Photo by: The Wrekin Toposcope at Sunset (Anth Rowley)

It’s Not All Ancient!

Our Explore The Wrekin website is largely dedicated to the natural heritage of the famous Midlands landmark and the extraordinary forest landscape that surrounds it. However, for many of the 100, 000 annual visitors to the area, equally fascinating are the numerous manmade structures dotted around its hilltop. This is a place where Bronze Age settlers began to make their mark at least three thousand years ago but many of the features we see today are far more recent in origin. This month, we are joined by Anth Rowley for a fascinating guide to all things modern atop The Wrekin Hill… 

The Wrekin is a dominant feature within the Shropshire landscape, described as ‘The Monarch of the Plain’ in Samuel Harrison’s 1851 ‘History, Gazetteer and Directory of Shropshire.

Many of the people who climb the Wrekin – and many of those who have never done so – will be familiar with the history, folklore, tales, myths & legends that surround the Wrekin. 

However, not everything is ancient or surrounded by legend. If you walk to the Wrekin’s summit you can be forgiven for not realising the significance or stories behind the more modern aspects that you pass by. They are so obvious & ever present that you may not even take that much notice of them.

The Triangulation Pillar 


The Triangulation Pillar at Sunset (Anth Rowley)

The Wrekin’s summit area is home to three Ordnance Survey (OS) trigonometrical stations. The most obvious being the concrete Pillar that sits next to the Toposcope. It is probably one of, it not the, most photographed trig points in Shropshire. This position has been thesite of a trig point since at least the 19th Century. In his ‘Handbook to the Wrekin’ that was published in 1895, the author R. E. Davies writes ‘to the summit, which is marked by the mound placed there by the Government officials at their last survey’.

But the Triangulation Pillar – or Hotine Pillar (to give its official description after its designer Brigadier Martin Hotine) – has been in location since 1936. The original 19th Century trig point will have been destroyed when the Pillar was constructed as almost as much of the Trig Pillar is below ground than above.

The OS classification for the Trig Pillar is Primary Pillar TP0712. It was first used to triangulate the angles, measurements and thus distances to other Trig Stations in June – 1936, being one of the first Pillars that was constructed in the country. It was last used by the Ordnance Survey for such purposes in 1991

The Pillar is home to an OS Benchmark Flush Bracket – OSBM-2980. Made from brass, the Flush Bracket would be used by the OS Surveyors to position a Staff to measure its exact height. This would then inform its height in relation to other Benchmarks via Spirit Levelling.

The Pillar also hosts a memorial plaque to a local OS Surveyor – Andrew Rochelle who died in 2006

The Television Transmission Control Station and Tower


The BBC Transmitter Tower on The Wrekin (Anth Rowley)

Despite – according to my two lads – my great age I don’t remember the Wrekin without the Television Transmission Tower being present. You now won’t see many pictures or diagrams without it being featured. But it has only been in place when its construction was completed in 1975.

Proposed in the mid-1960s, it took a while for permission to build the Station & Tower to be granted as it not only would have been slightly conspicuous within a local beauty-spot, it also meant construction taking place within the Iron-Age Hill-fort of the Cornovii. Despite local protests & objections, the necessary permissions were eventually granted for the construction of the 171-feet tall (52-metres) Tower and the Transmission Control Station. Within the latter the Transmission Engineers sit to look at & twiddle buttons & switches so that we can watch TV. 

The Control Station building is easily missed as it sits below the crest of the summit line. But if you venture towards the Tower you will see that it sits on the Control Station’s roof. You will also see the Control Station if you ascend the Wrekin up one of the paths that cross & climb the Hill’s north-face.

The Ordnance Survey took advantage of the Tower’s construction to utilise it as a Trigonometrical Station – TP11470. It is classed as an Intersected Station. This means that measurements would not have been taken from the Tower, but because of its prominence, it was used as a fixed point for other Trig Stations to measure to.

To mark the new Millennium, in 2000 red flashing lights were positioned on the Tower to act as a new Wrekin Beacon. Like its predecessor (see below) catching a first glimpse of the Beacon provides travellers returning home to Shropshire with the knowledge & comfort that they are nearing the end of their journey

The Wellington Rotary Toposcope


The Wrekin Toposcope at Sunset (Anth Rowley)

To commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Wellington Rotary Club commissioned a Toposcope to be positioned near to the Wrekin’s summit. The result was a large steel disc that is positioned onto a stone cairn. Inscribed onto the Toposcope through 360-degrees are 41-locations with their distance from the Wrekin. The original intention was that all 41 of the locations should visible from the Wrekin’s summit. However, this isn’t the case. One of the locations detailed – Mount Snowdon – cannot be seen as the bulk of Cadair Berwyn is in the way.

What it also doesn’t explain is why the particular 41-locations were chosen; but the reason might be down to the Ordnance Survey and its Trigonometrical Stations. Of the 41-locations, 39 are or were the site of an OS trig station. Only Buildwas (Ironbridge) Power Station and Trench Pool do not fall into this criterion. However, it is easy to argue that both have enough local interest & significance for them to been included on the Toposcope.

