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Shrewsbury
 

Shrewsbury along with Atcham is the county town, and administrative headquarters of Shropshire with a population of approximately 72,000 (2011).

 

For some 200 years, from the mid seventeenth to the mid nineteenth centuries, hundreds of members of the Muckleston family lived here. They included magistrates, attorneys, watchmakers, shoe manufacturers, drapers and grocers. A fair number were Burgesses and for a brief period, one was even Mayor.

Shrewsbury lies on a hill within a loop of the river Severn, and with the river almost encircling it, with its marshy banks, it must have seemed a relatively secure place to early settlers.

 

It would appear that Shrewsbury developed as a town around 700-750AD when it was part of the kingdom of Mercia. There is mention of a Mint there in 920AD which indicates it was a place of some importance.

 

Shrewsbury escaped much of the ravages of the Viking invasions but, in the early 11th century, the whole of the county of Shropshire was laid waste by the Welsh and it took several decades for it to recover.

 

When the Normans arrived here, after the battle of Hastings, they found most of the northern part of the county in a poor state, the only relatively prosperous area being around Shrewsbury itself. The major part of Shropshire was given, by William I, to a kinsman of his, Roger de Montgomery, whom he created Earl of Shrewsbury. Earl Roger kept a number of the Shropshire Manors for his own use but allocated others to various Norman knights in exchange for promises of allegiance to himself and King William. One of these knights was William Pantulf, who was created Baron of Wem. It’s possible that the name of Pantulf may be of significance in the history of the Muckleston family.

 

The Normans were much given to founding and endowing religious institutions. Earl Roger was no exception and, amongst others, he founded Shrewsbury Abbey between 1079 and 1083. Ellis Peters used the Abbey as the setting for her Brother Cadfael books, the Abbey itself supporting some 12 to 18 monks in real life.

 

At first, Shrewsbury was ruled directly by the Earl but, as he was away from the town for much of the time, the townsfolk applied to Henry I for a charter which gave them limited self government and allowed them to establish a degree of continuity with regard to administration of the town.

 

At the time of the Domesday survey, Shrewsbury was shown to have 252 houses and 4 parish churches. There were probably many more houses than there were listed as it was the practice, at that time, to list only the people, and their dwellings, that were liable for taxation. 51 of these houses were demolished, on the orders of the Earl, in order to build a castle.

 

Not all of England accepted Norman rule and there were a number of rebellions, principally by native Saxons and the Welsh. In 1069, Edric the Wild, a Saxon thane from Hertfordshire, attacked Shrewsbury as part of a guerrilla campaign against the Normans. The following year William I arrived in Shropshire with a large force and routed the Saxons, unfortunately, during the process, causing much damage and desolation to the countryside as a result.

 

During the 12th century Shrewsbury grew in importance and size. The population of the town was now about 4000 and it was the 13th largest in the country, being bigger than Nottingham. Several charters granted by various kings gave the town increasing independence. Shropshire was still much troubled by raiders from over the Welsh border but Shrewsbury with its protecting river and strong castle was rarely troubled.

 

The 13th century opened with still more border raids by the Welsh princes, who opposed rule by the Norman kings. In 1233 Prince Llewellyn ab Iorwerth invaded Shropshire, burnt Oswestry and Clun and occupied Shrewsbury before being forced to retreat.

 

In the latter part of the century Llewellyns grandsons, Llewellyn and David ap Gruffyd continued the rebellion, Llewellyn being killed by a Shropshire soldier. In 1283 David was captured and, as he was technically an English nobleman, was accused of treason. He was convicted and sentenced to be dragged at a horse’s tail through the streets of Shrewsbury, to be hanged, to have his heart and intestines burnt, to have his head cut off and his body quartered. Not a pretty end.

In 1268, Shrewsbury became one of the first English boroughs to send a representative to Parliament.

 

During the 14th century the town had increased in size and thrived on the wool, cloth and leather trades. Hides were scrubbed and treated besides the river and there was a pall of smoke and steam over Frankwell where the cloth was being dyed.

 

In 1398, Parliament adjourned to Shrewsbury Abbey, where the king and his retinue were feasted and entertained at great cost to the citizens of the town.

 

In 1401, Owen Glyndyr, a descendant of the last independent Prince of Wales sought full independence for his country and launched a guerrilla campaign against Henry IV. Glyndwr gained an ally in Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland, who was at odds with the King. Percys army, under the command of his son, known as Hotspur, arrived on the outskirts of Shrewsbury to be confronted by the kings forces and no Glyndwr, who had not yet arrived. In the subsequent battle, Percy’s forces were defeated and Hotspur killed. 4,000 people were killed in the fight and the spot where it took place is called Battlefield. Three years later a church was built on the site in order that prayers for the dead could be said where they fell.

