Church Stretton

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Church Stretton is a small town and civil parish in Shropshire, England. The town lies entirely in the Shropshire Hills AONB, on the A49 road approximately 13 miles (21 km) south of Shrewsbury, the county town, and 15 miles (24 km) north of Ludlow. The population of the town was recorded as 2,789 in 2001, whilst the population of the wider parish (including the adjacent settlements of All Stretton and Little Stretton) was recorded as 4,186.

The town was nicknamed Little Switzerland in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period, due to its landscape and development as a health resort. The local geology is complex and incorporates some of the oldest rocks in England – a notable fault is named after the town. Today, Church Stretton continues to be a busy market town, as well as being a destination for visitors to the surrounding natural landscape, with the Long Mynd situated immediately to the west of the town and the Stretton Hills to the east.

People have lived in the Stretton Gap (or Dale) for thousands of years; an Iron Age hillfort on Caer Caradoc overlooks the town. The name “Stretton” is derived from the Old English words stræt meaning “Roman Road” and tun meaning “settlement”; a Roman road, Watling Street runs through the Stretton Gap, though the town (and adjacent settlements) were not historically located on this road — during the “Dark Ages” the settlements grew a short distance away from the old thoroughfare, for defensive purposes. Today the modern A49 road, which was constructed on its current alignment through the Stretton Gap in the late 1930s, runs along a similar course to the Roman Road. The Roman Road was historically known as Botte Street.

The settlements of Little Stretton, Church Stretton and All Stretton (until the late 19th century regarded as separate townships) formed the manor of Stretton or Stretton-en-le-Dale. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded 35 households and a mill in the manor. Church Stretton became the largest of the settlements, with the manor’s parish church and market located there, and being where Bristol Road had a junction with the road to Much Wenlock and the Burway – a route over the Long Mynd.

The town was first granted a market charter by King John in 1214, for a weekly market on Wednesdays, but by 1253 the market day had changed to Tuesdays. In 1337 a new charter was granted by Edward III and it authorised a weekly market to be held on Thursdays. The market is still held every Thursday, in the square on the High Street, which has been the town’s market place since the 13th century. Much of the town was destroyed by fire in 1593 and many of the present half timbered buildings in the town centre date from the time of the rebuilding.

The High Street was for many centuries known instead as the Bristol Road, being the road from Shrewsbury to Bristol. It was once a much wider street within the town, with the churchyard of St Laurence bordering directly onto the street. Over time buildings were erected on the street, in a similar fashion to other English market towns, such as in Ludlow. The High Street, which is a narrow street, is effectively only the eastern side of the original Bristol Road thoroughfare through the town. It was made more open when the old market hall was demolished to form the present town square.

During the 18th century, Church Stretton began to develop as a spa town, attracting those who sought to escape the new urbanisation and industrialism of Britain.

Historically the town was known for its textiles, using the abundant local wool, and a notable location for this industry was Carding Mill Valley (grid reference SO442945). The carding mill there was built in the 18th century, and named after a stage in making cloth, the three stages being carding, spinning and weaving. Carding would have been done by children, and involved using a hand-card that removed and untangled short fibres from the mass of raw material. The cards were wooden blocks with handles and covered in metal spikes, which were angled (to make it easier to untangle) and set in leather. When untangled, the material would be spun, and then weaved into the final product.

The carding mill closed and was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, though the adjacent factory building remains in the valley today. The valley it is in took the name “Carding Mill Valley”, and is now a tourist attraction and well-known starting location for walkers (being at the heart of the Long Mynd range). It is owned (along with the entire hill range) by the National Trust, who have a visitor centre there. The mill building itself has been converted into flats and a number of other private houses exist near it and the visitor centre, forming a small settlement in the valley. Vehicles (and therefore most visitors) have to drive up from the town, from Shrewsbury Road, to access the valley.

Church Stretton was nicknamed “Little Switzerland” during its growth in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period, because of the way many houses hug the hillside, the surrounding mountainous landscape, and because the town is said to have been run like clockwork.

Church Stretton railway station opened on 20 April 1852 as part of the newly created Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway. It was originally situated to the north of (what is now known as) Sandford Avenue and the old station building still remains, but is no longer in railway use. Sandford Avenue had been for centuries called Lake Lane and became Station Road with the arrival of the railway in the town, before becoming Sandford Avenue in 1884.

In 1914 the station was relocated just to the south of the Sandford Avenue road bridge, where it continues to the present day. New station buildings were erected, but these were demolished in 1970, the station having become unstaffed in 1967.

