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West Midlands Shrewsbury


Shrewsbury set in a big loop of the River Severn has been an important town since Saxon times. The name comes from ‘Scrobbesbyrig’, derived from the words ‘scrub’ and ‘fortified place’

The area seems to have been first settled in the late C5th or C6th. By the C9th it was a fortified burgh, controlling the Severn river crossing. Old St Chad’s Church dates back to the C7th. Shrewsbury was part of the Kingdom of Mercia and has links with Aethelfled, daughter of Alfred the Great who was responsible for the foundation of St Alkmund’s Church in 912. Nearby St Julian’s Church and St Mary’s soon followed.

The Saxon settlement was protected by an earth rampart topped with a timber palisade and fronted by a ditch which enclosed an irregularly shaped area in the loop of the river. It also had a mint, an indication of its importance.

After the Norman Conquest, William secured the Anglo-Welsh border by the creation of three Earldoms which he awarded to powerful supporters. Roger de Montgomery was created Earl of Shrewsbury. After a Saxon revolt in 1069, he constructed an earth and timber mote and bailey castle as a power base, and effectively controlling the only land entry to the town. He also founded a Benedictine monastery (now Shrewsbury Abbey) across the river on the site of a small wooden chapel.


Shrewsbury became an important place of pilgrimage in the C12th after the Abbot negotiated with the Welsh to acquire the remains of St Winefride from Holywell. Every self respecting monastery needed holy relics and the income from the pilgrims...

The castle was replaced by a stone castle by the start of the C13th.

Richard, I granted Shrewsbury a charter allowing the town to collect dues, elect officials and hold a market.

The town was attacked by Llywellyn the Great in 1121 and received a grant of murage from Henry III, allowing them to build stone walls around the town to protect against further attacks by the Welsh. Only the Town Walls Tower and a short stretch of wall survive.


Another grant allowed the paving of a market place and the building of two bridges across the river, replacing fords.

After the subjugation of the Welsh by Edward I, Shrewsbury Castle lost its strategic significance. Elizabeth I regarded it as ‘superfluous’ and leased it as a private residence to a wealthy cloth merchant.

Shrewsbury thrived in the C16th century and C17th century and many of the splendid timber frame buildings date from then.



After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the monastic buildings of Shrewsbury Abbey were pulled down, and the nave became a parish church.

Shrewsbury School was founded by Edward VI in 1552.

Shrewsbury’s wealth came from the leather industry with skinners and tanners in the town as well as shoemakers and glovers. It also grew prosperous from trade with the Welsh wool. Shrewsbury merchants bought Welsh cloth that had been woven and fulled, but not finished. After finishing, it was sent to London for sale.

The Old Market Hall dates from the late C16th. The coat of arms of Elizabeth I supported by the English lion and the Welsh dragon, is carved above the stone arch. The statue above the main arch is that of Richard, Duke of York who died in 1460. It was originally on Welsh Bridge, but was moved here in 1771 by order of the town mayor.

The upper room used by Shrewsbury Draper’s Company to sell Welsh cloth and lower floor used by farmers to sell corn. Later, the top room used by town’s magistrates court until 1995.

Market Hall.jpg

The Drapers Hall opposite St Mary’s Church, was the meeting place of the Draper’s Guild who controlled the trade in Welsh wool and were a powerful force in Shrewsbury. It is now a B&B.


The town and castle were refortified at the start of the Civil War but fell to the Parliamentary Army. After the Restoration of the monarchy, the castle was gifted to Francis Newport, Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire. His family used it as a private residence until 1775 when it was purchased by William Pulteney, the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury. Around 1780 he commissioned the architect Thomas Telford to remodel the castle. This included a folly, Laura’s Tower, built as a summer house for Pultney’s daughter Laura.

Shrewsbury missed out on much of the growth of the industrial revolution although it remained an important market town and local centre. It was an important coaching town, as stagecoaches traveling from London to Holyhead (for ships to Ireland) stopped at Shrewsbury.

An infirmary was built here in 1743.

