Church Stretton through the Ages

Church Stretton is a rather special place in Shropshire and has been a destination for visitors for many years. Although an attractive town, it is the setting that most people come to see, with the surrounding hills providing the main attraction. For many years it was a spa town, with people coming to take the air and water, but today's visitors are usually more energetic, coming for the fine walks available in the area.
The Long Mynd is the main attraction, and the name simply means the Long Mountain. Thankfully, someone decided to use the word Mynd, rather than mountain, otherwise it would get confused with the next range of hills to the west which is also called the Long Mountain.

A Parish Portrait
(Written in the mid 1980's by 'The Shropshire Rambler'
The Church Stretton area is considered Shropshire's gateway to the hills and, whether coming from the north, south or east, the fine views of Ragleth, Hazler, Hope Bowdler and Caer Caradoc Hills, as well as the Long Mynd, do make one's arrival in this area very exciting. It is the combination of these hills, together with fine views, fresh air and good water that make Church Stretton Shropshire's own spa town. And certainly during Victorian days it was a popular resort.In 1912 the official handbook of the Church Stretton Advancement Association described it thus:
"Not only has the climate a generally tonic and invigorating effect, but it also has the valuable quality of exercising a somewhat tranquillising influence on the nervous system and circulation.'
Nowadays, as property prices attest, it has become a favourite place to retire to and, as summer crowds prove, it is also a favourite place for visitors.

There are, in fact, three Strettons, and a favourite tale is of one of our monarchs, I forget which, who was travelling from Ludlow to Shrewsbury. The train was late, and at one point was held up for line repairs in a small hamlet. The King asked a guard what the name of the hamlet was and received the answer, "Stretton".
oooo "It's a very little Stretton," remarked the King as the train started again, soon to be held up again a short time later.
oooo "And this place?" he asked the still attendant guard.
oooo "Stretton," was the reply again.
oooo "I suppose this must be Church Stretton," he observed to an aide, nodding towards the church tower that showed above the houses.
oooo A little further on they were, once again, delayed.
oooo "Stretton," the guard said, anticipating the King's question.
oooo "It seems to be all Stretton around here," remarked the King, by this time wishing he had taken a coach.
oooo So that is why there is a Little, a Church and an All Stretton and, I suppose, why traditionally the answers given by guards to passengers' questions are short and never very informative.

So as not to show any favouritism, I will deal with them in alphabetical order:-

All Stretton
All Stretton is one of those parishes where often the roadside grass gives way to fern or bracken, and the hedge banks are that little bit closer and higher. Occasionally there is the rattle of a cattle grid under car wheels, and the surroundings change to closely-cropped grass, heather, fern and the smell of sheep. Even place names like Gogbatch, Hodghurst and Duckley Nap seem a little different than in the rest of the county, as if they are from an ancient or foreign tongue. It is a parish of sheep that pause and gaze at traffic on weekdays, and on weekends allow themselves to be photographed, fed and even petted by picnickers.

The 'All' in All Stretton is a shortened version of the name Alured. This particular Alured is believed to have been a ranger in the forest of the Long Mynd in the 7th century. 'Stretton' is made up from Straet, a street or way, and 'ton', a farm or enclosure, thus making up Alured's farm or enclosure. The 'street' in question was the Roman road which ran from Viriconium, on the banks of the Severn, to Kinchester in Herefordshire. Many guide books compare All Stretton with Church Stretton, but this, I feel, is unfair and All Stretton should be judged on its own merits. Quite simply, it is a delightful, sleepy village which, tucked against the hills as it is, is conveniently by-passed by the A49(T). There are sufficient old houses to give it character, and the views from behind the village on Castle Hill will take your breath away.

The Church of St, Michael and All Saints, at the northern end of the village, is a fascinating church. Not so much for its architectural qualities, although it is a pleasing building to visit, but because in the building of the church one can see how churches have often been built in this country since time began, through a desire for a place of worship, and community effort. The church was completed in 1902, built largely of Long Mynd stone from a small quarry in the village, and has an unusual north-north-east orientation because of the limited space available on the side of the hill. Many of the fittings and furniture were not only donated by local individuals, but also made by them. The oak panelling in the sanctuary,
together with the woodwork round the baptistery and partition for the vestry, was made by local craftsmen, as were the font, hymn boards, altar linen and frontals - the list is seemingly endless. More recently, the work of forty embroiderers adorn the kneelers, the choir stalls and altar steps. It is a living church inasmuch as the monuments are to people still remembered in the parish. Outside, despite lack of space, much time and effort has gone into the gardens to create a tidy order to a piece of hillside.
Behind the church the hillside rises steeply, and looking over the roof of the church towards Caer Caradoc it is hard to believe the church has not been there for much longer, so well does it fit into its surroundings.

Church Stretton
Church Stretton takes its name from its church, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book as 'Stratun'. The present church is dedicated to St. Lawrence who was burned to death in Rome in the 3rd century. It is a dignified, cruciform church with a central tower and has Norman origins. It stands on the site of an earlier church dating back to Saxon times.

The centre of Church Stretton is little more than a high street, a minute square and a crossroads. But it is a pleasant town to visit, especially on a summer morning before visitors to the town start to crowd the pavements. Even in winter it is surprising how busy the little town can become with visitors who break their journey along the nearby A49 to stretch their legs. Away from the town centre the great number of new houses signifies the popularity of the area as a place to retire to, as there is little industry for those seeking work. There is, however, sufficient of the Victorian Stretton still to be seen in some of the finer stone buildings and neo-half-timbered buildings.

Little Stretton
Little Stretton lies to the south of Church Stretton. and it is a delightful place to walk around. The church is a timber-framed building with a thatched roof, but the symmetry of the timbers and the pine interior give its age away, and it is no older than the church at All Stretton. The surrounding houses, however, lend something to it and it blends well into its surroundings. (continued on next page)