With all the nature activity of autumn, only now am I getting around to processing my summer holiday pictures, so you can expect a few posts about our August trip to Shropshire, an ancient county on the English side of the Welsh border. First up is the very small market town of Bishop’s Castle.
We stayed for a couple of nights at the Castle Hotel, which was a very good base for exploring the area. It is a typical old market-town hotel, very friendly, comfortable and with good country food – they even make their own marmalade, an ideal gift to bring home for the neighbours!
The hotel is at the top of town, just off the main road. This is built where the bishop’s castle after whom the town is named used to stand. The hotel was built by Lord Carnarvon in 1719 and Clive of India was one of its first landlords.
In the eighth century, in the days of King Offa, a Saxon noble called Edwin Shakehead gave 18,000 acres of land here to the Bishop of Hereford, as thanks for a miraculous cure for his palsy at St Ethelbert’s tomb in Hereford Cathedral.
In 1087 a later Bishop of Hereford built a motte and bailey castle to defend the church and village from the threat of the Welsh. As the parish straddled the Welsh border, there were lots of disputes in the following centuries. The settlement grew along the road between the castle at the top and the church at the bottom and this is still the High Street.
By 1557, according to Wikipedia, the castle was described as “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.”
The bishop’s castle had been in decline in the 17th century and the buildings were flattened to make a bowling green. The Castle Hotel was built on land where the bailey or courtyard originally stood.
The town hall, which I think dates from the mid 18th century, was recently renovated but sadly this had meant the loss of the market town’s market. The traders went elsewhere during the work and have not (yet) returned. Our general feeling about the town during our stay was that it was very quiet and the shops weren’t very busy (or even open) when we were walking around at the beginning and end of the day. But there were lots of wonderful, very old, “Tudor style” buildings.
Bishop’s Castle was one of the “rotten boroughs” from 1585, where rich men were elected to Parliament by buying votes. Bishop’s Castle was a tiny borough in terms of population but elected two MPs. This corruption lasted until reform acts in the 19th century.
Bishop’s Castle has two micro-breweries, the Three Tuns, established in 1642 and still standing in a side street at the top of the town, and the Six Bells, at the bottom of town, opposite the Church of St John the Baptist.
The oldest part of the church is the tower, made of limestone rubble with ashlar dressing. It is medieval but was mostly rebuilt in the 17th century and much of the church was completed around 1860. The church’s octagonal clock dates from 1847.
Our conclusion is that Bishop’s Castle is a great base for a walking holiday or for touring Shropshire – although a car seems to be essential as rural public transport here is not very good. The hotel was brilliant, but there is not much else in the town these days. I do wish it well, as this is an amazingly OLD place with lovely scenery.
I think we had the best room in the hotel, but one “luxury” I can never get used to is a bath next to the bed! At my age I prefer a bit of privacy, so I broke the habit of a lifetime and used the shower instead.