Beautiful Bridgnorth

Beautiful Bridgnorth


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Bridge High Street


Bridgnorth in Shropshire, England is a town with a population of just over 12,000.

It is composed of a Low town spanning the banks of the River Severn, (Englands longest) and the High town situated on the top of a hundred foot high sandstone hill.
At the southern end of the hill are the remains of a castle built by a Norman earl.

The Castle Keep defied the efforts of Cromwell's Roundheads to totally destroy it after the English Civil War in 1656 but its history dates before that when in 912 the Lady Æthelfleda, Queen of Mercia, eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, built a defensive mound on the site.

Bridgnorth Castle

After the Norman invasion of 1066, Bill the Conk gave the manor of Bridgnorth to Roger de Montgomerie whose son, Robert of Bellême, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury, built a stone castle on the site. After Cromwell's attempts to knock it down, the castle Keep was left leaning at a crazy angle and defies gravity to this day surrounded by the lovely town garden which overlooks the Severn Valley to the South and the railway to the West. We now live next to the castle so it seemed a good place to begin a web page about Bridgnorth.

The town was named after a new bridge was build north of one built further south. The present one was built in 1823 designed by Thomas Telford, a Scottish stonemason who became a famous civil engineer and a one time resident of Bridgnorth.

If you would like to learn more about Thomas Telford click on the link below:


The castle used to extend from Northgate right around the high town but on 31st March 1656 the Parliamentary army captured Bridgnorth and on April 1st a fire started by the Royalist defenders destroyed all but a few houses leaving 300 people homeless and destitute. Most of the older buildings you see today in the town date from after this event and are largely half timbered.

In what is left of the castle you can clearly see where cannon balls hit, fired across the valley to the north from Panpudding Hill.

Bridgnorth Castle Garden

Looking west from the castle garden a pedestrian bridge crosses the valley to the Bridgnorth station of the Severn Valley Steam Railway. The line runs 16 miles following the River Severn through picturesque countryside to Kidderminster, a town as unattractive as Bridgnorth is attractive.

Bridge to railway station

One can spend a pleasant sunny evening sitting on the station platform with a pint of Bathams (I even had a pint of Otter there one afternoon!) from the Railwayman's Arms pub, also on the platform, watching the beautiful old steam trains come and go. Regular services are run to Kiddleyminster during the summer stopping at every little station on the way where you can break your journey to explore before catching the next train.

SVR Loco's

In the winter time they run only at the weekend but there are lots of special trips around Christmas and some where they serve meals. The line opened in 1862 and originally ran from Hartlebury near Stourport in Worcestershire to Shrewsbury passing through a tunnel under Bridgnorth town. It was said that every time a train passed through the tunnel, everything rattled on the tables of the Swan Inn in the High Street!

The River Severn looking upstream

After the railway opened to Bridgnorth it became a popular tourist destination and still is today. Castle Hill Cliff Railway opened in 1892 and carried 50,000 people in its first year of operation. It is the shortest (201 feet long) and steepest (33 degrees) cliff railway in England. The Castle Gardens were opened in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. You can imagine those Victorian tourists crossing the footbridge from the station, walking up to the gardens and promenading around castle walk, admiring the views then descending the cliff railway to paddle in the river! We're still doing much the same!

Bridgnorth RUFC ground

Now what sort of nutter takes photos of a rugby pitch I hear you say. Well it doesn't have the backdrop of the lovely city of Bath like the Rec but you have to admit the local pitch looks pretty nice. There are three more pitches a few yards upstream as this thriving club has four senior teams, three ladies, six junior, and seven mini's the youngest being under fives!! The 1st team plays in black so are known as the "All Blacks" and had won every game this season in the Autumn of 2013 when this was written!! There are ongoing reports of Bridgnorth RUFC in my regular pages.

If you would like to know more about the Rugby Union league system and Bridgnorth RUFC's position in it, please click on the link below:


St Marys Church from the town bridge

Up until 1786 the only road into the high town was Cartway which runs steeply up from the Bridge to the High Street. Other than that it was by one of the eight flights of shallow steps, so built for Donkeys (and pedestrians) to carry goods up and down to the river quays and other parts of the town. The river was the busiest in England in the 18th century with over 70 "trows"; shallow draft barges, employed carrying cargo down to Stourport where it was transferred to bigger vessels for onward voyage up the canal system or downstream to Bristol and beyond.

From the town bridge you look up to St Mary's Church. Our house is just behind the church and the line of houses you can see running down the hill from the church is St Mary's Steps and is our quickest way down to the low town.