English and Welsh bridges were rebuilt in the late C18th and the Shrewsbury Canal opened in 1797

Thomas Telford was also responsible for Shrewsbury Goal which opened in 1793 with 204 cells (179 for men and 25 for women) as well as a debtor’s ward and infirmary.

Telford had warned about the poor state of the old St Chad’s Church and predicted its collapse. Unfortunately he was ignored. The tower collapsed in 1788 and a new church had to be built on a different site.


There were outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1849. although things improved later in the 19th century when sewers were built.

The railway from Shrewsbury to Chester opened in 1848, followed by a railway to Wolverhampton in 1850. Links with the rest of the country were improving.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury was founded in 1851, when the building of a cathedral was commissioned. Originally planned with a tower and spire, it was later found the sandy substrata wouldn’t support these.

In 1924, the castle was purchased by Shropshire Horticultural Society who restored the it, removing of many of the changes introduced by Telford. Further alterations took place in 1985 when the castle was converted to house the Shropshire Regimental Museum.



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Shrewsbury cont...

The Centre of Shrewsbury is compact and easily explored on foot. The layout is best seen from the air.

The old town sits on the high ground at the centre of the loop of the River Severn. After a wet week, the water level was high.


The old churches of St Alkmund, St Julian, St Mary’s and Old St Chad’s are at the centre. Most of the newer modern development is outside the loop.


Quarry Park stands out as an oasis of green at the south west corner of the loop, and has been a public park for over two hundred years.

Castle Street leading from the Castle and Wyle Cop from English Bridge lead up to the historic heart of the town, with the Old Market Hall at the centre. This as undergone complete restoration and is now an arts venue and cafe. It has now been replaced by a new market hall.

The centre of Shrewsbury is an area of narrow streets and even narrower alleys with many C16th and C17th black and while timber frame buildings.



This is an area to be explored on foot with wonderful names like Grope Street, Butcher’s Row, Fish Lane and Bear Steps. This is the place to come for the small independent specialist shops.






Further out and particularly along Town Walls and Beeches Row, are later Georgian buildings.





There is so much to see and do in Shrewsbury. The centre with all its C16th and C17th timber frame buildings is still unspoilt by later and often unsympathetic development. It an excellent shopping centre with a lot of small independent specialist shops - Tanners is probably the best independent wine merchant in the country.

There are the Parade Shops in the lovely old Georgian Infirmary as well as the very modern Darwin shopping centre.

St Mary’s Church is one of the best medieval churches in the area and St Chad’s with its round nave is stunning and very different (even if it wasn’t what the congregation were expecting).

I didn’t have time to visit the Castle or the Museum and Art Gallery, nor enjoy The Quarry.

Another visit is definitely needed and hopefully when the sun is shining!


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Shrewsbury Town Walls

Shrewsbury grew up in a loop of the River Severn. By the C9th, it was a fortified Saxon burgh with a ditch and rampart topped with a wooden stockade. Shrewsbury castle built soon after the Norman Conquest guarded the neck of the peninsula leading to the old town.

In 1215, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth overran the Anglo-Saxon earthworks and ramparts, sacking and burning Shrewsbury. This prompted Henry III in 1218 to command the town's aldermen to improve its defences. Stone walls with watch towers and gates were built with an external ditch, enclosing a much larger area of land. Gate tolls helped pay for the upkeep of the walls.

After Edward I’s defeat of the Welsh, Shrewsbury's strategic importance declined on the Welsh Marches and the upkeep of the walls and towers could no longer be justified. Parts of the walls were demolished during the C18th and stone used as building material. The walls were strengthened during the Civil War after the town fell to the Parliamentary forces.

Little remains of the town walls now, although their line can be followed along Town Walls Street, past Town Walls Tower.


This is the only surviving watch tower of the ten built along the walls. It is thought to have been built around 1400. It is a square stone building with a doorway on first floor.


Little is known of its history once it was no longer needed for defensive purposes. At one stage it was leased to the Warings family who were wealthy wool merchants and was known as Waring’s Tower. It was later called Wingfield's Tower after another occupant.

In the early C19th it was the workshop of a watch maker named John Massey. In the 1860s, it was converted into a dwelling for the coachmen of John Humphreys, who lived opposite the tower in Swan Hill Court. His daughter Rachel Humphreys donated the tower to the National Trust in 1930, although the tower was still lived in until the 1980s. It is occasionally opened by the National Trust.

