Shropshire (abbreviated Salop or Shrops) is a traditional, ceremonial and administrative county in the West Midlands region of England. The ceremonial county borders Cheshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and the Welsh ceremonial counties of Powys and Clwyd.
Shropshire is one of England's most rural counties. The county town is Shrewsbury, although the new town of Telford is the largest town. Also in this rural county is Coalbrookdale and Broseley - where the Industrial Revolution started, Ironbridge - where the world's first iron bridge was constructed and Ditherington - where the world's first iron framed building was built. (See the "cradle of industry" section below).
An estimate of the population of the administrative county of Shropshire for 2006 is put at 288,846 - making the county the least populated two-tier governed area in the United Kingdom.
Quite why this remote, rural county on the Welsh border became the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution is mystifying to many people. The reason, however, is mainly due to Shropshire's diverse geology. Shropshire is the "geological capital" of the UK, as just about every rock type in Northern Europe is found within its borders, as are coal, lead, copper and iron ore deposits. In addition to this, the River Severn flows through the county and has been used for the transportation of goods and services for centuries.
The origin of the name "Shropshire" is the Old English "Scrobbesbyrigscīr" (literally Shrewsburyshire). However, the Normans who ruled England after 1066 found both "Scrobbesbyrig" and "Scrobbesbyrigscir" difficult to pronounce so they softened them to "Salopesberia" and "Salopescira". Salop is the abbreviation of these.
When a council for the county was set up in 1888, it was called "Salop County Council". The name was never popular, and the council renamed itself "Shropshire County Council" in 1980. However, the term "Salopian", derived from "Salop", is still used to mean "from Shropshire". The latin motto of "Floreat Salopia" (may Shropshire flourish) is also used for Shropshire on crests and emblems.
Salop can also mean the county town, Shrewsbury, and in historical records Shropshire is described as "the county of Salop" and Shrewsbury as "the town of Salop".
Shropshire is part of the West Midlands region of England, though it is also described as being in the Welsh Marches. Both Shrewsbury and Ludlow have held the position of capital of the Welsh Marches, at a time when it was a political entity (with the Council of Wales and the Marches). Historically Shropshire was part of the Kingdom of Mercia and the name exists to this day in the police force which the county comes under - the West Mercia Constabulary.
The ceremonial county of Shropshire is now split up into the administrative county of Shropshire and the unitary authority of Telford and Wrekin. The administrative county is then split up into five districts - Shrewsbury and Atcham, Oswestry, North Shropshire, South Shropshire and Bridgnorth. The county, including Telford and Wrekin, is then further sub-divided into parishes, except for the town of Shrewsbury which is unparished. Shrewsbury and Telford have no town councils.
The area covered by the county has not changed substantially since the county's creation in the 11th Century. The modern day ceremonial county is the same as the traditional county, except for the removal of several exclaves and enclaves, and other minor alterations along the border with Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The largest of the exclaves was Halesowen, which became part of Worcestershire in 1844, and the largest of the enclaves was Herefordshire's Farlow in South Shropshire, transfered to Shropshire in 1844 too.
Geographically, Shropshire is divisible into two distinct halves - North and South.
Politically - Oswestry district, North Shropshire district, Shrewsbury and Atcham borough and the borough of Telford and Wrekin.
The North Shropshire Plain is an extension of the flat and fertile Cheshire Plain. It is here that most of the county's large towns, and population in general, are to be found. Shrewsbury at the centre, Oswestry to the north west, Whitchurch to the north, Market Drayton to the north east and the Telford conurbation (Telford, Wellington, Newport, Oakengates, Donnington and Shifnal) to the east. The land is fertile and agriculture remains a major feature of the landscape and the economy. The River Severn runs through the lower half of this area (from Wales in the west, eastwards), through Shrewsbury and the Ironbridge Gorge, before heading south to Bridgnorth.
The area around Oswestry has more rugged geography than the North Shropshire Plain and the western half is over an extension of the Wrexham Coalfield and there are also copper deposits on the border with Wales. Mining of stone and sand aggregates is still going on in North Shropshire, notably on Haughmond Hill, near Bayston Hill and around the village of Condover. Other primary industries, such as forestry and fishing, are to be found too.
The A5 and M54 run from Wolverhampton (to the east of the county) across to Telford, around Shrewsbury and then north west to Oswestry, before heading north into Wales in the Wrexham area. This is an important artery and the corridor is where most of Shropshire's modern commerce and industry is found, notably in Telford new town. There are also a number of railway lines crossing over the area, which centre at Shrewsbury. To the south west of Telford, near the Ironbridge Gorge, is Buildwas Power Station.
The new town of Telford is built on a former industrial area centred on the East Shropshire Coalfield. There are still many colliery heaps to be found in the area, as well as disused mine shafts. This industrial heritage is an important tourist attraction, as is seen by the growth of museums in the Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale and Jackfield area. Blists Hill museum and historical (Victorian era) village is a major tourist attraction as well as the Iron Bridge itself.
Politically - South Shropshire district and Bridgnorth district; Ludlow constituency.
South Shropshire is more rural, with fewer settlements and no large towns, and its landscape differs greatly than that of North Shropshire. The area is dominated by hill ranges and valleys, forests and glens, and other natural features. Farming is more pastoral than the arable found in the north of the county. The only substantial towns are Ludlow, Bridgnorth and Church Stretton.
The A49 is the main road through the area, running north to south, from Shrewsbury to Herefordshire. A railway line runs through the area on the same route as the A49 with stations at Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Ludlow. Infrastructure is generally quite poor in the south of the county, but this is due mainly to the low population density. The (heritage) Severn Valley Railway runs from Bridgnorth into Worcestershire.
Church Stretton is known as "Little Switzerland" due to its valley location and character. Nearby are the old mining communities on the Clee Hills, notable geological features in the Onny Valley and Wenlock Edge and fertile farmland in the Corve Dale. The River Teme drains this part of the county, before flowing into Worcestershire to the South.
South West Shropshire, or simply "Clun", is a little known and remote part of the county, with Clun Forest, Offa's Dyke and the River Clun. The small towns of Clun and Bishop's Castle are in this area. The countryside here is very rural and is in parts wild and forested. To the south of Clun is the Welsh town of Knighton.
Shropshire has no cities, but 21 towns (of which 5 can be considered to be major - Shrewsbury, Telford, Oswestry, Bridgnorth and Ludlow) and hundreds of villages.