Whitchurch: Ancient and Modern

PUBLISHED: 20:28 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:54 20 February 2013



Dave Hancock marches on 'Mediolanum' - the only Shropshire town founded by the Romans - where he's won over by the history... and great shopping

Dave Hancock marches on 'Mediolanum' - the only Shropshire town founded by the Romans - where he's won over by the history... and great shopping

According to The Buildings of England, Shropshire by Nikolaus Pevsner (revised and reprinted in 2006): 'Whitchurch is the only town in Shropshire which can trace its origins back to Roman times'.

Not surprisingly, Pevsner devotes several pages to the architecture of Whitchurch and claims the town's heyday was in the 18th century.

There's an even more detailed look at Whitchurch houses and their inhabitants in Vernacular Buildings of Whitchurch and Area, written by prolific local author, Madge Moran, but sadly now out of print. Not so, The Old Rectory, Whitchurch which was published last year and written by Jean North, Joan Barton and... Madge Moran. This book adds to Whitchurch's abundance of history by telling the story of wartime eavesdroppers. It's on sale at Bookshrop, 14 Bredwood Arcade - run by Dinah Anderson and the starting point for any visit to Whitchurch.

As well as many books on local history and books by local authors, Dinah stocks shelves of walking books with Walking Cheshire's Sandstone Trail (which starts in Whitchurch) being her current favourite.

Writing of trails, the Heritage Centre (closed on Wednesdays) in St Mary's Street is an excellent source of walks such as the Clock Trail, the Children's Town Mouse Trail and, in due course, a mosaic trail.

Meanwhile, read on for the Whitchurch 'grand classical church' (Pevsner) and 'lovely shops' (Hancock) trail...

St Alkmund's, at the top of the High Street, is a large sandstone church on the site of possibly three previous churches. In around 1711 (different dates are quoted) the medieval church was destroyed when the tower collapsed. This was the third church. The second was of white stone and gave the town its name. The first church, if there was one, would have been built of wood and named for Alkmund, a Saxon prince who died in 800AD.

A slender tower, with a carved stone coat of arms and clock faces dated 1977, rises above a semicircular porch beneath which is buried, at his request, the heart of John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury. His 15th century effigy lies within, as does the 16th century effigy of Sir John Talbot who founded the grammar school.

Admire the stained glass, the Tuscan columns and the 19th century red sandstone reredos of the Lady Chapel. Behind the main altar the wooden reredos is crowned by four figures, St Chad, Saint George, Justice and the Roman St Alban - Whitchurch was once the Roman town of Mediolanum. The church has a number of interesting memorials including one to Sir Edward German. Whitchurch is the birthplace of this well-known composer but because we'll be previewing the Edward German Festival in the April, I'll write no more about him here.

Head down High Street and call in to see Julie Wagstaffe at Handbags and Gladrags with her interesting handbags and stylish jewellery. This is the shop to be visited by women ahead of every occasion from casual to formal and whenever they need a little retail therapy. Gift-buying men are also welcome although Julie advises that they should at least know basic information about their loved one (age, height, favourite colour, name etc).

Cross the road for more women's style at 26 Bones. Owner, Nicky Bentley, started by selling children's shoes and now stocks women's styles. "They're for women who like to stand out from the crowd," she says. Choose from brand names such as Neosens, Pikolinos, Audley (a UK company), Think! (Austrian) and Manas (Italian). El Natura Lista is a Spanish company which creates comfortable fashion shoes with natural dyes and processing, uppers in leather and soles from recycled materials. At the time of writing, 26 Bones was about to go downhill - literally. From April, Nicky Bentley will trade at Green End, near Jones Coffee House.

Look right (it's a one-way street) and cross High Street again. Outside Edge is a relatively new but already successful venture for the entrepreneurially inclined Tasmin Armshaw. Open from 10am, this very classy wine bar and coffee house is where you go for refreshments throughout the day and, soon, Sunday lunches with guest chefs, live jazz and wine tasting evenings.

This time, look left to cross the road. Bradbury Brothers are butchers with a family history in the business from the early 19th century. They've been at 42 High Street since 1928 in what was formerly the Alexandra Temperance Hotel in premises once occupied by Whitchurch's famous clock maker, J B Joyce. The shop window is full of meal ideas - old favourites such as Beef Stroganoff and Boeuf Bourguignon, as well as new ones such as Lemon and Chilli Pork Steaks and Mango and White Wine Chicken Fillets.

Moving swiftly past the National Westminster Bank (the architecture of which Pevsner describes as 'Well meaning but presumptuous') you turn into Green End. Here you will find Gallery Flowers, run by Jenny Allen. Using flowers fresh from Holland, she does traditional, contemporary and unusual arrangements for all sorts of occasions and anniversaries. Jenny also has plants, silk flowers and vases for sale. At the time of my visit, Beat Officer, PC Chris Peel, was collecting a buttonhole - they have classy 'coppers' in Whitchurch.

Further along Green End is another butcher (Whitchurch has four) - Hale's Family Butchers. Barry and Sylvia Hale run the shop, which sells locally sourced meat and something I'd not come across before - syn-free sausages. These are supplied by Shepley's of Market Drayton and are, apparently, approved by Slimming World as low in fat.

Barry is also a stalwart of the Queensway Playing Field Association and has been its Chairman since 1984. The Association has recently secured a new 99-year lease on the land and is planning new initiatives - possibly planting an orchard and perhaps using the pool as a nursery pond in conjunction with Ellesmere Angling Association.

Apparel moved across the road to larger premises not so long ago and has added women's clothing to its range for men. There are t-shirts, polos, casual tops and jackets, jeans, jumpers all with the most fashionable labels. Di Maitton is in charge and offers sincere and sensible advice. Karen Hassall, her assistant, opined that pastel colours would be fashionable this spring.

Almost at the end of Green End at 53 is Carpets Unlimited - whose proprietor, Philip Darmanin, is hugely enthusiastic about Whitchurch. He sells also sorts of flooring materials and gives away advice, estimates and underlay.

Across the road is Whitchurch Animal Health, located in a building that was originally a Co-operative store. The business is run by Mike Clutton, having been started by his father in 1968. With most customers from agricultural trades, Mike sells a variety of things from electric fencing and bird scarers to castration rings.

Follow that! I could and we shall in a future issue of Shropshire Life - Whitchurch has lots more to be unveiled.

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