 

In 1485 Henry, Duke of Richmond, in his campaign against Richard III, crossed the River Severn into Shrewsbury where he was enthusiastically welcomed. From Shrewsbury Henry proceeded to Bosworth Field where he defeated Richard III and was proclaimed Henry VII.

 

The population of Shrewsbury in the year 1500 was about 3,200, a fall in numbers from the 12th century due mainly to the mortality from the Black Death 1348-9 in which one third to one half of the population of Shrewsbury (and England as a whole) died. Other outbreaks of bubonic plague at sporadic intervals also reduced the number of dwellers in the town.

 

Following the succession of Henry VII the area around the welsh borders had become much more peaceful than previously. With the threat of raids from across the border lifted, people became more settled and trade between the welsh farmers and the Shropshire towns increased, particularly the traffic in wool and cloth. As the nearer of the main towns to the border, Oswestry and Welshpool became the main beneficiaries of the woollen trade, with Shrewsbury only having a limited direct link with the Welsh farmers and weavers. Consequently the merchants of Shrewsbury found themselves buying most of their wool and cloth in the markets at Oswestry.

 

In order to get wool and cloth at a better price the Shrewsbury merchants began to trade directly with the Welsh farmers and weavers with a view to processing the material themselves. The result was that the number of master Shearmen in the town rose from less than a dozen in 1398 to 70 in 1525. By the year 1587 there was 200.

 

Shrewsbury was fast becoming a prosperous market town attracting custom from the surrounding countryside. Toll receipts rose as did the number of people who settled there. With an increase in population, and prosperity, there was a demand for more housing and rents began to rise. Initially, as the town previously had had a larger population, the new building was able to be accommodated in the sought after town centre, with not only houses for the cloth workers being built but also mansions for the more prosperous citizens. A number of these mansions can still be seen today built in the distinctive “Tudor” style. In spite of this surge in building, many of the poorer townsfolk still lived in tenements or one room hovels and regularly fell prey to plague outbreaks and cholera. Until 1555, when a conduit was established, water was only obtainable from wells. Even after the conduit came into use, water still had to be fetched from designated points in buckets or barrels.

 

As a measure of the towns increasing wealth the number of households with servants rose sharply and by the middle of the 16th century 40% had one or more.

 

When Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England and dissolved the monasteries in the 1530’s his chief minister Oliver Cromwell, sent commissioners all over England to inspect (and value) the former Romans Catholic establishments. On arriving in Shrewsbury they found the Abbey in a very poor state of repair with a hole in the roof and water pouring into the choir stalls. At the Austin priory the commissioners found the Prior busily selling the contents of the priory to anyone who would buy. There was no furniture, bedding or food left in the place and, apart from two Irish monkseveryone else had vanished. One result of the abolition of the Popes authority was that all church services now had to be conducted in English and the altars and images were removed. These were later replaced when Queen Mary (a catholic) came to the throne but again removed on the accession of Elizabeth I.

 

Shrewsbury school was established in 1552 and by 1581 had 360 pupils, a very large number for its time. In 1586 it was the largest school in England and held in high regard. Among the distinguished pupils in the school was Sir Phillip Sidney (1554-1586) the noted poet, statesman and soldier who died fighting the Spanish at the battle of Zutphen in Holland. Another, more notorious pupil was George Jeffries later Baron of Wem, who was the school bully and later became Lord Chief Justice when he acquired the title of the “Hanging Judge” as he sentenced hundreds of rebels to death and sent many more to slavery in the American colonies. It was said he was paid a good price by the plantation owners for the “slaves”.

 

Bubonic plague still reared its ugly head from time to time with sometimes considerable loss of life. None of these epidemics reached the severity of the “Black Death” of 1348-9 but in 1604 10% of the population died some 600+ people. As a consequence of these outbreaks trade dropped off alarmingly in the plague years, with great loss of revenue and much misery amongst the poor, there being no work for many of them and the fact that their overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions put them at a great risk from the disease.

 

In spite of these epidemics the population of Shrewsbury grew steadily, reaching 5,500 in 1587 and 7,000 in 1640.

 

Meanwhile the cloth trade in Shrewsbury was increasing at the expense of Oswestry and, by 1620 had overtaken its rival.

