Nigel`s Notes on the history, landmarks and people of the Portland Nurseries area of Shrewsbury


A brief glance at the Portland Nurseries Area of Shrewsbury including The Column to the Severn written for a history day held by The Portland Community Hub on 29th June 2019 at the NAGLO Club.

The Column, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK

The Landmarks

  1. The Column designed by Chester architect Thomas Harrison is 40mtrs or 133ft high. It commemorates the part played in the Napoleonic Wars by Rowland, 1st Viscount Hill. Started in December 1814, it was completed on the 18th June 1816. The statue is 17ft high and is made of Codestone. The staircase was the gift of John Straphen an engineer who worked on the Holyhead Road. [i]
  2. The Shirehall was designed by Ralph Crowe and built in 1964, and is used by up to 800 employees of Shropshire Council. It has 34 meeting rooms for use of Council members and several other local bodies including Crown Courts, Connecting People, County Training, Domestic Abuse Forum, Heritage England hot-desks, Kier, WSP, Royal Voluntary Services and Women’s Aid. According to the Shropshire Star, Shropshire Council are planning to spend £24.1m on refurbishment in addition there will be a six-figure sum for the removal of asbestos.[ii]
  3. Sainsburys and Barnardo’s, until recently it was the site of the Shrewsbury Ambulance Station. Prior to this the land was occupied by Mr William Wybergh How, and his family, he built Nearwell in 1868, next to Sparrow Lane. Beyond the lane are the Column Buildings by Thomas Carline, built  about 1840. Opposite is the Lord Hill Hotel previously a villa, The Shrubbery, which was converted to a hotel in 1964. The former occupants were a grocer John Bagnall, and corn merchant Alfred Attfield.[iii]
  4. St Giles Vicarage is at the rear of The Shirehall, it is a free-standing building in the car park and it features on the 1888 and 1902 maps. In Shropshire Archives there is a letter from the Ecclesiastical Commission regarding the erection of St Giles vicarage, dated 9th April 1868 and a covering letter to the owner W.M. How. These set out an agreement whereby How sold the land for £150 and the Commissioners agreed to fund the build of the vicarage for £650.
  5. The Elms was planted on a narrow strip of land and the house was built in the 1840s, by a London-born landowner, Thomas Girdler Jones. There was a lodge at the gates, which are both lost. The Elms is now in the hands of Shropshire County Council and accessed via Belvidere Avenue. The Scout Hut is a well-known polling station and the Scouts annual muck haul a useful facility for the local gardening community.
  6. Belvidere Walk, Belvidere Avenue and Elmfield Road, known as The Belvidere Garden Estate was built in the 1930s by A. G. Roberts, he lived in `Elmfield` on Preston Street. The view of the Murrell rose nursery was said to be a selling-point [iv] Mrs Pat Maddocks recalls that 4 Belvidere Walk was built for the mother of Mr Roberts and had superior fittings and decorative plaster work on some ceilings.[v]
  7. Belvidere Road, built around 1840, linked Abbey Foregate to Portland House. Later in the 1930s it was linked to Belvidere Avenue and Belvidere Walk. In Dark Lane the former Police Authority houses back onto allotments and the lane gives access to a play park for children, near the footbridge over Bage Way giving access to Cherry Orchard.
  8. Portland House built before 1851, but by 1861 Henry John Olroyd, a nurseryman had moved his business to the site.  Now much changed and extended Portland House is a nursing home. Part of the land appears to have been built on and is now occupied by Belvidere medical practice.
  9. Portland Nurseries was acquired by Edwin Murrell from 1885, he lived in a house built amongst the greenhouses. In the 1888 map the Nurseries are marked on the left side of Belvidere Road and in the 1902 map are marked on the other side. A nursery shop operated in the former Shrewsbury Market and in the 1960s there was a shop at the bottom of Grope Lane. The business relocated in 1961 to Percy Thrower`s garden centre.
