A timber and coal yard was set up on our present site at Station Street by Stanley Gwilt in 1876 almost 10 years after the opening of the railway line in 1865 at the height of railway mania. Charles Ransford took over the Station Street timber business in 1936 as it evolved into a sawmill and in the early 1970s it was in turn taken over by his son John. In 1978 it ran into financial problems and was taken over by the present owners Brian & Alan Evans for just £100 – but with £1.5 million bank and creditor debts which were paid off over the next 5 years.

We have come a long way since the timber yard of Stanley Gwilt and even the sawmill of Charles Ransford.  Since 1978 the sawmill has benefited from continuous investment to make it what many long term customers believe is one of the most professional sawmills in the country.

This modern state of the art sawmill now occupies most of the site of the old station and surrounding areas and dear old Charles Ransford would have to look very hard to recognise any of his buildings. However, tucked away in one corner of the site is the old Bishop’s Castle Railway Ticket Office evoking the history of a bygone era.

Nestled in the ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ of South Shropshire evoked by AE Houseman, Bishop’s Castle has a number of pubs which reminds us that this country town in the Welsh Marches was once a drovers town – a watering hole for both them and their cattle on their way to market. With two breweries, many eating places and a lively events calendar, people keep coming back to Bishop’s Castle as do Customers of Charles Ransford & Son.

The railway in Bishop’s Castle: a brief history of a relatively brief encounter

The old Bishop’s Castle Railway line which ran from Craven Arms up to Station Street is worthy of an Ealing comedy! It opened in 1865 at the height of Victorian railway mania and its 70 year history is full of financial blunders and bizarre incidents, in fact, like many at the time, the company set up to run it went bust within months and the railway then spent 69 years in receivership.

The first contractor went bankrupt and there was confusion over which parts of the land along the route of the line had actually been bought up. The inevitable delays ensued and before Government inspection of the line or even a station had been built BCR decided to start the service. Large crowds turned out to see the locomotive carrying the inscription ‘Better Late than Never’ pulling coaches full of shareholders into Bishop’s Castle. The banking crisis of 1866 had many knock-on effects and by the end of the year the company went bust and was in receivership until it closed in 1935.

In 1877 the widow of a director claimed that her late husband had not been paid £800 for a parcel of land sold to the railway line. She won her case but was not compensated and so workmen were instructed to repossess the land. A fence was built around part of the track and workmen were instructed to remove rails from within the fenced area. A shuttle service was arranged and passengers and their goods were forced to get off their trains and continue their journey by horse-drawn coaches. This worked for a time but Bishop’s Castle began to run short of coal and other essential supplies and so a plan was hatched in the back parlour of the local pub.

Two bailiffs who were guarding the fenced area were lured to the Red Lion at Horderley and plied with strong drink. As soon as they were in the pub a gang of men with lanterns crept back onto the disputed land, took down the fence and replaced the rails. After a quick check that the bailiffs were still ‘occupied’ in the pub an engine laden with supplies for Bishop’s Castle made its way quietly and slowly along the tracks. When the bailiffs finally heard the train coming, it was too late for action although like a scene from an Ealing comedy they rushed from the pub waving their lanterns in a desperate attempt to stop the train. Bishop’s Castle had been relieved and soon after local people raised enough money to pay for the disputed land and the service resumed.

The line was closed in 1935 and removed in 1937 with some of the rails being sent to Birkenhead for use in the construction of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales which saw illustrious service in WW2 before being sunk in the Pacific in 1941.