The Builders of Plas Wilmot

The ancestry of Edward and Mary Salter, builders of Plas Wilmot, the birthplace of Wilfed Owen.

A talk given by OBHAG’s President John Pryce-Jones at the AGM 2017.


Oswestry rightly is proud of its connection with Wilfred Owen, born at Plas Wilmot in 1893. His ancestry through the Salter family is well rooted in Oswestry’s history. In this year’s AGM talk, John Pryce-Jones re-examines the Salter connection and takes a close look at the family of Mary Simpson, whose husband Edward Salter built Plas Wilmot in 1829. It is a story that takes a number of unexpected twists and turns, establishing ancestral links for the poet in other parts of Shropshire and much further afield.

Wilfred Owen’s immediate family background

Wilfred Owen was born on March 18th 1893. His parents Tom Owen and Harriet Susan Shaw were married at St Oswald’s on December 8th 1891. Tom Owen was described, in the marriage register as a clerk, of Underdale Road, Shrewsbury. In the 1891 Census, he was listed in Shrewsbury, living with his parents, aged 28, and described as a railway accountant. Susan, aged 24 at the time of her marriage, was the daughter of Edward Shaw of Plas Wilmot.

After the wedding the couple lived at Plas Wilmot with Susan’s father (Susan’s mother Mary Salter Shaw had died only days before the wedding). Tom and Susan Owen had four children – Wilfred and Mary born in Oswestry in 1893 and 1896 respectively, and then, after Edward Shaw’s death and the sale of Plas Wilmot, William Harold (1897) born in Shrewsbury, and Colin (1900) born in Birkenhead. The family moved back to Shrewsbury in 1907.

Edward Shaw had moved to Oswestry from Herefordshire in 1850 – he was a successful ironmonger with premises in Bailey Street, and later in Cross Street. He was a magistrate, a councillor, and Mayor in 1869. He was one of the four churchwardens at the time of the major rebuilding of St Oswald’s in 1872/74.

Edward Shaw moved to Plas Wilmot as a result of his marriage in 18571 to Mary Salter, one of five children of Edward and Mary Salter, the builders of Plas Wilmot. Mr Shaw’s bride had inherited Plas Wilmot 15 years earlier, on the death of her mother. Mr & Mrs Shaw made Plas Wilmot their home; they had four children – Mary Salter Shaw (1860), Emma Yeld Shaw (1861), Edward Gough Shaw (1863), and Harriet Susan Shaw (1867). Mary and Emma were baptised at St Oswald’s, the younger two at Holy Trinity: Susan was baptised on April 15th 1867.

Guy Cuthbertson’s biography Wilfred Owen (2014) referred to Edward Gough Shaw as “the wild child; in a respectable God fearing family he was the changeling, very different from his parents and siblings. He was in fact born over the border in Wales and it was as if the Welsh birth made him the clichéd wild intemperate Celt among the thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Shaws” adding that “he was born in 1864 in Llanforda, Denbighshire”. Plas Wilmot, of course, does sit just over the border – it lies just beyond the boundary of the town of Oswestry, in the township of Llanforda, but still in Shropshire. Edward did have an interesting life – possibly a short one. He played football for the Oswestry town club and for Wales – three matches for Wales between 1882 and 1884 – and at some point in the late 1880s, or possibly after the death of his mother in 1891, he appears to have emigrated to America and to have lost contact with his family in the UK.

What biographies of Wilfred Owen say of his family background

There is a focus on the Salter family and their long links with Oswestry’s history. Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen, a new biography (2002), wrote that “There had been Salters in Oswestry since the 13th century or earlier, their name and wealth originating from the brine springs of Shropshire and Chester” though he does acknowledge that “establishing links beyond [the early 18th century] might be difficult”. This statement may be traced back to local historian Isaac Watkin (1920) who, when describing the 18th and 19th century Salters, commented that “The Salters were a large family about the time of Henry III and their home appears to have been in Oswestry, though it is said they made their wealth by manufacturing salt from the brine springs of North Shropshire and Cheshire”.

