Remains of the crypt or undercroft to the Old Church of St Chad
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1003708
Date first listed: 26-Feb-1953
Date of most recent amendment: 24-Apr-2015
Statutory Address: Princess Street/Belmont, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1LT
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Statutory Address: Princess Street/Belmont, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1LT
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SJ4921012367
The buried remains of the partially demolished crypt or undercroft to the medieval Church of St Chad. It was built in the C12, probably as a substructure to support the north transept above, strengthened in the C13 and partly demolished in 1788.
Reasons for Designation
The buried remains of the partially demolished crypt or undercroft to the medieval Church of St Chad are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Archaeological interest: for its importance in the study of medieval Britain and the development of the parish church;
* Potential: limited excavation has revealed that the site has significant potential to reveal evidence for earlier use along with valuable environmental information;
* Documentation: the existence of documentary sources relating to the church enhances our understanding and significance of the site;
* Historic interest: the Church of St Chad, along with the Church of St Mary, was one of the principal churches in Shrewsbury during the medieval period;
* Group value: it has a strong group value with the upstanding remains of the Old Church of St Chad (listed Grade II*), the churchyard wall (listed Grade II) and the listed buildings fronting Princess Street, Belmont and College Hill;
* Amenity value: the adaptation of the site as a visitor attraction illustrates its continuing value to the community and adds to its importance.
The precise origins of the medieval Church of St Chad, which is colloquially referred to as the Old St Chad’s, so as to distinguish it from the present Church of St Chad which opened in 1792, are unknown. It has been suggested that it was founded as a Saxon minster, being the second of Shrewsbury’s such foundations after St Mary’s. However, no known documentary evidence or structural fabric exists to substantiate these claims. What is known, however, is that St Chad’s was a collegiate church at the time of the Domesday survey, the private property of the bishop of Lichfield, having 16 canons before the Norman Conquest. Following the transfer of the see from Lichfield to Chester in 1075, an early-C12 bishop of Chester reorganised or re-founded the college with a staff consisting of a dean and 10 canons. This constitutional change probably took place under Roger de Clinton sometime between 1129 and 1159. Although it is unclear as to whether any substantial rebuilding work took place at this time, late-C18 illustrations of the church show that a great deal of reconstruction took place in the years before and after 1200. At a minimum the chancel was rebuilt at this time, whilst the aisles may have also been added and the transept windows renewed. The illustrations show that the final medieval church was a large, cruciform structure in the Early English style with a central tower over the crossing and a Lady Chapel in the angle of the chancel and south transept. It is possible that the tower may have been rebuilt in c1300, as a transomed window of early-Decorated style is also evident along with C15 aisle windows and a Perpendicular west window. In addition, like many other churches in Shrewsbury, the illustrations also show that St Chad’s was constructed from two types of building stone at two distinct periods. The transepts, chancel and nave are shown to be constructed from the red, Keele Beds sandstone, which was used in Shrewsbury in the C12 and C13, whilst the tower, aisles and Lady Chapel were built from Grinshill sandstone, characteristic of the later medieval period. In part, some of this rebuilding work may have been a consequence of a disastrous fire in 1393 when a lead worker’s brazier set fire to the roof and spread to the neighbouring houses, destroying much of Wyle Cop. Extensive works on at least the nave, chancel and tower roofs would almost certainly have needed to take place in the aftermath of the fire.
Early in the summer of 1788 cracks started to appear in the north-west crossing pier, one of the four pillars supporting the central tower. The churchwardens subsequently asked Thomas Telford, then a year into his position as the County Surveyor of Public Works, to inspect the church’s fabric. Telford reported that graves dug too close to the tower’s shallow foundations had weakened the structure and that the whole north side of the nave was in a dangerous state, augmented by the near total decay of the principal roof timbers. He subsequently recommended that the tower with its heavy ring of bells should be taken down immediately so that the shattered pier might be rebuilt with the decayed roof timbers being renewed and the north-west wall of the nave being secured. A vestry meeting considered Telford’s proposals to be a gross exaggeration and a stone mason was ultimately employed to cut away the cracked sections and underpin the pillar, without removing, or even lessening, the vast weight of the tower and bells. On the evening of 8 July, two days after work had commenced, an attempt to ring the bells for a funeral caused the tower to shake so violently that the Sexton immediately evacuated the building. The following morning, as the clock struck four, half of the tower collapsed, taking the roof and large sections of the church with it. Despite the considerable damage, some sections of the church were left standing, with the chancel, Lady Chapel and the south wing of the transept being left largely unscathed. Shortly after its fall, an Act of Parliament was obtained to raise money for the building of a new church. The parishioners were initially divided on the question of re-building the medieval church, or erecting a new church on another site. It was ultimately decided that a new church should be constructed on the site of a former quarry, a short distance to the north-west of the site of the medieval church. Although it was originally decided to demolish the late-C15 Lady Chapel, this decision was reversed and it was subsequently used as a cemetery chapel until the mid-C19. The chapel, which was re-edified by Humphrey Onslow, Sheriff of Shrewsbury, in 1751, was known as the Bishop’s Chancel when the church collapsed, being used for the purposes of holding the Consistory Courts of the Bishop.
