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SHREWSBURY, Shropshire

"SHREWSBURY, comprises the parishes of St. Chad, St. Mary, St. Alkmund, St. Julian, and Holy Cross St. Giles. It is the county town of Shropshire or Salop, a market town, parliamentary and municipal borough, is 153 miles N.W. from London by road, or 163 by the North Western, and 171 by the Great Western railways; 58 miles S. from Liverpool, and 42 from Chester. It is situated on the river Severn, and is an important railway centre. The population within the municipal and parliamentary boundaries, which are co-extensive, was 19,681 in 1851, and, in 1861, had increased to 22,163, occupying 4,445 houses. The amount assessed for property-tax is £99,109, and for poors' rates, £80,332. The poor are maintained under a local Act.

The town is very ancient, and is thought to have been founded by the Britons of the 5th century on the ruins of Uriconium, a Roman station. It was early captured by the Saxons, who changed its name of Pengwern, or "Alderhill," to Scrobbes-byrig, or "Scrubstown," of which the present name is a corruption. It early rose in importance, and was one of the chief towns in the country under Alfred, who here established a mint, and his daughter Elfleda founded a college. In the contest between Canute and Edmond Ironsides, in 1016, the town suffered severely, having espoused the cause of the former. William the Conqueror granted it and most of the surrounding country to Roger de Montgomery, one of his followers, who was subsequently created Earl of Shrewsbury, and here built a castle, which he secured by a wall across the isthmus of the peninsula on which it stood. For the site of this castle fifty-one houses were cleared away. In 1102 the castle and property were forfeited to the crown, by the third earl, Robert de Belesme, who had supported in the field the cause of Robert, Duke of Normandy, the king's brother. Henry I. in 1126 granted the earldom to his wife Adeliza of Louvain, whose castellan and sheriff held the castle for the Empress Maud against Stephen. It was captured by the latter, who treated the inhabitants with great severity, but was retaken by young Henry, afterwards second king of that name, and was restored to the custody of Fitz-Alan. Being on the border of Wales, the town suffered repeatedly from the incursions of the Welsh, and was in 1215 captured by them under Llewellyn the Great, who had joined the insurgent barons against John. It was soon retaken; but again, in the following reign, it was ravaged, and a portion of the town burned, by the Welsh and the turbulent barons. Simon de Montfort, who was joined by the warlike Llewellyn, grandson of the chief already alluded to, succeeded in obtaining possession of Shrewsbury for a short period, but lost it again after the battle of Evesham. When Edward I. determined on the final subjugation of the Welsh clans, he established his headquarters in this town, and in 1277 made it his temporary residence, removing to it the Courts of King's Bench and Exchequer. In 1283 he summoned a parliament to meet here, when David, the last prince of Wales, was tried, and, being found guilty of treason, was executed. In the next reign, the Earl of Arundel, who revolted against Edward II., attempted to seize Shrewsbury, but was repulsed by the townspeople, aided by Sir John Charlton of Powis, and was beheaded at Hereford. A parliament again assembled here in 1397, at which the Earl of Hereford charged the Duke of Norfolk with high treason, and both were sentenced to banishment by Richard II., the one for ten years, the other for life. In 1403, it was the scene of the battle between the royalist troops and the insurgents under Douglas and Hotspur, when the latter was killed by Prince Hal, afterwards Henry V. It favoured the side of York during the Wars of the Roses; and after the death of his father, Richard of York, Edward IV. raised an army among the townspeople, and defeated the opposite party under the Earl of Pembroke at Mortimer Cross in Herefordshire. His queen afterwards found an asylum in the town, and here gave birth to Richard, who was subsequently murdered with his brother in the Tower by Richard III. It was also the scene of the execution of Buckingham by Richard; and in the following year proclaimed the Duke of Richmond as king, under the title of Henry VII. In the ware between Charles I. and the Parliamentarians, it was loyal to the king, who was here Joined by Prince Rupert, in 1642. The town was fortified, and a mint established; but it was, in 1644, surprised by the enemy under Colonel Mytton, and suffered severely; the inhabitants, however, still continued loyal. It was visited, in 1687, by James II., in whose reign the castle was stripped of cannon and ammunition, and the outworks and chapel were demolished. The town stands on several gentle eminences, but chiefly occupies a peninsula formed by the winding course of the Severn, which is crossed by two bridges, called English and Welsh bridges, on account of their respective situations. It formerly lay wholly within the curve of the river, but has gradually extended on the E. and W. sides into suburbs, forming Abbey Foregate and Calchan on the E., and Frankwell on the W.; and also beyond the neck of the peninsula and the castle to the N., forming Castle Foregate. It presents a bold and commanding appearance, the outer houses being of comparatively recent erection, well built and laid out; but in the old parts the streets are narrow and ill-arranged, presenting a strange contrast of old and new houses irregularly intermixed, and many have an antique appearance, with gables and stories overhanging the road. Many of the streets, too, contain several old half-timber buildings, some of which are in excellent preservation and most interesting. Considerable improvements have lately