Surrealist Piano by Salvador Dalí

Dalí, Darwin and Doodle Boy: an arty weekend in Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Make the trip for …

Shrewsbury, a gorgeous medieval market town, was put on the art map in 2021 with the launch of the Shrewsbury Arts Trail. The event goes from strength to strength: this year it boasts three sculptures by Salvador Dalí. Two are outdoors: the 5-metre-tall Surrealist Piano startles visitors to the castle grounds and Homage to Terpsichore dominates the courtyard of the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery. Inside the gallery, the Dalínian Dancer is part of the Inspirational Exhibition, which also includes work by LS Lowry, Man Ray, Barbara Hepworth, Damien Hirst and Banksy.

There are two works by the contemporary sculptor Jacob Chandler in the Quarry park’s lovely Dingle garden, which was designed by the former TV gardener Percy Thrower. Other stops on the trail include Women: Now, an all-female exhibition at the Hive; photographs of ballet dancers at the Theatre Severn; and abstract landscapes at the Raven Studios Window Gallery. The trail runs until the end of the month, and will be back next summer with new headline artists.
Free, until 31 August; the Dalí sculptures are in place until 6 September

Surrealist Piano by Salvador Dalí in the grounds of Shrewsbury castle. Photograph: Phil Blagg

What now?

There is plenty of art to see year-round. The Soden Collection, a modern art gallery, features work by Miró, Picasso and Hockney, plus local artists including the 12-year-old illustrator Joe Whale, “the Doodle Boy”. It holds an annual secret art sale with 250 “mystery” artworks, all priced £50 – savvy shoppers could snap up a piece by an artist such as Halima Cassell, whose work is in the V&A.

Callaghans of Shrewsbury, a friendly fine art dealer, specialises in European painting from the 19th century to the present day, and contemporary British bronze sculpture. It holds regular exhibitions, such as its current collection of new works by the wildlife artist Ben Waddams.

Shrewsbury is renowned for its stained glass. St Mary’s church has an outstanding range of it, mostly acquired from churches across Britain and mainland Europe in the 19th century. The most celebrated work is the magnificent 14th-century Jesse window, depicting Christ’s ancestors. Shrewsbury Cathedral has seven arts and crafts windows by the artist Margaret Agnes Rope, and there is notable stained glass in Shrewsbury Abbey, too. The inaugural Stained Glass festival runs until 31 August.

The ceramics industry was big business in 18th- and 19th-century Shropshire, and the Shrewsbury Museum has collection of tea sets and tiles by local companies such as Caughley, Coalport and Maw & Co.

Artworks at the Soden Collection
Artworks at the Soden Collection

The founder of the arts trail, Jess Richards, also runs a shop called Shrewsbury Arts and Crafts. She stocks work by about 40 local makers, including jewellery by the artist Andrew Logan. A print shop recently opened at the Soden Collection, selling limited-edition prints by artists such as Paula Rego and Peter Blake. Prices start at about £60.

Wyle Cop, a street lined with 16th- and 17th-century timber-framed buildings, is believed to be the longest run of independent shops in the UK (across Shrewsbury, indies outnumber chains by 50%). They include Wyle Blue World, a global homewares shop with a “secret” walled garden housing the BlueBar, and Tanners, a wine merchant that runs guided tours of its 14th-century building (next tour 12 October).

Made in Shropshire’s artisan fairs, with local makers (clothes, homewares, ceramics) and producers (gin, macarons, ice-cream), take place on Shrewsbury Square on the second Saturday of the month (next fair 9 September).

The Jesse window at St Mary’s church
The Jesse window at St Mary’s church. Photograph: Churches Conservation Trust

When to go

Shrewsbury is particularly atmospheric at Christmas – and a great festive shopping destination. This year, the lights switch-on is on 22 November, with Carols in the Square on 13 December. Another big event is next year’s Darwin festival, celebrating the town’s most famous son (12-18 February). Outside the festival, visitors can follow the Darwin trail.

Get outside

Shrewsbury has nearly 800 listed buildings; visitors can discover some of them on a new heritage walk through the centre, followed by a riverside stroll – the town is almost entirely encircled by the Severn. Further afield, the town of Church Stretton, in the Shropshire Hills area of outstanding natural beauty, is a good starting point for longer hikes (15 minutes by train).

Castle Street in the centre of Shrewsbury.
Castle Street in the centre of Shrewsbury. Photograph: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Drinks and dinner

Doodle Boy was discovered, aged eight, drawing on the wall at Number Four Butcher Row – diners can see his work over breakfast or lunch, or dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. CSONS, another all-day cafe/restaurant that serves dinner at weekends, has a particularly inventive breakfast menu, from Lebanese and Scandinavian to an Indian-inspired vegan option. The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse has great coffee, art exhibitions and regular gigs.

Salopians know summer is here when Ted Bowen, the Ice-Cream Man, arrives on his trike. Shrewsbury Market Hall isn’t the best-looking building in town, but it is one of the best bets for lunch, with a range of global street food: homemade pasta, Chinese dumplings, Punjabi home cooking and Thai curries …

Glou Glou, a bar serving wine from small and organic producers, has monthly “drink and draw” nights (£12 for materials, tuition and a drink; next event 13 September). Dough & Oil specialises in sourdough pizza and has a sister bar over the road, Oil, serving cocktails and hosting live music. The Loggerheads has been a pub since the 18th century; it has acoustic nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Rhubarb, the restaurant at the 16th-century Drapers Hall, is run by a couple who previously traded in the market hall. They now serve seasonal, locally sourced food, such as duck breast with duck croquette, beetroot and blackberries (£29), at a 500-year-old dining table that runs the length of the wood-panelled room.


A bedroom at Drapers Hall, Shrewsbury
A bedroom at Drapers Hall. Photograph: Darren Musgrove

The Grade II-listed Drapers Hall, which is still a meeting hall for the Shrewsbury Drapers’ Company, reopened late last year as a restaurant with rooms. The building is full of historic features – beams, antique furniture, inglenook fireplace – paired with modern art from Callaghans. There are six luxurious bedrooms, including one with a four-poster bed and one suite (doubles from £120).

Love2Stay, a glampsite in Emstrey, just outside Shrewsbury, has pitches for tents, camper vans and caravans, plus lodges. Facilities include a natural swimming pool, beach, assault course and pizzeria (pitches from £30 a night, lodges from £125).

The English bridge over the River Severn in Shrewsbury
The English bridge over the River Severn in Shrewsbury. Photograph: George-Standen/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getting there

There are direct trains from destinations in Wales including Cardiff (two hours), and from Birmingham, Manchester and Chester (all about an hour).

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