The pretty twinkling fairylights of Christmas are once again being switched off beneath the grey, grey skies of January, and we all must march on – hopefully with optimism, a sense of excitement, and a spring in our step – into another new year packed to overflowing with possibilities writes Phil Gillam.
But before we do, let’s just have a sneaky look over our shoulders at some of the memorable moments Shrewsbury offered us during 2012, focusing on just a few of the quirky subjects covered in this Shrewsbury Matters column over the past few months.
The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse, a place I revisited again this weekend with some of the family, seems, on the face of it, an unlikely venue for gigs because it’s really quite small. But, back in July, I went along there with our youngest son to witness the barking mad and brilliantly talented band, Sheelanagig, who play a sort of crazy, high-energy Eastern European folk music with lyrics about witches, vampires and monsters.
It was a cracking, unforgettable evening in this lovely little establishment on Castle Gates.
The night proved the Coffeehouse can stage superb gigs, but it’s also a super place to pop into during the daytime for perhaps a latte and a slice of cake.
Theatre Severn: I was moved to write a piece about our much-criticised theatre simply because the rumbles of discontent had continued into the summer of 2012.
While acknowledging that there were serious misgivings still being voiced about its design, its site in Frankwell, and its programme of attractions, I had a suspicion that we, the people of Shrewsbury, would eventually grow to love it.
Having said that, it really isn’t the prettiest theatre in the country, now is it? And from the back (viewed from the pedestrian bridge across the river) it looks like a factory from the 1930s.
But I very much like the interior and I’ve had some terrific evenings there.
The Music Hall – with its commanding position in The Square and its rich history – is never far from our thoughts, and the tremendous renovation that is currently going on there is awe-inspiring. I was lucky enough to take part in a tour of the Music Hall (they hold these for members of the public from time to time) and was given an insight into exactly what is going on there.
Our guide that day – the excellent Tim Jenkins from the Museums Service – told us of the many engineering headaches encountered along the way, as this exciting £10 million project continues to progress.
And he explained that what will eventually become a state-of-the-art museum and gallery for Shrewsbury and for Shropshire as a whole, actually comprises several different buildings from several different eras.
There’s the Victorian theatre, the 13th century Vaughan’s Mansion, there’s a medieval passageway running between the remains of two Georgian houses, and even a nuclear bunker from the days of the Cold War.
I have no doubt this is going to be a place of which Shrewsbury can be justly proud.
Besford House was a hobbyhorse of mine last year, revisiting the subject several times as its fate remained in the balance.
This is a handsome Victorian mansion in Trinity Street in Belle Vue and is best remembered as a boys’ home, a role it had for much of the 20th century.
There was a plan to demolish the place to make way for modern housing.
Like many others, I thought such a plan to be horrendous. We are talking about a fine old building in a conservation area.
Thankfully, common sense (as they say) prevailed, and Besford House’s future now looks to be safe.
Old shops in the town centre proved to be a topic that prompted many memories. I happened to mention one week my own fond memories of Standish Taylor, Wildings, Maddox’s department store and Owen Owen.
Well, the letters and emails came pouring in. It seems everyone has their own memories of the dear old town.
Other subjects touched upon last year were The Flax Mill (and what a long-drawn-out saga that has been) with ambitious plans for the future of what has been, for decades, a sad wreck of a place in Ditherington; our splendid railway station and the poor condition of some of its platforms and forgotten corners; and the revamp of The Albert Hotel on Smithfield Road.
The Folk Festival proved another fantastic success this year and has established itself as a jewel in the crown of Shrewsbury’s cultural life.
We looked with interest at a scheme to replace some bland 1960s flats in Abbey Foregate with much more attractive dwellings and we said farewell to the 1920s Ditherington Bus Depot.
Stagecoaches came to the town in October while in November, upon what would have been its 90th anniversary, I paid a personal tribute to the Empire cinema in Mardol.
Happy New Year!