Bishop's-Castle (St. John the Baptist)

BISHOP'S-CASTLE (St. John the Baptist), an incorporated market-town, and a parish, having separate jurisdiction, in the union of Clun, locally in the hundred of Purslow, S. division of Salop, 19 miles (N. W. by N.) from Ludlow, 20¼ (S. W. by S.) from Shrewsbury, and 157 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 1781 inhabitants, of whom 1510 are within the borough. This place derives its name from a castle belonging to the bishops of Hereford, that stood here, but of which the site alone, now a bowling-green attached to the Castle inn, and some small portions of the inclosing walls, can be traced. A subterraneous passage is said to have led from this castle to another at some distance; the arched entrance to the passage is shown in the garden of an adjoining house; but it is scarcely distinguishable from the heaps of stones found in various parts of the hill on which the castle stood.

The town is partly situated on the summit, but chiefly on the steep declivity, of a hill: the houses in general are meanly built of unhewn stone, with thatched roofs; though, in detached situations, there are several good edifices of modern erection. The market is on Friday, and is well supplied with grain, which is sold by sample: the market-house, built by the late Earl of Powis, is a handsome structure of stone, supported on piazzas; the area is used as a corn-market, and the upper part as a schoolroom. The fairs are on the Friday before the 13th of Feb., for cattle and sheep; on the Friday preceding the 25th of March, which is a very large fair for horned-cattle; on the first Friday after Mayday, a pleasure and statute fair; July 5th, formerly a great wool-fair; and Sept. 9th and Nov. 13th, for horned-cattle, sheep, and horses. The government, by charter granted in the 15th year of the reign of Elizabeth, and confirmed and extended by James I., is vested in a bailiff, recorder, and fifteen capital burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, chamberlain, two serjeants-at-mace, and subordinate officers: the bailiff, late bailiff, and recorder, are justices of the peace. The elective franchise was conferred in the 26th of Elizabeth, from which time, until its disfranchisement in the 2nd of William IV., the borough returned two members to parliament. The corporation hold a court of session quarterly for the borough, on the next Wednesday after the general quarter-sessions for the county; the bailiff, the late bailiff or justice, and the recorder, preside. The powers of the county debt-court of Bishop's-Castle, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Clun, the parish of Churchstoke, and the township of Aston. The town-hall is a plain brick edifice on pillars and arches, built by the subscription of the burgesses, in 1750, with a prison on the basement story for criminals, and above it one for debtors.

The township of Bishop's-Castle comprises 1717 acres, of which 96 are common or waste. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £9. 12. 1.; net income, £350; patron and impropriator, the Earl of Powis. The great tithes of the borough have been commuted for £125, and the vicarial for £230, with a glebe of 12 acres, and a house. The church is a fine old structure, partly in the Norman style, with a square embattled tower crowned with pinnacles: it was burnt in the parliamentary war, by Cromwell, and has been repaired without a due regard to the original architecture. There are places of worship for Independents and Primitive Methodists. The free school was founded in 1785, by Mrs. Mary Morris, in memory of her first husband, Mr. John Wright, of Wimbledon, in Surrey, merchant, a native of Bishop's-Castle, and was endowed with £1000 in the three per cents., since increased to £1598. Jeremy Stephens, author of various doctrinal works, and the learned coadjutor of Sir Henry Spelman in the compilation of the English Councils, was a native of the place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.