Grid Ref: SJ 749 076 at the Railway Station
Date: 29 July 2021


Shifnal is a market town with a population approaching 7,000 at the 2011 census. Since then, there has been extensive home building. In 2015 there was planning permission for a total of 1,167 homes and in 2018 plans for up to another 1,500 homes, were revealed. The town lies about 4 miles east of Telford, just south of M54 motorway.

The town, once known as Idsall, probably started as an Anglian settlement in the 7th century. The Middle Angles became part of the kingdom of Mercia. The settlement may have been the Scuffanhalgh connected with the abbey of Medeshamsstede, now Peterborough. The name of the town was Iddeshale in an 9th-century charter meaning Idi's nook, where a nook was an area of about 20 acres. It has been suggested that the reason for two names is that there were two settlements, on either side of the Wesley Brook - Shifnal to the East and Idsall to the West. The brook runs from south to north just west of the town centre. By the time of the Norman Domesday Survey of 1085, it was referred to as Iteshale, formerly held by the Saxon Earl Morcar.

Four roads run into the modern town centre, with Victoria Road to the north-west, Market Place to the south, Bradford Street to the north, and the small Aston Street from the east, joining Bradford Street. Church Street runs off Market Place to the south-west. In 1245, Walter de Dunstanville, the lord of the manor, was granted a market charter by King Henry III, who reigned from 1216-1272. Walter laid out Broadway, Bradford Street, Market Place and Park Street for the markets. As early as the late 16th century, there was a charcoal fuelled blast furnace for iron manufacture in the town. In July 1591, in the reign Elizabeth I, there was a great fire that consumed many of the building to the east of Wesley Brook. The church suvived although its roof was set alight as was that of Old Idsall Hall. Queen Elizabeth contributed to the rebuilding.

One of Shifnal most famous sons was Thomas Beddoes, born in 1760 at Balcony House, which later became the Star Hotel. He was educated at Bridgnorth Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford. He enrolled in the University of Edinburgh's medical course in the early 1780s. Edinburgh was then the premier place to study modern medicine at a time when the only two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, still taught medicine as described by ancient Greek writers such as Hippocrates and Galen. While in Edinburgh, Beddoes was taught chemistry by Joseph Black, one of the most significant scientist of the age. Beddoes visited Paris, where he became acquainted with Lavoisier, who, along with John Dalton is regarded as the one of the founders of modern chemistry. Beddoes was appointed professor of chemistry at Oxford University in 1788. Although his teaching was appreciated his sympathy for the French revolution was very unpopulare and he resigned his post in 1792. He had a clinic in Bristol from 1793 to 1799 which later began the Pneumatic Institution to test various gases for the treatment of tuberculosis. Its first superintendant was Humphrey Davy,  famous for his invention of the miners' lamp but even more famous to chemistry for isolating, by using electricity, a series of elements for the first time: potassium, sodium, calcium, strontium, barium, magnesium and boron in 1807-8, as well as for discovering the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. It has been said that Thomas Beddoes' greatest disovery was Humprey Davy! Thomas Beddoes' son was the poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)

Another famous son was George Austin, born in 1710, who went to South Carolina and became involved in tobacco plantations. He had one of 1415 acres, which he named Shifnal, where he had 85 slaves. He became very rich and returned to Shifnal to live Aston Hall, which had been built in 1720. He was responsible for the first person of colour recorded as living in Shifnal. In 1766, a Benjamin Priouleu, described as "a black servant of Mr. Austin" was baptised in the town and in 1785 a Lucy Bartlet described as "a black woman" was buried. Austin's daughter Eleanor stayed in Carolina and married John Moultrie, of Charleston, another wealthy tobacco farmer and slave owner. He and Eleanor left America in 1784, selling his slaves in the Bahamas. They moved to Aston Hall in Shifnal which Eleanor had inherited from her father.

The town has also a role in the history of literature. The collection of ballads and popular songs, collected by Bishop Thomas Percy and published in 1765 as The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, was based in part on a folio discovered at the Shifnal home of Percy's friend Humphrey Pitt. It was on the floor, and Pitt's maid had been using the leaves to light fires. It proved influential for the English Romantic movement including William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Sir Walter Scotte. Out of the 180 ballads published forty-five came from the Shifnal folio. Charles Dickens, whose grandmother was reputedly employed at nearby Tong Castle, visited the town on several occasions and many believe that the buildings in his book, The Old Curiosity Shop, were based on those in the town. It is thought that The Old Curiosity Shop was basedon the Unicorn public house, now known as Naughty Nell's.

When I visited St. Andrew's church it was in the school holidays. The church was being used as a day centre for children and I was not allowed entry so I have no photographs. Arthur Mee notes that the two-storeyed porch is 13th century. The interior has a bewildering variety of styles with two chancels at the east end. When the lofty 14th century chancel was built, the Norman chancel was left inact and they stand one behind the other. The chancel arch is Norman. Pevsner is the more specialist architectural historian and picks out the features in more detail but without pictures his description is inappropriate here except to say that the crossing tower dates from about 1300. Restoration was undertaken by Sir George Gilbert Scott between 1876 and 1879.

There is a blue Plaque on Old Idsall House, near the church, which states that it is believed to be the oldest house in the town having survived the fire of 1591. From 1760 it was the first Post Office.

Market Place runs south of the railway bridge which enters the town centre on a viaduct and leaps over road on a bridge of 1953. There are several interesting properties in Church Street and Market Place, some of which were in bright sunshine and others in shade requiring special techniques to photograph. I had time to visit only one hostelry in Shifnal, but at the Number 5 Coffee House, just to the left of Drinnan's in Market Place, I had an excellent lunch.

St. Andrew's   Entrance
St. Andrews   Two-storey south porch
Hall   Hall
Old Idsall House   Old Idsall House
Railway arches   View under bridge
Railway arches just south of the town centre   View NE under the bridge
Market Place   Plaque
East side of North end of Market Place   Plaque on left of Oddfellows
Property in Market Place   Church Street
West side of Market Place   Top of Church Street
shop front   Browns
Church Street   Market Place
Market Place   Drinan's
Timber framed building in Market Place   Market Place
Timber framed   a
East side of Market Place   End of Market Place
a   Victoria Road
Viaduct viewed from Victoria Road   Nan's Cafe Bar
Pub   Chapel
Cheery drinkers at the Wheat Sheaf   Trinity Methodist church in Victoria Road

The Buildings of England, Shropshire, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin, 1958,
The King's England, Shropshire, by Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1st edition 1939, New Edition, revised and reset 1968. IBN 34 00100 3



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