Waters Upton Landmarks – Part 1

The first of this year’s monthly blogging prompts from the Society for One-Place Studies is ‘Landmarks’ (social media hashtag #OnePlaceLandmarks). Just in the nick of time, here is my contribution. I hope you will enjoy learning about Waters Upton’s landmarks – and playing ‘spot the film title’ too!

A Sense of Place

What were (or are) the landmarks of Waters Upton? Before I identify and write about some of them, maybe I should first ask a more fundamental question – what is a landmark? According to Wikipedia (which isn’t the last word on the subject but is, with some modifications, absolutely fine for my purposes):

In old English the word landmearc […] was used to describe an “object set up to mark the boundaries of a kingdom, estate, etc”. Starting from approx. 1560, this understanding of landmark was replaced by a more general one. A landmark became a “conspicuous object in a landscape”. A landmark literally meant a geographic feature used by explorers and others to find their way back or through an area. […]
In modern usage, a landmark includes anything that is easily recognisable, such as a monument, building, or other structure. In American English it is the main term used to designate places that might be of interest to tourists due to notable physical features or historical significance. Landmarks in the British English sense are often used for casual navigation, such as giving directions. This is done in American English as well.
In urban studies as well as in geography, a landmark is furthermore defined as an external point of reference that helps orienting in a familiar or unfamiliar environment. Landmarks are often used in verbal route instructions and as such an object of study by linguists as well as in other fields of study.

So, landmarks are man-made or natural features (categories which in reality can merge) which stand out visually through their size, their distinctive appearance, or a combination of these characteristics. They are also features which, by enabling people to identify where they are and where they are going, make their mark on us.

A River Runs Through It

Actually, two rivers run through the modern day parish of Waters Upton. And before its expansion to Bolas Magna and part of Ercall Magna, those rivers ran around parts of the parish boundary. The Tern formed the western perimeter of Waters Upton, and the northern edge of the parish followed the Meese, one of the Tern’s tributaries. While they are not objects which were ‘set up’ to mark land boundaries, these watercourses delineated an extensive part of the historic parish border.

Travellers heading south from Cold Hatton Heath on the road from Market Drayton to Wellington would have known, on seeing the Tern to their left, that they were nearing Waters Upton. A little further on, crossing another landmark – the bridge carrying the road over the Tern – took them into the parish proper. A welcome sight no doubt to those for whom Waters Upton was home.

Map showing Waters Upton, the River Tern to the west, the River Meese joining the Tern from the east (both rivers in blue), and those parts of the historic Waters Upton parish boundary not following rivers, to the east and south (red dashed line).

Bridge Over the River . . . Tern

Not everyone crossed the bridge over the river Tern without incident, as this report from the Lancashire Evening Post of 20 September 1906 shows:


An alarming motor car accident occurred at Waters Upton, a village situated between Wellington and Market Drayton, Salop, yesterday afternoon. A party from Keele Hall, Staffordshire, the residence of the Grand Duke Michael, consisting of Mr. Reid (Morecambe), Mr. Cooke (Keele), the Grand Duke’s Michael’s steward, the chauffeur, and a Mr. Shakeshaft were motoring from Keele on a visit to a relative of Mr. Shakeshaft’s at Waters Upton. All went well until a quarter of a mile from the village. The car was proceeding round a sharp corner down a slope at the bottom of which a narrow bridge crosses the river Tern. The driver saw that the car was going for the parapet of the bridge, and the vehicle skidded. The car turned almost round on the bridge, knocking down the parapet, and all the occupants were thrown, the steward landing in the river below, the water being four or five feet deep at this spot. The villagers soon came to the assistance of the party, and it was found that the steward was not seriously injured.
Dr. Hawthorn, of Wellington, was summoned, and the injured people carried into the village inn. Mr. Shakeshaft has a broken leg and slight concussion of the brain, the head and neck being cut; Mr. Cooke has nasty cuts on the hands and face; and the driver is also badly injured, his forehead being severely cut. Two of the injured were detained.
The road is narrow where the accident happened, and after the bend there is a steep decline to the bridge, which is hardly wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.

Other newspapers gave slightly different accounts, which help to fill in some of the gaps in the one above while also adding one or two elements of confusion. To give one example, the Wellington Journal (22 September 1906) stated that Mr Shakeshaft “sustained a broken ankle” rather than a broken leg, but on the plus side it also identified him as “Mr. John Shakeshaft of Morecambe (cousin of Mr. John Shakeshaft, Waters Upton)”.