The photo below looks upstream, the other way from the bridge with St Leonard's Church at the northern end of the high town at the top of the hill. Rebuilt of local red sandstone in 1860, it is no longer used for regular worship. The black and white four storey timber framed house you can see behind the willow tree on the right of the photo is one of the few that survived the fire of 1656 and was later owned by Bishop Percy (1729 - 1811). It is situated at the bottom of Cartway. On the end of the house on the left of the photo is advertised S.E & A Ridley Ltd, the oldest firm of seedsmen in Britain established in 1616! They are still going strong today.

The High town of Bridgnorth from the Low town

Richard Trevithick (1771 - 1833), the Cornish engineer who pioneered the high pressure steam engine, built the first passenger rail locomotive in 1808 at John Hazeldine's foundry which used to be just upstream of the bridge. The locomotive was named "Catch me who can" and a plaque commemorating the event can be seen on the clock tower by the bridge. In fact Trevithick's first locomotive was built in Camborne in Cornwall in 1801 which he called "Puffing Billy". It was a road locomotive which went up Camborne Hill with six people on board and there is some dispute as to if it actually went up Camborne Hill. His first rail locomotive was built in nearby Coalbrookdale in 1802 which was built to haul coal.

If you would like to listen and see the words and score of the Camborne Hill song, click the link below:


St Mary's Church.
East Sastle Street.

Back now to St Mary's Church which was rebuilt by Thomas Telford in 1794. In the entrance there is a portrait of Telford reproduced in the section on him above together with a chronological list of his major achievements.

The Governors House, East Castle Street.

The church is at the end of East Castle Street which is where Telford lived in 1792 and where the grandest houses in the town are located. Personally I do not much like the design of the church and think it out of character with its surroundings so perhaps the great man should have stuck to building bridges and the like! The photo above is of East Castle Street taken from the front of St Mary's Church and you can see the tower of the more traditional style of St. Leonard's Church in the background.

Towards the end of the street you will find the old Castle Governors House, another building which survived the great fire. It dates from 1633 and King Charles I stayed here in 1642 and 1645 when it was a Royalist garrison within the old castle Bailey.

It is now the Office of Apley Estate who used to own most of Bridgnorth and the Estate now extends to 8500 acres. You can discover more about the estate if you click on this link.

The top cliff railway station.
The top cliff railway.

The cliff walk goes from our house following the cliff top right around the castle gardens and terminates at the top station of the cliff railway. On the way you pass two sets of steps, the first, Cannon Steps, takes you down to the bridge across to the railway station and the second, St Mary's Steps, to the town bridge. After passing the cliff railway you arrive at a third set of steps which also terminates at the bridge and then Cartway which has the same destination.

The views from the cliff walk are extensive, indeed King Charles I declared it to be "the finest in my domain" although they probably kept the slope free of trees for defensive reasons in those days and a bit of judicious pruning might be in order today to open up the view to the south.

There are many country walks close to the town which I will eventually try to describe.

One which we found recently is a circular one starting from the roundabout in the low town and following the Telford road then taking the first right up to the cemetery. On the left of the cemetery gate you will find a path climbing steeply up the hill along the cemetery wall.

Bridgenorth looking West.

It follows the edge of the cemetery before climbing steeply up through the woods. On reaching the top of the hill you turn right and eventually reach the Wolverhampton road which leads you back to the roundabout where you started. There are some nice views of the town from the road.

The Severn Way is a long distance walking path which follows the River Severn from it's source at Plylimon in Powys, Wales for 210 miles down to Severn Beach in South Gloucestershire, England.

Another long distance walking trail starts at Bridgnorth, finishes at Gloucester and is called the Geopark Way. It was established by the Hereford and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust and is intended to highlight the landscape and geology of the Abberley and Malvern Hills through which it travels. The trail is 109 miles long and is waymarked along it's entire length.

The start of the Geopark Way.
It meanders down the Severn Valley to South of Stourport then heads west to the Abberley Hills, crosses the River Teme at Knightwich before heading down to the Malvern Hills. It traverses the Malvern's and continues on to Ledbury, a lovely town almost as nice as Bridgnorth!

It's next destination is Newent then over May Hill before turning South East until it rediscovers the Severn which it follows North to Gloucester.

There are three circular trails along the way to highlight the most interesting landscape and geology if you don't fancy the long trek.

To the right of the castle garden gates at the start of the cliff walk, a flight of steps leads down to the road. Cross it and you will see Ebenezers Steps which lead you steeply down to the valley below.