  10. Frensham Road, Cornelia Crescent, Portland Crescent, Peace Drive, Carmen Avenue and Allgold Drive were all built on the land vacated following Murrells relocation and appropriately all the roads are named after roses. The H M Land Registry entry for Allgold Drive shows that on 1 April 1958, Edwin Murrell agreed covenants with The Mayor Aldermen and Burgesses of Shrewsbury (Corporation), not to build over or within six feet of the water main. On 30th August 1967 land was transferred from The Metropolitan Railway County Estates Limited to Desmond John Phillips and Pauline Phillips. The development plan includes four bungalows beyond Allgold Drive and 4 houses on the other side of Portland Crescent. After this phase of development in the late sixties the road did not link up with Preston Street and the limit of the development was delineated by an ancient boundary hedge, which still exists in reduced form.  Watkins Starbuck and Jones from Oswestry started the next stage of development in 1973/4 by building No 89 and 91 Portland Crescent and some houses opposite. In 1980, local builder Mr Perkins started building from the Preston Street end and after his death his son continued for a while and the project was completed by Second City Developers in Sedgeford Drive.
  11. St Giles School relocated to Portland Crescent in the 1960s from the school buildings at The Column.
  12. Access to Belvidere or Preston Boats, Railway Bridged Although there is access to the River via Belvidere Lane, Northwood Road and Hillside Drive it is easier via Preston Street and Robertsford. The right of way goes over private farmland please remember and use the Country Code. Please also note the fishing is private.
  13. Ferry, fish weir and barge gutter. At the end of Preston Street follow the track down to the River Severn. On the opposite bank of the River the buildings are marked on the Ordinance Survey map as Ferry House. Beyond this a right of way leads to Preston farm, the hamlet of Preston and Preston Boats, the right of way crosses the re-routed A5. This is also the edge of a former coalfield, which was mined and used locally for industrial and domestic purposes. The weir was a fish trap, started by the monks of Haughmond in the 12th century, set across a shallow part of the river, it consisted of a timber framework on which fish nets were suspended into the water. A channel or barge gutter was left for boats and some fish to pass through.
  14. Upstream the Robertsford or Belvidere Rail Bridge crosses the River Severn in the north of the area with a railway bridge designed by William Baker and cast at Coalbrookdale. The bridge opened in 1849.
  15. Preston Street leads from Abbey Foregate to site of the former Preston Ferry. According to the 1896 directory it served the houses up to the Hermitage, the brick works and Weir Hill and Robertsford farms, It also provides a rear access to Highfield House, which became part of Prestfelde School in 1946. Highfield House was built for Thomas Howells, a retired farmer and father of Thomas Middleton Howells who landscaped the gardens. On the site of Weir Hill Farm, Lily Hay is a new development by Taylor Wimpey that is now (June 2019) released for sale.
  16. The Highfields Model Dairy was designed and built by Treasures, for the above mentioned Thomas Middleton Howell of Highfield House, adjacent to and acquired by Prestfelde in 1946. The mini parklands, now used as sports fields, were originally laid out by Howell in 1879. The model dairy is of rendered brick construction with applied timbering, with a sandstone plinth and dressings which include the chimney stacks. Originally it contained a south-west facing sitting room, kitchen (which was used as the dining room), together with the dairy and scullery (both now knocked into one and added to, to form the present kitchen). Upstairs were originally three bedrooms for the maids and a ‘man’s room’ which was accessed from a back staircase and – for propriety’s sake had no access to the main upper floor, where the maids might have been sleeping. Adjoining the garage of the house remains the milk room, with sliding door and a ‘fridge’ with heavy insulated door; this was built in 1890 by a builder from Abbey Foregate by the name of Edward George.[vi]
  17. Highfields Estate was built by George Wimpey & Co from 1959. Part of the site is built on the former claypit and from Preston Street there is a sudden drop in the contour which indicates this former use.
  18. The original St Giles School was built in a gothic style popular for school building in 1874, it was mainly a girls school, as boys left age 7[vii]. It relocated in 1968, to a purpose-built school on the Portland Crescent estate. The land used by the school for play and sports had been given originally by Miss How, of Nearwell, when the land was required for the new courts, Shropshire Council relocated the play park to Dark Lane. The former school buildings are now the home of The Shrewsbury Muslim Centre, a new prayer centre, which opened by the Grace of Allah swt for the first prayers on 4th April 2014.
  19. The Shops are on the site of the former St Giles Hall, initially Morris & Co had a grocery business later branded as SaveRite, a news-agents has operated since the shops opened in the 1960s.