 

At the time of Charles I’s dispute with Parliament over the “Divine Right of Kings” most of the population of Shropshire (including Shrewsbury) favoured the monarchy. Many of the wealthier citizens of Shrewsbury were unhappy with the king and secretly favoured the puritans, possibly because of the amount of money they had to pay in “Ship Money” tax to King Charles’s coffers in 1630.

 

In September 1642, Charles I declared his opposition to Parliamentary Rule in Nottingham and began to raise an army. On September 20th 1642 the King arrived in Shrewsbury and established his court there. To fund the Royalist army the gentry, universities and even Shrewsbury school sent their silver plate to the king to be melted down and turned into coinage, a mint being set up in the town for this purpose. The fields around Shrewsbury were used to drill troops and an army of 6,000 men assembled in, and around, the town. The town was garrisoned with Royalist troops and the king left on the 12th October. Charles I returned briefly in June 1644. Meanwhile Cromwells roundheads were gradually breaking down Royalist resistance in Shropshire and in a surprise attack, on the morning of 22nd February 1644/5 they successfully captured Shrewsbury castle and town.

 

The first record we have of Muckleston’s in the town is the marriage of Sara Muckleston  to Francis Lloyde in St Alkmunds Church in 1638. It is likely that the male members of the family did not settle in the town until the 1660’s, the christening of Richard Muckleston taking place in St Chads church in 1664. From then onwards the family increased its numbers (and later its influence) in Shrewsbury. With the increase of the number of Mucklestons in Shrewsbury came a gradual decline in the number of Mucklestons in Oswestry. Possibly the loss of Oswestrys cloth and wool trade to Shrewsbury led many Mucklestons to migrate to where the work was. We have to remember that many Oswestry Mucklestons were shearmen.

 

In the 17th century Shrewsburys most important trade was in the wholesaling of cheap woollen cloth, woven in north and mid Wales, this commerce being almost entirely controlled by the towns drapery company.

 

After purchasing cloth, the drapers but the cloth out to Shearmen who trimmed the nap from the cloth. The cloth was then pressed and taken by packhorses to the principle centre of the cloth trade, Blackwall Hall in London, from whence it was exported, mainly to France and Spain.

 

To set up in business as a draper usually required a fair amount of capital, but the profits were high and the Drapers Company in the mid 17th century included most of Shrewsburys richest citizens.

 

One Muckleston who was a draper was Benjamin (1673-1704) who possibly lived in The Square (most of the great timber framed buildings to be seen there today were built by drapers). Benjamin never married and when he died, he left £40 to the Parish of St Chads (there is an inscription to him inside St Chads church).

 

A couple of extracts from St Chads parish registers give additional insight into life in the town........

 

" December 1647 - 23 of this month that a woman burnt in the quorell for poysong her husband."

 

Translation: December 1647 - 23rd of this month that a woman was burnt in the ?Quarry for poisoning her husband."

 

"1650 June -- The Plaige began in Shrowsbure the 12th June in ffronkwell at John Pounds hoose Thomas Heayes Esqr. Maior of Shrowsbury."

 

Translation: 1650 June. The Plague began in Shrewsbury on the 12th of June in Frankwell at John Pounds house. Thomas Hayes Esq Mayor of Shrewsbury.

 

The drapers company, although no longer regulating the trade in cloth in Shrewsbury, still exists in a changed form. Its members (now a charitable body) meet regularly at the original Drapers Hall in St Mary's place to discuss the almshouses is still maintains in the town.

 

At the time of the English Civil War in 1642, Shrewsbury was a plain market and manufacturing town with few frills. Most of the wealthier citizens supported the king but many of the working classes were Puritans and supported the Parliamentarians. As he toured the country trying to drum up support, King Charles’ journey eventually brought him to Shrewsbury in September 1642, where he stayed for some three weeks. During this time the king received money as well as silver and gold plate, the proceeds being used to help him to pay for and equip his army. The meadows surrounding the town were used to train new recruits, who were billeted in the town, much to the disgust of many of the citizens. Before leaving the king established a strong garrison in Shrewsbury castle.

 

It is thought that Parliamentarian sympathisers in Shrewsbury kept Cromwell's forces informed of events in the castle. In February 1645, on being informed that the defence of the castle was now in a weakened state due to a large part of its garrison having been dispatched to Cheshire, the roundheads made a surprise attack on the 26th and captured the fortress.

