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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, July 11, 2008
    Our Salopian Summer
    Severn-side on the streets of Shrewsbury, the high water line may be measured by metre markers, but it's the stains on the red brick walls which tell a frighteningly unambiguous story: this river floods high, hard and often. Upstairs in this Severnside warehouse conversion: the usual luxury apartments. The view through stained and broken ground floor windows, though, is of desolate rooms, muddied, abandoned sites.

    Today Dave, Jim and I meandered around the ancient and very engrossing town of Shrewsbury, fuelled by Salopian ales and (in my case) a grilled steak smothered in Shropshire Blue cheese, sharing the streets and parks with large numbers of young people who may have been six-formers celebrating their last day together at the end of their most significant school term, or were perhaps in town for tonight's much-anticipated Katie Melua gig in the beautiful sweeping Severnside park called The Quarry.

    The gig temporarily altered the way in which Shrewsbury honours its war dead. At the top entrance to The Quarry, a WW2 memorial was surrounded by Andy's Loos, which I guess by the time I write this, will be steaming with the wee of hundreds of Katie fans, the plastic loo doors (tastefully bearing mouldings of Tyrolean mountain scenes) thudding an irregular accompaniment to Katie's gentle crooning.

    In a beautiful little park called The Dingle our thoughts turned from Katie to Sabrina, the goddess of the River Severn whose blessings fell on us today. She looked passive enough on her poolbound pedestal, though maybe that right hand was raised to her ear in the hope of hearing Katie in soundcheck; or perhaps she was listening into the conversations of the many young people who seemed to have decided to make The Dingle their own for the afternoon, couples snuggling together in seats surrounded by colourful floral displays, a group of three girls thrilling to the friendliness of the park's resident ducks and their tiny offspring, one young woman in a long floral print dress dancing barefoot between the decorative fountains.

    Everywhere we went in Shrewsbury we were faced down by three rude beasts: lions with their tongues sticking out. They are the central image on the town's crest, which also bears the motto Floreat Salopia ('May Shropshire flourish'), and which appears all over the place: in metal mouldings on a riverside bridge, on the Library wall beside the statue of a very bookish-looking Salopian Charles Darwin, on the Car Park Pay Stations outside The Guildhall. Only one lion appears on the badge of Shrewsbury Town FC, whose long-time home Gay Meadow, we noticed with some sentiment, has been razed to the ground by the bulldozers of developers intent on creating more waterside apartments for aspirant Shrewsbury folk to relocate to, despite the flood risk.

    Our route around town took us into three very remarkable churches: St Alkmund's with its astonishing Francis Eginton window (currently being restored and so today having one-quarter missing), St Mary's, also remarkable for its glass: a huge 14th century east window depicting the Tree of Jesse, filled with figures of Old Testament kings and prophets. The impressive circular interiored St.Chad’s was busy at the end of a lunchtime piano recital: Shrewsbury's civic church with its memorial chapel for the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and mayor-making traditions.

    Eyes full of wonder at all these glories, our stomachs turning a little queasily at the linkage between war-making and prayer, we sought balance by remembering how we had arrived at Shrewsbury today: by way of Gresford, a Welsh border town some miles north with far fewer pretensions than Shrewsbury to earthly or heavenly glory, an ex-mining town which 74 years ago witnessed a colliery disaster which claimed the lives of 266 miners. We visited the Flash, a deep calm lake populated by many wildfowl where once the pithead buildings stood, and then the colliery disaster memorial, a pithead wheel set in slate in the grounds of Gresford Social Club next to the still-active Gresford Colliery Bowling Club. On the memorial plaque I noticed that a number of the men who died that day were called John Davies.

    Pics from my Shrewsbury July 2008 Flickr photoset