Shropshire Research Guide

Click here to return to the Family History Articles Introductory page

An agricultural county that encompassed the “Birthplace of Industry”.

Shropshire boasts a wealth of museums and archive material, set in beautiful countryside on the Anglo-Welsh border.

Historically, Shropshire was part of the Kingdom of Mercia . The county came into being in late Anglo-Saxon times as a defensive area to protect the English from the Welsh – at the time the Welsh border was the scene of frequent conflict.

Instability on the Welsh borders continued in the Norman period, and Marcher Lords were created by William I to control the Welsh border areas. They built many of the castles that were erected in Shropshire , several of which survive today, in various states of ruin. Perhaps the best known of these is Ludlow Castle , which was fought over in the Wars of the Roses and then became Crown property until 1811.

Shrewsbury is the county town and in 1403 the Battle of Shrewsbury – one of the bloodiest battles in English history – took place there. Today Shrewsbury is renowned as a charming town, with old streets that boast many fine buildings dating from Tudor times.

During the Civil Wars Shropshire was mainly Royalist, and saw a number of engagements. Perhaps the most notable event of this period occurred in 1651, when the future Charles II, fleeing from defeat at the Battle of Worcester, took refuge in the Penderell family’s in a hunting lodge at Boscobel. He sheltered for four days, famously hiding in an oak tree, before making his escape to France .

Shropshire has always been mainly agricultural, but in the 18th century events took place there that were to impact on industrialisation. Around 1709 Coalbrookdale iron producer Abraham Darby discovered how to smelt iron ore using coke, instead of charcoal, thus revolutionising iron production. His son and grandson, Abraham Darby II and III, further developed iron production; by the late eighteenth century Shropshire was producing more iron than any other county. In 1779 an astounding event took place in Shropshire – the opening of the world’s first iron bridge – built to carry goods across the Severn . This remarkable structure still stands at Ironbridge, now a World Heritage Site.

This was the age of the great Shropshire industrialists. Apart from the Darbys, other prominent industrial names were Wilkinson and Reynolds. Travellers came from afar to experience the thrill of seeing the giant furnaces of Coalbrookdale, by the River Severn.

The growth of industries necessitated the development of a transport system to move goods around the country. The River Severn had been a vital trade route for centuries, and now a network of canals was developed to carry goods inland. Thomas Telford, the great construction engineer, was in charge of many of these works, and evidence of his genius can be seen in features such as Chirk Aqueduct.

Shropshire is rich in minerals, and mining was a prominent Shropshire industry. The county had many coal mines, situated around Coalbrookdale, Oswestry and Shrewsbury , but lead was also mined in South West Shropshire, limestone in Lilleshall, and copper in North Shropshire . If your ancestor did not make his living in agriculture he was quite likely to have been working in iron production or mining.

By the late nineteenth century the industries of Shropshire were in decline and its industrial heyday was over. Now, heavy industry has all but gone. Famous Salopians include Robert Clive (Market Drayton), Charles Darwin ( Shrewsbury ), and Wilfred Owen (Oswestry).

Shropshire Archives Shrewsbury, has a considerable collection of genealogical sources, and should be your first point of contact. Its holdings include records relating to the area that is now the Unitary Authority of Telford & Wrekin. The catalogue is on the Shropshire Archives website (see Contacts box), enabling researchers to pinpoint the records they will use during their visit.

The reference library and local studies collection in Shrewsbury are located very near to the records office.

Wills dated pre-1858 were proved in the diocesan courts. In Shropshire ecclesiastical authority was divided between three dioceses, and to see these records researchers need to visit the appropriate records offices at Hereford , Lichfield or Aberystwyth.

Geoff Culshaw

This article was published in Your Family Tree Magazine, Issue 47, February 2007, pp 35-36 (Future Publishing)

Click here to return to the Family History Articles Introductory page

  • This page was last updated on Saturday July 2nd, 2011.