In1913, John Ayscough’s book Gracechurch was published.

John Ayscough was a pseudonym for Francis Drew Bickerstaffe (1858-1928). Francis’s mother, Elizabeth (more commonly known by her second name, Mona) moved in 1864 or 1865 to “a small town near the Welsh border of Shropshire” where, following the death of her husband, married Charles Brent of that town who, according to the 1870 census, was 25 years old to her 40.

That little border town was Ellesmere, the setting of Gracechurch. The story of John Ayscough and, indeed, that of his mother Elizabeth, is in itself fascinating – but one that is too lengthy to pursue here.

Instead, I turn to another late resident of Ellesmere, Ellen E. Adams (1887-1971) of 10 The Greenway. During the big freeze-up in January and February 1963, Ellen took it upon herself to write and comment on Gracechurch.

Written in an exercise book, Ellen identifies chapter by chapter the characters and places, thus bringing to life a novel which, although well-written, is a product of its time.

Chapter One: Gracechurch was Ellesmere; Rentminster was Shrewsbury; Sal Fish; Colonel Grace was Major Cust. The four Miss Gibbs were Miss Jebb, Miss Patty, Miss Ellen (German governess) and Miss Fanny. They lived in the corner house next to Cremorne.

Dr Hart was Dr Roe, who lived in the house Dr McGregor now occupies. He drove a spanking little pony and dog cart and kept a groom. Very austere but a good doctor. The Miss Windsors were the Miss Wynns who lived at Gladwyn in Victoria Street. The Miss Shrimptons were the Miss Sheratons who lived at the top of St John’s

Hill in Fairview, now called Sheraton House.

Mr Windsor, or Mr Wynn, was a semi-invalid and I think had been wounded in the Boer War (1899-1902). The two Mr Gibbs, or Jebbs, went away and became engineers, one at Chester, who my little brother knew very well. The youngest Mr Sheraton was a great bowler on the green and always wore a brown suit and bowler hat to a match. I believe he was keen on a bit of horse racing in a quiet way, always gave the messenger boy 6d if he took a telegram to say he had won something.

Miss Jones (Miss Fosters) were the Pontons who kept a school for boys in Victoria Street, opposite Gladwyn. The Miss Ives may have been the four Miss Tabors but I am not sure as they had a brother who went to Australia. Lord Gracechurch was, of course, Lord Brownlow and he and Lady Brownlow were a tall and very handsome couple. They always came on a visit to Ellesmere House in August and Lady Brownlow helped judge the entries at the old flower show in Cremorne.

The present Lord Brownlow is named Peregrine. Thorncroft was Hawthorn House in Victoria Street, opposite the Chapel, but used to be where Hughes Garage is now. Sal Fish was a real person – I’ve heard mother talk about them all. Jefferies confectionary shop was noted for muffins as well as buns and light cakes, and he went around the town with a little bell to call the attention of customers at teatime. I can remember it well and stood where Coopers electric shop is with small square panes in the windows.

Chapter 2: Counting Handkerchiefs. Rev John Knight was a Rev Day and vicar of Ellesmere. He built the old infant school midway up St John’s Hill for a preparatory school for the sons of poor clergymen, and they were usually boarded in the old Victorian houses, which still remain on St John’s Hill.

The school was of solid oak and had lattice windows with a thatched roof. I remember it well and have a watercolour painting of it, which was copied from an old drawing.

Two Bishops (Lincoln and Wakefield) were educated there and also the Rev John Peake, vicar of Ellesmere, who was the first vicar I remember. Wheatley Park was Oteley Park and the Kynaston Mainwarings were then in possession. The Ayscough lodgings were at Watergate, now where Mr Hyde lives and the blue window on the landing is still there, overlooking the back of the Mount garden.

The Red Lion was probably the headquarters of the Cavalry – or the North Shropshire Yeomanry, as it is now called. The old cavalry field where they drilled was on the right-hand side of the road about halfway to Tetchill. It still goes by that name.

Chapter 3: Miss Smollet’s Ring. Primpley was Trimpley. The old brewery house is where Charles Moore lived in later days and the brewery and malt kilns were around the corner beyond it on the Oswestry Road. Ellesmere was full of public houses in those days, with two or three in every street. The old brewery in Market Street was a flourishing concern, even in my young days, is now owned by Fulwood and Blands. Magnolia House was most likely where Mr Prince (Price?) Jones lives in Scotland Street. Pentrehiland appears to have been Criftins Church as it extends towards the Welsh border on the north-east side of the parish.

Oswestry was the nearest town to Wales, though the Trotting Mare Inn on the Overton Road was the nearest point to Flintshire. Trimpley leads to Llangollen, so the Oswestry Road, Chirk and Overton were the usual routes.

Chapter 4: The Billington Pew. Miss Mildstone’s house was where Miss Welshford now lives and is called Lloran House. The Cross Keys was where the garage now stands in Church Street, next to Pinfold Lane. Early service was, of course, Holy communion was held daily, even up to my time, and so called by many people. Jeremy Kiln was probably a man called Jimmy Murray, who dealt in rags and bones and rabbit skins. The Co-op store was built on his bit of wasteland in Scotland Street.

I remember Dr Roe (Dr Hart) as a child – he always kept his hat on inside the house. He was very outspoken.

Sir James Billington lived at Hardwick Hall. The Lady Chapel, where his pew stood, was really St John’s Chapel, where there are memorials to the Kynaston family who later lived at Hardwick.

The Rev John Kynaston was one-time rector of Hordley but his son, Major Kynaston, and grandson were both military men. The latter is now in residence at Hardwick. There is a tomb which contains an effigy of Sir Francis Kynaston who may have been an ancestor and also a connection of the Mainwaring family in St Anne’s Chapel.

This used to be called the Oteley Chapel. The two families were connected years ago in some way, hence the names Kynaston-Mainwaring.

Just a note to say when transcribing records spelling and punctuation have in general been left

as written. I did, however, leave out a short reference to whom Ellen believed John Ayscough to be, as it was inaccurate and could have caused some confusion.