Background and General Information about the area

In Domesday (In Shrewsbury Hundred) In the City of Shrewsbury Earl Roger is building an Abbey and has given it to the monastery of St Peter Where the parish church of the City was. From his burgesses and mills (he has given) to the monks as much as pays £12.[viii]

(In Shrewsbury Hundred) St Milbura`s (Wenlock) itself held (Before Domesday) and holds Sutton. 1 Hide, 8 men, both freemen and villagers with 4 ploughs. The value was 12s now 16s. [ix]

20) Lidar Mapping[x] Offers some evidence as to the early history of the area, and hints of medieval ridge and furrow of an open field system, can be seen on the Lidar Mapping of the Portland area. (Attached)

Nigel Baker says  you’ve got two fields of ridge & furrow bottom right: there’s a square field and a half field with narrow ridge & furrow (narrow meaning it’s probably narrow post-medieval strips formed by sub-dividing earlier, medieval, broader strips) running north-south, ending on a east-west headland with broad east-west ridging surviving in the corner of the field to the north. All of it cut diagonally by a later track to the farmyard, bottom right. And what look like old field boundaries surviving in the gap in the housing, centre left.

20A) Field Names Map. In a later period following the change in agricultural practices fields as we know them began to appear as farmers consolidated their lands. The field names map[xi] give more clues as to the land use for example, the Shirehall is built on the Wheat Leasow. Looking at field names of Preston St the field names include Brickyard; Windmill; Close`s Fields, some un-named fields then Upper Six Pound Field; Boat Field; Lower Quarry Leasowe; Weir Leasow and next to the River is the Boat Meadow. This gives is adjacent to the river on the site of the fish weir and ferry. On the other side of Preston Street, the Nursery Grounds are marked as a field followed by Summerhouse Garden, Claypit Leasow, Lady`s Leasow, Lower Leasow and Weir Leasow next to the Boat Field and Boat leasow.These were part of holdings of Farmer E.Mullard of Weir Hill Farm and William Bather of Robertsford Farm mentioned in the Wilding`s Trade Directory of 1896.

Bage Way is the name of the inner ring road linking Crowmere Road to Old Potts Way it runs in a cutting of the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway line and joined the present line to Wellington, Wolverhampton and the West Midlands behind the former site of Portland Nurseries. See 1882 map. This rail link was discontinued in the 1950s. This is the western perimeter of the research area.

Charles Bage was born near Derby and moved to Shrewsbury in the 1780s. He started a business as a vintner but this was just one of his many skills. He was a trustee of the House of Industry or workhouse which is on the site of Shrewsbury School from 1882.His business connections included Dr Robert Darwin; Thomas TelfordWilliam Hazledine, and the Benyon brothers, who built the Flaxmill Maltings for which Bage designed some of the ironwork. He was Mayor of Shrewsbury in 1807 and continued to design and build including factories and the original Lancasterian School in 1812.[xii]

21) St Giles Church The district of Shrewsbury St. Giles was formed on 15 Jan 1857, as a distinct chapelry from the parish of Holy Cross and St. Giles. Prior to this time  it held funeral services for local people and some afternoon services were held during Eel Pie Wake in July and Cherry Pie Wake in August.[xiii]  The original church of St. Giles was founded in the 12th century to serve a leper hospital, c1154-62 and became parochial (united with Holy Cross) in the mid-15th century. Prior to 1836, however, services were held only twice yearly. The church was completely rebuilt in 1852 (the west end), 1860 (the aisles) and 1863 (the chancel). Vestries and an organ chamber were added in 1895.[xiv]

The C12 font, with chevron base and primitive figures in an arcade round the basin is contemporary with the original chapel. Other fittings largely date from the Restoration with several later additions including the twentieth century stained glass by Kempe and also by Evans. Flemish glass has been re-sited in the north aisle chapel window.[xv]

22) Column House No2 London Road, was built in the 1850s for a solicitor, Christopher Hicks, after a spell as a girl`s school it became the home of Alfred Mansell, a land agent. It was converted to offices during the second World War and after, became the county architect`s office until 1966, after this it was taken over by the county library. In 2006 it was acquired by Messrs Turner Peachey a firm of chartered accountants who moved out from an office in St Maru`s Place that included part of the upper floor of Drapers Hall. in the centre of Shrewsbury. They merged with Baldwins in 2015 and were joined by Andrews Orme & Hinton in 2016.

23) Woodlands, on the opposite side of Abbey Foregate, survived the alterations of the changes to the road system around the Column s. It was built, of red sandstone by John Hazledine, son of William Hazledine the iron founder, his son lived in it until his death in 1910.Since then the 12 acres of grounds have had houses built on them, and the Woodlands itself has been used as a boys home, military billets during the Second World War and a Youth Hostel until the 1990s, after which it was developed into apartments and in June 2019 the further development continues.[xvi]

Lost Buildings around the Column include

24) The Column Hotel was lost when the traffic island, adjacent to the Column was built, it stood on the Junction of Wenlock Road and London Road.

25) The Column Keeper`s Lodge was lost when changes were made to the road system around the column.

