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Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Historical Description

Shrewsbury, a market and county town, a municipal and parliamentary borough, the head of a county court district, and five parishes in Salop. The town stands on the river Severn, at the terminus of the Shrewsbury Canal, and at a convergence of railways, 8 miles E of the boundary with Wales, 42 S by E of Chester, and 153 by road, but 162½ by railway from London. The canal gives inland navigation eastward into connection with the general canal system of England; and seven lines of railway go toward respectively Chester, Crewe, Stafford and Birmingham, Worcester, Hereford, Welshpool, and Llanymynech, giving communication with all parts of the kingdom.

History.-The town was known to the ancient Britons as Pengwern, signifying "the alder hill"-to the Saxons as Scrobbes-byrig, signifying " shrubbs-town " or " the town of bushes," and the latter name was gradually corrupted in three directions into Schrosberie and Shrewsbury, into Sciropscire and Shropshire, and into Sloppesberie, Salopia, and Salop, The Britons founded the town in the 5th century, on occasion of the decay of the Roman Uriconium, 5 miles to the SE. The Princes of Powis made it their residence. The Saxons under Offa, king of Mercia, took possession of it in 778. Alfred established a mint and his daughter Elfleda founded a college. Etheldred spent Christmas at Shrewsbury in 1006. Edmund Ironside punished it in 1016 for revolting to Canute. The Welsh besieged it in 1069, but were driven off by William the Conqueror. The Conqueror gave Shrewsbury to Roger de Montgomery, who built a great castle here and took from it the title of Earl. Robert the son of Roger, having rebelled against Henry I., was attacked by that monarch with an army of 60,000 men and was expelled and deposed. An assemblage of nobles met here in 1116 to give allegiance to William, the son of the Empress Maud. Stephen took it from William in 1139, and Henry II. re-took it. A council was held at Shrewsbury by John to concert measures against the Welsh. Llewelyn took it in 1215, and Henry III. re-took it in 1220, and visited it in 1221 and 1227. The Welsh took it again in 1233, and Henry III. again re-took it soon afterwards; revisited it in 1241, 1260, and 1267, and strengthened it with walls. Edward I. fixed his residence at Shrewsbury in 1277, removed to it his courts of king's bench and exchequer, brought to trial and to execution David Llewelyn, and in 1283 held at it a parliament which passed the Statute of Acton Bumell. Edward II. held a grand tournament at it in 1322. Richard II. visited it in 1387 and held at it a " great" parliament in 1397. The sanguinary battle between Henry IV. and Henry Hotspur, known as the battle of Shrewsbury, occurred at Battlefield, about 3 miles distant, in 1403. Edward Earl of March, afterwards Edward IV., levied in Shrewsbury and its neighbourhood the troops with whom he won the battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1460, and on his elevation to the throne he sent his queen to Shrewsbury for protection against the perils of the times. His sons Richard and George were born at the Black friary of the town in 1472, and he himself was again here in 1480. Buckingham was executed here in 1484. Henry Earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII., was first proclaimed at Shrewsbury in 1485, and he visited it in 1488, 1490, and 1495. Charles I. made it his rendezvous in 1642, was joined at it by Prince Rupert and many other magnates, established his mint at it, and strengthened and extended its fortifications. The Parliamentarians, under Colonel Mytton, took it by surprise in 1644. From the time of William I. to James II. no less than thirty-two charters were granted to the town.

