Those of a certain age will remember when The Buttermarket was known by a much less romantic name: Howard Street Warehouse. In the mid-1970s the place was a wreck, plaster peeling from its walls, holes in the roof, the once-proud (but by then rather sad) words ‘British Railways’ across the front of the building, the letters of those words battered by decades of wind and rain.
But this week a new chapter begins in the long and chequered history of this great structure as its new owner announces a £1 million investment alongside the promise of 60 new jobs.
The fortunes of this grand old survivor of the canal age are about to rise again.
Just watch carefully over the next few months and see what the sprinkling of a little magic dust can do.
The place was recently purchased by Shrewsbury entrepreneur Martin Monahan who already owns three venues in the town – the Peach Tree restaurant, the C:21 nightclub, and the Spirit Champagne bar and nightclub, all of which are based in Abbey Foregate.
“I’m very excited about taking over The Buttermarket and returning it to its rightful place as Shrewsbury’s premier entertainment venue,” says Mr Monahan.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge but one that my team are certainly looking forward to meeting head on.”
His words will remind some of the huge challenge met head on some 35 years ago by another team which marched with enthusiasm into this fine and fascinating building – the teenagers who, under the auspices of the Manpower Services Commission, cleaned and swept and mended and painted until a place, unloved for so long, began to look decent again.
Today, Mr Monahan is not to be drawn on specific details about the forthcoming refurbishment, but is set to reopen the cellar part of the venue within a few months. This is tremendously exciting in itself as the atmospheric cellar – evocative of course of places like Liverpool’s legendary Cavern where The Beatles first began to captivate music fans – is simply a perfect music venue; inviting and mysterious.
Many will recall the days of the much-missed Jazz and Roots Club (hosted by the effervescent Dave Bassett) which found its home there.
If you have a feel for history, you cannot help but fall in love with a place like The Buttermarket. It was built in 1835 as the terminal warehouse of the Norbury branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Look carefully and you can still see where the canal came in and where the butters and cheeses were loaded onto barges. Eventually, it was used as a warehouse for the nearby railways. And in more recent times it has of course been a successful nightclub.
“We’ve got some amazing ideas and plans,” says Mr Monahan. “I have no doubt that we will, with the support of Shropshire’s general public, put The Buttermarket back on the map as a major multi-purpose entertainment venue for the whole county.”
Just compare the Shrewsbury of today to the Shrewsbury of a few years ago. Now we have the Theatre Severn, the multi-screen Cineworld, the new football stadium, and The Buttermarket heading for a big comeback.
Reasons to be cheerful.