There are not many streets whose names are directly linked to their history, but Wingfield Gardens (and the Close of the same name) in Ditherington, Shrewsbury, is one.
The Wingfield family is first recorded in Shrewsbury in 1608, having probably come to Shropshire from Norfolk via Derbyshire. After the Civil War they were able to acquire property at a knock-down price from the disgraced Royalist Sir Vincent Corbet. On this they built the hall at Preston Brockhurst, where they lived till they acquired the Onslow Estate, on the Welshpool Road not far from Bicton, in 1780. Succeeding generations of Wingfields considerably enlarged the estate, mostly by buying adjacent properties. In 1820 John Wingfield (1769-1862) built a splendid neo-classical house, and supervised the landscaping of the park.
The Wingfields had a long tradition of public service, and John Wingfield was the fourth member of his family to become Sheriff of Shropshire in 1824, and the third to become Mayor of Shrewsbury in 1833. After his death, his nephew Col Charles George Wingfield (1833-91) inherited the Onslow Estate, and in 1873 he, too, become Sheriff of Shropshire. Described as ‘a gallant solder and true English gentleman’, he was invalided out of the army due to wounds sustained in the Crimean War. His son Charles Ralph Borlase (CRB) Wingfield (1873-1923) inherited the Onslow estate when he was just 17. He became the epitome of a late Victorian gentleman, being a public servant, an army officer, and all-round sportsman, as well as being actively involved in the management of his estate, delighting in doing hard manual work. He was described as ‘a man whose genial good nature and real human sympathy endeared him to everybody he met.’
Sporting excellence ran in the family. An uncle, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (1833-1912), is credited with the invention of lawn tennis in 1873, and CRB Wingfield’s own sporting prowess was extraordinary. He was actively involved in yachting, motor car and motor boat racing, gliding, ballooning and fishing, and excelled at skiing and potholing. He still holds the record for the longest recorded ski run (96 miles) undertaken in England, and his pioneering exploits in potholing resulted in a ledge being named after him in the Gaping Gill shaft complex in Yorkshire. During the First World War he was commissioned into King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and from 1916 he fought on the Western Front, rising to the rank of Lt Col and commanding his battalion. Typical of his dry humour, he compared trench warfare to potholing!
Although CRB Wingfield was not an elected member of the Shrewsbury Council, in 1911 he was asked to become Mayor, to be a figurehead for the celebrations to mark the coronation of George V. He was so popular that he was elected for a further year, and was also Mayor in 1914, when he welcomed George V to the Royal Show. At Wingfield’s instigation, in May 1912, using a charitable society’s gift, the Council bought nearly six acres of land for £800 in Ditherington, on which Wingfield Gardens and Close were built. In all there were 62 good sized houses, which were originally rented for 3s6d to 4s6d weekly. This was one of the earliest Council estates in Shrewsbury. After the war CRB Wingfield continued his charitable work, being active in helping to support ex-military personnel and their families. Sadly, he died unexpectedly in 1923 after an operation.