Walk 117: Shrewsbury Town Centre: 660+ listed buildings to discover

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.9 miles (4.67 km)

Time to walk: Can be done in just over an hour. We visited the Abbey, a church, spent time in the park, the indoor market & castle, & with a coffee stop took about 4 hours!

Difficulty: Easy, flat walking on hard pavements

Parking: Car parks around the town

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route: You don’t really need one as most of this walk takes part within the central area. Looking at the map, we have no idea how we crossed the river & did a northern triangle, because we didn’t, so ignore that bit!

We spent a couple of days exploring the lovely Shrewsbury & Ludlow areas &…well you know us, just had to do couple of exploration walks

Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire &, as can be seen from the above map, the centre sits in a bend of the mighty River Severn. It’s therefore extremely prone to flooding!  Located just 9 miles from the Welsh border, the centre is stunning with many medieval streets & over 660 listed buildings

Over the ages, this geographically important town has been the site of many conflicts, particularly between the English & Welsh, but the Romans also had a large settlement close by called Viroconium. However it was during the 14th & 15th centuries that the town achieved its commercial height due mainly to the wool trade, given its location on the river & nearby Watling Street

We’ll look at more of the history of this fascinating place as we explore so…

Let’s Walk!

1. This walk is circular so can be started anywhere along its route such as the Castle or Abbey. It passes The Lion Hotel where we stayed (& there’s a story!) so that’s where we start …

This large hotel, standing towards the top a steep hill called Wyle Cop, was built as a major coaching inn, although another inn, the Red Lion, stood here as far back as the 16th century. It’s full of history & the wood-panelled, high ceiling, lounge is worth spending some time in, sitting on comfy settees & soaking it all up. It’s also worth having a peep inside the magnificent domed ballroom

The list of famous customers includes Charles Dickens (some say he wrote Pickwick Papers during his stay), King William IV, Benjamin Disraeli, the Beatles, Tony Hancock, Niccolo Paganini (who gave a concert on the balcony) & Charles Darwin, who began his round the world trip by catching the stagecoach to London

2. Walk a few paces down Wyle Cop (which means “Top of the Hill”) on the same side as the Lion & look down Barracks Passage…

On the left’s Tudor House which now houses Henry Tudor House restaurant & bar. One of the town’s oldest building, it was built in the early 1400s as a collection of shops, houses & a brewing inn

It’s believed that Henry VII sought refuge here on his way to the Battle of Bosworth, where his army killed King Richard III ending the Plantagenet dynasty & claiming the throne on the battlefield for the Tudors

3. Continue down the hill. When we read up about Shrewsbury everyone mentioned the old tip of not forgetting to look up, as many of the old buildings have new lower fronts after being converted into shops. If you look up most retain their original upper levels

Most of the shops along here are unique & you may find it takes quite a while to reach the bottom of the hill…

4. At the junction look left across the road to find a famous Shrewsbury institution…Tanners Wine Merchants. It was established in 1842 by William Tanner, a sea captain, hence the company’s logo of a ship’s decanter. Records exist of his voyages as far afield as Chile & Australia

Tanners stopped bottling wines & beers on its own premises in 1976, ending an era of having bottled great wines such as Taylor’s Vintage Port 1963 amongst many others. The company sells over two million bottles of wine every year from over 20 wine producing countries as well as several million pints of beer & soft drinks

The buildings were used in 1984 for the filming of ‘A Christmas Carol’ starring George C Scott, Susannah York & David Warner

5. Follow the road down towards the English Bridge. On the right’s a very posh looking, boutique hotel called ‘The Lion & Pheasant’ – if you do book ‘the Lion’ we recommend you know which you’ve booked…

The present bridge is a 1926 rebuilding & widening of the original one completed in 1774. There’s been a bridge here since at least Norman times & historically, it was known as the “Stone Bridge”

The English bridge is one of two carrying the main east-west route over the Severn as it loops around Shrewsbury. We’ll come across the Welsh Bridge later in this walk

6. The church with the spire’s The United Reform Church. Worship’s taken place on this site since 1862, although it became the United Reform in 1972

Pass the college on the left. Ahead now our destination starts to loom large…Shrewsbury Abbey on the other side of the railway bridge

7. The Abbey Church of St Peter & St Paul is well worth going inside so please make sure that your visit coincides with opening times

