Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shrewsbury Castle

Shrewsbury Castle
Shrewsbury Castle
Westward of Stafford is the land of the "proud Salopians," Shropshire, through which flows the Severn, on whose banks stands the ancient town from which the Earls of Shrewsbury take their title. We are told that the Britons founded this town, and that in Edward the Confessor's time it had five churches and two hundred and thirty houses, fifty-one of which were cleared away to make room for the castle erected by Roger de Montgomery, a kinsman of William the Conqueror.

The Norman king created him Earl of Shrewsbury long before the present line of earls began with John Talbot. Wars raged around the castle: it was besieged and battered, for it stood an outpost in the borderland of Wales. It was here that Henry IV. assembled an army to march against Glendower, and in the following year fought the battle of Shrewsbury against Hotspur, then marching to join Glendower. Hot spur's death decided the battle. The Wars of the Roses were fought around the town, and here Henry VII., then the Earl of Richmond, slept when going to Bosworth Field; and in the Civil Wars King Charles had Shrewsbury's support, but Cromwell's forces captured it.

The town is on a fine peninsula almost encircled by the Severn, and the castle stands at the entrance to the peninsula. Only the square keep and part of the inner walls remain of the original castle, but a fine turret has been added by modern hands. In the neighborhood of Shrewsbury are the remains of the Roman city of Uriconium, said to have been destroyed by the Saxons in the sixth century.

Shrewsbury has always been famous for pageants, its annual show being a grand display by the trade societies. It is also famous for its cakes, of which Shenstone says:

"And here each season do those cakes abide,
Whose honored names the inventive city own,
Rendering through Britain's isle Salopia's praises known."

The great Shrewsbury cake is the "simnel," made like a pie, the crust colored with saffron and very thick. It is a confection said to be unsafe when eaten to excess, for an old gentleman, writing from melancholy experience in 1595, records that "sodden bread which bee called simnels bee verie unwholesome." The Shropshire legend about its origin is that a happy couple got into a dispute whether they should have for dinner a boiled pudding or a baked pie. While they disputed they got hungry, and came to a compromise by first boiling and then baking the dish that was prepared. To the grand result of the double process—his name being Simon and her's Nell—the combined name of simnel was given.

And thus from their happily-settled contention has come Shrewsbury's great cake, of which all England acknowledges the merit.

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