An Introduction and Brief History

The Church of St Margaret nestles between Ratlinghope Hill and the high moors of the Long Mynd, 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 Long Mynd. 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 fact the link with Wigmore continued for a while, since in 1555 one of the earliest incumbents recorded was Lawrence Johnson, a former canon of the abbey.

In 1545 Henry VIII granted the manor, along with the mill and its lands, to Robert Long, a London mercer, but before long the patronage passed to the Hunt family of Boreatton Hall and eventually, though marriage, to the Hawkins. In fact the Rev. John Hawkins was the incumbent in 1795. In 1845 the manor was acquired by 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. The patronage passed to the Dean of Christchurch College, Oxford, in 1989.

Ratlinghope was the centre of a dramatic incident in the winter of 1865. The Reverend Edmund Donald Carr, vicar of Woolstaston on the northern foothills of the Long Mynd, had conducted an afternoon service on Sundays at St Margaret's Church since 1857. (See list of incumbents.) He normally travelled the four miles by horse with a servant, but after a heavy fall of snow with some difficulty he walked over the hill on his own. He managed to get to Ratlinghope, but was determined to return in time for an evening service at Woolstaston and on the way back became hopelessly lost. The next day, after wandering around the hill for 22 hours, he staggered down to Cardingmill Valley, more dead than alive. He recovered fully from his ordeal and related his adventure in 'A Night in the Snow', which has been reprinted. As a result of the Reverend Carr's adventures, Ratlinghope had its own rector and in 1875 a rectory was built at The Stitt (Glebe House).

The parish registers date from about 1700 and, except current ones, are kept in the Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury, where there is also a list of monumental inscriptions. A transcipt of the records from 1755 to 1812 is available on-line.

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