Documented history begins in 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, grid reference SO323891. The castle has been under attack several times, not always by Welsh 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, the damage was estimated at 1,060 marks.
In the Early Middle Ages the castle and parish were situated partly in Wales and partly in England so territorial disputes literally 'came with the territory'.
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 1618 the castle started to deteriorate and in the 1700s the stone keep and surroundings were flattened to make a bowling green, and in 1719 The Castle Hotel was built on the site of the outer bailey. (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 [the French word for an enclosed court] 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 [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.
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 Bishops Castle was disenfranchised.
All that is physically left of the castle today is a 10 m long, coursed stone wall on the west side of the castle site which is 2 m thick and 3 m high. It was overgrown with ivy and was recently renovated to keep it safe and stable.
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.
The town was classified as a municipal borough in 1885. It lost this status in the 1960s, but still has a mayor and its regalia. It is now a "Quality Town Council".
Bishop's Castle was close to the epicentre of a magnitude 5.1 earthquake on April 2, 1990, which was felt throughout much of England and Wales.
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.
There are several public houses in the town, including two micro-breweries: the Six Bells Brewery painted yellow, and the Three Tuns Brewery, 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.
The town also possesses a community college, which teaches 11 to 18 year-olds from the town and surrounding villages. It currently has just under 600 students. It also has a primary school.
Bishop's Castle also possesses a vibrant sporting community. Sports played by local clubs include:
1st XI play in Division 2 of the Shropshire Cricket League (sponsored by FBC Manby Bowdler LLP), the 2nd XI play in Division 7, and the club plays friendlies on Sundays, with regular coaching sessions and matches for school age children. Cricket was first recorded in 1841, and the club was officially formed in 1896 at a meeting held in the Six Bells Public House
Bishop's Castle Town FC plays in Division 1 of the Montgomeryshire Amateur League gaining promotion from Division 2 in the early 1990s having joined Division 2 in 1984-85. Before that playing in various Leagues including the South Shropshire League and the West Shropshire Alliance. The Club was formed in the 1880s. The Montgomeryshire MP, Lembit Opik, praised the team in the chamber of the House of Commons
Bishop's Castle and Onny Valley Rugby Club was formed in the late 1970s and spent the early years playing friendly games against teams from Mid-Wales and Shropshire, before joining the league structure in the early 1990s. Now they play in Midlands Division Three North.
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 on the Heart of Wales Line.
There is a limited daytime bus service (#553) on Mondays to Saturdays between Bishops Castle and Shrewsbury Bus Station http://www.minsterley-motors.co.uk/timetable.htm.