Shrewsbury ( or ) is the county town of Shropshire, in the West Midlands of England, on the River Severn. It has a population of approximately 72,000 and is the second largest town in Shropshire, after Telford.
Shrewsbury is a historic market town whose town centre has a largely unaltered medieval street plan and over 660 listed buildings, including several examples of timber framing from the 15th and 16th centuries. Shrewsbury Castle, a red sandstone fortification, and Shrewsbury Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery, were founded in 1074 and 1083 respectively by the Norman Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery.
Today, east of the Welsh border, Shrewsbury serves as the commercial centre for Shropshire and mid-Wales, with a retail output of over £299 million per year. There are some light industry and distribution centres, such as Battlefield Enterprise Park, mainly on the outskirts. The A5 and A49 trunk roads cross near to the town, as do five railway lines at Shrewsbury railway station.
The town was possibly the site of the capital of Powys, known to the ancient Britons as Pengwern, signifying "the alder hill"; and in Old English as Scrobbesburh (dative Scrobbesbyrig), which has several meanings; "fort in the scrub-land region", "Scrobb's fort", "shrubstown" or "the town of the bushes". This name gradually evolved in three directions, into Sciropscire, which became Shropshire; into Sloppesberie, which became Salop/Salopia (an alternative name for both town and county), and into Schrosberie, which eventually became the town's name, Shrewsbury. Its Welsh name Amwythig means "fortified place".
Nearby is the village of Wroxeter, to the south-east, site of the now ruined Roman city of Viroconium Cornoviorum. Viroconium was the fourth largest civitas capital in Roman Britain. As Caer Guricon it may have served as the early Dark Age capital of the kingdom of Powys. The Shrewsbury area's regional importance in the Roman era was recently underlined with the discovery of the Shrewsbury Hoard in 2009.
Over the ages, the geographically important town has been the site of many conflicts, particularly between the English and Welsh. Shrewsbury was the seat of the Princes of Powis for many years; however, the Angles, under King Offa of Mercia, took possession of it in 778.
Shrewsbury's history commences in the Early Middle Ages, having been founded c. 800 AD. It is believed that Anglo-Saxon Shrewsbury was most probably a settlement fortified through the use of earthworks comprising a ditch and rampart, which were then shored up with a wooden stockade.
The Welsh again besieged it in 1069, but were repelled by William the Conqueror. Roger de Montgomery was given the town as a gift from William, and built Shrewsbury Castle in 1074, taking the title of Earl. The 3rd Earl, Robert of Bellême was deposed in 1102, in consequence of taking part in the rebellion against Henry I.
It was in the late Middle Ages (14th and 15th centuries) when the town was at its height of commercial importance. This was mainly due to the wool trade, a major industry at the time, with the rest of Britain and Europe, especially with the River Severn and Watling Street as trading routes.
In 1403 the Battle of Shrewsbury was fought a few miles north of the town centre, at Battlefield; it was fought between King Henry IV and Henry Hotspur Percy, with the King emerging victorious, an event celebrated in William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Act 5.
Shrewsbury's monastic gathering was disbanded with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and as such the Abbey was closed in 1540. However, it is believed that Henry VIII thereafter intended to make Shrewsbury a cathedral city after the formation of the Church of England, but the citizens of the town declined the offer. Despite this, Shrewsbury throve throughout the 16th and 17th centuries; largely due to the town's fortuitous location, which allowed it to control the Welsh wool trade. As a resultant a number of grand edifices, including the 1575 Ireland's Mansion and 1658 Draper's Hall, were constructed. It was also in this period that Edward VI gave permission for the foundation of a free school, which was later to become Shrewsbury School.
Local soldier and statesman Robert Clive was Shrewsbury's MP from 1762 until his death in 1774. Clive also served once as the town's mayor in 1762.
St Chad's Church collapsed in 1788 after attempts to expand the crypt compromised the structural integrity of the tower above; it was, however, rebuilt just four years later as a large neo-classical round church in a new location close to the Quarry Park.
In the period directly after Napoleon's surrender after Waterloo, the town's own 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot was sent to guard him in his exile on St Helena. A locket containing a lock of the emperor's hair (presented to an officer of the 53rd) remains, to this day, in the collections of the Shropshire Regimental Museum at Shrewsbury Castle.
Shrewsbury has also played a part in Western intellectual history, by being the town where the naturalist Charles Darwin was born and raised. The town is also home to the Ditherington Flax Mill, the world's first iron-framed building, which is commonly regarded as "the grandfather of the skyscraper". Its importance was officially recognised in the 1950s, resulting in it becoming a Grade I listed building. Shrewsbury in the Industrial Revolution was also on the Shrewsbury Canal, which linked it with the Shropshire Canal and the rest of the canal network of Great Britain. Despite this, Shrewsbury escaped much of the industrialisation taking place in 19th-century Britain due to its isolation from other large manufacturing towns and ports.
From the late 1990s the town experienced severe flooding problems from the Severn and Rea Brook. In the autumn of 2000 large swathes of the town were underwater, notably Frankwell, which flooded three times in six weeks. The Frankwell flood defences were completed in 2003, along with the new offices of the borough council. More recently, such as in 2005 and 2007, flooding has been less severe, and the defences have generally held back floodwaters from the town centre areas. However, the town car parks are often left to be flooded in the winter, which reduces trade in the town, most evidenced in the run up to Christmas in 2007.
Shrewsbury won the West Midlands Capital of Enterprise award in 2004. The town has two large expanding business parks, the Shrewsbury Business Park by the A5 in the southeast and the Battlefield Enterprise Park in the north. There are many residential developments currently under construction in the town to cater for the increasing numbers of people wishing to live in the town, which is a popular place to commute to Telford, Wolverhampton, and Birmingham from.
In 2000 and again in 2002, Shrewsbury unsuccessfully applied for city status.
In 2009 Shrewsbury Town Council was formed and the town's traditional coat of arms was returned to everyday use.
A 2005 report on prison population found that HM Prison Shrewsbury was the most overcrowded in England and Wales. The prison, which was also known as The Dana, was closed in 2013 and then sold by the Ministry of Justice to private property developers in 2014.