Category Archives: Shrewsbury

*Quoth the Raven…

Since I now live in Cornwall, I tend not to have much to say about Shropshire these days. However, I have been reminded twice in the last couple of days of The Raven, the rather pretty Shrewsbury hotel and former coaching inn which was pulled down nearly 60 years ago and replaced with a rather brutalist Woolworths (now another store, though I can’t remember which). This morning, I came across this excerpt from The Recruiting Sergeant by George Farquhar (d. 1707), himself a recruiting officer who often stayed there.

‘…if any servants have too little wages, or any husband too much wife, let them repair to the noble Sergeant Kite, at the sign of the Raven in this good town of Shrewsbury…I don’t beat my drum here to ensnare or inveigle any man, for you must know, gentlemen, that I am a man of honour!’

While a couple of days ago, while watching a dramatization of Howards End (a book I still remember quite well from Eng. Lit. in the 1960s!) with my wife, I mentioned The Raven to her in the context of a visit to Oniton (a fictionalized version of Clun).

‘At Shrewsbury came fresh air. Margaret was all for sight-seeing, and while the others were finishing their tea at the Raven, she annexed a motor and hurried over the astonishing city.’

I shall be interested to see if that little scene makes it to the TV series.

While doing a little fact-checking for this article, I came across this page on Shropshire Literary Connections, which included a couple of connections I hadn’t been aware of. I was particularly entertained by the thought of Wycherley escaping from Wem to London and then escaping back to Shropshire from time to time in order to evade his creditors. One connection it doesn’t mention is Oscar Wilde: in The Importance of Being Earnest Algernon claims that ‘I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on two separate occasions.’ And Wilde himself apparently lectured at the former Theatre Royal (now flats and retail properties, I think) in 1883.

* Slightly misquoting Poe’s The Raven:
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

David Harley


Pronouncing Shrewsbury

I think I’ve probably made my own feelings clear on the topic of people who believe that there is only one way to pronounce Shrewsbury and anyone who thinks differently is stupid or worse, but if you’re interested in the recent debate at the University Centre in Shrewsbury, there was a video here. But it seems to have moved or been removed.

I never got around to watching it, as it represented some 53 minutes of my life that I might want back afterwards. As one of Phil Rickman’s characters says: ‘I don’t get panic attacks…I’m a professional. I get faintly irritated attacks.’ (From Night After Night.) Though hopefully it represents a more civilized discussion than some of those on Facebook.

David Harley

Shrewsbury’s Coat of Arms: a New Argument

I should probably just drop any Facebook page that keeps reviving the argument about whether  the first syllable of Shrewsbury should be pronounced Shrow or Shrew (or even Shoe). Not that the topic doesn’t have historical interest: it’s just that some of the people who engage with the discussion have an unpleasant tendency to dismiss anyone pointing out that there are viable alternative views as stupid or snobbish, and reading their outbursts is bad for my blood pressure.

As I’ve already pointed out in an update to my previous blog on the topic, the BBC did recently (July 2015) report an attempt to ‘settle‘ the debate. Of course, it did no such thing, though a majority of respondents (58%) did vote for ‘Shroosbury’ (it’s not clear whether or how the ballot distinguished between Shroosbury and Shoosbury – 7% of respondents did vote ‘other’). That’s hardly surprising: those are the ways in which most people pronounce it nowadays. And I’m certainly not going to tell them they shouldn’t. However, the point that seems to be missed time and time again is that this isn’t an argument with only one correct answer: it’s a matter of preference, and while I’m pleased that the debate was apparently not only quite civil but raised money for a worthwhile charity, I don’t think it’s ‘settled’ anything, any more than two blokes arguing in the pub can ‘settle’ disputes about foxhunting or immigration with any authority.

It’s perfectly reasonable to pronounce it with an ‘oo’ because that’s how most other people pronounce it. To pronounce it to rhyme with ‘sew’ because there is historical/traditional/etymological precedent is also perfectly reasonable. At least, I always thought so, though to be honest I’m probably also influenced nowadays by my dislike of the sheer bad manners of some of those who disagree.

