The library started life as Shrewsbury School, founded by King Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) in the mid-1500s. It was formed by the purchase of a few timber frame buildings on site including one called Rigg’s Hall, which dated from around 1450 or earlier. The pupils came from the families of the wool merchants, the wealthy drapers who had considerable sway over the town from the 1400s to the 1600s.
The set of timber framed houses were used as a school until the late 1500s when they fell into a state of disrepair. Work was begun on a brick and stone replacement in 1595. The new building, subsequently known as the West Wing, was completed in 1613. The South Wing, at a ninety-degree angle to the West Wing and seen in the photo above, was built in 1630. Despite appearances it is not constructed entirely out of Grinshill sandstone but is of brick with a stone façade.
The South Wing is thought to have included a musicians’ gallery and was used to stage theatre plays. In the south-east corner it also had a ‘black hole’ about 4’ square and 7’ deep that was used as a punishment cell for students.
The library is now a Grade I listed building. Parts are open to the public such as the South Wing where the Music Library contains not just sheet music but walls of oak panelling that are scored by graffiti dating back to 1770, the names of boys who were scholars at the School. I’ve often wondered what was their fate after they were caught carving their names on the timber.
The oldest section of the library is Rigg’s Hall, part of which can be seen when the visitor enters under the archway. The beams of the timber framed building have been left open so they can be seen, although part of the old Hall is closed to the public and can be viewed only on request. Some timbers have vine leaf and grape designs on them, which were typical of Shrewsbury carpenters working between 1570 and 1590.
During excavation work some Saxon artefacts were revealed and these are now on display at the Museum at Rowley’s House in Barker Street. Another find was the presence of wine bins in the boiler room below Rigg’s Hall, bearing the date of 1589. The boiler room used to be the cellar of the headmaster’s house.
The library is open on most days including Sunday 1pm-4pm.
Weekday opening hours are:
Monday – 9.30-5pm
Tuesday – 9.30-8pm
Wednesday – 9.30-5pm
Thursday – 9.30-8pm
Friday – 9.30-5pm
Saturday – 9-5pm
Telephone 01743 255 300
Charles Darwin, naturalist and author of ‘On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Science’, was a student at the School and his statue appears in the grounds. He was born in Shrewsbury, lived in the town as a boy and his grandfather was Erasmus Darwin of Lichfield, who was (in my view) a very interesting character and supreme inventor during his lifetime. There is also a house called Mount House in the Mount area of Shrewsbury where the Darwin family lived and where Charles Darwin was born. See the website below for information about his connections to Shrewsbury and a ‘town trail’ walk covering the places he knew and which influenced his early upbringing:
Public access to Mount House is limited as the building is still used by the Valuation Office Agency – visits are restricted to office hours during the week and when anyone from the VOA can spare time to take people round.
The two stone figures on the library wall in the background of the statue are those of Philomathes (the student coming to learn) and Polymathes (the scholar on leaving). The Greek inscription is a quote from the writings of Isocrates: ‘If you are a lover of learning, you will become learned’.