including SHREWSBURY TOWN WALLS
Shrewsbury Castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest over the top of pre-existing Saxon defences and also required a portion of the town to be cleared to make space. It was partially rebuilt in stone by Henry II. Turbulent relations with the Welsh prompted the construction of a stone town wall in the mid thirteenth century and the castle was also upgraded at this time.
Shrewsbury was first settled by refugees from the Roman town of Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) in the late fifth or sixth century AD. The new site was chosen as it was located within a loop of the River Severn and surrounded by marshes, both of which afforded it strong natural defences. By the seventh century AD it had developed into a town known as Scrobbesbyrig, which translates from Old English as 'fortified place in scrubland'. No later than the ninth century AD Shrewsbury was re-founded as a fortified town (burh) possibly by Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great. The settlement was protected by an earth rampart topped with a timber palisade and fronted by a ditch which enclosed an irregularly shaped area extended south-west from the isthmus at the north end. By the AD 920s coinage was being minted at Shrewsbury and by 1066 it had become a major settlement of circa-300 houses.
In the immediate aftermath of the Norman invasion, William I sought to secure the Anglo-Welsh border by creation of three Earldoms – Chester, Hereford and Shrewsbury - and assigning them to powerful magnates who had the resources to contain the Welsh. Shrewsbury was granted to Roger de Montgomery, one of William I's closest allies. In his Earldom, Roger had 'Marcher Lord' status - quasi-Regal powers which included the right to seize whatever land he could from the Welsh. He constructed Shrewsbury Castle to serve as the caput of his new domain and to provide a secure base from which to mount military operations. In the surrounding area, Roger granted many of the surrounding manors to his retainers but, whilst Shropshire was extensively fortified, the immediate hinterland around Shrewsbury was kept clear of castles to ensure the town was dominant.
Shrewsbury Castle was built in the north-eastern corner of the Saxon burh straddling the rampart and was undoubtedly a massive intrusion on the existing town. The Domesday survey of 1086 records that 51 houses were demolished to make space for the new fortification and a further 50 were made uninhabitable to provide clear views. Given that there were only around 300 houses in the town, this led to complaints from the populace that it was unfair to demand the same amount of tax as during the previous reign. The castle itself was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortress. The motte was built over the Saxon town rampart and directly overlooked the River Severn. The mound was topped with a wooden palisade and tower. Extending to the north-west was an Inner Bailey which enclosed an area of one acre and hosted the Great Hall and associated ancillary buildings. Projecting south and west of the motte was a large Outer Bailey that was built over the line of the Saxon town wall. Unusually this Outer Bailey also straddled the main north/south road into the town forcing traffic to enter or leave the town through the castle’s precincts. The Chapel of St Nicholas was located within the Outer Bailey.
Shrewsbury was attacked by Edric Silvaticus (Eric the Wild) in 1069. He had refused to submit to Norman domination and allied himself with the Welsh in 1067 and thereafter launched an unsuccessful attack on Hereford Castle. He was driven off but in 1069 launched an assault against Shrewsbury. His forces burnt the town and besieged the castle but the latter held out and Edric once again retreated. He was defeated at Stafford later the same year.
Roger de Montgomery died in 1094 and his English estates, as well as his title of Earl of Shrewsbury, passed to his son, Hugh. However, he died in 1098 and was followed by his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, who had previously inherited his father’s Normandy estates. Accordingly, when William II of England was killed in 1100, he sought the re-unification of England and Normandy. Despite Henry I taking the English throne, Robert opposed him and instead supported the claim of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. The latter invaded but ultimately his campaign failed enabling Henry to secure the throne and take revenge on those magnates who had supported his rival. Robert's estates - including Arundel, Tickhill and Shrewsbury - were besieged forcing him to capitulate. Robert was allowed to go into exile but his estates, including Shrewsbury, were forfeited to the Crown.
Henry I died in 1135 without leaving a male heir and the country slipped into civil war over the succession. Shrewsbury Castle was initially held for Stephen of Blois, who had assumed the role of King following the death of Henry. However, in 1138 Shrewsbury Castle was seized by William FitzAlan on behalf of the other claimant, Matilda. Royal forces rushed to the castle and besieged it ultimately forcing its surrender. Around 100 defenders were hanged from the battlements after its capture.
