A journey down the Severn from Thomas Harral’s Picturesque Views of the River (1824) [Text only version]




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5. Powis Castle to Welshpool


Image: Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“The situation of the old castle is imposing, and the views which it commands are magnificently grand….Beneath are stretched the vales of Montgomery and Shrewsbury, through which the placid waters of the Severn most beautifully meander, apparently interrupted at intervals by green and fertile meadows….in the distance are seen the Wrekin, in a conical form, rising solitary amid the vale of Salop; to the south the extensive chain of the Frieden Hills, with the summit of Snowdon; and westward, the colossal Cader Idris terminating the sublime prospect.


At this time (1823) the entire building is undergoing a thorough repair, with extensive improvements on a tasteful and judicious plan, under the direction of its noble owner, Viscount Clive. The old castle, of red stone, forms the greatest part of his lordship’s mansion. The grand entrance, from the south, is through an ancient gateway, between two massy round turrets….These entrance turrets have, under the improvements which are now going forward have been Grecianized.


The park, containing spacious and verdant lawns, diversified with swelling hills, was, in ancient times, enriched with extensive and finely wooded plantations….For many years, the castle and grounds had been suffered to fall into a state of decay; the pride and ornament of the park had been felled for the value of the timber; and, but for the recent determination to restore its pristine glory, the beauty of Powis would, at no very remote period, exist only in the recollections of the past…


The neatly built town of Welchpool stands about a mile below Powis Castle….The town is large, and, although somewhat irregular in its plan, it is well built…The Montgomeryshire canal, which passes by the town, has caused many new houses, chiefly of brick and covered with slate to be erected in the last few years….The chief manufactures carried on here are those of flannel, called gwart, or webb, and coarse woollen goods, such as are used for soldiers clothing. These are purchased to a great extent, mostly for ready money, by the Liverpool and Shrewsbury dealers. With an increasing population of 3,500, the place has altogether an air of great opulence and comfort.”


Harral, vol.1, p 57-75.


6. Welshpool to Shrewsbury


Image: Llandrinio Bridge, Montgomeryshire. As the Severn draws closer to Shrewsbury, the extent of river traffic increases and Harral comments on the growth of roads and evidence of prosperity.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“About three quarters of a mile from the town of Welch Pool, the Severn, increasing in importance, is navigable for small barges up to a place called Pool’s Stake, or Pool Quay, where it receives the waters of a rivulet called the Gledding. Hence its navigation is continued all the way down to Portshead Point; a distance probably little short of two hundred miles, without any lock, or the least assistance from art. The Thames, it may be remarked, would not be navigable, without much assistance, much higher than Richmond; certainly not half that distance from its mouth, at the Nore.


The traffic here is carried on by vessels of two sorts, barges, or frigates, as they are called, and trows. The former from forty to sixty feet in length, bear a single mast with a square sail, and carry from twenty to forty tons. The trows, or larger vessels, are from forty to eighty tons burden. These have a main and top mast, about eighty feet high, with square sails; and some have mizzen masts. They are generally from sixteen to twenty feet wide, and sixty long. When new, and completely fitted out, they are probably worth from £300 to £400 a piece.


As far back as the year 1758, the number of vessels employed between Welch Pool and Gloucester amounted to four hundred: they were mostly navigated by three or four men each, robust and resolute fellows. This trade has proved a valuable nursery for seamen.


At Buttington, Mr Ireland was desirous of obtaining a boat to convey him to Shrewsbury; but he was disappointed, as the only acquatic conveyance that happened to present itself was one of the ancient British coracles, which are yet extensively in use for the fisheries on the Welch rivers.


Six miles below New Quay, at a small village called Llandrinio, one of the roads from Lllanfyllin to Shrewsbury crosses by a handsome stone bridge of three arches….this is the first bridge of stone over the Severn. Two miles below Severn receives a tributary from the Virnwy – adds greatly to its size.


At Montford Bridge, the great road from London to Holyhead crosses the Severn. This bridge, built of a reddish stone, was unfinished at the period when the annexed view was taken. It consists of three arches, and was erected after the design of Mr Carlisle, of Shrewsbury. At this part the river is about thirty yards wide.


Various improvements have recently been made in the road between Montford-Bridge and Oswestry, by the removal of mud banks, by making small cuttings and embankings, and by widening; effected by cutting off quick bends, setting back fences, and re-constructing the surface. It is also intended to ease the hill, by cutting, widening, embanking, and removing the road near the bottom.


