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Oswestry Town Trail - Willow Street
Willow Street is the fourth main road once guarded by a gate in the town walls. There seem to have been many variations of the street name – among them being Wyllya Strete, Stryd Wylyw, Wulli-Gate. John Pryce-Jones suggests that the most likely explanation is that both street and gate took their names from the Welsh word ‘gwaliau’ relating either to the C13th. town walls or the walls of the castle’s outer bailey. Most of the mediaeval houses in Willow Street were demolished during road improvement schemes in the late C18th and early C19th being replaced with handsome town houses, many of which can still be seen. Like the other gates the Willow Gate was demolished in 1782 and its site is marked by a plaque.
In 1881, No. 1 was occupied by John Dales who, as well as selling furniture and ready made clothes, was a pawnbroker. The previous tenant was a widow named Elizabeth Jones, also a pawnbroker. John married Elizabeth’s daughter and took over the business when Elizabeth died. By 1881, John was also widowed with five children, ranging in age from two to sixteen years, to care for. The two eldest children, sixteen year old Richard and fifteen year old Elizabeth, both worked in their father’s shop. When John died in 1897, aged sixty five, the business was run by his sons.
The shop next door, No.3, changed hands several times in the 1800s. In 1845 it was a shoe shop, then a milliners. In 1864 it was occupied by Robert Jones, a grocer from Bailey Street. Two years later the property was bought by Miss Mary Lloyd of the Bulls Head at No. 9. Miss Lloyd and Mr Jones then did a swap – she ran the Bulls Head at No.3 and Mr Jones transferred his grocery business to No. 9! Miss Lloyd was married about this time to Thomas Hughes but continued to run the Bulls Head until her death. Mr Hughes died in 1876 when their daughter Emily was a baby. Emily was six years old at the 1881 census and Mary Hughes was described as a Refreshment Inn Keeper.
No. 5 was for many years an ironmongers run by the Bickerton family – for about forty years George Bickerton was in charge. According to Thomas Owen, the business was known in the town as ‘Bickerton the tinman’s’ George was a member of the Town council for several years. After his death in 1876, the business was run by his wife, Sarah and son, John. They sold it in 1882 to Mr R Roberts and the shop remained as an ironmongers. 
There was an inn next door known as the Duke of York. After the licence was allowed to lapse in the 1880s it became an outfitters and then a newsagents.
The Boars Head was at No. 11. In the 1870s this was owned by James England who had previously run the George Hotel on Bailey Head. When he bought the property he had the front of the building rebuilt and the interior altered. By 1881, John England was forty years old and married to thirty five year old Elizabeth. At that time they had nine children ranging in age from three months to eleven years. John helped to form the Oswestry Victuallers Association and was a member of the Town Council for seventeen years. He died in 1896 and the Inn was then run by his widow for at least ten years.
No. 15 was known as Old Bank House. As its name suggests, part of the building was opened as a bank in 1792, founded by Richard Croxon of The Lawn, Church Street, Thomas Longueville Jones, a solicitor, Thomas Lovett, a corn merchant, John Sheppard and John Gibbons. In 1828, the bank was known as Croxon, Longueville, Croxon and Jones and by 1893 had become Croxon, Jones and Co. (Old Bank ) Ltd. The directors were Lord Harlech - chairman, Frederick Buller Swete - managing director, Thomas Longueville, Edward Williams-Vaughan, and Martin Benson Lawford. David Roberts was secretary. The following year the bank was incorporated with Parrs Bank and moved into new premises at No. 13, Willow Street. After the Bank moved from No. 15, the frontage was altered and the front entrance moved.
Willow House at one time belonged to Thomas Penson. Thomas Hill, auctioneer and Mayor of Oswestry in 1847 lived there for a time. Dr. J. Sides Davies, the borough coroner, also lived there for several years before moving to The Poplars, further up Willow Street in 1870. After Mr Davies moved out, Willow House was taken by Thomas Whitfield who had moved to Oswestry in 1868.Mr Whitfield and his wife had a large family. By 1881, they had eleven children living at home, with ages from four months to sixteen years. During his lifetime, Thomas Whitfield, as well as running his business as an auctioneer, was a member of the Town Council, Mayor, (1883) and J.P. (1893). He was Secretary of the Oswestry and District Agricultural Society for many years. Over the years the business grew and several of Thomas’s children either joined the family firm or set up in business on their own. In 1881, Thomas was described as a beer dealer as well as auctioneer but by 1900 the business, now known as Whitfield and Son and still being run from Willow House, was concentrating on the real estate market. The firm was now described as agricultural and general auctioneers, valuers and estate agents, and exporters of livestock. Thomas had moved from Willow House to Upper Brook Street sometime between 1900 and 1905. His son, Edward, was living in Willow House and Whitfield and Son had moved to 37, Church Street. Thomas jun. who had started out in his father’s firm now had his own business as estate agent etc. and was living at Bryn Glas, Oakfield Road. He was Secretary of the Oswestry and District Shire Horse Association.
