General History of the Shrewsbury Drapers’ Company

The information contained here was written for The Shrewsbury Drapers Company`s first website. For current and regularly updated information on the current activities of the Company please go to www.shrewsburydrapers.org.uk

The Shrewsbury Drapers Company was founded as a Guild by Royal Charter in 1462. At the time of writing in 2015 there are 80 elected Freemen of the Guild who are trustees for the consolidated charity which manage and support almshouses in Shrewsbury. The Drapers Hall, was built in 1576, and is now in the cutody of a another charity, (Shrewsbury Drapers` Hall Preservation Trust Ltd).

The Guild retains rights to hold meetings and feasts, and keep its historic furniture in the Hall. The Freemen are much involved in charitable work, including the almshouses and running an annual textile competition each Autumn. The other three Registered Charities are Shrewsbury Drapers Company General Charities (no. 213372) and Hospital of St Giles (no. 233903) and Holy Cross (no.1132671).

Shrewsbury is a very special place and is proud of its surviving guild and Guild Hall. The Company has retained many unbroken links back to its foundations in the 15c and its zenith in the 16c. It is the only surviving ancient guild in Shrewsbury and as a town is unique in having a surviving guild with an original hall. (1)

The Drapers Hall, was rebuilt in 1576 on the site of an earlier hall, and is used by the Company for business meetings, celebrations and feasts using much of the 17c furniture built in the Hall for the Company.

Today the Hall is a also popular bar, restaurant boutique hotel. Visitors are able to have full use of many of the original features of the building and some of the original furniture.

The remaining evidence of links with the past can be seen all over Shrewsbury. In St Mary`s Church, the Leybourne Chapel has been used by the Company since 1444. The Old Market Hall in the Square was built in 1596 for the Shrewsbury Drapers to conduct their business on the first floor.

Many of the great timber framed buildings in Shrewsbury were built by Drapers in 15c and 16c and are open and available to visit. These buildings include Rowley’s Mansion; which houses the Visitor Information Centre. Vaughan’s Mansion; incorporated into the site of the proposed Shrewsbury Museum. Millingtons Hospital, Owen’s Mansion, Bennet’s Hall, Prowde’s Mansion and Ireland’s Mansion are all retail outlets and there are many other that can be visited by arrangement including Bowdler’s House and Perche’s Mansion

Since 1444 the Company has an unbroken link with the people of Shrewsbury by providing them with affordable housing. The original almshouses were built in front of St Mary`s Church in 1444 by a draper Diggory Watur. These were replaced in the 1820s (across St Mary`s Street) and rebuilt in 1964 in Longden Coleham where today they house 16 residents.

The Company has recently taken over responsibility of almshouses near St Giles Church and more recently the almshouses of The Abbey Church of The Holy Cross. These were transferred to The Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 2010. The new building will open in 2017 with additional affordable housing on the site.

(1) Fellmongers` in Frankwell was built around the same time as Drapers`Hall . Until 1971 it was used by Messrs T Birch Ltd of Birmingham, Fellmongers and Wool Merchants. Then environment legislation, quite rightly, stopped the out flow from the washing process into the River Severn. Various part of the building have been used for various processes in the wool trade and only relatively recently became associated as a place used by Fellmongers (Nigel Baker, Shrewsbury; An archaeological assessment of an English border town, Oxbow Books, 2010.

If you have any evidence of the history of the Fellmongers, please use the contact page and send me the details. Nigel would also be pleased to receive information on the Shrewsbury Drapers Company or any of the other Shrewsbury based trade guilds.