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New lease of life for historic Traitor’s Gate in Shrewsbury

  • Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury

Hidden by ivy and off the beaten track, the last remaining defended gateway in Shrewsbury’s town walls has now been revealed and repaired thanks to funding from Historic England and architectural and archaeological advice from Shropshire Council.

The Town Walls circuit has been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 1998. A co-ordinated effort by Shropshire Council and Historic England produced a Conservation Management Plan which highlighted the areas in most need of attention. Long hidden to passers-by, the Traitor’s Gate is now visible again following removal of vegetation and repairs to the stone and brickwork by Shropshire-based McMillan Masonry.

Traitor’s Gate, also known as St Mary’s Water Gate, located at the bottom of St Mary’s Water Lane, was built in the 13th century to provide access from the river to the town. The lane was originally flanked by defensive walls running up the hill to a second gate through the main line of the town walls.

The conservation work revealed that the wall at the rear of the gate was rebuilt in very early brick, which may be linked to the refurbishment of Shrewsbury’s defences by Royalist forces during the English Civil War. Legend has it that a traitor opened the gate to a force of Parliamentarian troops in February 1645, allowing them to take control of the town. As a result, it is now commonly known as Traitor’s Gate.

Clearance of the ivy from the top of the gate also yielded an unexpected surprise, in the form of several large pieces of sandstone masonry that were deliberately positioned on the top of the wall. Possibly dating to the 17th or 18th century, the stone may have come from The Stone House, a large mansion dating to the 1630s or 1640s that stood on the site of Watergate Mansion and is known to have been demolished in 1909. How or why the stone was placed on the top of the Water Gate remains a mystery.

Veryan Heal, Historic England’s Planning and Conservation Director for the West Midlands said:

“The work to St Mary’s Water Gate was identified as a high priority in the management plan for Shrewsbury’s town walls that we recently funded. We are pleased to have had an opportunity to work with Shropshire Council and a local specialist stonemason to undertake these important repairs, working towards removing the walls from our Heritage at Risk Register.”

Tim Sneddon, Shropshire Council’s operations manager for highways, transport and environmental maintenance, said:

“Traitor’s Gate is a very important part of Shrewsbury’s history and heritage, which Shropshire Council are responsible for maintaining. The council is therefore grateful to Historic England for providing us with this chance to reveal, repair and preserve this important piece of history, so that people can now appreciate and enjoy it in the future.”

Imogen Sambrook, a Project Officer on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Team, said:

“The town walls circuit is still at risk and continues to be a target for Historic England. We are following the recommendations of the plan and working together with the council to engage owners of different stretches of the wall, providing funding and advice to remove threats and get the town walls off the Heritage at Risk Register, which will be a great achievement after being at risk for nearly 18 years.”

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