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Phoenix Place

History of the Shut

Phoenix Place leads into the heart of Victorian Shrewsbury's red light area, Roushill, from its entrance on the Mardol.

At the Mardol end was the site of Mr.Phoenix's bakery.

But who put the icing on his cakes?

Where did he send his crumpets?

And how will the Shut rise again?

Who helped Amy create the story

Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council sent representatives from their West End Regeneration Group a council partnership with businesses to bring life and prosperity back to the run down West End of Shrewsbury's town centre.

The team consisting of officers from Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts could not have picked a more aptly named shut.

The tale they created with Amy will certainly focus interest upon this Shut and the area alike.

the team survey the shut
The Story Of Phoenix Place

Mr Phoenix was a baker. He lived over his bakery which was in Mardol, at the end of one of the shuts.

Mr Phoenix was the sort of baker that everyone wanted to know. He was round and smiling, his breads and cakes always tasted wonderful and his bakery was warm and full of smells of baking and he was always willing to share it with the men who had come in early from the boats and were looking for somewhere warm to sit and talk. Yet for all that there was something about him - something that was not quite like other people.

Mr Phoenix had become something of a celebrity in Shrewsbury. He had invented a new type of hot half bread / half cake. He had learnt the secret of mixing yeast with batter in such a way that you ended up with a product that tasted a little like a pancake, but was thicker and riddled with holes.

When you spread butter over the top, it melted down into those holes and when you bit in, it was a whole new taste sensation. Mr Phoenix had invented the crumpet!

However, he wasn't about to let anyone else get hold of the secret. Every morning he would come downstairs and make his crumpets first. He would stoke up his ovens, mix the batter with just the right kind and amount of yeast then pour the mixture into the iron rings on a hot tray and put them into the oven. They didn't take long to do and soon Mr Phoenix would pull them out of the oven and leave them to cool.

But when he pulled the crumpets from the oven, there was always one that was slightly plumper, slightly more risen, slight more golden than all the others and that one he would put to the back of the pile and make sure that he knew where it was.

Phoenix Place

There was also always one that hardly rose at all and was a little charred and blackened around the edges and this one Mr Phoenix would put carefully to one side to be destroyed safely later on.

Once all that was done, he would open his doors and anyone would be welcome to come in, keep warm and keep him company.

The crumpets were a great success, everybody loved them. Soon though, people began to realize that there was something odd about them. Every now and then, when people were down on their luck, when they really needed a boost, they'd be walking down the Mardol and someone would offer them a job, or someone would have found the money that they had lost, or the lost child would suddenly return safe and sound. Whatever it was that they most needed.

And then they would realize that they were still holding a half eaten crumpet. And so slowly the crumpets joined the ranks of rabbit's feet and four leafed clovers. Though of course Mr Phoenix said that it was a load of nonsense and poppycock.

Down the passage lived a woman called Bella. Bella ran a guest house and her food was some of the best in the whole of the town mainly because, of course all her breads and cakes came from the Phoenix bakery. However, although Bella ate a couple of crumpets every day, it never seemed to make any difference to her life. They never brought her the famous luck that everyone was talking about.

She brooded more and more and determined that somehow she would have to get the secret. She began rising early, trying to spy out the secret. But Mr Phoenix never unlocked the door before the crumpets were done and though she knocked and asked to borrow, a cup of sugar or flour, Mr Phoenix would open the door, but only a crack and pass out what she wanted. She would smell the tantalizing aroma of the crumpets cooking, but she could never see in enough to pick up any secrets.

Slowly Bella festered with jealousy until she bribed a young rogue to show her how to pick locks. She waited until dark and waited for Mr Phoenix to leave the shop and go to bed. She stole into the shop and she began to root around. She looked under the fairy cakes and bread rolls, in the ovens until she found one lone crumpet sitting in a box.

It looked a little stale and flat and a bit charred around the edges. Bella picked it up and turned it over and over in her hands trying to work out if it might be the one lucky crumpet of the batch.

She tore off a tiny bit and nibbled it. After that little bit she wanted to eat a bit more and a bit more until she'd eaten the whole crumpet. Then she started feeling very strange indeed. She could feel her fingertips and toes tingling. Her confidence grew and she knew that she could accomplish anything she wanted to. So confident was she that she decided to make a batch of crumpets, she was convinced she could make the magic crumpets.

So she got together the sort of ingredients she thought would go into crumpets. She stoked the fire and put the batch in the oven. She took the tray and she took the pole and pushed them into the oven and then she sat and waited.

She thought that they would probably take about 30 minutes. But it was late, it was dark out, the last revellers had ceased their noise. Her head grew heavy and her eyelids heavier still. Her breathing grew slower and she fell asleep.

Meanwhile outside, it had been such a period of heavy rain that the river was rising further and further. The other residents of Phoenix Place had taken to the upper stories and there was no one around in the passage at all, because the water was creeping up the passage and the river end was blocked.

Bella suddenly came to from her deep sleep, to find the room full of black smoke. At first she couldn't remember where she was, but soon she realized that not only had she burnt the crumpets to a cinder, but that the fire had caught and was spreading through the bakery.

She leapt up and went to the bakery door, but couldn't open it because something was stopping her and when she peered out she could see water all around. That was her hope and salvation. She pushed and pulled and at last managed to force the door open and the water came rushing in.

She picked up a mixing bowl and began splashing the water here, there and everywhere over the flames and at last she had managed to put all of the flames out.

Having one last look around she hoisted up her skirts and made her way out, wading through the water, hoping that Mr Phoenix would never realize that it had been her.

Upstairs Mr. Phoenix had also been asleep, but the black smoke snaked its way up the stairs and into his lungs and he woke up coughing and wheezing.

He stumbled downstairs and saw his bakery in ruins, blackened walls, water lapping at his ovens. He stared around in disbelief and made for the door, to try and shut it against the water coming in, to stack sacks of flour against the doorway to Keep the water out, but his foot caught on something beneath the water and he slipped, hit his head and was still.

Still the water rose and lifted the portly figure of the baker. The swirl of water carried him down through the passage, out onto the streets and down to the river. But it wasn't only Mr Phoenix that was carried away by the water. All around bobbed his life's work - wooden spoons, loaves of bread, Shrewsbury biscuits, escorting him on his way, following him down the river like a mother duck followed by her chicks.

Back in Shrewsbury, the bakery was ruined. And no one was able to eat crumpets, lucky or otherwise for a very long time as the recipe for the crumpets was only known in Mr. Phoenix' head.

But somewhere he must have come to land. And somewhere he must have picked up his wooden spoon and mixing bowl because we've all eaten crumpets today - though perhaps we've never found that golden one, just a little plumper than the others.

copyright Amy Douglas 2001

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