Some history on Bridgnorth in the County of Shropshire
Other Pubs of Bridgnorth
Black Horse Hotel
Cape of Good Hope
Crown and Sceptre
Black Boy Inn
Forge and Hammer
Horn and Trumpet
Horn of Plenty
Ship and Anchor
Friar Street & Friar's Loade
Anchor and Wherry
Prince of Wales' Feathers
Cock and Castle
Crown and Raven
Crown and Royal
Golden Lion Inn
Market Hall Vaults
Pig and Castle
Royal Hotel and Crown Inn
Town Hall Vaults
Coach and Horses
Hole in the Hole
Hole in the Wall
Elephant and Castle
Castle Lift Vaults
Charles Fox Inn
Duke of Cumberland
Duke of Wellington
George and Dragon
Hand and Bottle
Hare and Hounds
Old Folks at Home
Parlors Hall Hotel
Rose and Crown
Severn Arms Hotel
Star and Commerical
Waggon and Horses
St. John's Street
New Found Out
St. Mary's Street
Sefton's Cider House
Duke of York
Flower de Luce
Hen and Chickens
Bell and Falcon
Bell and Talbot
Flax Oven Gardens
New Inn and Commercial
West Castle Street
Bird in Hand
Bottle in Hand
Pig and Castle
Punch Bowl Inn
Crown and Anchor
Crown and Cushion
Harp and Pheasant
Horse and Jockey
Dog in the Wall
Bridgnorth is an excellent destination for those who, like me, enjoy combining a bit of local history, a superb town trail, plenty of interesting architecture with some good old-fashioned taverns in which to enjoy a beer. Indeed, you may struggle to find a town where all of these ingredients are blended together with such grandeur.
I have lost count of the number of occasions in which I have pointed my bicycle towards Bridgnorth. Walking around the town has given me so much pleasure over the years and the sheer joy of its vistas never diminishes with repeated visits. Indeed, I always seem to find something new to observe or explore on my wanders, such is the rich tapestry of its historic townscape.
The original settlement here on the River Severn was a Saxon burh thought to have been located on Panpudding Hill, a short distance from the railway station. The Saxon leader was Ethelfleda who built a fort here in 912. There is no mention of Bridgnorth in the Domesday Book because the town was not founded until 1101 when Earl Robert de Bellême relocated from his original stronghold at Quatford. This is just to the south and downstream on the Severn and the reason for Bridgnorth's name - Quatford being the site of an early crossing of the river.
The present bridge was built in 1832 and connects Bridgnorth's two settlements of High Town and Low Town. Robert de Bellême's decision to build a castle on the 100ft high sandstone ridge overlooking the river has resulted in Bridgnorth being one of Britain's few [and rare] hilltop towns. Little wonder, Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that Bridgnorth "presents to the eye a town as whole as few other situations do."
High Town and Low Town are connected by seven sets of ancient steps, along with the intriguing winding route of Cartway and the more recent Cliff Railway, the steepest of its kind in England. I recommend you try out each and every route - naturally with a few refreshments between!
The Norman castle built by Robert de Bellême was an important strategic stronghold in the battles against the Celts. However, the fortress was raided by Welsh marauders on many occasions. Not that Bridgnorth always had to look to the west - in 1155 Henry II placed the town under siege in order to capture the castle from Hugh de Mortimer. Subsequently, Bridgnorth was incorporated by the King's Royal Charter and a new town was laid out to a grid pattern. In 1260 a turf rampart and ditch was replaced by a stone wall with five gates, one of which still stands though it has since been rebuilt.
The town rose in importance as a centre of trade and communications although its strategic role declined following Edward I's conquest of Wales. It was the growth of river trade in the sixteenth century which led to the expansion of the town although most of the medieval buildings were destroyed by a terrible fire in 1646.