The Abbey was founded in 1083 as a Benedictine monastery by the Norman Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery. It grew to be one of the most important & influential abbeys in England, & an important centre of pilgrimage. Although much of the Abbey was destroyed in the 16th century, the nave survived as a parish church, & today serves as the mother church for the Parish of Holy Cross

Much of the original Norman 11th century building survives in the present Abbey church, notably the short thick piers in the eastern half of the nave & the remnants of the original transepts

8. As you enter, look up on the walls to see some stone war memorial tablets to parishioners who died serving in both World Wars. One name on the tablet for the World War I is that of the famous war poet, Wilfred Owen. Also, don’t miss the ornate font, made from an inverted Roman column

Shrewsbury Abbey is the setting for the ‘Cadfael’ stories by Ellis Peters, in which the fictional Brother Cadfael is embroiled in a series of murder mysteries. ‘Cadfael’, played in the television series by Derek Jacobi is a Welsh monk living at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. The Abbey has a stained glass window close to the font to celebrate him

What many people don’t know is that the first House of Commons sat here in 1283. It certainly is a beautiful place

9. During the early twelfth century, the Abbey flourished. However, the Abbey’s monks felt their monastery was incomplete, lacking any religious relics. The then prior, Robert Pennant, went with his Abbot’s blessing to find the remains of someone suitable for burial in the Abbey. He returned from Wales in 1138 having acquired the bones of St. Gwenfrewi, known as St. Winifred to the English. The relics were enshrined & made Shrewsbury Abbey a major centre of pilgrimage. The shrine is against the north wall…

10. After finishing in the Abbey we need to retrace our steps back over the English Bridge. We’ll be walking by a stretch of the Severn shortly…

At the bottom of Wyle Cop the road divides & the route is straight ahead up the one way street named Town Walls, which unsurprisingly runs alongside a section of the ancient wall

Saxon Shrewsbury was probably fortified in some way, but no evidence has been found. Shrewsbury Castle, which we’ll see later, was built shortly after the Norman Conquest &. for the next 150 years or so, it’s likely that the town relied for defence on the Castle, the security of its bridges, & its elevated position. The building of the perimeter walls dates to 1220 & 1242. Henry III issued a royal mandate urging the men of Salop to fortify the town. He visited Shrewsbury on several occasions, in his campaign against the Welsh. By the 14th century the walls had fallen derelict, & Henry IV commissioned further rebuilding

A map of 1575 shows the town almost fully encircled by walls featuring several towers. They were a means to observe land around the town and river.

11. The church ahead on the right’s Shrewsbury Catholic Cathedral. It’s only small, seating 300 people, & there’s a very good reason for that. Originally, a larger cathedral with a tall spire was planned but, two years into the building, a layer of sand was discovered very close to the building’s foundations, causing them to be weaker than expected. Also, it’s situated pretty close to the edge of the Town Walls. The cathedral was completed in 1856

The views from the wall are across bowling greens & tennis courts, but ahead’s a row of very desirable properties called ‘The Crescent’ which were built in 1793…

12. Leaning back ahead’s the ‘Town Walls Tower’ which is the last remaining medieval surviving watchtower on the walls. It dates back to the 14th century & is now in the hands of the National Trust

Just past the tower is a rather grand building that used to be the Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital

13. Ahead now’s the next church we say you must go inside as it’s rather spectacular & has quite a bit of history attached to it…St Chad’s

The first thing to say about St Chad’s is you’ll be surprised when you enter as it’s a ’round’ church. The current church was built in 1792 & its motto is “open doors, open hearts, & open minds”. This indicates the aspiration of the church to be a welcoming & that’s how it made us feel

Charles Darwin was baptised in St Chad’s church in 1809, & as a young boy attended the church with his mother. The font is still there…

Have a look at the ornate pulpit which is in an ‘Arts & Crafts’ style & made out of copper & brass

What really took our eye though was the vivid colours of the stained glass windows all around the edge…

On the way out, turn left into the small St Aidan’s Chapel. After the World War II it was made into a memorial chapel for the local regiment, the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. It’s worth taking a few moments to look at all the old flags & memorials

14. Back out of the church, look at the beautiful statue of a soldier commemorating the Boer War. Note he’s got his head bowed & his rifle’s pointing downwards to salute his fallen comrades…