been made, streets have been widened, new houses built in them, and the entire is well paved and lighted with gas. There is an ample supply of water from the river, and from a spring two miles distant from the town. In the environs there are many pleasant walks and drives, and the houses in the suburbs are generally furnished with gardens and meadow lands, which impart to the town, when viewed from a short distance, a most picturesque appearance. English Bridge, across the Severn, is of stone, and was erected in 1774 at a cost of £16,000. It is 410 feet in length, and consists of seven semicircular arches. Welsh Bridge, also of stone, and built in 1795, cost £8,000, is 266 feet in length, and has five arches. Another bridge, at Coleham, crosses Meole rivulet, which joins the Severn near English Bridge. There is a wharf, with warehouses, near Welsh Bridge. Shrewsbury abounds in interesting remains, the most important of which are ecclesiastical. There are nine churches in the town, most of which supply specimens of stained glass in antique patterns. St. Alkmund's Church was originally cruciform and of great antiquity, having been built on a site given by Alfred's daughter Elfleda; but the only part of the structure remaining is the tower, surmounted by a spire, 184 feet in height. The church was rebuilt in the modern Gothic style in 1795. St. Chad's, an old collegiate church, fell, when undergoing some repairs, in 1788, having been too long neglected, and was rebuilt in 1792 at a cost of £20,000. It is in the Grecian style, and is formed by the intersection of two circles, with a square tower and portico attached. The smaller circle is occupied by a staircase; and the larger one, which is 100 feet in diameter, forms the body and chancel of the church. The appearance is striking, more from the fineness of the stone and the splendour of ornamentation, than the harmonious proportion and disposition of the parts. St. Mary's, in a cruciform shape, was lately repaired. It is in the Norman and early Grecian style, has a spacious chancel, with chantry chapels, and a tower, surmounted by a spire, 220 feet high. It, also, is collegiate, and presents specimens of various styles of architecture, from the time of the Norman conquest to that of Elizabeth. The tower contains a peal of ten bells. St. Giles's is a small and plain structure; a portion of it dates from the beginning of the 12th century. The Abbey Church, the western portion of a Benedictine abbey, founded in 1083 by Roger de Montgomery, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, was to a great extent destroyed at the dissolution of the order; but the nave, N. porch, and western tower remain, and form the church of Holy Cross parish. They display many peculiar features of the early Norman style; but the building has undergone considerable changes, the most striking being the insertion of a large perpendicular window in the face of the western tower, only equalled in England by the window of York Cathedral. A Norman doorway beneath this window is adorned with mouldings. The aisles contain many monuments, and there is an octagonal stone pulpit opposite the southern entrance. The church is interiorly an oriel, and the roof is vaulted by eight ribs. St. George's is a modern structure, built of freestone, cruciform, and in the early pointed style; and St. Michael's and Holy Trinity, also of recent erection, are in the Grecian style. There are also five chapels-of-ease. The Independents have two places of worship; the Baptists, Unitarians, Quakers, and the Wesleyan, Primitive, Calvinistic, and New Connexion Methodists have one each; and there is a Roman Catholic church, by Pugin, erected in 1856 at a cost of £10,000, which was provided by the Earl of Shrewsbury; it has a stained-glass window at the E. end. The remains of the old castle of Shrewsbury, once a place of great importance and strength, now consist of two round towers and a curtain, built by Edward I., probably on the site of the Norman keep, the walls of the inner court, now a garden, and the great arch of the inner gateway, the only remaining part of Roger de Montgomery's fort; also a lofty mound on the edge of the river, and the fort of Roushill, built by Cromwell. These remains now form part of a dwelling-house. Portions of the ancient wall erected by Cromwell are still standing on the N.E. of the town, between the Welsh Bridge and the isthmus; and a tower and part of the wall on the S. side, besides a rampart erected for the defence of the town, still remain. The Royal free grammar school of Shrewsbury, founded by Edward VI. in 1553, in place of St. Peter's College, is an endowed establishment, having twenty-two exhibitions and an income of £3,000, and has produced some eminent men, among whom Sir Philip Sidney and his friend Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brook, the poet, occupy a distinguished place. There are also National and Lancastrian schools. The other principal buildings are the townhall, erected in 1836, from a design by Sir R. Smirke, at a cost of £12,000; the market-house, 103 feet long, in Elizabethan style, with a market-cross and conduit; the town and county gaol and house of correction, by Telford; military depot, in Abbey Foregate, from a design by Wyatt, erected at a cost of £10,000, containing two large depositories for ammunition, an armoury for 25,000 stand of arms, with houses for armourer and storekeeper; the Drapers' Hall, a curious old building; mechanics' institute; public subscription library, near St. John's Hill, containing about 6,000 volumes, and with news-rooms adjoining; savings-banks, museums, and almshouses. The Shrewsbury Working Men's hall, in the market square, erected in the year 1863 by public subscription at a cost of nearly £4,000, on a site presented for the purpose by a lady. It contains a handsome