There is also a focus on Plas Wilmot, quite properly, as Wilfred Owen’s birthplace, and on Edward Salter as the builder of Plas Wilmot, having made his fortune in Chester. Dominic Hibberd noted how “Edward trained as a joiner, no doubt under the supervision of his father the timber merchant and at an early age went to Chester to make his fortune”.

Biographies are generally silent on Edward Salter’s wife, Mary. Dominic Hibberd described her simply as a local girl, describing how Edward Salter had returned to Oswestry from Chester in 1820 “to marry a local girl, Mary Cross Simpson”

What led me to carry out the present research

My starting point was a pair of articles published in the St Oswald’s Parish Magazines in April and May 2015, written for the magazine’s ‘From a historical perspective’ series, on the ‘ladies of Plas Wilmot’. I had written these short essays after noting how one of the monuments included in a list of the monuments in the churchyard of St Oswald’s prepared by the historian Askew Roberts in 18832 commemorated three ladies: “Mary relict of the late Edward Salter of Chester”, who died in February 1842 aged 42; “Mary Cross Cowper relict of C.C. Simpson of Worcester” who died in December 1844 aged 76, and Harriet Salkeld (transcribed by Askew Roberts as Harriet Salter) who died in February 1860 “in the 90th year of her age”.

My interest had been tripped by the recent focus on Plas Wilmot, in relation to planning proposals which appeared to threaten its immediate surroundings; also, the campaign to ensure that the house was listed, given its significance as the war poet’s birthplace.

The more attention I gave to the topic, the more doubts grew in my mind as how Edward Salter would have had the means to develop Plas Wilmot. He died young, aged only 32 – would he have had time to make his fortune in Chester? Would he have needed assistance from others? And how did his young family manage to keep the property going after his death in 1830?

Source material

The talk is based upon research using, principally, the following:

  • Parish registers – for Oswestry, Chester, Worcester, and elsewhere – making use in particular of the Shropshire material available online via Find My Past;
  • Newspapers, making use of the resources available online via the British Library Newspaper Archive; and the London Gazette;
  • Wills – via the National Archives, Ancestry, and local archives;
  • Some correspondence – for example to Salisbury Cathedral.;

1. The Salters in Oswestry’s mediaeval history

The names Salter and le Salter occur regularly in Oswestry’s mediaeval history, for example:

  • Early surviving property deeds for Oswestry, such as a deed of the first half of the 13th century, witnessed by John le Salter, and two deeds of the second half of the 13th century one recording the purchase of land called Bradley – modern day Bradley Fields – by Alice, widow of John le Salter, and the other recording the purchase of property in Wilesystrete – modern day Willow Street – by Richard son of John le Salter;
  • In 1265, an enquiry was undertaken at Westminster following a complaint by Alice le Salter against the Mayor and bailiffs of Winchester “that 28 sacks of wool which her men were taking to London from Winchester Fair had been arrested at Guildford”;
  • The Inquisition Post Mortem for John FitzAlan, lord of Oswestry, from 1272, includes the names of John le Salter, Richard le Salter, Philip le Salter and Alice le Salter;
  • In 1301, an early FitzAlan survey recorded that Isolde le Salter then held 9 burgages in Oswestry;
  • The two earliest surviving Oswestry wills are those of Richard le Salter (1335) and of Richard son of Richard le Salter (1373);
  • Records of those who served each year as bailiffs for the town – two bailiffs being elected each year until 1674 when the position was replaced by that of Mayor – show that on many occasions between 1315 and 1495 one of the bailiffs was a Salter.

That said, the name Salter then drops out of local records, with only isolated instances from 1500 onwards. There are no further Salter bailiffs prior to the abolition of that role in 1673 and there were no Salter mayors in the years between the creation of the post of mayor of Oswestry in 1673/74 and the changes to the Oswestry Corporation brought about in 1835. Also, examination of Oswestry’s parish registers indicates only 7 Salter entries between 1558 and 1603, and then none at all between 1603 and 1760.

It seems unlikely therefore that there was a direct link between the mediaeval Salters and the more modern Salters from whom Wilfred Owen was descended.

