Rebecca and Henry who run the Castle Inn at Bishops’ Castle will probably tell you that the apostrophe comes after the “S” because many bishops (not just one) were responsible for the impressive castle that was built here on the Welsh borders.
Sadly the castle itself is no more and this rather imposing eighteenth-century inn was built within the outer bailey of that huge castle. In mediaeval times Wales was a wild border land, known as The Marches. It was full of Celtic tribes who had lost territory to William the Conqueror and his heirs and were not at all happy about it. Hence the need for castles along the Norman/Welsh border.
But by the beginning of the eighteenth century the mighty fortress of the bishops had served its purpose. The Welsh were no longer rebelling against their overlords. The castle was demolished and a crown (domed) bowling green was created in what was once its keep for the benefit of the gentlemen of Bishops’ Castle.
The actual stones of the castle were brought downhill to build this imposing inn. James Brydges, a local landowner, constructed it in 1719, the same year that he was created Duke of Chandos by King George I. Though peaceful, Bishops’ Castle was still a bit of a cowboy town at this time. It returned two MPs to parliament despite having only a few hundred constituents, making it one of the most rotten of “rotten boroughs”.
The duke’s son (Henry, 2nd Duke of Chandos) famously bought a servant’s wife off him at the hotel. While dining at The Castle Inn he heard a woman being auctioned off by her husband (a wholly legal phenomenon in the eighteenth century) and he placed the winning bid. Another eccentric regular was “Mad” Jack Mytton (1796-1834), a wealthy Shropshire MP who bought his seat in Parliament by bunging each voter £10. As a young man Jack took 2,000 bottles of port with him when he went up to Cambridge to aid his studies. He also once rode his horse through the hotel. And on another occasion set fire to his nightshirt to try and cure himself of the hiccups. Remarkably he survived.
For over three centuries The Castle Inn has towered over the town of Bishops’ Castle. The original oak-panelled parlour is now the hotel’s rather splendid dining room where breakfast and dinner are served. You can also eat in what is now called the Parlour Bar which is less formal. Guests also have their own terrace or patio at first floor level. There are thirteen rooms and suites upstairs, all of them dog-friendly. The hotel is popular with walkers, lying as it does on a number of national British trails. Every morning at breakfast there will be a bulletin about the weather and things to do with your time in Bishops’ Castle propped up on your table. This will include a “Walk of The Day”.
One curious feature of the Castle Inn – as well of Bishops’ Castle itself – is the preponderance of elephant imagery. The coat of arms of Robert Clive of India, one-time owner of the inn is in Market Square, and includes an Indian elephant. Coincidentally, the hotel’s Elephant Gatehouse, a self-catering suite, has a friendly elephant mural painted on its exterior, not because of Clive but because this was one of the many stables in which evacuated circus elephants were housed during World War II. Yes, really.
The rest of the hotel’s stables have now been demolished to create a car park but this gatehouse is a memorial to those unexpected pachyderms in the 1940s. Indeed if you walk around the town there are many more elephant murals, an artwork trail known collectively as The March of the Elephants.