Bishop's Castle

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Bishop's Castle
Welsh: Trefesgob
Bishops Castle - - 38232.jpg
Grid reference: SO323887
Location: 52°29’35"N, 2°59’52"W
Population: 1,630
Post town: Bishops Castle
Postcode: SY9
Dialling code: 01588
Local Government
Council: Shropshire

Bishop's Castle is a small market town in the southwest of Shropshire. According to the 2001 it had a population of 1,630. Bishop's Castle is a mile and a half east of the boundary of Radnorshire, about 20 miles northwest of Ludlow and about 20 miles southwest of Shrewsbury. To the south is Clun and to the east is Church Stretton.

The town is best known as a thriving market town with a strong agricultural community and has more recently become known for its alternative community including artists, musicians, writers and craftspeople. This is excellent walking country and Bishop's Castle is a "Walkers are Welcome Town", gaining the award in 2008. The long distance footpath the Shropshire Way runs through the town and Offa's Dyke is only a few miles away to the west.

The ancient trackway of the Kerry Ridgeway, a prehistoric Bronze Age route, runs from the town. The "BC Ring", a 60 miles challenging route around the town, was published in 2008. The town has two micro-breweries, including the Three Tuns]], the UK's oldest brewery,[1] many pubs and eating places and a wide variety of places to stay in the town itself and the surrounding countryside.


The castle

The town's documented history begins in Anglo-Saxon times for Bishop's Castle when Edwin Shakehead, grateful for being miraculously cured of the palsy at Saint Ethelbert's tomb in Hereford Cathedral gave part of his lands to the incumbent Bishop of Hereford. A successive Bishop of Hereford built a castle, originally a motte and bailey design, in 1087 to defend the church and village from the threat of the Welsh, SO323891. The castle has been under attack several times, not always by raiders, most notably in 1263 when John Fitzalan, 6th Earl of Arundel and Lord of Oswestry and Clun, held it under siege and caused significant damage, estimated at 1,060 marks.

In the Early Middle Ages the bounds between English and Welsh territory were not settled and the castle and its town were in the midst of territorial disputes.

In 1557 the castle was described as follows: "thirteen rooms covered with lead, a tower on the outer wall on the eastern side containing a stable, and two rooms covered with tiles. There were two other rooms called 'le new buyldinge' situated on the outer wall between the building over the gate and the tower called 'le prison tower'. There was also a dovecote, a garden, a forest and a park."

In the more peaceful times that followed at last after the Wars of the Roses, the town could thrive. Bishop's Castle became a borough, and elected two Members of Parliament from 1585.

In 1618 the castle started to deteriorate and in the 1700s the stone keep and surroundings were flattened to make a bowling green, (Some historians believe that the houses along Market Square and Castle Street were built on the foundations on an outer wall due to the curvature of the houses).

In 1719 - the fifth year of the reign of George I and the year Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe - the Castle Hotel was constructed over the site of the old baille of the ancient castle. It was built on the orders of a local landowner, James Brydges (1673-1744), who in the year the hotel was completed was created Duke of Chandos. In an age of unabashed corruption, he acquired a number of lucrative sinecure offices and amassed such wealth that he was known as ‘Princely Chandos’.

The 1st Duke of Chandos sold the Castle Hotel to John Walcot who in turn sold it to Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774), known as ‘Clive of India’, who amassed such wealth during his time in that country that Horace Walpole writing from London to a country friend said: ‘you will be frightened by the dearness of everything ... I expect that a pint of milk will soon not be sold under a diamond, and then nobody can keep a cow but my Lord Clive’. From Viscount Clive, the hotel descended to his son, Edward, who changed the family name to Herbert, his mother’s maiden name, and took his father’s subsidiary title of Earl of Powis.