2. Edward Salter and his family, their role in Oswestry’s history; their origins

Turning to the more modern-day Salters, unusually we can be confident in pinpointing the date of the family’s arrival in Oswestry – courtesy of apprenticeship records which show that in 1743 Joseph Salter was apprenticed to John Gardiner (d. 1765), an Oswestry clockmaker, his father paying a premium of £7.

Joseph Salter was the son of Richard Salter of Little Ness and his wife Ann. Richard and Ann had married in 1725 at Meole Brace – he was described as of the parish of Baschurch, she of Shrawardine. Joseph was born in December 1726, and baptised at Little Ness, a chapelry of Baschurch. A daughter Elizabeth was born a year later. It is probable that there was another son, Richard, although I have not found a baptism entry. I suspect Richard may have been the first born; he died in 1796, a farmer from Myddle, and was buried at Baschurch.

Joseph Salter then, possibly as a second son, was apprenticed to a clockmaker in Oswestry, in 1743. It is probable that he served the usual seven-year apprenticeship, to 1750. It is possible that he returned to Little Ness at some point since, in January 1758, when he married Jane Jackson of Ellesmere, at Ellesmere parish church, he is described as of the parish of Little Ness. Also, their first child, Robert, was baptised at Baschurch in November 1758. However, soon afterwards they must have moved back to Oswestry as the remaining four children, born between 1760 and 1765, were all baptised at St Oswald’s – Richard son of Mr Joseph Salter of Cross St watchmaker and Jane in January 1760, Thomas in September 1761, Jackson in March 1763, and Sarah in October 1765. For the first three Oswestry baptisms, Joseph is described as a watchmaker, of Cross Street; for the last, in 1765, he is described as a clockmaker. There appears to have been a further child – another Sarah “base child supposed of Joseph Salter by the body of Eliz. Pigeon” – born and baptised in September 1771.

His legitimate daughter Sarah died aged 15, but the four sons all prospered. Robert, the eldest, followed his father into watch making and subsequently traded from premises in Bailey Street as a seedsman; Jackson became a successful printer; and Richard served in the Army, being described in 1814 in the parish registers as ‘Gent’, living in the Candy, and in 1816 as captain of the local militia. His monument in the churchyard, from 1849, names him as Captain Richard Salter, the Candy. One of his sons, another Jackson, born in Londonderry when his father was serving in Ireland, was another printer and bookseller, and Mayor of Oswestry in 1866. Thomas Salter, the third son, born in 1761, became a successful Oswestry timber merchant; he was the father of Edward Salter, the builder of Plas Wilmot.

Joseph Salter had a long and successful life. Watchmaker, clockmaker, he also traded in timber, and had a portfolio of other business interests – including those of his sons. He served as churchwarden at St Oswald’s in 1763. He died in 1800 – his will survives at the National Archives – and Joseph refers in it to each of his sons, and also to the will of his brother Richard Salter.

Thomas Salter married Elizabeth Moody at St Oswald’s on August 7th 1792. Elizabeth was the daughter of Richard Moody, a shoemaker, and subsequently landlord of the Bell. Thomas Salter had premises at the rear of the public house, off Lower Brook Street, for his timber business. Thomas and Elizabeth had several children; Edward, the eldest son, was born in 1797. Thomas outlived his son Edward: he died in 1838, aged 77; his widow, Elizabeth, lived on to 1852, and was 79 years old at the time of her death.

Turning to Edward Salter, the builder of Plas Wilmot, we have noted Dominic Hibberd’s comment that he had “trained as a joiner, no doubt under the supervision of his father the timber merchant and at an early age went to Chester to make his fortune”. It is not clear when exactly he moved to Chester. He was living there at the time of his marriage at St Oswald’s on November 17th 1820, the church register describing him as a bachelor of the parish of St Martin, Chester, with his bride, Mary Cross Simpson, listed as a spinster of the parish of Oswestry.