All that said, I was delighted to read (on Facebook, where else?) that the correct pronunciation is with an ‘oo’ because ‘shrews are on the coat of arms not shrows,’

Well, there has been some discussion about Shrewsbury’s coat of arms (and indeed Shropshire’s, which is similar but by no means identical). Both feature representations of three animal heads, but the argument is usually about whether the heads represented should be those of lions or of leopards (both seem to have been used over from time to time. In fact, an article from 2008 in the Shropshire Star tells us that:

Robert Noel, Lancaster Herald at The College of Arms, who investigated the case using ancient manuscripts, said: “Many, or even most, early heralds did not trouble to distinguish very clearly between lions and leopards.

 However, a document from the reign of William III specifically refers to ‘leopard’s faces’, also according to Mr Noel.

This isn’t the only controversy, mind you. The pub formerly called The Shrewsbury Arms (at any rate since the early 19th century), now better known as The Loggerheads, takes both its names from Shrewsbury’s heraldic arms, featured on the pub sign. The more recent name derives from the use of the word ‘loggerheads’ to describe leopard faces in heraldry. One source speculates that this comes from ‘the practice of carving some such motif on the head of the log used as a battering ram’. However, in 2004 there was a great deal of fuss when the brewery replaced the pub sign with one showing a Loggerhead turtle. Logical (so to speak), but nothing to do with the history of the pub.

So here’s a link to the town’s coat of arms, or at least the representation to be found on Wikipedia. And here’s the Shropshire country flag, also according to Wikipedia. And apparently Shropshire, now a unitary authority as well as a county, still uses this representation of its official blazon, as granted in 1896 to the county council.

Well, I’m no zoologist, but all those faces look more like a big cat than a common shrew to me. But what do I know? After all, I can’t even pronounce Shrewsbury. 🙂

David Harley

Maypolar Express (or Dancing in the Street)

A recent mention in a Facebook group of Iona Opie reminded me that in one of her books with Peter Opie they mention children Maypole dancing in Monkmoor. I don’t have immediate access to the book, and indeed I’m not sure which one it was, though I suspect that it was either The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren or Children’s Games in Street and Playground . It was, after all, in the 70s that I read it. I believe they were writing about the late 50s and possibly very early 60s.

The recollection has stuck with me – though I can’t say how accurately – because I lived in Monkmoor in the 1950s and remember seeing older children on at least one Mayday dancing in the street. My admittedly faded memory is in accordance with Roy Palmer’s description in ‘The Folklore of Shropshire’. As he includes The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren or Children’s Games in Street and Playground in his list of references, I suspect that’s the book I read back in the 70s.

He describes how in Monkmoor (and indeed in Ditherington) children set up maypoles ‘consisting of a pram wheel  decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper and streamers, and set on the top of broomstick so that it could revolve. The May queen sat on a stool and held the pole while other girls danced round and sang…’

What did they sing, you may wonder?

The first verses of the song as printed by Palmer closely resembles other songs known at least in the West and East Midlands, and very possibly further afield.

Round and round the Maypole merrily we go,
Tripping, tripping lightly, swinging to and fro.
[or ‘Singing hip-a-cherry, dancing as we go]
All the happy pastimes [or ‘children’] on the village green,
Hurrah ! Hurrah! Hurrah! May queen
[Or ‘Sitting in the sunshine, hurrah for the queen!’ or ‘Sporting in the sunshine with our flowery queen]

The queen would sing something like:

I’m the queen don’t you see
I’ve just come down to the village green
[or ‘I have come from a far country’]
and if you wait a little while
I will dance a may pole style.

A version from the East Midlands then goes into a pair of couplets reminiscent of the ‘Oh you New York girls, can’t you dance the polka’ chorus from a well-known sea song. Palmer, however, shows a lyric vaguely related to ‘three cheers for the red, white and blue’ words often associated with Souza’s march ‘The Stars and Stripes for ever’, immediately followed by a snatch of ‘Rule Britannia’. Perhaps these patriotic sentiments were related to the still fresh memories of World War II?

