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About Oswestry

Oswestry is situated in the north of Shropshire on the English and Welsh border. It is an ancient market town, and its strategic position as a 'frontier town' has given it a turbulent history.

Today the town serves as a vital market and shopping centre for Shropshire's north west and mid Wales. The streets are lined with many specialist and independent shops serving Oswestry's retail needs.

The street names conjure up Oswestry's sense of History, with names like English Walls, Welsh Walls, The Bailey and the Horsemarket.

There has been a market in Oswestry dating back to 1190. The town name is thought to have derived from 'Oswald's Tree'. This was an ancient local legend that Oswald, the Christian King of Northumbria fought a battle against Mercia's Pagan King, Penda. Oswald was defeated in the Battle of Maeserfelth in 641 AD and Penda dismembered Oswald's body and hung his limbs on the branches of a tree as a warning to others who might challenge his rule.

The first school in Oswestry was founded in 1407 and now houses the town's Heritage Centre, which holds regular exhibitions of local arts and crafts. A Visitor Information Centre is also located inside the building, where staff are always on hand to provide all the latest tourist information.

The town centre is an ecletic mix of architectural styles and the centre has been designated a conservation area. There are many fine timber framed buildings including Llwyd Mansion on Cross Street, the Blackgate, the Heritage Centre and old shops located along Beatrice Street.

Architecture of the Georgian style can be found in the area around Oswald's Church where a number of imposing town houses can be seen. There are also buildings from the Victorian era, with many shop frontages and facades reflect this period along with the terraced houses, churches and railway buildings.

The town's turbulent history led to encircling town walls to be constructed. The town's medieval street plan signifies Oswestry as a walled town. You can pick up a leflet showing the town trail from either of the Visitor Information Centres, located at the Heritage Centre and Mile End on the outskirts of the town. The trail takes you through many areas of interest including St Oswald's church, Cae Glas Park, the Old Town Gates and Castle Bank, to name but a few.

Oswestry was granted it market charter in 1674 by King Charles II. There are very few records that still exisit from before this time, but from 1674 to 1835 many records do exisit which include council minutes, mayoral accounts, goal records, records from the town's markets and street fairs and other matters of local interest.

A period of massive development was seen in Oswestry after 1835. In the 1840s new markets were built and reservoirs constructed.

A castle once stood in Oswestry and dated from around 1086. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as having been built by Rainald, the Sherrif of Shropshire. The castle acted as a frontier outpost that would see both Welsh and Anglo Saxon mixing together before the Norman Conquest.

The town's earliest known reference comes from 1272 when it was refered to as Blancminster - a reference to the town's white stone church. The Welsh refer to the town as 'Croesoswallt' in 1254, suggesting that Oswestry was once a strong Welsh settlement and the Castle was constructed to subdue the Welsh rebellion.

William I granted Oswestry to Roger de Montgommery. The town then passed to Rainald who is attributed as having built the first castle. Alan Fitslaad became the next owner. He was a descendant to the mighty Fitzalans who later became the Lords of Arundel and Clun.

William Fitzalan I would join forces with Matilda during the civil war and he was forced to give up the castle and retreat from the area. The Welsh then took the opportunity to reclaim what had been taken from them and the castle was taken by Madoc ap Maerdudd (Prince of Powys) between 1149 and 1157, along with a Lordship that subsequently followed.

The Fitzalans would recover their estate during the accession of Henry II; however, they failed to establish a peaceful reign and troubled times lay ahead. A further conflict between English and Welsh forces followed and in 1165 Henry II adopted the castle as a base in his military campaign against his Owain Gwynned.

The castle walls would have completed enveloped the town by 1270 and in the 14th century Owain Glyndwr attempted to establish himself as the rightful Prince of Wales. The town was recognised as a strategic trading point and a further charter granted by William III at the end of the 12th century would ensure Oswestry recieved similar customs and liberties as the larger and already prosperous town of Shrewsbury.

In 1263 a second charter followed and by 1399 a Royal charter. Despite this the castle remained fully fortified for many years.

The outbreak of Civil War in 1642 ensured the Castle's status as a military stronghold. The fortifications were strengtherned around this time. The town's declaration of support for Charles I meant the town was ready for hostilities. By June 1644 the castle had come under the control of Colonel Edward Lloyd of Llanforda. The castle was laid seige again by Thomas Mytton of Halston Hall (near Whittington) who was later joined by the Earl of Denbigh. The town's gates were demolished by canon fire and troops descended upon the castle. The castle gates were stormed by troops using 'Buttars', an early form of grenade and royalist troops surrendered.

After the Civil War Oswestry Castle was rendered uninhabitable as part of a campaign to quash further resistance. It had been reduced a pile of stones.

The Old Grammar school dates from the 15th century and is Grade II listed. It was founded by David Holbache in 1407 and the schoolhouse building occupies a prominant position on the boundary of the of St Oswald's churchyard. Today Oswestry Town Council owns the property and since 1992 it has been a centre of civic and local items of interest that reflects the long and facinating heritage associated with Oswestry.

Oswestry is fortunate to have the spectacular remains of an Iron Age hillfort to its north, 'Old Oswestry'. Today only the earthworks remain but it is still worth a visit. The site is maintained by English Heritage can can be seen from the A5 as you head north out of town.

An area known locally as Racecourse Common is the site of the Old Racecourse that can still be walked around. Many paths can be followed including those which take you through to the adjacent candy woods.

The Offas Dyke long distance footpath runs right through the area. The walking route goes from Prestatyn to Chepstow and runs along the Welsh border about 3 miles west of Oswestry itself. Leaflets detailing the footpaths can be picked up at a visitor Information Centre. The path follows an ancient earthwork which is believed to have been built by the Saxon King Offa as a defensive dyke.

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