Shrewsbury's rich past and bright future featured in new bumper book

The idea came over a couple of coffees, "and some rather lovely all-butter croissants", says Phil Gillam.

Phil Gillam and Richard Bishop with their new book, The Shrewsbury Review
Phil Gillam and Richard Bishop with their new book, The Shrewsbury Review

As the former mayor of Shrewsbury chatted to Richard Bishop over the cappuccinos, they discovered they had led almost parallel lives, despite having never met properly before.

Both spent their early childhood in the same road, Pool Street, before moving to Castlefields, where they would play cowboys and Indians by the river along Sydney Avenue.

And they both went to work at the Shropshire Star and its sister titles, Phil as a reporter and later as editor of the Shrewsbury Chronicle, Richard as a photographer. Despite all this, somehow their paths had never really crossed until, both in their 60s, they sat down for a coffee. And almost immediately, they both decided they wanted to combine their talents to produce a publication to celebrate their home town.

And they have come up with The Shrewsbury Review, which Phil likens to a "Blue Peter annual for grown-ups".

The 100-page hardback features large photographs of some of the town's landmarks, profiles of some of its leading personalities, as well as personal memories and a quiz to find out how much people really know about their town.

“Both Richard and myself are Shrewsbury born and bred with a real passion for the town,” says Phil, who is 64. “We really wanted to work together and create something special.

“Just like the good old Blue Peter annual of our childhood, the Shrewsbury Review will be produced annually so it’ll be something to collect and cherish – the big differences between ours and the traditional children’s Christmas annuals being that our book is of course for grown-ups, and specifically grown-ups who love this town, and also, unlike children’s annuals, ours will be available all year round."

Shrewsbury Castle viewed from the library

The debut edition puts the spotlight on the town's castle, cathedral and library, and features interviews with theatrical producer and arts coordinator Maggie Love, town crier Martin Wood and well-known postmistress Caroline Jones.

“We also have a brain-teasing 100-question Big Shrewsbury Quiz, plus a feature on our wonderful local charities, book reviews, and some truly stunning photographs," adds Phil.

Theatrical producer and town guide Maggie Love is featured in the book

Richard's photography is an important part of the book, with an atmospheric shot of Town Walls by night, and a double-page image capturing the red sandstone of Shrewsbury Castle in the afternoon sunshine. There are also striking pictures of the picturesque cobbled Fish Street, and the sculpture of the lion on the roof of The Lion pub, looking menacingly down on Wyle Cop.

A stained glass window in Shrewsbury Cathedral

Many of the features are coloured with Phil's childhood memories, particularly his nostalgic look at Castlefields and Laura's Tower.

"There is magic in the cobbled drives between some of the houses in Castlefields, in the curious names given to many of the 'cottages', in the fact that many people still refer to Gas House Lane even though the gasworks of 1820 disappeared in the 1970s," he says.

Phil fondly recalls his visits to Mr Howard's general store at the top of North Street, and Mr Brown's greengrocers at the other end, as well as the diminutive shopkeeper who needed a stepladder to reach the Weetabix.

The book also looks at the town's 400-year-old library, which Phil describes as "one of the most beautiful in all England", but also recalling the "slightly disturbing" gallery of stuffed animals and birds that adorned an upper floor in the 1970s.

The 16th century library at Shrewsbury School

There is also a feature about the recent refurbishment of the 117-year-old Shrewsbury signal box, the largest of its kind in the world.

Phil pays tribute to his old friend, tourism officer and fellow Beatles fan Tim King, who died two years ago. Phil had known Tim since his Shropshire Star days, when Tim worked at the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, and the pair worked closely together in organising a fundraising weekend of Beatles-themed events in the town when Phil was mayor.

"Whenever I was in Tim's company, it was like we were two 12-year-old school pals hanging out together, and having fun," says Phil.

The Shrewsbury Review also looks at one of the great debates of the present time, whether the 55-year-old Shirehall should be preserved or demolished.

Phil adds: “Richard and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of putting this book together, and we’re already getting some fantastic feedback from those who have bought a copy. It’s actually creating quite a buzz around the town.”

*The Shrewsbury Review is available at £15.99 from various shops around Shrewsbury including Pengwern Books, Raven Books in the market hall, and Waterstones.

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