Cucumber sandwiches are not my normal Sunday fare, but tradition is big at the Shrewsbury Drapers Company and I was delighted to partake of their hospitality while enjoying the fine panelling and antique furniture at Drapers Hall in the company of fellow admirers of vernacular architecture. The tea rounded off an excellent day with the Drapers and the Friends of Shropshire Archives in which we learned a great deal from some eminent speakers and had a whistle-stop tour of Shrewsbury buildings with Drapers Company associations.
The present Drapers Hall was built in 1576, just over a century after the Shrewsbury Drapers Company was granted a royal charter by Edward IV, and wealthy drapers commissioned some of the finest buildings in the town. Awash with close studding, cable mouldings, carved vines and figureheads, lozenges of every kind, fancy bracing and finials these buildings display the skill of the Shrewsbury carpenters to great effect, and it was a delight to have their features highlighted by our guide. The recommendation that one should walk around the town looking up was good advice indeed.
An introduction to the wool trade in Shrewsbury reminded us of the drapers’ role as merchants of wool and woollen cloth, and the importance of wool as a source of wealth that provided the exchequer with a good deal of taxation revenue. The drapers bought raw woollen cloth in Oswestry, the official market, and travelled back with it to Shrewsbury to be finished by the fullers, dyers and shearmen. The Drapers Company provided alms to the poor, and their modern almshouses built in the 1960s to replace earlier buildings are still in use in Shrewsbury today. We were privileged to see the great chest that held the Shrewsbury Drapers Company’s deeds and papers before making our way down the sloping staircase and across the rolling floor to tea.