Known as ‘Scrobbesbyrig’ in the seventh century or ‘fortified scrubland’ when loosely translated, Shrewsbury’s quiet streets belie its barbaric past. The fiteenth century timber buildings, shuts and Passages (narrow alleys that run between the main streets), range of interesting and individual shops and reputation for fine local produce make it an extremely desirable centre. Surrounded by beautiful open countryside and benefiting from highly regarded schools and a tradition of esteemed local events, Shrewsbury is a prestigious county town with a homely feel to it.
But Shrewsbury has not always been so welcoming. Safely ensconced in a loop of the River Severn, eleventh century visitors could only access the town through the castle. Further fortifications were added a hundred years later following persistent attacks from the Welsh.
Medieval Shrewsbury displayed a particularly ‘cut throat’ defence policy. After publicly hanging Wales’s King David on a high cross on Pride Hill, the people of Shrewsbury, or Salopians as they are known, dispersed his body parts around the town and sent his head to the Tower of London. In a similar vein, Shakespeare’s play Henry IV immortalises the events of 1403 when over 6,000 soldiers died in just three hours in the Battle of Shrewsbury.
The battlefields surrounding the town, scattered with black poplars, are a haunting reminder of the bloodshed. But Shrewsbury never triumphed in battle again. The town was badly defended during the Civil War and fell quickly to the Roundheads. Despite the loss of face, Shrewsbury’s surrender ensured minimum devastation and its castle, abbey and black and white shops and houses still line its narrow streets. Selected as the location for the 1984 production of ‘A Christmas Carol’, modern day Shrewsbury is a cross between a bustling Victorian market town and a medieval stronghold.
Where to stay in Shrewsbury
The two three star hotels right in Shrewsbury’s historic town centre come highly recommended. Charles Dickens, Paganini and Disraeli have all taken rooms in The Lion (01743 353107), a former coaching inn situated on Wyle Cop, a steep street of black & white buildings and lots of interesting specialist shops. During the Civil War The Prince Rupert Hotel (01743 499955) was used as the headquarters of the Royalist Commander, Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles I. The hotel has about 70 rooms, two restaurants on-site and an Italian restaurant a few yards away.
Out of town, Shrewsbury best hotel is the four star Albrighton Hall (01939 291000) about 3 miles from town. The smaller, three star Albright Hussey Hotel (01939 290571) has a Michelin starred restaurant highly regarded restaurant and occupies an attractive fifteenth century moated manor house.
For a more personal touch The Catherine of Aragon Suite (01743 271092) is a luxury B & B in a private self-contained wing of The Old House, the oldest private residence in Shrewsbury. Originally owned by the courtiers of Catherine of Aragon, the suite overlooks a secluded garden.
What to visit in and around Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery
The collections reflect Shrewsbury & Shropshire over many centuries and include Roman material from Wroxeter five miles away, costume, decorative art, geology, natural history and special exhibitions of contemporary art. Housed in 16th century timber building and adjacent brick mansion.
Shrewsbury Castle and Shropshire Regimental Museum
The site includes the motte, site of the Norman Castle, and the great hall (late 1200s, much altered in the 18th century). The grounds are open free as a public garden. The great hall contains the collections of the Shropshire Regimental Museum.
Founded in 1083 by Norman earl Roger de Montgomery as a Benedictine monastery. Only the Abbey church remains. It survived the Dissolution as it was also used as parish church ? and still is. Setting for Ellis Peters best selling Brother Cadfael mystery stories.
St. Mary’s Church
Now a redundant church in the care of Churches Conservation Trust. Open for visitors. A beautiful medieval church with quite magnificent stained glass spanning several centuries.
The Shrewsbury Flower Show
Recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest running horticultural show, the Shrewsbury Flower Show was first held in its current setting in 1875. Each August, the Show is held in the picturesque Quarry Park, just outside Shrewsbury. With its magnificent sunken gardens, known as The Dingle, the natural park setting makes it a show within a show, a fitting location for one of the top competitive and decorative horticultural displays staged anywhere.
This year’s flower show takes place on Friday August 12 and Saturday August 13. For more information tel +44(0) 1743 234050.
The Shrewsbury Regatta
Shrewsbury’s annual regatta takes place in May on a 1000m stretch of the River Severn.
For more information visit http://www.pengwernboatclub.com/regatta
The ancestral home of the Earl of Bradford on the borders of Shropshire and Staffordshire, the house was built in 1671 amidst Capability Brown’s beautifully landscaped gardens. Visitors can enjoy exploring the house and gardens as well attending the numerous events held at the Park each year.
Weston-under-Lizard, Nr Shifnal, Shropshire. For more information please contact +44 (0)1952 852100
Burford House Gardens
Uniquely situated where three counties meet, the 7 acres of lawn and stunning borders of Burford House Gardens sweep along the banks of the picturesque River Teme. Originally designed by the late John Treasure in 1952 around an early Georgian Mansion, now selling country house furnishings, the gardens contain the National Clematis Collection, along with around 2000 other kinds of plants.
Burford House Gardens, Tenbury Wells. Shropshire. For more information please contact +44 (0)1584 810 777