After the wedding, Edward returned to Chester with his wife Mary – and he lived there for the remainder of his life, until his early death in January 1830. Their children were born between 1821 and 1829; all were baptised in Chester. Their daughter Mary was the first, born on September 3rd 1821 and baptised on February 6th 1822. In the baptism registers for each of their children Edward is described as a joiner. For the christening of his first child, at St Mary’s, the family’s address was given as “Walls”. For the final three children – Edward (sometimes known as Edwin), Harriet and Francis – the baptisms took place at Holy Trinity, with the family’s address given as St Martin in the Fields, Chester.

Evidence from the Chester Courant of December 25th 1821 shows that “Mr Salter builder” had contributed £20 to the subscription fund towards the £1,000 fine imposed by the Court of King’s Bench on Alderman John Williamson, former Lord Mayor of Chester, the fine being “for corruption in the execution of his office” in relation to the 1820 elections. In August 1823, a report in the Chester Courant showed that Edward Salter builder was a member of a grand jury assembled to hear cases before the Chester City Sessions. Other press reports indicate that he was also appointed to serve on the grand jury in 1825 and 1828, and was also involved in the running of the Chester House of Industry, as one of the elected Guardians of the Poor for St Martin’s parish.

The Chester Advertiser of February 4th 1825 included a notice headed “Handsome family cottage” in which Mr Salter, builder, advertised to be let “the comfortable and beautifully situated house, called Woodbine Cottage, in Eaton Road within the city of Chester, comprising every convenience for a small genteel family, with stable, coach-house and other convenient out offices” with 3 acres of land and “a large garden attached to the premises, well stocked with choice fruit trees”. Might this have been Edward and Mary’s own home and suggest that the family may have moved at around this time to St Martin’s Fields, immediately to the west of the city centre, and within the walls.

In October 1826, the Chester Chronicle included a notice that “the partnership carried on in the city of Chester between John Williamson [presumably the former Mayor] and Edward Salter as carpenters under the firm of Williamson & Salter was dissolved by mutual consent on the twenty second day of October instant, and the business in future will be carried on by the said John Mr Williamson”. Another notice, in the Chester Chronicle of September 7th 1827, announced that “Edward Salter carpenter and joiner respectfully informs his friends that he has commenced business in the above line in the Yard and Premises adjoining the Northgate, and hopes by the strictest attention to their orders to merit a share of their patronage and support”.

So, in 1827 it is clear that Edward Salter was looking forward to a new business venture; in April 1828, he was elected, quite possibly re-elected, as one of the Guardians of the Poor; and in August 1828 he served again on the Grand Jury. The family seems to be settled in Chester, with Edward Salter involved in city life. However, the following year, by July 1829, detailed preparations for the new house at Plas Wilmot were well underway, with construction works commenced by August of that year.

Details preserved in a notebook preserved in the local collection of Oswestry Library indicate that Edward Salter was closely, and personally, involved in planning and supervising the building of Plas Wilmot. Headed ‘Notebook giving details on the building of Plas Wilmot on Edward Salter’s croft at Croes Wyllan 1829’, this fascinating document includes lists of the labourers employed on the job, the carters paid for carrying building material to the site, and wages paid from August to December 1829. Turning the book around, starting at the back, there is a copy of a memorandum of agreement between Edward Salter of Chester and James Payne of Oswestry, for the manufacture of 40,000 bricks on site; there are also agreements with Henry Evans of Oswestry to undertake the brickwork; Thomas Richards, carrier; Edward Evans, slater; Charles Miller of Oswestry, mason; Mr Stokes for plastering; and Mr Eyeley for painting. The notebook shows that slates came from Llanrhaeadr; lime from Coedygo; and stone from Sweeney Mountain.

However, on January 15th 1830, the Chester Chronicle reported Edward Salter’s death on January 10th, “after a long illness”, at the age of only 32. Edward died leaving his wife Mary, aged only 30, with four children to look after, aged from 8 years to 2 months of age. The youngest child, the boy Francis, was christened in Chester on January 28th, less than 3 weeks after his father’s funeral – both services taking place in Chester.

Plas Wilmot may still have been incomplete, still in need of completion and fitting out. Was the new house planned by Edward Salter for an early retirement, or at least a period of recuperation? Was it planned by Edward in the knowledge that he might not have long to live, so that his young family would be settled?