People of the area

26) Solicitor and Banker William Wybergh How built Nearwell, an Italianate villa north of the Column in around 1850. He was the son of a clergyman and born in Whitehaven. In turn he had sons, Thomas Maynard How and William Maynard How who were both solicitors whilst William Walsham How ended as a bishop. William Walshom How wrote over fifty hymns and several books during the 28 years he was rector at Whittington, Shropshire, where he is buried.  Nearwell remained occupied until 1963, when it made way for the building of the Shirehall.

27) Hilda Murrell was born at Eaton Cottage, on 3rd February 1906. She attended Shrewsbury High School, then went on to Cambridge to read English, French and Medieval Languages, graduating in 1928. Although she would have preferred an academic career, she returned home to join the family business, at Murrell`s Nurseries in Belvidere Road and a shop in the High St at the bottom of Grope Lane.

Hilda Murrell used her intellect to improve the business and devoted herself to increasing her horticultural skills. She specialised in old, old-fashioned and miniature roses and won many gold awards at flower shows in Shrewsbury, Southport and Chelsea. Murrell`s She was a successful business women, but in the spring 1961, the rose-nursery was forced to relocate because of the building of the Shirehall and later she retired when the business was acquired by Percy Thrower and Duncan Murphy who set up a Garden Centre on Oteley Road in the 1970s.

Hilda`s interest in conservation led her to become a founder member of the `Soil Association` and   `Shropshire Trust for Nature` where she was a council member for many years. She also founded the Shropshire Branch of the `Council for the Protection of Rural England`. In the 1970s her concerns for the problems associated with nuclear power and its waste was demonstrated when she submitted a paper to the Sizewell inquiry, which challenged the so-called experts.

Sadly, on 24th March 1984, her body was found a few miles outside Shrewsbury three days after she disappeared. Although the police investigated at the time, no one was convicted for her murder until 2011, this followed a cold case review in 2005. Andrew George, at the time of the offences, was a 16-year-old petty thief, was convicted of her murder and related offences. Much controversy about the case continues and was a sad end to a popular and gentle lady. [xvii]

Illustrations, photographs, maps and references used with thanks

1)The Column and Keepers Lodge

2)The Shirehall


4)St Giles Vicarage

5)The Elms

6)The Belvidere Garden Estate

7)Belvidere Road

8)Portland House

9)Portland Nurseries

10)The early development in the 1960s

11)St Giles School

12)Ferry and Fish Weir

13)Belvidere or Preston Boats Railway Bridge

14)Highfields House

15)The Highfields Model Dairy

16)The Highfield Estate

17)St Giles School 1874

18)The Shops by the Column

19)Lidar Map showing housing and remaining ancient field system

20)Field Names Map

21)St Giles Church

22)Column House, No2 London Road


24)Column Hotel

25)Column Keepers Lodge

26)William Wybergh How

27)Hilda Murrell

28)1888 Ordnance Survey Map

29)1902 Ordnance Survey Map

30)Murrells Shop External  Courtesy David Trumper

31)Murrells Shop Internal   Courtesy David Trumper


[i] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.68.

[ii] accessed 16th June 2019

[iii] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.56.

[iv] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.69-71.

[v] Mrs P Maddocks, record of conversation 16th June 2019

[vi] Williams G. Information supplied with images by former resident Gareth William M.A.

[vii] Mrs P Maddocks, Record of conversation 16th June 2019.

[viii] Domesday Book Shropshire (Phillimore- Chichester – 1986) 252c.

[ix] Domesday Book Shropshire (Phillimore- Chichester – 1986) 252d.

[x] Lidar Mapping uses precision terrain measurement that uses laser reflection and time delay analysis to develop accurate surface modelling, a 3D image of land even with trees and crops growing on it.

[xi] Field Names Map reproduced by HDGF in 1973

[xii] accessed 16th June 2019.

[xiii] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.79

[xiv] S.A. XP255 St Giles Parish Records 1830-1968     Note further research to be done – Historical Miscell P255

[xv]  (The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Shropshire: Harmondsworth: 1858-).

[xvi] Trinder B. Beyond the Bridges The suburbs of Shrewsbury1760-1960. (Chichester – 2006) p.69-71.

[xvii] Sinker C. Hilda Murrell`s Nature Diaries 1961 -1983 (London 1987)

Copyright Nigel J Hinton June 2019


Acknowledgements and thanks for advice and contributions to Bridget M.W Hinton, David & Judy Roberts; Pat Maddoks; Gareth Williams; Jean & Tony Dudgon, Brian & Teresa Mobberley, Prestefelde School.

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