Church Stretton through the Ages

In and around the three Strettons there are various signs of an older age. Between Little and Church Stretton is the site of a castle, now known as Brockhurst Castle, and it is believed by many that this is the site of the original Royal Castle. The manor to which Church Stretton belonged was given by Edward III to the Earl of Arundel in 1336, and in whose family it remained until the reign of Elizabeth I.
As mentioned earlier, the A49 at this point traces the path of a Roman road, but in the hills surrounding Church Stretton are signs of earlier civilisations. On Caer Caradoc there is the site of an ancient fort, believed by some to be the place on which Caractacus made his final heroic stand against the might of Rome. And those who walk across the Long Mynd will find the sites of tumuli, dykes and stone circles whose history goes back into the mists of time.

Despite the obvious attractions that the Strettons display, my favourite spot is the nearby hamlet of Minton, and perhaps this is because at Minton there are no unimaginative rows of identical houses or bungalows that the Strettons seem to have been blessed with in recent years.
At Minton, the hamlet is as it has probably been since Saxon times, spread around a small overgrown green, its back to the hills and overlooking the valley below. One of the houses is a good example of a cruck construction, and nearby is a large Saxon mound and other signs of The area's past.

The Domesday Survey
Although Church Stretton has a history stretching back before the Norman Conquest, it is to that period we have to look to find any detailed records.

The Domesday book states:
Stratun. Earl Edwin held it, with 4 outliers, 8 hides. In lordship 3 ploughs; 6 male and 2 female slaves;
18 villagers and 8 smallholders with a priest who have 12 ploughs. A mill; a church; in the woodland 5 hedged enclosures, a further 6 ploughs possible.
Value before 1066 £13; now 1OOs.

Today, such brief notes need an explanation. A hide was around 120 acres, although the measure did vary from place to place. When a reference to ploughs is given it refers to the amount of arable land. The reference to further ploughs possible means that more land could be put to the plough.
oooo At the time of the Domesday survey there was a definite social structure in the country. At the bottom of the ladder came the slaves, who could be bought or sold and had no rights other than to work for the lord of the manor. Further up the scale were the smallholders who at least had their own roofs over their heads, then came the villagers who would most likely have land of their own.
oooo The reference to a priest and church shows that this was an established community before the Norman Conquest. The reference to value is typical of the Domesday survey in that it implies that less tax was being collected than before the Conquest.

Before the Conquest, in Saxon times, Church Stretton belonged to the Earls of Mercia. After the Conquest it passed into the hands of the Norman earl, Roger de Montgomery. But after his death, and the rebellion of Earl Robert de Belesme, it passed to the King. At the beginning of the14th century Church Stretton was granted to the Earls of Arundel.

Church Stretton Castle
Better known as Brockhurst Castle, it was built by Henry II around 1154 to guard the north-south route through Shropshire which followed the old Roman road (the present A49). When Stretton became a Royal manor. i.e. belonging to the King, Stretton Castle was put in the care of Engelard de Pitchford who received a salary of £4 per annum. Then over the next few decades the castellan (care-taker) changed frequently and even included, in 1197, Cadwallon who was the illegitimate son of Owen Cyvelioc. a Prince of Powis.

In 1235 there is an account of oak trees being felled for repairs of Stretton Castle, but twenty years later it is recorded that the castle had been dismantled. It was probably a mainly wooden structure. What little stone there was was most likely taken by the locals for building materials.
oooo With no castle there was no need for a castellan, and the responsibility for the King's manor was in the hands of the local community. They seem to have done a good job, as there are records of them reporting several encroachments of the Royal Forest and of the King's fishponds being drained and the fish being sold for 9 marks.

Victorian Times
A good example of what the town was like at the turn of the century can be obtained from the various directories of that period.

Cassey's Directory of 1871 had this to say:
"Church Stretton Is a market and union town - situated in a beautiful and romantic vale. There is no doubt the place derived its name (Street Town) from its proximity to the Roman road Watling Street, which leads from Wroxeter, (Viriconium) a village 6 miles east from Shrewsbury, to Kinchester in Herefordshire...."
oooo "There is a clothing club for the benefit of poor families; and coals are given away, by subscription, to the poor every winter.."
oooo "There is a small manufactory for flannels, and there are several malt-houses in the town. Here are two private lunatic asylums, one for ladies at All Stretton, and one for gentlemen at Church Stretton.."
oooo "The market is on Thursday. There are five fairs held annually, vlz., January, March; May for hiring servants; July, for wool; September, for sheep, colts and horses; and November. "

In 1859, Walter White wrote
"We found the little town in a state of excitement; groups of rustics in the street, waiting apparently for some demonstration, creating an unwonted hum of voices, and we were at a loss for an explanation until the waitress at 'The Crown' told us that 'the gas was a-going to be lighted for the first time. They had tried to light it the evening before, but it wouldn't light.' It was something, we thought, to have arrived on so memorable an occasion, and we watched for the illumination; but instead of dazzling light there was disappointment: the gas still refused to light, except at two of the lamps, in which it shone with the lustre of a halfpenny candle. The gazers shook their heads doubtfully and went home to bed. "

The Church of St Lawrence
The church of St. Lawrence is of Saxon foundation as the Domesday Book mentions that the manor had a Church and a Mill. The present building dates from Norman times.
Considerable alterations took place at the end of the 12th century, or very early in the 13th. A central tower and transepts were built, and the chancel, which up to that time had doubtless been in the position of the tower, placed further east. (see Legends & People)
oooo In the 14th century some windows may have been inserted and an addition was made to the tower.
oooo It is recorded that in the churchyard there is a stone dedicated to the memory of Ann Cook who died in 1814, aged 60, and inscribed with the lines:-

"On a Thursday she was born;
On a Thursday made a bride;
On a Thursday her leg was broke;
And on a Thursday died. "

Did You Know?
At the turn of the century, the stations of London had posters promoting Church Stretton as 'The Highlands of England'. The posters, which might not pass the Trade Descriptions Act today, showed snow-covered peaks above the pine-clad hillsides, perhaps implying that Church Stretton was, indeed, some displaced part of Scotland or even Switzerland.

As a Proud Salopian once said "We don't have to compare Church Stretton with anywhere else in the country or even the world. We are unique!"