SAXON AND MEDIEVAL SHREWSBURY
The story of Shrewsbury begins in the Anglo-Saxon era. Shrewbury began as a Saxon town. It was first mentioned in the year 901. Its place name ending 'bury' showed it was once a fortified settlement called a burgh. (The Saxons created a network of fortified settlements across England). Shrewsbury was probably protected by a ditch with an earth rampart and a wooden stockade.
In the 10th century Shrewsbury had a mint so it must have been a fairly important place. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Shrewsbury probably had a population of about 1200. It would seem tiny to us but Medieval towns were very small.
The Normans built a wooden fort at Shrewsbury. However in 1069 a rebellion occurred and the rebels laid siege to the fort. When Norman reinforcements arrived the rebels set the town alight then fled. Although part of Shrewsbury was burned the town soon recovered. (Fire, whether deliberate or accidental was a constant hazard in Medieval towns when most buildings were of wood with thatched roofs. On the other hand if they burned down they could easily be rebuilt).
Shrewsbury Abbey was founded in 1083 by Roger de Montgomery the first Earl of Shrewsbury. The same man built a castle in Shrewsbury to replace the rough wooden fort.
In the Middle Ages Shrewsbury flourished. By the 12th century it had 2 bridges. In the early 12th century King Henry I gave Shrewsbury a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). King Richard I gave Shrewsbury a 2nd charter in 1189. In the 13th century stone walls were built around Shrewsbury.
By the 14th century Shrewsbury probably had a population of about 3,000. To us it would seem no more than a village but by Medieval standards it was a fair sized town.
There was an important leather industry in Shrewsbury. There were skinners and tanners in the town as well as shoemakers and glovers. In the late Middle Ages Shrewsbury grew prosperous on the Welsh wool and flax trade. There were many drapers and tailors in Shrewsbury.
In the 13th century friars arrived in Shrewsbury. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach and help the poor). Franciscan friars were called grey friars because of their grey costumes. Dominican friars were called black friars. There were also Austin friars in Shrewsbury.
The Abbot's House in Butchers Row was built in the mid-15th century.
During the 13th century there was frequent warfare between the English and the Welsh. Shrewsbury was, obviously, in the front line because of its position. In 1215 Shrewsbury was captured by the Welsh under their leader Llewelyn the Great. However the Welsh only held the town for a short time. Nevertheless warfare between the English and the Welsh continued through the 13th century.
Then in 1403 the Battle of Shrewsbury was fought. A powerful noble called Henry (Harry) Percy (also known as Harry Hotspur) led a rebellion against the king and his forces marched to Shrewsbury. King Henry IV led a larger army against him and the two sides met in battle. At first the fighting was between archers and the rebels seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
However when fighting began between men at arms the king's army prevailed. Crucially Harry Hotspur was killed ending the rebellion. The Battle of Shrewsbury was a bloody one. How many men died is not known but the figure ran into many thousands.
In 1540 Henry VIII closed Shrewsbury Abbey. Henry also closed the friaries.
Nevertheless the town of Shrewsbury thrived in the late 16th century and the 17th century. It was famous for its wool industry. Draper's Hall was built in 1658. By that time Shrewsbury was an important town with a population of around 6,000. Meanwhile Shrewsbury School was founded by Edward VI in 1552.
Several famous buildings were erected in Shrewsbury in the 16th century. Ireland's Mansion was built around 1575. The Old Market Hall was built at the end of the century, probably around 1596. Owen's Mansion was built around 1592. Rowley's House was built in 1618.
By the 18th century Shrewsbury was a large and important market town. It was also an important coaching town. Stagecoaches travelling from London to Holyhead (for ships to Ireland) stopped at Shrewsbury.
In the 18th century the 2 bridges in Shrewsbury were rebuilt. English Bridge was built in 1770s. Welsh Bridge followed in 1795. Meanwhile an infirmary was built in Shrewsbury in 1743. Furthermore St Chad's Church collapsed in 1788 but it was rebuilt in 1792.
Robert Clive, also known as Clive of India was MP for Shrewsbury from 1762 until his death in 1774. He was also once mayor of Shrewsbury, in 1762.
Furthermore at the end of the 18th century Shrewsbury Castle was 'modernised' to make it a comfortable home.