The Victoria History of Shropshire
Wem lies on the North Shropshire Plain, about nine miles north of Shrewsbury. The centre of a much larger medieval manor and parish, the township consists of the small medieval market town and its immediate rural hinterland. Anglo-Saxon in origin, the town developed after the Norman Conquest, with a castle, parish church, market and water mill. The urban area of the township, ‘within the bars’, was distinguished from the rural, ‘without the bars’. Burgages were laid out, with a customary borough-hold tenure, but the borough never attained corporate status. Isolated from the main regional transport routes, Wem developed as a centre of local government and trade in agricultural produce, especially cheese. It was thrust onto the national stage in 1642 when Parliamentarians defeated a Royalist attack and held the town for the duration of the Civil War. The ‘great fire’ of 1677 then destroyed many of the existing buildings in the town centre, leading to its predominantly Georgian and Victorian appearance today. The decline in agricultural employment and the withdrawal of services and industries from small market towns like Wem in recent decades is a challenge, met by the advantage of the railway station to residents who work elsewhere but choose the town as a place to live.
Wem is the first ‘Short’ history to be produced by the Victoria County History of Shropshire. It is intended to establish a model for the histories of other market towns in Shropshire. This book tells the story of the town, its people and institutions: the built environment, landownership, economy, social and religious life and local government. It reveals for the first time that Wem was a planted medieval castle-town, and presents the evolution of its urban topography. It offers detailed accounts of the town’s medical profession and health care, trades and industries, and retailing, where Wem’s weekly produce market is enjoying a 21st-century revival.