3. Edward Salter’s wife, Mary Cross Simpson and her parents.

We have seen that Mary Salter, formerly Mary Cross Simpson, was described in the marriage register as “of the parish”, and therefore seen by biographers as a local girl. However, although clearly living in the parish in 1820, evidence will show that she was not particularly local.

Mary was the daughter of Mary Cross Cowper Simpson. Along with Harriet Salkeld, theirs are the names recorded on the aforementioned gravestone in St Oswald’s churchyard. She died in 1842 and, according to the inscription, was 42 at the time of her death – and therefore would have been born around 1800, though as yet I have not found a baptism record.

It seems likely that she moved to Oswestry with her mother at some point between 1815 and 1820. It is not clear why they chose Oswestry, but records of the time indicate that other individuals and families with the income to support a comfortable lifestyle were moving to the town and the district. A brief report in the Morning Post, for July 22nd 1815 headed ‘Fashionable departures’ records the departure, I believe from London, “for Oswestry, Salop” of “Mr and Miss Simpson”. I strongly suspect that this is a misprint and it should have read “Mrs and Miss Simpson”. If mother and daughter did indeed arrive in Oswestry in July 1815, Mary would have been around 15 years old, and her mother Mrs Cross Simpson around 47 or 48. The husband and father, Mr Simpson, had died in May 1815. The Salisbury & Winchester Journal for May 15th reported that “On Thursday last William Simpson Esquire of Berwick St John died at his lodgings in this city” [Salisbury]. Other newspapers of the time, and also the monthly Gentleman’s Magazine, reported the death of “William Cross Simpson, Esquire, formerly a banker of Worcester”. His body was buried at Salisbury Cathedral – cathedral records indicate a stone on the south side of the cathedral cloisters, and confirm that William C.C. Simpson, amended to William Cross Simpson, died on May 11th, and was buried on May 18th, with the burial register giving his age, 48, and his abode Berwick St James.

I had identified Mary Salter’s father, and noted that he had been a banker in Worcester – but for some considerable period struggled to get any further. It was as if I had too many surnames to work with – Simpson, Cross and also the name Cowper included on the St Oswald’s gravestone and in the burial register entry for 1844. However, I was reassured when I read Mary Cross Cowper Simpson’s will3, dated 1843 and with two codicils of the same year, which refers to her grand-daughters Mary and Harriet Salter and grandsons Edwin and Francis Salter, as well as to Harriet Salkeld, and to her own late mother Mary Fewtrell of Worcester. Moving quickly on to Mary Fewtrell’s will4, of 1814, I was pleased to find that this referred to her daughter Mary as the “wife of William Cross Simpson Esquire” confirming that I was on the right trail.

Next I came across the will of Harriet Salkeld from 1860 – being keen to establish what the link was between her and Mary Salter. The 1851 Census listed Harriet Salkeld, described as an annuitant5, living at Plas Wilmot with the 29-year-old Mary Salter; Harriet’s birthplace is given as Shrewsbury. I swiftly found other references to Salkelds in Worcester and in Shrewsbury, and then found the will of Hannah Salkeld6, a tea dealer, who died in 1817 in Shrewsbury; the will referred to children including a daughter Harriet.

Using Find My Past, I soon found the marriage, at old St Chad’s, Shrewsbury, in August 1770, of William Salkeld and Hannah Cross of the parish of St Alkmund’s, which seemed to provide the link that I was seeking to explain Harriet Salkeld’s connection to Mary Cross Simpson and her daughter. Harriet Salkeld was William and Hannah’s first child – though it was much later that I found her baptism as although she was born in Shrewsbury in 1771 or thereabouts she was baptised much later, in January 1816 at St Martin’s, Worcester, along with her brother William. Also, an advertisement in the Shrewsbury Chronicle for May 25th 1776 showed that William Salkeld had business ties with Thomas Cross, wine merchant, of Ludlow, samples of whose Herefordshire cider could be tasted at Salkeld’s coffee house on Pride Hill.

