Shrewsbury through the Ages

The Wars of the Roses
Richard, Duke of York, had his headquarters at Ludlow in the 1450's, but he realised the importance of Shrewsbury and visited it regularly to curry favour amongst the more important townsfolk. Wars cost money, and the odd gift, or feast of venison, was considered a safe insurance against later claims for arms, men or money.

When Richard, Duke of York, was killed at Wakefield, his son was living in Shrewsbury and he marched from here to Mortimer's Cross, south of Ludlow, to the decisive battle which resulted in him being crowned Edward IV

Henry Tudor
On Edward's death, in 1483, the fate of his sons in the Tower of London is well known, and the result was that the Duke of Gloucester claimed the throne as Richard III.

When it was discovered that the Princes had been murdered there were a number of nobles who thought they must become involved in replacing Richard with a more rightful heir. The obvious choice was Henry Tudor who was, at that time, living in exile in France. Once again Shrewsbury found itself involved in national events

Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven and marched straight to Shrewsbury, gathering an army as he marched. On his arrival, he found the town firmly closed and when he demanded entry, the Sheriff of Shropshire, Thomas Mytton refused and stated that 'only over my body will you enter."

By morning, he had changed his mind, perhaps persuaded by the townsfolk and perhaps by the size of Henry's army. But Thomas Mytton was a man of principle and so as not to loose face he lay on the bridge, belly up, so that Henry had to step over his body to enter.

Henry Tudor stayed in a house on Wyle Cop which still stands and still proudly bears his name.

The following day he continued to Bosworth where, after Richard's death, he was crowned Henry VII on the battlefield. And just to secure his position as King he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the two Houses and bringing an end to the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VII brought peace to Shrewsbury, and even the Welsh ceased to be the troublesome neighbours they had been in the past. The new King was a frequent visitor to the town, first in 1488 when he brought the Queen and the young Prince Arthur.

On a later visit, in 1495, he came complete with his court and it was an excuse for lavish entertainment. It is recorded that Prince Arthur attended a play in an amphitheatre which stood where Shrewsbury's Swimming Pool stands today. Prince Arthur later married Katherine of Aragon and took up residence at Ludlow Castle which was then the headquarters of the Council of the Marches. But he died soon after, and, so as not to loose Katherine's substantial dowry, the King betrothed her to his youngest son, Henry, who was a boy of eleven at the time.

Henry VIII
The reign of Henry VIII is known to even the most amateur historian. His continual changes in wife and his split with Rome had repercussions throughout the country and Shrewsbury was not alone in finding many of its churches going through enforced changes. But the Dissolution of the Monasteries had side effects, not least that it meant the closure of the schools which the church had set up, and the selling of church property to the highest bidder.

The loss of schooling for the sons of burgesses was such that they petitioned the King for a school of their own, and through this Shrewsbury School was created.

In February, 1552, the necessary charter was granted to create a school which, through the centuries, has become one of the country's greatest. Shrewsbury School now stands across the river from the town centre, but earlier it was housed in buildings just across the road from the castle. Today, part of those earlier school buildings house the town's library. It is a beautiful building and a visit to it is well worth- while as, upstairs in what is now the music library, can be seen the initials of countless former pupils carved in the ancient timbers.

Elizabeth I
When Henry died ,in 1547, he was succeeded by Edward VI. But he was just a boy of nine, and those who managed his affairs stripped the churches of their remaining wealth as a simple means of raising money. Then came Queen Mary who tried to return the country to Catholicism.

Throughout this it seems the clergy of Shrewsbury kept their personal views to themselves and consequently kept their positions. But even greater changes occurred when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1559.

During the upheaval in religious matters over the previous decade or so, there had been subtle changes in Shrewsbury's industries. Wool was replacing leather as the important trade commodity. The Welsh wool industry was a scattered one and they had no central market until Shrewsbury became its trade centre. The River Severn, which for centuries had provided the town with primary defence, now provided it with a primary trade route to Bristol and to Europe.

Today the Severn is a quiet spot, barely even used for pleasure purposes, but on both sides of the river, near where the Welsh Bridge stands today, were quays and warehouses, where boats weighing up to thirty tons loaded and unloaded as they plied the river from Welshpool to the sea.

With this increased wealth came changes in the Guilds. Although they were still involved in charitable work, their commercial interests started to take precedence. It was a time for expansion, improvement, and wealth.

There are some who make comparison between the Elizabethan era and the twentieth century. Bizarre though that may sound, there are similarities. Inflation was rife there was a fuel crisis and it was a period of technical innovation. Timber supplies were dwindling and peat was being dug in the north of the county to fuel the bakers' ovens in Shrewsbury. There were also new illnesses to cope with and this brought rapid changes in Shrewsbury's water supply and sewage disposal. There was even a form of quarantine for those returning from London!

Agriculture was also suffering after a series of bad harvests and produce prices fluctuated wildly. Grain was imported to Shrewsbury from the continent and even sold at a loss to encourage local farmers not to hoard their crops. (Shades of grain mountains!)

It was around this time that the new Market hall was built. The ground floor was used for storing grain and the upper for selling wool. This building still stands in The Square and is a fitting centre to the town today. The Rowley family illustrate how rapid growth was in Shrewsbury at this time.

William Rowley came to Shrewsbury some time before the turn of the century and was made a burgess in 1594. He was a draper, brewer and malster and his business premises were the timber-framed buildings which still bears his name. By 1618 he had made sufficient fortune to build an adjoining magnificent brick mansion. But there was political upheaval on the horizon which was to affect not only Shrewsbury but the whole country.

The Civil War
Charles I came to the throne in 1625 and his clashes with Parliament soon started. At that time Shrewsbury had replaced Ludlow as the headquarters of the Council of the Marches. It was a town of political and commercial importance.

Unlike an international war, when one's loyalties are dictated by birth, a civil war was more personal, depending on one's position and circumstances within society. One can almost equate it to a general election where, instead of voting, the electorate fought for their cause.

Shropshire and Shrewsbury were, predominantly pro-Royalist. Of the twelve Shropshire Members of Parliament, only four sided with Parliament. Everyone realised it was a time of preparation and during 1641 the town walls were repaired and reinforced, the gates repaired, arms were purchased and night-watchmen recruited. At night-time the town was sealed.

Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham August, 1642 and this was quickly followed by the garrisoning of towns and country houses. Shrewsbury was garrisoned for the King and he arrived here the following month with an army of between six and eight thousand. He stayed here for six weeks during which time he addressed the townsfolk on the Gay Meadow (now Shrewsbury Town's football ground) . But this was no stirring call for support, it was a plea for money as the King was virtually bankrupt. Some supporters gave willingly, others, such as Richard Newport of High Ercall, gave on the promise of titles to come. Shrewsbury School made a loan of £600 from its funds. It was a loan that was never repaid. Others in the town did not welcome the King so readily, particularly the townsfolk who were forced to house the troops without compensation.

After the monarchy was restored, and Shropshire played its part in that, (see
Legends & People) Shrewsbury slowly became just another county town, but the inhabitants are proud of their heritage. Proud Salopians, in fact, and a visit to Shrewsbury today can be an interesting step back into history. Try it sometime.