The castle, around which the town of Bishop’s Castle grew, was built in the 12th century by the Bishop of Hereford to protect his outlying land in the parish of Lydbury North.
The houses initially around the castle spread down the street to the church at the bottom of the hill and much of the original grid layout – back lanes and shuts – still exists today. The earliest buildings in the town today date back to the 15th century, with most along Church Street and High Street dating to the 17th and 18th centuries.
In 1203 King John granted Bishop’s Castle its first charter to hold markets and a further Charter from Elizabeth I in 1573 meant the self governing borough with its shops, markets and fairs became the commercial and social centre for a wide area. Drovers, farmers, foresters and miners all worked around the area and large numbers of workers coming to town on ‘high days’ must have encouraged the development of ‘beer houses’, while on market days specific ones were used for dealing in specific goods. The earliest recorded are the Three Tuns Inn, the Boars Head Inn and the Harp Inn, all paying for a special licence in 1642 introduced to raise revenue for the King.
Originally beerhouses and alehouses only sold ale or beer whilst taverns sold additional beverages such as wine and spirits. Hotels, inns and coaching inns offered larger and more comfortable rooms as well as accommodation.
From 1522, a person wanting to sell alcoholic drinks had to apply for a licence from the Quarter or Petty Sessions and from 1617 licences were required for those running inns.
In 1828 a new Alehouses Act followed by the Beerhouse Act of 1830 overhauled the system creating looser regulations for those applying for a licence which resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of licensed premises selling alcohol. As a result, drinking in pubs became increasingly popular in the 19th century as can be seen in Bishop’s Castle, with an increase of landlords of public houses, inns and beerhouses from a handful in the 18th century to seventeen in the mid 19th century.
In 1872 a new Licensing Act was introduced. Licensed Victuallers hours were:- weekdays – 6am-11pm, Sundays – 12.30-2.30 & 6-10pm. Beer-sellers hours were:- weekdays – 4am-10pm & Sundays – 12.30-2.30 & 6-10pm.
Landlords had to declare that they would not operate a disorderly pub and enter into certain obligations before the court could issue a license. This form of legal pledge or obligation is known as a Recognizance or Bond. Landlords that failed to adhere to these requirements would appear before the Quarter or Petty Sessions on charges of ‘keeping a disorderly house’. There were several of these ‘appearances’ over the years.
In the early part of the twentieth century, there was a strong temperance movement in England. The view that arose from this movement was that there were too many public houses compared with the need of the public. In addition, there was a strong movement to ‘improve’ public houses by ensuring that they had provision for recreation and eating as well as drinking.
Between 1904 and 1915, 82 licences were extinguished in the Shropshire area, which still left an average of one pub for every three hundred of the population of the county, including men, women and children. In 1907 it was said by the Licence Inspector at the Licensing Sessions, “that there were 12 fully licenced houses and two grocer’s wine licenses, giving an average of 115 people to each licenced house” for the population of 1378 in the town.
Licensing Magistrates could now refuse to renew a pub’s licence if it was considered that the pub was unnecessary to provide for the needs of the public. Compensation would be paid both to the owner of the premises and the licensee although, typically, only about 10% of the compensation went to the licensee. This compensation was paid for by a levy on the licences granted to other premises.
Over the next hundred years the hours for the sale of intoxicants were cut and this, coupled with increased prices meant drunkenness reduced. In the town once notorious for drunkards, for all these reasons, there was a steady loss of pubs until the 1970s, when the rise in popularity of real ale helped the number to stablilise at around six and now sustains two breweries.