By this time, a visit to Worcestershire Archives had enabled me to find details of the marriage on July 20th 1786, at St Nicholas’ church, in Foregate Street, Worcester, of Mary Fewtrell, spinster of the parish of St Nicholas, and William Cross, bachelor, of the parish of Clifton, in the county of Gloucester7. Comparing these details with those in Mary Cross Cowper Simpson’s will of 1843, and her mother Mary Fewtrell’s will of 1814, confirmed that William Cross of Clifton and William Cross Simpson Esquire were the same man.

Use of the British Library Newspaper Archive – looking for references to William Cross in Clifton, and in Worcester – identified several references to William Cross’s business dealings. These were not always entirely successful dealings – a banking business, in Worcester, in Ledbury, and also in Lombard Street in the city of London; and a wine merchant’s in Tewkesbury all appear to have failed during the financial crisis of 1793, leading to the dissolution of partnerships, and several years of creditor meetings and court action, reported in the local press, and in the London Gazette. For example, the Hereford Journal of June 26th 1793 included a notice alerting readers to the dissolution of the partnership behind a bank known as Hankins, Mutlow, Cross, Embury and Glover. Likewise, the same newspaper for October 11th 1797 included a notice pursuant to a court order issued against Joseph Glover, William Edwards, William Cross and John Embury, bankers of Worcester.

Returning to William Cross’s family background, I searched again for other Cross references in Clifton, and found the will of James Cross, distiller, of Clifton, dated 1786, with a codicil of 1788, the will being proved in July 17918. This refers to James Cross’ business interests in distilling, and in brewing, maltings, and wholesale spirits, in both Bristol and Bath, and describes his new house in Clifton – with grounds, gardens, orchards, hot houses, a coach house and stables – recently purchased from Edward Elton of the city of Bristol.

In relation to his second son William Cross, described in his father’s main will as one of a number of men with whom he was involved in the distillery business, James Cross changed his bequest through a codicil so that William would be paid £3,000 within two years of his father’s death rather than having an equal share with his siblings in his father’s estate. James added that the £3,000 would be paid less deductions of any sums of money already advanced or to be advanced to his son “for his promotion in the world”.

James Cross’ will named his wife Sarah, and his sister in law Ann Hosier (to whom he bequeathed £100). Searching for a marriage between a James Cross and a Sarah Hosier I found a match in the Ludlow parish register for November 20th 1762. Find My Past soon provided details of James and Sarah’s children, born in Ludlow: Thomas, baptised in October 1763 (he died in 1767), Sarah (baptised October 1764), James (baptised November 1765), William (baptised on November 25th 1766), and a second Thomas, baptised in May 1768. Other children were born after the family’s move to Bristol, which seems to have taken place in the year or so following the second Thomas’ baptism.

It seems likely that James (father not son) was born in 1740, son of Thomas and Margaret Cross, who died in 1785 and 1783 respectively. Thomas Cross was the wine merchant who, we have seen, had a presence in Shrewsbury via William Salkeld’s coffee house. Thomas Cross may also have done some distilling: there are Ludlow deeds from this time indicating the family’s interest in distilling, and the presence of two stills at premises in Mill Street, Ludlow.

Therefore, it seems that James, the son of a successful Ludlow wine merchant, moved south to Bristol, with his wife Sarah and their young family and, in Bristol, developed significant interests of his own in the distilling and brewing businesses. Their son William, who was living in the parish of Clifton in 1786 at the time of his marriage, appears then to have moved to Worcester, where he became a partner in a local bank9. He was living there in some style: by 1792, possibly earlier, he was living at Thorngrove, and he appears to have remained there until the turn of the century, the house being put up for sale in 1801. An advertisement in the Gloucester Journal of July 13th 1801 indicates that “the capital and commodious mansion house called Thorngrove situated in the Parish of Grimley”, three miles from Worcester, was to be sold “by order of the High Court of Chancery” in relation to bankruptcy proceedings against “Joseph Glover, William Edwards, John Embury and William Cross, late of the city of Worcester, bankers, bankrupts”. The house was “delightfully situated on an eminence commanding a view of the River Severn and a beautiful prospect over the most fertile country terminated on the south west by the grand and much admired range of Malvern Hills, and on the north by the more picturesque one of Abberley”. The house had “five rooms on a floor, the dining room being 33 feet 6 inches by 20 feet 7 inches, the drawing room 20 feet by 16, and other rooms of large dimensions, with closets, cold and hot baths”. There were stables, a coach house, malt-house, hop-kilns, outbuildings, as well as pleasure grounds and shrubbery walks, a large kitchen garden, and a “circular stone-built gothic green-house”, the house being set in 130 acres of grounds.