The only other easily accessible part of the wall is St Mary’s Water Gate which provided access to the river from the town. It is also known a Traitor’s Gate after it was opened allowing Parliamentary Forces into the town during the Civil War. It has recently been restored.


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Shrewsbury Abbey

This was one of the great abbeys in England. Its Abbot sat in the House of Lords and Parliament met twice in the Chapter House. It became popular as the setting for the fictional monk, Brother Cadfael, in the stories by Ellis Peters.


The Abbey was founded in as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 on the site of a Saxon church. He was one of William the Conqueror's chief counsellors and was created Earl of Shrewsbury after the Conquest, being responsible for controlling the border against the Welsh.

The finished abbey church was an impressive building surrounded by extensive monastic buildings. It became one of the most important and influential abbeys in England owning a lot of land and properties. It also became an important centre of pilgrimage after the relics of St Winefride, a martyred North Wales saint were brought here in 1137.

The Abbots of Shrewsbury had considerable power and influence. Edward I held a parliament here in 1283 when the last native Prince of Wales, David II, was condemned to death by being hung drawn and quartered. It was also used for the Great Parliament in 1398 with Richard II.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries, the nave became the parish church and the rest of the buildings were pulled down and used for building stone. The remains of part of the cloister wall can be seen on the south side of the Abbey


The remains of the walls of the transept can be seen on the north side.


St Winefride’s shrine was destroyed and the remains can be seen in the north aisle.

The Abbey was used as a prison for defeated Royalists during the Civil War.

The remains of the abbey buildings were flattened in 1836 to make way for Thomas Telford’s London to Holyhead road. All that is left are the remains of a C14th pulpit from the Norman Refectory in the car park across the road.

Most of the Abbey is still the Norman building with round columns and arches. The west end, tower and side aisles are Gothic with larger windows. The building stone is a slightly different colour. There was a major restoration of the Abbey in the late C19th when additional windows were added in the Norman triforium arches and the east end was rebuilt.



The inside of the Abbey is virtually unchanged with its arcade of round Norman pillars and arches above.


The last bay of the nave is very different, being C14th with pointed arches and a massive stained glass west window.


The east end was rebuilt in the late C19th and has a vaulted ceiling. The altar was designed by JL Pearson. Unfortunately the doors of the triptych were closed when I visited. When open they have a scene of the crucifixion flanked by scenes of Christ’s Passion.


At the end of the south aisle is the Lady Chapel with a modern altar showing the Nativity.


The font is most unusual and thought to have been made from the base of a Roman capital from the nearby Roman town at Wroxeter. The painted cover is C19th.



The rather battered tomb of Robert de Montgomery, founder of the Abbey is in the south aisle.


There are also several unidentified C16th and C17 tombs here too. These were moved to the Abbey from old St Chad’s Church after it fell down and also from St Alkmund’s church when it was pulled down.



The remains of the Shrine of St Winefride is on the north wall.


There is another splendid double tomb at the back of the north aisle, with a simpler medieval effigy.



Above on the north wall is the Royal Coat of Arms and four funeral hatchments.



I have very mixed views about Shrewsbury Abbey. It is very much a shadow of its former self and even though I love Norman architecture, I found St Chad’s or St Mary’s Churches more interesting.

It is worth walking round the outside of the Abbey as the remains of pulled down walls can still be seen.

The Abbey is open daily and there are usually volunteer guides around from 12-2pm. There is a large car park across the road .



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St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Church has a lot going for it. It is the only complete Medieval church is Shrewsbury with the third tallest spire in England. The stained glass is remarkable with the glorious east window and other medieval glass brought from elsewhere in Europe . It also has a wonderful carved wood nave ceiling. And if that isn’t enough, River View have a very good coffee shop in the church with an excellent selection of cakes!


The church dates from around 960 when King Edgar the Peacemaker founded a church on this site. It was a Royal Peculiar as it was under the jurisdiction of the crown and not the diocese of Litchfield.

