A Little History
Bishop’s Castle is a new town, planned and laid out to encourage settlers around 1087.
Before then the whole area was regarded as “waste” or of no tax value primarily because of raids from the Welsh which made any long term investment too risky. To remove the Welsh threat and to bring the Marches under English control a series of castles were established along the border between 1085 and 1100 including one in what is now called Bishop’s Castle.
The site was chosen as the hill commanded the main route between Ludlow and Shrewsbury as well as two important trade routes from Wales. A castle cannot exist in isolation, it needed a town to provide labour to maintain the troops as well as blacksmiths, bakers and traders to organise food and provisions etc. A formal town was therefore laid out between the Castle and the Church (a Saxon church is thought to have been sited where the current 12th Century St John’s stands).
The town follows a quite common pattern of the time of two rows of burgage plots each about 33 feet wide facing a main street (Front Street, now High Street) and running to a back lane (now Union Street and Station Road). Along some of these plots ran passageways called “Shuts” because they were shut by gates at night. Plots were given to settlers who were able to buy the freehold after which they could build as many houses as they liked on the narrow strips of land. This explains the sometimes crowded maze of cottages and alleyways in old towns such as Bishop’s castle.
The Porch House was built on two of these burgage plots around 1564 (the same year Shakespeare was born), this date has been obtained from dendro dating the timber. Presumably this building was a replacement for an earlier structure as being so close to the castle this part of the town was almost certainly built up.
The initial 1564 timber framed building seems to have been an L shaped hall with a mixture of wattle and daub and wooden Plank and Muntin walls (a completely wooden wall made up of beams and infill planks). Only three examples of these walls are known to exist in Shropshire, one is in the antique shop opposite at number 26 High Street.
The ground floor hall had chequered pattern paintings on the oak planks which can still be seen in the main shop.
The distinctive porch has a date 161? carved above the entrance, whether this was the date of some alterations or additions is unknown.
Some time during the 1700s the house was doubled in size by the addition of a rear extension of stone, probably reclaimed from the ruins of the castle. The roof tiles at the rear are also made of stone, in the front they have been replaced by slate.
Other additions included a barn, stable and some outbuildings as well as a “Flying Freehold” - a first and second story extension built over the alleyway that ran beside the building. This stealing of a few extra metres of space seems to have been quite common in town centres although what the neighbours thought of their walls being used to support another building is not known.
At some stage a third storey was also added, evidence of which is a large fireplace in the attic.
During the Napoleonic wars French prisoners were billeted in Bishop’s Castle, one is thought to have painted a picture of a castle, perhaps the Bishop’s castle or one from France, on the wall of one of the bedrooms.
Unfortunately this was over-painted a few years ago
Picture kindly supplied by Sally Chappell
We assume the two shops in the front of the building have been in existence throughout the 442 year history of the building and we intend to research their history further. The picture opposite shows the house in 1901 decorated for a visit by Lord Clive, the descendant of Clive of India.
At the time he was the landlord of the house.
Like all old buildings the Porch House needs continuous care and maintenance. Over the years it has suffered damp, woodworm, death watch beetle in addition to the normal wear and tear all buildings suffer, due to neglect.
By the late 1970s it was in a very poor condition.
The picture opposite was taken in 1986
Under the watchful eye of English Heritage, and with a significant grant, the main fabric of the timber house was restored resulting in the splendid building which now appears such an important part of the High Street. The restoration has sympathetically retained the historic fabric but has included a few more modern features such as glass panels in the roof to let in more light to the central stairway as well as central heating and a fire alarm system.
The carved figures on the front of the shop represent of the children who lived in the house at the time of the restoration work.
Gill and John Lucas bought the house in October 2002 and have worked hard to make the house comfortable for guests and family alike. We hope you will enjoy your stay and sharing a little of Bishop’s Castles history with us.
We would also be interested in any old pictures or stories about the house or shops, if you have anything please let us know.
The Porch House Bishop’s Castle
01588 638854 email@example.com