Local property developer Ralph Beaumont Benson (1862–1911), who lived at Lutwyche Hall in nearby Easthope, is responsible for the naming of Easthope Road, Essex Road (after his wife), Beaumont Road and Lutwyche Road, all in the centre of the town and part of the town’s expansion in the early 20th century.

The Long Mynd Hotel on Cunnery Road opened in 1901, originally as “The Hydropathic Hotel” (or “the Hydro”), at a time when the town was popular as a spa. Today it continues as a hotel and has a number of features and activities in its woodland grounds; it is also a wedding and conference venue. In 2012 it was sold by the local Chapman family (who ran it since 1977) to ‘HF Holidays’, a national company.

During the Second World War, from 1940 to 1946, St Dunstan’s was based in the town. The charitable service (for blinded armed forces personnel) was relocated from Sussex as Church Stretton was thought to be a safe location. Some 700 people were trained during this period in Church Stretton. The Long Mynd Hotel, the Brockhurst Estate, and Tiger Hall were the most notable buildings taken over by St Dunstan’s in the town. A residential cul-de-sac is named St Dunstan’s Close in recognition of the charity’s place in the town’s history. Although Church Stretton avoided the aerial bombing of the war, the Long Mynd was considered to be a potential landing place for German parachutists.

A small market hall stood on the High Street but was demolished in July 1963 and the site has become a town square, and is still used to hold markets on. The first market hall — a timber-framed construction — was built in 1617; this was replaced by the second market hall (called the Town Hall) in 1839, which was a stone and red-brick construction. Today the Silvester Horne Institute (extended and refurbished in 2011) is the town’s main meeting place for societies, polling, public meetings and exhibitions. Additionally there is the Mayfair Community Centre on Easthope Road and the St Laurence’s Parish Hall on Church Street.

In recent years volunteer members of the Community Group have transformed Church Stretton into the Town of Flags: thanks to local grants they have purchased over 120 flags – English, Union and foreign – and these are regularly flown in the town centre on special occasions throughout the year.

Most of the town centre and a large part of the west of the town (including the entrance to Carding Mill Valley) is covered by the Church Stretton Conservation Area. The Conservation Area contains all of the town’s Listed buildings and smaller structures, approximately 40 in total. St Laurence’s Church is Grade I listed.

At the 2001 census, the parish’s population was 4,186. The population of Church Stretton parish (including All Stretton, Little Stretton and Minton) was recorded in official UK censuses as being:

Year Population
1801 924
1811 944
1821 1226
1831 1302
1841 1604
1851 1676
1861 1695
1871 1756
1881 1683
1891 1707
Year Population
1901 1749
1911 2435
1921 2652
1931 2637
1941 no census
1951 3513
1961 3640
1971 3514
1981 3945
1991 4184
2001 4186
2011 awaiting data

Graph showing the parish’s population since 1801

The population remained steady between 1841 and 1901, but then boomed in the first two decades of the 20th century as the town became a desirable rural retreat. Another spate of growth occurred in the period 1931-1951. Since then there has been unremarkable growth, with some expansion in the 1970s and ’80s.

Church Stretton is located approximately 13 miles (21 km) south of Shropshire’s county town, Shrewsbury. The town is dominated by the surrounding hills, including the huge Long Mynd massif to the west, and Caer Caradoc and the adjacent hills (Hazler, Ragleth, et al.) to the east.

Church Stretton effectively lies at a saddle point – the railway station lies roughly at this position, which is at 187 metres (614 ft) above sea level. The High Street through the town centre runs at an elevation of 194 to 195m. Because of its position at a saddle point, water drains away from the town in two directions – towards the north (to the Cound and then the Severn) and towards the south (to the Onny and then the Teme) – roughly Sandford Avenue in the town centre forms the watershed. Parts of the town are subject to flooding after heavy rain and in 2000 serious flooding closed the railway line through the town.

The historic core of the town lies around the parish church and along the High Street. With the building of the railway line and station in 1852, the town began to grow towards the new station, along what is today Sandford Avenue. Since the first half of the 20th century the two main streets of the town centre are the High Street and Sandford Avenue. In the later decades of the 20th century a number of shops on the southern end of High Street changed use to restaurants or purely residential, as Sandford Avenue became the pre-eminent shopping street. The B5477 takes the name Shrewsbury Road north from the town centre, High Street within the town centre, and Ludlow Road south of there.

Cunnery is a hillside and collection of houses to the west of the town centre and includes the Long Mynd Hotel. World’s End is where the Ludlow Road curves round the foot of the hillside to the south of the Long Mynd Hotel. To the north of the town centre is an area called Ashbrook; here the Carding Mill Valley meets the town, with the stream (known as the Ashbrook as it runs through the town) running between the town’s two main recreation fields (named Russell’s Meadow and Richard Robinson Field). Two other notable areas of public parkland are Rectory Field & Wood, situated to the west of the town centre off Church Street, and the town’s formal park between the A49 and the railway line, which is managed by the town council and includes tennis courts and a bowling green.

