The lost buildings of shrewsbury
This series of articles considers several buildings in Shrewsbury that have been lost over the years. These articles are all written by Phil Scoggins, to whom the society is indebted. The various buildings were accompanied by images in the original newsletters, but these images sadly cannot be reproduced here for copyright reasons. The buildings that Phil has mentioned are listed below – simply scroll down the page until you reach the articles you are interested in.
The Lancasterian School,
St Mary’s Street
The Augustinian Friary
8-10, Castle Street
The Raven Hotel,
27/28, Pride Hill
The Guildhall in the Square
Old Houses in Roushill
Old St Chad’s Almshouses
George Hotel, Shoplatch
Castlefields Flax MIll
The Lancasterian School, Castle Hill
(Article first appeared Winter 2018)
Joseph Lancaster lectured in 1811 at the Talbot Hotel, Market Street, Shrewsbury on the merits of his ideas for teaching children from poor families. He promoted a ‘monitor’ system whereby older students would learn the material and then be rewarded for successfully passing it on to younger pupils, minimising the number of teachers required and thereby keeping costs low.
Impressed by the lecture, William Smith donated land below the Castle walls for a school founded on Lancasterian principles. The school’s “shed-like spacious building”, founded in 1812, was designed by Charles Bage, who had been the architect of the Ditherington Flaxmill.
Because of the railway, Castle Hill is a lost little suburb of Shrewsbury. There were cottages between the school and the castle, with more dwellings behind the properties facing Castle Foregate and Howard Street. There was a significant space outside the prison walls where huge crowds would gather for public executions. Hangings took place on top of the right-hand bay of the prison entrance. As executions generally took place on Saturdays, a school day, the pupils would have had a good view of the proceedings from their school rooms.
In 1847-8, over one hundred houses were demolished in Castle Hill, Castle Foregate and Howard Street to make way for the new railway station. The lost houses ranged from high status, brand-new dwellings on Howard Street to ancient timber cottages on Castle Foregate. It had generally been a poor area, and a notable ‘red light’ district, but it was also home to hundreds of respectable Salopians especially those involved in the shoe-making and tailoring trades, all of whom were evicted.
The Lancasterian school moved to a temporary site while new premises were built for it in Beacalls Lane, Castlefields. These had opened by 1851. Further rebuilds and extensions occurred later in the 19th century.
The Lancasterian system itself came under considerable criticism. The standards achieved were often poor and the discipline to which children were subjected was harsh, even by contemporary standards. However, in Shrewsbury the school gained a very good reputation which it kept well into the 20th century. It finally closed in 1988 and its buildings were incorporated into the prison site as offices and workshops. They now await renovation as part of the prison redevelopment.
Very little remains of Castle Hill today. The path up from Castle Foregate to platform 3 of the station marks the line of the street itself but all its original houses have gone.
Drapers’ Almshouses, St Mary’s Street
(Article first appeared Spring 2019)
Older Salopians may remember the picturesque brick almshouses of 1825 that stood until the 1960s on the south-west side of St Mary’s Street. They had been built on the site of an infamous slum, known as the Rookery. The outline of one gable can still be seen in the wall of an adjacent property. The only surviving part of the structure, the central plaque with the arms of the Drapers’ Company, is set in the end wall of the replacement almshouses in Salter’s Lane Coleham.
The predecessors to these buildings were to be found on the opposite side of the road in front of St Mary’s Church where there are now bus stands. They were founded in 1444 by Degory Watur a warden of the Drapers’ Guild.
The timber-framed complex consisted mainly of single room cells 11 feet by 8 feet made marginally more comfortable, possibly in the 17th century, by the addition of tall chimneys. The position of the chimneys fronting the street suggests that the cells looked out towards the churchyard which would have provided more privacy and quiet.
There were in total 14 residents, and a master who lived in the hall. According to rules drawn up in 1567, the rooms were for single persons of St Mary’s parish over the age of 50, chosen from a list of four possible candidates by the master of the almshouses and wardens of St Mary’s parish.
The exception was the central larger house with an adjoining two-storey wing projecting into the street, which was kept for the master and apparently also for married couples. The survivor had to move out if one of them died. Each new entrant had to bring a “winding sheet, with 4d wrapt up in it to pay for their burial”.
Arrangements for the inmates to receive wood, corn and clothing were also made. On the wooden porch to this larger hall was a painting of the founder and his wife and an effigy of King Edward IV.
By tradition, here among the poor lived Watur himself. It was his “custom to go wyth them dailye to our Lady’s chirch, and to kneel wyth them in a long pew in the quire made for them and himself”. The central hall may well originally have been his house onto which were later added the almshouses. Until 1825 the whole of this side of the street was built up.
Hugh Owen, normally a lover of the antiquities of Shrewsbury, was not impressed. Writing in 1808 he thought them “dangerously unwholesome” and “not very favourable to the morality of the lower classes”. Standards had clearly slipped, or expectations risen, since the days of Degory Watur! Owen’s wish that they be removed was granted a few years later.
The Augustinian Friary
(Article first appeared Summer 2019)
By the early 13th Century, many monasteries had lost sight of their original ideals and were seen to be rather too interested in accumulating wealth. Pope Innocent III lent his support to the followers of Francis of Assisi and of Dominic de Guzman who were working among the poor and who treated the idea of living in poverty more seriously than the monks.
From this, emerged the various orders of friars three of which settled in Shrewsbury. The first to arrive were the Dominicans in 1242 followed by the Franciscans in 1245 and finally the Augustinians (or Austin friars) in September 1254.
In response to a petition from the burgesses of Shrewsbury, and particularly the parishioners of St Mary’s in whose parish they had briefly settled, Henry III granted the Austin Friars land outside the town walls where the Sixth Form College is today. This was probably land used as a temporary cemetery during the period of King John’s excommunication, when burials in consecrated land were forbidden by the Pope.