15. It’s now time to visit ‘The Quarry’…no it’s not where the Flintstones live, it’s Shrewsbury’s riverside park & you get into it through the blue gates across the road from St Chads

The Quarry was created in 1719 & covers 29 acres virtually surrounded by the River Severn. Although the Quarry is sloping, low-lying areas are part of the natural overflow area for the river in times of high flows & it’s allowed to flood in preference to other more built-up areas of the town

16. Halfway down the hill, turn right into the small, landscaped, sunken garden, known as ‘The Dingle’ which also forms the centrepiece of the park. It’s a former stone quarry, but was converted into ornamental gardens & opened in 1879, featuring many flower beds, borders, ponds & fountains

According to local legend, the Dingle is haunted by the ghost of Mrs Foxall, a local woman who was burnt at the stake nearby in the 16th century as punishment for witchcraft & murder

Look for the bust of the legendary celebrity gardener, Percy Thrower who used to be Shrewsbury Parks Superintendent. He became nationally known through presenting gardening programmes, starting in 1956 with the BBC’s ‘Gardening Club, & then ‘Gardeners’ World’ from 1969 until 1976

Exit The Dingle beside the lake…

17. Walk past the bandstand which was built in 1879 & donated to the park by the Shropshire Horticultural Society. It’s used by military bands during the annual Flower Show. Every few years, river flows are such that flood water almost reaches the Bandstand!

Continue straight ahead to the river. Look towards the large building on the other side on the hill. This is  Shrewsbury School which was founded by Edward VI in 1552 by a Royal Charter

Directly across the river’s the Pengwern Boat Club

18. Turn right & follow the stunning lime tree avenue as it follows the river back towards the town. We did this walk in late October & the colours were beautiful

A hundred or so yards along the path’s a statue of Hercules, which has a little story to tell. Made of lead, the statue once stood in the grounds of Condover Hall, but was sent away for restoration

The most intriguing story though concerns the ‘fig leaf’ to preserve his modesty. He once stood outside St Chad’s where he was thought to be naked & causing embarrassment to the ladies entering & leaving the church!. Today he spares all blushes

19. Next up’s the suspension bridge known as Porthole Bridge which connects Porthole with the Quarry & the town centre. A ferry operated here until the bridge was built in 1922. From March to July 2012 it was closed for refurbishment, which included repainting the whole bridge & replacing the timber deck. It was temporarily replaced with a passenger ferry between the Quarry & the Boathouse pub

Next to it on the Porthill side is the Boathouse pub which if you do visit & ‘have a few’, be careful on the way back as the bridge experiences significant vibration, even when few people are crossing it

20. Continue beside the river past the childrens’ playground & then through the bollards onto Victoria Avenue, as we start to approach the town once more. The attractive pub on the right’s The Armoury

The Armoury is quite a grand building that started life as…an Armoury in the late 18th century, although it originally wasn’t situated on its present site at all. The whole building was moved lock, stock & barrel in 1922, from the Armoury Gardens, because immediately after the First World War, building materials were hard to come by, & they recycled what they had. It has served various purposes in its life, including a convalescence home & a bakery

21. Whilst walking along the river, we’d seen a passenger boat called the Sabrina. If you fancy a trip it goes from a landing stage just here at Victoria Quay, before the Welsh Bridge…

The bridge was designed & built from 1793 to 1795 by John Tilley & John Carline (whose father was a mason on the English Bridge, which we saw earlier. The large building on the other side’s ‘Theatre Severn’ which opened on 25 March 2009

22. It’s time to leave the river & head back into the town centre. Turn right, cross the road & head between the two car parks towards the wooden building with the hole in the middle (unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding when we were there)

Rowley’s House was built by Roger Rowley who was a wool merchant. The house was built in the late 1500s & the brick mansion, next door, by his son in 1618. It’s believed to be the earliest brick building in Shrewsbury

Two mysterious figures are said to roam the house. One of them’s a lady in period costume, who has been seen resting on a bed upstairs & has also been seen in the bed’s original location in the building. The other’s a man dressed in clothes of a similar period, but who ignores his fellow ghost