In 1642, the Three Tuns Brewery was established on its current site, making it the oldest licensed brewery site in Britain. While some of the current building dates to the seventeenth century, the main building is a Victorian tower brewery erected about 1888.[2]

Local landowners, including Robert Clive expended large sums of cash buying votes, a common practice at the time in some areas to ensure a seat in Parliament. In 1726 one unsuccessful parliamentary candidate was subsequently able to prove that of the 52 people voting for his rival, the incumbent MP, 51 had received bribes and inducements. The Reform Act 1832 eradicated this practice and Bishop's Castle was disenfranchised.

All that is physically left of the castle today is a coursed stone wall 30 feet long on the west side of the castle site which is 6 feet thick and 10 feet high. It was overgrown with ivy and was recently renovated to keep it safe and stable. The Castle Hotel stands on the site of the castle itself and is largely built of stone salvaged from the original castle.

The town

The layout of the town in the present day shows that originally the town was made up of 46 burgage plots which were separated by a few small lanes which have developed to be Church Street, Union Street and Station Street.

In 1249 a Royal Charter for a weekly market and an annual fair was granted, they are both still very popular, with a Friday market in the town hall and a May fair in the playing fields.

In the 1600s, the town hall was constructed as a new administrative centre, a court and possibly a prison.

Bishop's Castle was close to the epicentre of a magnitude 5.1 earthquake on 2 April 1990, which was felt throughout much of southern Britain.


Although it is smaller than many villages, Bishop's Castle has plenty of facilities for residents and tourists, coffee houses, cafés and restaurants, the House on Crutches, a museum of country life, and the Rail & Transport Museum, the two micro-breweries, the old cattle market in the centre of the town, for example. Beyond that, there is a significant number and variety of shops, local businesses and services ranging from clothes shops to the usual high street banks. The town is notable for a thriving selection of specialist retailers.[3]

There are several public houses in the town, including two micro-breweries: the Six Bells Brewery[4] painted yellow, and the Three Tuns Brewery,[5] now owned by the John Roberts Brewery company. Additionally, the town sports a number of restaurants and Bed and Breakfasts, and a hotel, The Castle Hotel, built on the site of the outer bailey of the old Bishops Castle. Sights in the town include Bishop's Castle Town Hall, the House on Crutches and the town's two breweries. Many properties are painted in various colourful hues of blue, pink, yellow and green.


The town has a few events throughout the year in which the High Street is closed and processions, stalls and entertainment is held. Four main festivals are: the Carnival - 1st Sunday in July. The Beer Festival, the Friday and Saturday after the Carnival, Michelmas Fair - the end of September and the Christmas Lights Festival on the first Saturday in December.

The music scene is vibrant and the town is renowned locally for this thriving musical environment. There are five main venues situated in the town: the Three Tuns, the Public Hall, the Vaults, the Church Barn, and the Six Bells.

Classical concerts are put on at nearby Walcot Hall. There is a Town marching band which plays at important civic events. There is a local samba band that plays at town events. A local youth organisation, Spot Light, puts on monthly concerts and music workshops. Many more local bands and musicians are associated with this organisation. There are many DJs in the area, playing a variety of styles.

The Shropshire Bedlams & Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish Morris Teams are based in Bishop's Castle and meet at the Three Tuns Inn and Lydbury North Village Hall every week.


  • Cricket
  • Football: Bishop's Castle Town FC
  • Rugby: Bishop's Castle and Onny Valley Rugby Club
  • Women's Hockey
  • Squash
  • Tennis


Bishop's Castle has been on a main route for travellers since prehistoric times, although the town was bypassed in the 19th century by Thomas Telford's great road. The inns would have provided accommodation for travellers and have stabled their horses.

There is no main road running through the town, though the A488 runs north-south just to the east of the town, on its way from Shrewsbury, Pontesbury and Minsterley to Clun and Knighton. The B4385 runs around the town and connects with the A488.

Bishops Castle had a railway, the Bishops Castle Railway, between 1865 and 1935. Originally it was meant to go from Craven Arms to Montgomery, although it never made it that far as the money ran out. Sections of the old railway can still be seen today, including some of the embankments, bridges and stations. Today the nearest station is Broome.

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