In 1269, the king gave 10 marks towards the friars’ building fund and this was followed by further grants of land, such as was made in 1309 by William Vaughan ‘for the welfare of the souls of himself, his wife, children, [and] ancestors’.
The church seems to have been completed by 1300 with further extensions to the precinct taking place over the next forty years, including land adjacent to the Romaldesham postern known as St Romald’s Gate. The lane now known as St Austin Friars passed through this postern and linked the friary to Romaldesham; that is the area around St Austin’s Street and Barker Street. In 1337 the riverside defensive wall known as the New Work, a stone wall running close to the river frontage, was built to protect the friary and strengthen a perceived weak point in the town’s defences.
Little is known about the actual friary buildings, including the location of the church and cloisters. A tall red sandstone building appearing in old illustrations had “a north-facing gable, an internal arcade to the upper storey and a substantial battered base” and was demolished as recently as 1941. This was thought to be the refectory but was more probably, given its size, part of the church. Oddly, no photographs of this building have yet come to light.
The Friary was an important centre with at least three provincial chapters held there, in 1383, 1389, and 1400 and had important benefactors including Richard, Earl of Arundel (d.1397).
However, standards begin to decline in the fifteenth century and by 1456 there were only six friars in residence. In 1472 one of the friars killed a man in self-defence then sought sanctuary in the church. This led to an angry scuffle with a burgess who attempted to have him ejected, and the death of another man. The church had to be re-consecrated with reconciliation between friars and citizens achieved though the mediation of the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Shrewsbury, Thomas Mynde. There were more examples of ill-discipline in the years that followed.
Meanwhile grants for repairs were made by the Borough in 1528 and 1536 but in August 1538, at the point of the dissolution, the commissioners found the house in a miserable state with ruinous buildings and few goods of any value. The whole site was valued at only 12s. 1d.
Much of the friary precinct was subsequently used by the tanning industry which is not surprising given its proximity to the Romaldesham area, a tanning district since the Middle Ages.
8 – 10, Castle Street
(Article first appeared Autumn 2019)
The 1960s saw widespread demolition of historic buildings in Shrewsbury. Prominent Victorian and Edwardian landmarks – like the Market Hall and Crown Hotel – were lost. There were other less high-profile losses too, including some in Castle Street, the town centre street most visibly transformed in the post-war years. In photos of the west side of the street in the 1950s (the east side is little altered) can be seen a run of apparently undistinguished 18th and early 19th century brick houses south of the old Raven Hotel, itself since demolished. Appearances can however be deceptive!
No 10 Castle Street, Whitfield ladies’ fashions in its latter years, was ostensibly an 18th century building but even a cursory glance at its ill-proportioned frontage and uneven fenestration betrays the reality that behind its Georgian brick skin, lurked a much older timber building.
By the 1930s, the first-floor fenestration had been replaced by a prominent fascia board. Demolition followed in the early 1960s, exposing the timber framing of a 15th century building.
No 8a Castle Street, the popular Church Farm Café, was fronted on Castle Street by Frank Newton’s hat shop and accessed along Owen’s Passage, now a lost ‘shut’. It was already known to be timber-framed, but a survey by JT Smith in 1953 revealed a true gem, a medieval open hall.
As built, it would have been an unusually tall two-bay structure well behind the street frontage, as would have been common at that time for high-status halls of both stone and timber. Oddly, the hall at No 8a was set at right angles to the street, unlike other halls such as the Nag’s Head Hall which lay parallel to Wyle Cop. A screens passage would have given access to the hall on one side and service rooms on the other. Evidence for the latter was very slight but they were probably sited at the west end.
A visitor entering the hall would have seen an open hearth with smoke curling up from the floor to the roof blackening its timbers. And what a roof! In the café’s roof space obscured by a later ceiling, Smith found a glorious collection of medieval roof timbers. In the central ‘open’ truss that had divided the hall into two bays, there was a fine crown post. Extending from it were cusped and ogee-arched braces as well as similarly decorated struts between the tie beam, on which the crown post sat, and the rafters. The two trusses either end of the hall were similar albeit not as richly decorated.
At the far end of the hall would have been the high table, where the owner would have sat on a bench against the wall. Sometimes this end was raised on a dais to emphasise its high status. The solar, the more private family chamber, would have been through a door beyond this end of the hall.
When built, Smith thought that it would have stood in a more open courtyard space. The predecessor to the 15th century Whitfield’s structure to the north would no doubt have been lower and smaller. All this would have been sufficient to let in adequate light.
In common with other halls, both stone and timber, there would have been small tenements on the actual street front in comparison with which the hall behind would have looked very imposing.
Smith regarded it as from the 14th century and the earliest of the timber-framed buildings of the town. Without surviving timbers to carry out tree ring dating, we shall never know for sure if that was the case.
The site of both buildings was acquired by Littlewoods for their new store. The dawn of a new retailing age spelt doom for the old buildings and Owen’s Passage by the end of 1962. Apparently, Littlewoods made a half-hearted offer to re-erect No 8a elsewhere, but this came to nothing. Today, Littlewoods itself has gone, their building subsumed within Marks & Spencer’s.
The Raven Hotel, Castle Street
(Article first appeared Winter 2019)
Of all the lost buildings of Shrewsbury the Raven Hotel has surely been one of the most missed. There had been a Raven on the site since 1520, and possibly earlier, and its influence on the town has been notable and enduring. In the 18th and early 19th century, Castle Street was called Raven Street and its name lives on even today with Raven Meadows.
In 1686, Sir Vincent Corbett paid 3s rent to the Corporation “for the Raven, late Ric Thornes”. The Raven at that time took up only part of the site with the rest occupied by the town house of the Thorne family. The Corbett link probably also explains the choice of the inn’s name, the Raven being the badge of the Corbett family.
