Ellesmere is a small market town and ancient parish in Shropshire, near Oswestry in the north of the county. The ancient parish extends to the borders of Denbighshire and the Maelor detached part of Flintshire, with the township of Penley lying in the latter county. The town stands on the banks of a vast lake, from which its takes its name, though Ellesmere the lake is known locally as "The Mere". Several other prominent lakes lie across the landscape hereabouts, known as "the Meres".
The town sits on the bank of 'The Mere', one of the largest natural lakes in England outside the Lake District and one of nine glacial meres in the area. These meres are different from those in the Lake District in that they do not have a flow of water into them to maintain the level.
An artificial island in the Mere was constructed in 1812 from soil dug out during the making of the gardens at Ellesmere House. This was later named Moscow Island, as Napoleon was forced to retreat from Moscow that year. The Mere has a visitors' centre and is popular with birdwatchers, many of whom visit to see Grey Herons nesting. There are eight other meres nearby: Blakemere, Colemere, Crosemere, Kettlemere, Newtonmere, Whitemere, Sweatmere and Hanmer Mere.
Ellesmere Castle was probably an 11th-century motte-and-bailey castle most likely built by either Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, or his son Roger the Poitevin at Castlefields overlooking the Mere. Only its earthworks now remain, with the top of the motte being used for the bowling green, which still commands a fine view.
In 1114, King Henry I gave Ellesmere to William Peverel as a part of the estates of Maelor, which included Overton and Whittington at that time. His descendants retained Ellesmere until apparently the late 1140s when the lordship was acquired, probably by force, by Madog ap Maredudd Prince of Powys. Madog died in 1160 and Ellesmere came into the hands of King Henry II.
In 1177 King Henry II gave the manors of Ellesmere and Hales in England to Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, who already had a castle at Rhuddlan and was, by this time, the sole ruler of Gwynedd; Dafydd's wife was Emme of Anjou, half sister of King Henry. Dafydd remained Lord of Ellesmere until his death in 1203.
In mid-April 1205, King John granted the manor of Ellesmere to Prince Llywelyn (the Great) of Gwynedd as a wedding present when he married the King's illegitimate daughter Joan. (Llywelyn was also a grandson of Madog ap Maredudd who had held the manor in his own days.)
In 1231 King Henry III ordered an attack on Ellesmere but Llywelyn retained control until his death in 1240. In 1241, King Henry ordered John Lestrange to repair the wooden castle of Ellesmere. The manor and its castle appear to have remained with the Princes of Gwynedd until the rebellion of Llywelyn the Last. The castle fell to royal troops from Chester during March 1282.
By 1294, the preceptory of Dolgynwal (Ysbyty Ifan in Denbighshire, on the banks of the River Conwy) had been united with Halston, which was subsequently the administrative centre for all Knights Hospitaller estates in North Wales. Dolgynwal, which had been founded c. 1190, had acquired Ellesmere Church, its most substantial property, from Llywelyn the Great in 1225
In 1435, Griffin Kynaston, Seneschal of the Lordship of Ellesmere, (born at Stocks of landed gentry - descended from the Princes of Powys), gave evidence at Shrewsbury to confirm the age of John Burgh, Lord of Mowthey, sponsored by Lord John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, Lieutenant of Ireland. Griffin's fourth son, Sir Roger Kynaston, was appointed for life as Escheator and Sheriff of Merioneth and became Constable of Harlech Castle and Sheriff of Shropshire. Through his second marriage to Elizabeth Grey, their descendants derived royal descent. Humphrey Kynaston, the son of Roger and his second wife Elizabeth Grey were, in 1491, declared an outlaw by King Henry VII and took shelter in a cave in the west point of Nesscliffe Rock, called to this day "Kynaston's Cave". He was pardoned in 1493.
The former Marcher Lordship of Ellesmere, once a Hundred in its own right, was annexed to Shropshire and the Hundred of Pymhill by the Laws in Wales Act 1535.
Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley, was born Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, in Ellesmere in 1800. A patron of the arts, in 1848 he purchased at auction for 355 guineas from the estate of Richard Temple-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, the only known (or suspected) portrait of William Shakespeare in existence. Ellesmere Island in Canada was named after him.
There was a tannery located on the edge of the Mere in what is now known as Cremorne Gardens. These gardens were given to the people of Ellesmere by Lord Brownlow who was heavily involved in the Edward VIII abdication crisis of 1936.
The town lies on a spur of the Llangollen Canal, which eventually terminates at Pontcysyllte near Wrexham. It was originally known as the Ellesmere Canal. Thomas Telford was overall director of its construction. Work lasted from 1793 to 1805 with the aim of reaching the coast at Ellesmere Port (named after the town), but it never got that far due to costs and eventually the triumph of the railways. During its construction, Telford lived in a house next to the canal in Ellesmere, which still stands today.
Ellesmere no longer has a railway, but it was once on the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway main line of the Cambrian Railways. However, the section from Whitchurch to Welshpool (Buttington Junction), via Ellesmere, Whittington, Oswestry and Llanymynech, closed on 18 January 1965 in favour of the more viable alternative route by way of Shrewsbury.
Ellesmere was also the terminus of the Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway branch line to Wrexham (Central), via Overton-on-Dee, Bangor-on-Dee and Marchwiel. This line closed on 10 September 1962. Ellesmere railway station still stands but is now converted to offices.
Sights about the town
- Ellesmere Old Town Hall - Ellesmere's most notable building, built in 1833.
- The Boathouse Restaurant and Visitor Centre - alongside the Mere
- Oteley Hall and Park, built for Charles Kynaston Mainwaring in 1827. How ever the Hall had to be re-built during the 20th century after a fire destroyed the building.
- Cricket: Ellesmere Cricket Club
- Football: Ellesmere Rangers FC
- Maelor Saesneg - The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust
- Pictures of Ellemere and the area on Geograph.co.uk
- Ellesmere castle
- BBC panoramic view of mere
- 'The Romance of Fouk le fitz Warine' an epic tale involving Mellett de Ellesmere
- Ellesmere Carnival
- Ellesmere Cricket Club
- British History online - Knights Hospitallers and the preceptory of Halston
- Archaeological Society, British (1871). Collectanea Archaeologica. p. 223.
- Remfry, P.M., Whittington Castle and the families of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, Peverel, Maminot, Powys and Fitz Warin (ISBN 1-899376-80-1)