The Town Hall dominates the High Street and looks quite magnificent. The original Town Hall was destroyed by the fire in 1646 started when Oliver Cromwell's forces assaulted the town. Work on the present Town Hall started in 1648 using a barn which was purchased from nearby Much Wenlock. The building was completed in 1652. It is thought that some of the funds for the Town Hall were from the appeal made by Charles II which commanded a collection to be made in every Parish in England to assist the royal inhabitants of Bridgnorth to rebuild their town. The structure benefited from a major restoration in 1887-8 which commemorated the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It stands today as a fantastic centrepiece of the town. Trade has been conducted under the arches for centuries and the upper timber-framed rooms were used for the town's administrative needs. The hall is divided into four rooms and they are open to the public. The oak staircase leading up to the first floor is a treasure in itself. The oak panelling of the Council Chamber features the engraved names of the Mayors of Bridgnorth. The room is overlooked by a massive royal Coat-of-Arms and portraits of Queen Victoria from when she came to the throne in 1837. It was during the Town Hall's restoration that the colourful windows were added in the end of the building. The upper panels celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee and beneath, in the centre, is the royal Coat-of-Arms. There is also a panel displaying the arms, crest and motto of Joshua Sing. The Sing's were an important milling family who have many memorials in the Baptist Chapel located in West Castle Street. The panels also contain portraits of eight kings including, naturally enough, Henry II who was the first monarch to grant a Royal Charter to Bridgnorth in 1157.
At the north end of High Street is the aforementioned Northgate, the only one of five entrance fortifications remaining. However, much of the construction has been rebuilt. Originally of wooden construction, the site dates back to the 11th Century. Many of the adjacent buildings date from the 17th century. In 1740 Northgate's red sandstone was encased in brick and in 1910 it was rebuilt again to give its present appearance. There is a staircase leading to the room above which is home to a private museum. Managed by the Bridgnorth & District Historical Society, the collection includes a model of the Trevithick steam engine.
Most people walk up to Saint Leonard's Church along Church Street but I suggest you resist the temptation and take the next road past Northgate. As its name suggests, Moat Street follows the lines of the old fortifications which once protected the town. St. Leonard's Close has many historic buildings and is a real treat. Indeed, the churchyard has the feel of a small cathedral close. Even on the busiest Saturday market day, the close can be a tranquil retreat. The close is built on the highest point of the town and from selected spots affords good views of the Severn Valley and Low Town. The churchyard also forms a beautiful backdrop for the English Haydn Festival.
Saint Leonard's Church is much more recent than the uninitiated eye would imagine. The structure is largely Victorian and built in 1860-2 of pink sandstone. However, the dominating tower has the inscription W.O.F.1872 signifying that it was built when Mr.William Orme Foster was patron of the living. It replaced an older tower of 1477 but a church is thought to have existed here since the 12th century though records suggest the 13th century is more accurate. The church was deemed to be in a dangerous condition by 1980 and closed. Since then however the Redundant Churches Fund have renovated the building and is open again to the public.
It is perhaps the diversity of the historic buildings around the church which make it such an enjoyable experience. Rebuilt in 1889, Palmer's Hospital has two projecting wings forming a small courtyard. The ground floor is constructed with stone and above is a half-timbered upper floor. The almshouses date from 1687. Beyond Palmer's Hospital is a porched building which were once used as municipal offices. This building dates from the early nineteenth century.
At the river side of the close stands the Grammar School, a terrace of three brick-faced houses built in 1639, each with stone mullioned windows and diagonally set chimney stacks. Each house has two gables and a central porch which perhaps gives the structure a cluttered look. However, it is still aesthetically pleasing. Originally, the buildings served separate roles - one house was used as the school house, another provided accommodation for the school master and the third was used by the vicar of St. Leonard's. However, this was later used as school dormitories.
St. Leonard's Close is also home to the Old Grammar School which stands like an island. The institution of a Grammar School was founded around 1500 in the former chapel of St. John the Baptist and occupied a building in the churchyard before the end of the 16th century. The present building on the site dates from 1785 and was used until 1909 when the school was moved to premises in Northgate, now part of the endowed school. We imagine that at one time there was a great temptation to demolish the old school before the notion of protecting buildings came to fruition so it is such a relief to find it standing in splendid isolation.
Tucked away close to the corner of Church Street and St. Leonard's Close is Richard Baxter's House. Between 1640-1 this property was occupied by the famous Puritan preacher who was at one time curate of St Leonard's. Returning to the High Street along Church Street you will pass on the right the almshouses which were established in 1503 and rebuilt in 1792 when under the Bridgnorth General Municipal Charities. A memorial garden also stands on the site of a cottage destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940. Quite why Bridgnorth was targeted as a strategic target is baffling. Perhaps it was the high density of pubs which caused a jealous outrage in German bomber command.
