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Shrewsbury Abbey

Shrewsbury Abbey
Shrewsbury Abbey
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church with Choral Tradition
Founded 1083
Dedication St Peter & St Paul
Parish Holy Cross, Shrewsbury
Diocese Lichfield
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) Revd Paul Firmin
Organist/Director of music Duncan Boutwood
Churchwarden(s) Ken Vine, Vi Wynne

The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Shrewsbury (commonly known as Shrewsbury Abbey) is an ancient foundation in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire, England.

The Abbey was founded in 1083 as a Benedictine monastery by the Norman Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery. It grew to be one of the most important and influential abbeys in England and an important centre of pilgrimage. Although much of the Abbey was destroyed in the 16th century, the nave survived as a parish church and today serves as the mother church for the Parish of Holy Cross, and the civic church of Shrewsbury.

The Abbey is a Grade I Listed Building and is a member of the Greater Churches Group.[1] It is located to the east of Shrewsbury town centre, near to the English Bridge, and is surrounded by a triangular area which is today referred to as Abbey Foregate.


  • History 1
    • Foundation 1.1
      • Abbots of Shrewsbury 1.1.1
    • Dissolution 1.2
    • Post-Reformation 1.3
    • Present-day church 1.4
  • Bells 2
  • Music 3
    • Choirs 3.1
    • Organ 3.2
    • Organists & Directors of Music 3.3
  • Cadfael 4
  • Burials 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8



Prior to the Norman conquest a small Saxon chapel dedicated to St Peter existed outside the east gate of Shrewsbury, having been built by Siward son of Ethelgar. When Roger de Montgomery received Shropshire from William the Conqueror in 1071, he gave the church to one of his clerks, Odelerius of Orléans. In February 1083 Earl Roger publicly pledged himself to found a new Abbey, laying his gloves on the altar of St. Peter and granting the whole suburb outside the east gate for the construction.[2] When sufficiently complete (probably late in 1087), regular life began under the first abbot, Euchred of Séez, the church in England being under the authority of the Pope. During the 12th century the 5th Abbot, Robert Pennant, discovered the remains of Saint Winifred during a pilgrimage to Wales. He brought her remains back to the Abbey where they were enshrined. This would cause the Abbey to become an important place of pilgrimage, attracting many visitors. During the 14th century considerable rebuilding work was done at the west end of the Abbey. Records shows that the great west window was glazed c.1388 in the time of Abbot Nicholas Stevens, who may also have been responsible for other 14th century alterations.

The Abbey interior.

Abbots of Shrewsbury

  1. Fulchred, c. 1087-x 1119
  2. Godfrey, x 1121-1128
  3. Heribert, 1128–1138
  4. Radulfus, x 1138-1147 x
  5. Robert, occurs 1150 × 1159-1168
  6. Adam, 1168 × 1173-1175
  7. Ralph, elected 1175-1186 × 1190
  8. Hugh de Lacy, fl. 1190 x 1220
  9. Walter, 1221–1223
  10. Henry, 1223–1244
  11. Adam, 1244–1250
  12. William, 1250–1251
  13. Henry, 1251–1258
  14. Thomas, 1259–1266
  15. William of Upton, 1266–1271
  16. Luke of Wenlock, 1272–1279
  17. John of Drayton, 1279–1292
  18. William of Muckley, 1292–1333
  19. Adam of Cleobury, 1333–1355
  20. Henry de Alston, 1355–1361
  21. Nicholas Stevens, 1361–1399
  22. Thomas Prestbury, 1399–1426
  23. John Hampton, 1426–1433
  24. Thomas Ludlow, 1433–1459
  25. Thomas Mynde, 1460–1498
  26. Richard Lye, 1498–1512
  27. Richard Baker, 1512–1528
  28. Thomas Butler, 1529–1540
The original north and south Transepts were demolished in 1540. The brickwork shows where they would have extended out from the body of the church.


Initially prompted by a dispute over the annulment of the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and became the established church by an Act of Parliament in the Act of Supremacy, beginning a series of events known as the English Reformation.[3]

In the same year there was a Visitation of the Monasteries ostensibly to examine their character, in fact, to value their assets with a view to expropriation. The Crown was undergoing financial difficulties, and the wealth of the church, in contrast to its political weakness, made appropriation of church property both tempting and feasible.[4] Thomas Cromwell began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, with the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act affecting the smaller houses valued at less than £200 a year. Rebellion followed, with mobs attacking those sent to break up monastic buildings.[5] In 1539 Cromwell moved to the dissolution of the larger monasteries which had escaped earlier, Shrewsbury among them.

Henry VIII personally devised a plan to form at least thirteen new dioceses so that most counties had a cathedral (a former monastery). This plan included making Shrewsbury Abbey a cathedral, but, while new dioceses were established at Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough, Westminster, and Chester, the plans were never completed at Shrewsbury, Leicester, or Waltham.[6] The Abbey was dissolved on 24 January 1540, with a pension of £80 assigned to the abbot and £87 6s. 8d. to the 17 monks.[7]

Shrewsbury Abbey refectory pulpit surrounded by trees.
The old refectory pulpit.


The western part of the Abbey (nave, side aisles, porch and west tower) was preserved as a parish church and the remaining buildings were either adapted to secular uses or pulled down. The building suffered severely from neglect after the Reformation. The lead from the roof was removed, leading to decay and eventual collapse. The Norman clerestory was still in existence in the 17th century but it was later taken down and the roof was rebuilt immediately above the triforium. Considerable portions of the monastic buildings were still standing in 1743 but most have since been demolished, particularly when Thomas Telford built his A5 road through the Abbey grounds c.1836, removing much of the remaining evidence of the monastic layout. The old refectory pulpit is still visible across the road from the church and a single wall of an Abbey building, now an integral part of another building, remains. In the late 19th century the possibility of the Abbey becoming a cathedral was again considered, but legislation to that effect, drafted in 1922, was defeated by one vote in the House of Lords in 1926.