23. If you can walk through the gap, but otherwise going right round’s fine & then walk down cobbled Hill’s Lane. Before about 1690 Hill’s Lane was called Knucking or Knockin Lane or Street. This may have been a corruption of the Old English for ‘cucumber’, since the street was curved with narrow exits at either end

At the end turn right up Mardol…

The origin of the name of the street is not clear. One possibility is “the mard wall”, or boundary wall. Another is “the Devil’s End”

24. At the top of the street’s a sculpture called “Darwin’s Gate” which was created by the artists Renn & Thacker & unveiled in 2004. The sculpture’s made of cast glass, copper, bronze, stainless steel & stone & is made up of three columns surmounted by metal sculptures

The design of the sculpture combines the form of a Saxon helmet with a Norman window & was inspired by features of St Mary’s Church which was attended by Charles Darwin as a boy. The sculpture makes use of the “parallax phenomenon” as it appears as a single solid structure when seen from a certain angle

25. We’ll come back here shortly but, (a) when the local market’s been awarded “Britain’s Favourite Market Winner 2018” (b) you love local markets & (c) are a real “foodie…turn right & enter a little piece of what every town should still have – the Market Hall

This wonderful market opened in 1965 & replaced a large Victorian market hall of similar proportions that was in a poor state of repair & was condemned as unhygienic, dingy & no longer fit for purpose

It’s a real mix, both on the ground floor & the balcony with fruit & veg mixing with pots & pans, knitting stalls, plus an amazing corner that contains several self contained street food stalls – the Thai one looked amazing

26. Come back out & return to Darwin’s Gate. Although we didn’t have time to visit, the ‘Hole in the Wall’ looks very enticing…

The pub’s steeped in history & is located on the site of a 13th century mansion. It was a favourite stop-over for travelling performers in the 16th century. The pub was been created from two old hostelries, the Hole in the Wall & the Mardol Vaults. During the revamp the remains of a 13th Century stone mansion were discovered. It appears that a certain lady wasn’t happy with the renovation as “Lady Sarah” visits the Hole in the Wall pub after hours, smiling before she vanishes

27. Facing the pub, turn left & walk up the street & then bear right…

After 50 yards turn right into ‘The Square’, the historical centre of Shrewsbury. It seems strange that where we’re standing now, it`s difficult to believe that a little over 800 years ago the area was just a very deep pond! It’s had several names including a “Kettle-Hole” & “Bishop Davids Pond”, allegedly named because David, the 3rd Bishop of Wales popped across the border for a few jars of communion wine & fell into the pond as was drowned!

It was here that they used the Gumbolstol, or ducking stool, as a form of punishment originally for bakers selling underweight bread, which is why you have 13 in a bakers dozen, & wine merchants for selling stale wine or beer, but these two trades were run by men & it was deemed embarrasing to see the chaps being ducked so they moved over & left the stool for……..nagging women!!.

Obviously ladies don’t nag, much, but in the medieval days if a women nagged her hubby he could stand in front of a judge & make his complaint. Surprisingly the judge was a man & the lady was always found guilty! If it was her first offence she would spend the day wearing a “brank”, a metal helmet a little like an American football players helmet, but if it was her second sentencing then she was in hot water almost literally

By the 16th Century, Shrewsbury was the base for the woollen trade & the drapers needed a market place so the pond was filled in & the Old Market Hall was erected

It’s a beautiful building & the top floor is now the cafe & cinema. In past times it would have been used by the drapers & the ground floor would have been the site of the corn market, complete with the original counting frame on the wall

28. Behind’s the old Music Hall, now Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery which was founded in 1835 as the Museum of the Shropshire & North Wales Natural History & Antiquarian Society Society. In 1853 the collections were moved to Vaughan’s Mansion on College Hill, which became known as the Shropshire & North Wales Museum. After 160 years & two subsequent homes the museum returned to Vaughan’s Mansion & the Music Hall Complex after a major redevelopment of the site

29. If you fancy some refreshments, then we can highly recommend ‘Ginger & Co’ – fabulous coffee & the good lady loved her cake (we found it rather tasteless). Refreshed, walk round the other side of the Market Hall & look up closely at the Dragons on the Coat of Arms….no don’t…avert your eyes, dear me!!