Ten years later, in July 1811, Thorngrove was the home of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother who had been captured by the Royal Navy in 1810, and permitted to live in some luxury in England – first at Ludlow, then at Thorngrove. Later it was home to the African explorer Sir Samuel Baker.

William Cross, his wife Mary and their infant daughter (the future Mary Cross Simpson, wife of Edward Salter), had to move on from Thorngrove, but it was not to a life of poverty. In 1807 William’s address was Leith Vale, a substantial house with grounds on the Surrey/Sussex border, and at the time of his death in 1815, he was living in Berwick St James north of Salisbury. Clearly the family were used to fine living.

But where did the name Simpson fit into all of this? That remained entirely unclear to me until, when searching the London Gazette for more details of bankruptcies, I found, alongside the details of creditors’ meetings and dissolved partnerships, a notice, from April 28th 1807, which solved the puzzle. The notice announced that king George III had been pleased to grant unto William Cross of Leith Vale, in the county of Sussex, and of Lincoln’s Inn, esquire, student of law, eldest surviving son and heir of James Cross, late of Clifton … “his royal licence and authority that he and his issue may assume and take the surnames of Cowper Simpson in addition to his present surname of Cross, and that he and they may bear the Arms of Simpson quarterly with those of Cross … in compliance with the desire of John Simpson of Westgate House, near Louth, in the county of Lincoln … from the particular esteem and affection which he has long borne for the said William Cross and being himself without children”.

And who was John Simpson? Westgate House was described as “lately erected, altered and improved under the minutest inspection and direction of an eminent surveyor” containing “numerous large lofty well-proportioned rooms” including “a spacious entrance hall” approached by a double flight of stone stairs, a breakfast and tea room, drawing room, dining room “communicating by large mahogany folding doors”, a saloon decorated with views of the Isle of Wight “designed and executed by that ingenious artist Mr Murant of Ludgate Hill”, and a large library room, along with “excellent arched cellars”10. A report in the Stamford Mercury indicates that “John Simpson Esq. a West Indian merchant [and] lately Member of Parliament for the borough of St Michael’s in Cornwall” had distributed “a very large quantity of prime beef, potatoes and strong beer” to around a thousand poor people of Louth11. However other press cuttings – from 181012 indicate that he too had his financial problems and had to sell up, and move to London. An advertisement in the Stamford Mercury of May 18th 1810 announces the sale on June 1st at the Fleece Inn, Louth, of Westgate House, together with between 70 and 80 acres of land, and the contents of John Simpson’s wine cellars. Clearly the house was not sold as, on March 18th 1811, a further notice was published in the Stamford Mercury, adverting a forthcoming sale, this time at Westgate House itself, indicating that the house belonged to “Mr John Simpson of Mark-lane, London, merchant”. Like William Cross, John Simpson had at one point been a partner in a bank, in his case in Southampton.

Where and when he had come into contact with William Cross is not clear. It is quite possible, though at this stage pure speculation, that it was in the West Indies.

Finally, then to Mary Salter’s mother – Mary Cross Cowper Simpson, formerly Mary Fewtrell.

As we have noted, she was from Worcester. Married in 1786, she would have been born in 1767 or 1768 (again I have not found a baptism record). Her father was James Fewtrell, innkeeper of the Hop Pole, in Foregate Street in the very centre of Worcester. The Hop Pole was one of the city’s foremost inns – used, like the Wynnstay in Oswestry, for public meetings, auctions and the like (including, in 1797, a meeting of the creditors of William Cross!). Nelson stayed at the Hop Pole when he visited Worcester in 1802.