lecture hall, common room, reading room, hot and cold baths, and a large eating department, where daily meals are provided on the Glasgow plan; it is not only self-supporting but also remunerative. A Doric column, in honour of Lord hill, 132 feet high, was erected in 1814 at the entrance to the town from London, and is surmounted by a colossal statue of his lordship; it cost £5,973, raised by subscription. There is also a statue of Clive, executed by Marochetti. The theatre was rebuilt in 1834, and occupies the site of the royal residence of the princes of Powisland. On the S.W. of the town is the Quarry Promenade, set aside for the townspeople as a recreation ground, and with a walk planted on both sides with full-grown lime-trees. It is about 20 acres in extent, and 1,500 feet long, and is believed to be the site of a Roman theatre. The Central railway station is built of freestone, in the Tudor style; it was completed in 1848, and considerably enlarged in 1855. The ancient council house, with an ornamented wooden gateway and two timber buildings, the one called Ireland's Mansion, and the other probably used as the guild house by the fraternity of the Holy Cross, the Clothworkers' Hall, Bellestone House, and Whitehall, are also interesting. A plot of ground 20 acres in extent, and about a mile from the town, was purchased in 1855 at a cost of £4,000, and has been laid out as a general parochial cemetery. The charitable institutions of the town include the Shropshire infirmary, a Grecian building, with a Doric portico; the eye and ear dispensary; the Salop penitentiary, established in 1844; the county lunatic asylum, at Bicton Heath, a structure in the Elizabethan style; St. Giles's and St. Millington's hospitals; a lying-in hospital; St. Mary's, St. Chad's, and Evans's almshouses, and the Holy Cross hospital, a building erected and endowed by private subscription, and with five dwellings for the reception of respectable females. The house of industry, for the poor of the six parishes of Shrewsbury, stands on the S. bank of the Severn, and was furnished for a foundling hospital in 1765; it cost £12,000. The free grammar school, already alluded to as having been founded by Edward VI., was much enlarged by Queen Elizabeth. Owing, however, to some defects in the original ordinances and rules, it had fallen into decay previous to the close of the last century, but an Act was passed in 1798 vesting the management in the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and 13 trustees, and the school has again attained a high celebrity. The house, which was built in 1630, on the site of a more ancient wooden structure, is of freestone, and forms two sides of a court, the library and chapel occupying the third. Shrewsbury received many royal charters, the chief being from Richard I. and Charles I. It is divided into five wards, and is governed by 10 aldermen and 30 councillors, of whom one is the mayor. It is a borough by prescription, and has sent two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I., the right of election, down to the passing of the Reform Act, being in burgesses paying scot and lot, and not in receipt of alms or charity. The electoral limits were enlarged by the Boundary Act; constituency 1505, in 1865. It is also a polling-place for the southern division of the county. Assizes and quarter sessions for the county are held here, and quarter and petty sessions for the town, under a recorder, who decides actions for debt to any amount, and for ejectment within the liberties. It is the head of Salop archdeaconry, in the bishopric of Lichfield, North Salop, and comprises six parishes. It is also the head of an excise collection. The town was formerly of considerable importance as a place for the sale of Welsh flannels and webs, the market having been removed to it from Oswestry in 1621, but this branch of trade is now very much reduced. It has, however, important manufactories of thread, linen, and canvas. There is a large factory for spinning flax, besides smaller factories, fulling mills, and an extensive iron foundry at Coleham, the whole employing many hundred persons. Glass-staining is brought to great perfection, and malting is much practised, as the neighbourhood grows prime barley. Markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday of each week; fairs for horses, cattle, and sheep, on each alternate Tuesday, and for butter and cheese on the second Wednesday of each month. Wool fairs are held on July 2nd and August 14th, and the great annual horse fair in March. The fair green is 3½ acres in extent. Shoes are largely manufactured, and the town is celebrated for its brawn and Shrewsbury cakes. The Severn supplies a valuable salmon fishery. It is here navigable for boats of from 30 to 40 tons, and the Shrewsbury canal, which is 17 miles long, terminates near Castle Foregate in extensive and convenient wharves, and opens up a communication with the Staffordshire collieries. The town is connected by railway with Chester, Manchester, Birmingham, and Hereford. From its situation, and the many objects of interest in it and the immediate neighbourhood, it is much resorted to by persons of small income, who have retired from business, and who find the markets well supplied with all the necessaries of life at a moderate cost. Four banking companies have offices here, and there are five local newspapers. About half a mile from the town, at Monkmoor, an oval racecourse is laid off. On the second Monday after Trinity a ceremonial known as Shrewsbury Show takes place, in which the twelve corporate trading companies go in procession, attended by the mayor and other members of the corporation, in their municipal capacity."

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868]
by Colin Hinson ©2012

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