Going straight from Chester helped if anything. Though much more popular among tourists for some reason, Chester is thick with half-timbered buildings dating from Victoria's and later reigns, what we have taken to calling "Pseudor" architecture. (The photo at left shows an example, complete with one of those elevated galleries that allow for a second level of shop-frontages, in what are known as the "rows," unique to Chester.) Shrewsbury (right) features much more of the real thing and very little of the imitation. There are countless pedestrian areas and by-ways to explore if you are a pedestrian; while if you try driving in the town center, well, let us say simply that you are not tempted to persist in that folly. The people by and large seem exceptionally friendly and attractive, and all in all it is simply a delightful city to be in.
We arrived late Tuesday morning, and after lunch Stas took the children to a movie at the local music hall (where I read with some envy the bills of coming attractions both film and live). I meanwhile took and deposited the car at our B&B, and then walked back to the town center, a pedestrian square, where the music hall is situated. The square is dominated by an eighteenth-century stone market building, with an open ground floor originally for the corn merchants, and an enclosed floor above it for the textile merchants.
Afterwards we went to the castle. It is a sleepy sort of place, a venue for elaborate floral display and a place one supposes for the locals to sit and read their Sunday papers if so inclined, rather than a fully developed and exploited tourist attraction. The Great Hall here dates from one of the earlier Edwards but got remodeled in the early nineteenth century; it now houses the Shropshire regimental museum, dedicated I suppose to mementoes of the "lads of the Fifty-Third" who in A. E. Housman's words "shared the work with God" (the work of saving the Queen, Victoria, that is).
This building, dated 1392, houses the Royal Siam restaurant. One imagines King Richard II taking his notorious favorite courtiers, Bushy, Bagot, and Green, out for Thai food. Or, since the place would have been ten or eleven years old at the time of the battle of Shrewsbury, dramatized by Shakespeare in The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, perhaps it affords the basis for a whole new theory about the character Hotspur's decidedly hot and irascible temperament in that play. (Medieval and Renaissance medical authorities used to hold that hot spicy foods promoted the humor of choler or yellow bile, which would manifest itself in just such a temperament.)
These figures adorn the entranceway of Shrewsbury School, whose alumni include Sir Philip Sidney, Judge Jeffreys of the Bloody Assizes, and Charles Darwin. The fellow on the left is labeled (in Greek) "loves-to-learn," though to this practiced professorial eye he looks about as sullen and dull a student as one might meet in a long fall term. His partner on the right is "learns-many-things," but yet his face seems to image Locke's metaphor of tabula rasa, the mental slate wiped absolutely blank. In between one reads the date, 1630, and "when you're inside, it's a school," which must have seemed rather depressingly obvious to generations of students. [Note years later: I find that the labels on the statues, and the bottom line only of the central rectangle, together form a strangely scrambled approximation of what Roger Ascham termed the “Golden Sentence” supposedly inscribed on the portal of Isocrates’ school in Athens and found among his writings at Ad Demonicum 18: Ἐὰν ᾖς φιλομαθὴς, ἔσει πολυμαθής: if you are a lover of learning, you will be a polymath (i.e., learn many things).]
This house belonged to a draper named Rowley, whose business in the half-timbered part financed the addition of the brick mansion attached, the town's first building in that material. It houses a gem of a small and very eclectic museum, well adapted to children. Inside one can find a palaeontology room, galleries of Victorian and current art, and exhibits devoted to pre-Roman, Roman, and medieval Shropshire, with the gallery of local Roman archaeology clearly the museum's chief pride and glory. Most of the artifacts come from Viroconium, an important Roman city located near Wroxeter, and thus not far from Shrewsbury. Housman again (the full collection of his poems in paperback having been an immediate purchase on arrival): "Today the Roman and his trouble / Are ashes under Uricon."
Today, Thursday, we're in Ludlow, a name also rich in Housman associations. So far we find it not so delightful as Shrewsbury, though it boasts an old town center in a similar vein, and a rather more impressive castle that we'll visit today. Yesterday's drive here was quite an ordeal, with mouthed and gesticulated abuse from more choleric drivers than one.
Today is Stas's birthday, and last night we went out to a Greek restaurant in honor thereof.