Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury

Today’s Treasures – SHREWSBURY

Everyone loves a good ghost story.  In January, I gave a talk on folklore – myths, legends – and tales of witches, wizards, Druids, saints, fairies – and of course ghosts.

Did you know that Shropshire is one the most haunted counties?   And with its timbered buildings and cobblestone alleys it is hardly surprising that Shrewsbury is believed to be one of the oldest and most haunted towns in the UK and that the dead are often seen walking among the living along its cobbled streets.

There’s that macabre painting in a room in the Nags Head that is said to be cursed – and allegedly caused the suicides of three people who slept in that room.  No-one knows who painted it in such a strange place – or why – but their ghosts still haunt this 17th century coaching inn.

The Dun Cow is one of the oldest public houses in the UK – built by Roger de Montgomery, First Earl of Shrewsbury, around 1085 – it was a hostelry with its own brewery.  A Dutch army officer was hung on the scaffold in the stables – but he is just one of the ghosts said to haunt this pub.

Shrewsbury castle is haunted by serial killer, Bloody Jack who was finally hung, drawn and quartered on Pride Hill; and the station has the ghost of a local councillor who was crushed when the roof collapsed over platform 3 in 1887.

Perhaps that’s why Shrewsbury also has a lot of saints, immortalised in its churches:   St. Nicholas, St Chad, St. Alkmund, St. Mary, St. George, St. Peter and St. John.

St. Alkmund’s church is haunted by the spirit of a drunken 15th-century steeple jack who fell to his death after attempting to climb the church tower on a wager.

In 911, Aethelfleda, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, believed that St. Alkmund, prince of Northumbria, was her ancestor, and she named the churches built at that time after him – at Aymestrey, Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – most likely all fortified towns on the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester – providing protection from marauding Danes.

The spire of the medieval church of St Mary’s – one of the tallest in England – has dominated the skyline of Shrewsbury’s old town for over 500 years. In 1739, showman Robert Cadman attempted to slide from it, head first, using a rope and a grooved breastplate. His engraved obituary stands outside the west door.

Published in the february edition of the Whitchurch gossip

Why do we have churches In Shropshire called St. Alkmund?

St. Alkmund’s Church in Whitchurch

St. Alkmund was a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria, – so why do we have churches in Shropshire named after him?  In 889, Aethelfleda, governed Mercia (which was a massive area across the whole of central England).  She was a very powerful woman and was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’.  She believed that St. Alkmund was her ancestor, and she named the churches built at that time after him – at Aymestrey, Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – which were most likely all fortified towns on the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester – so the churches would therefore have had some protection from marauding Danes.

I always feel very fortunate to have been born in Britain – where women have mostly been respected and we have had some great female leaders – like Aethelfleda – and Boadicea, who was queen of the Iceni and led her people into battle against the Romans.

 

Today’s Treasure – Croft Ambrey Hillfort

TODAY’S TREASURE:  CROFT AMBREY HILLFORT

Croft Ambrey, comprises a hillfort, a Romano-Celtic temple and a medieval warren; it was excavated between 1960 and 1966 and found to have been in use from the 6th century BC up to AD 48 by a population of 500-900 people.  Finds included weapons, bone and antler artifacts, hammer stones and Iron Age pottery.

As well as the rampart banks and ditches there is a series of mounds which are the remains of a medieval rabbit warren constructed for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares which provided fresh meat and skins.

The Romano-Celtic temple was built over two phases and excavation found the remains of fire pits and stake holes.  Its purpose was to house treasures to revere the gods and serve the spiritual needs of the community.  Communal gatherings took place outside.

From the top there are extensive views over the Herefordshire countryside and it’s easy to see why it was an excellent place for a settlement.  There are many ancient trees – oak, beech and yew – that could tell amazing stories of the ancient communities that lived there.

Standing under these primeval branches it’s easy to imagine Druidic priests collecting magical mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it before it touched the tainted earth ready to use in spiritual rituals.

These hillfort trees could have watched prehistoric communities gathering around fires, wearing animal skins, heating food in cooking pots, gathering bracken for bedding and blackberries and hazelnuts for food – and defending the ramparts from invading Romans with bows and arrows.

Many generations of animals and birds have nested in their branches and hollows and their decaying boughs still provide a haven for invertebrates and reptiles – including common lizards and slow worms.

It is thought that Aymestrey (at the foot of the hill) was once a fortified town, along with Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – along the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester.   In 889, Aethelfleda governed Mercia (which was then a massive area across the whole of central England) and St. Alkmund was a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria.  Aethelfleda was a very powerful woman and was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’.  She built churches in fortified towns so they would have some protection from marauding Danes and, as she believed that St. Aklmund was her ancester, she named the churches after him.

The Croft family still live at Croft Castle but the estate is managed by the National Trust.

This article is published in the January 2019 edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.

Evolution Explored, Shrewsbury

Evolution Explored, honours Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on 12th February, 1809 – if he visited his childhood town today I wonder what he would remember from his boyhood in Shrewsbury.  The river still meanders under English Bridge to the East and Welsh Bridge to the West and The Market Hall still stands in the Square, but he might be quaintly surprised that the Darwin Centre is a shopping centre and the museum is in the Music Hall – very confusing to any visitors to the town.

He might also be very interested in a unique outdoor photographic exhibition that has just arrived in Shrewsbury honouring his birthday and International Darwin Day and also commemorating the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos – a co-operative of photographers formed in 1947. Noted for its diverse work chronicling world events and personalities, Magnum provides a living archive of people, places and discoveries reflecting our built environment, society and history that have shaped the world we live in today.

The exhibition was opened by Mike Matthews, Chairman of Shrewsbury BID with a very eloquent speech describing the range of photographs depicting a complex world of beauty, conflict, sadness, wonder, exploration, compassion and discovery and the emotions invoked by gazing at the images.

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David Hurn, one of Magnums most celebrated photographers, also spoke at the opening ceremony in St. Mary’s Church, saying how important photography is – in whatever format – and how much he hoped that the exhibition would reach out to young people and encourage their creative talents.

The photographs are displayed in two locations in the town – outside St. Mary’s Church and in The Square and are brought to Shrewsbury thanks to The Shrewsbury BID and The Hive.  Shrewsbury Business Improvement District represents over 500 businesses in the town and has been tasked with destination marketing – putting Shrewsbury on the tourist map. The Hive is a creative hub celebrating arts culture and creativity and providing funded creative projects for young people.

This exhibition is certainly unique – and definitely worth a visit – have a day out in Shrewsbury – you can get the train from Whitchurch or Wem, visit the exhibition, have lunch at one of the amazing cafes in the town, enjoy a stroll along the river and pause on Welsh bridge for a moment to think about how life has changed – and how much we have learned – since Darwin was a boy.

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