Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Bog, A Square And One Big Stink

There’s a passage running down from the Square to Mardol Head.  It’s called Gullet Passage. At the head of the passage once stood the Gullet Inn. In the Middle Ages a stream ran down Gullet Passage to a place of wet horribleness known as Mudholes, which eventually drained into the River Severn [or Sabrina Fludde, as it was known back then].  That stream flowed down from a bog that stood on the site of the present Princess House - subject of so much discussion at a recent Public Inquiry.

I suspect Professor Lalage Brown knew all this when, at that Inquiry, she suggested that Princess House might sink into a watery swamp if built out any further. The suggestion was quickly refuted however.  Even back in 1881 when the old Shirehall was built on the current Princess House site, that pond or bog had long-since been drained.  However, it’s an interesting fact that the filthy water of that watery bog was once the town ducking pool [clean water not reckoned necessary when it came to retribution, apparently].

So how far back does all this ducking go? The Anglo-Saxon word for the gumble or ducking-stool was ‘scalfing-stole’, so at least it goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.  It was the common punishment for 'scolds' [in other words, women - as if men didn't have the following characteristics - who were quarrelsome, angry, noisy, argumentative and in need of ducking as an 'engine of correction']. However the Act of 1266 ordered ducking to be meted out to defaulting bakers and brewers too.  At that time, a part of what is now Shrewsbury’s High Street was called Baker’s Row - so the defaulting bakers wouldn’t have had far to go - and the rest of the street to the top of Wyle Cop, taking its name from the gumble, was called Gumblestolestrete.   Obviously these duckings had a position of prominence in town life.

By the end of the 14th century, however, the bog on the Princess House site [also referred to in records as’ the pond’, ‘the Bishop’s Pool’ – after the Bishop of Bangor – or simply ‘the pool’] was no longer there and the instrument of punishment was removed to St John’s Hill.  A new stool was purchased in 1669, and the Mayor’s Accounts for 1710-11 record the payment of sixpence for ‘ye carriage of ye Gumble stoole from St John’s Hill to ye lower end of Mardol.’  As punishments went, this one persisted almost into what we might think of as the dawn of modern times.

Why am I telling you all this? Is it because it amuses me to think that a corner of our town currently creating such a stink should once have been a filthy bog? Well, maybe to a small degree, but the real reason is that, fascinated as I am by Shrewsbury’s history, a couple of days ago I went into Candle Lane Books and bought ‘Shrewsbury Street Names’ by John L Hobbs, and it’s there that I stumbled upon this grubby tale of public punishments under the headings ‘Gullet Passage and The Gumblestolestrete’. 

Have you ever been into Candle Lane books?  If you haven’t and you’re local, you’ve missed a treat.  And if you’re not a local, never mind - I’ll take you on a tour - but not today.  Tucked away behind the Square and Princess House, Candle Lane Books deserves a post in its own right.  It’s the sort of bookshop I have to confess I don’t often dare go in.  One of the last times I did, I came out several hundred pounds lighter. [What a confession, I know, and in public too.]

By the way, most of the information I’ve just shared with you, courtesy of author John L Dobbs, is referenced by him from Shrewsbury Public Library’s Calendar of Deeds, the St Chad’s Church Parish Registers and the Shrewsbury Abbey Cartulary [available on Amazon, I do not joke, hardcover, in Latin, no reviews, four used copies available, eighty quid each].

Don’t all rush at once.


  1. Great little verse turned up in my Twitter feet, courtesy of Shroppiemon:

    All round the Buttercross,
    Up and down St Giles,
    Up and down the Gullet Shut
    And call at Molly Miles.

    1. I wonder how old that is? I believe Molly kept the Hole in the Wall at one time, so I suppose that would date the song.

  2. It's great, isn't it. No idea how old. Have to ask Shroppiemon. Are you on Twitter. If so, and if you reckon you can read Old Shropshire, follow him.