The Saxon building was replaced by a Norman cruciform church on the mid C12th. This was extended in the late C12th and C13th by the addition of side aisles and arcades. The chancel was extended and two side chapels added. The south east chapel was demolished in the mid C14th and replaced by the Trinity Chapel. In 1470, (during the Wars of the Roses) the central tower was removed and a spire added to the the west tower. The carved nave ceiling was added.

St Mary's plan.jpg

The church escaped any significant damage during the Reformation or Civil War. There was a major restoration by Thomas Telford in 1788 and again at the end of the C19th, when the spire fell through the roof and damaged the clerestory. The top of the tower and spire had to be rebuilt, explaining the difference in stone and colour.

The church was declared redundant in 1987 and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and is open Monday-Saturday 10-4pm.

It is a wonderful church inside, and is definitely worth visiting. Entry is through the west door beneath the tower.


Inside the porch is a tomb of Colonel C R Cureton who died fighting in India in. 1848. On the wall above are Benefactor’s boards.


Entering the church I was struck by the sheer size of the building. It is a mix of fluted Gothic style pillars and round Norman arches.




Don’t forget to look up at the wonderful carved wood C15th ceiling in the nave, which fortunately wasn’t damaged when the spire collapsed.


The C15th font just inside the west door was moved here from St Nicholas Chapel after the spire collapsed.


The lovely carved pulpit is mid C19th and has carved panels depicting the Nativity, Crucifixion and the Ascension. Between them are statues of St Peter, St Paul and St John.



The side aisles contain some outstanding medieval stained glass. This was brought here from churches across Northern Europe by Reverend Rowland who was vicar here in the C19th and wanted to ‘flood the church with colour’.



The magnificent east window, the Jesse window, is C14th and was rescued from the old St Chad’s Church after it collapsed in 1788.


Beneath is a simple altar but the reredos behind mirrors the magnificence of the window above.


Only one of the original three C12th sedilia where the priests sat, survive on the south wall of the chancel. To the left is an aumbry cupboard used to store plate and vessels used during mass.




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St Mary's Church cont...

To the right of the chancel and separated from it by a heavy carved screen, is the Trinity Chapel.


This is a large open space with a very attractive altar beneath the stained glass window. The three painted panels are the work of local artist Margaret Agnes Rope and depict Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.



On the north wall is the early C14th stone tomb of Simon de Leybourne. The crossed legs indicate he was a Crusader Knight. The canopied niches round the base would originally have contained small stone figures.


In niches on the opposite wall are three C14th alabaster carvings. One depicts the baptism of Christ.


Another shows God the Father with the Crucified Christ and the Virgin holding the Christ Child. At the base is a figure offering up prayer streamers (the C14th equivalent of speech bubbles) .


St Nicholas Chapel off the north transept with its small chancel area, is now a children’s area and also an overspill for the cafe.


The very low ceiling was added by the Victorians as the organ is now above it.


Beyond is the small St Catherine’s Chapel which has a splendid Minton tile floor.


On the wall is the impressive memorial to Vice Admiral John. Benbow who served in the Royal Navy and fought against the French and also in the War of the Spanish Succession. He died of wounds in Jamaica after court martialing several captains under him for cowardice.


Beyond is the River View Cafe in the old vestry.

The church is open Monday-Saturday 10-4pm and is well worth visiting.




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St Julian's Church

St Julian's church is one of the four Saxon foundations in Shrewsbury and is dedicated to St Juliana, a C4th martyr.

The early history of the church is sketchy and it seems to have been a late Saxon minster and a college of secular priests. Another suggestion is that it was the women’s part of a double monastery with adjacent St Alkmund’s being the men’s part. It may also have functioned like a gate minster, providing spiritual protection to travellers and revenues for bridge maintenance.

The red sandstone base of the tower dates from the C12th, although the top part is C15th, and very different being built from a paler white sandstone. The nave was rebuilt in the mid C18th and, along with the porch, is constructed from brick and pale sandstone. It was designed by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, who was responsible for the Iron Bridge at Telford. He was born in Shrewsbury and baptised in St Julian's Church on 11 May 1723.


