Church Stretton is a town that looks old, which indeed it is, since King John granted it a Market Charter in 1214 and a small market is still held there every Thursday in the square. However, the many black-and-white buildings that make the town so attractive give the impression that they are medieval in date, which most of them are not. These antique looking houses were in fact built, for the most part, in the late 19 th and early part of the 20 th century when the town had aspirations of becoming a fashionable health resort.
Church Stretton encompasses three settlements in one. Little Stretton stands 1.5 miles to the south and incorporates a number of fine timber-framed buildings, some genuine others perpetrating the same deceit as above. All Saints Church, for example, with its neat thatch, Gothic windows and close-set timbers was not built until 1903. All Stretton lies a similar distance from Church Stretton to the north. Tradition has it that James I distinguished between the three when he arrived first at Little Stretton and gave it that name, then proceeded to Church Stretton and so named it because of its Norman church. Finally, he arrived at the third Stretton and is said to have remarked "Its all Stretton about here" and thus All Stretton came about.
The remains of the genuine medieval town of Church Stretton are to be found in the High Street, once a part of the important Bristol to Chester coaching route. Some ancient buildings can be found here rubbing shoulders with later 18 th and 19 th cent structures, which tend to be half-timbered and more conventionally Georgian and Victorian.
Located at the back of the High Street is the charming parish church of St Laurence, a 12 th century Norman structure built on the site of a Saxon foundation. The naïve and tower are both Norman in origin, although the naive roof is 14 th century, and various other amendments date from the 17 th century. Above the bricked-up Norman north door, known in the past as the Corpse Door because the dead were taken through it, is a well-worn medieval pagan fertility figure, the sheel-na-gig . Over the aisle hangs a poignant memorial to a tragic event that occurred in 1968 when three young boys died in a hotel fire. The memorial takes the form of a gridiron with twisted flakes of copper simulating flames. The significance of the gridiron is that it was the symbol of St Laurence who was burnt to death in AD258. In the south transept is a small memorial window to the Victorian novelist Sarah Smith, who wrote under the nom de plume Herba Stretton. She became a regular visitor to All Stretton and the figure in green on the window represents her book Jessica's First Prayer.
Sandford Avenue, a wide spacious boulevard, was created by the Reverend Holland Sandford in 1884, and its attractive buildings represent Victoriana at its most decorative. At one end of the street stood the Crown Inn where the three boys lost their lives - it never became a hotel again, although there is a pub called The Hotel on the present site.
Wherever you wander in Church Stretton you are reminded of the town's growth in the late 19 th and early 20 th century. Shops, hotels and restaurants sprung-up as a result of the town's single-minded endeavours to establish itself as a leading health resort, emboldened by the knowledge that its natural springs of pure water were second to none in the country. The town certainly had natural advantages but it was not those of its springs that encouraged Victorians to gravitate to the town, rather it was the local scenery. Visitors came principally to enjoy the ‘very bracing and exhilarating surroundings' as the publicity of the time quite accurately described the neighbouring countryside.
Cardingmill Valley is particularly attractive, lying only a mile from the town centre; it derives its name from an old mill now long demolished. This is one of the ‘hidden' valleys carved deep into the ancient range of hills known as The Long Mynd. This imposing ridge of hills rise to 1700ft and encompass acres of wild moorland, cascading waterfalls, sparkling icy clear springs, bracken-covered hillsides, panoramic views and some of the best walking routes in the country.
Another fine walk, taking you back in time and history to the 1 st century AD, lies two miles north-east of Church Stretton. Here sits brooding the desolate rocky ridge known as Caer Caradoc , where the British chieftain Caractacus made his last brave stand against the Roman invader in 50 BC. Halfway down the heather-clad western slope of this 1506ft high outcrop is a cave where Caractacus fought a last savage battle with the Roman legions, before defeat saw him captured and sent to Rome as a prize of war.