Full title: Hodnet – Shropshire’s Finest Tudor Village Yesterday and To-day
[Undated article from pages 13 to 15 of an unknown magazine. However a comment in the text suggests it was published in 1953.]
It has adapted itself to Modern conditions but has not lost its Old World Charm
Once Described as “Last Stronghold of Feudalism”
TUCKED away at the end of some steep and narrow lane Hodnet might have become a show village like Selworthy in Somerset, but because it stands at the intersection of two main roads-Shrewsbury to Market Dray ton and Wellington to Whitchurch -its charms are hardly noticed by the motorist who speeds by.
Yet it is Shropshire’s finest Tudor village, with rows and rows of black-and-white cottages with their pretty front gardens. Some still preserve their thatch; others lost it in a series of fires some thirty years ago and are now tiled.
Leland, writing in the time of Henry VIII, said Hodnet was” neither a town nor a village.” but Leland was a late-comer in the life of Hodnet. The compilers of Domesday wrote of it as Odenet, and before that Edward the Confessor made it the centre of a Saxon Hundred.
To-day Hodnet is a mixture of ancient and modern, but the periods do not clash. Modern council houses are grouped on the fringe of the village at the junction of the Wellington and Shrewsbury roads and are distinguished by an attractive layout. The two main streets are mostly composed of ancient buildings and at the crossroads stands the half-timbered Hundred House, fronting on a miniature square, which the ‘buses make their stopping place, and, a further modern touch, the travelling fish-and-chip shop dispenses its wares.
The road through the square leads to the ancient parish church of St. Luke and to the back drive to Hodnet Hall. The main drive is some distance away on the Whitchurch road, where the stately eighteenth century mansion, designed by a pupil of John Nash, stands at the end of a splendid avenue of limes.
There has always been a great house at Hodnet, but little is known about the original home of the de Hodnets, who flourished there for more than two centuries. According to Eyton they were descendants of the great baronial house of Fitz-Warine. and it is recorded that Sir Baldwin de Hodnet joined Fulk Fitz-Warine in his rebellion against King John, got outlawed for his pains, and in due course was pardoned. The only remains of the old Norman castle are a few fragments of masonry on a tree covered mound in the hall grounds.
The de Hodnets were succeeded by the Vernons, a noble family also associated with Tong. Most of Hodnet, as it stands to-day must have been built in the days of the Vernons but little is known about the activities of members of this family. Evidently the male line failed, for in 1722 Elizabeth Vernon, eldest daughter of John Vernon and heiress to the manor and estates of her grandfather, Sir Harry Vernon married Thomas Heber, from Yorkshire, a descendant of Oswald Heibre, a commander in the Yorkist army, who fell at Wakefield in 1460.
Grandson of Thomas Heber was Richard Heber, the famous book collector and founder of the Athenaeum Club. He had a library of 10,000 volumes at Hodnet, and established other libraries in London and several Continental cities. When he died he owned a quarter of a million books, which took two years to sell and made £80.000.
Richard was succeeded by his brother, the Rev. Reginald Heber, who held the family livings of Hodnet and Malpas. He afterwards became Bishop of Calcutta, and is known to fame as a hymn writer and author of “From Greenland’s icy mountains.”
Emily, the bishop’s daughter, married in 1839, Algernon Charles Percy, son of the Bishop of Carlisle and grandson of the first Earl of Beverley. He took the additional surname of Heber by royal licence and that is how the Heber-Percys came to Hodnet.
Old people in Hodnet still talk about Major Algernon Heber-Percy, under whose rule Hodnet was regarded as a “last stronghold of feudalism, and its squire described as a “benevolent despot.” Certainly the villagers, who were all estate tenants, had to mind their P’s and Q’s when Major Algernon was about. But this despotism was largely a pose, for Algernon had a soft heart and he and his good lady are remembered for their many kind actions. At the village school, for example, the children always had hot cocoa and buns on wet, cold mornings, and there was a pair of slippers for every child with instructions to the schoolmaster to see that their boots were dry before they went home.
Major Algernon, who served for many years on the Salop County Council, had in his time been a great big-game hunter. He filled the entrance hall of his mansion with trophies of the chase brought from India, the Rocky Mountains, and Eastern Russia, where he shot by special permission of the Czar.
Soldier and Gardener
The present squire is his grandson, Brigadier A. G. W. Heber-Percy, D.S.O., a Grenadier who commanded a brigade of Guards in the North African campaign, and is now at home, following his hobby of landscape gardening. His long-term plan, begun even before he joined the Army, has transformed the hall grounds. The terraced gardens look down on a chain of ornamental pools which have been made by damming a small stream which runs down from the Hawkstone hills. Surrounded by gay flower beds and furnished with every kind of aquatic plant, the pools are a source of delight to the visitors who are admitted on most Sunday afternoons during the summer. Brigadier Heber-Percy recently broadcast on the rarer shrubs in his garden.