By 2005, the original Toposcope had seen better days. It is not only open to the elements but it is also an easy perch for someone looking for a rest after the climb to the summit or to pose on for a photograph. The 30-years of battering & buffing had eroded & worn away the inscriptions. Therefore, a replacement Toposcope was made and which now sits on the same cairn as the original.

The World War Two Searchlight Station and Battery


The Remains of a Wrekin Searchlight Battery (Anth Rowley)

At the Wrekin’s summit without even knowing it you can be standing within a Scheduled Monument; the remains of a WWII Searchlight battery. These remains are circular enclosures that would have housed the Searchlights, Sound Locator, Weapons Pit and Command Post. The Battery was positioned as a defensive measure to counter any incursions by the Luftwaffe (the German airforce) against the Buildwas Power Station. To those unaware of their presence, the remains are just lumps & bumps, but when pointed out their form is clear.

The relevant Historic England entry for the Searchlight battery is:

During World War II a searchlight battery was established on the summit of The Wrekin in order to detect enemy aircraft. It would have consisted of searchlights, a command post, a sound locator, and weapon pits for light Anti-aircraft guns. Remains of the searchlight battery lie within the southern part of the univallate hillfort close to the south west entrance. The positions of the searchlights are indicated by four regularly placed circular embanked enclosures in a straight line, each about 8.5m across, with a central depression in which a searchlight, 90cm in diameter, would have sat. The larger embanked oval enclosure would have served as a command post, close to which would have been the sound locator for pinpointing the position of enemy aircraft prior to the use of the searchlights. Three weapon pits, circular embanked enclosures about 5.5m in diameter, are located a short distance away to the south west and north east.”

These enclosures may one day receive some physical protection or be left to flatten and return into the ground. Until then, if more people become aware of their existence their understanding the Wrekin’s strategic importance along with how the Hill has added to the local fabric of history – both ancient and recent – will continue to grow

The Wrekin’s Beacon


The Base of the Former Wrekin Beacon (Anth Rowley)

Over the Centuries, Beacons or Bonfires have been sited on the Wrekin to mark occasions such as a Monarch’s Jubilee or to warn of impending doom. The latter role was famously referred to in Lord Macaulay’s ode to the defeat of the Spanish Armada, ‘streamed on the wind, The Wrekin’s crest of light’ when forewarning of the flotilla’s arrival. But during WWII a Warning Beacon known as a Pundit or Chance light was placed on the hill in 1942. A number of aircraft had crashed into the Hill during poor weather or at night and the Beacon was to aide RAF and USAAF pilots.; the latter based at nearby RAF Atcham as part of the 495th Fighter Training Group.

By the mid-1960s, the Ministry of Defence no longer had a use for the Warning Beacon resulting in being switched-off in 1964. But, over the years, the Beacon had attracted local affection, with representatives from the Wrekin Beacon Preservation Trust campaigning to have the Beacon reinstated. It switched back-on in 1965. Its new life was short lived. By August 1970 the Beacon had been permanently switched-off and dismantled.

The only physical evidence that remains of the Beacon is the concrete base on which it stood and the bolts that fastened the Beacon in place.

The Third Triangulation Station


The Surface Block of the Third Triangulation Station (Anth Rowley)

The third of the Trigonometrical Stations and the least obvious is the square stone block to the northeast of the Toposcope. It sits next to the concrete base of the original aircraft warning beacon.

The trig point’s official nomenclature is Warning Light Hill, paying homage not only to the Aircraft Warning beacon but also to the Wrekin having served as a fiery outlier since at least Tudor times.

This OS official classification for the TP8532 – Surface Block. Still present within the block is the original bolt which the OS Surveyors would have used to true the alignment of their theodolites before taking their measurements of distances & angles to other Trig Stations.

The Wrekin Rifle Range

Inside the Target Trench of the Rifle Range (Anth Rowley)

Away from the Wrekin’s summit area towards the bottom of the Hill’s north-face and between the roadway known as the Wrekin Course (the route of a former horse track) is the former MOD Rifle Range based on the target gallery format.

The history of the site indicates that it was originally built circa 1880s for use solely be the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. However, it was used by the wider military community during WWI and following an extension circa 1928, it was used extensively during WWII by the KSLI but also the Shropshire Yeomanry, Home Guard and those units detailed to protect the numerous RAF bases in the nearby area.

It is now Grade II listed.

The Ordnance Survey map of 1889 shows that the Rifle Range was 900+ yards in length straddling the Wrekin Course. Over the period of its use the length of the range shortened to approximately 300-yards.

By the 1960s the Range was used by the local Cadet Forces and the Wrekin Rifle Club. It stopped being used in the early 1980s after 100-years of service. Though it is now overgrown the structure and the 12 Hythe pattern target frames remain in place within the area behind the protective wall It seems likely that the configuration of the target gallery is from pre-WWII.

Along with the Gallery, there is more evidence of the previous existence of a Rifle Range on the Wrekin. On the pathway known as the Beeches Avenue are old MOD signs warning people of the danger from a military firing range

Our thanks to Anth for this brilliant article and the accompanying images! To read more of his writing on the geography and local history of east Shropshire you can also visit his blog, here

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