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Shrewsbury in 1841

SHREWSBURY, the county town of Shropshire, in the liberty of Shrewsbury, 138 miles from St. Paul’s, or the General Post Office, London, in a direct line north-west, or 158 miles by railroad to Birmingham, and from thence by Holyhead parliamentary road through Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, and Shiffnal.

The town stands chiefly on a peninsula formed by the Severn. It was formerly wholly contained within this peninsula, but has gradually extended beyond the Severn on the east and west side, forming the suburbs of Abbey-Foregate and Coleham on the east, and of Frankwell on the west ; and on the north extending beyond the isthmus or neck occupied by the castle, forming the suburb of the Castle-Foregate The streets are irregularly laid out, and for the most part inconveniently narrow though several improvements have been made under an act of parliament obtained in 1821 : the streets are indifferently paved, and lighted with gas ; water is provided by a water company, at an average charge of twenty shillings per annum for each house : the water is brought from a spring two miles distant. The only part of the ancient walls which remains is a ruinous wall erected by Cromwell on the north-west side of the town, between the isthmus and the Welsh bridge ; and a tower, and (unless lately demolished) part of the wall on the south side. There are some of the castle, especially of the keep, which has been modernised, of the walls of the inner court, the great arch of the inner gate, a lofty mound on the bank of the river and a fort called Roushill, built by Cromwell. The houses in the town are of very varied character; modern buildings, many of them handsome, being mingled with others of greater antiquity. There are two bridges over the Severn : the English bridge (built A.D. 1774), a handsome freestone structure of seven semicircular arches, connects the Abbey Foregate with the town ; and the Welsh bridge, a neat plain structure of five arches, connects Frankwell with it. There is another bridge at Coleham over the Meol brook which joins the Severn above the English bridge.

There are some remains of the Benedictine abbey founded by Roger de Montgomery (A.D. 1083), and which had at the dissolution a revenue of £615, 4 shillings and 3 pence, gross, or £532, 4 shillings and 10 pence clear. It occupied a low site of about ten acres, in the suburb of Abbey-Foregate. Part of the embattled wall which enclosed the precinct remains: it is nearly entire on the north and east sides. The enclosure is occupied by a modern mansion with its garden and fishpond : and in the garden is a beautiful stone pulpit of decorated character covered with a profusion of ivy. The abbey church, a cuniform structure, was in great part demolished at the dissolution ; but the nave, western tower, and north porch remain, though in a very dilapidated condition, and constitute the parish church of Holy Cross parish. The architecture was originally Norman; but it has undergone material alterations, especially by the insertion of a large perpendicular window in the face of the western tower. Beneath this window is a Norman doorway, the deep recess of which is adorned with various mouldings. St. Alkmond’s church has been rebuilt in modern times, with the exception of the tower and spire (184 feet high), which belonged to the more ancient structure. St. Chad’s has also been rebuilt : it is a Grecian structure, of circular form with a tower 150 feet high. A small part of the old church of St Chad (part of the south aisle of the chancel) now remains, and is used as a school : it is a curious structure, and contains Norman, early English, and decorated remains. St. Julian’s was rebuilt about the middle of the last century; but the tower, which is of Norman architecture, belonged to the old church. St. Mary’s is an ancient large and fine cross church: the lower part of the tower and the south porch are of good Norman architecture, the rest of the church is principally early English, with some windows (especially those of the clerestory, which are all perpendicular) of later date : there is a very good perpendicular font. There is an ancient chapel of St. Giles in the Abbey-Foregate, originally attached to the hospital of the abbey ; it has been repaired within these few years. There are two modern chapels-of-ease, one to St. Mary’s in the Castle-Foregate and one to St. Chad's in Frankwell ; and there are several dissenting places of worship.

Among other buildings may be mentioned the town and shire hall, a spacious and handsome stone building containing two courts for the assizes, a room for county and corporation meetings, a grand-jury room with some interesting portraits, and other offices ; the town and county gaol and house of correction ; the military depot, a handsome brick building near the Abbey-Foregate; the house of industry in Meol-Brace parish ; the infirmary ; the column in honour of Lord Hill, at the entrance of the town from London; the public subscription library, the theatre and the assembly-rooms. On the south-west side of the town is the quarry, a handsome public walk planted with lime-trees, comprising about 20 acres, and extending along the bank of the Severn.

