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What does a small country parish in Shropshire have to do with the 1815 Battle of Waterloo? St Mary Magdalene, the Parish Church of Hadnall is the final resting place of Sir Rowland Hill, the Duke of Wellington’s second-in-command at the battle.

Set beside the main Shrewsbury to Whitchurch road, Hadnall Church is at the gateway to the beautiful rural north of Shropshire. To begin this story of Hadnall church it is necessary to give an account of Hadnall village itself. This begins with the entry in the Domesday Book dated 1086 which states –

Hadenhale (Hadnall) – in Lordship 1 plough, 2 ploughmen, 6 villagers, 1 smallholder and 2 frenchmen with three ploughs. Woodland for fattening 40 pigs.

Hadenhale was held during the Saxon age by Godwin and rated in the Danegeld as 4 hides (approx 480 acres). After the Norman Conquest it became part of the possessions of the wealthy Roger de Montgomery (Earl of Shrewsbury, Arundel and Winchester). It was in turn given by him to Rainald his Sheriff in Shropshire and again passed to the under-Sheriff, Osmund. The possessions eventually passed to William Fitz Alan and to his son Gilbert de Hadenhale – Lord of the Manor in 1154.

In that same year – 1154 – Henry II (who reigned until 1189) ascended the throne. In 1158 Henry II visited Shrewsbury. Gilbert de Hadenhale could be regarded as an early benefactor of Haughmond Abbey as, during the visit of King Henry he surrendered a moiety (a part) of the village of Hadnall and the whole of Hardwicke into the King’s hands. Henry immediately granted this gift to the Canons of Haughmond for their maintenance. That part of Hadnall was the East Lea or East Ley (i.e. pasture) which later lost the original E and became Astley.

Here it is interesting to note that Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen of Henry II) gave a large donation to Haughmond although she spent most of her husband’s reign in France. Haughmond was an Augustinian Abbey and was established, it is thought, around 1110.

It seems probable, although the authors have been unable to verify the fact, that a small church was established around this time by monks, who may have had connections with Haughmond Abbey. They are reputed to have lived on the site of the present Hermitage Farm opposite the Hadnall Church. The house dates back to Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). It was also known as Church House.

This is a little of the background to the Church in Hadnall:

In an extract from “The History of Shrewsbury Hundred” written at the end of the nineteenth century by the Rev Blakeway, we are told, “The north and south doors are of late Norman work, with the pointed bowtel as the principal distinctive moulding. The north door is blocked. On certain stones on the north side are marks as if used for sharpening arrows.”

The markings on the north wall have been attributed to arrow sharpening – perhaps connected with the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) or as a prelude to latter skirmishes during the War of the Roses (which ended in 1485) or the English Civil War of the 17th Century.

The oldest parts of the present church are these late Norman doorways. The north door has been closed up and it may possibly have been a priest’s door. The south door is the one in use today. These doors are believed to date from 1140 – 1150. Evidence suggests that the church was ‘rebuilt’ during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). There remains today a relic of the Middle Ages – a piscina recess – which would have been used for washing sacred vessels after Holy Communion. The drainage channel has since been destroyed. There was probably an altar in the vicinity of the present Chancel Screen.

The church also contained a stone font of considerable antiquity and believed to date from Saxon times. In the late 19th century Captain Frank Bibby gave the present font as a gift to Hadnall Church and it is thought to have come from Malta. The original font went to Astley Church.

During the 17th century Hadnall Church was again ‘rebuilt’ being now a ‘Chapel of Ease’ within the Parish of Myddle. A new roof was put on, supported by hammer beams bearing four wooden shields; one with the initials T.D., one with the initials I.D., and a third with the date 1699. The fourth shield displayed a coat of arms consisting of chevrons. Only the two with initials now remain and they can be found at the front of the porch on the south side.

A small wooden turret at the west end contained one bell. This bell is now used as the clock bell. It is cast in steel and not the more usual bell metal alloy of copper and zinc. It has a very tinny ring and has not been wound since the 1950’s.

Until 1880 Hadnall Ease was a chapelry within the Parish of Myddle and consisted of six townships within the Liberties of Shrewsbury: Hadnall, Haston, Smethcote, Shotton, Hardwicke and Alderton. An uneasy relationship existed between the Parish of Myddle and Hadnall. Gough in his History of Myddle states “the inhabitants of Hadnall tried several times to get an allowance for the mainten-ance of their Minister. In 1693 they petitioned Dr Lloyd, then Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, to order the Incumbent of Myddle to provide a Curate for Hadnall, or to make a reasonable allowance for his maintenance. The Bishop, in his answer of 21 August 1693, states that the rectors of Myddle never paid anything towards a Curate for Hadnall, but the present rector gives voluntarily £5 a year.” Finally in 1888 Hadnall did get its own vicar.