It was a great day in the life of Hodnet when Field Marshal Montgomery came to Hodnet Hall some four years ago. The Brigadier was then away on service, and his neighbour, Brigadier Sir Alexander Stanier, did the honours. The Hodnet British Legion branch, which prides itself on its 100 per cent membership, paraded for the occasion. Among those inspected by and photographed with” Monty” were guardsmen who had served under Brigadier Heber-Percy in Tunisia, and veterans of the South African war and the first world war.
In late Victorian and Edwardian days Hodnet was a stronghold of Conservatism. It still is. There was a Liberal invasion in the early 1900’s, when Mr. Alfred Neilson, challenger of the sitting Member, Colonel Kenyon-Slaney, took a house at nearby Wollerton, and his supporters held meetings at the Bear assembly rooms. One of the fiery young speakers of those days is now a dignified county alderman and vice chairman of the County Council. Liberal eloquence, it must be recorded, made no impact at all upon the sturdy Conservatism of Hodnet.
The social life of Hodnet has developed considerably in the last forty years. Mr. Fred Gillebrand, who came as schoolmaster in 1906, and retired nine years ago to the fine old Tudor house opposite the church, has observed and taken part in the development as chairman or secretary of many local organisations, to say nothing of being clerk to the parish council for some thirty-odd years and church organist for longer than that.
Social Life Develops
Mr. Gillebrand recalls that in 1907 he arranged the first whist drive to be held in Hodnet. This then novel form of entertainment was so popular that a second drive had to be held to take the overflow. Nowadays whist drives are so common that they have ceased to be news.
Hodnet is better off than most villages for recreational facilities. There is a men’s club, cricket, bowling and tennis clubs, but no football club. The British Legion has a strong women’s section, and the flourishing Women’s Institute, by knocking two half timbered cottages into one, has made for itself one of the best institute headquarters in Shropshire, with a roof which is a supreme example of the thatcher’s art. There is also a Young Farmers’ Club with an enthusiastic membership of both sexes
The Lyon Hall, completed in 1914 as a memorial to Dr. Lyon, a beloved figure in the village, is the centre for most mixed social activities. The first use to which it was put was not that for which it was intended. For the duration of the 1914-18 war it was the home of a Belgian refugee family bearing the name of Torreele. There were three generations of them, numbering fourteen in all. Not long ago one of the Torreele children, now a prosperous Belgian business man, came over to meet old acquaintances in Hodnet.
Up to 1907 Hodnet had its own company of Volunteers, 100 strong. How a country village managed to recruit so many men to serve without pay is difficult to understand in these mercenary days, but Hodnet did it and some of the amateur soldiers won more than local renown as rifle shots. Among them were William Huxley, the barber, Harry Spencer, the saddler, and Jack Price, a farmer, who all won prizes at Bisley.
Colour-Sergeant of the company was Robert Clunas, veterinary Surgeon, who lived at the Hundred House and was an outstanding figure in the life of the village for many years. He also served as captain of the local Fire Brigade, was a pillar of the Wollerton Congregational Chapel, and in later years made his presence felt on the Salop County Council. He served in the First World War and attained the rank of Major.
The Fire Brigade
In those days Hodnet was proud of its volunteer fire brigade, which had an old manual engine drawn by a pair of horses which had to be rounded up from grazing when a night call was received. During the 1914-18 war, when it was difficult to obtain horses, the engine was drawn by a pair of mules which were kept in the park. In the tap-room of the Bear old villagers often relate with glee the (probably fabulous) story of how one night the driver who went to round up the mules came back with a mule and a cow. Nowadays Hodnet has a brand new fire station with mechanical equipment. There was a German-Swiss butler at the Hall in the days of Major Algernon who bore the unusual name of Zumbrunnen. His sons-Fritz, the newsagent, and Arthur, the grocer – for many years shared with Messrs. Thomas and Charles, drapers of the dignified old school, much of the business life of Hodnet. Fine craftsmanship in wood was and still is the tradition of the France family. Arthur France, who died not long ago, executed many commissions from far afield and left behind him evidence of his skill in the oak panelling of the parish church.
Parish Church Treasures
The parish church of St. Luke has a Norman doorway and a 14th century octagonal tower. Among its treasures are a collection of chained books, including a manuscript missal, an illustrated Bible printed at Nuremburg by a pupil of Caxton, and Erasmus’s New Testament of 1522. The Norman font has panels carved with beasts and birds, and there is a small museum containing Roman finds from Bury Walls and some relics of Bishop Heber. One of these is an ivory staff given to the Bishop by the Rajah of Tagore, who saw him walking lame and said. .. You need a stick; take mine.”
Reginald Heber was not the only Hodnet rector to become a bishop. John Ralph Strickland Taylor, who was rector from 1928 to 1932, afterwards became Bishop of Sodor and Man. He has lately retired.
The present rector is the Rev. W. V. Griffiths, who used to be senior chaplain to the Brigade of Guards.
Hodnet parish includes in its wide boundaries the picturesque region of the Hawkstone hills, but this article is already long enough and Hawkstone must wait for another occasion.
(Photographs by John Marsh)