While the maypole seems to have had something of a revival in English schools in recent years, I don’t remember any of these activities being encouraged at the nearby Crowmoor school, where I got nearly all my own pre-secondary schooling. My own turn around the maypole came in the very early 1960s, when I spent my last term as a junior at the recently-established Harlescott Grange Junior School. Astonishingly, I can still remember the tune to ‘Come Lasses and Lads’ to which we sang a set of words very similar to the lyric here. Here’s an extract from a slightly different version, as quoted in Spring in a Shropshire Abbey, by Lady Catherine Henrietta Wallop Milnes Gaskell

 “Come lasses and lads, take leave of your dads,
And away to the May-pole hie;
For every he has got him a she,
And a minstrel standing by.
For Willy has gotten his Jill,
And Johnny has got his Joan
To jig, to jig it, jig it up and down.”

There’s a demo version of the first verse here:

And that was pretty much it for me and Mayday. At any rate, until learned the splendid tune ‘Staines Morris’ (or ‘Stanes Morris’) a few years later.  Staines is quite a long way from Shropshire, though, so maybe I’ll come back to that in another article.

Roy Palmer’s ‘The Folklore of Shropshire’ is published by Logaston Press,

David Harley

Bear Steps

This is a bit of an outlier. It’s a watercolour of mine based on a photograph but has subsequently been the subject of some experimentation in Photoshop, so currently exists in this form purely as a virtual artifact. Very Zen.

In any case, it’s very different to the drawings by my uncle Eddy Parker that I’ve previously put up on this blog. As anyone who has seen the cartoons I sometimes put up on WeLiveSecurity or Dataholics will (hopefully) notice, I put a lot more effort into this than I do into those (example below), but I’m not the draughtsman he was.

bearsteps mono lite

I can’t at this moment lay hands on the photograph this was based on, but here’s one taken at about the same time. Note the resemblance in the timber framing on the South-facing end of the building to the building shown in Eddy’s drawing of St. Alkmond’s Place, which leads me to believe that his drawing shows the same house. There’s a certain poignancy to this: it’s the house where my grandmother lived when she was first married, and where Eddy himself was born.

bearsteps house lite

So here’s one of the cartoons I mentioned, just to prove I have no artistic pretensions. 😉


David Harley
Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow


St. Alkmond’s Place

This, I think, is the last drawing by uncle, Eddie Parker, that’s in my possession. It clearly doesn’t correspond to a contemporary view of St Alkmond’s Place (named after St Alkmund’s church – while the different spellings are a little confusing, I’m guessing the Place was named at a time when the spelling wasn’t entirely regularized).

My best guess is that the picture shows the housing around the Bear Steps, including the Gallery, before the houses were restored to show the original timber framing.

st_alkmunds_place lite


There are, however, other houses in the Place that have a somewhat similar construction. Again, I don’t know Eddy’s original source. Anyway, it’s an attractive drawing.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

Shrewsbury, Etymology and Mob Rule

[Updated 6th July 2015]

Rant coming up…

Quite a few English towns aren’t (locally) pronounced the way they’re spelt: Bicester, Wednesbury and Leominster spring to mind. I’ve never lived in any of those towns, but I have to wonder whether they give rise to the same acrimony as the evergreen controversy over the ‘correct’ pronunciation of Shrewsbury. The one in Shropshre, that is: I suspect that the residents of the other Shrewsburys to be found elsewhere on the globe have better things to worry about.

In my (by no means authoritative) opinion, it’s not really a matter of what is correct. In fact, I consider it offensive when people insist that the only ‘correct’ way is the way they say it, whichever pronunciation they favour. It’s a matter of common (but by no means universal) contemporary usage versus traditional/historical usage versus etymological probability. Anglo-Saxon speakers might, I suppose, have pronounced Scrobbesbyrig (not the only possible spelling in the 11th century, of course) with a long O (Oh) or short O as in ‘cobble’ – since the language was West Germanic (i.e. closely related to modern Standard German), I’m extrapolating from words like ‘Dom’ (long O) and ‘Sonntag’* (short O): a long U sound as in ‘Flug’ (or ‘rune’) seems less likely. But historical linguistics isn’t my area of expertise, and (apparently unlike some people in certain Facebook groups) I’m not old enough to remember how Shrewsbury folk (or Salopians) spoke in the 19th century, let alone the 11th.


Darwin is keeping his own counsel on the topic.

