Shifnal, also once known as “Idsall” (relating to potential Roman links), most probably began as an Anglian settlement, established by the end of the 7th century.
In 1245 Walter de Dunstanville, the lord of the manor, applied to King Henry III for, and was granted, a market charter for the town. Walter then laid out a broad market street that is Broadway, Bradford Street, Market Place and Park Street for the markets. This area to the east of the stream was known as Shifnal and gradually this name superseded Idsall as the town’s name.
Shifnal had something of an early industrial revolution during the late 16th century with the construction of a charcoal fired blast furnace near to the Manor House. A fire swept through the town on 7 July 1591, setting alight the roof of the church.
The fire is thought to have been started by a maidservant’s candle that accidentally set fire to some hanging flax. The fire devastated many, if not all, of the buildings east of the brook now known as Wesley Brook. The church and the timber-framed Old Idsall House at its foot to the east (a listed building), are said to be the only two buildings to have survived the fire that destroyed the rest of the settlement.
The oldest part of the town is said to be the area around St Andrew’s Church, Church Street and Innage Road where excavations have turned up evidence of ancient buildings.
The church of St Andrew has a Norman chancel and was almost certainly built on the site of an earlier church. It was a collegiate church or minster with a chapter of priests ministering to the needs of congregations in outlying settlements. St Andrew’s lost its collegiate status when it was given to Shrewsbury Abbey c. 1087.
Thomas Telford upgraded Watling Street, the turnpike road that passed through the town, in the late 18th century. This road carried traffic from London to Shrewsbury, Chester and Holyhead for Ireland. It is reported that as many as 18 coaches a day called at Shifnal. Passengers could rest from their travels at three coaching inns the Jerningham Arms, the Star Hotel and the Unicorn.
During this period of prosperity many new houses were built, lending Shifnal a Georgian air. The name Idsall was still used to distinguish the area around the St Andrew’s Church and the Manor from the market and commercial area of Shifnal.
There are records of a parish workhouse in operation in Shifnal in 1777 with accommodation for up to 40 inmates. A new parish workhouse was built on Park Street in 1817. It was adopted as the workhouse for the Shifnal Poor Law Union and was enlarged in 1840-1 at about £800. The number of inmates was never more than 100. The buildings later became part of Shifnal Hospital before being turned into homes.
The railway line from London and Birmingham to Holyhead was constructed through Shifnal at high level in the late 1840s. A station was built, but the opening of the line on 12 November 1849 brought an abrupt end to the already declining coaching traffic. The viaducts constructed were cast by Horseley Ironworks.
In 1855 a house on Broadway, used by the town’s 200-odd Catholics for mass, was burnt down during an anti-Irish riot. Lord Stafford replaced it in 1860 with a combination school and church he built on land he donated at the corner of Victoria Road and Shrewsbury Road. The school closed about 1917, but the building has continued as a church. The present presbytery on Victoria Road, the original school-master’s house, still has Lord Stafford’s coat of arms above the door.
Information primarily from Wikipedia (March 2018) and believed to be correct. Errors and ommissions excepted.