. Later it was connected to the Shropshire Canal, which was linked to the Severn by the Hay Inclined Plane. The whole system was closed by 1904 and you wouldn’t know there was ever a canal here (which is the polite way of saying I didn’t until I read the EH website – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lilleshall-abbey/History/. The State took over the site in 1950. It is an unstaffed property.
You come up to the Abbey by the west door of the church. You can easily imagine it in all its splendour.
A little way down on the north side is a spiral staircase which you can still climb. It is a good view, back to the west arch and forward to the east end.
Walking east, you realise how important this area of the church was – seven services a day, and they wouldn’t have closed down for the plague. The east window was a C14 addition. The choir stalls at St Peter’s Wolverhampton are thought to have come from here, rescued by the new owner after the Dissolution. I wonder about the sense of emptiness and betrayal the monks must have faced as their monastery was closed and sold off around them, but I suppose you just go with the flow as that’s the easiest thing to do.
Finally I wandered round the precinct buildings. The Skype, a narrow passage way which could be closed off at either end, and the warming room – lovely ceiling. The arch into the cloister is rather lovely too – you can imagine the procession of canons with cross, incense and music, making their way through here on a Festal Day.
Three hundred years after a Royal Visit, sold to a man from Wolverhampton … ho hum.