Tag Archives: Shrewsbury

Book Review: Pauline Fisk book on Shrewsbury

Title: Behind Closed Doors in an English County Town
Author: Pauline Fisk
Publisher: Merlin Unwin Books Ltd.
Published: September 2014
Price: £9.99

You might, seeing the title, expect this book to be an exposé of the sordid secrets of the residents of some dark corner of the English psyche with a made-up name like Mudchester. If Mudchester is what you’re looking for, there’s a long tradition of novels ranging from Trollope and Dickens to Jilly Cooper and beyond.

This is something a little different. On January 1st 2013 Pauline Fisk started blogging about her home town (nowadays) of Shrewsbury: more specifically, “things that have interested me, that have caught my attention, made me smile, made me angry, joyful, happy or sad; buildings that I love; people who fascinate me; events that have taken place, or extraordinary incidences of natural phenomena…”

The result is a well-written mixture of informal interviews, historical snippets and anecdotes. This is, in brief, a thoroughly nice (in the best sense of the word) book by a thoroughly nice person – or so I was told by the thoroughly nice lady who sold me a book. But it shouldn’t be mistaken for one of those well-meaning but slightly amateur publications that can sometimes be found on the ‘local’ shelves in small town bookshops. (Not that there’s anything wrong with encouraging local talent that hasn’t attracted blockbuster publishing budgets.) Pauline Fisk is an award-winning author with a track record of novels for the likes of Bodley Head and Faber & Faber, and she has a novelist’s eye for detail and people-watching, albeit with more empathy than some, and an eye for the interesting aspects of story that might, in other hands, seem mundane. And Merlin Unwin, though a relatively little-known regional press, has a reputation for publishing some very classy books such as their edition of Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ with photographs by Gareth B. Thomas.

She points out more than once in that she’s no historian, but there are historical snapshots here that will appeal to anyone with an interest in local history. But this isn’t a ‘period’ piece. For every insight into Shrewsbury’s more-than-usual-absorbing history [example], there are several pieces on more contemporary issues, interviews and so forth. Non-Salopians may not be personally outraged by the encroachment of the aggressively modernist Princess House into the 13th Century charm of the Market Square, but they may well recognize the tone of the discussions

The spirits of Henry Bolingbroke, the young Princess Victoria, Darwin and Coleridge sometimes walk these pages, along with more contemporary names such as two recent leaders of the Labour Party, Robert Plant, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the interview pieces are not usually with top-ranking ‘celebrities’ (which is fine by me…) They do include notable writers (Peter MurphyMichael Morpurgo); musicians like Dan Cassidy (brother of Eva and a fine fiddler in his own right) and gypsy jazzer Robin Nolan (George Harrison was a fan) and Chris Quinn; artists (Aidan Hart , Svetlana Elantseva; ‘Legendary Shropshire Tweeter’ Shroppie Mon; and people who don’t look for fame beyond the community in which they live, but whose stories turn out to be just as interesting: market traders, booksellers, florists…

Not everyone will be interested in the minutiae of living in a not-very-large town in a large but not heavily populated county – I am, but then I used to live there and still write about the area – but if you think you might be, you won’t be disappointed by the quality of the content and writing here.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

Harley’s Stone, Shrewsbury

[As Kathy notes in a comment to this article, a recent post on the Facebook Memories of Shropshire group indicates substantial recent damage to the stone as shown in a photograph there. I’ve no information on what  might have happened to it, though the photograph below does suggest previous repair. DH, 1st August 2016]

harley stone 2

To be found in The Quarry, Shrewsbury, a stone’s throw from the Dingle. My wife thinks that we should demand ‘our’ bit of the park back.

harley stone plaque

It reads:

This small boulder is said to be the anchor stone of the last surviving grazing allotment in The Quarry. This belonged to the Harley family. Livestock were tied to the stone by a leash of no more than 16 yards in length. These ‘circular’ allotments once made use of ‘the entire herbage’, ensuring that the grass was kept short throughout the year.

However, I’ve no evidence of a direct family link with the Harley family of Rossall, Bicton, who apparently refused to sell their grazing allotment when the Corporation was acquiring land in the Quarry in the 18th century. So I guess we won’t be keeping a sheep just yet. No grass on the patio. [As it happens, we’re now living in the West Country, but we still don’t have a large enough lawn to keep a sheep.]

There is one family connection apart from the name, though. My niece tells me that this is where her fiancé (now her husband) proposed to her. I’m sure he doesn’t only want her for our property. 😉

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

Shrewsbury: Gateway House, Castle Gates

Another drawing by my uncle, Eddie Parker.


This is the Gateway and Council House at Castle Gates, Shrewsbury, with the entrance to the former St. Nicholas’s Presbyterian Chapel on the left.

Obviously, the term ‘council house’ didn’t mean quite the same in 1620 as it has since the 19th century. 🙂

Here’s a photograph approximating the same view from 2003.

gatewayhouse photo

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

Thomas Anderson

[Also on the David Harley’s Songs page, though I’ve slightly altered the text here.]

Words & Music by David Harley, 1975. All rights reserved.

Thomas Anderson MP3: This is a home-recorded demo version that’s actually in better shape than the CentreSound  version. I definitely intend to come back and do it a full studio-quality version at some point. 

The song is based on an article – now available here: Black Velvet (article from Shrewsbury folk club magazine, 1973) – for the Shrewsbury Folk Club magazine, written in the 1960s by Ron Nurse. I believe his source material was in the Shrewsbury Chronicle archives. Sadly, I hear that Ron recently passed on, but I was at least able to sing the song in his presence, tell the story, and shake his hand at a Shrewsbury Folk Club reunion last year (2012).

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