By F. C. Price
rir HIS Easter a party of boys from the Sacred Heart Fathers' Scholasticate at Malpas, Cheshire, are spending part of their holiday sorting and cataloguing thousands of books now housed in a converted stable attached to the Council House, Shrewsbury, residence of Bishop Grasar.
Started by the late Bishop Moriarty and added to by his successors the library includes many rare books on religious and historical subjects including the complete publications of several learned societies.
It reflects Bishop Moriarty's deep interest in history, an interest which led him to buy the Council House in 1933 when he was Coadjutor Bishop.
Built in either 1501 or 1502 by Peter Newton it acquired its present name when it became the meeting place of the Council of the Marches of Wales in 1571. This was the special court used by the Tudors to make royal power more effective along the Welsh border.
it was also the residence of the President of the Council, the most distinguished of whom was Sir Henry Sidney, father of Sir Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan poet and hero of the Battle of Zutphen, who spent many happy hours in the Council House as a boy.
During the sixteenth century it was enlarged with material from the Norman Castle. in the outer bailey of which it stands, and from the adjacent convent of the Black Friars.
Charles I. with the Prince of Wales (Charles 11) and the Duke of York (James II) stayed there only a few weeks before the Battle of Edgehill. 1642, his soldiers sleeping in the loft where the thick oak beams, hardened with age, may still be seen.
In 1687 James II. England's last Catholic monarch, held court there shortly before the Bloodless Revolution drove him into exile in France.
Two years later the Council of the Marches was abolished and the house fell into a state of disrepair. Eventually it was divided into three dwellings and it is the one adjacent to Bishop Grasar's that possesses the tong Council Chamber. Situated high on the bank of the River Severn the Council House is approached from Castle Foregates across a cobbled courtyard and through the Gateway, a halftimbered building noted for its fine carvings of griffins and mermaids.
Except for a black and white Elizabethan porch the Council House is a brick building. It has a stout, rough wooden door studded with nails. A feature of its spacious entrance hall and main rooms is the line oak panelling.
This, says H. E. Forrest in "The Old Houses of Shrewsbury", was installed by Dr. W. Clement, a former occupant and M.P. for Shrewsbury during the last century. Fr. M. Abbott, Bishop Grasar's secretary, told me, however, that Bishop Moriarty — no mean authority, considered the panelling to be part of the original building. and the remarkable manner in which the designs fit the shapes of the rooms would seem to substantiate this.
The entrance hall and the dining room command fine views across the Severn onto the historic English Bridge and the former Benedictine Abbey. And for a bishop with an interest in football there is a grandstand view of Shrewsbury football ground.
The oak door leading into the Bishop's chapel has an inlaid medieval carved panel picked up for five shillings in a second hand shop by Bishop Moriarty. It is a Crucifixion scene with a skull at the base of the Cross, The small chapel is completely panelled with plain oak crosses erected for the Stations.
A link with penal times is to be found on the first floor landing. It is a sixteenth century altar frontal embroidered by English nuns exiled in Flanders. The Earl of Shrewsbury presented it to the diocese during the last century.
Working amonest such surroundings the boys from Malpas should develop a keen interest in the past.