The borough of Shrewsbury, before the alterations made by the Boundary and Municipal Reform Acts, comprised the six parishes of St. Alkmond, St. Chad, Holy Cross with St. Giles, St. Julian, St. Mary (the greater part of it), and Meol-Brace, and had an area of 14,680 acres. There were in 1831, 4057 houses, inhabited by 4509 families, 177 houses uninhabited, and 46 houses building ; with a population of 21,297. The liberties of the borough had, in addition, 435 houses inhabited by 448 families, 7 houses uninhabited, and 2 houses building. The trade of the town is considerable, especially in Welsh cloths and flannel from the counties of Denbigh, Montgomery, and Merioneth ; thread, linen-yarn, and canvas are manufactured, and there are iron-works at Coleham. The town has long been famous for brawn and ‘Shrewsbury cakes.’ There are markets held on Wednesday and Saturday, the latter for grain ; there are market-houses for the corn and general markets. The Severn is navigable for boats of 30 or 40 tons, and there is a canal Wombridge which opens a communication with the Staffordshire collieries.

The quarter-sessions and assizes for the county are held here; and it is the place of election and a polling-station for the northern division of the county.

Shrewsbury is a borough by prescription : the jurisdiction of the corporation extends over the borough and liberties. The boundaries of the borough, as enlarged by the Boundary Act, were adopted in the Municipal Reform Act, by which Shrewsbury was divided into five wards, and had allotted to it 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. Quarter-sessions and petty-sessions, the latter at least once a week, are held ; and there are a court of record and a court-leet. The borough has sent two members to parliament from 23 Edward I.

The livings of St. Alkmond, St. Chad, and Holy Cross with St. Giles, are vicarages, of the clear yearly value of £219 (with a glebe-house), £350, and £323 respectively ; St. Julian and St. Mary are perpetual curacies, yearly value of £159 and £312 respectively. All are in the archdeaconry of Salop and the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, except St. Mary’s, which is a royal peculiar or free-chapel.

There were in the borough, in 1833, four dame or infant-schools, with 165 boys and 149 girls: twenty-seven other day-schools of all kinds, with 939 boys and 750 girls ; two of these schools, with 67 boys and 237 girls, were also Sunday-schools; and there were besides eight Sunday-schools with 444 boys, 275 girls, and 310 children of sex not specified. There was also one evening school with 35 children of sex not specified. One of the day-schools was the Royal Free Grammar-School, which was endowed by King Edward VI, and was long under the care of the late Dr. Butler, afterwards Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry : it had in1833, 260 boys : two others were ‘national’-schools : another a Lancasterian school ; and another, ‘the Blue’ or ‘Bowdler’s Charity-School,’ was well endowed.

Among the natives of Shrewsbury were Speaker Onslow, Job Orton and Hugh Farmer, dissenting divines of note, Dr. Charles Burney, the author of the ‘History of Music,’ and Costard the mathematician.

It is probable that the town was founded by the Britons of the kingdom of Powis, while they were yet struggling with the Saxons, or rather the Angles, for the midland counties ; and it is supposed to have been established by them as a stronghold when they found Wroxeter (the Uriconium of the Romans) no longer tenable. The Welsh name was Pengwern. On the conquest of the town by the Anglo--Saxons, it received the name of Scrobbes-byrig, importing that it was a town in a scrubby or bushy spot ; and of this name the modern Shrewsbury is a corruption. Ethelfleda, ‘the lady of the Mercians,’ daughter of Alfred the Great, founded the collegiate church of St. Alkmund, and Athelstan had a mint here, and it soon became, if it was not the, the chief town of the shire, for in the ‘Saxon Chronicles’ in the account of the reign of Ethelred II, Scrobbes-byrig-seire (now corrupted into Shropshire) is mentioned.