The Raven was immortalised by George Farquhar, who wrote the restoration comedy ‘The Recruiting Officer’ while one of its guests basing several of his characters on local people. Despite its enduring popularity (it was also the first play performed in Australia – by convicts), not all have been impressed. In 1905, Rev Auden complained that “among the female characters there is not one who represents a standard of pure-mindedness”.
Thomas Auden also relates how in 1716, a year after the failed first Jacobite rising, there was “a fray at the Raven between two officers of Dragoons, and Mr Andrew Swift and Mr Robert Wood, an apothecary. The Officers insisted on Mr Swift and Mr Wood drinking King George and damnation to the Jacobites, which they refusing, the officers drew their swords, but were severely thrashed. Mr Swift put his man on the fire and burnt him very much. The officers went off leaving their hatts (sic), wigs and swords (which were broke) behind them. The servants at the Raven shared the plunder amongst them.”
Later in the 18th century, assemblies were held at the Raven but when the Lion built its assembly room in 1776-7 ‘Polite society’ went there instead. The Raven also lost its place as the town’s premier coaching inn in 1780 when its proprietor Robert Lawrence moved over to the Lion Hotel and took most of the coaching trade with him. The Raven, however, continued as a family and commercial hotel and later benefited greatly from its proximity to the railway station opened in 1848. A coach service operated by the hotel conveyed passengers and their luggage up the road from the station to the hotel. It was even renamed the ‘Raven and Railway Hotel’ for a time.
The Raven was extensively rebuilt c.1860, losing in the process what would probably have been a Georgian appearance and taking on a Victorian one. The lower southern block of the hotel appears to have been completely gutted and refenestrated. The right hand, taller block was also embellished with Gothic windows and other features at the same time. But it retained the original quoins down its left side mirroring those on the right side of the adjacent property, the St James Commercial Hotel, later Raven Chambers. As a footnote to this, when Raven Chambers was demolished along with the Raven Hotel a century later, its quoins survived and can still be seen as a very narrow slice of older building adjacent to what is now (2019) Taps Bathroom studio.
In the 20th century the Raven became part of the Honeywood hotel chain. Their advertising described it as “an interesting building on a main motor route, it dates in part from the 15th Century (sic). Re-constructed, yet retaining its picturesque charm … it contains several private suites, central heating, lifts etc, in fact, all the appointments, service and comfort of a first-class London Hotel in an old-world setting.” From the 1920s, the Raven was able to offer an up-to-date garage situated at the rear accessed through an archway on Castle Street.
In the Second World War the hotel was taken over by the Red Cross as an American Leave Club for US servicemen to relax in comfort while not on duty. After the war it was refurbished by Honeywood Hotels and enjoyed an ‘Indian summer’ of business which included hosting celebrities performing in the town such as Laurel and Hardy. There seemed no reason to believe that it would all come to an end. However, Woolworths were looking for a site for a new store and their offer for the site proved irresistible. To the shock of Salopians, it shut down on December 23, 1959, and an auction of its contents was held in February 1960. The demolition crews then moved in and by the summer of 1960 the Raven had come down almost exactly 100 years after its last rebuild.
In the 1950s, and for years to come, Victorian architecture was still routinely dismissed as contemptible at least by those who claimed to know about aesthetics, and sentiment alone was insufficient to halt this march of ‘progress’. Even Nikolaus Pevsner, a founder member of the Victorian Society in 1957, rather dismissively referred, in the Shropshire volume of the Buildings of England (1958), to “another curiosity and warning, the Raven Hotel, which would be a perfectly fitting and modest part of the street frontage if it had not been given large stone windows in a big-hearted Gothic style – perhaps in deference to the Randolph.” As the Randolph Hotel, Oxford was built in 1864-6 and the Raven was rebuilt in 1860, it is more likely instead that the architect was reflecting the upsurge in interest in the Gothic style that marked the mid-Victorian age and possibly was also alluding to the venerable origins of the hotel itself. As Madge Moran noted, “The ecclesiastical windows were evidently meant to perpetuate the legend that an early monastery stood on the site.”
There are no doubt fond shopping memories of its successor, Woolworths, but aesthetically ‘Woollies’ was no match for its illustrious predecessor.
(Article first appeared Spring 2020)
Bellstone House was demolished in 1934. By that time, it was a complex of buildings spanning several centuries. In the medieval period, the site was occupied by Gamel’s Tenement. The Gamel family of master masons were responsible for much of the building of the town walls in the early 13th century. Their hall was replaced in the 16th century, but the solar block survived through to the 1930s. In 1808, Rev. Owen described it thus “On the right, up two or three steps, is the great chamber, now a very handsome drawing room. This apartment seems to be more ancient than the rest of the mansion: its unusual loftiness, and the sharp gothic arch of the roof, give it much the air of an ecclesiastical building.”
Buckler’s painting of the 1820s shows a two-storey stone structure with an undercroft below the solar, the latter lit by two lancet windows and presumably open to the roof. By this point, the lancet windows seem to have been fenestrated in the ‘Gothick’ manner which may imply a recognition of the building’s medieval origins by its early 19th century occupants.
In the late 16th century, much of Gamel’s Tenement was replaced by Bellstone House, “a good specimen of the smaller mansion of Queen Elizabeth’s reign” according to Owen. “From the style of the architecture, the arms over the door (a lion rampant and a canton) and the labels E.O. in one of the windows, this house appears to have been erected by Edward Owen, alderman and draper.” Edward Owen was bailiff five times between 1564 and 1576. In Owen’s description Bellstone House “is of red stone and incloses (sic) three sides of a small court, separated from the street by a low wall and gate. The windows are wide and square headed, with heavy mullions. A porch of the debased Grecian manner, so fashionable in the 17th century, leads to the hall. On the left of this apartment is a parlour with a grotesque chimney piece, in which are the family arms.”
