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.
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.