Iron Age settlers called the cornovii, left evidence of at least two camps in the area of Wem but the history of the area is not well recorded until after the Roman conquest when the local tribes were overrun and the Romans colonised what is now Shropshire.
To the Saxon founders, Wamm meant a 'marsh' and has since been spelt as Wemme, Weme, Wimme and finally Wem. The marshy ground refers to the area surrounding the river Roden which flows through the town.
The 1086 entry in the Doomsday Book records Wem as being "William Pantulf holds it of Earl Roger" and that it consisted of "four manors or farms". It paints a picture of a thickly wooded landscape with roebuck and hawks as part of the local wildlife. Wem remained with the Pantulf family for over a century and they gave their name to local places such as Pankeymoor.
In 1202 a grant from King John permitted Wem to hold a market on a Sunday and on the Feast of St Peter until Sunday markets were forbidden in 1351 and the market day changed to Thursday, where it remains to this day.
Wars of the Roses 1455 - 1480
By this time the town was well established with a substantial castle and walls but was 'torn to the ground' by the Earl of Salisbury on behalf of the Yorkists, later to be rebuilt in 1500 by Ralf Greystock.
The town had passed to the Darce and Howard families before Wem became the first town in Shropshire to declare for parliament in 1643 under Colonel Mytton who organised the town fortifications. An attack on Wem by Lord Capel was success-fully held off by the townsfolk, giving rise to the verse; "The women of Wem and a few musketeers, beat Lord Capel and all his cavaliers".
The Thomas Adams School
In 1650, Sir Thomas Adams born in Wem in 1586, a local landowner and tanner and ex Lord Mayorof London, founded a free school in the town, Adams Grammer School, which still exists today as Adams School.
The Great Fire of Wem
In 1677, a 14-year-old girl, Jane Churn, dropped a candle, which started a huge fire that destroyed most of the wooden buildings in the town. This caused a disaster for Wem far greater than the destruction of the town seen during the Wars of the Roses. The intense heat partly melted the church bells,which had to be recast.
The Hanging Judge
Judge Jeffrey's, Lord Chief Justice of England, acquired the barony of Wem in 1684. Judge Jeffrey's never visited Wem but did acquire the sobriquet of "The Hanging Judge" following the brutal hanging of prisoners following the Monmouth rebellion.
His son inherited the title and did visit Wem staying at Lowe Hall, which became known as Judge Jeffrey's House and still stands today.
18th Century Wem
The Earl of Bradford purchased the Barony of Wem in 1709. It was during this time that Wem produced more than its share of artists and writers. John Ireland, famous for his biography of William Hogarth was born at Trench Farm. William Hazlitt, son of a Unitarian Minister, the essayist and critic spent his childhood in Wem and may have attended Adams School. His home can be seen in Noble Street. Also in Noble Street, one of the few dwellings to have escaped the great fire, was the home of John Astley, the painter. The Rev Samuel Garbet, the second master at Adams School who researched the history of the town and wrote the History of Wem, lived in New Street.
More recently, the first modern Sweet Peas were first cross-bred in 1887 by Henry Eckford FRHS who lived in Wem. Eckford's contribution to horticulture is celebrated every year in Wem with the annual Sweet Pea Show.