On The Way To Myndtown, To See Which Way The Fish Blows

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I’d noticed the sign on several occasions as we’d passed by – a brown heritage sign at the turn to Wentnor on the Bishops Castle road. It sounded tantalising: 12th century Myndtown Church 1¼. On Saturday, after a fish and chip lunch in Poppies in Bishops Castle we decided to take a look.

To say it’s off the beaten track succinctly sums it up. The lane is narrow, a car’s width between verged hedgerows, gateway glimpses only of the pasture and wheat fields on either hand. No sign of habitation, only the Long Mynd looming ahead, and so it’s not long before we are questioning the wisdom of the excursion. For one thing its another of those odd Shropshire moments: here we are in wide open country yet apparently heading for a place with ‘town’ in the name? Surely not.

Surely is right. After about a mile we pass the sign to Myndtown Cottage. No house is visible, only the name board and dirt track approach. And finally, around the next bend, and on a little plateau above another sign, this time to Myndtown Farm, there it is – Myndtown Church of 12th century origins.

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The church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, its east end nudging towards the Mynd. There is also a barn and a venerable house nearby. And in the field opposite a pony under an ancient apple tree, a snoozing sheep for company. And finally, views of Shropshire hill country all around.

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But have you spotted the fish? As one brought up with 1950s I-spy books to ensure I passed the time quietly on long car journeys, I feel sure a ‘weather cock’ in piscine form would have merited a good 25 points.

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And while I have you looking skywards, look higher still. There are gliders up there too, drifting silently between the clouds. They are launched from the top of the Long Mynd where the Midlands Gliding Club has its HQ.

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Back to earth in the church yard, all is peace and late summer sunshine, blackberries ripening on the wall, no sounds but wind-rush and bird call. Listen! says Graham. No traffic noise. I listen. There isn’t. It’s almost unimaginable these days. Also the white painted church door suggests an airy welcome somehow, and inside we’re struck by the amazing roof timbers, the tub-shaped early medieval font, the simplicity of the place that began in the 1100s or possibly earlier still, and was rescued from ruin in the 21st century by a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Services are still held here once a month although not in March because this is lambing time. These days it is one of a group of neighbouring rural churches – Norbury, Wentnor, and Ratlinghope – all served by a single rector.

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By the door we find all sorts of interesting historical snippets on a series of notice boards. For instance Myndtown makes its historical debut in 1086, during William the Conqueror’s famous auditing exercise, otherwise known as the Domesday Book. At this time the manor, then known as Munete, was part of the hundred of Rinlau whose lord was a Norman incomer, Robert de Say. He let the manor of Munete to a free man called Leofric, presumably a Saxon. The assets included 1½ hides of land, about 240 acres, sufficient for 3½ ploughs. Of the population at this time, there were 2 slaves, 4 villagers, and 4 small holders with 2 ploughs between them. Before the Conquest the holding was valued at 60 shillings, but only 30 shillings at the time of the audit, a reduction, historians suggest, possibly due to predation by raiders from over the border in nearby Wales.

In a later, and sombrely touching account from  1341, the tax assessors reduce the Chapel of Munede’s bill to the Crown from £4’s worth of parish lamb, wool, wheat, to less than half this amount: “because the lands lay fallow and untilled, the Tenants being poor.”

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And so the Myndtown name turns out to be misleading. There never was a town here, or hardly even a hamlet. In 1708 under the lordship of Richard Clough there were 4 houses and 4 cottages. In 1793 there were still 8 households and a population of 39. During the 18th century the manor was bought and sold to and by members of the local gentry who received rents from the 3 tenant farms therein. The last sale was in 1797 to the Plowden family who own it today and have lived nearby since the 1200s.

In some ways, then, and in some key matters, things have changed less than we imagine in the almost thousand years since William of Normandy effected regime change in Saxon England. So it does make me very happy to know that since 1965 the Long Mynd itself – the 7-mile long hill that you can see looking down on Myndtown – has been owned and managed by the National Trust, the degraded uplands constantly being improved and made ever more accessible to anyone who cares to hike, bike, trek, wild swim or wander there – definitely a change to celebrate. Incidentally, now I come to think of it, it’s also the way the fish is blowing – towards the Mynd.

But finally another nugget of information gathered while inside Myndtown Church – that from 1155 until 1752 the English year began, not on 1st January, but on the 25th March, Lady Day. This is still a date when estate rents are traditionally paid, which as it happens, also includes the rent for my allotment plot.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

57 thoughts on “On The Way To Myndtown, To See Which Way The Fish Blows

  1. Tish, I can’t picture you anywhere other than your beautiful Mynd. I have such happy memories of the walk we did along the tops, and that lovely timbered church. Peace and quiet itself. No service in lambing season! Says it all 🤗🐑💕

      1. That IS it. I said to Graham as we drove home that I really felt as if we’d just had a holiday. We’d only been there an hour or so. Taken out of ourselves, as my mother used to say.