James Fewtrell was a man of some influence in Worcester: he was treasurer to the commissioners appointed to provide a water supply, better paving and lighting for the city, and in that role, he gave evidence to Parliament in 1780. He died in 1782.

Her mother was another Mary. She, then Mary Woodcock, and James Fewtrell had married in on June 27th 1766 at the church of St Mary-le-bone, Middlesex. James was Mary’s second husband – as Mary Morris, she had married George Woodcock of Worcester in 1760.

George Woodcock had died in February 1762, leaving to his brother the Rev. John Woodcock the “inn in Foregate Street now in my own occupation and which was heretofore three dwelling houses and called the Hop Pole which I hold by lease under the Dean and Chapter of Worcester”, reserving a life interest to his wife13. The Reverend Mr Woodcock died in 1781; he was outlived by his sister in law by another 25 years, Mary Fewtrell being all of 97 when she died in 1816.

Finally, it is worth tracking through, from generation to generation, from will to will, from Mary Fewtrell through to Mary Cross Cowper Simpson and on to Mary Salter, bequests and an interest in looking after the daughters of the family. In James Fewtrell’s will14, prepared in 1780 and witnessed by John Woodcock, the brother of his wife’s first husband, he arranged for a friend Robert Bromley of Abberley, as trustee, to ensure that his wife Mary should receive £200 a year (over and above the sum mentioned in the marriage settlement) for the remainder of her life, so long as she did not remarry – the residue to his daughter Mary (the future Mary Cross – or Mary Cross Cowper Simpson) once she reached the age of 21. In Mary Fewtrell’s will, drawn up in 1814, and proved in 1815, the previous marriage settlement, set out in an indenture of 1776, is set out – she was to have “a power of disposition of the sum of one thousand pounds”. Her will is very detailed, and three men – Charles Thompson of Lincoln’s Inn, and two Worcester bankers William Wall and Elias Isaac – were to be trusted with the £1000 and the remainder of Mary Fewtrell’s personal estate – to invest it all in Government securities and to pay the interest to her daughter. The will spells out that the payments should be made “to my daughter only for her own sole separate use free from the control debts or engagements & intermeddling of her present or any after taken husband” (William Cross Simpson was still alive when the will was prepared), and after her daughter’s death to her children. Finally, Mary Cross Cowper Simpson’s will, drafted in 1843 and proved in 1844, follows the same pattern – rehearsing her mother’s will, and appointing a solicitor George Salter of Ellesmere to look after the trust monies for the benefit of Harriet and Mary Salter – with their two brothers Edwin and Francis provided with separate bequests on condition that their sisters were permitted to continue to live at Plas Wilmot.

4. Conclusions

Wilfred Owen’s descent from the Salters of mediaeval Oswestry is unlikely;
Nevertheless, Wilfred Owen had a very interesting family history on all sides – skilled craftsmen, merchants and tradesman, bankers, distillers, inn holders, and clergymen;
Turning to Plas Wilmot, it is clear that Edward Salter’s wife Mary came from a family background where she would have been used to fine living, and elegant houses;
Finally, there is a strong possibility that it was money from Mary Salter’s side of the family that paid for, or significantly contributed to the costs of building and running Plas Wilmot – and prior to that to the costs of Edward and Mary’s family home in Chester. It is interesting to note, in Edward Salter’s will, that he described his mother in law Mary Cross Cowper Simpson as “my kind friend”, making her and his wife Mary Salter joint executrices of his will and guardians of his children

5. Loose ends

This is unfinished work. There are a number of loose ends, and missing details that further research may uncover.
I want to visit Salisbury Cathedral to see if the memorial to William Cross Simpson remains in place and in view;
I have not tracked down William Cross Cowper Simpson’s will;
It would be interesting to know where Mary Cross Cowper Simpson and her daughter lived when they moved to Oswestry;
Likewise, to understand the relationship between John Simpson and William Cross;
And I have not found baptism records for Mary Fewtrell (c.1768) or for Mary Cross (Mary Cross Simpson) (c.1800).

© John Pryce-Jones, 2017