On the eastern side of the A49 road are three named areas: Battle Field, Snatchfield and Hazler. On Hazler Hill is a transmitter for local radio (BBC Radio Shropshire broadcast from here on 90FM). Battle Field is named for the legend that Caer Caradoc was the site of the last stand of Caractacus against the Roman legions during the Roman conquest of Britain, and that after the battle he hid in the cave near its summit.

The villages of All Stretton and Little Stretton remain separate settlements to Church Stretton. The B5477 connects the three settlements, with Church Stretton roughly mid-way between — All Stretton is 1.0 mile (1.6 km) north of the centre of Church Stretton, whilst Little Stretton is 1.3 miles (2.1 km) south. Although there is some ribbon development along the B5477, the three settlements are not joined, although the gap between the nearest buildings of All Stretton and Church Stretton is a mere 170 metres (560 ft) and the road signs (on the B5477) welcoming people into those two settlements lie back-to-back. The B5477 continues as Shrewsbury Road as it passes through All Stretton and likewise continues as Ludlow Road as it passes through Little Stretton. The three settlements are sometimes known collectively as “the Strettons”, a name also given to the wider area including the surrounding hills.

The town is located within the civil parish of Church Stretton, and is administered by a parish council called Church Stretton Town Council. The parish (and the town council) also cover the neighbouring villages of All Stretton, Little Stretton, and the hamlets of Minton and Hamperley, and other outlying settlements including Botvyle and part of Marshbrook.Between 1966 and 2002, the parish council was not termed a town council and there was no mayor, a situation which was remedied by a resolution of the council in May 2001.

Sometimes the parish is referred to as “Church Stretton and Little Stretton”; the present-day parish was formed by the addition of the former Little Stretton parish and part of All Stretton parish (the remainder still exists as a separate parish). This is effectively a return to the situation before 1899, when the old civil parish of Church Stretton was split into three, though the modern parish does not include that part of All Stretton parish that was not transferred in 1934.

The Town Council have their offices at 60 High Street and hold their meetings at the nearby Silvester Horne Institute, also on High Street.

From 1894 to 1966 the town was an urban district (a form of local government) in its own right, before becoming part of Ludlow Rural District (the separate Church Stretton Rural District had already been abolished in 1934) and the contemporary civil parish was then established. The Urban District Council was based at offices on Beaumont Road, where Beaumont Court now is. In 1974 the system of urban and rural districts was replaced and the town came under South Shropshire non-metropolitan district and Shropshire non-metropolitan county. The most recent change in local government occurred in 2009 when Shropshire became a unitary area with Shropshire Council replacing South Shropshire District Council and Shropshire County Council.

Church Stretton is part of the Shropshire Council electoral division (or ward) of ‘Church Stretton and Craven Arms’. In the 2009 council elections the electorate of this ward returned two councillors, both Conservative.

On a national level, Church Stretton is located within the Ludlow constituency.

The local geology is complex; the area lies astride the Church Stretton Fault and atop some of the oldest rocks in England – formed over 560 million years ago. On 2 April 1990, another nearby fault – the Pontesford-Linley Fault – registered an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 on the Richter scale, known as the Bishop’s Castle earthquake. The area also plays a part in the history of geology: the three major subdivsions of the Lower Paleozoic are named for local celtic tribes – Cambrian, Ordovician & Silurian. Also, Comley Quarry is about 2.5 miles (4 km) from the town and the first site in the British Isles where trilobites were recorded.

The A49 (a primary route and trunk road) runs through the Stretton Gap, connecting Shrewsbury to the north with Ludlow and Hereford to the south. The B5477 runs through the villages of All Stretton and Little Stretton, as well as the historic core and town centre of Church Stretton. The B4371 starts at the B5477 in the town centre and heads east, having a crossroads junction with the A49, then up to Hazler and on towards Much Wenlock. The B4371 in the town (on both sides of the A49) is known as Sandford Avenue and is partially lined with lime trees.

The B5477 was, until renumbered in 2004, the northern section of the B4370. The renumbering to B5477 is inexplicable in two ways – the number does not comply with the Great Britain road numbering scheme (it is “out-of-zone”) and is already in use in Wallasey.