From Montford Bridge to Shrewsbury, the country is eminently fertile, and exuberantly chequered with meadow and cornlands, which constitute the uninterrupted embellishments of the expanding current: whose banks continue to be no less adorned by the villas of the opulent; and the rich and tasteful style of the buildings, - seeming to vie with each other in a display of the wealth and liberality of the prolific county of Salop.”


Harral, vol.1, p 78-92.


7. Shrewsbury


Image: Shrewsbury Castle and Public School. As one of the most important towns on the Severn, Shrewsbury was a political, cultural and economic centre for Shropshire and beyond.

[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“When within two miles of Shrewsbury, the Severn visibly expands, acquiring consequence, and continuing to augment as it approaches the town, which is indebted to its current for a great portion of the trade, commerce and wealth it enjoys.


The lofty spires of the churches, the hospital, and other buildings combined, form, in the distance, a striking picture; and, as the objects become more distinct, the castle and public school particularly attract the notice of approaching strangers.


The population of Shrewsbury appears to be rapidly on the increase: In 1801, the number of inhabitants…was 14,739; in 1811, 18,543. The chief articles in the commerce and manufactures of this town have been, for ages, flannels and Welch webs….The commerce of the town, as well as the general comfort and convenience of its inhabitants, is greatly promoted by the Shropshire, Shrewsbury, and Ellesmere canals.”


Harral, vol.1, p 94-182.


8. The English Bridge, Shrewsbury


Image: New Bridge and Abbey, Shrewsbury. Designed by John Gwynn, the New Bridge or English Bridge was evidence of Shrewsbury’s participation in the economic growth of the late 18 century. Between 1925 and 1927, it was remodelled and the steep gradient was reduced.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“The original east bridge, which passed over the Severn towards the London road….consisted of no fewer than seventeen arches, varying considerably in their style and dimensions….nearly the whole of its northern side was occupied by houses, which reduced the actual width of the bridge to twelve feet. In the year 1765 a subscription was entered into for repairing, widening, and improving the bridge…The subscription, however, proved so liberal, that, notwithstanding some progress had been made in the intended alterations, it was determined to pull the old building down, and to erect a new one. In pursuance of this spirited determination, Mr Gwyn (sic), a native of the town, was employed to furnish a design…and what is now termed the New Bridge, is justly regarded as one of the finest ornaments of Shrewsbury. Its entire length is four hundred feet; it has a handsome balustrade on each side; and the breadth between the balustrades is twenty-five feet. The arches, seven in number, are semicircular. To allow a free passage to the frequent floods of the Severn, the architect found himself under the necessity of giving a quicker curve to the bridge than the eye of taste or a sense of safety or comfort could justify. The central arch is sixty feet in width, and forty feet in height, and thirty-five in width. The material employed in the bridge was the fine stone of Grinshill quarry.”


Harral, vol.1, p 126-127.


9. The Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury


Image: Welch Bridge, Shrewsbury. Like the New or English Bridge, the new Welsh Bridge, which replaced the structure shown in the engraving, provided further evidence of economic growth in the town. It enabled a commercial bottleneck, close to Shrewsbury’s main port area, the Mardol, to be reduced. The bridge was designed by John Carline and John Tilley and built between 1793 and 1795.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“The old Welch bridge, represented…, was anciently regarded as the chief architectural ornament of Shrewsbury. It consisted of seven arches; its extremities were protected by fine castellated gates; and it consisted…one of the most important defences of the town….It was not long after the demolition of the fine gate at the opposite end of the bridge itself had fallen so far to decay as to render its removal necessary. On taking down the gates, the tolls, arising from the transit of marketable goods, were abolished by the payment of £6,000, raised by public subscription, to the corporation. A further sum of £8,000 was then required for the purpose of rebuilding the bridge. Another subscription produced £4,000, and the corporation advanced £4,000; and thus the new structure, which is at once convenient, substantial, and ornamental, was completed in the year 1795….The approaches from the Welch side of the Severn, in the suburb of Frankwell, are steep, narrow, dirty and irregular; evils for which a remedy will probably be found in the projected improvements. A quay, faced with stone, and occupied with warehouses, connects the bridge with the town at the end of Mardol Street.”


Harral, vol.1, p 128-130.