Another paper, the Burnley Gazette (also 22 September 1906), noted that the injured Mr Shakeshaft kept the Dog and Partridge Hotel in Morcambe and had married “a daughter of Mr. Tattersall Wilkinson, of Roggerham” (near Burnley). Google led me to a page for this John Shakeshaft on the Halsted/Halstead One-Name Study Narratives website, and switching from there to Ancestry and Findmypast eventually enabled me to work out how he was related to his namesake at Waters Upton.

The two John Shakeshafts were first cousins one generation removed. John of Waters Upton, who was about 59 years of age in 1906, was the John Shakeshaft who I referred to as an occupant of The Beeches in my recent story A Waters Upton postcard. The location of The Beeches meant that this John Shakeshaft was just a short walk away from his 46-year-old cousin of the same name while the latter was recuperating in the Swan Inn.

The Tern bridge had most likely been rebuilt and repaired on a number of occasions by 1906, but its age at the time of the accident eludes me. What I do know is that the bridge now in place is not an ancient structure. The Kington Times of 8 November 1930 reported on several schemes which had just been adopted by Salop County Council, including one for “erecting a new bridge and improving the approaches to it over the River Tern at Waters Upton”.

Bolas bridge.

Rather more ancient is the bridge crossing the Meese just beyond the historic boundary of Waters Upton. Known as Bolas Bridge, it was built in 1795 by one Richard Madeley – and (according to the record of its Grade II Listed status) it has the inscription to prove it! Anyone travelling between the villages of Great Bolas and Meeson, or between either of those places and Waters Upton, crosses (or crossed) that bridge, making it (and the adjacent turn to Waters Upton on the Bolas – Meeson road) another landmark.

Ring of Bright Water?

The Tern and the Meese were more than just landscape features defining parts of Waters Upton’s boundary – they were a part of people’s lives and local folk interacted with them in a variety ways. Here, I am going to look at one of those riverine activities, one which I find utterly abhorrent, but which is part of the history of my Place: otter hunting.

I have found several newspaper reports from the 1880s and ‘90s relating to otter hunts taking place along the Tern, the Meece, or both, in the vicinity of Waters Upton. On Tuesday 10 May 1887 for example (according to the Wellington Journal of 14 May 1887), the Hon. Geoffrey Hill’s Otter Hounds met at the village. From there, the hounds moved downstream and picked up the scent “scarcely 100 yards from Waters Upton”. Two otters were bolted from a well-known holt; one was a cub who soon met its end in the jaws of a hound named ‘Sportsman’, “but the other afforded a capital hunt of some 45 minutes.”

This otter, a small female who was most likely the cub’s mother, spent most of the last 45 minutes of her life evading the hounds or fighting them off when they got too close. Towards the end, when she took refuge beneath the roots of a tree, she was pursued by a terrier (‘Frank’) and fought him off too. After she was caught and killed, “it was seen that poor Frank, who had suffered severely in his conflict with the otter, was in bad case in the river, his head covered with blood and himself exhausted and half drowned.” The rescue of the terrier from the river meant that “the call to lunch […] could be attended to without any regret.” After lunch the dogs were transported back to the starting point and then along the Meese as far as Bolas before the hunt was abandoned. There were no further kills.

I do not know whether any Waters Upton residents took part in these hunts or followed on foot. The Swan Inn did very well out of the hunts’ visits however. When Captain Foster and his hounds visited Crudgington in July 1894, the hunt went downstream in the morning, then headed back upstream as far as Peplow Hall. “Acting thus,” reported the Wellington Journal on 28 July 1894, “gave pedestrians an opportunity to warm up a little, and the carriage-folk a nice run round the road to Waters Upton Bridge, and storm the good cheer provided by genial Host Owen the Swan, the well-known old sporting house […]”. No otters were seen that day.

The Tern – and the Swan – played host to fishing enthusiasts too. When a club from Crewe visited in January 1896 for a nine-aside fishing match, its members and their guests ended the day with “a capital supper, provided Mr. and Mrs. Owen, of the Swan Inn”, after which (in the words of the Wellington Journal, 1 February 1896) “the usual loyal and patriotic toasts were honoured” and songs were sung.

Further reports of fishing in the Tern at Waters Upton can be found in digitised newspapers through the 20th century. Otter hunting, thank goodness, became illegal in 1978 after the otter population in England crashed; the species is now doing well in Shropshire (including the area around Waters Upton) and elsewhere. As for the toasts honoured in the Swan and other pubs in Shropshire, one of them forms the subject of the second part of this story…

Picture credits. One-place landmarks blogging prompt graphic: By the author, for use by the Society for One-Place Studies and anyone taking part in the blogging challenge. Map: Extract from Ordnance Survey One Inch map Sheet 138 published 1899; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence. Bolas bridge: Photo © Copyright Richard Law; taken from Geograph and modified, used and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence. Otter: Public domain image from Pixabay.

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