A villa on the southern outskirts of Oswestry, originally dating from 1829 with later additions of c.1838, c.1870, 1897 and 1937.
Reasons for Designation
Plas Wilmot, a suburban villa of c.1829, added to in the later-C19, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic Interest: Plas Wilmot is the birthplace of Wilfred Owen, who is acknowledged as one of the foremost poets of the period of the First World War. He lived at the house, which was owned by his grandparents, for the early years of his childhood, and its influence on his later life is well attested by members of his family and his biographers.
* Architectural Interest: the building reflects its design in the 1830s and the later additions by the Salter family, to which Owen was related. Later additions, added after Owen’s family sold the house in 1897, are of lesser interest.
The earliest part of the house dates from c.1829 when the original villa, with three bays facing south over the gardens was built by Edward Salter, together with a stable block to the west which his wife appears to have built after his death c.1838. This was added to c.1870 with additions to the stable, coach house, kitchen, scullery and wash house. In around 1897 the north side of the house was extended, with a new entrance hall and porch and first floor bedrooms, together with new wing containing pantries and a nursery. This wing was again extended by a further bay in 1937.
The family of the poet, Wilfred Owen, built the house and he was born there on 19 March 1893, reportedly in the first floor central bedroom overlooking the garden which has a segmentally vaulted ceiling. The house was shared by his grandparents, his mother and his father, who worked as a station-master. Owen’s early childhood up until the age of four was spent at Plas Wilmot. His younger brother, Harold, later retold a popular family story ‘It was here that Wilfred hand in hand with my mother and father would watch with ecstasy the manoeuvres of the miniature ship as it steamed around and across their lake. One of his earliest and most treasured memories was of the day when the little ship caught fire in midlake, and of my father plunging into the water fully clothed and swimming out to submerge it.’
Following the death of his grandfather, the house, its grounds and most of its contents had to be sold and Owen’s biographer, Dominic Hibberd (see SOURCES), describes this as ‘a bitter and very public humiliation’. The importance of the influence that this genteel start in life, followed by an imagined fall from privileged grace, is outlined in a number of biographies of Owen, including the relatively recent work by Dominic Hibberd who has written that ‘Family memory later gave the last five years at Plas Wilmot a mythic status, representing them as the final summer in the Garden of Eden’. The family often talked about the happier times that they had known in Oswestry, and their first house, after the move to Canon Street, Shrewsbury, was named 'Wilmot House'. Their last home, in Emmer End near Reading, was also called 'Wilmot' in honour of their earlier home.. Owen himself referred to his family in a letter to a friend 'recalling our reminiscences of the common fountainhead of our existences known by all as the 'old Home' (see SOURCES, Owen and Bell).
Owen's stature as one of the great poets of the early years of the C20 is well attested. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (see SOURCES) records him as 'now generally regarded as a war poet of the first rank. His bleak realism, his energy and indignation, his compassion, and his high technical skills (he was a master of metrical variety and assonance) are evident in most of his work.'
On leaving Oswestry, Owen led a peripatetic life, with his family and then on his own, living first at Shrewsbury and then at three separate addresses in Birkenhead within the space of seven years, then back to Shrewsbury and latterly in Bordeaux between 1913-14 while teaching English prior to his return to England to sign up for the army. Few places have as firm a place in his life as Plas Wilmot, and although he did not, on his own admission, start to write poetry until he was ten years old, it is clearly the place which meant the most to him from the period when his imagination was being formed.
After contracting trench fever on the Somme, Owen was sent as an invalid to Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh where he met Siegfried Sassoon who encouraged him in his writing. Owen returned to France in 1918, where he was awarded the Military Cross. He was killed on the Sambre Canal a week before the Armistice. His poetry was mostly written in a burst of creative activity between the summer of 1917 and the autumn of 1918 and, although few of his poems were published in his lifetime, his work increased in popularity following the publication of a collected edition by Edmund Blunden in 1931, and increased yet further when used by Benjamin Britten in his War Requiem which was first performed for the opening of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. A further collected edition of his work, edited by Cecil Day-Lewis was published in the following year.
MATERIALS: Red brick and coursed rubble with a slate roof.
PLAN: two storeys. The villa faces south overlooking the gardens and there is a carriage sweep before the northern entrance front.
EXTERIOR: the south (garden) front has three bays to right, symmetrically disposed, which formed the outline of the original house. The central bay projects slightly and has a shallow gable. At ground floor it has a pair of French windows with margin glazing and above these is a sash window of sixteen-panes. At either side on both floors are twelve-pane sashes. A continuous stone band runs across this part of the front at the level of the first floor window sills. To right of this is a lean-to conservatory added in the 1990s. At left, and recessed is an addition which appears to date from the 1870s and c.1897. This has a doorway with timber porch to the ground floor and sash windows to the first floor. To left again and projecting is the gabled addition of c.1897, which was again extended in 1937. This has pantries to the ground floor and the nursery at first floor level which has two sash windows at first floor windows with cambered heads. The north (entrance) front has a projecting porch to left of centre with a hipped roof. Its panelled and half-glazed door is flanked by two small sashes with arched heads. To left of this is an addition of c.1897, with two bays of sash windows containing plate glass. At right of this is walling which appears to date from the original building of 1829, but with two bays of windows which were inserted at the end of the C19 with brickwork surrounds and stone dressings which appear to date from 1897. At far right is another addition of c.1897 which has a single sash to the ground floor.
The service court is attached to the west side of the house and is roughly rectangular in shape. It has a stone range to the south side with a stable door to the ground floor with a pitching eye set in a later gable to the first floor. The west side has a wide through-arch with basket arch to left of centre. At left of this is a stable door and to its right is a set of wide, wooden garage doors. There is a small, leaded turret with weather vane to the ridge of this range which was added in the early-C21. The north side has three pig sty doors at left. These have lost their front enclosure walls which are shown on early Ordnance Survey maps. At right of these are a shed with lean-to roof and a gabled workshop range with doors to either end, between which is a casement window of four lights. The workshop is connected to one of a pair of gate piers with hinge stones and moulded stone caps which form an entrance to the enclosed yard.
INTERIOR: both floors have panelled doors to the majority of the rooms. The ground floor has herringbone parquet flooring which appears to be of C20 date. The majority of the fire surrounds have been changed in the C20, although one in a bedroom appears to be of c.1829. The central bedroom on the garden front, which is believed to be the room in which Wilfred Owen was born, has a shallow, oval, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Pantries have fixed, slate counters on brick stands and shelving with iron brackets.