Monday, 1 August 2011

Acton Burnell - My World - The Beauty of Shropshire


Acton Burnell is a small and picturesque village some eight miles south east of Shrewsbury. The name seems to have come from Achetune, meaning Oaktown.

Robert Burnell was Bishop of Bath and Wells between 1275 and 1292, but he was also politically influential as Chancellor to Edward I. For more than thirty years he was friend, confidant and advisor to the king.  Robert Burnell obtained a licence to build himself a partly-fortified manor house, which was begun in 1283 (he was granted the licence to crenellate in 1284);  its ruins, incorrectly called a castle, still stand in near proximity to the church.




In spite of its thick walls and a tower at each end of the rectangular structure, it was a fortified domestic residence rather than a military fortress or castle.






The church of St. Mary has been described as one of the most complete 13th century churches in Britain. The monuments include one with alabaster effigies to Sir Richard Lee (1591) and Sir Humphrey Lee (1632) forebears of Robert E. Lee of American Civil War fame.









The large house (Acton Burnell Hall) near the church and the castle was the home of the Smythe family for many decades. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the Sisters of the Order of Sion established their Convent there and formed a girls school which continued until about 1970, when the nuns vacated the Hall.

The Hall is now Concord College, a private institute of further education catering mainly for overseas students. Occasionally, visiting chamber music groups perform here, when the Hall is opened to the public to attend concerts.



In the parkland belonging to the school, and close to, but only just visible from the church and the castle since a hedge was planted between school grounds and public grounds, are the end walls of a central hall of a very early structure. It must have been a very large hall - the space between the two gables is about 157 feet x 40 feet - and  local people to this day call the two gable ends the 'parliamentary barn'. 

When Edward I was staying at Acton Burnell in the autumn of 1283, he summoned one of the first   Parliaments to be attended by the Commons as well as the Lords. It passed a law for the protection of creditors, which the king ratified here at the castle, and which is therefore known as the Statute of Acton Burnell.  There is, however,  no direct evidence that the traditional 'parliamentary barn' is the site where  deliberations took place.

From a postcard
 "Parliamentary Barn' in Acton Burnell - Discover Shropshire


In the 18th century the ruins of Acton Burnell Castle became an ornamental feature in the grounds of Acton Burnell Hall. Today, the historic site is in the care of English heritage. 

This is my contribution to That's My World for this week.



44 comments:

  1. OH my, marvellous pictures - and so much history in each one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shropshire is a wonderful treasure! It's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place so many centuries ago.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That is quite the house Robert Burnell had built for himself. I did not realize that you needed a license fro crenellations!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello:
    How amazing that you should post about Acton Burnell Hall. We have not thought about the place for years but during the early 1970s in what must have been the brief period of inter-regnum between the girls' school closing and the college opening, it functioned as a conference centre. A large room on the first floor over the bay windowed drawing room [as was] served as a bedroom butbathrooms at that time must have been few and far between. Certainly, the furniture throughout was very institutional and must have been left over from the days of the girls' school.

    Your picture is obviously of the garden front for the main entrance was/ is porticoed, if memory is to be relied upon.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What an incredible, fascinating post and look at your world! Superb captures and so much interesting history! I have truly enjoyed your post and photos! Look forward to seeing more of your world in the weeks to come! Have a beautiful week!

    Sylvia

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great pictures and wonderful old structures!!
    But style has changed.
    Today many historians regard "Modernism" as a matter of taste, a reaction against the lavish stylistic excesses of Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
    Great post.
    - Cheers from Canada
    Gisela.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's years since we've been to Acton Scott. The photos you've taken are fantastic.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Now, nature I'm not so good with, but buildings, especially historical ones, I love. Great pics.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love the photograph of Concord College. I may refer to it a few more times for inspiration on a scene as I find it truly beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  10. this is so cool friko...would love to walk the grounds and explore...thank you for taking us with you...great pics!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very interesting, Friko. I have learned a great deal from going along on this tour with you...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Fascinating account and stunningly beautiful photographs. You may have known what an "oxymoron" is, but I have to confess that I had to look up "crenellations." This made me curious enough to see what the U.S. has in the way of castles. Not much compared to England, of course, and very few with crenellations.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111063102

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh, I would love to see Shropshire some day.
    This is a fascinating post, but what really caught my fancy was the phrase "licence to crenellate"! I can just imagine the Bishop, his priests and his servants, up there behind the crenellations, fending off enemies of the king.
    Sorry, Friko, sometimes I get carried away by my imagination, and other times I have no imagination whatsoever.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

    ReplyDelete
  14. I just love these pictures. A part of the world that I will never likely see! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your contribution is much appreciated. And I like the way you noted the link between early history of your adopted homeland with a bit of U.S.A. history.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Such history! Makes ours seem like a blink. Also, I wish I could get a license to crenellate :) Wonderful post, as usual!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Friko, I join the queue that admires the notion of a license to crenellate. Are such licenses still required or granted?

