Shrewsbury, England

...who lived in a crooked house..

…who lived in a crooked house..

Edith Pargeter (1913-1995) as “Ellis Peters,” wrote twenty books in a series featuring Brother Cadfael, a monk. Set between 1137 and 1145, they are detective novels, love stories and historical fiction at the same time. Brother Cadfael, a retired soldier, resides in the monastery at Shrewsbury.

371We have read them all. You may have read some or may have seen one of the films made for British television and shown in the U.S. on PBS. My recollection is the films were fairly accurate renditions of the books.

Alie wanted to go to Shrewsbury to see the Castle and Cathedral. I wanted to see the Abbey (Yes, I know he was fiction.) So we drove west, on the motorways (British equivalent of an Interstate) and through miles of construction around Birmingham, on our one English trip that was truly destination driven.

397It turned out, Shrewsbury was interesting just to visit for itself: the streets, the Elizabethan and older buildings, the flowers and the people.

Rowley's House

Rowley’s House

Parking, as always, was a challenge. So we chose a short term lot and set off on foot for the castle. The Castle was begun 1067, substantially expanded in 1272 and modified several times up to 1780. As castles go, there are better in England. But it gives good views of the city. Also, Shrewsbury proclaims itself as a “floral city,” and the castle gardens are beautiful. Unfortunately for fans like me, much of what is described in the Cadfael books has slid into the Severn River which almost encircles the town. I had to just enjoy reality.

406We are Red Cross volunteers, so on our way back to the car we stopped in the local Red Cross thrift store. We had a very pleasant conversation with two ladies, a grandmother and granddaughter, who along with their daughter/mother represented three generations volunteering. The Grandmother just celebrated her 90th birthday and was quite alert and interesting.

St. Alkmund's

St. Alkmund’s

When we first arrived in Shrewsbury, we looked all around for an information office. When we went back to our car, the office was located about thirty feet away in William Rowley’s Elizabethan house. Its 1618 brick addition was the first brick building in the town. Rowley was a “draper.”

After moving our car to another lot, we set off for the narrow streets of the “old town” — Elizabethan is not old in England. We were heading for St. Mary’s Church and cut through the churchyard of St. Alkmund’s. Looking through the door, I spotted one of the most interesting church windows I have ever seen. It is not stained glass; It was painted by Francis Eginton in 1795. A photo cannot do justice to the soft muted colors he used. Nor could a postcard that I bought — but both will inspire memories.

Double Click on this picture

Double Click on this picture

St. Mary’s is the only complete medieval church in Shrewsbury. A church has been on the site for over a thousand years. The current one dates from Norman times but includes some Saxon parts. However, the two items that caught my imagination were not particularly historic or grand. One was a plaque to a guy who tried to fly. The other was the effigy of Col. C. R. Cureton, a soldier who died in India. A man we met in the church told us Cureton, after faking suicide, fled England and joined the military under a false name to avoid high gambling debts. Nonetheless, he had an excellent military career eventually rising to the position of Adjutant General of the Queen’s Forces in India.

416Finally, we visited the Cathedral, once part of the Abbey. Henry VIII had the abbey destroyed, took its valuables and even sold off the stones and lead from the roof as part of his program to break the Catholic power of the abbeys while also filling his coffers.

from St. Winifride's Guild

from St. Winifride’s Guild

But at last I was in “Cadfael-land.” He was fiction, but walking about the Cathedral, it was easy to see where Ellis Peters got her stories ideas: stones from the Guild of St. Winifride (A Morbid Taste for Bones); a effigy from the Church of St. Giles (The Leper of St Giles); even a parking lot, “The Horsefair” (St. Peters Fair); and many more.

427The Cathedral is across the river from Shrewsbury. Perhaps that is why despite the town being very busy and even a little crowded, we were the only tourists in the church. We chatted for a while with a man I presume was the vicar. He was doing some chores and explained to us the lovely live music we had during our visit was provided by a group practicing to perform the next night: Martin Cropper was playing the piano and Jan Lumley was one flautist; I did not get the name of the other flute player. The music added immensely to the peaceful and relaxed nature of our visit.

370It was time to leave. Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury. But his home and the ‘Darwin Gate’ will have to wait for another visit. There is always more to see.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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