St Alkmunds Church & Bear Steps

Over looking Bear Steps is St Alkmund’s Church, which stands at the highest point in Shrewsbury. It is known that there was a Saxon market called the King’s Market at the heart of Shrewsbury all round the church of St Alkmund. Nothing visible remains of the church that Aethelfleda founded. What we see today is part mediaeval and part Georgian. The tower and spire (56 metres high) was built about 1475 in the Perpendicular style. It forms one of the five notable buildings that make the skyline of Shrewsbury so iconic and striking. The poet A.E.Housman immortalised this view in his words: “High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam islanded in Severn stream”.

Following the collapse of a neighbouring church (old St Chad’s) in 1788 the congregation of St Alkmund’s became concerned that their church might also collapse. Whether this was truly the case or not, the decision was taken to demolish the old mediaeval church except for the tower and spire, and a local architect, John Carline, was commissioned to build a new church in the Gothic Revival style.

Had his work remained intact, St Alkmund’s would have been one of the best examples of this style in England. Carline built a wonderfully light church with twelve identical windows made with the latest technology of the period. They had frames made of cast iron at Coalbrookdale – about fifteen miles from Shrewsbury. Superbly crafted in sections, and filled with clear glass, three of these magnificent windows have survived and have recently been completely repaired. They are contemporary (1795) with the great house at Fonthill that William Beckford was building for himself in the same style, and would hold their own in that famous creation. Fonthill collapsed within thirty years, but St Alkmund’s still stands, although nine of the twelve windows were altered in the late 19th century, when ideas about what was correct architecture for a church differed from those of the Georgian period.

The Guild Hall – Shrewsbury University

Guildhall, Shrewsbury, SY3 8HQ

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