Flooding in Abbey Foregate.

Present-day church

Much of the original Norman, 11th century, building survives in the present Abbey church, notably the short thick piers in the eastern half of the nave and the remnants of the original transepts. Stones with three sculptured figures, representing John the Baptist, Saint Winifred and St. Beuno, were found in a garden and have been restored to their original position in the screen. During the 19th century there were major restoration projects to restore the clerestory, and the east end of the church was redesigned by John Loughborough Pearson to contain a chancel and sanctuary. In recent times, the area surrounding the Abbey has been prone to flooding.

Shrewsbury Abbey clock.
The Clock on the bell tower, with unusual markings - instead of '10' being 'X' as is defined in Roman Numerals, 'f' is used. 9 is 'if', 10 simply 'f', 11 'fi' and 12 'ffi'


At the Dissolution, the Abbey had two rings of five bells, one in the current tower and one in a central tower. In 1673 a ring of eight was cast by George Oldfield of Nottingham and these were replaced over time by the present bells. Nine peals were rung at the Abbey in the eighteenth century.[8] The bells were rung full-circle until at least 1895 but in 1909 concern over the safety of the tower led to the bells being removed and rehung without wheels in a new frame. They are currently sounded by an Ellacombe apparatus, whereby they can be rung by a single person.[9]

  • Treble and 2nd - Thomas Mears II of London, 1825
  • 3rd - John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, 1884
  • 4th - John Briant of Hertford, 1812
  • 5th - Charles and George Mears of London, 1846
  • 6th - Abel Rudhall of Gloucester 1745
  • 7th - John Warner & Sons of London, 1877
  • Tenor - Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester, 1713


The choir stalls and organ.


The Abbey has a long-standing reputation for excellence in liturgical music. Records from the mid 19th century show the existence of a choir of boys and men, which was maintained until after World War II. The current choirs consist of a mixed adult choir which sing the majority of services, and a recently formed children's choir. The senior choir regularly visits cathedrals to sing services in the absence of the cathedral choir. Recent destinations include Worcester (2012), Norwich (2012), Ripon (2011), Manchester (2010), Blackburn (2009) and Peterborough (2009).

The current Director of Music is Duncan Boutwood. He is assisted by Nigel Pursey, Associate Director of Music.


The Abbey has a fine organ, built in 1911 by William Hill and Son. It was designed to be on the scale of a cathedral organ, but lack of funds meant the original scheme was never completed. Some stops were subsequently added but, today, it is still incomplete. The quality of the Hill organ and the richness of its Edwardian tone still shine through after 100 years of service, and the organ is a wonderful and fitting complement to the beauty of this ancient Abbey church. The console is also in original condition and is unusual for the right side positioning of the swell pedals, and for the sight of stop stubs (7) for the “missing” ranks.

With the passage of time, the pneumatics have become increasingly unreliable and there have also been problems with the wind systems. A scheme for the organ's renovation and completion was launched in 2011 to appeal for the necessary £400,000 for the scheme to start. The recent provision of two new modern blowers has greatly improved both the tone and the reliability of the organ. The current specification of the organ is available on the National Pipe Organ Register. The proposed specification of the completed organ, after the renovation, is available on the Abbey website.

Organists & Directors of Music

  • 1806-1820 Thomas Tomlins
  • 1820-1831 John Amott
  • 1831-1847 John Hiles
  • 1847-1865 William Fletcher
  • 1865-1892 James Warhurst
  • 1892-1919 Percy William Pilcher
  • 1919-1922 -
  • 1922-1937 George Walter Tonkiss
  • 1937–1945 G A Turner
  • 1945–1947 Edgar Daniels
  • 1947-1974 John R Stanier
  • 1974–1976 Ray Willis
  • 1976–1978 Robert Gillings
  • 1978–1984 Kenneth Greenway
  • 1984–1986 Charles Jones
  • 1986-1986 Sean Tucker
  • 1986–1988 Keith Orrell
  • 1988-1992 Paul Derrett
  • 1992-1994 James Lloyd-Thomas
  • 1995–1999 William Hayward
  • 2000–2006 David Leeke
  • 2007–2010 Tim Mills
  • 2011-2013 Tom Edwards
  • 2013-Pres Duncan Boutwood


Shrewsbury Abbey is the setting for the "Cadfael" mysteries by Ellis Peters, in which the fictional Brother Cadfael is embroiled in a series of historical murder mysteries. The character of Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. The historically accurate stories[10] are set between about 1135 and about 1145, during "The Anarchy", the destructive contest for the crown of England between King Stephen and Empress Maud.


See also


  1. ^ "British Listed Buildings website". Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Shrewsbury Abbey website". Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "The English Reformation by Prof.Andrew Pettegree". BBC. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Herbert Maynard Smith (1938). "Preface". Pre-Reformation England. London: Macmillan. p. vii. 
  5. ^ Haigh English Reformations p. 143f
  6. ^ J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, Oxford History of England, pp 399-400
  7. ^ "Shrewsbury Abbey website". Shrewsbury Abbey. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Felstead Database". Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Shropshire Association of Church Bellringers". Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Kaler (1998 p11

External links

  • Shrewsbury Abbey
  • British History Online

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