10. Atcham Bridge, Shropshire


Image: Atcham Bridge, Shropshire. Another important design by John Gwynn, Atcham Bridge was not only a distinguished crossing of the Severn, but another route assisting the expansion of the Shropshire economy.

[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“The first place which the Severn reaches, after leaving Shrewsbury, is the pleasant village of Uffington, on its left or north-eastern bank. The river, here, is very shallow: in dry seasons it is sometimes not more than a foot in depth.


At Preston Boats, about a mile and a half below Uffington, a stratum of coal crosses the river. In different parts of the stream, during the summer months, the fishermen obtain large quantities of coal…which proves very serviceable to the malsters and brickmakers of the neighbourhood. The mode of procuring this coal is by raising the bed of the river; an object which is effected by means of a stout iron hoop, fixed at the end of a pole, with a small net appended. From the material thus raised, the sand I rushed away, and the net retains nothing but coal, in pieces chiefly of the size of small pebbles.


Atcham Bridge on the London road, crosses the Severn at the distance of four miles south-east of Shrewsbury. The old bridge thus mentioned was erected in the reign of Edward VI at the sole expense of Sir Rowland Hill…. Close to where the old bridge stood is the present structure; a plain neat bridge of stone, consisting of seven arches, and completed in the year 1776, from a design by Mr Gwyn (sic).”


Harral, vol.1, p 194 -199.


11. The Wrekin


Image: The Wrekin, from Cunde Park. One of the tallest hills in England, the Wrekin, a long- established strategic location, was the most prominent natural feature in the Shropshire landscape.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“The height of the mountain…is 1320 feet. It is craggy at the summit, and so much more lofty than the surrounding hills as to have the appearance of rising alone from the centre of the plain.


Harral then quotes from The Beauties of England and Wales:


The View from its highest point is delightfully awful. The vast plain of Salop, stretched like a carpet below, with its various intersecting hedges, diminishing in apparent extent as they recede from the eye, till they appear like the meshes of a net; the bold outline of the Welch hills; the romantic aspect of the Caer Caradoc, the Lawley, and the Stiperstones, with intervening varieties of hill and dale – here and there a wood or a forest, which, from the towering height of this natural pyramid, seem to dwindle into an insignificant garden, are objects that here meet the eye in every direction, and fill the mind with admiration of the wonderful works of the mighty Architect of nature.”


(From Beauties of England and Wales, vol. XLIII p 192)


Harral, vol.1, p 206-208.


12. Buildwas Bridge and the Severn Earthquake of 1773


Image: Buildwas Bridge, Shropshire. This view shows the old bridge which was replaced by an iron bridge designed by Thomas Telford and built by the Coalbrook Dale Company in 1796.


[Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.

Shropshire Records and Research]


“This structure, supposed to have been of very ancient erection…is thought to have been formed chiefly for the convenience of the abbey. From the narrowness of its arches it greatly obstructed the navigation of the river; and, although the accident of its destruction, by a high flood, in the year 1795, subjected the county to the expense of a new bridge, the consequent advantage has been great. The present edifice, completed by the Coalbrook Dale Company, in 1796, is of cast iron, admirably executed, from a design by the county surveyor, Mr Telford, of Shrewsbury.


The river, soon after it leaves Buildwas, passes by a place called The Birches, supposed to have derived its name from some large birch-trees which formerly grew there. This spot is memorable in the history of Shropshire for a concussion of the earth, which, in the month of May, 1773, pushed the Severn somewhat out of its course; so that what was formerly its right bank is now its left…. It was an earthquake…which forced the Severn from its accustomed channel, and converted a scene of rural beauty into a tract of terrific devastation. The effects of this extraordinary convulsion of nature are thus strikingly described, in a sermon which, on the succeeding day, was preached on the spot, by the Rev. Mr Fletcher of Madeley:-


But leaving the newly formed mounts, through heaps of ruins, go to the ancient bank of the Severn. You come to it and she is gone! You are in the middle of her old bed…you stand in the deepest part of the channel and yet you are in a wood! Large oaks spread their branches where bargemen unfurled their sails: - you walk to-day on solid ground where fishes yesterday swam in twenty feet of water. A rock that formed the bottom of the river, has mounted up as a cork and gained a dry place on the bank, while a travelling grove has planted itself itself in the waters, and a fugitive river has invaded dry land.”


Harral, vol.1, p 209-223.

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