Shrewsbury in Shropshire offers plenty of history, community spirit and a maze of medieval alleyways with colourful names
Ancient history and museums
Situated on a hillside with the River Severn at its feet, Shrewsbury’s natural fortification attracted the Saxons from the seventh century, who labelled the settlement Scrobbesbyrig; this name eventually changed to Salopesberie when the conquering Normans arrived, adding a castle (later remodelled as a private house by Thomas Telford and now home to the Shropshire Regimental Museum) to further protect the setting; the modern name Shrewsbury evolved by the Middle Ages.
Grand monuments and architectural quirks punctuate the town, which, like Ludlow, largely escaped the Luftwaffe. Shrewsbury serves as an example of how many of Britain’s towns might have looked had they not fallen victim to bombs or post-war town planners. The beautiful stretch of riverbank is a good place to begin a sightseeing tour – the slow curve of the Severn ideal for summer watersports and river cruises, while cyclists and walkers enjoy the scenery as they travel alongside. Riverside pubs make ideal rest stops or head into the 29-acre Quarry Park, where stone was excavated in the 17th century. The annual flower festival is staged here each year now, among other events.
More sprawling than Ludlow, heritage sites can be found in delightful pockets around the town. Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery is housed in the town’s former Victorian Music Hall in The Square. Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, the world’s first multi-storey iron framed building, in Ditherington is also worth a visit.
Strange street names and historic churches
Just off The Square is the Old Market Hall, used throughout its long life from 1596 as a trading place, court house and currently as a small cinema. Just around the corner is possibly the most lewd street name in the country. Grope Lane (abbreviated from something more explicit) had obvious connotations and forms one of many passageways known locally as ‘shuts’, possibly as they were closed off at night. It now serves as an innocent cut through to Fish Street and Butcher Row. This atmospheric street scene appeared in a 1980s version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A mock gravestone used during filming can be seen in the graveyard of Baroque landmark St Chad’s Church, where Charles Darwin was baptised in 1809. Inscribed on a weatherworn cracked ‘tombstone’ are the words Ebeneezer Scrooge.
Many religious sites of varying age and use dot the town including St Alkmunds Church. Just next door is St Mary’s. Inside this atmospheric medieval church is incredible stained glass including a Jesse Tree window and an ornate 15th-century carved oak ceiling. Across the river on the eastern side of town is the abbey, founded in 1083 as a Benedictine monastery, and dissolved by Henry VIII.
Charles Darwin – and his fascination with newts
Shrewsbury also has a relatively modern cathedral, the 19th-century edifice designed by Edward Pugin where stained glass is a particular highlight. No visit to Shrewsbury would be complete without seeing the statue of Darwin, seated outside his former school, now the town library. Although not a promising academic in his formative years, preferring to skip class to net newts down on the river, the scientist spent the first 27 years of his life in the town. Mount House, where Darwin was born is now government offices, but the Darwin Town Trail charts a fascinating course to discover other significant sites that helped shape his life.
How to get there
Shrewsbury is accessible from the A49 north from Ludlow. For other routes the A5, A53, A458 from the M6. Shrewsbury train station links with Manchester, Birmingham, Ludlow and Wales.
For more information
To book a guided walk visit Shrewsbury Visitor Information Centre, Rowley’s House Museum, Barker Street, Shrewsbury SY1 1QH. Tel: 01743 258 888. For more details about Shropshire, head to www.visitshropshire.com
Where to stay
Grove Farm House, Condover, Shrewsbury SY5 7BH. Tel: 01743 718 544
Words: Vicky Sartain