Clun – The Quietest Place Under the Sun?
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun…
A E Housman’s poem perfectly captures what I particularly like about Clun, one of my favourite small towns. The poem appears in a collection of 63 poems known as ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and when the collection was published in 1896, before the coming of the motor age, Clun must have been a very sleepy place. And this reputation had obviously lingered for a long time, because Housman did not write those lines, but quoted an old country rhyme. I lived close to Clun in the 1990s and apart from the intrusion of modern road vehicles, the town had a timeless feel about it (and still does) and I always half expected to see Housman himself come striding by.
Clun Town and Castle. Photo: Courtesy of public domain
Clun Church Photo: Courtesy of public domain
The town of Clun (although it has no more than 700 residents, it is officially a town) lies in southwestern Shropshire, amongst the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and just a few miles from the Welsh border. Clun (Welsh: Colunwy) takes its name from the river upon whose banks it stands and grew up around the site of a Saxon church towards the end of the 7th century AD. At the time of the Norman Conquest Clun formed part of the extensive lands of the Anglo-Saxon magnate Eadric the Wild (I suspect a bit of Norman bias here), who led a revolt against King William I, after which his lands were confiscated and given to Roger de Montgomery who was created Earl of Shrewsbury. Roger in turn granted 27 manors, of which Clun was the largest, to Picot de Say. These lands constituted a single Marcher Lordship which became known as the Barony of Clun. The Normans established a borough (something only given to important towns, which gave them a measure of self-government) near the castle and the typical grid pattern of this town planning is still visible in the layout of High Street, Newport Street, Kidd Lane, Powell's Lane, Ford Street and Hospital Lane. And in later centuries, when peace had finally come to the Welsh Marches, Clun was on the historic drove road where flocks and herds were driven from Wales to the markets in the Midlands and London, although the town lost its own market a long time ago.
Market Square in Clun Photo: Courtesy of public domain
The town is dominated by the ruins of Clun Castle, built on the site of the original Norman motte and bailey castle. It was once one of the most important Marcher Lord castles, but had become little more than a hunting lodge by the 15th century and was ‘slighted’ (deliberately damaged to reduce its value as a military structure) during the English Civil War in the 17th century. Today the remains of the keep still stands, together with other towers and walls. Enough to indicate how large and impressive it must have once been. There is a 14th-century pack horse bridge that crosses the river, and which originally connected Saxon Clun to Norman Clun. It has given rise to a local saying: ‘Whoever crosses Clun Bridge comes back sharper than he went’. Another example of Norman bias I suspect.
The 14th century packhorse bridge Photo: Courtesy of public domain
Located to the north of the town is the early 19th century Clun Mill, once a watermill. It is nicknamed the ‘malevolent mill’, on account of the numerous deaths that have been recorded there and the number of occupants who have disappeared after purchasing it. The mill was last used around 1920 and is now a youth hostel. The town has 3 pubs: The White Horse, the Crown Inn and the Sun Inn. My favourite is the 15th century Sun Inn, which I regard as the perfect country pub. It is still full of character and when I used it regularly always reminded me of The Prancing Pony in Bree, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, although, sadly, I never saw any hobbits!
Clun Mill has a rather dark history Photo: Courtesy of public domain
The 15th century Sun Inn Photo: Courtesy of public domain
Clun is a perfect base for exploring the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches, and will be included in my Welsh Marches Tour, which I am hoping to run (Covid-19 allowing) next year.
The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Photo: Courtesy of public domain