Shrewsbury has an idyllic town centre, with a good range of interesting independent shops dotted amongst the usual national multiples. Traffic does not unduly bother the dedicated shopper, or the historic shop spotter. This pleasant historic environment should ensure the buoyancy of the retail sector, but several good commercial units in prime locations – not least House of Fraser, and Phillips Stores (see below) – currently lie empty. As elsewhere, alarm bells must be ringing. Meanwhile, here is a small selection of historic shops to admire and enjoy. It’s just a coincidence that two of them sold the now-elusive Shrewsbury cakes.
The Abbot’s House, Butcher Row
Medieval shop frontages can be spotted throughout central Shrewsbury, notably in the shuts and alleys off Wyle Cop and Pride Hill. The best-known examples can be seen at The Abbot’s House in Butcher Row, near St Alkmund’s.
This jettied timber-framed range was erected for the Abbot of Lilleshall in 1459, with shops on the ground floor and living accommodation above. Each unit had the typical medieval arrangement, combining arched windows with a shop doorway. Note the carved tracery adorning the corner posts – a motif picked up on the frontage of (the former) House of Fraser on High Street.
Boots the Chemist, 7 Pride Hill
Boots the Chemist built substantial stores with mock-timber fronts in approximately 16 historic English towns before the Great War. This approach was devised by the company architect, Michael Treleaven, but one or two of the buildings were designed by the Nottingham architect A. N. Bromley, whose services had been secured by Boots since the 1890s. Here, as in Gloucester, Bromley was named as the architect (Shrewsbury Chronicle, 22 February 1907, 5).
The two gabled bays to the left bear the date 1907, while the extension on the right is dated 1920. The decorative plasterwork includes Jesse Boot’s initials and the Tudor royal arms. Boots aspired to ‘study and uphold the historic interest of the locality, and so catch the civic spirt of those places where their businesses have been established’. Thus, the town’s arms (three ‘loggerheads’ or leopard heads) are included.
Despite Boots’ intentions, the fact that certain features evoke an architectural tradition from a far-flung county bothered Pevsner, who deplored ‘Another misguided attempt to carry on the town’s half-timbered tradition . . . with alien pargetting and ‘Ipswich’ windows’. This has not prevented the listing of Boots’ mock-Tudor stores in Kingston upon Thames, Trent Bridge and York.
Morris & Co., confectioner’s and café (now Christmas Perks), 60 Wyle Cop
The name ‘Morris & Co’ can be read in the mosaic floor of the entrance to the shop at 60 Wyle Cop. This was a confectioner’s and café, surely an offshoot of the well-known Shrewsbury grocers (est. 1869) usually known simply as Morris’s. Morris’s large headquarters, completed in 1922, still stands by Welsh Bridge, and in 2019 the firm celebrated its 150th anniversary.
The shop and café at 60 Wyle Cop opened around 1910. It was acquired from Thomas Pidduck Deakin (d.1939; an Alderman and Mayor of Shrewsbury), who had run a confectioner’s shop and café – the Pengwern Café – here since the 1880s. In the 1920s Morris & Co took over another established confectioner’s and café, at 13 Castle Gates, from Jacob B. Davies.
The form of Morris’s shopfront is unusual. The triangular projections may have served to display tiers of cakes, rather like the round display window of Freeman’s in Cambridge. The café was probably upstairs, over the shop. Perhaps someone can share memories of afternoon tea at Morris’s.
McClures Ladies Wear (now White Stuff), 14-15 High Street
This fine shopfront was designed by a well-known London shopfitter, Frederick Sage & Co., in the mid-to-late 1920s. The deep windows of curved plate glass, set within a bronze frame, provide copious display space – as at Halon’s, an impressive outfitters located further up the same street. Sage’s name may be spotted on the bases of the colonnettes.
Henry Wells, a jeweller who occupied this shop in the early 20th century, was imprisoned for receiving stolen goods in 1924. Soon afterwards the premises were taken over by McClure Bros., who had opened a tailors and outfitters shop in Wellington in 1908, reportedly after Samuel McClure had gained experience managing a department store in Birkenhead. McClures expanded into ladies’ wear in 1909, and opened branch shops in Oswestry and Market Drayton.
McClures’ Shrewsbury shop – which specialised in ladies’ wear, and especially gowns and blouses, from the outset – was the last surviving outlet of this small regional chain. It closed in 2008, following the death of the proprietor, Ken McClure, and his son and successor, Tim. In a prime retail location, just before the economy nosedived, the shop reopened as White Stuff.
McClures’ stylish fascia of marbled peach-coloured Vitrolite, with its superb lettering, may – one profoundly hopes – survive beneath the White Stuff signboard. It is a precious rarity, and a shame that is it not on view.
Phillips Stores, 16 & 17 Castle Street
To all intents and purposes, this building has the regular machine finish of mid-20th century mock-timber framing, but it is listed by Historic England as ‘Early C19th’, so presumably some old work survives. Either way, it merits its listing.
Early 20th-century photographs reveal that Plimmer’s Castle Restaurant occupied an ancient timber building which stood flush with the street-line on this site. The outline of its gable end can be seen on the building next door. This was the historic location where James Palin (or Pailin) sold Shrewsbury cakes in the late 18th century. Before Palin, a Mrs Hill ran a confectioner’s shop here. Palin was succeeded by Owen and then by Plimmer.
Plimmer traded from 1868 until 1938, when Phillips Stores Ltd took over. Phillips made alterations, designed by the local architect Harry Thurstan Richardson. Photographs of c.1960 show the building in its current form – set well back from its neighbour – with Gothic lettering on the fascia and a traditional blind box. The solid canopy, and presumably the ‘crazy paving’ threshold, was added by the next occupant, Halfords.
So, it seems safe to date the high-quality timber shopfront to 1938. The name of the shopfitter – the well-known A. Edmonds & Co Ltd. of Birmingham – is on the curvaceous door handles and window. With its array of carved pomegranates and roses, leaded and ‘bottle’ glass, and four-centred arches, the style evokes the late medieval or Tudor period, when the old building on the site was first erected.