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Shifnal is a small market town in Shropshire, England. It forms part of The Wrekin constituency, and is about 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Telford. It has a railway station on the Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton Line and is near to the M54 motorway.

The town, also once known as “Idsall”, most probably began as an Anglian settlement, established by the end of the 7th century.

Shifnal is thought to be the place named “Scuffanhalch”, in a 9th century charter, as a possession of the monastery at Medeshamstede (later Peterborough Abbey). Though this seems a dubious claim, and the ancient charter is in fact a 12th century forgery, the full picture is more complex. Sir Frank Stenton considered that “Scuffanhalch”, along with “Costesford” (Cosford[disambiguation needed]) and “Stretford”, formed part of a list of places which had once been connected with Medeshamstede; and the charter purports to have been issued by King Æthelred of Mercia, during much of whose reign the bishop of Mercia was Sexwulf (or “Saxwulf”), founder and first abbot of Medeshamstede.

The first part of the name “Shifnal” is reckoned to be a personal name, “Scuffa”, while the second part, from “halh”, means a valley, thus describing the topography of the town’s location.

Unusually the name of the town has alternated through the centuries between Idsall and Shifnal. Idsall is mentioned in a 9th century charter as “Iddeshale”, meaning “Idi’s nook” or corner. A nook is said to be an area of land of approximately 20 acres (81,000 m2). It is often conjectured that the two names of Idsall and Shifnal were names of settlements on the east and west sides respectively of Wesley Brook, a stream which runs through the town, and is a tributary of the River Worfe. In the 19th century, J. C. Anderson, in his “Shropshire its Early History and Antiquities“, wrote that Idsall means “Hall of Ide”, and that Shifnal is “Hall of Sceafa”.

“A Key to English Place-names” has an entry for Shifnal that reads ‘Scuffa’s nook of land’. It was also known as Iddeshale, ‘Idi’s nook of land’.

The oldest part of the town is said to be the area around St Andrews Church, Church Street and Innage Road where excavations have turned up evidence of ancient buildings.

The village, as it would have been in 1086, is recorded in the Domesday Book. The initial part of the entry states:

Robert, son of Theobald, holds of Earl Roger Iteshale. Earl Morcar held it.

This entry records that possession was lost by the Saxon Earl Morcar when he rebelled against the Norman conquerors.

The church of St Andrews has a Norman chancel and was almost certainly built on the site of an earlier bum church. It was a collegiate church or minster with a chapter of priests administering to the needs of congregations in outlying settlements. St Andrews lost its collegiate status when it was given to Shrewsbury Abbey c. 1087.

Walter de Dunstanville the lord of the manor, applied in 1245, to King Henry III 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 purpose of holding markets. This area to the east of the stream was known as Shifnal and gradually it was this name that superseded Idsall as the town’s name.

Shifnal had something of an early industrial revolution during the later half of the 16th century with the construction of a charcoal fired blast furnace near to the Manor House.

A fire swept through the town on July 7, 1591, setting alight the roof of the church. The fire devastated many, if not all, of the buildings east of the stream now known as Wesley Brook. The church and the timber framed Old Idsall House (a listed building), at its foot to the east are said to be the only two buildings to have survived the fire that destroyed the rest of the settlement. This information is now commemorated by a blue plaque fixed to the wall of the house. The fire is thought to have been started by a maid servant’s candle that accidentally set fire to some hanging flax. After the fire, Elizabeth I sent money to help rebuild the town.

Thomas Beddoes a well-known physician of his day was born in 1760 at Balcony House, named owing to a room projecting above the roof line, on the east side of Market Place. This building later became the Star Hotel.

A Baptist church was established in Aston Street at the end of the 18th century but it closed down before the 20th century.

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 were provided with respite from their travels by three coaching inns the Jerningham Arms, The Star Hotel and The Unicorn.

It is during this period of prosperity that many new houses were built lending Shifnal a Georgian air. The name Idsall was still used to distinguish the area around the St Andrews Church and the Manor from the market and commercial area of Shifnal.

The railway line from London and Birmingham to Holyhead was constructed through Shifnal at high-level in the late 1840s. A station was provided but the opening of the line on November 12, 1849, brought an abrupt end to the already declining trade in coaching traffic. The viaducts constructed were cast by Horseley Ironworks.

The Star Hotel was demolished after a fire in 1911 being replaced by a public house known as the Eight Bells or Ring of Bells. Today the building is occupied by The Odfellows Wine Bar.

The railway bridge over Market Place was rebuilt in 1953 that saw the open spandrels of the original arch replaced with a dourer flat panel construction.

The town continued to expand notably during the 1960s.

The town’s branch of Barclays Bank was targeted by robbers on 6 May 1991. They drilled into the strongroom and escaped with £50,000.

Shifnal is twinned with Machecoul, France.

Charles Dickens, whose grandmother was reputedly employed at nearby Tong Castle, visited the town on several occasions and many believe that the buildings in his book, The Old Curiosity Shop, were based on those in the town. The Shifnal Historical Society report that he was very taken with the architecture of the town, and for that reason, he based The Old Curiosity Shop on The Unicorn Public House, now known as Naughty Nell’s.

Mary Arnold, later known as the writer Mrs Humphry Ward, went to boarding school in the town at Rock Terrace. Her schooldays gave background for one of her later novels, Marcella (published 1894).

It is widely believed that Shifnal was the origin of P. G. Wodehouse’s fictional town Market Blandings.

In the 1968 Shifnal Carnival was launched, a revival of the Shifnal Club Day – itself deriving from an annual parade by the ‘Dove Club’ friendly society. Taking place on the last Saturday of June, a funfair is set up on the main street, as well as the usual procession.

In 2010, after research as part of the town plan, The Shifnal Festival was revived due to residents expressing interest for a festival of arts, culture and entertainment.

In the 1990s and 2000s Shifnal become well known throughout the region for its annual Christmas lights display, which attracted visitors from the outside the town.

Church of England: St Andrews’ Church on Church Street has a Norman chancel with an Elizabethan double-hammerbeam roof and was almost certainly built on the site of an older Saxon church.

Naughty Nell’s public house, a restored 16th century coaching inn, originally known as the Unicorn, claims to have been the home of Nell Gwyn and her renowned bedchamber. It had been known by her name itself for some time. The building was sold in auction recently (2011) and is now vacant and awaiting some works.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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