The Guilds and the Arbours

A key feature of the main Common on Kingsland was its association with the majority of the Shrewsbury Guilds. These were medieval trade associations of craftsmen, somewhat akin to Trades Unions. The Guilds determined working hours and practices including apprenticeships, and many became relatively wealthy. There were originally about twenty Guilds in Shrewsbury, but some of these such as the Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Grocers, Ironmongers, Mercers, Millers and Vintners seem to have come to an early end, and little is known of them. One of the wealthiest was the Drapers Guild which still continues today, albeit with different activities.

It is not known when the trade Guilds first started going to Kingsland for what was to become the Shrewsbury Show, but Pidgeon quotes the date of 1591 from an old MS. Some time during the middle of the 17th century, small pieces of land, comprising no more than a quarter (40 perch) or an eighth of an acre, were leased by the Corporation to the Town Guilds. Eleven Guilds built themselves single storey Arbours or small halls (originally known as Harbours) where the Mayor and members of the Corporation were entertained on the day of the Show, and possibly at other times too. The first Arbours were tent-like constructions with a wooden framework, but as the Guilds became more affluent, their premises became more substantial. Subsequently the Arbours were made of brick, stone and wood. The interiors had a similar layout conforming to the medieval pattern, and were furnished with a long dining table and benches. At one end there was a platform where the invited dignitaries sat, and at the other end was a buttery where the food was prepared. A small cottage was attached to each Arbour, this had a court and was bounded by a hedge and ditch with an entrance gateway, coats of arms and decoration.

Fig. 3A Map of Kingsland & Arbours 1780.
Fig. 3A Map of Kingsland & Arbours 1780.

Maps for 1759 and 1780 show nine Arbours for eleven Guilds (see Fig. 3). These Arbours were the Bakers, Blacksmiths (Smiths); Saddlers & Butchers; Carpenters & Hatters; Skinners & Glovers; Shearmen; Shoemakers (Cordwainers); Tailors; and Weavers. The wealthy Drapers Guild did not have an Arbour and were never involved in the Show on Kingsland. (They will have used their own Drapers Hall in St. Mary’s Place for social functions).

Fig. 3B Plan of Kingsland (Arbours) 1836.
Fig. 3B Plan of Kingsland (Arbours) 1836.

Around 1800, the enclosures of most of the Guild Arbours were still visible, many of them still with cottages, but the some of the Guilds were in decline. The state of the wool trade was an important factor in this decline. By 1843, three major Arbours (Shearmen, Weavers, and the Skinners & Glovers) had disappeared while the Joiners and the Carpenters Arbours now appear as the Builders Arbour. This and the remaining 6 Arbours representing 8 Guilds are shown in Figs 1 & 2. Fig 4 also shows two unidentified enclosures (possibly old Arbours) which are not shown on the 1844 Tithe map (Fig. 2).

Fig. 4 OS Map 1882.
Fig. 4 OS Map 1882.

An advertisement in Eddowes Shrewsbury Journal in 18403 for the sale or lease of the Shoemakers Arbour with an area of 35P described it as “eligibly situated upon Kingsland and providing a neat cottage and productive garden and capable of being converted into a very desirable and delightful residence, commanding one of the most extensive and picturesque views in the country”. The largest enclosure was the Shoemakers Arbour which had a fine stone gateway dated 1679. This was moved to the Dingle in the Quarry in 1879. The Tailors Arbour was also 35P, while the conjoined Butchers and Saddlers Arbour (land 480 and 480a) was 39P. A contemporary view of some of the Arbours is shown in Fig. 5, while Table 1 summarises their fate and likely position.

Fig. 5 Some Arbours on Kingsland
Fig. 5 Some Arbours on Kingsland. From an engraving made by Jewitt in 1845 and used by Pidgeon (1863). The view would appear to be from the front of the Poplars looking south-west. The Paintsellers and Booksellers arbour was shared with the Saddlers.
Table 1.
Table 1. The 1881 Census showed a coachman was living in the Builders Arbour, and a smith was living in the Blacksmiths Arbour.

The Windmill

In 1796, the Directors of the House of Industry bought a windmill which formerly stood at Uffington and was re-erected on Kingsland on land made available to them by Company of Shoemakers but leased from the Corporation. The site was that formerly used for the Shoemakers Race. The reasons for the purchase were the impositions practised on the House of Industry by their miller. It was described4 as “one of the best things they ever did, for it is of great use to the town in general. We can now buy our corn, and their cart comes twice a week to fetch it, and thus we are sure of having our own and all our own by paying 6d a bushel”. The Windmill was sold for £200 in 1828 but became derelict later. It was still marked on the Tithe map in 1844 and was finally demolished in 1861.

The Shoemakers Race is marked on maps for 1759 and 1780. It was described4 as “a labyrinth of paths that contained a measured mile”.

Next chapter: Foundling Hospital. House of Industry (Workhouse)


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