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History is a place

 Shrewsbury street scene

Shrewsbury street scene

History is a place. Its a town, a building, a community, a people. As history is also famously written by the victors, its also a story of invasion, murder and colonisation.

In England, history is walking the streets in any town where Roman ruins are overlaid by early churches, cathedrals, Tudor houses, market squares and monuments to men. Museums are filled with army regalia, each battle for power, monarchy, religion and land.

In the walled town of Chester, the Roman foundations buttress the city walls which wind around its river, the Dee. The city was built as a fortress by the Romans to keep out the 'marauding' Welsh. Shrewsbury was built within a loop of the River Severn and these two river towns share a common story of sieges and powerful kings sited as they are close to the present Welsh border.

Bridges and walls are the signature architectural features. Also churches and cathedrals. Church and state. The history of England is a series of civil wars. The period called "The Anarchy" in the 1100s was when King Stephen besieged Shrewsbury castle which was held by a supporter of the Empress Maud. How do I know this?  Through the stories of brother Cadfael based around the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (now just called Shrewsbury Abbey).

This series of murder/mystery books was written by Ellis Peters, the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter, a great historical scholar, writer and linguist. She bought the character of Cadfael to life so convincingly that I wanted to see the Abbey around which the story is based, the town and countryside. 

History though was the real story, the towns black and white style buildings attest to its Tudor influence. Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey, confiscated the church's wealth and created his own cathedral. Both still stand, although the Abbey is reduced to a small church but still devoted to St Winefride.

I think of all these things as I look at these two modern cities. Tudor shops that are now incongruously dental practices or hairdressers. Life transposes its current priorities on the past, the layers of history just a scrape of paint on brickwork away. I also think of history as a series of stories we tell ourselves to put the past into our own perspective. We live one day, by tomorrow it is history. How we live becomes our own history or her/story, our common heritage of human life.

 Shrewsbury hairdresser

Shrewsbury hairdresser

Heather Matthew