The church became redundant in 1976 and has been privately owned since 1980 and the owner and his wife used to live in the tower. The building was used as a craft centre until 2001 but has recently returned to public worship. For a few years it was used by the Shrewsbury Evangelical Church but is now used by a small group who meet each Saturday to study God’s Word.

The church is reached up a steep flight of stairs which lead into the porch. This still has a Norman arch with two funeral hatchments on the wall above it.


This leads into the the church with a small reception area beneath the tower. The west window dates from 1883.



The centre of the church was filled with a small marquee, which was used as a meeting place. The walls and front of the chancel are covered with wooden panels made from the backs of the old pews and formed the frontages for the different craft areas. Only the top of the east window can be seen, This dates from 1861 and featured the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. The side panels feature the baptism of Christ and the last supper.


There isn’t a lot to see inside the church and the marquee makess photography difficult. It is good to see it being returned to its original purpose of worship.

The church is open 12.30-3pm on Saturdays and is worth a look if passing.



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St Alkmund's Church

St Alkmund’s Church is in the heart of the old town on one of the highest parts of the town. Its tower can be seen above the the surrounding buildings. Along with nearby St Julian’s Church, it is one of the oldest churches in Shrewsbury. It was founded in 912 by Aethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred, although nothing is left of her church.


Alkmund was a late C9th Northumbrian Prince. He was killed and his remains interred at Derby, where was almost immediately venerated as a saint. It is thought that Aethelfleda was responsible for moving his bones to Shrewsbury, although they were later returned to Derby. The remains of a carved stone sarcophagus thought to contain his remains is now in Derby Museum.

The Tower and spire date from 1475 and are all that is left of the the medieval church. After the collapse of the neighbouring church of St Chad’s in 1788, the congregation were concerned their church might collapse too. The decision was taken to demolish the church apart from the tower and spire and commission local architect, John Carline, to build a new church.


The nave and chancel were built in Gothic Revival style in 1795. The windows frames were made of cast iron from Colebrookdale and contained clear glass. They were some of the first examples of this work. Unfortunately in the major restoration of 1895, most of these were removed and replaced by stone tracery.

Only three of the original Colebrookdale windows survive - one in north wall, one in the vestry and one in the kitchen.


The church is particularly famous for its east window, which was the work of Francis Eginton, renowned for his work in enamelled glass. He used two thicknesses of glass, with paint on the inside and outside. This created a luminescent quality much more like a painting than traditional stained glass. Unlike stained glass it is painted with no attention to glazing bars. also painted over the The window has been recently restored and looks magnificent. It shows a depiction of Assumption of the Virgin Mary based on a 1642 painting by Guido Reni.

The window cost a lot more than its original agreed cost but the parishioners were reportedly so struck with its magnificence that they paid up readily!


The stained glass on the north wall is C19th and depicts different saints. Unfortunately I missed the stained glass window on the south wall commemorating the dead of the First World War, and showing Christ appearing to a soldier in the trenches.



Steps lead up from the west door into the church. There is a small exhibition area at the back of the nave with information about the church.


Apart from the glass, it is a rather uninspiring building with a large rectangular nave with a flat wood roof and small chancel. The organ is on the south wall.



Reorganisation of parish boundaries in C20th left St Alkmund’s short of money and the building fell into state of disrepair. There has been a major effort since 2000 to rescue and reorganise the building. It is now available for worship again as well as a venue for lectures, concerts and drama. It is open daily.



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St Chad's Church

Having read about the church before visiting, I was really keen to see it. The church is unusual as it has a round nave and sanctuary. I visited in December when the church had a Festival of Christmas Trees.

The church was built in 1792 and replaced the C13th building on Milk Street which was destroyed when the central tower collapsed in 1788. The church was in poor condition and cracks had appeared in the tower. Thomas Telford had predicted the collapse, but unfortunately had been ignored.

The Scottish Architect George Steuart who had built nearby Attingham Hall was commissioned to design and build a new church. He submitted several preliminary designs but, due to a misunderstanding, he built a round church which was NOT the parish council’s preferred design...

