The earliest period for which there is definite information on the history of Fordhall is the 12th century. During that century, it is likely that the castle – the remains of which can still be seen on the farm – was built and, by 1200, it is likely that a large farm had been established in the area around the castle.
Neither Fordhall nor the nearest village, Longford, appears in Domesday Book – the great land survey started in 1086 by William the Conqueror. Longford was a big village in the Middle Ages by local standards, with at least twenty households, and it is likely that there was already at least a small hamlet there in the 11th century. Longford township – the later local government unit that included Fordhall – was part of the manor of Hodnet until 1712, making it likely that information about Longford was included in the entry for Hodnet, the chief village in the manor, as happened elsewhere in Domesday Book.
Longford and Fordhall’s parish church was also at Hodnet until the 19th century, although the area served by the chapel at Moreton Say formed a separate unit (including Longford and Fordhall) within the parish of Hodnet and was functioning as a parish in all but name by the 16th century. In the Middle Ages, Longford also had a small chapel of its own, dedicated to St Michael.
Domesday Book shows that this area of northwest Shropshire, on the borders of Cheshire and Staffordshire, was very thinly populated in the early Middle Ages. Outside the small, widely scattered, hamlets there were large areas of wood, heath and moss and it is likely that the area now covered by Fordhall Farm was a mixture of uncultivated woodland and heath before the 12th century.
The Mediaeval Castle at Fordhall
The remains of a mediaeval ringwork stand on a promontory overlooking the river Tern on the south-eastern side of the farm. A ringwork was a circular earthwork, probably fortified with a wooden stockade. It seems to have had a second enclosure – a bailey – attached to it on the northern side. The ringwork itself would have housed and sheltered the human occupants; the bailey would have safeguarded animals.
Small castles were common in the landscape of Shropshire at this time, although a ringwork was among the less usual forms, a motte (mound) and bailey being more common. There were castles three miles to the south on either side of the Tern at Hodnet and Stoke on Tern, the most important local places at the time – the town of Market Drayton was not started until the mid-13th century. There was a castle at Tyrley, two miles up the Tern, and there is some suggestion that there may have been a castle at Bletchley, less than two miles to the west of Fordhall.
Small castles were often built in this period by land-owners to protect themselves, their dependents and their farm-animals just as, a century or two later in this area, big farmhouses were often surrounded by rectangular moats. The times were uncertain and sometimes lawless in this part of the country and, if you had property, you needed to protect it.
In such times, a castle like that at Fordhall may also have had a wider, strategic purpose. From the name of the place, it may have protected a ford – a river-crossing – at this point on the Tern, just as Tyrley Castle was built at the next major crossing to the north, near Drayton. Both Longford and Sutton were among the larger villages in the area in the Middle Ages and Fordhall with its possible river-crossing is on the direct route between them (via Buntingsdale).
Fordhall and its castle were also close to more important routes in the Middle Ages. The A53 follows the line of a route along the north bank of the river Tern that was significant in this period. At Ternhill, a mile to the west of Fordhall, the A53 crosses the A41, which follows in this area the line of the Roman road – the Longford – from the Midlands to Chester. Where Ternhill bridge is now, the Longford crossed the Tern in the 12th century by the next ford along the river south from Fordhall, called the Stratford – the “(Roman) street ford”. The lord of Hodnet had military responsibilities in the Middle Ages – he was seneschal (steward) of Montgomery Castle – so may well have wanted to keep an eye on any movements of armed men along these routes from a vantage point at Fordhall.
Richard Jones & Maude Gould
To read more about the very early history of Fordhall Farm, download our early history file Fordhall History Report October 2010.
To find out more about Fordhall farm from 1866 to 1914 click here