The History of Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury appears to have began life as a fortified Saxon settlement; occupying an important position in the northern part of the Anglo Welsh border territories. The settlement is known to date back to at least the very beginning of the 10th century AD, but may go back at least a century or two earlier. There is also some suggestion that the ‘Princes of Powys’ had a strategic seat called Pengwern at the site as early as the 5th and 6th centuries. A Mint was established in Shrewsbury in the 10th century, indicating that it was an important Saxon settlement.
The Normans built a wooden castle at Shrewsbury in the 11th century, which was mostly burnt down by rebels in the latter part of the century. Roger de Montgomery became the first Earl of Shrewsbury in the latter half of the 11th century. He built Shrewsbury Castle in 1074 and is also for the construction of Shrewsbury Abbey in 1083. The town is also remembered by England’s most famous writer of all, William Shakespeare in the play King Henry IV, part one. The Battle of Shrewsbury took place between King Henry IV and Harry Hotspur in 1403 and is an important part of the of the plot. The real battle of Shrewsbury was indeed a huge battle, with many thousands killed. The battle went well in the end for the King, despite some early advantage for Hotspur’s troops.
Shrewsbury thrived during the Middle Ages, thanks to the growth of the wool trade. The old Roman road, Watling Street, ran from nearby Wroxeter , across the middle of England and all the way to Dover in Kent . This, together with the River Severn , provided excellent means for transportation and helped Shrewsbury gain importance as a trading town. Alongside the wool trade was a thriving leather trade and drapers and tailors were also doing well in Shrewsbury. During the Middle Ages, Shrewsbury was often on the front line in struggles between the Welsh and the English, even being captured briefly by Llewelyn the Great at one point; but this did not seem to affect Shrewsbury’s steady growth as a prospering Market Town.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the town continued to develop. King Edward VI built Shrewsbury school in 1552 and many more key buildings were constructed in Shrewsbury over the next two centuries. The geographical location of Shrewsbury once again helped its prosperity, as it became a principal coaching town. Shrewsbury was an important stop on the road from London to Holyhead , the principal port for boats to and from Ireland.
The Industrial Revolution did not have the same effect on Shrewsbury that it had on many British towns. There was no large scale installation of modern factories, this despite Shrewsbury being the home of the first iron frame building in the world. Ditherington Flax Mill, built in 1797, claims this honour. Instead the town continued to evolve gently into modern Shrewsbury. Charles Darwin was born there in 1809. In the early years of the 19th century the Improvement Commission set out to modernise Shrewsbury by installing paving and lighting; as well as bringing in street cleaning. The coming of the Railway gave the town further impetus and became something of a major source of employment for the town.
The town still retains a number of its historic buildings, having avoided the unwanted attentions of the bombers during World War II suffered by so many British towns and cities. Unfortunately, a lot that was ignored by the Nazi’s fell victim instead to insensitive town planning and the stark architectural style of the 1960s. The town’s own council caused considerable damage to the look of the town centre. Many timber frame buildings were actually torn down to make way for a multi storey car park.