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Whitchurch Town Trail: Highgate, Mill Street and Scotland Street
The 1761 Town Map shows this area west of the Town Mill as mainly burgage plots and fields. On the OS Second Edition (1901), Highgate, Mill Street (formerly New Street) and Scotland Street are all shown clearly. By this time, development has taken place, no doubt considerably on account of the extension of the Ellesmere Canal into Whitchurch during the early 19th century. The Wharf and the Coal Wharf are shown halfway along Mill Street, with the towpath leading away towards the Sherrymill Bridge.
What went on here ?
The Poor Rate Valuation Book 1827, lists only 8 rateable premises: House and Garden (6), plus Barn, Maltkiln, Timber-yard and Highgate Public House.
Church of the Saviour, Highgate
A congregation calling themselves the Free Christian Church was established in Whitchurch in 1877 under the guidance of Rev W Carey Williams, meeting in the Town Hall, High Street:
On the 7th August 1877 the congregation opened an iron church at Highgate, the preacher being the Rev Baldwin Brown, MA. On the 28th January 1880,
a school-house was opened in connection with this church.
In 1883, the congregation was locally known as Unitarian. The building of the school-house created a heavy debt, but on the 16th October 1892, the whole property consisting of the church, school-house and minister’s house was given
to Trustees of the church by Mr John Gresty, of Mile Bank, when the name of “The Church of the Saviour” was adopted.
In 1921 the church was closed for worship. In 1925 the whole property was sold to Wilson’s Brewery, and the building dismantled. The furniture of the church and the East End window were all presented to neighbouring Unitarian Churches.
The old Brass Memorial Plates were removed from the walls, and are now in the possession of one of the Trustees of the Church.
TC Duggan: A History of Whitchurch, Shropshire, 1935
The Highgate Inn
According to TC Duggan (1935), the Inn was first sited on the corner opposite Mill Street and rebuilt in its present position in 1837. The first occupant is listed as Samuel Towler (1829). Accommodation in 1896 is given as 5 bedrooms, with stabling for 24 horses (day) and 16 (night).
The building still stands in its imposing position on rising ground, but is now the Head Office and storage facility of the furniture removals firm Denmans of Whitchurch Ltd.
The Poor Law Valuation Book 1827, which shows Mill Street as New Street, lists 9 rateable properties. Most of them are clearly related to canal business:
House, warehouse and garden (1)
Wharf (3), rated at £3 per annum each
Wharf, weighing machine and counting house (1), owned by Ellesmere Canal Company, rated at £33 pa
Nailor’s shop (1)
House, cowhouse, garden, etc (1)
Tile Yard (1)
What else went on here?
Mill Street was formerly Mill Lane, leading only from the Mill to the canal. It was later extended as New Street to meet Highgate in 1811. Outside No 16 stands the parish boundary stone, inscribed with the letters “W” and “D” to indicate the extent of the old parishes of Whitchurch and Dodington. During the mid-19th century, when animals brought to market were still penned in particular streets, Mill Street was designated for horses and cattle.
Opposite the site of the Wharf around 1900 was the thriving business of GH Tupling (see Whitchurch Remembered (WHAG, 1980) illustrations 40 and 41), who advertised for sale ‘bicycles and accessories, joiners’ tools, mangles, wringers, sewing machines, barrows and churns. Basinettes, bedsteads and a forerunner of the washing machine were also part of his stock in trade.’
Records of some other businesses:
William Bright, of the baker and grocery family, had become Corn and Cake Merchant at the Wharf by 1900, though the firm is not shown in directories after 1905.
G Wright was a cooper at No 1
WA Palin, apprentice grocer in 1912. Worked for the Co-op at 25 Green End until 1924 when he set up his grocery and provisions business at 26 Mill Street (now demolished). Business thrived so that by 1934 he established a larger shop at 36 Green End. In 1951 took his son Alan into partnership, but died in 1952.
F Blundell, hairdresser in Mill Street after 1945, with a barber’s shop known as ‘Nulli Secundus’.
Midland Banking Co Ltd opened its Whitchurch branch here in June 1876 in premises later occupied by Mr Kirby, fishmonger. The first manager was Mr HK Mousley. By 1878 the bank removed to the ground floor of the old Town Hall, High Street, eventually to become Barclays Bank in 1917.