The motte is now covered by trees and topped with an eighteenth century folly. The motte was deliberately positioned adjacent to the river.
Shrewsbury Castle remained an earth and timber fortification until the reign of Henry II (1154-1189). At this time the Inner Bailey curtain wall was rebuilt in stone and the Great Hall was constructed (presumably replacing an earlier timber structure). The shell keep and tower on top of the motte were not rebuilt at this time probably as the earthwork was assessed as structurally unsound. It is unclear if the Outer Bailey was (fully) rebuilt in stone but, by the thirteenth century, this enclosure had been given up to the town.
Shrewsbury was attacked by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1215 and this prompted calls for enhanced town defences to replace the existing earthworks that had been founded in Saxon times. Murage, the right to raise taxes to fund fortification, was granted by Henry III in 1220 and this marked the start of a substantial rebuilding of the town walls. The new defences were constructed from a mix of coursed and squared red sandstone and enclosed a much larger area than the former town defences. In particular the perimeter of the wall was extended to enclose a D shaped area to the south and west of the original town. Welsh Bridge, on the northern side of the town, was fortified at this time with two gateways - Welsh Gate and Mardol Gate - constructed to control access. However, the defences were probably still incomplete in 1234 when the town was attacked and burnt by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Murage continued to be levied to fund maintenance of the walls through to the late fourteenth century although the circuit had probably been completed no later than 1252.
The sole surviving tower of Shrewsbury Town Walls.
Concurrently with the construction of the town walls, work also started on rebuilding Shrewsbury Castle. Royal records detail significant expenditure between 1222 and 1260. The Great Hall was rebuilt at this time into a two storey structure with storage on the lower level and the hall above whilst two polygonal towers were added at either end. The structure was sufficiently grand to warrant holding peace negotiations with Welsh leaders at the castle in 1241 and 1267. However, in 1271 a portion of the motte succumbed to subsidence caused by its proximity to the river. It took with it the timber complex on its summit. The rear of the motte was revetted with stone buttressing to prevent a further collapse and, between 1280 and 1300, a small watchtower was built on the summit.
The Great Hall was rebuilt by Henry III.
Later Medieval Period
Shrewsbury served as a major base of operations for Royal forces during the Wars of Welsh Independence. In both 1277 and 1283, the English launched three pronged attacks into Wales from Chester, Shrewsbury and Carmarthen castles. The conquest of Wales reduced the importance of the border fortress but in 1400 the outbreak of the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion against Henry IV restored its military purpose. This rebellion rumbled on for almost ten years but the situation became particularly serious when an important English magnate, Henry Percy, allied himself with the Welsh. Percy moved his forces towards Shrewsbury planning to pass through the town and enter into Wales to rendezvous with Glyndŵr but he found the town and castle in the custody of Henry, Prince of Wales (the future Henry V) who denied them entry. Percy withdrew and was intercepted and defeated by a Royal force at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403).
After the Glyndŵr rebellion Shrewsbury Castle was neglected and it played no significant role in the Wars of the Roses. In 1565 Elizabeth I regarded it as superfluous and it was leased as a private residence to Richard Onslow, a wealthy cloth merchant. The town walls had also fallen into disrepair by this time - Stone Gate, which controlled access across English Bridge, collapsed due to flooding in 1542. In 1575 the Mardol Gate, the defensive gateway built upon a pier of Welsh Bridge, was removed.
Shrewsbury was refortified following the outbreak of the First Civil War in Autumn 1642. Unlike many contemporary fortifications, which were hastily refortified with earthworks, Shrewsbury Castle was the recipient of a substantial stone rebuilding programme largely due to the fact that Shropshire and Wales were pro-Royalist meaning the immediate threat to the town was minimal. The Inner Bailey gatehouse barbican was demolished at this time and replaced with an artillery blockhouse. The curtain wall was also modified to make it more suitable for firearms and the Postern Gate was also added (probably an upgrade of an early medieval structure). Various houses that had been built in the immediate hinterland of the castle were demolished to give a clear field of fire and to create space for defensive ditches. The town walls were also enhanced at this time with the segment between Welsh Bridge and the North (Burgess) Gate fortified for the first time (the river had originally been deemed a sufficient barrier on its own).
