The Case for Development

Proposals to develop Kingsland date back to the 1860s. By all accounts the issue was as controversial then as any contemporary proposals for a housing development. The Victorian middle class was burgeoning everywhere. In Shrewsbury, the suggestions for developing a place such as Kingsland reflected both need and opportunity. At least half of the Corporation were keen to increase the income the Town received from its property holdings.

The Corporation were also aware that a new bridge and improved access into the Town were badly needed, as was a new and direct access to two of its suburbs. The English and Welsh bridges were liable to severe flooding, and a new bridge would provide a welcome alternative to the ferry. Indeed, the first proposals to build a bridge across the Severn go back to 1826. The new service roads proposed would replace the steep, rutted and badly drained lanes and paths across Kingsland and improve access to Belle Vue and the Cemetery.

At a Council meeting in 186318, it was proposed that plans should be drawn up to develop Kingsland to include the construction of a new bridge. Mr Chandler (speaking for those on the Council who were advocating the development) said that there has been no significant improvements in the Town for at least ten years. He argued that many families were discouraged from sending their sons to Shrewsbury for lack of accommodation. Indeed, the most recent buildings erected by the local architect Mr Pountney Smith had been let before the first floors had been finished. (These buildings were not specified, but were possibly those in the Mount and/or Bellevue). It could also have been pointed out to those reluctant for change in the Town, that areas such as the Column and the Mount had already accepted new development.

On that occasion in 1863, the proposal for developing Kingsland was narrowly defeated by 17 votes to 15. The main objection was that the disposal of Kingsland would deprive Freemen of an important historical right, and deprive the Townsfolk of a recreational facility. The main obstacle to the building of houses on the main part of the Corporation land or Common was its use for the Shrewsbury Show which had been held on Kingsland since the 16th Century.

The Shrewsbury Show had its origins in the pre-Reformation Festival of Corpus Christi, held originally on the Thursday after Whit Sunday (and later on the Monday). On this day all the religious and secular branches of Shrewsbury society paraded to church and to prayer, after which there was much celebrating and feasting. In Elizabethan times, on the second Monday after Whitsun, the Corporation allowed the trade Guilds of Shrewsbury to process to Kingsland where they were allowed to erect Arbours (at that time prefabricated buildings) in which to provide hospitality and entertainment to the Mayor and Corporation.

The Show probably had its heyday during the days of the Restoration, with difficult times during the Napoleonic wars. However, the Show still went on even after 1835 when the Municipal Corporations Act deprived the Guilds of their legal status. Indeed in the final years of the Show from 1850, the railways and cheap trips allowed vast crowds to attend. Thus, in 1853, more than 32,000 people came by train to Shrewsbury for the Show. In 1878, the Chief Constable (cited in Kenyon) noted “The Show is largely attended by the lower social orders from all parts of the County and from adjoining Counties”. Though he had no doubt that there was a great deal of hard drinking, but he concluded that a case had not been made for abolition of the Show on grounds of disorder and immorality. However, in the face of pressure from the Corporation, the Chairman of the Quarter sessions, the Clergy and the Masters of Shrewsbury School the decision to seek abolition was made. The prime justification for this was to suit the School and facilitate development of the land! Public objections may have been disarmed by the contingent profits and by the Shrewsbury Flower Show and the West Midlands Show. Both Shows had started in 1875 and would have provided an alternative diversion for serious and responsible members of the public. Finally, on 6th March 1878, the Home Secretary (Richard Cross), using his powers under the Fairs Act of 1871, closed the Shrewsbury Show in response to a petition from the Corporation. This finally allowed the development of Kingsland.

Next chapter: Kingsland Bridge


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