It’s a damp October day and Shropshire is shrouded in mist. Clouds of vapour hang over meadows and ploughed fields. The red sandstone of Shrewsbury Castle towers above the Severn plain, its tone bringing a touch of warmth to the damp chill. Inside the Castle grounds the lawns are expertly manicured. The lush, moist green is mown in stripes and the air is rich with peat and early leaf mulch. A patient climb from the gardens leads to Laura’s Tower – surely the best birthday present any Shrewsbury girl has ever received. It was 1791 and the owner of the Castle, William Pulteney MP, decided his daughter would have her own summer house.
On a clear day the mountains of Wales are visible. Train tracks snake away west into Wales and east into the Midlands. The Severn is wide and muddy-looking. A few downpours in the hills and it will rise into the meadows. The Military Museum is tucked away inside the Castle. There are crooked, bowed stone steps and creaking oak beams, and floorboards. The walls are decked with fading battle colours from the Peninsular Wars and Redcoat tunics. What is striking is the size of the uniforms. When viewed at close quarters it is incredible how small they seem to modern man. These tunics are sized for supermodels and it is doubtful many of Shrewsbury’s citizens could button them up. Small in stature, but not in fight. These men blazed across North America, Europe and Africa.
The museum has medals, pistols, rifles, muskets, cavalry helmets, forage caps, swords and webbing. There is plenty of documentary evidence and many photographs. One poignant snap, in black and white, shows a proud young private called Langford. He sits on horseback outside his local pub. He is immaculate, his spine ramrod straight. Pte. Langford went off to France and never came back. He was one of the countless victims of the Great War. His body was never found.
Shrewsbury’s martial history stretches into the ancient past. Henry V battled the Welsh here. Henry III strengthened the Castle. Edward held Parliament here as negotiations continued with the Welsh. Close to a busy pedestrian crossing, just off Castle St., a plaque is fitted to a wall next to the NatWest. It explains in level terms how the Welsh king David III was hanged, drawn and quartered here. The traitor Harry Hotspur had the advantage of being dead first, at least, before his body was crushed between millstones.