By the late 16th century, new stone houses were something of a rarity in the town. Whitehall, Monkmoor Road is a surviving example. Stone was generally reserved for public buildings such as the school (now library) and the Market Hall. Madge Moran suggests that stone recycled from the Abbey may have been used at Bellstone House.
Bellstone House was updated in the 18th century with some new sash windows presumably replacing earlier transom and mullioned ones. Much more significant changes were to happen in the mid-19th century. By the 1860s, the street frontage had been rebuilt in brick with extra windows in a Victorian ‘Tudor’ style. The low walls and gate between the blocks flanking the courtyard were later replaced with more ‘Tudor’ brick and the courtyard infilled for use by the National Provincial Bank. The rear central block seems to have retained much of its original external character but was now hidden from view. The bank closed in 1926 when it moved to new premises on Shoplatch (now the NatWest Bank).
One unchanging feature has been the Bell Stone itself, a glacial erratic left behind after the last ice age and sited next to the steps to the Morris Hall. It famously came to the attention of the young Charles Darwin whose interest in its origins reputedly helped to encourage his growing fascination with geology. It was recorded as being sited in ‘Bent Stone’ in 1672 and that was also the name of the street in 1572, possibly after the Bent family who lived nearby. Over the years this seems to have been corrupted into ‘Belstone’ by 1786, and now ‘Bellstone’.
In the early 1930s, Bellstone was earmarked, along with Barker Street and Bridge Street, as the route of a new through road and was doubled in width, resulting in the demolition of the buildings on the Bellstone House site. Arthur Ward, the Borough Surveyor, ensured that the new, set back building frontages were sensitively designed in a mix of ‘Arts & Crafts’ and ‘Georgian’ styles. In 1933, James Kent Morris formed the Bellstone Hall Co. Ltd and commissioned W.J. Harris, a London architect, to design a new hall for the use of Shrewsbury Labour Party off a courtyard behind the new frontage buildings in what had been the long garden behind Bellstone House.
Stones salvaged from the old house were used for the base of the new hall. Timber beams from the recently demolished Lymore Hall, Montgomery were used in the hall itself. Bricks were hand-made as were roofing tiles sourced from Broseley. The aim was to give the new complex the feel of a medieval hall combined with 16th century house to echo the evolution of the former Bellstone House and other properties in the town. This charming mix of early 20th century buildings provides at least some compensation for the loss of the fine buildings that the Rev. Owen and John Buckler knew.
(Article first appeared Summer 2020)
Sir John de Charleton, originally of the small manor of Charlton near Wellington, was a companion to the future king, Edward II, and was later made Chamberlain of the Royal Household and Lord of Powys. This rapid rise from obscure origins offended the hereditary earls and barons who considered him an upstart.
In 1309 he married Hawise ‘Gadarn’ (the hardy), daughter of Owen de la Pole, last prince of Powys, so securing his claim to one of the largest lordships in the Welsh marches. Her father died without issue in 1309 leaving Hawise as the heiress. She had not reached the age of majority and as a woman she was unable to inherit under Welsh law. Four of her uncles challenged the inheritance and sought to acquire the estate themselves. Fortunately, her father, in his will, placed her as a ward to the English crown.
Hawise petitioned king Edward II and was invited to nominate a champion to act on her behalf in order to assert her rights. She nominated John de Charleton who eased the threat from the uncles and acquired Pole (now Welshpool) Castle. However, he remained particularly wary of Hawise’s uncle, and his rival in Powys, Griffin de la Pole, an ally of the L’Estrange family of Knockin who also had a town house and supporters in Shrewsbury.
Sir John fell out of favour with the king in 1318 and fought against him at the battle of Boroughbridge before changing sides again to support him in Scotland! He then betrayed Edward ll once again by supporting Queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer in the civil war that led to Edward’s death. During that struggle he and other Shrewsbury men captured the Earl of Arundel outside the town walls and took him to Hereford where he was executed without trial. John gained some of the earl’s lands in return. He ultimately fought for Edward III in Scotland and France.
Although he maintained his castle at Charlton, Sir John built a substantial fortified property in Shrewsbury on a site bounded by Market Street, Swan Hill, Shoplatch and St. John’s Hill. The first building on the site would seem to have been a ground floor hall running back along Market Street, probably dating from the mid-13th century. It had a cross passage running through it dividing a great hall from the service end.
Along the Shoplatch frontage was a two-storey building with undercroft below and ‘great chamber’ on the first floor. In a deed of 1470, the house was described as “One Great Hall called Chorlton’s Hall, one great chamber annexed to the Hall, and one great garden enclosed on either side with stone walls.” It was for those walls, no doubt of a defensive nature, that Sir John was required to get a ‘licence to crenellate’ in 1325 from the king. None of the other stone mansions of Shrewsbury in this period could be regarded as defensive structures but Sir John was no mere merchant. As an important lord with powerful enemies, including some in Shrewsbury itself, it may have been prudent for him to not just rely on the town walls for his defence.
Although Hawise had an interest in the Dominican Friary and helped its work, she and John are best remembered for their commission of a magnificent stained-glass window for the Franciscan friary. This ‘Jesse’ window, featuring what is essentially Christ’s family tree, includes the Charltons in its lower sections; the only images we have of actual Shrewsbury people of this time. Following the suppression of the Franciscan friary in the 1540s, it was transferred to St Chad’s. In 1792, a few years after the collapse of old St Chad’s, it was moved to the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury. Pevsner describes it as “without any doubt the most impressive glass in the county”.
