Friday, 2 August 2013

Speaking Up For The Stew - Saving an iconic building on Frankwell Quay

In the early middle ages, one of the crossing points into Shrewsbury was by means of a ford connecting the town to the area known today as Frankwell.  The fortified and partly inhabited St George’s Bridge was built in the mid-12th century, crossing the river from Frankwell to the end of Mardol.  This bridge became known as Welshman’s Bridge in the 13th century. 

A number of buildings in Frankwell show evidence of development there in medieval times. Certainly by the 16th century it was a prosperous area. The Anchor pub stood in line to the approach of the old Welsh Bridge, but that came down, to be replaced by the present day Welsh Bridge in the 1790s.

Unsurprisingly, Frankwell Quay is part of a conservation area. Nowadays there’s not much left on the Quay to remind us of those impossibly distant days when the old Welsh Bridge spanned the river with its towers and jumble of dwellings.  But the very last vestiges of the old Welsh Bridge are still to be found, and not far from them is the building known as ‘The Stew’, which has been standing there since the days of the old Welsh Bridge. 

If you’re wondering which building I’m talking about, it’s the fenced-off and abandoned building immediately next to the Guildhall, which you may have walked or driven past and thought why doesn’t somebody do something about that place? Well, its owner wants to.  After years of allowing the building to fall into disrepair, he’s put in for planning permission to have it demolished and a boutique hotel built on the site instead. His view appears to be that it’s only worth pulling down. And there’s no doubt that it’s worth it to him, because the chance is there  to make a great deal of money.  But is it worth it to us?

I think this is something we need to talk about, think about and do something about. The Stew may look like a bit of a wreck to you or me, but it’s a repairable wreck with an honourable history, rooted in Shrewsbury’s trading past.  Once our sleepy River Severn was the second busiest river in Europe. As river highways went, it was up there with the best, the motorway of the 18th century, giving legs to the Industrial Revolution - and one of its thriving ports was Shrewsbury.  

The early sixteenth century was when river trade really kicked off in Shrewsbury. Mardol Quay was where much of the action took place, but Frankwell Quay, built in 1607 by Roland Jenks, soon became extremely busy, with all the appendages of a port- storehouses, chandlers, warehouses and, in the 18th century, The Stew. 

Traffic coming down river to Shrewsbury would have included timber floats, goods such as lead and lead ore, slate, bark for tanning, wood, butter, cheese, even pickled oysters from Milford Haven.  Grinshall stone was brought to Shrewsbury by road and loaded onto barges at the town quays. Coming up river were coal, iron, groceries, drink, soap and snuff.  Building materials such as lime and brick tiles came up from Ironbridge and Stourport.

Shrewsbury was an important trading town, its wealth in no small measure coming from its port.  We have little evidence left of those days - but we do still have the Stew.

If you live in Shrewsbury, go and take a look around the outside for yourselves. I can show you the photographs, but they don’t convey the imposing nature of the building. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what it could be restored to, and the impact that would have on Frankwell Quay.

If you start at the back of the building, you’ll be looking at the oldest part of The Stew, which used to be an old merchant’s house, of the same date as the old Guildhall on Dogpole.  Look at the dressed stone on its corners, and compare them with the stonework on the old Guildhall. The Old Guildhall’s a prestigious building, but the stonework for both is exactly the same. This gives some idea of how significant a building The Stew once was.  Its Georgian windows may have gone, but their brick arches remain, and I’m told that all the old corner fireplaces still remain inside. 

It’s not difficult to imagine the roof repaired, the brickwork re-pointed, the windows back and the building restored to its previous state, not just as a merchant’s house, but an important warehouse on the river front.    

The Stew stands in what for a long time has been a conservation area.  So significant a building is it that the current Guildhall was designed around The Stew’s features, in an attempt to complement them and fit in.  It’s sad that there’s only The Stew [and the remains of the old maltings opposite], to speak up for Shrewsbury’s past as a river port.  But that makes it all the more important that The Stew should be preserved.  

With a decision looming on The Stew’s future, it came as no surprise to find in my inbox an email from  Shrewsbury Civic Society.  I copy it here in full. This is our chance. We lost out on the Princess House development in the Square because many of us didn’t know what was happening, and so didn’t speak up soon enough. Let’s not lose out with The Stew. Instead let’s work to save this landmark building on historic Frankwell Quay. 


You may have heard of Shrewsbury Civic Society's Campaign to save the Stew, a unique building in Frankwell connected with Shrewsbury's historic river trade. The building is the last vestige of this important aspect of the town's history, and we are desperate to save the building and have Frankwell Quay transformed into something the town can be proud of; a living record of Shrewsbury's trading past.

We have launched an e-petition to protest against demolition, and I wondered if you would take a look and consider signing. The link is attached below. You click on it and follow a fairly simple procedure:

1.  You will be asked to fill in a validation code, but this is given you just underneath;  four letters in bold type.
2.  . Once you have successfuly filled in the form, you will be sent a confirmation email. It is important to do what it asks, as this will validate the registration. ( You will simply have to click on a link.) Here is the link:

If you could also forward to anyone you think may be sympathetic to the cause, that would be great. Public opinion is the only thing that will save the building, in this current climate of financial expediency. Thank you very much.

PS. Many thanks to Mary de Saulles for the information on Shrewsbury’s river trade.  Her lovely book, The Story of Shrewsbury, can be bought in Pengwern Books in Shrewsbury Market, or online.

PPS. Here's a link to Shrewsbury Civic's Society's website, including a great pic of what The Stew could look like if restored:

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