Shrewsbury is lucky to have a fantastic and well preserved castle. If you pop into the castle grounds during late July or early August, you might notice something unusual happening.
Local archaeologist Dr Nigel Baker will be directing excavations at Shrewsbury Castle. This will help us understand the form of the earliest castle and landscape.
The work is being supported by Shropshire Council and the University Centre Shrewsbury and has received a substantial grant from the Castle Studies Trust. Find out more on the Council’s Shrewsbury Castle excavation page and press release or talk to archaeologists and volunteers on the dig on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 July 2019 (the excavation open days).
Brief history of the Castle
Various theories exist as to the early history of the castle, but it is probable that a timber structure within earth ramparts was built around 1070-80 by Roger of Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. The motte (mound) was much larger than that which can be seen today, and it is thought that Montgomery expanded on buildings which already existed, thus enlarging the site.
The first recorded mention of the castle is 950 years ago. The chronicler Oderic Vitalis gave an account of a local rebellion against the Normans led by Edric the Wild.
In the twelfth century, the castle was lost to Henry I and became crown property. In the thirteenth century under Richard I and John it was neglected, and the capture of the town in 1212 by Llewelyn the Great, Prince of Wales, highlighted Shrewsbury’s poor defences. When Henry III made peace with Llewelyn, royal money was spent on repairing and strengthening the castle and some of the existing stonework is thought to date from this period.
In 1272 Edward I came to the throne. He formed a plan to annexe Wales to his dominions and hence needed a strong line of castles. He built castles at Beaumaris, Rhuddlan, Conway, and Harlech, and re-built Shrewsbury Castle as the basis of the sandstone building we see today. Following the Welsh pacification, Shrewsbury’s strategic importance diminished and the castle fell into decay.
From the fifteenth century it was used as a gaol. In 1644, it was garrisoned in the Royalist cause by Charles I. The town was attacked and, although there was very little fighting, the garrison surrendered to Lieutenant Benbow. Under Charles II, the castle was surrendered to the Crown, and in 1663 was bestowed on Sir Francis Newport, later the Earl of Bradford.
By 1780, the Castle was owned by Sir William Poultney, MP, who asked Thomas Telford (then County Surveyor) to remodel the building. The octagonal tower still standing on the mound was built as a summerhouse for Poultney’s daughter, Laura.
It then remained in private ownership until the twentieth century, when in 1924 it was sold to the Corporation of Shrewsbury through the generosity of the Shropshire Horticultural Society, remodelled internally and generally restored. Its main chamber later became the Council Chamber. it is now owned by Shropshire Council and houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum.
Images of the Castle
Shropshire Archives holds a wealth of images of the castle. Many of these have been digitised and you can view them online. Simply search our catalogue for ‘Shrewsbury Castle’ and use the filters to narrow the results to those with ‘images only’.
Over the summer we’ll be celebrating Shropshire’s marvellous castles, with plenty of images from around the county on our social media posts.