The streetscape here today has lost much of its former charm and interest. All the warehouses on the Wharf, except for the Davies-Kendall cheese warehouse (1939), were demolished when the canal was filled in around 1950. The only other obvious signs of the canal’s former existence at this location are a modern residential development called The Wharfage, and the parallel rows of Lombardy poplars and lime trees in Jubilee Park, marking the canal arm’s route away from the town towards the branch and main line. The cheese warehouse is now occupied by Carshaws at the Park, and the space formerly occupied by the Wharf basin itself is a building site.
The corner of Mill Street with Watergate is the former site of the Town Mill, demolished and replaced in 1816 by the Lord Hill Hotel, which closed in 1960. Following conversion work, this building now houses the furniture showroom of Hatton and Williams Ltd.
Whitchurch and the Canal
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries many canal companies were formed, frequently proposing grand projects that never came to fruition. These are the most significant developments affecting Whitchurch during and since the Canal Age:
1795: Ellesmere Canal Company decides to build a canal from Ellesmere to Whitchurch, with a branch to Prees (never completed), as a branch of the Llangollen-Welsh Frankton-Weston main line. A longer-term intention to continue south to meet the River Severn never materialised.
1797: Work begins, though progress is slow for technical reasons.
1804: Grindley Brook reached where wharves, warehouses and other service buildings are constructed. Stabling provided for 8 canal horses behind lock-keeper’s house designed by Thomas Telford.
1805: Canal bypasses Whitchurch to connect with the Chester Canal at Harleston, with Whitchurch still more than mile away from the canal.
1808: Branch to Sherryman’s Bridge opened, with warehouses erected on the new wharf there.
1811: Following gift of land to the town by Earl of Bridgwater a basin opens at Mill Street with a wharf 30 feet wide. This enables four long boats to load or unload simultaneously. This area is still locally known as The Wharf.
Amalgamation of canal and railway companies led to the name Shropshire Union Canal (as shown on the 1901 OS map). Commercial users and canal enthusiasts called it ‘The Shroppie’, now also widely known as the Llangollen Canal.
1939: Commercial traffic on the Whitchurch branch ceased. Railway expansion had caused progressive decline in canal use, especially during the early decades of the 20th century. Dereliction set in.
1944: Waterway legally abandoned and filled in.
1970s: Whitchurch Canal Trust formed to raise funds for restoration of the Whitchurch arm.
1993: First section from New Mills Bridge to Chemistry Bridge opened, bringing new life to the canal through leisure use.
Highgate area Listed Buildings
Havana House, Highgate (formerly Mill Street); Nos 12 and 14 Highgate; 1-10 Scotland Street
Early 19th century red brick house with slate roof, 3 storeys. Tuscan-style porch to the central front entrance is a late 20th century addition.
Numbers 12 and 14 Highgate
Pair of late 17th century timber-framed cottages. Madge Moran (Vernacular Buildings of Whitchurch and Area, Logaston Press, 1999) observes:
A pair of “two-up, two-down” box-framed cottages, each one and a half storeys in height, and sharing a central chimneystack. Each has a dormer window front and back, the front dormers wholly in the roof and the rear ones of a simpler raking type. [Restoration work has removed earlier external brick covering and pebble dash to the front.] Timbers on the exposed gable wall are painted on . . . late 17th century-early 18th century date, and to represent a time when good quality accommodation was provided for the journeyman class of worker, before the industrial revolution.
Such relatively unaltered examples are rare.
Numbers 1 to 10 Scotland Street (formerly Havana Terrace, or Havana Buildings under Highgate)
Early 19th century terrace of red brick cottages, each with its own ridge chimney- stack.
Other Notable Buildings
This extract from Richard Hughes: A Pavement Safari (WHAG, 1993) highlights two more significant buildings towards the town end of Mill Street:
As you walk up the rise of Mill Street towards the town, on your right is an arched entry with doors. Through these, a cobbled yard can be seen, almost as it used to be, one of the many in Whitchurch, containing stables to serve the inns. This one served the Lord Hill and the Old Eagles, with stabling for some 49 horses by night.
Further up the street on your left note the terra-cotta mouldings in the brickwork, typical of the Victorian period. You will notice many dripstones, cill bricks and terra-cotta post caps around Whitchurch. These particular ones were made in Ruabon, and yet another example is the face of the present Joyce clock factory in Station Road.
This Victorian building in Mill Street was erected in 1860 as a showroom built by William Smith. It is about the best example of terra-cotta work in town . . . William Smith started an iron foundry in 1837, which developed to become one
of the major industries in the town.