THE BUTTERMARKET ...................................... RITZ CINEMA, Chatham

            (1988-date)                                                                 (1936-71)


























The Buttermarket in Howard Street, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England started to be built in 1835 as a replacement to previous markets erected in 1819 (Pride Hill) and  1822 (near the Welsh Bridge); the first stone of the edifice was laid by Mr W H Griffiths, then Governor of Shrewsbury Prison, on the 28 May 1835 and the building was complete in about a year.  The architects were Messrs Fallowes and Hart of Birmingham.  The building, of Greek Revival style with Doric columns, stood at the terminus of Thomas Telford's Shropshire Union Canal (open since 1797) - fresh market produce, such as butter and cheese, was brought into Shrewsbury by canal boat.  The canal would have travelled to Jackfield, Ironbridge.  The building was ideally located for its original purpose as a Butter Market, being by the canal and with Howard Street being on an incline.  The building was on two levels and had an open truss roof supported on cast iron columns.


When the importance of canals declined and after the railway came to Shrewsbury in the 1850s, the building passed into ownership of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company and was converted to take rolling stock and, in fact, the General Market opened in 1869, in a different location.  In 1901, alterations were carried out to the building - half of the building was set back some six feet.


In 1950, the building became known as the Howard Street Warehouse, it deteriorated and a proposal was put forward for demolition: to create extra car parking space for the adjacent Post Office mail sorting building; but the building by this time had Grade II listed status (acquired from 10 January 1953) and objections were lodged, there was a public meeting and consent for demolition was refused.


On 2 August 1974, it was reported that Shropshire Organisations had formed an action group to fight plans to demolish Shrewsbury's 140-year-old Howard Street Warehouse, feeling that the building should be preserved because of its historical interest and could quite cheaply be turned into a community centre for Shrewsbury.

In 1977, local businessman, Mr Robert M J Freeman, acquired the building, intending it for community use and carried out substantial repairs, but after difficulties the building was sold again and bought by Kerry Wycherley who carried out extensive renovation and restoration to the building over a four-year period.  The building has been compared to architect Philip Hardwick's 1839 Triumphant Archway at the outside of the old Euston Station in London, involving engineers Robert Stephenson (the son of George Stephenson) and Charles Fox.  Euston was the first of the great stations.  Sadly, the archway can no longer be seen as it was taken away by British Railways in the early sixties.  The architects involved with The Buttermarket since Fallowes and Hart and up to the Kerry Wycherley days was Arrol & Snell Ltd of Shrewsbury who actually won an award in 1977 for their design and vision for The Buttermarket.  See photographs.


In 1982 Mr Kerry Wycherley re-designed the building, in collaboration with the architects, for the purpose of creating an entertainments venue.


As well as being a listed building, the building has in its history been used by the BBC in the filming of 'Oliver Twist', in the Workhouse and Washhouse scenes, with some symbols left on the walls at the time, and this was originally screened in 1983 with a cast including George C. Scott who played Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol' filmed in Shrewsbury in 1984 - a replica tombstone can still be found in St Chad's churchyard, which was left behind by the film crew as a gift to the Town.


On 4 December 1988, as documented, the first Wurlitzer concert was held at The Buttermarket with organist Dudley Savage, 241st concert on Wurlitzer, before Phil Kelsall MBE performed for the official opening on Wednesday 11  January 1989.


It was not until July 2003 that a concert was missed due to refurbishment by the then owner, but in March 2009 The Buttermarket (or "Severn Warehouse" and "Severn Cellars" as it was renamed at the time) closed as a nightclub and in September 2010, sadly, it was confirmed that concerts would have to cease (for a while) due to difficulties experienced by the then owners of the venue.  However, under new ownership when the venue was purchased by successful businessman, Martin Monahan, in late 2011, the venue underwent a major refurbishment, it opened again as a nightclub and multi-entertainments venue in October 2012  and concerts commenced.  The re-opening concert was on Sunday 22 September 2013.  Covid hit and the 15 March 2020 concert was the last for a while until concerts got up and running again at the venue on 18 July 2021 with a line-up of organists.  After our concert on 19 June 2022 with Chris Powell, concerts were postponed with refurbishment planned at the venue.  There are currently no concerts running, which would typically be on the third Sunday in the month at The Buttermarket.

NB: Our Wurlitzer is not the first theatre organ to be associated with a Buttermarket, the one going to the The Ritz, Ipswich was, in fact, in the Buttermarket area there.

The Buttermarket now:

Where can you stay in Shrewsbury?


Thinking that you might like to make a weekend of it, there are a couple of historic hotels to mention where you could consider spending the night.


The Lion Hotel (Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury)


The Lion Hotel is a grade I listed building and former coaching inn which was built in the 1770s by John Ashby, a former mayor and town clerk of Shrewsbury.  Its middle section dates back to the fifteenth century.  The imposing lion above its revolving doors is a sculpture by John Nelson, an English stone carver.


Famous guests who stayed at the hotel include Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Paganini, the Italian virtuoso violinist and composer who was referred to as “The Devil’s Violinist” for his violin playing abilities.  He was known, in particular, for playing from memory and without sheet music, just like many of our organists, and for playing up to 12 notes per second.  That we can liken to a fast rag being played on our Mighty Wurlitzer.


The hotel has been the subject of various books, one about its history entitled Four Centuries at The Lion Hotel Shrewsbury and more recently a detective-themed fictional play titled The Lion Hotel, set at the venue which incorporates many facts including references to the hotel.


The Prince Rupert Hotel (Butcher Row, Shrewsbury)


The Prince Rupert Hotel is housed in one of the town’s Tudor buildings, the former home of Prince Rupert who was the grandson of King James I and nephew of King Charles I. He visited Shrewsbury to enlist troops for the Royalist cause.  Dwindling fortunes resulted in the mansion being divided into five separate houses.  The hotel features oak-beamed suites that date to the 15th-century and a Jacobean staircase.


We hope to see you in Shrewsbury to enjoy one of our monthly organ concerts.