 

At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Shrewsbury was little changed from what it had been some 20 years earlier. The cloth trade was still the single most important industry and 21% of the townsmen admitted as Freemen of the borough between 1650 and 1675 were in the textile trade.

 

After 1680 things began to change. Shrewsbury was still a busy market town but the cloth trade was becoming less of a dominate factor. The trade in leather and leather goods began to grow in importance and also, from having a predominately commercial outlook, the town started to cater for the luxury and leisure markets. By 1695, there were 13 grocers, 9 tobacconists, 12 barbers, 10 gardeners and no less than 52 tailors together with vintners, 2 distilleries and even dancing masters in a town of well under 10,000 souls.

 

At the beginning of the 18th century the number of teachers, doctors and lawyers became thicker on the ground and their ranks were swelled by a number of family members. Edward Muckleston (1685-1711) lived in Castle Street and “was an attorney of Merrington and Shrewsbury”. Edward had three children all of whom died young. John Muckleston followed in his fathers footsteps, becoming an attorney after an apprenticeship costing £70.

 

Johns brother another Edward Muckleston (1708-1731) chose another field of endeavour and became apprenticed to clock maker John Delander, in 1718 for the sum of £35.

 

Looking at the ages at death, of Edward senior and his three children, I note that none of them lived to the age of 35. Considering that they all came from a moderately well off family and were presumably reasonably nourished it would be interesting to know the cause of their early demise.

 

The 18th century saw many changes in the structural fabric of the town. Both of the medieval bridges were replaced – The English bridge in 1768-74 and the Welsh Bridge in 1791-95. Three of the four parish churches were in a dilapidated state and had to be at least partially rebuilt. At St Julians (currently converted into a craft centre) a new nave and chancel were built on to the medieval tower in 1750. Old St Chads collapsed while the repairs were being attempted and a new St Chads was built, to a then revolutionary design, between 1790 and 1792. The nave and chancel of St Alkmunds was replaced in 1793-95. Of the four parish churches in which the Muckleston’s worshipped in Shrewsbury, only St Chads is now fully functioning.

 

Shrewsbury town goal was also past its prime and needed renewing. By 1780, as convicts were no longer able to be shipped out to the American colonies and no longer required in the West Indies, the prison had become overcrowded with frequent epidemics of diseases such as typhus. The goal was rebuilt in Howard Street and, until the railway station was built, it faced out on to a large open space where crowds used to gather to watch the public executions which took place, on the roof of the prison lodge, until the mid 19th century.

 

More and more leisure activities began to be created for the amusement of (the mainly better off) townsfolk. There were bowling greens, walks, parks and boat rides on the Severn. There was a racecourse and even a town hunt.

 

To compliment these activities the barges moving up river from Bristol came laden down with tea, coffee, tobacco, wines and spices. There were coffee shops galore in which to gossip and in the evenings, “assemblies” where one could dine, dance and “be seen”.

 

The leather trade had, by now, replaced the cloth trade as the biggest single source of wealth in Shrewsbury. Price Muckleston (1748-?) was a saddler and many other family members were engaged in the shoe trade. One Richard Jeffries Muckleston (1796-1861) was a corvisor and shoe manufacturer employing 100 men.

 

At the beginning of the 19th Century Shrewsbury was a manufacturing town of some importance. The making of woollen cloth was now a declining industry but the processing of flax into thread and linen was joining that of the leather trade as a major employer in the town. By about 1820 there were three linen mills employing over 1000 people.

 

Index to Voters 1832 (included)

 

Voting qualifications were complicated but in general depended on possessing property.

 

N4382Edward Muckleston   Shrewsbury

                        Freehold House, St Chad, Milk Street, Sun Tavern.

S470    Edward Muckleston   Shrewsbury

                        Freehold Land, Worthin Bromlow

N2621Richard Muckleston    Pant

                        Freehold House and Land, Llanymynech and Llwyntidmen

N4226John Mucklestone       Pride Hill Shrewsbury

                        Freehold Dwelling House, St Alkmunds Square.

 

In the early 1800’s the town became an important staging post on the London to Holyhead run. In order to improve the service Thomas Telford was given considerable government funds to upgrade the roads and improvements on a vast scale were carried out, so much so that by 1830 the route from London to Holyhead was the best main road in Europe.

