The Industrial Revolution
The Parish of Shifnal included Priorslee and Snedshill on the Shropshire coalfield which developed rapidly during the second half of the 18 th century when mining and ironmaking were established. Furnaces were built at Snedshill by John Wilkinson in 1780 and in 1802 the Lilleshall Company was formed and became one of the major early industrial concerns in the country for over 100 years with ironstone, coal and fireclay mines, steelworks and brickworks. Although part of the parish, the industrial area had little effect on Shifnal town which by the middle of the 19th century had reverted to its earlier character of a small market town serving only local needs. As it became more populous the Priorslee area acquired its own shops, Methodist chapel and school and a new church, and in 1898 it became a separate civil parish.
Shifnal never developed as an industrial town, only the chain manufacturing works of Messrs. Edge near the railway at Upton established in 1870 was of more than local significance. However, it was a convenient place for industrialists to live. William Botfield, whose family developed the Old Park ironworks on the site of what is now Telford Town Centre, built a large house, Decker Hill, (now Shifnal golf club) around 1810. Richard Mountford, part-owner of Wrockwardine Wood Glass House and later, partner of the Ketley Ironworks and the first Shifnal Bank, lived in the Park House, now the Hotel. Ruckley Grange was purchased by the Bishton family, ironmakers of Priorslee.
During the second half of the 19th century Shifnal gradually recovered from the loss of the transport trade. At that time it was described as being chiefly one street with several minor streets off it, with the houses irregularly built, though there were said to be several good inns and private residences and respectable shops in most branches of the retail trade. The market was still held weekly, though it was of less importance than formerly. The population of Shifnal town grew only very slowly. In the census of 1891, before Priorslee separated, Shifnal parish had a population of 6,615 of whom half were in the Priorslee area.
One of the most striking developments in 19th century Shifnal, as in most towns, was the proliferation of a whole variety of buildings for community purposes. It acquired many of the institutions typical of the time such as a Mechanical Institute offering lectures, a library and reading rooms, There had long been a small grammar school, but from about 1840 there was a National School which in 1854 moved to new buildings at the Innage. Chapels for dissenters were established; there were two Baptist chapels; one in Aston Street and one in Shrewsbury Road, and in 1880 the Wesleyan Methodists built a large new chapel in Victoria Road. In 1860 Lord Stafford paid for a Roman Catholic church and school on his land in Shrewsbury Road. In 1817 the workhouse was built and in 1840 extended so that it was capable of accommodating 150 people. A magistrates’ courthouse was put up in 1840 and in 1850 a lock-up and constable’s house were added. In 1847 a gas works began operating in the High Street providing gas for street (and later house) lighting. In 1868 a Town Hall with large public rooms was opened and remained popular for many years, housing a wide variety of social functions.