Charlton Hall later passed through merchant families such as those of Thomas Bromley and Nicholas Waring. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was in use as a theatre. The whole complex was demolished between 1823 and 33. A new purpose-built Theatre Royal was built on the same site in 1834. The rear wall of the theatre contains much red sandstone, but whether that is merely re-used stone from the hall or surviving walling re-adapted is unclear given its lack of features. To one side of the Charlton Hall site on St John’s Hill a small section of red sandstone survives built into a later brick building. These small remnants are all that are left of the greatest of Shrewsbury’s private stone halls of the Middle Ages.
27/28, Pride Hill
(Article first appeared Summer 2020)
We are fortunate that the Shropshire Museums and Shropshire Archives image collections embrace so many of the minor delights of Shrewsbury’s townscape. It’s not all just pictures of the castle and the Old Market Hall!
The timber-framed houses further down the street offer more interest. The Market Tavern, taking its name from the adjacent Butter Market, was recorded from 1835-61. It was demolished shortly afterwards and replaced by the Clarendon Hotel opened in 1868 and delicensed in 1921. Today, ‘Cotswold Outdoor’ clothing and equipment store, housed in a plain modern building, stands on the site of all three timber-framed houses.
The top of Pride Hill near the corner of St Mary’s Street was home to an interesting sequence of buildings in the mid-19th Century. It is worth witnessing the architectural evolution, some would say decline, of this short stretch over a hundred years. The Butter Market stood on the corner of Pride Hill and St Mary’s Street from 1844-1875. Designed by Edward Haycock, it was a classical building of dubious architectural merit that was replaced by a dull Victorian gothic-style Post Office. Continuing the tradition of mediocrity, the Post Office was then housed in a standard 1960s office block currently the home of ‘Little Waitrose’. Emily Hay has used considerable artistic licence in her depiction of the Butter Market, which in reality was wider and had five columns at first floor level below its pediment!
Hulbert’s Mill, Coleham
(Article first appeared Spring 2021)
Hulbert’s Mill, Coleham was originally built c.1789 by Powis & Hodges as a woollen mill in two five-storey blocks and a four-storey one. Within ten years the venture had failed, and It was taken over in 1803 by Mancunian Charles Hulbert as a calico weaving mill.
He also built a ‘Gothic castle’ as his home on the river side of the mills. He was forced to sell up in 1825 after some of his workers threatened violence when he tried to introduce power looms whilst others moved away to mills in the north-west. Hulbert stayed on in Shrewsbury becoming an antiquarian book writer, publisher and an auctioneer.
The street-side mill premises were already partially used as residences but more at the rear including the ‘castle’ were converted into houses and known as Factory Yard, Severn Square and Severn Court.
They were largely inhabited by Irish migrants at the time of the 1840s potato famine. In the 1870s, one of the two mill blocks, and the ‘castle’, were demolished and an army drill hall was built in 1881 on their sites. It was used by the 4th Battalion KSLI but also for occasional civilian events.
The remaining mill building along Longden Coleham was used variously as a velvet factory, a brush factory and a builder’s store. It was demolished in 1939 and the army extended their control from the drill hall over this part of the former mill site as well.
The drill hall itself survives and is now used by the Barnabas Community Church.
Shrewsbury’s industrial boom, fuelled partly by improved roads and the construction of the Shrewsbury Canal, was short-lived and by the 1840s had fizzled out. Whilst the town lost economically from this misfortune, it gained aesthetically and architecturally by retaining its superb historic townscape that surely would have been largely lost if the boom had continued and it had become another Leeds or Manchester.
At the same time, Shrewsbury has retained most of its key industrial buildings from the late 18th and early 19th century including a brewery, tannery and parts of Hazledine’s iron foundry all just along the road from Hulbert’s mill in Coleham and, most significantly of course, the magnificent flax mill in Ditherington.
Jones’ Mansion, Wyle Cop
(Article first appeared Summer 2021)
Jones’s Mansion stood at the bottom of Wyle Cop, known originally as ‘Under the Wyle’, and took its name from Alderman Thomas Jones (c 1568-1642) who bought the property in 1617.
Hugh Owen’s description of the building in 1808 can’t be bettered. It is worth quoting at length:
“It is a spacious pile, rude and irregular. A gateway with a round arch, too low for any modern carriage to pass, leads from the street to a small court surrounded by the house and its offices. The principal apartments are to the street, and the great chamber still remains in its original state, having a huge chimney-piece profusely adorned with grotesque carving, and a ceiling loaded with armorial bearings and other ornaments in plaster. A group of smaller buildings, close by the river’s side, seem to have been the warehouses of the opulent merchant who erected the house, and there has been a back way to the adjoining quay, for the conveyance of his goods by water.”
Thomas Jones was a very wealthy cloth merchant, known as ‘the rich Jones’. He was admitted to the Drapers Company in 1592, becoming its master several times. Given the pre-eminent position of the company, it is unsurprising that he also served as a town bailiff. He was also appointed sheriff for Shropshire in 1625. His place in the town’s history was assured when he became the first mayor of the town in 1638, a new position replacing both the two bailiffs.
Thomas’ father William had three sons. The eldest, Richard, inherited the family house in High Street, Thomas, the second son, bought the property in Wyle Cop in 1617, while the youngest son Edward, a lawyer and the borough Steward, is listed in borough records as living in Jones’s Mansion, Dogpole now the Prince Rupert Hotel. Until recent research found otherwise, it was often mistakenly thought that Thomas had lived in the Dogpole mansion.
The mansion on Wyle Cop was originally built by William Weale, a dyer, and it was probably his lawyer son, also William, who built the fine oriel at the rear in 1575.