Among the distinguished natives of Shrewsbury have been Bishops Ralph de Shrewsbury and Robert de Shrewsbury, the monk Robert de Shrewsbury, Bishops Woolley (who died in 1684), Thomas (1766), and Bowers (1724), Chief-Justice Jones (1683), the theologians Arnway (1601), Davies (1709), and W. Adams (1739), the mathematician Costard (18th century), Taylor the translator of Demosthenes (1766), the theologian and critic H. Farmer (1787), the local historian Blakeway (1826), Archdeacon Owen (1827), the orientalist Dr Scott (1829), the poet Churchyard (1604), Price the chaplain to James I., Speaker Onslow (1768), the musician Dr Burney (1814), the dwarf E. Schofield, the famous beauty Sarah Pridden, and Admiral Benbow. Charles Darwin (1882), the famous naturalist and philosopher, was born, educated, and for many years resided here. Among famous residents have been Telford the eminent engineer, Tallents the learned nonconformist, and Farquhar the author of the " Recruiting Officer." The earldom of Shrewsbury is the premier one, and belongs now to the Talbots.

Site and Structure.-The town stood originally on two gentle elevations on a peninsula formed by a serpentine sweep of the Severn, but it gradually extended beyond the river into the suburbs of Abbey Foregate, Coleham, Frankwell, and Castle Foregate. It rises in such manner on graduated ground as to present exteriorly a bold and picturesque appearance, is environed by many pleasant walks and drives, and commands charming views to wooded hills and lofty mountains in great varieties of form and distance. The streets in the old parts are narrow and irregular, and present curious mixtures of old and new houses. The market-place is a spacious square, and contains some of the most important of the public buildings. .The aggregate of old houses, either wooden or half-wooden, of the time of Elizabeth, and even of earlier times, is remarkably large, and gives part of the town an antique and quaint appearance. Some of the most curious ancient edifices still or recently standing are the council house, built by the Plowdens before 1501; a carved hall, 50 feet by 26, where Charles I. and James II. kept court; apart of the Charltons' mansion, built before 1465 and long used as a theatre; the mansion of the Irelands, a gabled and half-timbered building at the corner of High Street; the mansion of the Rowleys, built in 1618, and eventually converted into a factory; a house called Vaughan's Place, partly of the 14th century; a residence called Whitehall, built by a lawyer in 1578-82; the Bell Stone house, built in 1582; the cloth-workers' hall, built in the 14th century and eventually converted into a shop; the drapers' hall, built in the time of Elizabeth; and a very fine timber house of the 15th century in Butchers Bow. The antiqueness of the town is further shown in the retention of many quaint and ancient names of streets, such as Mardol, Murivance, Pride Hill, Shop Latch, and Wyle Cop. The town walls were first begun by the second Montgomery; were brought to a finished condition by Henry II.; were, as we have already said, strengthened and extended by Charles I.; were for the most part destroyed in 1645 while the town was in possession of the Parliamentarian troops; described a circuit of more than a mile; had twenty towers and three gates, and are now represented by only some small remains on the S side of the town and by one of the towers. The remains of the walls are in good preservation, and form an agreeable promenade, and the tower stands in Bellmont Street, and is two storeys high. A public recreation ground, called the Quarry, is on the SWside of the town, and bounded by the Severn, was laid out and planted with lime trees in 1719, comprises about 23 acres, and contains a series of very beautiful public walks. The Quarry partakes more of the character of a park than is generally understood by the term recreation ground. It is one of the chief features of the town, and is celebrated for its splendid avenues of lime trees, some of which exceed 170 feet in height. Portions of the grounds are artistically laid out as flower gardens, with an artificial lake, fountains, and several pieces of statuary. The Severn forms its south-western boundary, and it is here that the fete of the Shropshire Horticultural Society is held, which attracts yearly from 50,000 to 60,000 visitors.

