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Bear's Steps

History of the Shut

In one of the oldest parts of the town the steps lie under a timber-framed arch.

But where is the bear?

Who helped Amy create the story

"Write Up Your Street" was a weekly free afterschools club that met in Mythstories and was funded by the New Opportunities Fund.

It provided a combination of poetry, creative writing and storytelling for 8 to 14 year olds from two local schools, Coleham Primary and Wakeman Secondary.

It began in April 2000 and Mythstories connection ceased when the museum relocated to Wem in late 2001.

and the stories go round and round
The Story Of Bear's Steps

It was Michaelmas and time for the Michaelmas fair in Shrewsbury. St. Alkmund's Square was full of stalls, selling all kinds of harvest fare. The smell of roast chestnuts was in the air. Young men and women were gathered for the hiring, each wearing a symbol for their work, farmers and housekeepers looking for staff. But there was entertainment as well - acrobats, mummers and most exciting of all - the dancing bear.

Everyone watched, laughed, cheered and clapped as they watched the bear dance in the Square. The noise even made its way along the road, down the steps and into a certain cellar and into the ears of the alchemist who worked there.

The alchemist was a small man with big ambitions. He was determined that one day he would learn the secret of turning lead into gold. The furthest he'd got so far was turning green beans into brown. But one day he was sure that he would be able to manage it - and when he did he would make so much gold that he would be able to buy all the property and land in Shrewsbury and declare himself ruler of Shrewsbury and everyone would have to do what he said. He rubbed his hands at the prospect. However, the research didn't seem to be going to well today and that infernal racket from the Square wasn't helping and so he decided to go and get some fresh air and work out what was going on.

the alchemist emerging from his cellar

He emerged blinking into the daylight and made his way to the Square and of course, the first thing he saw was the dancing bear, up on his hind legs, lurching through the crowd. As he looked at the bear, an evil grin spread over his face as a plan began to form.

He rushed off home and spent the rest of the day making a potion. At last he poured three drops of thick liquid onto a tray. They cooled and solidified as they touched the cool metal. The alchemist knew they would do what he wanted them to, but they smelt disgusting and unless he could make them taste better, his plan would never work.

He remembered the brown beans he had transformed - they smelt sweet. He crushed them up, added some milk until he made a thick brown paste and he coated the lozenges with it. By the time they had dried and set, it was dark and all outside was quiet.

He silently slipped out into the night and made his way up towards the Square.

At last he found what he was looking for - the cage that held the bear. He softly called out to the bear and pushed the three lozenges through the bars towards the bear.

The bear sleepily opened his eyes. He sniffed at the lozenges and a pink tongue emerged between the sharp teeth and licked up first one, then another, then all three of the lozenges.

the top of the steps today

The alchemist crept away sniggering and the bear went back to sleep.

The next morning the bear woke up with a raging headache. The people in Shrewsbury were to learn the truth of the expression "like a bear with a sore head". He lifted his head and gave a tremendous howl. With one swipe of his paw he smashed the bars of his cage and lumbered out into the Square.

With blinding spots of pain before his eyes, he staggered backwards and forwards, sending stalls flying, apples rolling and people screaming in all directions. Panic reigned until the mayor was sent for and the leaders of the guilds. They discussed and wondered what they were going to do.

In the meantime, the alchemist made his grand entrance into the Square. He found a box to stand on.

"I alone know what ails the bear and I alone can cure him. This I will do for the good people of Shrewsbury on one condition - you must make me the ruler of Shrewsbury!"

The people looked at the alchemist in disbelief and then began to laugh - there was no way they would ever let the alchemist rule Shrewsbury - they would just have to find a way of dealing with the bear themselves.

By this time the bear was making his way across the Square towards Fish Street. The fishmongers had gathered together, debating what they could do to save their shops. They decided that they would have to build a barrier across the steps that led down to their street. All they had to hand was fish and so it was fish that they used.

They formed a chain, passing buckets of fish one way and empty buckets to be refilled in the other and bit by bit they blocked off the steps with an enormous mound of fish.

The bear was getting closer and closer and eventually collided with the mountain of fish. He began to tunnel through the fish, sending them flying with his paws, biting and tearing his way through. Then he stopped. He sat leaning with his back to the fish and happily munching his way through a prize salmon. The one antidote to the concoction of the alchemist's was fish!

that smells good

Armed with a bucket of fish, the bear tamer led the bear away to a nearby stable. The rest of the people began to slowly converge on the alchemist, still standing on his box.

The alchemist turned and looked to run, but he was surrounded. They pulled him down from his box and imprisoned him in the bear's cage, mending the broken bars. And there they left him for the rest of the fair and the children were given all the rotten vegetables and fruit to throw at him.

Eventually at the end of the fair they let the alchemist go free on one condition - that he would use those brown beans to make a batch of sweet-tasting bears each week to give to the town and to remind him to keep to his place.

No one knows where that alchemist is now, but he must still be around somewhere, because to this day, there is always somewhere in Shrewsbury that sells chocolate bears. Keep your eyes open and you might just be able to buy some for yourself.

copyright Amy Douglas 2001

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