 

Shrewsbury had several coaching hotels of which The Lion (at which the family reunions were held) was the most important, under its proprietor Robert Lawrence with coaches running from there to London, Holyhead, Manchester, Liverpool, Bath and Bristol. In the summer there were also trips to Aberystwyth and Barmouth for the sea-bathing. Prior to Telfords improvements, the journey from Shrewsbury to London took 36 hours but, by the 1830’s this had been reduced to 18 hours. As well as public coaching facilities, the Lion also had post-coaches for private hire and one wonders if Joseph Muckleston, who used post-coaches frequently on his trips to London, hired his from the Lion. By 1830, there were over 200 coach horses accommodated at Shrewsbury every night and grooms could be seen washing the travel stained animals in the shallower parts of the River Severn.

 

The most celebrated of the Lions coach drivers was Samuel Hayward who used to run the coach “The Wonder”. For 16 years he drove his coach to London and back and, in that time claimed he was never more than 10 minutes late (present day railway companies eat your heart out). One contemporary observer wrote about Samuel “on arrival at Shrewsbury he would gallop his horses at full speed up Wyle Cop and then, describing a circle at the top, would turn and enter the Lions yard at full speed, never slowing down having inches to spare”.

 

In the 1830’s Shrewsbury suffered a decline in its population from 21,297 in 1831 to 18,285 in 1841, a situation almost unheard of in the larger towns and cities of England. Possible causes of this were the movement of shoe manufacturers to places like Northampton and London, the closure of the largest linen mill and the decline of the coaching trade with the opening of railways.

 

In spite of the decline in population Shrewsbury was still the main market town in Shropshire. The market took place on the streets with much confusion resulting in The Square each Saturday morning, with the traders in apples, eggs and other garden produce competing for space with the sellers of horses. The chaos eventually came to an end with the construction of an animal market in 1850 and an indoor general market in 1869.

 

The Mucklestons were still prominent in the life of the town in the mid 19th century.

 

John Muckleston (born 1804) was a tea dealer, coffee roaster and grocer with his business situated in the High Street. He had 11 children and in 1851 was living with his family and two servants at 11, Wyle Cop.

 

William Muckleston (1806-1887) brother of Richard Jeffries Muckleston (the shoe manufacturer mentioned earlier), was a draper, mercer and gentleman (the gentleman bit was mentioned in a local trade directory so it must be true!), and lived in St Alkmunds Square, a favourite place of residence for many members of the family.

 

In 1815 at the Lent assizes in Shropshire John Muckleston was tried for sodomy. He was found not guilty.

 

Another William Muckleston (1821-1864) was a tobacconist living in Quarry View, Frankwell.

 

Lieutenant Edward Muckleston was still living at Quarry Place, combining his social activities with his duties as a magistrate.

 

At this time a number of Mucklestons were still engaged in the leather and shoe trades but their children were starting to move further afield especially to places like London.

 

In the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th Shrewsbury expanded greatly as the population once more began to grow and there was an increased demand for housing. The public utilities were developed to meet the needs of the population and industry. The town was lit by gas in the 1820’s, deep sewers dug in the 1850’s and the first electricity power station was opened in 1895.

 

In 1848 Shrewsbury at last gained its own railway and, by the end of the 19th century it became an important railway centre. New industries were being developed in the town. Maltings were opened for the brewery trade. The early part of the 20th century saw factories opened for the productions of steam wagons and diesel engines and, for a number of years Rolls Royce had a factory in the town.

 

During World War One a huge transport depot for the Royal Flying Corps was established along with an airfield and hangars.

 

Between the wars the centre of the town developed a rash of chain stores but many were incorporated in to the existing buildings in a discreet manner.

 

World War Two saw the construction of huge armament depots on the outskirts of the town. Many troops, English, American and others were spread across the countryside around Shrewsbury, and the pubs in the town were packed every night. The town suffered relatively little from air raids, the only significant raid in 1940 resulting in three deaths when a house was destroyed.

 

Since 1950, the manufacturing industry in the town has declined; service industries such as finance, insurance, wholesale distribution and the professions have grown rapidly and now play a much more important role in the town's economy.

 

The Mucklestons have died out in Shrewsbury. As far as I know the last Muckleston living there died in 1989, bringing to an end 300 years of family association with the town. There have been merchants, manufacturers, magistrates and burgesses galore, but they have all gone now.

 

Whenever I visit the record office in Shrewsbury and go for a stroll in the town at lunchtime I look at the Tudor buildings and wonder what life was really like for our ancestors. Perhaps, one day as I saunter down Pride Hill to visit my favourite bookshop a family ghost will tap me on the shoulder and say “this is how it was”, then I will really have a tale to tell.

 

Bill Mackleston