Local History - History of Ratlinghope

Apart from the fact that it has a Youth Hostel, Ratlinghope has always been a resting place and a refuge for travellers in the Shropshire Hills.

Although so remote it has been inhabited since before history.

On Ratlinghope Hill there are two camps, one of them strong and extensive; there are several peculiar earthworks and numerous barrows (but no hill forts) on the Longmynd. There is a Celtic village site at the Plowden end of the ridge.

The Portway is now thought to be an early medieval track.

After the camp occupation came the Saxon settlement that gave the place its name "the Valley of Rotels people". The name of this pioneer derives from a word meaning "merry". The county of Rutland may also derive its name from the same people.

At the time of the Domesday Book this Parish was divided into three Manors and in 1204 the manor of Cotaldicote was given to Haughmond Abbey; and the Abbot built a small chapel at Stitt. It is possible that the stone there from was used to build a wainhouse on the left hand side of the road from Ratlinghope to Shrewsbury.

There was also an Augustinian cell of Wigmore Abbey near the small Parish Church.

The Prior appears to have been a friend of the Welsh prince Llewellyn the Great who expressed his displeasure at attacks on the Priory by his chiefs.

Until the 1860's Ratlinghope Church was served by ministers from other parishes.

In January 1875 the Rev'd E D Carr of Woolstaston missed his way home on the Longmynd after taking the afternoon service at Ratlinghope; He wandered around on the moor for twenty two hours before arriving at Church Stretton.

 He initiated a scheme for a vicarage by which Ratlinghope would have its own resident minister. Mr Scott, Lord of the Manor, gave eight acres of land which would provide a small farm holding and add to the stipend and the subscription list was headed by his gift of £250. The vicarage was completed in the late 1870's, the first minister being the Rev'd Notley. In recent years the Glebe House was the Post Office, but this is now closed, whilst the parish is served from Wentnor.

Saint Margaret Church

The Church of St Margaret nestles between Ratlinghope Hill and the high moors of the Longmynd, in a valley carved by the passage of ice over some of the oldest rocks in the kingdom.  The scattered community of Ratlinghope, or 'Ratchup', as it has been known since early times, is accessible only by narrow winding lanes; indeed, little has changed since the peace and tranquillity of the village prompted the Shropshire authoress Mary Webb to name it 'Slepe' in her novel 'Golden Arrow'. 

The first settlement here was the Iron-Age enclosure of Castle Ring atop Ratlinghope Hill, adjoining an ancient trackway which avoided the ill-drained land in Darnford Valley.  The Romans evidently passed the valley by, though on the way they dropped a few coins as they crossed a hill near Thresholds, to the north-west of the village.  In Norman times the lands of Ratlinghope, amounting to 2 hides (probably about 120 acres), were held by Robert, son of Corbet, but the Domesday Book of 1086 records that 'They are and were waste'; the colonisation and cultivation of the valley seems to have taken place a century or so later.

Sometime between 1199 and 1209 the manor of Ratlinghope was acquired by Walter Corbet, a descendant of Robert. Walter was an Augustinian canon, presumably of  Wigmore Abbey in north Herefordshire, since he subsequently transferred about 60 acres of land to that abbey.  By 1209 the 'Black Canons' of Wigmore had founded a small cell at Ratlinghope for a prior and seven brethren.  In addition to the land, Walter Corbet bequeathed something of great value in those turbulent times of the Border Country.  He wrote to his kinsman Llywelyn ap Iorworth, Prince of North Wales, and persuaded him to instruct his border chieftains not to molest the priory and its lands 'which had been acquired for a pious purpose'.  At that time the manor was extra-parochial and there are few records of the priory.  However, it was clearly the administrative centre of an estate which supplied produce to the main abbey at Wigmore.  By the mid-13th century the canons had extended cultivation in the valley to include the lower slopes of the Longmynd.  In 1291 the total value of the property was recorded as £3-12-0 (£3.60) per annum, presumably the income from tenant farmers, and this included 10/- (50p) from a corn mill, but the priory itself only had 4 cows and 10 sheep.  A similar sum was reported for 1535, shortly before the dissolution of the parent abbey.  The records do not indicate whether the Augustinians were then still at Ratlinghope, but the parish had come into being, as part of the Deanery of Pontesbury.

In 1545 Henry VIII granted the manor, along with the mill and its lands, to Robert Long, a London mercer.  The patronage subsequently passed to the Hunt family and then, in 1845, to Robert Wellbeloved-Scott of Stourbridge, Worcestershire, and Great Barr, Staffordshire (now both in the West Midlands), who was a barrister-at-law and M.P. for Walsall.  The patronage remained with the Scott family until the estate was sold piecemeal by the Public Trustee in 1920 and passed to the Dean of Christchurch College, Oxford, in 1989.

The site chosen by the Augustinians for the priory was the former bed of a glacial lake, one of the few level tracts of land in the valley.  There are no visible remains of the domestic buildings, though there is a tradition that foundations could formerly be seen to the north of the church and indeed there are traces of earthworks in the adjoining field.  The church has been much restored over the years and nothing of the architectural detail appears to be mediaeval, aside from a single dressed stone incorporated in the north-east quoin, which was part of a window.  However, an excavation outside the north wall of the chancel, made during an archaeological survey prior to the 1992 restoration, revealed somewhat crude foundations constructed of small blocks and fragments of local stone, roughly coursed and bonded with brown clay.  Two fragments of an early mediaeval earthenware cooking pot were recovered, one being embedded immediately beneath the lowest course of the foundations, suggesting that the latter were part of the original priory church.  In another trench, near the north-east corner of the churchyard, what appeared to be the cobbled surface of a yard was discovered at a depth of about 2 feet (0.6 m).  By the time of the Reformation the church and domestic buildings may have been in a ruinous condition, having been used as a source of building material.  The most suitable local material for building purposes is the Pentamerus limestone, known as 'Government Rock', due to its abundance of arrow-like fossils.  This came from quarries near Norbury and it may have been used by the Augustinians, since their route from Wigmore would have been close to the outcrop. It is not now evident in the fabric of the church, but there is an abundance of it in the mill and in older barns and other buildings in the valley.

