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Local find shines a light on Shropshire’s Hill Family

An exquisite ring uncovered by a metal detector in Shropshire has links to one of the county’s most important families.

The mourning ring. Photo: Shropshire Museums
The mourning ring. Photo: Shropshire Museums

In 2019 Tim Saylor, who was visiting North Shropshire, made a remarkable find whilst metal detecting. The ring he discovered tells the story of a women whose contributions to the creation of one of Shropshire’s finest historic houses has all too often been overlooked.

Sarah Stubbs came from Kingsley, Staffordshire and was the eldest daughter of John Stubbs of Saw.  She married John Hill of Wem, who was working as an apothecary on 12 February 1699.  John was around 43 when he married, and it seems that Sarah was just 18.

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John was the younger brother of Richard Hill, who became known as the “Great Hill” (1654-1727). Richard had inherited Hawkstone on the death of their father in 1700 and, being immensely rich, went on to purchase additional land in Shropshire and Staffordshire with John acted on his behalf. 

When John, died in 1713, Sarah moved into Hawkstone Hall with her children.  Curator, Emma-Kate Lanyon says “Sarah was clearly a capable woman, managing the house and land on behalf of her brother-in-law. In 1720, Richard decided to rebuild Hawkstone, much as we see the house and grounds today, and Sarah remained on site to oversee the works.”

As a result of Sarah’s endeavours, her eldest son Rowland, inherited Hawkstone from his uncle when aged 22 and also became the first baronet, Sir Rowland Hill.

When Sarah died on the 10 March 1744 the family, like many other wealth mourners of the period, commissioned a mourning ring.  These rings were given at the funeral to close friends and family members as specified in the will of the deceased.  Sarah’s ring, which was found 275 years later, is of a style popular at the time with elegant wavy hoops or scrolls, with her name death date and age. The bezel is set with clear crystal gemstone.

Chris Langston, local Detecting Host & Tour Guide says ‘As soon as Tim showed me the ring I was gobsmacked and I immediately thought that there may be a slim chance it might be associated to Shropshire’s Hill family and may be connected to Lord Hill’s monument ‘ 

Chris contacted the Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire, and following research by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Shropshire Museums, it turned out that Chris’ hunch was right

“Little did I know that it would shine the light on an almost forgotten but truly inspirational Shropshire woman.” Says Chris.

“If we can uncover Sarah’s Last Will and Testament, we might be able to trace who may have owned the ring,” says Emma-Kate Lanyon.  “For now, we can only imagine who may have dropped it”.

The ring has been kindly loaned to Shropshire Museums for display at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery where is can be seen alongside a portrait of her brother-in-law Richard Hill (attributed to the painter Charles d` Agar and dating from 1700) and her son Sir Rowland Hill (by an unknown artist and dating from c.1750-60). 

It will also be displayed with two fine porcelain trays from a dining set commissioned by the Hill family and decorated with views of their houses at Hawkstone and Hardwick, near Hadnall.  These have been kindly loaned to Shropshire Museums by the Rev. Richard Hayes.

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