Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town

Much of the town’s history is pretty bloody. Sieged and plundered in the 11th century, in 1283 David, the last of the Welsh princes, was tried and executed in Shrewsbury and then in 1403, at Battlefield just north of the town, the Battle of Shrewsbury was fought. Hotspur was defeated, killed, hanged drawn and quartered in the town near to where there is a new High Cross. Much of Shrewsbury’s history is directly linked to the Castle which shares a small collar of land with the railway station. The red sandstone building has been altered on several occasions, not least when it was refurbished by Thomas Telford for use by the local MP, Sir William Pultney. Before you leave the castle grounds do take a look at the garden and at Laura’s Tower, which Sir William Pultney had built by Telford in honour of his wife.

Over the road from the Castle the old school buildings have been converted into the Library (closed Thursdays, the day I went). When, in the course of rebuilding, they took out the panelling they found that not only had the boys scratched their names on the panels, but also their predecessors had done the same thing on the stonework. Outside is a bronze statue of Charles Darwin, whose father was a local doctor. Darwin was born at The Mount in 1809. It is a large house with a high wall and he invented a device to reach over the wall to steal the plums and peaches from the next door garden. Darwin went to school at ‘Dr. Butler’s great school in Shrewsbury’, and then to Edinburgh to read medicine, but he soon gave up and from there went to Cambridge, and later voyaged on The Beagle.

Among some of Shrewsbury’s other famous sons and daughters are Mary Webb the author; Lord Robert Clive, Clive of India, who was mayor and MP; Admiral John Benbow; and Lord Hill, the Duke of Wellington’s right-hand man who has erected in his honour the most enormous, Nelson-sized column, along Telford’s Holyhead Road. It is ‘the highest Greek Doric column in the world’ at 1331/2ft.

There are more than thirty churches in Shrewsbury. St Mary’s is at the centre of the town with one of the highest stone spires – the other dominant outline is that of St Alkmund’s. Over Quarry Park is St Chad’s, a church with a circular nave.

You might start a walking tour of Shrewsbury at the station. It was opened on 12 October 1848, is late perpendicular in style, and was built by Thomas Brassey to serve the Chester and Shrewsbury Railway. There are, in Shrewsbury, whole blocks of the half-timbered houses, their wooden-framed mortices held together by wooden dowels and then wattled and daubed. Among the best are Rooke’s House, Ireland’s Mansion, Rowley’s Mansion, the clusters of them around Bear Steps and those up Wyle Cop.

One of the most interesting of all the stone buildings is the Old Market Hall (1596) where the Magistrates’ Court sits. At one end of the hall a statue of Richard, Duke of York, stands in an alcove having been brought here from the old Welsh Bridge, and at the other end is a sundial. Nearby is the Music Hall, which was built in 1840 and houses the information centre. One of the great puzzles of Shrewsbury is how the streets and passages, or ‘shuts’, got their names: Mardol, Wyle Cop, Pig Trough, Grope Lane? Many of these passages are lined with houses built between 1575 and 1630, their upper floors leaning in towards each other. Another thing you might notice are the wide lower window frames which were used as the counters or ledges on which the goods were set out for sale. In some places everything seems confused, with one building crowding on to another, but then you remember that when they were built, in the great building boom period between 1575 and 1630, space was something of a problem. To that extent, there is very little difference between the layout of many parts of the town of Elizabethan times and now. Space is still a Shrewsbury problem.

There is one thing that has changed over the years, and that is the look of the town’s parks. Shrewsbury was extremely fortunate to have Percy Thrower, the Nation’s Head Gardener, as its parks’ superintendent for so long. Percy’s handiwork is still very much in evidence in many of the town’s parks and gardens.

Another change that has come to Shrewsbury is more regrettable, and that is that the river, so much a feature of the town, is nowadays so little used because it has almost silted up. A pity, I think. Although they do hold a regatta on it each year, it can cope with little more than skiffs, canoes and coracles.