Telford Way, with its important bridge over the River Severn, was the first section of Shrewsbury’s inner ring road to be completed. Thomas Telford the famous engineer had much more involvement with Shrewsbury than the area that is now called Telford.
Telford arrived in Shrewsbury in 1786, originally to repair the Castle for his patron Sir William Pulteney, and Pulteney soon arranged for Telford to be appointed as County Surveyor. In this capacity he was asked by the churchwardens of St Chad’s Church to report on some rather alarming cracks that had appeared in the building. Telford introduced his report with the words, “I think, Gentlemen, that if you have any other business to discuss, you would be wise to continue your meeting elsewhere, since this church may fall down on our heads at any moment.” However the churchwardens chose to ignore the advice of the young Scotsman and employed a local stonemason to remedy the defects. As it was nearly midsummer he started work at 4am, and went to the sexton’s house nearby to collect the key. As he did so the church clock struck. This vibration was the final straw for the tottering structure, and two chimney sweeps working nearby noticed that the tower ‘suddenly opened. It stood for a moment, as it were, suspended on the balance; as it sunk, a cloud of dust succeeded, which for a while concealed every surrounding object. The whole area was overspread with masses of stone, lead and timber, in confused heaps, mingled with the shattered remains of pews, monuments, bells, and fragments of the gilded pipes and the case of the noble organ. The whole of the south side of the tower hung in the air, with portions of its beams threatening destruction to any who would dare approach them,’ as a contemporary wrote.
After much debate, the new St Chad’s Church was built near the Quarry, but Telford was not asked for his advice. But the fear that other mediaeval churches would follow old St Chad’s into oblivion gave Telford lots of work, as he designed and oversaw the building of several new churches in Shropshire at that time. However, the building of the new St Chad’s did prove important for Telford in an unexpected way, as we shall see in the next article.