The Burway is an ancient route which leads up from the town to the plateau on the Long Mynd and is Shropshire’s highest public road, reaching 492 metres (1,614 ft) above sea level and passing close to the highest point of the Long Mynd, called Pole Bank (516 m). Running along the plateau of the Long Mynd is another ancient route called the Portway, though not all of this is open to motor traffic. The Burway is a through-route allowing traffic (though not goods vehicles or caravans or similar) to cross over the Long Mynd westwards to either Ratlinghope or Asterton (the route splits into two at Boiling Well). In winter, deep snow can often make the Burway impassible however, even in modern times. The gliding club on the southern end of the Long Mynd can be accessed via the Burway from either Asterton or Church Stretton. The part of the road within the town is called Burway Road and begins at the crossroads in the town centre, where the B5477 and B4371 meet.

The Welsh Marches Line runs through the town parallel to (and west of) the A49 road. The town has its own station, situated off Sandford Avenue just east of the town centre, near the junction of the A49 and B4371. The railway was originally built as the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway in 1852. Trains on the Heart of Wales Line also call at the station. Today there are direct train services to Shrewsbury, Chester, Holyhead, Crewe, Manchester, Ludlow, Hereford, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. The station has a large number of passengers using it considering the town’s population — it is the sixth busiest station in Shropshire.

The mineral water extraction and bottling plant on Shrewsbury Road (known locally as the ‘Pop Works’), has been operating since 1883 and since 2004 has provided Princes with mineral water. It is a notable local employer as is the polymer laboratories off Essex Road, currently owned by Agilent Technologies (until 2009 by Varian). There is a designated light industrial area situated between the A49 and the railway line, known as Crossways, with a number of local businesses operating, many of which are of the motoring trade, including a BP petrol station.

The town benefits from tourism, which is a growth industry in the area, as well as attracting local trade. A recent survey showed that the town has some fifty retail outlets, 44 of which are independently owned, with a high diversity of shop types. The offer in the town centre includes two butchers, several outdoor activities shops, a baker, a delicatessen, several clothes and shoe shops, three banks, and two supermarkets (Co-op and Spar). There is a large antiques market, situated in a former malthouse on the corner of Sandford Avenue and Easthope Road. There are four pubs,a as well as a number of cafes and small restaurants. In June 2011 the town was officially declared to be a “Fairtrade Town” with 34 businesses selling fair trade products. A small art gallery exists in the former hotel on the corner of Shrewsbury Road and Sandford Avenue. The town also has a number of professional services, such as solicitors, accountants and estate agents, confirming its status as a local centre of business.

The town continues to benefit from its reputation as a spa town, giving it a desirable status as a place to live, especially for retirement. House prices are above the county average and have seen similar increases in recent times as other spa towns in the UK.

The novelist Henry Kingsley (1830–1876) wrote “Stretton” based around this area, and Oliver Sandys’ book, “Quaint Place” is set in Church Stretton. Mary Webb’s works also made reference to the town, under the name “Shepwardine”. The Lone Pine Club series of children’s books by Malcolm Saville is also partly set in the area.

Church Stretton is a major centre for the sport of archery, and there is also a gliding air field and station atop the Long Mynd, owned by the Midland Gliding Club. As well as gliding, the activities of paragliding, hang gliding and similar aerial pursuits take place from the Long Mynd. Church Stretton became a Walkers Are Welcome town in 2009, the first in the West Midlands, and its many well-maintained footpaths over the Long Mynd and the Stretton Hills help make it a major walking centre for Shropshire. In the town itself, sports facilities are provided adjacent to the schools, just off Shrewsbury Road, which include a swimming pool and a recently opened 4 court sports & leisure centre, and the town council provide facilities (such as a BMX facility, crazy golf, hard tennis courts, a bowling green and a croquet pitch) at the town park (situated between the A49 and the railway).

In recent times, on a June Saturday the town holds a summer festival (“Summerfest”), organised by volunteers and the town’s chamber of trade. The town centre’s streets and car parks are closed to traffic, as stalls, entertainment and activities take place throughout the town, including a classic car and steam rally. In the evening there is a concert in Rectory Field.

In the centre of the town is the historic parish church dedicated to Lawrence of Rome, situated on the corner of Churchway and Church Street, and with its own small graveyard surrounding it. (This graveyard was succeeded by a cemetery at the foot of Cunnery Road, which in turn has been replaced by one near Brockhurst.) It is the town’s Church of England church and is one of three in the ecclesiastical parish of Church Stretton, along with the churches in All Stretton and Little Stretton (which were built around 1900). The parish is part of the Diocese of Hereford. The church’s name is written either as “Lawrence” or “Laurence”, though the latter is used more for the church itself. St Laurence’s Church has a remnant of its Anglo-Saxon origins: a stone carved fertility symbol called a Sheela na gig.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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