Although I lived in Shewsbury for two years at the beginning of the millennium, and relocated to south Shropshire from Surrey in 2011 I have not written much about the county town. I do have rather a large number of photos though taken over several years from various visits and since it has quite an interesting history, including buildings of various designs and styles built over a thousand years, I thought it time to set this right.
The first written evidence that refers to Shrewsbury dates back to 901. It refers to Shrewsbury as ‘Scrobbesbyrig’ which indicates that it was then a fortified settlement with ‘Scrobbes’ most likely referring to a scrub covered hill, and ‘bryig’ suggesting the presence of fortifications. Shrewsbury is a stunning historic town with over 660 listed buildings and some very strange street names – Dogpole and Mardol, Gullet Passage and Grope Lane. And there is still disagreement as to whether the modern-day name is pronounced Shrewsbury, or Shrowsbury.
Shropshire is England’s largest inland county with Shrewsbury as the county town. Curled up within a horseshoe bend of the River Severn (Great Britain’s longest river), it narrowly escapes being an island.
A thriving Saxon town it had a mint by the early 900s and following the Norman Conquest, a castle and a monastery. By the 1380s Shrewsbury was the third largest centre after London and York. The town’s heart still remains within the embrace of the river, protected and rich in ancient streets and historic buildings.
Charles Darwin is Shrewsbury’s most famous son and recently voted as one of the greatest Britons. Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire on the 12 February 1809 at Mount House, he was the son of Robert, a well respected doctor, and Susannah a member of the Wedgwood family.
His statue can be found outside the town’s library (12) which started off as the original Shrewsbury School, (The Royal Free Grammar School 1594 – 1630). It was beautifully restored between 1974 and 1983.
The Victorian railway station was built in the same design as the library and opened in 1848 providing a new communications system with its line to Chester. The building was originally 2-storeyed, and was altered by the
insertion of a lower ground floor, in association with the provision of tunnel access to the platforms.
The Norman castle (13) was established by a kinsman of William the Conqueror, Roger de Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Built to defend the county against the Welsh, the western frontier was not determined until 14C. During the reign of Henry II the castle was rebuilt in the red sandstone seen today. The great hall holds the regimental museum.
The castle, churches, fragments of the town walls and some medieval houses are the earliest stone buildings remaining. Four churches remain within the loop of the river, and the Abbey outside it, were founded between the eighth and twelfth centuries. The earliest, Old St Chad’s, (32) collapsed in the 18th century and was replaced on a new site.
New St Chad’s (48) is England’s largest round church. The building caused some controversy but went ahead and was consecrated in 1792. It overlooks Quarry Park and opposite can be found an impressive War Memorial. Charles Darwin was christened at St Chad’s but attended the Unitarian Church in the High Street.
It is inside the churchyard of St Chad’s that Scrooges’s gravestone lies, erected for the film ‘A Christmas Carol’. The churchyard is also a wildlife oasis.
St Julian’s (34) and St Alkmund’s (2) churches were rebuilt during the same century (C1794-5) and St Mary the Virgin (6) stands on earlier Anglo-Saxon church footings, reconstructed by the Normans. (Original structure C12 with several phases of additions and alterations in C14.)
The wooden Saxon church situated in the outskirts of the town was transformed into a richly endowed Abbey, which was mostly destroyed during the reformation. The Abbey (56) was damaged during the Civil War and in the 1830s most of the monastic buildings were wiped out by Thomas Telford’s new road, leaving a refectory pulpit on the opposite side of the road isolated from the Abbey building.
The three thirteenth century friaries established in the north, south and west edges of the town did not fair well. Little remains of them as the Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians faced the anger of the Reformation which was directed at their buildings more than any other. There is a hint of one of the Francsicans’ buildings besides the Greyfriars footbridge – seen in the cottages’ stonework and windows.
In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the Roman Catholics erected a small chapel, which was replaced by a Cathedral (46) in the Gothic style almost a century later along the town walls.
And the United Reformed Church, just across the English bridge, can also be seen in the header photo, is another example of a nineteenth century exterior.
And finally, the Unitarian Church in the High Street, which was originally founded in 1662. It was destroyed by the Jacobite Riots in 1715 and rebuilt during George I reign (c1714 – 27) with the Italianate facade added in 1839. Charles Darwin worshipped here when young and the church also has connections with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Next time we’ll have a look in the centre of the town at some of the more interesting buildings, including the timber-framed medieval halls, Jacobean and Elizabethan styles, and the later Georgian and Victorian influences.
If you enjoy a walk, long or short, then have a look at Jo’s site where you are welcome to join in.