A Tour of Shrewsbury Library

A Tour of Shrewsbury Library

As part of this year’s Heritage Open Days, I got to go on a tour of Shrewsbury Library – a Grade 1 listed building originally home to Shrewsbury School.

The oldest part of the library is Riggs Hall, a timber-framed building (now at the rear of the property) built early to mid-1400s against the old town walls. It is the only surviving property of several which were rented by the school when it was founded a century later in the 1550s.

The upper story of Riggs Hall.
The upper story of Riggs Hall.
A closer look at the carvings on the timber frame of Riggs Hall.
A closer look at the carvings on the timber frame of Riggs Hall.

The stone buildings were built 1594 – 1630 and included a chapel, dormitories, classrooms and a library.

The rear of the stone buildings at Shrewsbury Library.
The rear of the stone buildings at Shrewsbury Library.
A window in the West Wing of the Library.
A window in the West Wing of the Library.
The plaster ceiling of the West Wing with coats of arms.
The plaster ceiling of the West Wing with coats of arms of school trustees including local families.

Shrewsbury School operated at the site between 1552 and 1882 (when it moved to its current riverside location on the Kingsland estate). One of Shrewsbury School’s most famous pupils (and there are quite a few) was Charles Darwin. Unfortunately, he didn’t particularly enjoy his time there and didn’t do particularly well. He simply wasn’t interested in what they were teaching. Perhaps surprisingly, Charles Darwin boarded at the school which was just a short distance over the river from his childhood home, The Mount (Some of my ancestors lived down the street from Darwin’s childhood home… Sadly, the other end of the social scale from him!).

The school boys carved their names into paneling, these date back to 1770.
The school boys carved their names into paneling, these date back to 1770.

More names carved into the paneling.

In 1885 Shrewsbury Borough Council opened the Free Library and Museum on the site and there it remained until the buildings became unsafe and were closed in 1976. Walls were leaning out and bowing as much as 175mm and floor timbers were only resting on a single thickness of brick in some places. Roof trusses needed to be strengthened and foundations needed to be underpinned. Basically, the building needed renovating top to bottom before it collapsed! The surveying and extensive renovation cost £3 million.

The view down Castle Gates.
The view down Castle Gates.

During restoration works, a number of interesting artefacts have been discovered, including a child’s shoe (found on a beam and believed to be placed there for good luck). The shoe was replaced with a newer shoe during restoration work (superstition!).

A child's shoe discovered during renovation work.
A child’s shoe discovered during renovation work.
A Latin textbook.
A Latin textbook of 1730 found behind the timber paneling on the top floor of the South Wing.
Old keys found during restoration work.
Old keys found during restoration work.
Attendance slips discovered during restoration work.
Attendance slips discovered during restoration work.

The new library opened in 1984, with the courtyard covered over to integrate the main building and Riggs Hall.

Our tour began in the newest part of the library (the covered courtyard) and, perhaps fittingly, ended up the oldest part, Riggs Hall.

Looking out through the archway of Shrewsbury Library.
Looking out through the archway of Shrewsbury Library.
The view from the front of Shrewsbury Library.
The view from the front of Shrewsbury Library.

Something I hadn’t noticed before the tour is the sundial which sits on a corner of the building. It shows “Shrewsbury Time” – about 10 minutes after Greenwich Mean Time. Britain didn’t have a standardised national time system until the introduction of the railways, instead towns and cities in the country had their own local time.

The sundial on the side of Shrewsbury Library.
The sundial on the side of Shrewsbury Library.
Charles Darwin's statue in front of Shrewsbury Library.
Charles Darwin’s statue in front of Shrewsbury Library.

It was a very interesting tour and I look forward to visiting other Heritage Open Days next year.

26 comments

  1. Carol says:

    It thrills me that they were wise enough to restore the old rather than take it down and replace with new. Fascinating post – I’m so envious of your proximity to so much history!

  2. What a wonderful tour! Also, how wonderful, that this was renovated and preserved. Your country does marvelously, with restoration and preservation.

    Re: your comment in my blog… Oh I can see why you dislike the earlier twilight, this time of year. With driving to and from work, and not seeing much sun at all, it would have to be unpleasant. -sigh-

    Hope you are able to enjoy the Autumnal colors, on weekends.

  3. What a wonderful tour of the library. The library is absolutely beautiful both the old section and the newer one. I love the items that were found as renovations were being done. It adds to the already rich history of the library. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos, I enjoyed seeing them.

  4. Anca says:

    Aww, that’s so interesting. I enjoyed seeing the pictures very much. It’s fascinating to see the lost book and, even more, the lost shoe. Heritage Open Days are really great, aren’t they?

  5. Pam says:

    I love the older buildings, the work on that one is amazing. And to find that interesting stuff. That is so neat. Thanks for stopping over at the blog and leaving a comment, come anytime. I just noticed as I got on your page that you are in Wales. My maiden name is Montgomery and according to the records that is where my family actually started. Nice meeting you.

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