Public Buildings.-The ancient castle is still standing, occupies a high site adjacent to the Severn, retains a fine inner-gate Norman arch of the original structure, was mainly rebuilt in the time of Edward I., somewhat altered in that of Charles I., and entirely renovated and modernized in later times; consists chiefly of two round towers of the keep and the walls of the inner court, and includes a watch-tower rebuilt by Telford. The Shire hall was built in 1836 after designs by Smirke, and occupies the site of a timbered booth-hall, dating from the time of Edward II. The interior was destroyed by fire in 1881, and rebuilt in 1884. It includes a town-hall and assizes courts. H.M. prison was built in 1793 after designs by Haycock at a cost of £30,000, and contains a bust of Howard by Bacon. The barracks for the depot of the 53rd regimental district were built in 1879. The old market-house was built in 1595, has an open arcade surmounted by a series of square mullioned windows, and shows the arms of Queen Elizabeth over the W front, and a statue in armour of Edward IV.'s father over the N arch. It is now used partly as a police court and partly for municipal offices. The new market-hall was built in 1869, is in the Italian style, of polychromatic bricks with stone dressings, measures 322 feet by 148, and includes a general market, a shop arcade, a butchers' market, a fruit market, a corn exchange, and storing vaults; the principal front has a lofty clock-tower. There is a separate cattle market. The railway station was built in 1848 and enlarged in 1855, is an ornamental structure in the Tudor style, has a frontage of 150 feet and ornamental flanks of two storeys, and is surmounted by a central tower with an oriel window. The music hall buildings, erected in 1839, with a handsome classic front, contain two fine halls tastefully decorated, one of which. has an orchestra capable of holding 200 persons. Large public baths, completed in 1894, were built in commemoration of Her Majesty's Jubilee. The new police buildings on Swan Hill, finished in the same year, have an imposing stone frontage of 87 feet. The English bridge across the Severn was erected in 1774 at a cost of £16,000, is 410 feet long, and has seven semicircular arches and an open balustrade. The Welsh bridge was built in 1795 at a cost of £8000, is 266 feet long, and has five arches. There are two other bridges, the Grey Friars iron bridge for foot passengers, built in 1880, with a single span of 150 feet; and the Kingsland bridge with a single span of 212 feet. The theatre was rebuilt in 1834. The working-men's hall was built in 1863, and contains a lecture hall, a reading-room and library, a refreshment hall, and hot and cold baths. Lord Hill's monument was erected in 1816 at a cost of £5973, and is a Doric column 133 feet high surmounted by a colossal statue. Lord. dive's monument, erected in the Square in 1860, is a full-length bronze figure by Marochetti on a polished granite pedestal.

Parishes and Churches.-The five parishes of Shrewsbury are Holy Cross and St Giles, St Julian, St Mary, St Alkmond, and St Chad. Acreages, 1580, 605, 838, 5453, and 500; populations, 3473,6220,10,356, 737, and 6918. The ecclesiastical parishes are Holy Cross (population, 2722); St Giles (constituted 1856; population, 751); St Julian (population, 2853); St Mary (population, 3177); St Michael (constituted 1854; population, 2161); All Saints (constituted 1883; population, 3448); St Alkmond (population, 1213); Holy Trinity (constituted 1840; population, 4582); St Chad (population, 3507); and St George (constituted 1836; population, 3425). The livings are all vicaragea in the diocese of Lichfield. Patron of St Julian, the Earl of Tankerville; of St Michael, the Vicar of St Mary; of St George, the Vicar of St Chad; of the other livings, the Bishop of Lichfield. Of Holy Cross the net value is £254 with residence; of St Giles, net value, £164 with residence; of St Julian, gross value, £180; of St Mary, net value, £120; of St Michael, net value, £150 with residence; of All Saints, net value, £210; of St Alkmond, net value, £34 with residence; of Holy Trinity, net value, £230 with residence; of St Chad, gross value, £205; of St George, gross value, £228 with residence. The ecclesiastical parishes of Annscroft, Astley, Bayston Hill, Betton Strange, Bicton, Clive, Leaton, and Oxon and Shelton are also wholly or partly included in the five parishes of Shrewsbury.