  2. My favorite sort of adventure and discovery! The lack of traffic noise is icing on a lovely cake. As you say, it’s rather rare these days. Thanks for letting me tag along and relax in this beautiful spot.

    janet

  3. Tish, Loveliest of posts. Thank you.

    Slaves? 2 slaves you say. Do you know anything about them? Their ethnicity, for example? Welsh, do you think?

    This is the only time I have read mention of a cross-quarter day still functioning like this! I take it that you are saying that that you pay your allotment fee on Lady’s Day is not an accident?

    Loveliest of posts. Thank you! Sarah

    1. It’s frustrating not to know more about the slaves. But I seem to remember slavery was part and parcel of Saxon life. I was surprised, though, to see it continuing under Norman rule. Must look into it. As to my allotment rent, we always have our AGM around Lady Day and this is when we pay our rents. Our landlord is Wenlock Estates – an enduring feudal entity of the sort that is very common in Shropshire where much of land (and it’s a very large county) is still owned by dynastic families, and thus where such traditions still persist.

      1. I just saw that in 1086, the Domesday Book count of slaves was that 10% of the population of England were slaves and that the category merged with serfdom under Norman rule but not all at once, of course.

        As you say, it is interesting how structures persist over hundreds of years. It is important also because you cannot change anything, if change is needed, unless you know what changed.

        Shall keep you all in mind today as Westminster goes through contortions. Sure you are all perplexed and anxious as I am.

        Sarah

  4. Fascinating story about a wonderfully out-of-the-way place. – Eye-Spy books – do they still publish I wonder. A New Year that starts on 25th March makes much sense – a fascinating fact that I must use somehow 🙂

  5. Good morning Tish. This stroll back through time was beautiful….I love the images and am always glad to know that there are still quiet corners of this kingdom that are not built up and spoiled. Thank you so much….Janet x

    1. Hello, Janet. I’m so happy to have you strolling with me through the Shropshire Hills. And as you say, so good to know there are still quiet enclaves like this. Shropshire is well blessed with them too.

  6. I really enjoyed that, Tish. What a gem of a place. I don’t know Shropshire at all well and would love to explore it a little. I wonder what Leofric would have made of his place if he could see it now. And indeed what he’d think about your visit. Great photos too – the shot of the pony suggests something that’s made its way from the pages of a book on Arthurian legends.

    1. Hi Mike. There’s a lot to go at in Shrophsire – exploration-wise, so well worth a visit. That’s an interesting notion looking at ourselves through the eyes of predecessors. I’m guessing the landscape would look very different – at least below the Mynd – strip farmed fields for one. Domesday mentions one hedged enclosure – perhaps for farm stock (?). I’m also wondering now if the hill was originally forested or if it had already been grazed to moorland by this time. There are Bronze Age field systems up there, and a prehistoric trade route crosses the Mynd. Feeling an Alan Garner moment coming over me!

  7. What a wonderful adventure. I love the pony and the sheep under the old apple tree. I would have been happy to sit there with them, contemplating the scenery. It’s always interesting to remember how calendars were once organised and that there are still vestiges of those calendars in modern times.

  8. Another lovely journey in rural areas, how beautiful an area too. You know Tish, I think you enjoy the exact sort of trip and subject of photography as I do. A great and interesting blog post, much enjoyed.

  9. What an interesting and beautiful to place to visit – bit of a time warp. I really like the relative simplicity of the church. I not heard the term “hide” as a measure of land before – had to look it up! Also most interesting. I think that the pony resembles a hornless unicorn 🙂

  10. What a lovely adventure! I often pass similar signs to churches here and one day I must actually make the time to go and visit. You found out an awful lot about this place, extremely interesting. I am still wondering about the fish though. Narrow lanes I also know well. I hope there were passing places – I hate having to reverse, especially on turning and twisting lanes! Your hunt for the church reminds me of our drive to see the tiny church St Mary the Virgin, Capel y Ffin in the Brecon Beacons. We drove from Hay-on-Wye on a narrow road wondering what on earth we were doing!

  11. One feels so tempted, after your posts, to visit the English countryside for weeks.
    Alas! I may soon probably need a visa. 😦
    Bon week-end memsahib.
    I hate to break my no news rule to see what happens to poor Albion.
    Read King lear instead. I thought I’d already read it but no.
    The fool has an interesting tirade:
    “when usurers tell their gold in th’field
    “and bawds and whores do churches build
    “then shall the realm of Albion
    “come to great confusion.”
    Dear old Will never ceases to amaze me.

    1. WS has us taped, didn’t he. All our failings and foibles well skewered. Happy weekend to you too, Brian. Over here in UK we’ll try not to be submerged by cheap schoolboy antics from our leader.

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