Bishop’s Castle is full of quirks. Where else would you find an Indian Elephant hosting the Michaelmas Fair, the British Stone Skimming Championships – at nearby Walcot Hall Lakes - a nationally renowned beer festival and music, gardens or arts festivals nearly every weekend. For details visit www.bishopscastle.co.uk/tourism
But why an elephant ?
The daring and infamous Clive of India who represented parliament for the ‘rotten borough’ of Bishop’s Castle became part of the family of the Earl of Powys when his eldest son married into the family. At that time the emblem of the Earls of Powys became their Lion and Clive’s Indian elephant. There are representations of elephants all over the town and in the Castle Hotel.
And in the second world war several circuses moved their animals to Bishop’s Castle to avoid the air raids. The elephants were housed in the stables at the back of The Castle Hotel. But when they left, one elephant was left behind. He lived in Bishop’s Castle for many years and was often seen being walked through the town and the local lanes. The Michaelmas Fair elephant is a fond reminder....
Bishop’s Castle was awarded a Charter in 1249 to hold a market and a summer fair, but 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. The castle was 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.
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."
As peace came to the Welsh Marches Bishop's Castle became one of the notorious rotten boroughs, an electorally corrupt situation wherein the tiny borough 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. The houses along Market Square and Castle Street were probably built upon the foundations of an outer wall.
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.
In 1719 – the fifth year of the reign of George I - the Castle Hotel was constructed over the site of the old bailey 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.
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'. From Viscount Clive the hotel descended to his son, Edward, and then to his grandson, who changed the family name to Herbert, his mother's maiden name. Edward became Earl of Powis on the death of his brother-in-law, George Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis .
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. The Reform Act 1832 eradicated this practice and Bishops Castle was disenfranchised.
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.
In the 1600s, the Town Hall was constructed as a new administrative centre, a court and possibly a prison. It has recently been refurbished thanks to a Lottery grant and was re-opened in June 2014. The refurbished Town Hall now provides a venue for local events, weddings and formal meetings of the Town Council.
The town has a mayor with all its regalia, including a Town Crier.
Bishop's Castle was close to the epicentre of a magnitude 5.1 earthquake on 2 April 1990, which was felt throughout much of England and Wales.
The town is located close to the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Facilities for residents and tourists include coffee houses, cafés and restaurants; the House on Crutches, which now houses the Rail & Transport Museum; a museum of country life, and a variety of shops, local businesses and services ranging from clothes shops and a high street bank. The town is notable for a thriving selection of specialist independent retailers.
There are several public houses in the town, including The Six Bells painted yellow, and the Three Tuns Brewery. Additionally, the town sports a number of restaurants and Bed and Breakfasts, and a hotel. Sights in the town include Bishop's Castle Town Hall, the House on Crutches Museum. Many properties are painted in various colourful hues of blue, pink, yellow and green which are reflected on the Wintles, a new neighbourhood of award winning energy efficient eco-houses.