Holy Cross or Abbey Church is part of the church of an ancient Benedictine abbey; consists of a nave with aisles, 123 feet long and 62½ broad, a porch, and a W tower. It had formerly also a transept 133 feet by 37, a central tower 30 feet square, a choir 69 feet by 45, a Lady chapel 50 feet long, and an E ambulatory 30 feet long; is variously Norman, Early English, and Decorated; and underwent gradual restoration during a number of years. The chancel was built in 1887, and the reredos was erected in the same year. The church contains numerous ancient monuments. The clerestory and nave roof were restored in 1894. The abbey was founded in 1087 by Roger de Montgomery; acquired soon the status of a mitred abbey; obtained great wealth from the pilgrimages to the remains of St Winifred enshrined within it; had revenues to the estimated amount of £656 at the dissolution; and has left some small remains of its monastic buildings, including the guest-hall, the N and E parts of the precinct wall, and a superb octagonal refectory pulpit. St Giles' Church dates from the time of Henry I., and was used originally as the chapel of a leper hospital. It consists of chancel, rebuilt in 1863, nave, north aisle, rebuilt in 1860, and a western turret. It contains a good Norman font and some fragments of stained glass. St Julian's Church was rebuilt in 1846, is in the Doric style, and retains the tower of a previous church, with Norman basement. It was restored in 1883. St Mary's Church is a noble cruciform edifice standing in the centre of the town. It was formerly collegiate, ranges from Norman to Tudor, and consists of nave with aisles, transepts, chancel, two chantry chapels, S porch with parvise, and a western tower with an octagonal spire 220 feet high. The large E window, which once belonged to the Franciscan Priory, shows the genealogy of Christ from the Boot of Jesse. There is an abundance of good stained glass in other parts of the church. The ceiling is a very fine example of oak carving, and the nave contains a Decorated pulpit of Caen stone. The Trinity chapel, which forms a S aisle to the chancel, contains a fine organ, an altar-tomb of the 14th century, and a marble monument to Samuel Butler, formerly headmaster of the school and Bishop of Lichfield. St Catherine's chapel, on the N side of the chancel, contains a monument to Admiral Benbow. St Michael's Church was built in 1830 and enlarged in 1855, and is in the Classic style. St Alkmond's Church was originally cruciform, and is said to have been founded in 912 by the Princess Ethelfleda, was rebuilt in a plain modern Gothic style in 1795, and retains an old tower with graceful spire 184 feet high. Old St Chad's was originally founded about 780 by one of the Mercian kings. The only portion now remaining is a chantry chapel. The new church was erected in 1792, and is of a remarkable style of architecture, the body of the church being formed by the intersection of two circles, the larger forming a nave and chancel, and the smaller an inner vestibule; at the E end is a Doric portico and a tower with spire 150 feet high. The church contains some excellent stained glass, the old colours of the 1st battalion Shropshire Light Infantry (formerly 53rd Foot), and memorials to the officers and men of that corps who fell in the Sikh War and Indian Mutiny. Holy Trinity, Coleham, was built in 1837, and rebuilt with the exception of the chancel in 1885. All Saints, Castlefields, was built in 1876, and is in the Decorated style. St George's, Frankwell, was built in 1832, and is cruciform. The Roman Catholic cathedral for the diocese of Shrewsbury (which comprises Salop, Cheshire, and North Wales), was built in 1856 after designs by Pugin, at a cost of £10,000. There are Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Primitive Methodist, Calvinistic, New Connexion and United Free Methodist, Unitarian and Wesleyan chapels, and a Roman Catholic convent. Four ancient chapels besides the churches were formerly in the town, but only one of them has left any vestiges. A Franciscan friary was founded in the time of Henry III., a Dominican friary in the same reign, an Augustinian friary in 1255, and all have left slight vestiges. The public cemetery, about a mile from the town, was formed in 1855 at a cost of £4000, and comprises about 27 acres.

