LILLESHALL ABBEY, SHROPSHIRE

Grid Ref: SJ 737 142
Date: 24 May 2012

 

Nave
The Nave of the Church

 

West end spacer Lilleshall
The north side of the west end   View to north side
North side chancel   North wall
North side of chancel   Arches in the north wall
North side of nave   East Window
Looking west along the north side of the nave   Looking through east window to the chancel

Lilleshall Abbey lies in Shropshire to the North East of Telford and is in the care of English Heritage. There is very limited car parking and no visitor facilities such as refreshments or audio guides and no staff on the entrance. However, it is worth a detour on a fine bright day.

Arthur Mee, writing just before the outbreak of Second Word War, was quite poetic about Lilleshall "It is a great sight to see, the splendid ruins of its Norman Abbey, which was one of the mst magnificent in Shropshire. They stand beside a canal and fishponds used by the monks, a proud group of roofless walls on a green carpet, with old yews for company." He tells us that the nave was unusual in being 108 feet long but divided by screens into three parts. There is some surviving arcade from the 14th century and Norman clerestory windows as can be seen from the circular arches in one of my pictures. The east window has a 14th century arch.

The abbey was founded by Augustinian canons and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it surrendered itself to the king and was granted initially to William Cavendish who sold it the following year to James Leveson. The Leveson family became in due course the Leveson Gower family with property in Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire and were elevated by degrees to be Marquesses of Stafford, and resident at Trentham in Staffordshire and Lilleshall in Shropshire. George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758-1833) 2nd Marquess of Stafford, married Elizabeth the Countess of Sutherland (1765-1839) who inherited a million acres in Scotland. She was the countess in her own right because of the way this peerage had been set up in the first place although this had to be established in a court case. In 1833, the year of his death, George was made Duke of Sutherland, the title being chosen for him by William IV.

George was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford. He became an MP for Newcastle under Lyme in 1778 and 1780 and MP for Staffordshire from 1787-98. He was ambassador to Paris from 1790-2, during the French Revolution. In addition to possessing his huge estate in Sutherland through his wife, he inherited the Bridgwater estates from his uncle, the last Duke of Bridgwater, and by the death of his father, the estates of Stittenham (Yorkshire), Trentham (Staffordshire), Wolverhampton and Lilleshall (Shropshire). George became a controversial figure because of the Highland Clearances, which were undertaken in the period from 1812 to 1820. However, he made substantial improvements in Sutherland by building 450 miles of roads and 134 bridges between 1812 and 1832. The 1st Duke has been called in a book title, The Leviathan of Wealth. He is believed to have had an annual income of £200,000. On a nearby hill stands a monument to the 1st Duke of Sutherland.

Lilleshall Hall (not shown) was built in 1829 in 600 acres for the 1st Duke of Sutherland and is now the Lilleshall National Sports and Conferencing Centre.

In the village church at Lilleshall, Arthur Mee tells us that there is a large 17th century monument to Sir Richard Leveson and his wife.

Pevsner gives far more in architectural details about the abbey and tells us that it was founded about 1148 by two brothers, de Belmeis for Arroasian Canons from Dorchester on Thames in Oxfordshire. The Abbey of Arrouaise was the centre of a form of the canonical life known as the Arrouaisian Order, which was popular among the founders of canonries during the decade of the 1130s. The whole church is 208 feet long and is Norman and Early English with the chancel wholly Norman with tall round-arched windows in two tiers.

There is a very comprehensive article on Lilleshall Abbey on Wikipedia with some small picture of the ruins. The article mentions that the founders were Richard de Belmeis, at that time Archdeacon of Middlesex and dean of the college of St Alkmund in Shrewsbury, and Philip de Belmeis, lord of Tong, Shropshire. Both were nephews of Richard de Beaumis, a Bishop of London who had died in 27. The younger Richard was later also to become Bishop of London.

Sources

The Buildings of England, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin Books, 1958.
The King's England, Shropshire, by Arthur Mee, revised by E.T. Long, Hodder and Stoughton, first edition, 1939, revised and reset 1968.
Wikipedia

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