Shrewsbury Museum – A Visit

It’s difficult to tell from the outside but this museum consists of a several buildings including a modern section, a Tudor mansion and the old Shrewsbury Music Hall Theatre.

The ground floor comprises the shop and a café with nice outdoor space containing several pieces of contemporary art. Also on the ground floor is the first gallery space charting the history of Shropshire during the Iron Age and Roman occupation – and it is free to enter. This is a great idea to tempt you in and more paying museums should adopt it.

This gallery is particularly interesting if you are a visitor. For example, did you know that Shrewsbury Town Football Club, the New Meadow, is built on an original Iron Age Fort? The Roman section explains how under Roman rule Wroxeter, in what is now Shropshire, became the fourth largest city in Britain, forming part of Britannia Prima at the time of the Emperor Diocletian. Given this Roman history we were not surprised to find out later, whilst taking a boat trip on the Severn, that Mary Beard went to school in Shrewsbury and her old school is pointed out as part of the river tour – which was nice. This gallery contains beautiful pieces of early jewellery, including an Anglo Saxon pendant and Viking brooch.

Having now whetted our appetite we bought our tickets in the shop and headed upstairs to the Medieval and Tudor galleries. These are housed in a Tudor building, known as Vaughan’s mansion, and if you look up to the ceiling you can see parts of the original walls and roof space, which are unexpected and quite spectacular – an impressive piece of refurbishment. This beautifully designed gallery is crammed with objects and history and was one of my favourite spaces in the Museum.

Entering the Medieval Gallery you pass a stone bust of Roger de Montgomery. During the 12th century Shrewsbury, recognised as a safe area, began to grow and become economically important in Shropshire and de Montgomery founded the Priory at Much Wenlock, as well as Shrewsbury Castle and Shrewsbury Abbey. Although a church benefactor he was considered to have ‘aggressively pacified’ Wales – so you must make of that what you will…. By the 12th century Shrewsbury had obtained a Royal Charter enabling it to take responsibility for its own affairs by appointing local leaders, dispensing justice and creating a Merchants Guild. Wool also began to play an important role in the local economy.

Very little remains of the original Abbey de Montgomery founded but the reconstructions here are very well done and include a section on the Cadfael novels written by Edith Pargeter. Many of the novels were set in and around Shrewsbury Abbey, featuring a monk detective called Brother Cadefael, and which were later turned into a television series starting Derek Jacobi. However, for the sake of authenticity, it was filmed mostly in Hungary.

Next you come to the Tudor gallery with paintings and artefacts but the star of the show is the Corbet Bed – a truly impressive piece of Tudor furniture currently on loan from the V&A Museum in London. Commissioned by Richard Corbet in 1593 it was reputed to have cost as much as Corbet’s house itself. The bed coverings were loving created by many volunteers working as the Corbet Bed Embroiderers Trust and the overall effect is stunning. You will need to look closely at the bed to see the carved initials RC as well as the figure of a crow, or corbeau, which formed part of the Corbet family crest. The Corbet family lived in Moreton Corbet Castle, near Shrewsbury, which is today a ruin and looked after by English Heritage.

Further on you come to the gallery charting Shropshire’s involvement in the Civil War. Shrewsbury, like many towns, was divided between those supporting the King and those supporting Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. You will find paintings, costumes and artefacts which reconstruct the story and my favourite was a painting of Sir Francis Ottley and his Family painted by Petrus Troueil in 1638. Sir Francis was a leading royalist in Shrewsbury and played a prominent role in the English Civil War. As Military Governor of Shrewsbury he helped negotiate the surrender of Bridgnorth (a town you absolutely must visit whilst in Shropshire) although he was later condemned by leading Royalists for his leniency towards Parliamentarians. He married Lucy Edwards in 1624 and his eldest son Richard went on to become an MP after the Restoration of the Monarchy. Their home was Pitchford Hall and this is where the picture hung until 1992 when it moved to Shrewsbury Museum.

In this section you will also find a painting of the famous Thomas Parr who was reputed to have lived until the age of 152 years, having married for the first time at 80 – no mean feat for the seventeenth century! Born in Alberbury in Shropshire he met King Charles I and was so famous he was painted by both Rubens and Van Dyck.

From there you move into the Central Gallery which is housed in what was the main auditorium of the old Music Hall theatre, built in 1838. This huge space houses many displays including the life of Charles Darwin, who was born in the town and, incongruously, the Shrewsbury Shopping Centre is named after him. I can’t quite decide if that is a good or a bad thing. The museum also has a large collection of Coalport pottery, probably because the original factory is not too far away, and as I love Coalport I was very happy to spend some time here. You will also find several portraits of the great and the good of Shrewsbury, including a couple by Hubert Von Herkomer.

Heading back up the stairs to the original theatre gallery space you’ll find the Museum’s temporary exhibitions as well as a fantastic view down to the old auditorium. When we visited there were two temporary exhibition. The first charted the early Olympian movement and its links to Wenlock in Shropshire, which fitted in nicely with the Rio Olympic Games. The second was a look at the Edwardian’s holiday excursions entitled Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside. The old black and white films were a highlight and particularly poignant as they were filmed not long before the start of the First World War.

This is a lovely museum, in the heart of the medieval town, which provides a fantastic history of Shrewsbury and the county of Shropshire. Take a stroll through history from Shropshire’s early Roman artefacts to Shrewsbury’s rise through the wool trade to being a major player during the Civil War.

Things I learned – The Cadfael novels were set in Shrewsbury Abbey, the famous Thomas Parr – painted by Van Dyck and Rubens – was born in Shropshire and the major role played by Shrewsbury and in particular Sir Francis Ottley, during the English Civil War. Although Shrewsbury Museum has an entrance fee it is worth every penny and also provided a great introduction to Bridgnorth and Ludlow, which we visited later in the week.

Don’t Miss

  • The Corbet Bed
  • Painting of Sir Francis Ottely and Family

For more information visit the Museum’s website here