From 1561, the Weale family also owned land between their house and the English Bridge and built a dye house and other structures there. Thomas Jones rented this area out to others and the dye house remained in operation. Madge Moran describes the street elevation as ‘difficult to date’ but thought that there were similarities with Sherar’s Mansion further up the street which dated from the early 17th century. Bill Champion thought that it was “probably Thomas who was responsible for embellishing the ‘great chamber’ with plaster ornaments, and for an elaborate carved chimney piece,” at the front of the house, mentioned by Hugh Owen. Whether the appearance of the mansion’s street frontage was the work of Thomas Jones or of the Weale family remains unknown.
In 1804 the whole site was bought by the ironmaster and property developer William Hazledine who in 1805 amalgamated it with property next door that he already owned, and where he probably lived. The wrought iron links for the Menai Suspension bridge were ‘proved’ or tested on this site in 1822. In 1829 Jones’s Mansion was demolished and replaced by a mixture of houses, warehouses, stables and laundry and became the headquarters of his growing business. Some of these structures survive today although the frontages closest to the bridge were realigned and rebuilt when the English Bridge was widened in the 1920s. It is a nice coincidence that while Thomas Jones had been the town’s first mayor back in 1638, William Hazledine became Shrewsbury’s first elected mayor in 1835 following the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act. A portrait of Hazledine resplendent in his mayoral robes hangs at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery.
The Guildhall in the Square
(Article first appeared Autumn 2021)
In 1261 the market was officially moved from close by St Julian’s and St Alkmund’s churches to the south side of High Street (Gumbestolestrete) on the site of the old Gumbestolesmore or ducking stool bog. Soon afterwards (1270) work began on building a new Guildhall in what became known as the Cornmarket and then the Square.
The Guildhall shown in the drawing above was the third one recorded on this site. This frequency of rebuilding may have been due to their construction over that ancient bog. The central block, on the site of Lord Clive’s statue, and blocking the end of what is now the Square, was known as the Booth Hall and was an open hall built above shops in 1452. In 1583-4, a ceiling and wainscoting were inserted no doubt both to help keep it warm and to bring it fashionably up to date. In it were held meetings of the burgesses or ‘Commons’, which consisted of a majority of male householders in the town by the late 16th century. It also hosted elections and was used for court business.
There was a small room at one end for rent, later used as the jury room. Access was directly off the Cornmarket up a flight of wide stairs. Burgesses were generally expected to rubber stamp the decisions of the Council, but they were more likely to challenge those concerning rights of way, grazing and milling rights.
There were also stairs off the Cornmarket to the Council Chamber that stood at a right angle to the Booth Hall. This too was initially an open hall built above shops. Following its upgrading with the insertion of chimney, ceiling, windows and wainscoting in 1578, it was known as the “Chamber of Concord”. In the mid-18th century sliding sash windows replaced the earlier Tudor ones. In the Tudor period, there were two bailiffs (replaced by a single mayor in 1638), twelve aldermen and twenty-four assistants. They liked to choose from within their circles and favoured their own friends and relatives! As the number of merchants increased with the town’s prosperity in the 16th century, so did disputes over who should hold the relatively small number of positions available. Unsurprisingly, litigation and corruption were rife!
The stone Exchequer Tower of 1451-2 stood to one side of the Council Chamber connected only by an inner door and with only small high windows, both for security reasons as it held the town records and a money chest.
Most of the buildings on the Square in this view were replaced in 1783-5. However, a timber building on the left until recently formed the ground and first floor of the old Plough Inn (the upper floor was added in ‘mock-Tudor’ style in the late 19th century). It is now retail premises. Its neighbour to the right, forming part of the timber-framed terrace in the image, was demolished in the late 19th century and timbers from its frontage were incorporated by Samuel Pountney Smith into his house, The Limes, in Belle Vue, where they can be seen today.
The successor to this Guildhall complex was a fine Georgian classical building by J.H. Haycock, opened in 1785, which succumbed to subsidence caused by the ancient bog. Decorative features from this building form a rockery in the Abbey Gardens by the former Wakeman School. It was replaced in 1834-7 by a handsome structure designed by Sir Robert Smirke the architect of the British Museum. By this time, the borough and county authorities were both housed here. Over the next 100 years the east side of the Square saw buildings of decreasing quality appear as the needs of local government expanded. Finally, it was decided that Smirke’s building, and its neighbours were no longer suitable as a Council HQ and demolition followed c.1970. The whole east side of the Square is now occupied by Princess House, “a vacuous presence” according to John Newman.
As for local government, a new base was created near Lord Hill’s Column in Abbey Foregate in 1964-66. As the wheel turns full circle, the future of both the 1960s Shirehall and Princess House are now in doubt. It seems highly likely that the present Shirehall will be vacated, and local government will once again be based in the centre of the town.
Old Houses in Roushill
(Article first appeared Winter 2021)
Few would think of it as an ‘historic’ street today, but Roushill was in origins a medieval street which until the 20th century contained a number of interesting old buildings.
It lay partly inside and partly outside the 13th century medieval walls. Indeed, Roushill was probably created at around the same time, as a short cut from the main shopping streets down to Raven Meadows and the river, a role it still performs today. There seems to have been a small quayside at the bottom of the street and warehouses have been a feature of Roushill through the years as Birch’s old premises on the corner of Smithfield Road still testify. Roushill also led to Cross Lane, roughly on the line of Raven Meadows today, which gave access to the burgage plots of houses on Pride Hill that had been truncated by construction of the town wall. Later, openings were made in the wall to provide that access more conveniently. One such ‘sally port’ can still be viewed from Raven Meadows in the rear wall of Pride Hill Chambers, formerly McDonald’s and now Hobbs.