Railway street.
Ebenezer Row.

At the bottom you will find a row of pretty terraced cottages called Ebenezer Row (Photo left). Sue has a particular liking for chimneys and these cottages have rather ornate ones for such modest dwellings.

Station  Street.

Railway Street (Photo's above and right) leads you steeply back uphill from this point which is rather quaint and, apart from the cobbles, not unlike Gold Hill in Shaftsbury as it curves round to meet Listley Street at the top.

There are a few interesting shops in Listley Street, fashion shops for the ladies and Shakespeare's Ironmongers for the men where you could get lost for hours but has since closed its doors! There is a Chinese takeaway, a Kebab shop, a Fish and Chip shop and an Antique shop of which you will find many around the town. The library is also on this street which contains the tourist office.

Old Town Hall.

At the end of Listley Street you meet the High Street which is pictured at the very top of this page. The old Town Hall dominates the scene which was also the court house. It was constructed in 1652 using materials from an old Tythe Barn and is open to the public. The place was refurnished in the Victorian style but you can still see the original beams in the council chamber.

In the court there are accounts of the various trials that were held over the years including one where three brothers were found guilty of murder. Two were hung and one was "pressed to death", and angonising punishment handed out if you refused to accept guilt but your family could keep your assets which became the property of the state if you were hung!

Underneath the building there are often market stalls and a timeline is painted on the wall showing Bridgnorth history from the Vikings who did a bit of rape and pillage in 895 to the present day. The building has stained glass windows and a Victorian coat of arms from when it was renovated to commemorate the Queens jubilee.

There is a weekly market in the High Street and another in the big car park across from Sainsbury's every Saturday when the town really buzzes. Bridgnorth was the first market town to be awarded a Royal charter in 1157.

I have given up counting the number of Pubs in the town. If you stand on the corner on the other side of the river from the high town you can spit at at least five! There are reputedly a total of 27 and most seem to be doing well at a time when many elsewhere are closing. The Swan in the High Street is certainly one of the oldest and is very attractive but does not offer guest accomodation. It should not be confused with another Swan Inn which is situated a couple of miles out of town. We booked a room at the out of town one once and when we arrived they refused to honour the booking or find us an alternative room.

The Swan

There are five or six other pubs in the high street, a very good deli, Tanners; a specialist wine merchant, an indoor market which sells everything, several butchers, bakers but no candlestick makers! Tesco is here of course but it is just a convenience store which also houses the Post Office. There is a W.H.Smith, two chemists, an optician, a Linen shop, antique shops, two banks, estate agents, coffee shops, restaurants and an Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Of course the usual charity shops are in evidence but no shops are currently unoccupied or boarded up so the town seems prosperous and local businesses well supported by residents.

Church Street

At the far end of the High Street it crosses Whitburn Street on the left and Church Street on the right which leads up to St Leonards Close. This is an interesting and attractive area of the town. As you walk up Church Street there are alms houses on the left founded in the reign of Henry VI (1366 - 1413) but they have a more recent history in that on August 29th 1940, 12 bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe and two women were killed. One house in church street was hit, a woman killed and her husband severely injured whilst another struck Cliff Cottages where another woman was killed. The house that was destroyed in Church St was not rebuilt and there is now a garden of remembrance in its place to the two women killed. It is assumed that the bombers were returning from a raid on a nearby airfield and were following the river to navigate to and from their target. There was a rumour that Hitler had Bridgnorth in mind for his command centre had the invasion of Britain gone ahead!

On arriving at St Leonards Close you will see on your left a pretty little half timbered house with the inscription over the door "In this house lived the learned and eloquent Richard Baxter 1640 - 1641". He was a renowned Puritan who became a curate and preacher for a while at St Leonards Church. He was eventually to become an influential theologian and published over 140 books including religious poetry. He lived through the English Civil War and was controversial both in his dealings with Cromwell and, after the reformation, the monarchy. He was persecuted for much of his life though much admired by those who knew him.

St Leonards Close

In the photo above, Baxter's house is on the left and on the right is the Old Grammar School dating from 1785. This was the second schoolhouse to be built, the first being set up by Bridgnorth Corporation in 1503. On the other side of the church is another Grammar School House (1629/1639) where lessons were given and where lived the Headmaster, teachers, boarders and the Rector.

Grammer School House and Rectory

In one corner of the Close is the Bridgnorth NHS Dentistry Centre whilst the Town Council occupies another but next door to the Council house is by far the most interesting house and is yet another almshouse. This one looks like a it should be owned by one of the lorded gentry but was in fact built to house ten poor widows in 1687.