Walking back along the High Street, it is worth strolling down St. Mary's Street. Not only is it quite picturesque, the street layout helps the visitor to trace the planned new town of the mid 12th century. Timber-framed buildings have been concealed behind brick frontages along the narrow burgage plots with passages leading to long gardens which invariably contain former workshops and stables. A similar street pattern can also be found in both Whitburn Street and Listley Street.
The New Market Building, an Italianate structure on the corner of Listley Street, features ornate brickwork and a square clock tower. It was built in 1855 with the intention of re-housing the street market. However, the market traders were having none of it and resisted changes to their historic trading patterns. Part of the building was used as the town's first cinema. In more recent times the upper floor of the New Market Building housed a Costume and Childhood Museum, a rich collection of designer clothes and fashion accessories mainly gathered together by one local family.
Further along Listley Street is the library, just before which is Railway Street, Bridgnorth's version of Shaftesbury's Golden Hill. Admittedly it does not have cobbles or thatched cottages but, despite the parked cars, is still a quaint sight. Actually in standing by the fencing the visitor is on the site of one of the town gates. From here it is possible to see the backs of the properties in West Castle Street which were bounded by the town wall, fragments from which can be seen behind the Baptist Church.
East Castle Street is where many of the affluent people of Bridgnorth lived in the late Georgian and Victorian periods. Arguably the most intriguing building is the former Governor's House, a red brick structure dating from around 1633 and featuring mullioned transomed windows and a central projecting two-storeyed porch. A plaque states that "the former residence of the Castle Governor originally stood within the outer bailey of Bridgnorth Castle. One of only a few substantial dwellings in the Castle precincts, King Charles I came here in 1642 and 1645 when it was a Royalist Garrison for Shropshire."
The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene is the centrepiece of a magnificent vista along East Castle Street. The original medieval church was attached to the castle but this was replaced by the present structure in 1792. The church was designed by Thomas Telford and he shrewdly aligned it north-south instead of the more usual east-west to form the vista along the fashionable East Castle Street. The emerging taste for 18th century French fashions are encapsulated in the use of Tuscan columns at the north end of the building along with the Doric pilasters and the tall arched windows of the walls of the nave. Above the Tuscan columns is a square tower with a rusticated base and a tall bell stage. This also features Tuscan columns and above there is a polygonal clock stage and lead dome. The south end [east in ecclesiastical terms] was originally square, the chancel having been added in 1876. Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as a building of "great gravity inside and out" the church is usually open in daylight hours. Purchased from Clifton College in Bristol, a Father Willis organ was installed in 2008.
One can wander along to the castle from here but I will return to this later. Heading back towards the town centre, stopping to look at the Baptist Chapel in West Castle Street, it is possible to see a fragment of the town wall. From the New Market Building one can turn right into Cartway, at the top of which is an interesting collection of shops. Leading off Cartway is Castle Terrace which offer a choice of routes to the old theatre and railway.
Cartway was so called because, before the construction of New Road in 1786, it was the only route between Low Town and High Town that could be used by wheeled vehicles. You can almost imagine the scene as you walk down along with the noise and, inevitably, the stench. Today, the street stands as one of the most fascinating routes in the region. The only way for goods to be carried down to the river was by packhorse along the flights of steps. The second house below the Wesleyan Chapel was occupied by the last man to work pack donkeys along these steps. His stable was at the rear of the house and the donkeys had to be taken through the front parlour to reach it. You can imagine him telling his wife to "breath in I'm just coming through with Dobbin." Featuring a pedimented blue brick frontage, the Wesleyan Church was erected in 1843.
At one time it was necessary for the houses on the right of Cartway to have robust shutters to protect them against sideways lurchings of pack animals. Below these are the entrances to several cave dwellings which were occupied until 1856. The people who lived here were principally bargemen, carpet workers and farm labourers, many of whom originated from Ireland.
Halfway down Cartway, just as it bends sharply to the right, the visitor can veer off towards a grassed area which offers fine views across the Severn. In particular, it is possible to see the old Malthouse, one of the last surviving buildings to owe its origins to Bridgnorth's river trade. Further down Cartway is The Black Boy Inn, a popular haunt for the bargemen who were based at or visiting Bridgnorth.
