Historic Shrewsbury cellar saved after public backlash leads to council U-turn
Public backlash has forced Shropshire Council to make a U-turn over plans to fill an historic cellar with concrete.
The cellar, discovered by road workers, lies under the corner of Murivance and St John’s Hill in Shrewsbury.
The council had planned to fill the void with concrete to prevent the possibility of the road collapsing, despite archaeological reports suggesting one of the cellar’s walls was once part of a medieval gate through the town’s defensive walls.
But following public outcry – and the revelation that a basement is mentioned in the grade-two listing of the adjacent house – the council has come up with an alternative approach.
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Clive Wright, chief executive of Shropshire Council, said: “The council understands the interest in the discovery of this cellar located under the highway.
“We suspect that the cellar was sealed off at some point in the distant past in order to widen the road.
“There are many cellars attached to properties in Shrewsbury but the possibility that a part of one wall of this cellar being the historic Town Walls is very exciting, even though this is not certain.
“Our concern is that there is less than 100mm – 4ins – from the top of the vaulted roof to the top of the highway, and this poses an obvious risk of potential collapse given the weight of modern vehicles and is a threat to the safety of the public.
“Our initial solution was to fill the cellar full of concrete as currently it is only accessible through a small hole in the roof where a few bricks are missing. However, we have now reconsidered this option, our engineers have sharpened their pencils, we have rethought our approach. We will cap the cellar roof by casting concrete pads over and up to the arch apex and then place a steel plate on top of this.
“We believe that we can then make it safe and reinstate the highway without increasing the height of the finished surface.
“This will preserve the cellar and in addition we will also record what can be seen within it.”
The U-turn comes after a report by leading archaeologist and historian Dr Nigel Baker inspected the cellar and called for it to be preserved. The issue was taken up by Alan Fox, who owns the house next to the cellar, and received support from Shrewsbury Town Centre Residents’ Association, Shrewsbury Civic Society.
Mr Fox said: “As recommended in Dr. Nigel Baker’s independent report, we are trying to preserve an important part of Shrewsbury’s history for the people who live in this town and county, for those who visit in order to enjoy its historical treasures and for the future generations to come.”
The council claimed the cellar was not known about until October 2018, when it was rediscovered during roadworks, but Mr Fox disputes this.
Mr Fox also had concerns that filling the cellar with concrete would cause damp and damage to his grade two listed home.
The council now hopes to come to an agreement with Mr Fox over ownership of the cellar.
Mr Wright added: ““It may be felt by some that the council has been trying to avoid spending money on what might be private property.
“This isn’t the case; our priority has always been to balance public safety with preserving the past in a sensible way.
“We take public opinion very seriously and we hope our actions demonstrate this.”