In the 1780’s Hardwicke Grange was sold to Sir Rowland Hill, the father of Sir Richard Hill, who assigned it to his nephew Rowland, Lord Hill (1772-1842). Lord Hill is well known for his exploits in the British Army, particularly for his part in the Peninsula and Waterloo campaigns (see below). The Hill family were very important benefactors in the life of Hadnall Church. They enlarged and beautified the Hall and grounds and built the tower on the church, which before had had a wooden structure. The tower contains the stones of an old house whose moat is opposite a delightful roadside pool on the A49. The work was completed in 1842, with a crypt underneath in which he was interred with his two sisters. The Hill family proved to be important benefactors in the life of the Hadnall Church and the village. Lady Mary Hill who died in 1789, left a Charity School for Hadnall, and the interest of £600 in trust for the dissenting minister of Hadnall. In the will of Dame Mary Hill. the sister of Lord Hill, a sum of money was bequeathed in 1887 to found the Church of England School and £300 7s 6d was left in trust to maintain a teacher. Also £342 to clothe the children of the poor in the Parish and £98 18s 3d to be used at the discretion of the minister.

There is in the Church a monument to Rowland – first Viscount Hill – who died in December 1842 aged 70. In the centre can be seen the Hill family coat of arms. On either side the figures of a soldier and a shepherd. There is an interesting story about the shepherd. In the Hadnall Magazine of October 1936 there appeared an article lamenting the loss of one Charlie Payne. It appears that his grandfather came from Sussex to be shepherd to Lord Hill at Hardwicke and formed the model for the shepherd in the Lord Hill Memorial. There is also a very fine window in the west wall of the Church Tower depicting the Hill family coat of arms.

Between 1872 and 1874 Hadnall Church underwent considerable changes. It was extended with a chancel, vestry and organ chamber, the latter being reconstructed in 1903.

There is a very fine east window which is by Charles Eamer Kempe and was commissioned by the Peel family. This east window, with its brilliant angels adoring, representing the adoration of the saints in heaven, was put in by the children of Mrs Esther Peel in 1888 and is dedicated to John Peel who died at Black Birches, a lovely timbered house in a park near Hardwicke Grange.

There are several other examples of Kempe’s work in Hadnall Church. He was very well-known during the Victorian era as a designer of stained glass windows and we are fortunate to have a very fine example of his work.

Among several fine windows is one of St Peter and St Paul and another of John the Baptist and St James in memory of James Bibby who built the fine tower and spire at Clive. The glass in the south chancel window represents St Mary Magdalene and is in memory of Richard Battye of Skelton Hall in Cheshire who died at Myddle in September 1873. The nave window in memory of Mary Ann Challenger was given by the Bibby family in 1881 to commemorate their family nurse and governess.

After the withdrawal from Myddle Parish in 1888 the then owner of Hardwicke, James Jenkinson Bibby, had Ladymas House built as the new vicarage. The name Ladymas refers to the Feast of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation of our Lord (25 March). The Rev Brooke Cunliffe, who had been Curate in Hadnall since 1868, became Vicar in 1888 and moved into the new vicarage. After the acquisition of the Ward Estate by Hardwicke the vicarage was moved to Hadnall Hall until the present vicarage was built in the mid 1950’s

Near the lych gate lies the grave of old Charles Hulbert of 1857. He was first a cotton spinner and then a keen anti- quarian. Having seen his house and writings destroyed by fire he began afresh and set up a printing works of his own, building cottages for his men and writing as fast as they could print. His books are standard works on the history of Shropshire. The lych gate was built in memory of Captain Frank Bibby, who besides being patron was a generous benefactor in his reconstruction and furnishing of the church in 1903. The original iron gate was moved to the rear entrance in Church Lane where it remains as the back gate. The fuel store adjoining the rear gate was part of the 1903 restoration and above it is the sexton’s store containing grave digging tools and a bier on which coffins were carried shoulder high from home to church. Only the more affluent villagers employed an undertaker with a horse-drawn hearse. In either case it was customary for the Cortege to enter by the south door and leave by the north. Most village churches subsequently sealed up one of these doors. In medieval churches, and sometimes today, the south door was regarded as the earthly entrance and the north the heavenly exit. For the same reason the credence table on which the Communion vessels are prepared, and the Vicar’s Seat are on the south side of the Altar. The Piscina and the Aumbry, in which the Sacrament is reserved, are also on the south side. The north side of the Altar is used solely for the Bishop’s Chair denoting the Apostolic succession of the Episcopate.

The Communion Plate, consisting of a Silver Cup, Paten and Flagon, was given in 1833 by Major Thomas Bayley of Black Birches. Mr Charles Hulbert of Providence Grove gave the Altar which formerly belonged to St Julian’s Church in Shrewsbury (though the initials F B appear on the legs of the altar).

The pulpit was given in memory of Albert Brisbourne of Painsbrook Farm; the Eagle Lectern in memory of William Tudor of Hadnall Mill; and the Oak Credence Table in the sanctuary was made by Thomas Needham in 1973. A new Chalice was subscribed by parishioners in 1982 in memory of Rev David Price, Vicar of Hadnall from 1950 to 1982. The new crystal Communion Cruet was given in memory of his brother, Mr Glyn Price, in 1995. The Hill memorial window was restored in 1996 by the generous subscription of the parishioners and the weathercock was restored in 2003 by Mr John Adams of Childs Ercall through a donation made by Hadnall Village Jubilee Committee.

Following a very generous private donation, the Sexton’s Hut at the rear of the church was renovated and converted into a disabled Toilet.  A much needed facility.  At the same time a bespoke kitchen unit was fitted in the tower area to enable the church to be used more conveniently for functions and also for ease of providing refreshments after services.

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