By the early 18th century, the Roushill area had taken on a more industrial aspect with a mill, slaughterhouse, malthouse, soap house and timber yard all being recorded. This industrial character persisted into the 19th and 20th centuries. A malthouse built in Ruabon brick by A.B. Deakin in 1888 was demolished in recent years for the Nexus apartment building. The power station of the Shrewsbury Electric Light Works was built in 1893 around the corner at the end of Cross Lane and closed in 1956.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Roushill had a very unsavoury reputation as the town’s ‘Red Light District’. The scale of prostitution was revealed by the enumerator of the 1861 census who, unusually for that time, described the trade of women involved and the premises in which they operated in frank terms as ‘prostitutes and brothels’ rather than using the normal euphemisms of ‘milliners, household servants and lodging houses’. The concentration of most of this sex trade in Roushill and the shuts that led off it became particularly marked after many prostitutes were displaced from their former homes on Castle Hill. This had been demolished to allow the construction of the railway station in 1846-8.
The removal of Sheep’s Head Shut at the end of Mardol to widen of the entrance to Smithfield Road around 1850 also contributed to the displacement of what today would be called sex workers to Roushill. The closeness to the market and the ready supply of nearby public houses, such as the notorious Horseshoe Inn first recorded in 1861 just before it was rebuilt, and further up the street, the Sun Inn first recorded in 1828, facilitated business which seems to have been mostly transacted in properties along the shuts or passageways between Mardol and Roushill such as Phoenix Place (also known as Mason’s Passage). Both the Horseshoe and Sun inns featured regularly in court cases involving prostitution in the 19th century.
Roushill retained its medieval narrowness until the 1960s when it was widened to allow better vehicular access to new developments along Raven Meadows and for the construction of the Riverside Shopping Centre. The whole of the northern side of the street was removed at that time. Since then, much of the southern side has been replaced with the Nexus apartments. Further change is imminent with the northern side once again earmarked for demolition and redevelopment.
Old St Chad’s Almshouses
(Article first appeared Spring 2022)
These almshouses were founded in 1409 by 60-year-old Benedicta Upton, a beer brewer who lived nearby, using rents from two properties in the High Street. In 1424, he died leaving behind a daughter Blase who is recorded as suffering from leprosy. Further grants were made in later years by other individuals and by the Mercers Guild who took over responsibility for their upkeep in 1460 after further endowments by the mercer Richard Attingham. They were often subsequently referred to as the Mercers’ almshouses.
The Mercers were retailers of fine textiles and, in the 15th century, were the most powerful guild in the town, a position they had lost to the Drapers’ Guild by the 16th century. Their guild hall was sited just around the corner in Kiln Lane (now Princess Street).
The almshouses consisted of 13 single-cell buildings, some with ladders to access lofts. Shared chimneys were added in the 17th Century. However, by the 19th century two of the cells had been taken down.
The antiquarian Rev Hugh Owen said of them in 1808: “These almshouses are wretched hovels, and by their projection into the street, are a great inconvenience to the public. The comfort of the poor inhabitants, and the public accommodation, call for their removal to some other situation.” Owen’s complaint may suggest that they had been foolishly built projecting onto an otherwise wide street.
However, during demolition, skeletons were found just below the floors confirming what is evident from the John Rocque map of 1746, that the buildings had originally been built within the churchyard itself with their frontages in line with the boundary wall.
The churchyard retaining wall had then been moved back from its original line sometime between 1746 and 1808, the year of Owen’s comment. This street-widening possibly reflected the rising status of Belmont as a genteel place to live in the 18th century. It can also be inferred that the churchyard itself had risen considerably in height during that period no doubt due to burials. The street had also been lowered and as a consequence so too had the doors to the almshouses which were additionally given steps.
Astonishingly, the almshouses were only demolished in October 1858, fifty years after Owen’s condemnation of them.
The George Hotel
(Article first appeared Summer 2022)
Along with the Raven and Crown, the George was one of three town centre hotels demolished in the early 1960s. It was a more reticent building compared to the Gothicised Raven and the flamboyantly mock-timbered Crown and stood with a plain but elegant Regency-style facade on the corner of Shoplatch and Market Street.
It was recorded as the George & Dragon from 1786-1835, as the George in 1780 and 1804, with both names seemingly in use at the same time, but as just the George from 1851 until closure in 1963.
The site of the George Hotel probably lay within the original boundaries of the medieval Charlton Hall the ruins of whose ground floor hall would have stood immediately behind it until demolition during the 1820s. The George may not have looked particularly ancient from the street, but it contained a plaster panel over a chimneypiece in an upstairs room bearing the date of 1615 along with “the shields of the Prowd and Waring families impaling an unidentified coat of arms”. Presumably therefore it would have originally been a timber-framed building possibly jettied along both frontages in its early years. That appearance was radically changed thanks to the activities of the Shrewsbury Improvements Commission whose chairman was John Brickdale Blakeway, vicar of St. Mary’s and joint author of The History of Shrewsbury (1825), still a major source of information on the town’s early history. The committee aimed to make use of the provisions of an Act of Parliament passed in 1821 for paving, lighting, watching (policing) and cleansing the town. A key feature was street widening where narrow frontages and protruding bay windows impeded traffic and kept pavements narrow. This included the corners of Pride Hill and High Street, and of Castle Street and St Mary’s Street both of which, as old illustrations show, contained picturesque timber-framed structures jutting noticeably into the streets. The Rev. Blakeway seems to have had no problem reconciling his antiquarian love of old buildings with their loss in the cause of improving traffic flow! Shoplatch and Market Street were also targeted apparently for the same reason, though here early images are sadly lacking. Richard Harding, the new landlord of the George at the time, agreed to take 8 ft. 8 in. off the front of the building where it faced onto Shoplatch and where the street width was only 13 ft. He was compensated £240 for the lost land. The curved stuccoed frontage of the George almost certainly dated from this time.