Shrewsbury saw no action in the Civil War until February 1645. A Royalist force from Moreton Corbet, under the command of Colonel William Reinking, advanced on the town. It was besieged but, on 11 March 1645, the attackers managed to penetrate the town defences via the Water Gate and quickly overran the settlement. The castle surrendered the following day with its garrison allowed to march out to join the Royalists at Ludlow Castle.
After the Restoration of monarchy in 1660, Shrewsbury Castle was taken back into Crown control and was gifted to Francis Newport, Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire. His family used it as a private residence through to 1775 when it was purchased by William Pulteney, the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury. Around 1780 he commissioned the architect Thomas Telford to remodel the castle and this work included the erection of Laura's Tower. This period also saw the demolition of the last remaining town gates - Welsh Gate and North Gate.
In 1924 the castle was purchased by Shropshire Horticultural Society. They commissioned Charles Nicholson to restore the castle which included removal of many of the changes introduced by Telford. Further alterations took place in 1985 when the castle was converted to house the Shropshire Regimental Museum. In August 1992 the Great Hall suffered minor damage by two Irish Republican Army bombs attacks.
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Shrewsbury Castle is open to the public and the Great Hall hosts the Shropshire Regimental museum. The remains of the castle consist of the Great Hall, Inner Bailey gatehouse and curtain wall plus the motte (topped by an eighteenth century folly). Most of the town walls have been demolished although a single tower (in the care of the National Trust) and a small portion of the original circuit survive.
Shrewsbury Castle and Town Walls Layout. The town was situated within a loop of the River Severn, a formidable natural defensive obstacle. The Norman castle was built on the north-east corner of the Saxon burh and would have been highly disruptive to the town. Not only were over 100 houses destroyed to make way for the castle but the main north/south road ran through the Outer Bailey. The town walls, which enclosed a vastly increased area from the Saxon burh, were built in the thirteenth century.
Inner Bailey Gatehouse. The castle's gatehouse dates from the late twelfth century but was originally a more substantial structure fronted by a barbican. The current wood panelled doors date from the seventeenth century. The low curtain wall extending from the gate are the remains of an artillery blockhouse built in 1642 to provide protection to the castle's gatehouse.
Inner Bailey Curtain Wall. The Inner Bailey curtain wall was rebuilt in stone in the thirteenth century. Sections of original medieval walkway survive but the crenellations were modified in 1642.
Postern Gate. This provided access from the castle's Inner Bailey to the river. The present structure dates from circa-1642.
Motte and Laura's Tower. The (now tree covered) motte was part of the original Norman castle although a portion of it collapsed into the river in 1271. A small stone watchtower was built on the summit circa-1280. This was replaced in 1790 with a sandstone Summer-house built as a birthday present for Laura Pulteney, daughter of the castle's then owner.
Great Hall. The Great Hall was started in 1164 and replaced an earlier structure. It was substantially rebuilt in the thirteenth century when two towers were added at either end. In 1596 the block was heightened from two to three storeys. The Great Hall was remodelled by Thomas Telford in 1780.
Shrewsbury Town Wall. A small segment of the town walls survives although it has been extensively modified from its medieval appearance.
Town Wall Tower. Originally one of many that stood on the line of the town walls, a single tower has survived due its use as a house. By the sixteenth century it was known as Waring's Tower, named after the wool merchant who leased it from the town. It later became known as Wingfield's Tower. The crenellations on top of the tower are a Victorian but replaced medieval equivalents. The site is in the care of the National Trust and periodically opened to the public.
Bridges. The town was built within a loop of the river which afforded strong natural defences and also ensured the site was well connected with the wider region. Two bridges (English Bridge and Welsh Bridge) spanned the river no later than the twelfth century. Both were rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The medieval Welsh Bridge was fortified and would have looked similar to the surviving example at Monmouth.
Shrewsbury Abbey. The abbey was founded by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury in 1083.
Shrewsbury Castle is found near the railway station. There are ample car parking facilities with one option shown below.
Car Parking Option
Town Walls Tower
Town Walls. SY1 1TN
Shrewsbury Town Walls
Town Walls, SY1 1TE
Abbey Foregate, SY2 6BA