Penson’s Chambers, No. 35, Willow Street was built for Thomas Penson, architect and surveyor. Mr Penson was also a bridge builder but Isaac Watkin suggests that some of the bridges he designed were ‘inclined to be humpy shaped’!  Thomas Penson was born in 1790, the son of another Thomas, county surveyor of Flintshire. Thomas designed many buildings in the area, among them Christ Church, Welshpool and St Davids Church, Newtown. In Oswestry he designed the National School on Welsh Walls – now the Walls Restaurant – and Holy Trinity Church on Salop Road. Thomas’s sons, Richard Kyrke Penson and Thomas Mainwaring Penson were both educated at Oswestry School and then trained as architects and surveyors with their father. Richard became a partner in the firm in 1844 and later moved to Ludlow where he built up a successful practice. Thomas Mainwaring, the younger son, became County Surveyor of Cheshire and moved to Chester. He died in 1864. Thomas senior became a Borough Councillor in 1835, Mayor of Oswestry in 1840 and an Alderman the following year. He died in 1859. Pensons Chambers later became the home of the North and South Wales Bank and is now a restaurant.
Dr. John Sides Davies moved to The Poplars from Willow House. He was a G.P., a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Borough Coroner. Dr Davies died in 1881 aged about forty four. After his death, William Spaull moved in. Mr Spaull was an architect and surveyor with offices, in 1879, at 4 and 5, Albion Chambers, Oswald Road. He was then a Town Councillor. By 1900, William Spaull had moved to The Gables, 24, Upper Brook Street and was surveyor for the Richmond Building Society and Diocesan Surveyor for St Asaphs.
No. 55 was the birthplace, in 1869, of Sir Henry Walford Davies. He was appointed Master of the King’s Musick in 1934 after the death of Sir Edward Elgar. Sir Henry was a chorister at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and for seven years, until 1890, was organist of the private chapel in Windsor Great Park. He studied at the Royal College of Music and, for a while joined the staff there before moving on to become organist of the Temple Church and conductor of the Bach Choir. He was appointed as director of music to the Royal Air Force in 1917. Sir Henry was a composer but became more well-known for his work as a broadcaster, illustrating his talks with live piano music. In 1919 he became Director of Music at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and in 1927 became organist at St. Georges Chapel, Windsor. He was knighted in 1922 and died in 1941.
From about 1854 to 1871, 72, Willow Street had been used as a school, run by Miss Elizabeth Roberts .The novelist, Barbara Pym was born there in 1913. By the time Barbara’s sister, Hilary, was born in 1916, their father, Frederick, a solicitor, had moved the family to a house on Welsh Walls. A few years later, the family moved again, this time to an Edwardian house, Morda Lodge, which had a large garden, a coach house and paddock. Barbara and Hilary attended Queen’s Park School, a local private school, then, at the age of twelve, Barbara was sent to boarding school at Liverpool College, Huyton. Barbara’s first attempt at writing a novel was very much influenced by the writing of Aldous Huxley. Her first novel, Young Men in Fancy Dress, about a group of men living the life of ‘Bohemians’, was written when Barbara was sixteen. In 1931 she went up to St Hildas College, Oxford to read English Literature. Her first published novel, in 1950, was Some Tame Gazelle. By 1961, she had had six novels published. Two years later, another novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, was rejected by her publishers. She sent it to other publishers but, even after revision, it was still rejected. Two other books, The Sweet Dove Died and Quartet in Autumn were also rejected by publishers. In 1977, after an article in the Times Literary Supplement, Quartet in Autumn was published by Macmillan and was short-listed for the Booker Prize and The Sweet Dove Died was published the following year. Barbara had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1971 and had a mastectomy which seemed successful. However the cancer returned and could not be treated and she died on January 11th. 1980. An Unsuitable Attachment and two other novels were published after her death.
One other character living in Willow Street in the first half of the C19th. worth a mention was Peter Piozze (also spelt Poizzi, Piozzi ). Peter, an Italian, was married in Oswestry on February 1st. 1830 to Dorothy Muarmone. They had a shop next to an old public house, The Grapes, where they sold toys and curiosities and where Peter made barometers. Peter apparently said he could teach anyone to speak Italian in one lesson. After being paid, he revealed his method which was to add the letters ‘io’ to any English word! Thomas Owen says that Peter and his wife would get cross with children staring into the shop and would shout ‘….if you vant to buy come in; if not, run ava’, run ava’. Owen also says that Peter was known as Peter Posy and that the children had a rhyme that they would sing to tease the old man. ‘Peter Posy’s gone to gaol, For knocking a nail in a horse’s tail’  Peter died in 1850 at the age of seventy six.
Further along Willow Street was the Willow Street Academy, run by Owen Owen. In 1881, the school had fourteen boarders aged from ten to twenty four. Owen was unmarried and aged thirty at the time of the census. Twenty three year old Richard Hicks was schoolmaster and Mary Williams school housekeeper. Richard was born in Brussels. Two years later the school had moved to The Lawn, Church Street and was known as the Boys High School.
1. PRYCE-JONES John, Street-names of Oswestry (1997)
2. OWEN Thomas, Personal Reminiscences of Oswestry 50 Years Ago. (1904)
3. WATKIN Isaac, Oswestry (1920)
4. Familysearch.org. IGI
5. OWEN Thomas, op cit