Shrewsbury through the Ages

The Domesday Survey
The Domesday Survey was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by any government before or since:-
In 1085, at Gloucester at midwinter ... the King had deep speech with his counsellors ... and sent men all over England to each shire ... to find out ... what or how much each landholder held ... in land and livestock, and what it was worth ... The returns were brought to him.
It was an extremely thorough survey, and the King even sent additional commissioners to double check those who had gone before. Their orders were to check the name of the place, who held it before 1066 and now? The amount of land. The amount under cultivation. How many villagers, cottagers and slaves there were. How much 'industry there was in the form of mills and fishponds. What the total value was and is. Effectively they wanted to know how much could be taxed and could they get even more tax by
developing the local industries. These are some of the things recorded about Shrewsbury:-

In the City of Shrewsbury there were 252 houses before 1066 and as many burgesses in these houses who paid £7 16s 8d a year in tribute.
If anyone knowingly broke the King's peace as given by his own hand he was made an outlaw, but a man who broke the King's peace as given by the Sheriff paid a fine of 100s. A man who committed highway robbery or house-breaking paid as much.
When the King stayed in this City, 12 of the better citizens protected him by keeping watch. Similarly when he went hunting there, the better burgesses who had horses guarded him with arms.
When the Sheriff wished to go into Wales a man, who after being commanded by him did not go, paid 40s In forfeiture.
A woman who took a husband in any way, if she was a widow, paid 20s to the King; if a single girl, 10s, in whatever way she took a man.
If any burgess' house burnt down through some
misfortune, accident or carelessness, he paid 40s to the King in forfeiture and 2s to each of his two nearest neighbours.
When a burgess who was in the King's lordship died, the King had 10s in relief.
A man who shed blood paid a fine of 40s.
In total this City paid £30 a year. The King had 2 parts and the Sheriff the third. In the year preceding this survey it paid £40 to earl Roger.
The English burgesses of Shrewsbury state that it is very hard on them that they pay as much tax as they paid before 1066, although the Earl's castle has taken over 51 dwellings and 50 other dwellings are unoccupied and 43 French burgesses (who did not pay tax) hold dwellings which paid tax before 1066 and the Earl has himself given to the Abbey, which he is building there, 39 burgesses who once paid tax likewise with the others. In total there are 200 dwellings, less 7, which do not pay tax.

(I like to think that these objections to the new local government were the first that set a tradition of complaints against the Shrewsbury Borough Council which is still often in evidence today!)

Earl Roger's Successors
Earl Roger died in 1094 and was buried in Shrewsbury Abbey, His lands were divided between his two sons, Robert de Belesme, by his first wife, and Hugh, by his second wife. Hugh was killed a few years later whilst fighting the Vikings on Anglesey, and Robert purchased his brother's lands from the King.

Robert de Belesme has passed into history as a real 'bad egg'. Together with Robert, King Henry's brother, Robert de Belesme led the barons in a revolt to depose the new King. Earl Robert (de Belesme) strengthened the castles at Shrewsbury, Montgomery and Ludlow, and even built a new one at Bridgnorth. But King Henry marched against him and, after taking Bridgnorth, reached Shrewsbury to confront Earl Robert. Earl Robert met the King at the gates, confessed his treason and relinquished the keys of the Castle. His banishment was a great relief to the oppressed townsfolk of Shrewsbury.

Henry I
After Robert was banished, Shrewsbury Castle became a Royal fortress, and during Henry's reign Shrewsbury, like many towns, flourished as he lifted many of the restrictions that had, probably by necessity, been placed on the Saxons by William. Trade increased, towns grew and sheep farming was introduced by the Cistercian monks. This latter was of great importance to The Marches region and much of Shrewsbury's wealth came from the backs of sheep.

By this time, Shrewsbury was beginning to attain a shape which is recognisable today, and two bridges had been built to ease access to the town. The 'English' bridge was probably built when the Abbey was built, and the original 'Welsh' bridge was built, probably a few yards upstream from the present structure.

Henry I died in 1135 and his death brought civil war between the supporters of the claimants to the throne. Henry had made his barons promise that his throne should pass to his daughter Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou. But on Henry's death Stephen, a grandson of William was crowned
instead. Shrewsbury Castle was garrisoned in support of Matilda and King Stephen laid siege for four weeks. Stephen finally took the castle and slaughtered ninety-three defendants 'for their obstinacy'. The final outcome was that Stephen adopted Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir.

Early Tourism
In our great English Abbeys it was the custom to encourage pilgrims as a means of increasing income. For this reason, in 1137, Abbot Herbert of Shrewsbury Abbey negotiated with the Welsh for the purchase of the remains of St. Winefride from Holywell in North Wales. Legend told of how this holy virgin had resisted the advances of a pagan prince. He had cut off her head but had himself melted as wax before a fire. Her priest had replaced her head and she become the blessed Wenefreda shining with unnumbered virtues'. Of course, it wasn't referred to as tourism, but the increase in visitors, even in the form of pilgrims, brought income to the town as does tourism today!

Trouble with the Neighbours
Henry II came to the throne in 1154 and with him came a new era of development and prosperity. With the wool came the cloth industry, and Shrewsbury wasn't alone in seeing a new merchant class emerge. For Shrewsbury, it was a time of imports, too, as leather imported from Cordova was used in a thriving leather industry in Frankwell.

Henry visited Shrewsbury in 1158, on his way to Wales, and he obviously saw the importance of this Marches town as he was responsible for rebuilding thecastle in stone.

It was an era of charters, through which Shrewsbury became 'independent' from the Crown. Such charters gave a town the right to collect dues, elect officials, set up guilds and hold markets. - The earliest still in existence was granted by Richard I in 1189.

By the end of Richard's reign Shrewsbury had a number of industries protected and guarded by a Merchant Guild. The trades included tanners skinners, shoe, glove and purse makers, parchment dealers, wood, metal, stone, and horn craftsmen, drapers, tailors, as well as the trades relating to defence, such as armourers, bowyers, fletchers and farriers, and trades relating to the all important river such as boat building and sail making, as well as the day to day crafts relating to the production of food.

In 1199, John came to the throne, and, as A.A.Milne wrote in one of his poems, 'King John was not a good man.' But it didn't need a 'good man' to realise that there would soon be trouble with the Welsh. Seven years earlier, Llewelyn the Great called a parliament of all the Welsh lords and they agreed to restore Wales to its original boundaries. They even got the Pope on their side and he granted their request to withdraw their oaths of fealty to the English King. King John tried to calm the situation by marrying his daughter, Joan, to Llewelyn, even giving him the lordship of Ellesmere as dowry. But in 1211, Llewelyn declared war against the English king.

In an effort to strengthen support in The Marches, John granted further charters to Shrewsbury which included the right to take tolls on 'imports' from Wales, including their all important wool trade. John attacked Llewelyn, and lost, then the following year he brought a bigger army to Wales and this time it was Llewelyn's turn to be on the loosing side and he used his wife to sue for peace. But Llewelyn didn't take defeat happily, and in 1213 he raised another army, and two years later he took Shrewsbury.
For the next seventy years, Shrewsbury was a frontier town as the surrounding countryside and even the town were ever at the mercy of the marauding Welsh. In 1216, King John died and he was succeeded by Henry III. In 1237 Llewelyn was succeeded by first his son and then his grandsons, but still the unrest went on. During those years Shrewsbury's castle was continually being strengthened and the town must have been more 'garrison' than 'civilian'.

But in 1283, by which time Edward I was on the throne an event happened in Shrewsbury which was to see the end of one era and the beginning of another.