Probably more people say ‘Shroosbree’ or ‘Shoesbree’ now than was the case when I was young and I don’t have a problem with that, even though I’m going to stick with the long O and ‘…bury’ rather than ‘bree’ myself. I have a soft spot for the traditional, and not only in music.  But words and names change over time, and it isn’t necessarily a ‘posh versus common’ thing, either. It’s just the way that language evolves over time. I notice that the BBC** doesn’t seem to insist on the ‘O’ pronunciation any more (for what that’s worth), and sometimes presenters use both ‘Shrosebury’ and ‘Shroosbury’ (or a close variant) in the same programme. (I also notice that railway announcers have also pretty much abandoned the long ‘o’, but I’m sympathetic to anyone English who has to cope with some of the Welsh placenames on the Heart of Wales line.)

However, the question as to which is ‘correct’ is a common thread in Shrewsbury-related Facebook groups. Sadly, it usually degenerates into name-calling. Despite my observation in the second paragraph, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone insist that the use of the long ‘o’ is the only ‘correct’ pronunciation since the 1960s I’m not sure if the BBC Pronunciation Unit still has a ruling on it, but the old Rowley’s House Museum did have an exhibit explaining the origins of the traditional pronunciation without, to the best of my recollection, insisting that it should be used. However, there are always people who insist that the only way is Essex – sorry, Shroosbury (or even Shoosbree) – and that anyone who disagrees is:

  • From Off (as a Phil Rickman character might say – that is, not local): I’ve been told in all seriousness that the fact that I spent the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury didn’t mean I was entitled to an opinion, because I was born in a maternity hospital four miles or so outside the town. In any case, having spent most of my working life in the South (where the jobs were!), I am automatically disqualified. Besides, look at my name: the village of Harley is nearly ten miles outside Shrewsbury, so my roots are obviously foreign.
  • Stupid, because it’s spelt ‘ew’, so it ought to be pronounced like ‘shrew’, even though its etymology has nothing to do with those little creatures with no heads. At least, they didn’t have any heads when our cats used to leave their little cadavers on the decking. (Eeeeewwwwwww!!!!!) Mind you, they (the cats) originally came from Yorkshire: was that behaviour they learned in Shrewsbury? Perhaps there aren’t any shrews living oop in t’North.
  • Illiterate (2). It should be pronounced like it’s spelt. Like Bicester, Beaminster, Derby and Leominster, not to mention Kirkcudbright. Oh, wait a minute…
  • A toff or snob, because only the toffs pronounce it Shrowsbury. In fact, I was brought up on a council estate, but I pronounced it the older way, apparently, because I wanted to be a toff. Well, I guess no Labour leader is ever going to make me a life peer then. It never fails to fascinate me how much people who’ve never met me know about my psychological make-up. Or even my physical attributes: I remember with affection someone who commented on one of my blogs that the string of letters after my name – related to my now lapsed membership of several professional organizations – was probably meant to compensate for undeveloped genitalia. Well, you’ll never get the chance to check, sweetie.
  • A history teacher. Owwww!!!!! That really hurts!!! Not only a (yuk!) teacher but a history teacher. No, you can’t cause me much grief that way, folks. I work in the anti-virus industry, an occupation which seems to rank in status in the security industry as inferior to traffic wardens, tax collectors and politicians. I’ve been married to a teacher and a social worker. (Not at the same time.) I’ve been insulted by professionals…
  • Wrong, because no-one calls Dewsbury ‘Dozebury’. Well, I don’t suppose they do, but Dewsbury has a completely different etymological evolution. I haven’t heard anyone call Newbury ‘Nobury’ or Crewe ‘Crow’, either, but I’m not convinced of the relevance of that point, either.
  • Wrong, because if you really want to be archaic and traditionalist, you should call it Pengwern. Well, Giraldus Cambriensis does cite a tradition that associates Pengwern – as in the early seat of the Kings of Powys, though they later moved further westward – with Shrewsbury, but there’s no conclusive evidence that I’m aware of. In any case, I don’t think there’s a local preference for calling York Eboracum or Canterbury Durou̯ernon (or even Durovernum) either.
  • My favourite: wrong, because Americans pronounce it Shroosbury. With all due respect to my many American friends – who no doubt regard this idiocy with amused bewilderment, if it crosses their radar at all – I have to wonder if the UK inhabitants of Derby and Birmingham (not to mention the French inhabitants of Orléans) are now using the pronunciations Durby, Birmingham with the stress on ‘-ham’, and Awlins (as in Noo Awlins). I’m particularly doubtful of the last one, in the homeland of the Académie française.
  • Because there’s a meme around showing Homer Simpson saying ‘It’s Shrewsbury, not Shrowsbury’ (or something like that). Well, why didn’t you say so? If a fictional character unable to hold down a job and noted for his borderline alcoholism and addiction to doughnuts has spoken, who am I to disagree?
  • Because I say so. Because you are. Because it is. End of.