St Leonards Almshouse

When the Roundheads defeated the Royalist defenders of Bridgnorth in 1656 there was fierce fighting in this area of town and the Royalist commander, Colonel Francis Billingsly who came from Astley Abbotts nearby, was killed in the churchyard. His sword was displayed in a glass case on a wall inside the church until some ratbag stole it! The Almshouse was built and endowed by a Francis Palmer whose mother was buried in the churchyard and who was the sister of Colonel Billingsly.

Back at the southern end of the High Street is a rather out of place building of Italianate style multi coloured brick with a tower at one end which was built in 1855 as an indoor market. Nobody asked the market traders for their opinion who thought they would loose business by moving indoors so they never used it and it has been a cinema, dance hall and Museum during it's lifetime.

Old Market House

The Museum of Childhood and Costume which occupied part of the building has now closed due to the owners ill health and as you can see the ground floor is now a Costa Coffee Shop. The building extends the length of Waterloo Terrace which connects the High Street with East and West Castle Streets.

On a recent visit back to Somerset, one of the locals reminisced to me about Bridgnorth, having spent some time there being trained at RAF Bridgnorth. He remembered getting off the train at the station, marching through Low Town and up the hill to Stanmore. The base was opened as a training camp in 1939, served for a time to train Womens Auxiliary Air Force recruits, eventually reverting to the RAF. It ceased air training at the end of WW2 in 1945 and continued training ground combat and navigation until 1962.

Some of what was the base is now an industrial park while the remainder is a country park with an old chimney as a memorial. A plaque was placed on the chimney in 1994 with a ceremonial fly past of a Spitfire aircraft. Although the RAF base never had a runway, a lot of wartime planes were placed here on display during the lifetime of the base.

Bridgnorth is well provided with sports facilities having a large leisure centre with a gym and swimming pool, tennis courts, football and rugby pitches. A well kept 18 hole par 73 golf course runs alongside the river with a clubhouse, bar, dining facilities and professional shop.

Bridgnorth Golf Course

Bridgnorth is a Fairtrade Town. This is a scheme invented here in the UK in 2001 to encourage the use and sale of Fairtrade designated products. The Fairtrade Foundation is a UK charity which promotes the products of producers in developing countries.
West Castle Street In order to become a Fairtrade Town the council must pass a resolution to use fairtrade tea and coffee, the products must be readily available for sale in the towns retail outlets and a certain number must be used anywhere such products are served at workplaces.

The scheme has now spread around Europe and as far afield as Australia and the USA. See here for a list of Fairtrade Towns to discover if you are one and if not you might motivate your council to take action.

The adjacent photo is taken at the end of West Castle Street where we are privileged to live.
The town is twinned with a French and a German town. Thiers in the French Auvergne is composed, like Bridgnorth, of a high and low town and situated in the Durolle valley which probably explains why it was chosen as a twin. It also has a similar population to Bridgnorth.


Schrobenhausen is the other twin town and is situated in Bavaria with a population of over 16,000.

At the northern end of the High Street is Northgate. The gate has been rebuilt many times over the years since the original town walls were built and now contains the town museum above the gate.

Another variation of the walk described above is to follow the path past the cemetery to the top of the hill then do not turn right but continue straight on. The path slopes downhill for few yards until you come to a fork where you take the left hand one going further downhill. The path traverses round a concave slope eventually passing Jacobs Ladder and then later emerges on the top of High Rock commanding a fine view over Bridgnorth.

Bridgnorth from High Rock

St Leonard's church is not used for regular services now but has been restored and is now managed by the Churches Conservation Trust. It has many lovely stained glass windows, is larger and has a more beautiful interior than the present Parish church of St Mary but the story goes that it required extensive restoration, money for which the Church of England did not have and as they had more pews than they required it was given to the Trust who did have the money.

It is now open to the public on certain days of the week and services are still held here on special occasions. If you have a history in your family of being involved with the church for example you could get married here.

St Leonards church interior

The sword of the Royalist commander Colonel Francis Billingsly who was killed during the Civil War in the churchyard, used to be displayed on a wall in the church. It used to be possible to visit the church by borrowing a key and it was during this time the sword was stolen from the church. The Trust now has a steward present during public visits.

The Parliamentary Army stored ammunition in the church during their siege of the town in 1646 and a stray cannon shot hit the church causing an explosion and starting the fire which largely destroyed the town. The church was rebuilt during the Victorian era but it's predecessor may have been Saxon.

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