Walk back across the square passing the statue of Clive of India who’s wearing the traditional English hat…the traffic cone. Retrace your steps to the junction & then turn right up the pedestrianised Pride Hill

On the left’s the entrance into the town’s largest shopping arcade…the Darwin Shopping Centre

30. Cross straight over the junction into Castle Street to arrive at the former St Nicholas’ Church. There’s been a church on this spot since the 12th century. The original building was knocked down & the Presbytarian Chapel of St Nicholas was built & opened in December 1870. This remained until the mid 1970’s when the congregation relocated to new premises. Since then, the building has been used as offices, a gym, a cafe bar & spa & most recently, a luxury hotel. Many of the original architectural features remain, including the stunning archways, carved pillars & stained glass windows

We didn’t go through it, but to the right’s somewhere that says..”Come on let’s walk!” Shrewsbury has some seriously lovely buildings…

31. Straight ahead the road sweeps down the hill past the castle towards the railway station…

…but our route is right into the castle grounds through the sandstone arch

32. This sandstone castle was built by Roger de Montgomery around 1070 as a defensive fortification for the town, which was otherwise only protected by the river. In 1138, King Stephen successfully besieged the castle held by William FitzAlan. It was briefly held by Llewelyn the Great, Prince of Wales in 1215. The castle was extensively repaired in 1643 during the Civil War before being acquired by Sir Francis Newport in 1663

The Shropshire Horticultural Society purchased the castle from a private owner & gave it to the town in 1924. The castle was internally restructured to become the home of the Shropshire Regimental Museum. Sadly it was attacked by the IRA on 25 August 1992

33. Just to the right of the entrance’s a sign pointing us up a set of steps towards “Laura’s Tower”. It’s worth the climb…

You can’t go up the tower itself, but the view from the walls is excellent, especially across the railway station. Today we were lucky as 70000 steam engine Britannia had just pulled in, a preserved locomotive

34. Having explored the castle grounds, exit back through the arch & visit the impressive library. The site was the home of Shrewsbury School from 1550 until 1882. The buildings were handed over to the town in 1882 & a free library & museum were opened in 1885

In front’s a huge statue of the school’s most famous pupil, Charles Darwin. Other people educated here were Michael Heseltine, Michael Palin & John Peel

35. Stand behind the statue, facing him & turn right up a lovely, narrow lane called School Gardens…

…turning right at the end to head back down Castle Street again. On the corner’s a building with a plaque

It tells us that this shop occupies the site of a building where the first Shrewsbury Cakes were made in 1760. They are made from dough containing sugar, flour, egg, butter, lemon zest & dried fruit

36. Turn left into Pride Hill. Have a look at the plaque on the wall of Barclays Bank which tells you about the cross on the other side of the road…

The cross marks the spot where David III, Prince of Wales was executed on 3rd October 1283 after being tried for high treason by the Parliament that met in Shrewsbury on 30th September 1983. He was…hung, drawn & quartered…

37. Continue straight on down Pride Hill & turn left down beautiful Butcher Row…

This area of the town’s extremely picturesque with the renowned Philpotts sandwich shop on the right…

On the other side’s probably the town’s poshest hotel…The Prince Rupert. The former home of Prince Rupert, grandson of King James I, it dates back to 1150 & is one of the most haunted places in the town. It’s said that a jilted bride hanged herself in the Prince Philip Suite & also a maid called Martha wanders around the stairs

38. If you need a “tinkle” there’s some public loos here. The square surrounding the church is delightful…

The church, St Alkmunds was closed when we visited

Have a walk around as the courtyard near the church is lovely

39. The exit from the the courtyard is down the narrow Church Street…

Now…there’s a pub along here that we think has the best marketing strategy of any we’ve seen…The Loggerheads. which is a really old unspoilt pub

What we loved though is their blackboard advertising, especially the one for ‘Hubby Day Care’

40. Turn right at the end into St Mary’s Street & follow it as it becomes the wonderfully named Dogpole…

At the corner’s the old Guildhall…

41. At the end of Dogpole we arrive back at the junction with Wyle Cop, the Lion Hotel & the start of this walk

Well. what a stunning place this town is! We’d heard it was beautiful, but never expected that it would have so much to see. We were only really there for half day so have probably  missed quite a lot so this walk’s probably only an introduction

It lovely so go & explore, but make sure you book into the right hotel!

Go Walk !