In 1899, the newly founded Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society excavated what they believed to be the church’s crypt, the first-ever excavation in the town. Known as the 'Dimmery' i.e. dark place, it was found to be a rectangular structure with the remains of coursed sandstone walls. The unearthing of the lower sections of engaged shafts and a central row of columns, standing to a height of c1m, resulted in the excavation’s superintendent and local architect, Mr J Nurse, concluding that it had a quadripartite roof vault at the time the church collapsed. As it was also discovered that some of the columns were strengthened at a later date, it was further considered that the crypt was originally a timber-ceiled space which was upgraded in the C13. The excavations also extended outside of the structure’s west wall and two charcoal burials and a C8 or C9 writing stylus were found. As no known medieval Parish records survive to provide information on the use of the crypt, its origins and liturgical meaning have never been clear. Although it was originally thought to be the remains of a Saxon church, it is now believed that it was built in the C12 as substructure to support the church’s north transept on its sloping hillside site. The buried remains of the crypt or undercroft are separately designated as a scheduled monument.
Principal elements: the buried remains of the partially demolished crypt or undercroft to the medieval Church of St Chad. It was built in the C12, probably as a substructure to support the north transept above, strengthened in the C13 and partly demolished in 1788.
Description: the buried remains of the crypt are visible as a depression at the north-east side of a grass-covered churchyard. It comprises a rectangular-on-plan structure measuring 10m north to south by 7m east to west, with the floor lying c3.5 - c4m below the present level of the churchyard, which has been substantially built up since the church collapsed. The late-C19 excavations provided evidence for the layout and form of the crypt. The walls are constructed from coursed red sandstone and measure c.1.7m in width and stand to a height of between c0.6m and c1.5m. An opening in the east wall leads into a small chamber which measures c3.3m north to south by c2.4m east to west. Its function is unknown. At the south end of the east wall there is a narrow doorway, whilst a similar doorway is placed directly opposite in the west wall. Of the five engaged columns that existed along the east and west walls, the west wall is believed to retain five column bases whilst the east wall retains four column bases. Above the bases, both walls are thought to retain sections of at least two columns. To the central row of columns four of the five bases survive, along with the lower sections of the two engaged columns and with a section of at least one of the original three free-standing columns. At the north end of the west wall there is a flight of Grinshill stone steps which were probably added in the C16 as a more convenient approach from the churchyard. The north-east corner of both the crypt and the small chamber were demolished in 1794 when the new boundary wall to Princess Street was built.
Extent of scheduling: the scheduling comprises an irregular-shaped area visible as a grass-covered depression on the north-east side of the churchyard. Given the open nature of the churchyard, only the north-east boundary of the scheduled area is physically defined, being bounded by the late-C18 churchyard wall fronting Princess Street. The other three sides of the area of protection are identified by a series of National Grid References. Its south-eastern boundary is irregular in profile and runs from the churchyard wall at SJ4921912365 in a south-west direction for c3.8m. It then turns north-west for c3.6m to SJ4921412363 before heading south-west again for c4.6m to SJ4921312358. From here, the straight line of the south-west boundary runs for c11m to SJ4920212362 before turning north-east to form the straight north-west boundary which measures c14.6m in length and meets the churchyard wall at SJ4920612375.
Exclusions: the standing remains of the Old St Chad's Church (listed at Grade II*), the churchyard wall (Grade II), all modern signs and all modern ground surfaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath them is included.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: SA 140
Legacy System: RSM - OCN
Books and journals
Barker, N, Shrewsbury: archaeological discoveries from a medieval town, (2003), pgs. 29, 33, 34
Barker, N, Shrewsbury: an archaeological assessment of an English border town, (2010), pgs. 32, 50, 51, 78, 116-117, 165
Owen, H, Blakeway, JB, History of Shrewsbury. Vol 2, (1825), pgs. 180-182,p184-186, 190-195, 246
Pevsner N, , Newman, J, The Buildings of England: Shropshire, (2006), pg. 522
Nurse, J, 'The Crypt of Old St Chad's Church: Report of the Excavations made 1889-1890' in Transcactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, , Vol. 2, (1890), 359-368
Information from the Parish Register of St Chad's, Shrewsbury, accessed 2 March 2015 from http://www.melocki.org.uk/salop/StChadShrewsburyPart1.html
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing