This series of articles, written by various authors, considers some of the significant buildings that exist in Shrewsbury today. These are listed below – simply scroll down the page until you reach the articles you are interested in.
Railings at the Catholic Cathedral
High Street and its Heritage
The Granada Theatre
Railings at the Catholic Cathedral
Article by Martina Chamberlain, first appeared Autumn 2019
Topp and Co, one of the largest blacksmith workshops in the country, was approached by architects Arroll and Snell in December 2014 about a major project for Shrewsbury’s Roman Catholic cathedral. They wanted ideas for railings and gates for a new entrance and external staircase.
The cathedral dates from 1856 and was designed by Edward Pugin in the Victorian Gothic style, son of Augustus Pugin, famous for the Palace of Westminster.
The decision was taken to use cast iron for a number of reasons. It was at the height of its fashion in the mid-nineteenth century, and its bulk would go well with the massing of gothic detail carved into the masonry. The scheme also lent itself to repetitious ornament, the railings being divided easily into discreet panels.
Repetition makes castings more economical, as the original, and expensive, carved pattern can be used many times, the castings being relatively inexpensive. Finally cast iron has an excellent resistance to corrosion. The floral design is based on an element of Pugin’s interior. Where possible, in the spirit of work of the period, fixings are concealed so that there are no visible bolts or mounting plates, the company says. No site welding was used either, frequently a sign of a lower class of work.
It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that all ironwork should be painted black, it says. But in fact black was seldom chosen prior to the 1920s.The architect was keen that the colour should reflect the Catholic faith, and blue was chosen because it represents the sacred virgin. It was a colour extensively used by the Pugins, father and son.
The work was completed on site in November 2016 and if well maintained with a coat of paint now and again, should last for a century or more without major overhaul, Topp and co says. The company has worked on many prestigious assignments, including for Kensington Palace, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral as well as many luxury private residences, country estates and commercial premises in the UK and overseas. They also work on restoring ornamental wrought ironwork from the 18th and 19th century, for example, the beautiful Victorian railings at the Natural History Museum in Kensington.
High Street and its Heritage
Article by Jordanis Petridis, first appeared Autumn 2021
Shrewsbury High Street has been one of the most important streets in the town throughout its long history. It obtained this name during the 14th century, slowly losing the older and stranger name of ‘Gumbestolestrete’. That name refers to the ‘Gumbe stool’, which was a form of medieval punishment through public humiliation, using a mechanical contraption for raising the stool up high or ducking it in water. Apparently, one such stool was regularly used in the Square, to punish ’grumblers’ or ‘scolds’!
Since then and over the following centuries, High Street has become a rich deposit of heritage buildings, without ceasing to also serve the transport needs of the town as the main artery for all traffic, which unfortunately continues even today. If we accept that the official listing of buildings represents the state’s esteem towards such buildings, it is only fair to mention that along the whole length of High Street, all its old buildings are listed – 26 in total. The only exceptions are Princess House and the old Rackhams. However, we cannot leave out the Square, which is an active part of the High Street, adding another 10 Listed Buildings.
The pinnacle of these 36 buildings, the Old Market Hall, built in stone in the late Elizabethan style, belongs to the exclusive group of ‘Grade I’ buildings in the town. Among the rest, 8 are listed as Grade II*, the second most important grade, while all others are Grade II, including a statue and a pillar box!
The present High Street begins at the corner with Fish Street. From there, on one side of the street, unfolds a series of late 18th century brick Georgian buildings, some stuccoed, giving a serene but solid and affluent picture of multi-storey homes and shops. The other side of the street offers more variety, starting with a Victorian pub with an earlier core, then a narrow Georgian brick house, a Victorian shop with curving windows, a series of more elaborate brick buildings even presenting Venetian windows, then a historic church conforming to straight building lines and another public house.
On approaching the Square and beyond there is an architecturally highly valued group of timber framed buildings representing the wealth of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, mainly through the wool and cloth trade. They use timber not only to secure safe and bold structures with jettied-out floors above the ground floor, but also to create attractive facades with bracing patterns giving individual character to each one of them. They are generally close studded and include quatrefoil patterns, lozenges and S-shape braces, all these being hallmarks of the carpentry tradition of John Sanford, the carpenter of Pitchford Hall.
In between this impressive array of timber framed houses there is an intrusion by a remarkable Victorian building facing the Square in brick and stone with a large eclectic gable. In fact, all these rather fanciful and expensive buildings seem to be vying for a place near the Square and somehow to be competing with each other. Of these, Nos 15-16, 17, 22, Owen’s Mansion, 25 and Ireland’s Mansion are graded II*. Richard Owen, a draper, built his mansion in 1569 and Robert Ireland, also a draper, built his in 1575.
In Ireland’s Mansion we have what Newman and Pevsner consider as ‘the grandest timber framed house in Shrewsbury’. It is large and symmetrical, with four full height jettied bays ending in gabled dormers and a fully accomplished façade with close studs and herring bone patterns. Worth noticing here is the date of construction of the then new Market Hall, i.e. 1595-96, which is 20 years later than Ireland’s Mansion. Although it appears that it was built rapidly by Walter Hancock, in order to facilitate the trading of corn and wool, there must have been adequate funds to create a lasting ‘architectural gem’, as Mary de Saulles called it. Since that time it continues to hold a central place in the minds of Shrewsbury people and acts as a pole of attraction for visitors.
The Granada Theatre
Article by Mike Dinneen, first appeared Winter 2021
The soaring sounds of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, the puffing of a steam train as it leaves the station and a quintessential English woman whose ordinary weekly routine brings her not only unexpected passion but escape through a regular visit to the town cinema … We are back in the world of 1930s England and the film ‘Brief Encounter’, a time when Sidney Bernstein built a series of twelve Granada cinemas with lavish interiors to create a fantasy setting to enjoy the new mass entertainment of film.
Shrewsbury’s Granada cinema – now serving as the town’s Bingo Hall – was the second of these, opened in 1934, the interior designed in the classical style by the Russian Theodore Komisarjevsky. He is considered the most important single designer of cinema interiors between the wars. Other Granada cinemas were created in the Gothic and Moorish style. The interiors were impressive compared with competitors’, showing Bernstein’s commercial but also aesthetic ambitions for his cinemas.
The elegance and grandeur of Komisarjevsky’s classical auditoria were inspired by earlier theatre design. The ceilings were dominated by, and designed around, large hanging chandeliers.
The Cinema Theatre Association, who were showing us around that day, say that Shrewsbury’s interior showcases his best work, and is one of the finest remaining examples.
It retains much of its original details with beautiful decoration down to the level of the seat ashtrays, which would have been heavily used by cinema goers at the time. A frieze around the auditorium is painted with still discernible classical figures. And the intricate fibrous plaster grilles for music transmission that flank the stage are stunning, a triptych that evokes the grace and splendour of a cathedral’s stained-glass windows.
The balustraded cafe with its tall arched windows and mirrors – the latter no longer in situ and the room sadly abandoned – gave views over the entrance lobby, a lovely idea, and must have brimmed with excitement and well-turned out townsfolk in the building’s heyday.
The Shrewsbury Granada provided 1,525 seats: 932 in the stalls and 593 in the balcony. Bernstein obtained a good town centre site formerly occupied by the Station Hotel and conveniently near the station. The building was also positioned to face the town and beckon people in from there.
The cinema closed in 1973 and was successfully turned into a Granada bingo club. It obtained Grade II listed status in 1995.
The Cinema Theatre Association are a national body for the study and protection of cinema buildings. Their specialist expertise is sought by many cultural bodies as well as local authorities on planning applications regarding alterations to or demolition of cinemas.