According to the Domesday-book the town had, in Edward the Confessor’s time, two hundred and fifty-two houses, with a resident burgess in each house ; also it had five churches. It was included in the earldom of Shrewsbury, granted by William the Conqueror to his kinsman Roger de Montgomery, who erected a castle, to clear or enlarge the site for which fifty-one houses were demolished ; fifty others lay waste at the time of the Domesday Survey, and forty-three were held by Normans. The castle was erected at the entrance of the peninsula on which the town stands. There had been a castle here previously, which was besieged A.D. 1068, by the Anglo-Saxon insurgents and the Welsh, who burnt the town. The castle and town were surrendered to Henry I, by Robert de Belesme, the third earl, who had risen in arms in favour of Robert, duke of Normandie, Henry’s brother. After being held for several years by the crown, the earldom was granted by Henry (AD. 1126) to his second wife. Her castellan and sheriff Fitz-Alan, held the castle for the empress Maud against Stephen, who took it by assault (A.D. 1138), and treated the defenders with great severity. It was retaken by Henry, son of Maud, afterwards Henry II, towards the close of Stephen’s reign (AD. 1152), and the custody of the castle was restored to Fitz-Alan. The town received a charter from Henry II, but the earliest charter extant is of Richard I. In AD. 1215 the town was taken by the Welsh under Llewelyn the Great, prince of North Wales, who had joined the insurgent barons against John, but was not long held by him. In the subsequent reign Shrewsbury was repeatedly the scene of negotiation between the English and Welsh, or the place of rendezvous in the time of war for the English forces : at other times the surrounding country was exposed to the ravage of the Welsh, and in A.D. 1234 a part of the town, or more probably a suburb, was burnt by Llewelyn of Wales and Richard earl marischal, an insurgent English baron in alliance with him.

In the war of Henry III with his barons, Shrewsbury was taken (A.D. 1264) by Simon de Montfort, the leader of the insurgent barons, and Llewelyn, grandson of Llewelyn the Great, prince of Wales; but the battle of Evesham (A.D. 1265) restored it to the crown. in AD. 1283 a parliament was assembled at Shrewsbury for the trial of David, the last prince of Wales, who was executed as a traitor.

In the revolution which dethroned Edward II, the earl of Arundel, who attempted to support the king's cause, attacked Shrewsbury, but was defeated and taken by the burgesses, with the aid of Sir John Charlton of Powys, and beheaded at Hereford (AD. 1325). In the reign of Richard II a parliament was held here (A.D. 1397-98), at which the earl of Hereford (afterwards Henry IV) brought the charge of treason against the duke of Norfolk. In the early part of the reign of Henry IV (AD. 1402) that king assembled an army here to march against Owen Glendower ; and the year after he fought the famous battle of Shrewsbury against the insurgent Percies and their allies.

The insurgents, under the younger Percy (Hotspur), were marching from Stafford towards Shrewsbury, which they hoped to occupy, as its command of the passage over the Severn would enable them to communicate with their ally Glendower ; but the king, who came from Lichfield, reached Shrewsbury a few hours before them (July 19) Henry set fire to the suburb adjacent to the castle, and marched out to offer battle ; but Hotspur, whose forces were weary with their march, drew off, and the battle was fought next day at Hateley Field, about three miles north by east of the town. Hotspur had about 14,000 men, a considerable part of them Cheshire men, who were famous for their skill as archers. Henry's force was nearly twice as great. The engagement was very fierce, but the death of Hotspur decided the battle. The insurgents were defeated with great slaughter; the earls of Douglas and Worcester and Sir Richard Venables were taken; the first was released, but the last two, with some others, were beheaded without trial.

In the War of the Roses, Shrewsbury supported the Yorkists, and Edward IV showed much favour to the townsmen. His second son Richard, the younger of the two princes murdered in the Tower, was born here. The earl of Rich-mond, on his march previous to the battle of Bosworth, was received into Shrewsbury with some reluctance by the magistrates, but with acclamations by the townsmen.

In the civil war of Charles I the king came to Shrewsbury, where he received liberal contributions of money and plate from the neighbouring gentry, and largely recruited his forces. The earl of Denbigh and Colonel Mytton, the parliamentary commanders, having approached Shrewsbury (July, 1643), were repulsed by Sir Fulk Hunkes, an officer of the royalist garrison, of which Sir Francis Ottley was governor. The town was however surprised and taken by the parliamentarians (February, 1644). A plot formed by the royalists to surprise Shrewsbury (A.D. 1655) failed. Another attempt (A.D. 1659) after Oliver Cromwell's death met with no better success. The only subsequent events worthy of notice are the visit of James II (A.D. 1685); the triumphant entry of Sacheverel, in his memorable progress (A.D. 1710), and the riotous destruction of the Presbyterian meeting-house (A.D. 1714).