Technically, you could call me a Salopian (just like Charles Darwin). I was born in Shrewsbury due to a chronic lack of hospitals in Mid Wales. I also lived there for a couple of months when I left university. Unsurprisingly, I considered myself to have a fairly sound knowledge of the town and it’s history.
But I was intrigued when I was offered the chance to review Secret Shrewsbury by John Shipley. What more was there to learn? Was there a side to Shrewsbury my (relatively) local self had become almost immune to, like locals often do?
The answer was a resounding YES. Secret Shrewsbury opened my eyes to many aspects of history I didn’t know existed in the town. It’s a great book for someone with an existing knowledge of Shrewsbury who wants to learn more (like me). Likewise, the book would be great for a new visitor who wants to explore the town in a different light.
- The size – The book is a handy A5 size, so fits perfectly in my bag for historical adventures. Its also a paperback, so it doesn’t weigh me down when I’m out and about.
- The chapters – I really like the way the author has broken down the book by the features of the town e.g. buildings, churches, streets etc. I’m really into built heritage so it was great to be able to skip straight to certain chapters. The intro to the book gives the reader a really good grounding in the town and its history.
- The visuals – The book is jam-packed with photos – which makes it really handy when you’re trying to find the buildings the author is talking about – and also charming illustrations from the author.
- Fun facts – The book is scattered with random fun facts from the history of Shrewsbury, adding a bit of human colour to proceedings.
I also think that generally the author did a great job of tying the many threads of history in the town together. Like many historic towns in Britain, Shrewsbury is a mish-mash of many historical eras. The book covered them all – from the Anglo-Saxon to the Industrial Revolution, via medieval and early modern. It was also nice to learn more about the Welsh influence on Shrewsbury – not many people know that Shrewsbury used to be called Pengwern and was the capital of ancient Powys.
The only thing I felt was missing from this book – and I say this about a lot of place-based books – is that it was lacking a map.
I had to do A LOT of googling about where places where before I went due to the lack of a map – and I would consider myself relatively local! Historic towns like Shrewsbury are always full of old hidden alleyways and lanes that don’t always show up on Google. A custom map in the book would have been really handy.
Shrewsbury’s Tudor History
Like I said, Secret Shrewsbury opened my eyes to some of the hidden histories in Shrewsbury. But what was the most surprising thing I learnt?
I always knew that Shrewsbury had a long history, but I didn’t realise how much Tudor history it had. In Barracks Passage there is Henry Tudor House (built c.1430) where Henry reputedly stayed in 1485 on his way to the Battle of Bosworth. It’s now a restaurant.
There’s also The Olde House on Dogpole, built c. 1480. Reputedly Mary Tudor (the future Mary I) stayed here for a short time before moving on to Ludlow Castle. It makes sense when you learn the house was owned by Catherine of Aragon’s steward, Anthony Rocke.
There is also the Old St Chad’s Church – or what’s left of it. All that remains is the red sandstone Lady Chapel. But it was here that Henry VII, Elizabeth of York and Prince Arthur celebrated the festival of St George in 1490.
Secret Shrewsbury is part of a wider series of Secret Histories book published by Amberley Publishing – all designed to pull back the curtains of history to reveal the forgotten histories of towns across the UK. Based on my experience with Secret Shrewsbury, I will definitely be using them again for my future historical adventures.
(Secret Shrewsbury was gifted to me by Amberley Publishing for review, but all love of the book is my own!)