The Town Room is devoted to the history of local businesses. Here you will find displays on the clog and shoe making industries, the impact of drovers, local breweries, chemists and tailors and other trades in the town.
Clogs were sold from the nearby Welsh town of Knighton by the grandfather of the present shoemaker in the town. They had a regular contract for the local gas factory where irons on the soles should have been a distinct fire hazard. Nevertheless, they were indeed sold with irons! Is this what’s known as Brave Soles? In earlier times, clogs met the need for cheap and durable footwear. Wooden soles and leather uppers were weatherproof and most families did the repairs themselves with the aid of a last. The irons and rubbers were easily obtainable and even the loss of a strap button could be dealt with easily.
The Bishop’s Castle Tannery was at the bottom of the town, conveniently near a constant flow of water needed for the tanning pools. The brook also provided drinking water for the cattle market which was held at the bottom of Church Street outside the Six Bells. The tannery was perhaps, not so conveniently situated for the nearby church. Tanning is one of the oldest and smelliest of trades!
Leather making involved a great many processes one of which was carried out with a scudding knife. It was used to scrape the underside of the hide, removing the soft tissue. The hides would be soaked in pools as part of the tanning process. Oak bark, stripped from felled trees, was the source of tannin, crucial to the curing process. It was this ingredient that gave the profession its name.
Leather production encouraged the tradition of shoemaking in the town. However, the growth of factories in the North, making cheap mass produced footwear, meant that the production of bespoke boots and shoes was no longer economic. This shift in 'carriage' trade heralded a spate of shoe shops in the town. At one stage no fewer than seven shoe retailers could be found here.
This display reveals something of the brewing industry in Bishop’s Castle, which has boasted many public houses in its long history. Over the years there have been no fewer than 29 pubs and ale houses, though not all at once. Today there are six.
The Three Tuns Inn at the top of the town in Salop Street has a Victorian tower brewery, and is still providing good real ales to the delight of many CAMRA aficionados. The town also has a more recently established real ale brewery. The Six Bells Inn at the bottom of the town is a thriving enterprise and has many awards under its belt.
Until very recently, two of the public houses in the High Street, the Six Bells and the Boar’s Head, had apple orchards to the rear of their premises. These provided apples for the production of cider, the favourite tipple of the drovers, whose routes and history are outlined on a separate board display.
Our collection of medical equipment reveals the considerable changes that have taken place since the advent of patent medicines and the market domination by international drug companies. At the beginning of the 19th century, the local chemist made pills and potions, grinding the ingredients by hand, carefully measuring liquids and powders. Many people sought the advice of the chemist, which was free, rather than the doctor, who was not. And toothache, was perhaps easier to bear than assault by the foot-powered drill!
There were several outfitters, dressmakers, milliners and tailors in the town, many of them established in the mid 1800s. Several of them survived until well after World War Two. Broads and Pughs the Tailor were among them. Broads, which sold everything from a pin to the latest ladies' fashions, survived until the 1960s. Displayed are a variety of articles sold in the shop and a day-book kept by the assistants. You begin to get an idea of the robust business conducted in the town not only from the entries themselves but from the number of assistants employed on market day. The market has been held on a Friday for many centuries.
By the late 1940s, Mr Leslie Pugh, the fifth generation of this tailoring family, had moved the business to the High street. The tailors, in traditional fashion, sat cross-legged on their benches in the workshop at the back of the front shop. Mr Pugh’s tailors shears are on display, as well as a ladies jacket, made at the High Street premises which finally closed in the 1950s.