Schools and Institutions.-The grammar school succeeded St Peter's College, associated with the name of the historian Ordericus Vitalis, and had Dr Butler, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield, as a master, and Bishops Thomas and Bowers, Chief Justice Jones, Judge Jeffreys, Lord Brooke, Sir P. Sidney, the mathematician Waring, Wycherley, and A. Phillips as pupils. It was founded in 1551 by Edward VI., and enlarged in 1572 by Queen Elizabeth. Up to 1882 it occupied the building in Castle Gates now used as the free library and museum, but in that year it was moved to Kingsland. The present building was erected in 1765, and was formerly used successively as a foundling hospital, a prison of war, and a workhouse. Extensive alterations were made in 1881 and additions in 1891. The school is of high standing among the public schools of England, and has a large number of scholarships and exhibitions to the universities. Millington, Bowdler's, and Allatt's schools are other endowed schools, and there is a high school for girls. The free library and museum occupies the old premises of the grammar school, a building erected in 1630, forming two sides of a quadrangle with a pinnacled tower. The museum includes a good collection of Roman relics found at Wroxeter, the ancient Uriconium. The school of art on College Hill occupies part of the building formerly known as Vaughan's Mansion. The Shropshire chamber of agriculture holds monthly meetings at its offices on College Hill. The Horticultural Society holds exhibitions in March and August. There are five banks and a savings bank. The Salop infirmary was founded in 1745, was rebuilt in 1830 at a cost of £18,735, and is in the Grecian style with a Doric portico; additions were made in 1869 and 1877. The county lunatic asylum stands on Bicton Heath, and is in the Tudor style. There are also an eye, ear, and throat hospital, a dispensary, and a penitentiary. The Drapers' Almshouses, founded by the Drapers' Company, were rebuilt in 1825, and shelter eighteen poor persons. Holy Cross Hospital in Abbey Fore-gate, was erected in 1853, and has dwellings for five poor women. St Saviour's Home, in connection with the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, has accommodation for sixteen children.

Trade, &c. -The town has a head post office at its centre, a post, money order, and telegraph office at Abbey Foregate, and other post offices in different parts of the town, and a central railway station on the L. & N.W.R. and G.W.R. It is a seat of assizes, borough and county petty sessions, quarter sessions, county courts, and borough court of record for the trial of civil actions. It commands much transit traffic as a focus of railway communication, is a grand tourists' centre for Salop and for much of North Wales, and publishes four weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, butter and cheese fairs on the second Wednesday of every month; cattle, pig, and sheep markets every Tuesday; and for horses the first Tuesday in every month; and a great annual horse fair in March. The manufactures of Shrewsbury are unimportant, but malting, brawn-making, and glass-staining are largely carried on, while the manufacture of " Shrewsbury cakes" has been famous since the time of Elizabeth. There are breweries, lead works, a shot manufactory, an iron foundry, agricultural implement works, a tannery, timberyards and saw mills. Shrewsbury, a borough by prescription, and first chartered by William I., sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. until the Redistribution of Seats Act in 1885, when its representation was reduced by one. It is governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors, and has the same limits parliamentarily as municipally, comprising the parish of Holy Cross and St Giles, and parts of the parishes of St Julian, St Mary, St Alkmond, St Chad, and Brace Meole. The municipal borough is divided into five wards- Castle Within, Castle Without, Stone Within, Stone Without, and Welsh. Acreage, 8525; population, 26,967. Shrewsbury is the headquarters of the 53rd military regimental district, and of the Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment, which comprises two line battalions (the old 53rd and 85th Foot), and two militia battalions (the Shropshire and Herefordshire Militia). It is also the headquarters of the Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry, the 1st volunteer battalion of the Shropshire Light Infantry, and of four batteries of the Shropshire and Staffordshire Volunteer Artillery.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySalop 
LibertyBorough of Shrewsbury 
Registration districtAtcham1924 - 1935

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

Findmypast, in association with the Shropshire Archives have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Shrewsbury

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Shrewsbury from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Shropshire (Salop) is available to browse.


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Newspapers and Periodicals

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Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Shropshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionWest Midlands
Postal districtSY1
Post TownShrewsbury