    Acton Burnell looks to be a fine place to explore. Thank you for the introduction. xo

    ReplyDelete
  18. That must be so wonderful to have so many historical structures. Around here they tear everything down and build new. No architectural history at all.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Once again I'm reduced to exclaiming that you live in a wonderful part of the world - the gardens and the history are completely unknown here.
    The other day I was in a charity shop where I found an original pen and ink drawing of the castle outside your back gate. From photos you've posted, it looked like the drawing might have been made from very near to your vantage point. It was an odd moment - the friend that was with me wanted to know why I was interested in it and it was just too complicated to tell her that it looked like 'where a friend lives'. Odd blogging world,

    ReplyDelete
  20. Fascinating to learn of Robert E. Lee's forbears in Shropshire. So many interesting aspects to this post, like this: "Robert Burnell obtained a licence to build himself a partly-fortified manor house, which was begun in 1283 (he was granted the licence to crenellate in 1284)." An early sort of town planning, perhaps?

    ReplyDelete
  21. The image of the castle with the headstones in the foreground is very nicely composed...Thinking of all the history that has surrounded those graves - peering up through the grasses...
    The red stone work against the greens - really lovely.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hello Friko

    Good for Robert Burnell. I'm sure that obtaining permission for the crenellations took a lot of time and paperwork, rather like a modern-day planning application, but it was worth it.

    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi Friko - fantastic pictures - every time I see your posts .. I think I must get up and look around Shropshire.

    Your commentary is so interesting too .. and I learnt a little about fortified manor houses, when I mentioned Stokesay - also in your neck of the woods.

    Thanks so enjoyed this .. Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  24. and what an incredible world that is!!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you. Not a part of the world I know at all. I do like all that dark red sandstone and wonder if you use it to effect in your garden.

    Licence to crenellate is a complicated subject. At the least it allowed an up-and-coming noble to show he enjoyed royal favour and thus to display his social standing. At most it allowed the owner to fortify his house, implying a force of his own private soldiers to man the fortifications, not always something to commend itself to mediaeval monarchs. Occasionally it would not be the house that was fortified, but the wall surrounding an entire estate, thus, while discouraging poachers, creating private deer parks out of previously common land.

    Our house is not crenellated.

    ReplyDelete
  26. It's very wrong of me, but the second you mentioned the Bishop of Bath & Wells I thought of the Baby Eating Bishop from Blackadder II

    I love your photos though - makes me want to come and visit

    ReplyDelete
  27. Beautiful and interesting post, Friko.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Beautiful pics and very informative post! Thanks
    Hugs
    SueAnn

    ReplyDelete
  29. I do like walking about with you! Where are you in relation to the Midlands?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Friko, I'm been reading blogs for only two weeks. I'm so delighted that I've discovered yours within that time. (I found you through a comment you made on another blog.) I read your last seven postings. The breadth of them is astonishing. What an interesting person you are. And a truly gifted writer also. I especially enjoy your historical postings like the one today and the one about Eva and the CARE packages. I'll be reading everything you post from now on. PS: The photographs certainly enhance your stories.

    ReplyDelete
  31. There is something very prelapsarian about it that calls to me. ~Mary

    ReplyDelete
  32. i wonder why he needed a partly fortified manor house? fascinating Friko - Shropshire is really beautiful seen through your blog

    ReplyDelete
  33. Although Robert E. Lee is probably one of the more famous Lees, two of his ancestors from the Colony of Virginia, now Commonwealth are well known on this side of the pond.

    Henry Lee III (January 29, 1756 – March 25, 1818) was an early American patriot who served as the ninth Governor of Virginia and as a Virginia Representative to the United States Continental Congress. During the American Revolution, Lee served as a cavalry officer in the Continental Army and earned the name 'Light-Horse Harry.' Despite his own military prowess, he is probably best known today as the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

    Harry's cousin, Richard Henry Lee (January 20, 1732– June 19, 1794) was an American statesman from Virginia, best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States Declaration of Independence, which Lee signed. He also served a one-year term as the President of the Continental Congress, and was a U.S. Senator from Virginia from 1789 to 1792, serving during part of that time as one of the first Presidents pro tempore of the United States Senate.

    Couldn't let this go by without a comment about the Lees of Virginia. Great post with lots of information about an interesting place and time. Thanks, Dianne

    ReplyDelete
  34. I do realize it's nothing to you to be around things built in the 13th century, but the thought of those things, built by long-dead human hands, and still standing, blows me away!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Amazing buildings. Love the history and story you've told about them. And - this last image - of the remains of the barn..is terrific!

    ReplyDelete
  36. I want to go sit in the cool of the church, and pray, listen, watch. Feel the age, the stone. Smell the cold, the candles. I must come visit you one day and walk to all these places. I would gladly take a room in a nearby B & B, as long as you would allow me to come sit in your garden with you.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Nice photos of a beautiful place!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Lovely pictures, Friko. I like the one of the grave effigies. This is a very informative blog, both from you and from the comments. I'm a little wiser now. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I love Robert Burnell's house and am thinking of visiting our county offices in search of a license to crenelate.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Thank you for the travelogue, you make me want to get out there and do something similar. The trouble is we are lacking in ancient buildings and history round here. No - that is maybe lazy, maybe I just need to go and search!

    ReplyDelete
  41. My love affair with Shropshire began when I discovered the "Brother Cadfael" series on DVD. Set, of course, in Shropshire.

    Gorgeous pics!!!

    ReplyDelete

Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.