A Little History of Snitterfield, Warwickshire

A Little History of Snitterfield - home 
1831 plan for school at Snitterfield
with a letter from James Trubshaw to Mark Philips

Introduction     Transcript of letter text     Images:  Cover of letter     Letter    Building Plan     


Two of the most illustrious of past inhabitants of the village of Snitterfield, and one with illustrious connections, were William Shakespeare's grandfather Richard, the eighteenth century poet Richard Jago (Vicar of Snitterfield 1754-1781), and in the nineteenth century, a progressive Liberal Member of Parliament, Mark Philips.

Manchester-born Mark Philips was sometime Lord of the Manor of Snitterfield and one of the first two Members of Parliament to sit for his birthplace since King Charles II had deprived it of representation for supporting the Parliamentarians in the Civil War. He determined to improve the lot of his constituents, many of whom were suffering the squalid consequences of depression which in the second quarter of the nineteenth century replaced the earlier boom in the Industrial Revolution. There were high levels of crime, pollution and disease, but in view of Philips's legacy, it would be cynical to remark that the family cotton manufacturing business had helped to create this.
Mark Philips
Mark Philips (1800-1873)

He was instrumental in creating publicly-funded education and also played an important role in establishing the first free public library in the country. He lobbied for the creation of green open spaces for the working people of the city - the first public parks - and donated a thousand pounds towards the project (add two noughts in today's values). In Snitterfield, he and his brother were responsible for improving the housing conditions of many villagers, even if the demolition of half-timbered buildings involved would today have caused a national scandal.

Mark Philips championed free trade and the repeal of the Corn Laws which by restricting imports maintained prices artificially high. The belief was that cheap bread would enable textile manufacturers to drive down wages; in practice, an argument which seems to carry more weight is that when a worker had to spend most of his money on food and little on clothes, he got the worst of both worlds, since his mill owner sold less and had to pay lower wages anyway. Mark Philips was a Unitarian but campaigned for complete Roman Catholic emancipation; his funeral was held in an Anglican church but with the presence of Unitarian ministers. In Victorian terms, he could almost be called a Radical.

One of the public parks became known as Philips Park, in his honour, and a statue of him was placed in Manchester Town Hall. An obelisk erected in his memory on the highest point of his Welcombe estate at Snitterfield will have been seen over the years by thousands of tourists on their way to nearby Stratford-upon-Avon, though many fewer will have known its significance.

By 1831, just before he was elected to Parliament, Mark Philips would certainly have known of builder and civil engineer James Trubshaw, even if he had not actually met him. Trubshaw left school at eleven to work in his father's building and stonemasonry business, and had little formal education after that. Nevertheless, a combination of ingenuity with great practical skill gained him a considerable reputation. He worked in the building of Buckingham Palace, at Windsor Castle,
and on bridges, country mansions, and churches.
Trubshaw pioneered an under-excavation process to straighten the leaning tower of Wybunbury church in Cheshire. His technique was copied 150 years later to arrest the increasing lean on the Tower of Pisa. In building the Grosvenor Bridge over the Dee at Chester, Trubshaw constructed a single stone span of 200 feet, then reputedly the longest in the world, despite the great engineer Thomas Telford having described it as impracticable. It was a project which took him from 1827 to 1833 to complete.

How was it then that such a notable personage should be engaged in an insignificant school-building scheme in a small Warwickshire village? The key is in Philips family and business connections. At that time, Trubshaw was involved in other much more substantial projects in the county, including the rebuilding of Weston House, the site of which is now in the parish of Long Compton. For more on Weston, see A Little History of Cherington and Stourton. The Manor of Weston had been bought by Sir George Philips, Bart., none other than the business partner of Mark Philips' father Robert, and Robert's cousin. Just a dozen miles or so separate Weston and Snitterfield, and it is easy to imagine the conversation: "oh, and when you come down to Weston, could you ...?" Moreover, close to Weston is the village of Great Wolford, where Trubshaw undertook the complete rebuilding of the Parish Church of St Michael, a project finished in 1833.

Weston House
Weston House was demolished in 1934

Weston is referred to in Trubshaw's letter to Mark Philips, as are the preparations for his construction of a horse drawn tramway to Shipston-on-Stour, which he finished in 1836. This was a branch from the tramway completed in 1826, which linked the canal basin at Stratford-on-Avon with Moreton in Marsh, over the county boundary in Gloucestershire. The line was intended to deliver coal from the Black Country to these rural areas and allow limestone and agricultural products to be shipped the other way. By 1899 the southern section between Moreton and Shipston was converted into a proper railway, which survived until 1960.

Finally, a mention should be made of Trubshaw's family. He had three daughters and three sons, all of whom survived him except his eldest son, Thomas, described as an architect of considerable promise, who died prematurely in 1842. One wonders whether this was the son whose illness is referred to in the letter.

James Trubshaw wrote the letter from his home in Little Haywood near Colwich in Staffordshire. The fact that the letter was addressed simply to “Mark Philips Esq., The Park, nr Manchester”, indicates the importance of the addressee. Confusingly, the 120 acres of “The Park” are also known today as Philips Park, like the one which Mark Philips helped to create. The last private owner of the land was Anna Maria Philips, a niece of Mark Philips; it was bought by the Local Authority on her death in 1946. The Italianate villa of the Philips family was demolished in 1950. Originally in the township of Pilkington, which was dissolved in 1894, this second Philips Park now lies within the Metropolitan Borough of Bury, on the boundary of Whitefield and Prestwich, Greater Manchester.

Principal Sources
     Trubshaw: The Dictionary of National Biography; A.W. Skempton, “A biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: vol.1, 1500-1830”, Thomas Telford Publishing for the Institution of Civil Engineers, 2002.
ISBN 0-7277-2939-X.
    Philips: Michael Warriner, “A Prospect of Weston in Warwickshire”, Roundwood Press,. Kineton, 1978. ISBN 9780900093678 (unsold copies, apply Compton & District Historical Society); “Manchester UK” website pages on "Manchester Parks and Gardens" and "Politicians, Law and Social Reformers".

Mark’s surname is often found incorrectly spelt Phillips. Registers of baptism & death confirm that Mr Trubshaw was right, not to mention the names of the two parks.

The contents of these pages may be freely used to non-commercial ends. Please acknowledge the source to help other researchers (www.littlebeams.co.uk, A Little History of Snitterfield section). The original letter and plan have been deposited at the Warwickshire County Records Office, with the Accession No. CR 4404.

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