The town of Bishop’s Castle lies in Shropshire, close to the Welsh border and about twenty miles southwest of the county town of Shrewsbury. Bishop’s Castle has played a central role in the Marches for centuries. A castle was built here between 1085 and 1100 by the Bishops of Hereford, as Marcher Lords, for defence against the Welsh.
In 1127 a new town was created on the site of a Saxon settlement. Since medieval times the settlement has expanded little and maintains its simple grid of streets which lead down the hill and away from the castle to form the town. In 1203 King John granted Bishop’s Castle its first charter and by 1285 there were forty-six Burgesses.
During Elizabeth I reign another charter, dated 1573, allowed self-government by one Bailiff and fifteen chief Burgesses to include a justice of the peace, clerk of the market and coroner. This self-perpetuating council could appoint a recorder, constable, common clerk and two sergeants at mace.
Bishop’s Castle displays a wealth of buildings which chart the course of vernacular architecture over several centuries. The castle, from which the town takes its name, has for the most part disappeared, although what remains is cared for by the Old Castle Land Trust which is also responsible for the House on Crutches Museum building situated close to the Town Hall. Other fine buildings in the town have been carefully restored. Unfortunately, several civic or public buildings have been lost over time.
The Town Hall, which dominates the High Street, stands ‘castle-like’ at the top of the town surrounded by smaller buildings of stone, timber and brick, which together create a characterful townscape.
Whilst it is known that earlier civic buildings have existed in the adjacent area, the mid-eighteenth century Town Hall is the only surviving civic structure. Documentary evidence shows that the Town Hall building is a valuable and important part of our local heritage.
Before the present town hall was built Bishop’s Castle, in common with other towns, had its Guildhall or Town Hall, both names being used in the records of the period. In 1615, the Guildhall was described as being ‘in a ruinous state’.
Town Council Minutes for 1745 record the decision to demolish the ‘ancient building’, salvage any re-useable materials and build a new civic building. Some concern was shown to seek alternative accommodation for the person renting the house or premises which appears to have either formed part of the building or been situated nearby.