Cream Of The Country: Shrewsbury

Charles Darwin's birthplace on the Severn is changing as new buyers move in
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The Independent Online

Shrewsbury is Shropshire's main town and sits atop an escarpment encircled by the River Severn. The site was chosen for its strategic value - commanding fine views, moated on three sides and with its only landward approach blocked by an 11th-century castle. Such defences proved prudent, because the town was for long the hub of bloody border disputes - Wales is less than 10 miles away - culminating in the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

There followed a period of relative calm, when the town became a prosperous wool-trading centre. Many of the half-timbered Tudor buildings in the medieval centre date from then. Following its heyday, Shrewsbury went on to become an important Victorian railway town, but never really developed its own industry.

Even today the economy is based around farming, and salaries and house prices remain low. This has attracted buyers from the West Midlands and Lancashire where prices are typically 20 per cent higher.

There is certainly no shortage of housing stock. Most of the Tudor buildings now serve as commercial premises and the prime residential area is Swan Hill, where five-bedroom Georgian houses change hands for up to £700,000.

Cheaper deals can be found to the north of town, where two-bedroom Victorian terraces sell for as little as £120,000. South of town, meanwhile, prices rise again. Kingsland Bridge is popular, being near the historic centre and enjoying views over the Severn. This area has seen substantial regeneration in recent years and a number of former municipal buildings have been converted into flats; prices start from £190,000 for a two-bedroom home.

Shrewsbury School is a local landmark founded in Tudor times. It used to occupy the library on Castle Street before transferring to a lovely stretch of Severn's southern bank. The school's most famous old boy is Charles Darwin, whom the town has fêted with a statue, a shopping centre named in his honour and an annual festival.

It is in the streets adjoining the school's magnificent grounds - around Kennedy Road and Kingsland Road - that most of Shrewsbury's more substantial Victorian family houses are to be found, which can sometimes fetch more than a million. A little to the east of here, along Belle Vue, more modest two-up-two-down terraces can be picked up for about £150,000.

Shrewsbury has never attracted many second-home buyers from the South-east, who have tended to prefer trendier destinations further to the south of the county such as Ludlow and Bridgnorth.

There does appear, however, to be a growing demand for country houses in the area among affluent southerners, keen to relocate to the countryside with their families, while perhaps retaining a small London pied-à-terre. "Rural Shropshire used to be considered the back of beyond," says Richard Everall of estate agent Lane Fox, "but better road links now mean that London is only two-and-a-half hours' drive away.

"Money also stretches a lot further here than it does in Gloucestershire or Oxfordshire. You can still pick up a lovely period property in glorious countryside around Shrewsbury for a good 25 per cent less than you'd pay in the Home Counties."

THE LOWDOWN

Cost of living: one-bedroom flats in the town centre from £80,000; two-bedroom Victorian terraces on the outskirts from £120,000; three-bedroom flats in centre from £225,000; four-bedroom Tudor houses in outlying villages from £650,000; five-bedroom townhouses in Swan Hill from £680,000; seven-bedroom Victorian family houses from £950,000.

Attractions: multiplex cinema; bowling alley; football club; summer theatre in the Quarry parkland; Tudor half-beamed buildings; country hiking.

Downsides: characterless 1960s shopping centre and a severe lack of parking.

Getting there: Birmingham is a 45-minute drive away, Manchester 90 minutes and London 150 minutes, plus regular trains to Crewe (30 minutes) with onward connections to London Euston (120 minutes).

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