Towards the bottom of Cartway is Bishop Percy's House, one of the few timber-framed houses to survive the fire of 1647. The building is named after Thomas Percy, the scholarly bishop of Dromore, who was born here in 1729. He was a key figure responsible for a revival of medieval poetry during the 18th century during which period he published a three-volume work "The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry." The Elizabethan timber-framed house was built in 1580 and is described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'a first-rate example of black-and-white work.' The house features three gables, ogee struts and concave lozenges. In recent times the building was used by the Bridgnorth Boys Club.
From Bishop Percy's House one can walk alongside the river where there are several more caves. A few hundred metres along the road there is a modern housing development for which excavations in 1989 revealed extensive remains of a Franciscan Friary which is thought to have been constructed in the 13th century. The scale of masonry and quality of tiles and glass found at the site confirms that Bridgnorth was an important location strategically and, as a bridging point controlling Severn trade, was of economic importance in the medieval period.
The area around the bridge on both sides of the river help the visitor to envisage what a lively river port Bridgnorth once was. Tolls were collected on the bridge until 1845. The bridge has been rebuilt many times over the centuries. Designed by Thomas Telford, the present structure was constructed in 1823. On the clock tower at the east end of the bridge is an inscription which commemorates Richard Trevithick and John Rastrick who were responsible for the building of one of the first steam locomotives, Catch Me Who Can in 1808 at John Hazeldine's foundry. This was on the right-hand bank of the river as you look upstream. There is a pleasant walk to the site of the old foundry. Born in Northumberland, John Rastrick also worked with Richard Trevithick on the unsuccessful Thames tunnel. His first major work was the cast-iron road bridge over the Wye at Chepstow. In 1829 he completed the Shutt End railway in Staffordshire, for which he designed and built the locomotive Agenoria.
Low Town has a good variety of buildings dating from the 16th century to the present day, including The Falcon, an old coaching inn. Mill Street, as its name suggests, was the road leading to the town's mills. In the centre of the river, looking downstream, is The Bylet, an artificial creation that originally had a fishweir made of wickerwork dam with traps inside. The building of Ridley's Seedstore is an key landmark on the banks of the Severn. A plaque on the building states that: "this was one of many warehouses when the River Severn was a major highway for transportation of merchandise. Between the warehouse and the recommencement of the towpath was a small dock from which goods were hoisted into the warehouse."
Many will be tempted to jump in the cliff railway to be transported back to High Town but I suggest a walk further upstream and save the ride for later. Further along Underhill Street is a series of caves cut into the sandstone cliffs, one of which is known as Lavington's Hole. It is named after Colonel Lavington, a soldier in the Parliamentary Forces during the Civil War. The hole was cut with the intention of blowing up St Mary's Church where the retreating Royalists has stashed their munitions. Luckily for the church and the inhabitants around it, the Royalists surrendered before the tunnel was completed.
Bridgnorth Railway Station is located in Hollybush Road and is home to the Severn Valley Steam Railway. The station is the northern end of the line which operates regular services to Bewdley and Kidderminster. When the line was part of the national rail network, the line continued through a tunnel under High Town and continued to Ironbridge and Shrewsbury. The station opened in February 1862. The main building is a neo-Jacobean structure with three shaped gables. The licensed refreshment rooms remain a popular real ale venue.
The aforementioned Panpudding Hill is located behind the railway station. This is thought to have been an Iron Age hill fort, and was the vantage point where Cromwell sited his cannons.
A good route back into High Town is along the footbridge which opened in 1994. It replaced an earlier construction erected in 1895 but demolished in the 1970s when it was deemed unsafe. Although the bridge affords good views across the valley it will not save visitors a bit of legwork climbing steps up to the gardens around the castle. The garden is another site which provides spectacular views across the Severn valley. The remains of the castle's keep tower leans at a precarious fifteen degrees - more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It seems as though it is about to fall on you when standing next to it, particularly as there is a perilous-looking crack running down the stonework.
From the castle one can walk once more around Saint Mary's Church before joining the splendid Castle Walk to head back towards the town. The walk was created in the Georgian period to allow visitors to enjoy the scenic views across the Severn valley. The views are indeed quite superb and the vista was once described by Charles I as 'the finest in my domain.'
