The Roman road, Watling Street, forms the present northern boundary of Shifnal Parish but there is no evidence that the Romans lived in the immediate area of Shifnal. Judging from place-names it seems that Shifnal (or Idsall as it was then known) and most of the hamlets in the surrounding parish must have originated in Saxon times. The Domesday Book of 1086 shows that Shifnal was a relatively prosperous and well-populated community.
Idsall continued to prosper in the Middle Ages, and more land was brought into cultivation to support the growing population. The settlements of Woodhouses and Priorslee developed as clearings in the forests which covered most of the parish. Idsall probably had an informal market, as in 1245 Walter de Dunstanville, then lord of the manor, obtained a charter from the king for him to hold and take the profits from a weekly market and yearly fair. The main elements of the present street plan were almost certainly established at about this time when the north-south axis of a wide market street with long building plots (burgage plots) fronting on to it was added to the older Church Street area near the river crossing and church. It was this newly laid out street which had the name Shifnal, and until the 18th century the name of Shifnal for the Broadway, Bradford Street and Park Street and Idsall for the area round the church and manor house were carefully distinguished. A further market charter was obtained in 1315. This and the size and beauty of the church indicate a prosperous medieval community.
Shifnal has never had a resident lord of the manor; it has always been just one manor amongst the many belonging to a wealthy landowner. John Talbot,1st Earl of Shrewsbury acquired the manor of Shifnal in the early 15th century. His descendant, Lord Stafford, is still a major landowner in the parish. Little is left of the Elizabethan Manor House although the elegant summer house set above the remains of the pleasure gardens can still be seen.
In an early venture into technology, George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury set up an ironworks in 1564, building a blast furnace close to the Manor House. This was probably the first blast furnace in Shropshire, using water power from the Wesley Brook to make pig iron. Ore came from the Earl’s mines at Snedshill and charcoal from woodland coppiced on the Lizard hill. Pig iron made in the furnace was taken to Tong forge for conversion to the more useful wrought iron. The furnace closed in the early 1600s, although the forges at Tong continued operating until the 19th century.
Until the late 17th century most of the population of Shifnal town as well as of the surrounding hamlets were involved in agriculture; even craftsmen such as blacksmiths and weavers and tradesmen such as innkeepers also had their own cattle and grew some corn. Then in the 18th century there was a great expansion in the number and range of crafts in the town with craftsmen to meet almost all the needs of the local population – tailors, weavers, dyers, skinners, tanners, curriers, saddlers, masons, thatchers and brickmakers. This range of crafts was typical of most towns and many persisted until the second World War.
The Civil War had little effect on the town although Charles II passed through Evelith (1.5 miles south of Shifnal) as he attempted to escape from Boscobel after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.