It may not have been their choice, but they ended up with a stunning building, with a neoclassical portico topped by a square tower with cupola on the top. Behind is the round nave and sanctuary

St Chad's Church.jpg


The vestibule has a small book stall and memorials on the walls record actions of the 53rd Shropshire Regiment. An elegant double staircase leads up to the gallery.




Off on the left is the vestry. On the right is St Aidan’s Chapel which is now the memorial chapel of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and the Hereford Regiment. There are memorial boards on the walls and the Regimental colours are laid up in here.

The rood beam is modern and the chapel is used for morning and evening prayer.



Double doors lead into the nave with a gallery supported on slender cast iron pillars, one of the first examples of its use. Pews are arranged round the sides with a large open space in the centre. It looks amazing and was designed to hold up to one thousand worshippers.



There are more memorials on the walls of the nave and hatchments arranged round the sides of the gallery. On death, the coat of arms was painted on a wooden panel which was carried on the coffin for burial. It was then hung above the entrance to the family home for a year’s period of mourning. Many were then hung in the parish church. St Chad’s has one of the best collections of hatchments in the country.


At the west end is the organ which dates from 1904.


The plaster ceiling is more like a stately home than a church with its decorative plasterwork and central gilded glory with three stucco cherubs.


The marble font came from a church in Cheshire. Charles Darwin was christened here in 1809.


Unfortunately the copper and brass arts and crafts pulpit was hidden by a Christmas tree.

The wonderful reredos dates from 1923 and was designed as a war memorial. The crucifixion is at the centre with St Oswald, St Chad, St Edmund and St Martin. On either side are roundels with the Ascension and Nativity.


Originally, the church had clear glass in the windows, but the congregation found this too bright and complained it lacked religious atmosphere. In 1810 a stained glass window of the Resurrected Christ was placed in the east end. This was replaced in 1842 by a new sanctuary window of stained and enamelled glass of a reproduction of a Rubens triptych in Antwerp Cathedral. At the centre is the Descent from the Cross. On the left is the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and on the right is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

The stained glass windows round the sides of the gallery are equally impressive.

The church is on the edge of the town centre, overlooking The Quarry area of parkland, which slopes down to the River Severn. It is open daily.

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Old St Chad's Church

St Chad is thought to have been responsible of bringing Christianity to the area and it is thought there has been a church on this site on a mound above the loop of the River Severn since the C7th. It was replaced by a much larger building in the C12th.

By the end of the C18th the building was in a poor state of repair and cracks were beginning to appear in the tower. Thomas Telford warned the church was in danger of collapse. Unfortunately nobody took any notice until the tower collapsed in 1788 and destroyed all of the church apart from the Lady Chapel.

Old St Chad's .jpg

This still stands in the remains of the graveyard above the junction of Milk Street and Princess Street.


The former transept arch has been blocked off with a small doorway leading into the chapel. 


The dip in the ground along Princess Street is thought to be the remains of the crypt.


The old church was replaced four years later by the new church of St Chad on another site overlooking The Quarry park.

Only the exterior of the Old Church can be viewed. There are a couple of information boards on the site.


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The Roman Catholic Cathedral

Known as the Cathedral Church of Our Lady Help of Christians and Saint Peter of Alcantara, the cathedral building is tucked away in a quiet side street. Without a spire or tower, it looks more like a non conformist chapel than a cathedral.


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury was founded in 1851, when the building of a cathedral was commissioned by John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, as the architect. Unfortunately both men died in 1852 before the work was expected to start. The succeeding nephew, the 17th Earl, Bertram Talbot, offered to fund the building of the cathedral and the design was taken over by Pugin’s son Edward.

He planned a large cathedral with a tall spire, but a layer of sand was discovered which wouldn’t support the foundations of a tower and spire. The building was completed in 1856. It is probably most memorable for stained glass windows by local arts and craft artist Margaret Agnes Rope.

The church is surrounded by blue railings and reached up as flight of stairs. From Easter to the end of October it should be open Monday to Friday 1pm to 4pm and Saturday 10am to 4pm. The rest of the year it is just open for services and Saturdays 10am to 4pm.

However when I visited, there was a wedding taking place, so I could only peer in from the back. When I went past again later, the church was firmly locked.


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