So which is ‘correct’? I don’t think the word applies, though I think it’s probable that the older pronunciation will continue to decline and perhaps be forgotten in a few years. And there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t. It seems a pity, though, that the process should be accelerated and by the sort of petty bullying that sometimes afflicts perfectly nice, respectable people when they start using social media, replacing not only simple courtesy and mutual respect, but logic.  The class war is alive and well and living in Shrewsbury. Which is why even though I’m not ashamed to have come from Shrowesbury (a legitimate older spelling, by the way, but then the standardized spelling is a fairly recent development), I’m sometimes glad that I don’t have to live there now.

I should also point out that I have many friends in Shrewsbury who may use either pronunciation (or even ‘Salop’ (an alternative name with a long and honourable tradition behind it) but wouldn’t dream of ‘correcting’ people who bat for the other team. And that Shrewsbury holds no monopoly on parochialism or reverse snobbery. (Some of the most parochial people I’ve ever met have been Londoners…)

I have considered skirting the whole issue by using the Welsh name Amwythig, but I suppose that would inspire general bewilderment and draw even more abuse down upon my head for mispronunciation. I admit to having lived for a while in Wales in the early 70s, but can’t claim to have mastered the language.

*Clearly any claim I had to have mastered – to the limited extent that A-level can be described as ‘mastering’ – the German language in the 1960s has long since expired. Well, even though I have visited Germany and Austria a few times in the last couple of decades for conferences, I’ve had very little need to exercise my extraordinarily rusty linguistic skills. Thanks to Geoff Maddocks, who pointed out that Montag is pronounced with a long ‘o’ and suggested that Sonntag was a better example.

**The BBC did recently (July 2015) report an attempt to ‘settle‘ the debate. Of course, it did no such thing, though a majority of respondents (58%) did vote for ‘Shroosbury’ (it’s not clear whether or how the ballot distinguished between Shroosbury and Shoosbury – 7% of respondents did vote ‘other’). That’s hardly surprising: those are the ways in which most people pronounce it nowadays. I don’t see people who prefer ‘Shrozebury’ being swayed by mob rule, though.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

The Shrewsbury Guilds, Thomas Anderson, and the Flower Show

Further to the 1973 article by Ron Nurse – on the Shrewsbury guilds and the execution of Thomas Anderson in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion – that I transcribed here, a thread on the ‘You know you’re from Shrewsbury when…’ Facebook page drew my attention to Pauline Fisk’s fascinating My Tonight From Shrewsbury blog and in particular this article on the abolishing of The Old Shrewsbury Show. This grew out of the show organized by the Shrewsbury trade guilds in the Middle Ages, referenced in Ron’s article and in our song Thomas Anderson. However, the show was abolished around the time that the Shrewsbury Flower Show began. I have an idea that the end of the old show was mentioned in ‘Fairfield Folk‘ by Frances Brown, but I don’t have a copy of that book to hand.

The Shropshire Guilds page at Shropshire History also included some interesting information on the show, and photographs of guildhalls that still survive in Shrewsbury and elsewhere in Shropshire, even though (to the best of my knowledge) the only surviving physical trace of the feast halls on Kingsland is the Shoemakers’ Arbour, transplanted to the Dingle by the newly-established Horticultural Cultural society around 1875. However, the Shropshire History domain now seems to have been taken over by something quite irrelevant to Shropshire history.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World