I. The Welsh Marches
Shropshire, or Salop, is another county on the borders of Wales, or the Welsh Marches. The earthen dyke, raised by Offa of Mercia to keep those troublesome Welsh neighbours out, is still to be seen, running nearly the whole length of the county.
The Normans built many castles, and held them against the borderers. William had given leave to certain of his barons to take and keep for themselves what land they could in this wild border county; wherefore, for more than three hundred years after the Conquest, there were endless slayings and burnings.
Edward I. endeavoured to put an end to these troubles by conquering the country; he had David, the last Prince of Wales, tried at Shrewsbury, where the English king was holding court, and put to death as a traitor.
The Welsh were so sore about this, that to console them Edward gave them his infant son, who being born at Carnarvon was a native of Wales, for their prince; this is why our Queen's eldest son is the Prince of Wales.
Shrewsbury still has the keep of its ancient castle. The Severn, the queen of rivers, flows nearly round the town. This river divides the county into two pretty equal parts. The north part belongs to the Cheshire plain, and is like it in every way—the same level country, with rich meadows hy the river hanks; the same broad pastures, with grazing cattle and scattered clumps of trees; the same pretty meres. Ellesmere Mere, which gives its name to the town of Ellesmere, is the largest of those in Salop.
There is more corn grown on the Shropshire than on the Cheshire end of the plain. The Welsh hills make their way into the north-west corner, nearly as far as Oswestry,—named after Oswald, the gentle northern king who was slain here by Penda. The Wrekin in the east, close by the Severn, is a hill which rises all by itself, like Alderley Edge in Cheshire; from the top of it, as many as seventeen of the flat middle counties may be seen on a clear day.
II. The Hill Country
The Hill Country is a name that describes South Salop very weU, for as many as six ranges of hills cross the county south of the Severn, running towards the southeast. The south-east corner, called Clun Forest, is not a forest at all, but is filled with hills. Wenlock Edge which begins by Much Wenlock is the longest range; and the Clee HiUs are about the highest. Between these hill ranges are long, narrow vaUeys; the town of Church Stretton which consists of one long street is in the vaUey between the Long Mynd and Caradoc Hills. This part of the county is very pretty, with hills and vales, woods and corn-fields; and, quite in the south, near the counties of Hereford and Worcester, there are hop-gardens and great apple orchards.
A coal-field reaches from Wellington to Bridgenorth, which is a busy and pretty trading town on the Severn. Iron is found with the coal; and Wellington, Newport, Shifnal, Madeley, and Coalbrook-dale, are nearly as black and as busy as the adjoining Black Country itself: coal pits and iron-works, iron-works and coal pits, break up the ground and blacken the air.
It seems a pity that Coalbrook-dale, the lovely valley between the Wrekin and Wenlock Edge, should be blackened with furnace smoke. The valley is shut in by steep, wooded hills, and little knolls, covered with trees, are dotted all over it; at night the whole dale is lit up by the flames of the blast furnaces.
There is another coal-field reaching from Shrewsbury to the Welsh hills, as well as three or four smaller ones in the south-east.
Most of the mining country on the east belongs to the plain, which reaches south of the Severn, taking in all the river valley.
Seventy miles of the Severn river are within Salop. It enters this shire straight from Montgomery, the Welsh county in which are the lofty Plinlimmon mountains, where our queen of rivers first gathers her waters. She collects some tributary streams on her way through Shropshire; the chief are, the Tern on the north, and the Teme, on which the bonny town of Ludlow stands, on the south.
Edward IV. chose Ludlow Castle to be the palace of his young son, Edward, Prince of Wales; and here all the business of the Principality was conducted. When the king died, the prince, aged twelve, was holding court at the castle.
Another boy of twelve had his home in Ludlow Castle, Philip Sidney, afterwards the Sir Philip Sidney of whom Queen Elizabeth said, he was the brightest jewel in her crown.