Blakeway, vicar of St. Mary’s and joint author of The History of Shrewsbury (1825), still a major source of information on the town’s early history. The committee aimed to make use of the provisions of an Act of Parliament passed in 1821 for paving, lighting, watching (policing) and cleansing the town. A key feature was street widening where narrow frontages and protruding bay windows impeded traffic and kept pavements narrow. This included the corners of Pride Hill and High Street, and of Castle Street and St Mary’s Street both of which, as old illustrations show, contained picturesque timber-framed structures jutting noticeably into the streets. The Rev. Blakeway seems to have had no problem reconciling his antiquarian love of old buildings with their loss in the cause of improving traffic flow! Shoplatch and Market Street were also targeted apparently for the same reason, though here early images are sadly lacking. Richard Harding, the new landlord of the George at the time, agreed to take 8 ft. 8 in. off the front of the building where it faced onto Shoplatch and where the street width was only 13 ft. He was compensated £240 for the lost land. The curved stuccoed frontage of the George almost certainly dated from this time.
In 1927, under manageress Miss Pugh, it advertised itself as a ‘Family and commercial hotel’ with a garage for 20 cars with turntable (necessary no doubt because of its restricted site). It had three billiard tables and provided luncheons but only a ‘Table d’Hote’ that is a restaurant meal offered at a fixed price and with few if any choices. More ambitiously however it could cater for banquets.
The George Hotel closed on 30th January 1963 and was demolished not long afterwards. Tesco’s opened on 25th September 1965 in an offensively bland replacement building referred to by Ian Nairn that year as “a beastly looking little brick effort”. It currently (2022) houses a fabrics shop, Abakhan.
The Castlefields Flax Mill
(Article first appeared Autumn 2022)
Marshall, Benyon & Bage’s flax mill in Ditherington is unquestionably the most important historic building in Shrewsbury, and the only one of international importance. However, this ‘grandfather of skyscrapers’ was not the only flax mill in the town, joined as it was by a second just down the road in Castlefields of which little remains today.
There was a terrific demand for linen, made from flax, during the Napoleonic wars. The construction of the Shrewsbury Canal in 1796 provided a stimulus and suitable site for a new flax mill on the edge of a town already associated with woollen cloth production.
The Ditherington mill built in 1797 was the product of a partnership begun in 1793 between John Marshall, a risk-taking Leeds entrepreneur who saw the potential of investment in flax spinning, and Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, wool merchants of Shrewsbury and fellow Unitarians who brought much-needed capital to the business. Initially the Benyons’ and Marshall’s business was focused on Leeds where they built two mills.
In 1796 however the Benyons persuaded Marshall that a mill should be built in their hometown. Here their partnership was joined by Charles Bage a Shrewsbury wine merchant with an excellent understanding of the properties of iron gleaned partly from his contacts with such key individuals as the ironmasters William and Joseph Reynolds and locally William Hazledine and the engineer Thomas Telford. The result was the world’s first building with a full internal iron frame designed by Bage and using iron provided by Hazledine.
The partnership at first suited all sides but in July 1804 it ended, reputedly because of concerns Marshall had about Benjamin Benyon’s management of the Shrewsbury end of the business. The Benyons and Bage responded by setting up parallel mills in both Leeds and Shrewsbury, the latter in Castlefields.
The Castlefields mill, also designed by Bage, was actually larger than the Ditherington one and like it had a number of ancillary buildings. Bage himself went his own way in 1815-6 when he built an innovative weaving shed with power looms in Kingsland. By the early 1820s over 1,000 people were employed by these three premises. This boom was not to last. Bage’s death in 1822 was followed by the conversion of his weaving mill into Burr’s lead works in 1829.
Thomas Benyon died in 1833 followed by Benjamin in 1834. They had fallen out with each other and decided to sell their Castlefields mill rather than let it be inherited, no doubt wishing to avoid further family turmoil for their respective heirs. It was offered for sale in 1831, 1835 and 1836 but no one was willing to take it over. Instead, the site was bought by a builder who by 1837 had demolished nearly all of it including the main mill buildings for housing that now forms part of the Castlefields estate.
The main mill buildings lay at a right angle roughly along what later became Benyon Street. They were iron-framed and the looms were powered by a steam engine. In 1811 a Boulton & Watt gas plant was installed to provide lighting. Nothing remains of these structures which were the sixth iron-framed textile mills ever built. Two structures survived the 1837 demolitions. One, likely to have been the apprentice house, was converted into an apartment block and remained as Cadran Place until 1956 when it was replaced by council flats of the same name.
Unfortunately, no image is known to exist of it but like the surviving apprentice houses for the Ditherington mill on St Michael’s Street and Spring Gardens, it was probably a rather austere place with separate entrances for girls’ and boys’ rooms and attached accommodation for the superintendent. Apprentices were recruited from parishes close by such as Prees but also much further afield especially London. The children tended to be orphans, illegitimate or couldn’t be supported by their families.
The flax warehouse was initially converted into a linen weaving premises by Sacheverell Harwood, succeeded by Robert Minns, and was in use as such until 1871. Its original windows would have been small, so the existing larger fenestration, essential for weaving work, likely dates from Harwood’s time probably the 1840s. The flax warehouse had also been iron-framed and that framing survives today within 5-8a Severn Street, a small reminder of the time when Shrewsbury had two mighty flax mills.
The closure of Benyons’ mill in Castlefields was a severe blow to Shrewsbury’s economy and along with the failure of other industrial enterprises, such as that of Hulbert’s textile mill in Coleham, seems to have caused a drop in the town’s population.
Shrewsbury never grew to become an industrial town like Halifax or Bradford but retains vestiges of that early industrial promise in Ditherington, Coleham and Castlefields. Had the process of industrialisation continued throughout the 19th century, it is unlikely that Shrewsbury’s townscape of Medieval, Tudor and early Georgian buildings would have survived to delight us today.