The thickness of existing masonry suggests that the lower part of the west wall, the north and east walls and the south wall of the chancel survived from the priory church, at least in part, and that only the south wall of the nave was completely rebuilt.  A porch was added and this work may date from the early 17th century, when the church was adapted for parochial use, or from a later 18th century restoration.   All walls visible from the road, or when approaching the church from the south, were faced with blocks of Stiperstones quartzite.  The restorers did not take the same trouble over the north wall, which is mainly of darker Longmyndian rubble-masonry, with later patches of pale quartzite.  There is also evidence of a blocked window in this wall.

On a semi-pictorial map of 1698 the church dominates the village; it is shown as having a high roof over the nave and a tall tower at the west end, surmounted by a large cross.  However, this was probably more fantasy than fact and then, as now, the church would have had a simple plan, with a continuous nave and chancel and a weatherboard belfry.  The massive south door is of interest;  it is made of oak, is heavily studded with wrought-iron nails and bears the inscription 'Anno Domini 1625 made and given by Humpfrey Biggs and Tho. Bright then Churchwardens'.  The two western trusses of the fine tie-beam roof are probably of the same date.

After acquiring the manor in 1845, Robert Scott's main contribution to the fabric of the church was the insertion of a double iron-framed window in the south-west corner of the nave, then the only one on the south side of the church.  This type of window, with distinctive lancet lights at the top, was installed c. 1850 in farms, houses and inns throughout the Scott estates.  Many examples can be seen in the parishes of Norbury, Ratlinghope and Wentnor, though they are gradually being replaced by modern windows.  The oak communion table, dated 1844 and bearing the initials TD CP JW, is of this period, though the wrought-iron communion rail appears to be mid-Georgian.

A major restoration of the church was undertaken in 1904/5 by Scott's daughter-in-law, Mahlah, in memory of her husband's family and also her parents, who lived at Cradley in Worcestershire.  The main structural alteration was the replacement of all the existing windows and the provision of two additional ones in the south wall, all in neo-Gothic style.  The three-light east window  is a memorial to Robert, his wife Sarah, and his son John Charles Addyes-Scott.  It portrays the incident in the temple at Jerusalem (Luke, 2, 41-50); Jesus, then twelve years old, is depicted in the centre light 'in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions'.  Peering over a wall are an anxious Joseph and Mary.  The window in the south wall of the chancel, a conventional 'Madonna and Child', is in memory of Scott's two daughters, Mary and Annie, and one in the south wall of the nave, depicting the Good Shepherd, is dedicated to Mahlah's parents.  The replacement of Robert Scott's iron-framed window contains clear glass.

The present pitch-pine pews were added at this time and oak panels from the earlier box pews can be seen in the chancel, around the east end of the church.  A small vestry was provided; previously the north-east corner of the chancel had been used for this purpose.  The heavy roof covering of shingle was replaced by Welsh slate and an oak Celtic cross, which was renewed in 1980, was mounted on the eastern gable.  A plaque high on the outside of the west wall commemorates the restoration and the reopening of the church by the Bishop of Hereford in October 1905.   Substantial restoration was again necessary in 1992, when the church was re-roofed, the floor in the chancel was re-laid using existing tiles, and various minor improvements were carried out.

There are only three memorials inside the church.  Two commemorate those who served in the two World Wars and the third is to Samuel Munslow of Far (Upper) Darnford who, in his will of 13th March 1847, bequeathed £10 to be invested, 'the interest to be given annually on St Thomas's Day ... to the poorest and most deserving widows and orphans belonging to the parish'.  The plain octagonal font came from Hanwood church.  The building is now heated electrically, but previously there was a coal-fired stove at the west end of the church which had been obtained from Windsor Castle and this, in turn, replaced a stove in the south-east corner of the chancel.

There are three fine yews of great age near the porch and more in the field near the path from the road, suggesting that at one time the churchyard was larger than at present.  Mahlah Addyes-Scott is buried to the west of the path, near the porch, and nearby is a taller monument to members of the Munslow family.  This bears a poignant record of the death of four children of Richard and Ann Munslow.  Three died during the first week of May in 1870, reputedly of whooping cough.  The gateway at the entrance to the churchyard was constructed in 1997 to commemorate the 1992 restoration.  The pillars are of local stone interspersed with blocks of Stiperstones quartzite, to reflect the building materials used in the church.  The existing wrought-iron gate, which may date from the 1904/5 restoration, was retained.  A botanical survey of the churchyard in 1998 identified an outstanding meadow flora.  There is a profusion of wildflowers which were once common, particularly in traditionally-managed hay fields, but have now declined due to changes in the countryside, notably in farming methods.  The churchyard is now managed, by means of selective mowing in the appropriate season, in order to maintain the diversity of its flora

The parish registers date from about 1700 and are now kept in Shropshire Archives at Shrewsbury, where there is also a list of monumental inscriptions.  

J. Ian LangfordJanuary 2005

Part of a 1698 map of the Manor of Ratlinghope

Manor of Ratlinghope