Following Castle Walk one arrives at Castle Hill Railway. A good option is to walk downhill and take the easy way back up. The reason for this is that it allows the visitor to take a look at the Theatre on the Steps. This is located halfway up Stoneway Steps which runs parallel to the Cliff Railway. The 185 steps are formed of cast-iron sections with the step height and depth designed for donkeys rather than people. The theatre was a former 18th century Congregational Chapel. In more recent times it has housed an amateur theatre company and hosts visiting professional touring companies.
Until recent years, the Cliff Railway was the only inland railway of its kind working in Britain. Opened in 1892, it is 201ft long and has a vertical rise of 111ft. It originally operated on a water balance system where water was pumped into the top carriage and out of the lower one, the increase in weight of the top carriage being enough to raise the lower one. The system was converted in 1933-4 to electrically driven colliery-type winding gear. The route back into the High Street follows Castle Terrace [shown below].
Historic Views in Colour
"An accident of an alarming character, but, fortunately unattended by any serious casualty, happened on Thursday to a passenger train on
the Severn Valley [Great Western] Railway. The train from Shrewsbury for London, via Worcester, had just left Bridgnorth, at when nearing the bridge over the
turnpike road, the engine suddenly left the rails, and proceeded in a slanting direction towards the embankment of the bridge. The driver and stoker, perceiving the
imminent danger of the engine falling over the bridge, shut off the steam, and jumping down escaped without injury. After proceeding to within about six feet of the
edge of the embankment, dragging the tender round till it stood almost broadside on the line, the engine fell over on its side, and remained stationary. It fortunately
happened that the tram having only just left the station, the speed attained did not exceed the rate of four miles per hour. Had the train been going at its ordinary
rate, there is no doubt the carriages would have been dragged over into the road. Yesterday, the district engineer of the Great Western Company visited the scene of
the accident, with a view to ascertain the cause, but it did not very clearly appear. The line was in good order and the rails in gauge, and it is supposed that the
fault lay with the engine, which had only just come out of the workshop, where it had been undergoing some repairs. The Severn Valley, being a single line, the accident
blocked the road throughout the day, but the traffic was carried on by means of trains running from both ends, and exchanging passengers at Bridgnorth. Yesterday the
ordinary service was resumed."
"Narrow Escape of a Passenger Train"
Wellington Journal : June 22nd 1867 Page 8
"On Tuesday Dr. Thursfleld met with an accident which was fortunately unattended with any very serious results. Dr. Thursfield was
driving down the High Street, when, just as he passed the Post Office, his horse took fright and ran away. It went down West Castle Street, and along under the
New Road. At the turning near the bottom of the New Road they came in contact with a man named Richard Dukes, who, together with his wife, was driving four
donkeys laden with birch up the hill. The horse dashed into the midst of the donkeys, upsetting two of them, and breaking the leg of one. Mrs. Dukes was also
knocked down, and the wheel of the carriage passed over her ankle, fortunately without breaking the bone. Mr. Thursfield and his assistant, Mr. Shaw, were both
thrown from the carriage, though happily neither of them were hurt. It was found necessary to shoot the donkey which had its leg broken. It was an old favourite
of Mr. Dukes, and one which he had had in his possession for more than 20 years."
Wellington Journal : May 23rd 1868 Page 8
"An accident, unfortunately attended by fatal consequences, occurred on the New Road, Bridgnorth, on Sunday afternoon, at a steep
spot where several mishaps have taken place in the past. It appears that about four o'clock Mr. Alfred Jenkins, foreman of cycle works, residing at
61, Wood Lane, Harborne. Birmingham, and his wife were riding their bicycles down the New Road, both on their proper side, and the lady on the left of her
husband. At the bend in the road they collided with a motor car which was coming up, and both were thrown. Mr. Jenkins was dashed with great violence against
the sandstone rock which bounds this side the road, his skull being badly fractured. The lady escaped hurt, but her machine was smashed up. The car [which
belongs to Mr. Guy Loveridge, Oaken, near Wolverhampton, and contained three ladies and a gentleman] was immediately stopped by the chauffeur,
Victor Mahle, and, seeing how seriously the man was hurt, Drs. Dickson and Craig were fetched. Sergeant Fieldhouse, with the assistance of two other
officers and some civilians, acting under the instructions of the medical gentlemen, conveyed Mr. Jenkins to the Bridgnorth and South Shropshire Infirmary,
but he died about eight o'clock on Sunday night."
"Fatal Motor Accident at Bridgnorth"
Ludlow Advertiser : September 4th 1909 Page 8