Start at Howells Bridge Car Park, EX23 9BY (1). There is a bus stop very close by.
From the car park entrance turn right along Spicer’s Lane (formerly Bank Lane) passing Tudor Cottage (2) built in the 17th century and one of the few remaining thatched dwellings in Stratton.
Near the top of the lane turn into the cobbled courtyard by Hillside House to Gilbraltar Square (3) which gets its name from the house with two commemorative plaques built by Robert Smith who fought with the 12th Regiment of Foot (The Suffolks) at the siege of Gibraltar in 1785. To the left of Robert Smith’s house is a drangway or passage with 15th century granite arches. It is probably the through passage of a house which was partly demolished when Gibraltar House was built. Its lateral chimney stack is behind Drangway Cottage.
Through the drangway enter Jubilee Square (4), so named because the houses which once occupied this space were cleared in 1887, the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. Proceed right along Diddies Road with the churchyard wall on your left, past some charming 18th and 19th century houses in a part of the town called Sanctuary. There seems to be no record of any special protection for fugitives from justice here although the name must refer to the sanctuary lands of the Manor of Stratton which, as an early date, were held by St. Stephen’s Priory at Launceston.
At Sanctuary Cottage (5), turn sharp left along a lane leading back to the churchyard to enter by an iron gate. Immediately on the right is a tomb (6) with a bronze figure of a harping youth by the sculptor, Toma Rosandic (born 1876). Take the path round the east end of the church to the south porch. Keep an ear open for the Guildford chimes of the church clock, installed in 1872, replacing an earlier one which may well have superseded the sundial over the south entrance.
St. Andrew’s (7), the parish church, is one of many examples of fine church architecture in North Cornwall. It began as a 12th century Norman church of which there is little visible evidence except the stoup on the right of the porch door and the font. The north aisle, with its fine arcade of Polyphant stone dates from 1346 when Sir Ralph de Blanchminster, who held the Manor of Stratton for a knight’s fee, gave the fabric for its building.
The tower was built about 50 years later, circa 1400, and the south aisle another half century after that. This time the arcade is of granite with loftier arches in the perpendicular style. The final reconstruction of the church in its present form took place in 1544 when the chancel was rebuilt. The stained-glass windows are mainly 19th century. Notice particularly the east chancel window which is from the workshop of Morris & Company to a design by Edward Burne-Jones.
In the window of the north wall is a mutilated effigy of a knight which may have been removed from the south transept of the Norman church. Tradition has it that the knight was an earlier Ralph de Blanchminster who went on crusade to the Holy Land in 1270 with Prince Edward, later King Edward I. On the west wall is the cover of a chest tomb with brasses which commemorates Sir John Arundell of Trerice, his two wives and their children. He died at Efford Manor in 1561. The town stocks are preserved in another window and, with the door of the old town Clink which can be seen in the porch, are reminders of the rough justice of an earlier day. At one time Stratton also had its cucking or leaping stool. The ring of eight bells in the tower was re-hung in 1911. Look out for some unusual tapestry seat-cushions in the rear pews with designs representing several different bell-ringer’s changes.
Leaving the church, turn right towards the lych gate. Notice as you pass the unusual tower buttresses faced to an angle and the west door of the tower, which is of Ham Hill Stone, used during the extensive church restoration of the 1880s to replace the original, worn Polyphant stone. On the right of the path is a chest tomb with a granite cover on which is inscribed ‘Nicholas Westlake his body here lies. His dearest friend this tomb did devise. His happiness can no higher stand by works of mortal hand.’ The date is 1621.
Back in Jubilee Square (4), give a thought for all the bustle of the weekly market for corn and provisions and the three fair days of the year on 19th May, 8th November and 11th December, which must once have kept the numerous ale houses busy.
Of the inns, the Ring of Bells (8) was the 16th century house with an arched entrance on the right. Below it was the Church House, also 16th century, now Church Cottage, and next door (1 and 2 Church Street) was a Guildhouse which seems to have 15th century origins. It was in the church house that ale was occasionally brewed and sold to provide additional funds for the many calls on the parish.
Follow the narrow road between the Ring of Bells and the churchyard wall, past the Malthouse so named because there is evidence of a 16th century malting floor there, to Cot Hill (9). The Stratton Gardens Hotel and Little Cothill House are mainly 18th century with 19th century additions and form a delightful corner facing a garden. At the road junction turn right on Maiden Street towards Townsend (10).
The picturesque thatched dwelling on the right gives some idea of what most of the houses along Maiden Street looked like in the 18th and 19th century. Returning on the opposite side of the road, look for the entrance to Pollards Farm which used to have access to fields running down to the river. Further along, another narrow cart way ends in Hideaway House (12) once a chapel built in 1837 by the Wesleyan Methodists.
The present Methodist Chapel (13) on the opposite side of Maiden Street replaced the earlier one in 1890. The front is Plymouth Limestone with Marland brick dressings. Limestone has also been used for the kerbstones here. Almost opposite, the old Court House (14) was built to house the petty sessions and public assemblies. It was converted to dwellings in 1983.
Farther down the street are houses once occupied by farmers, traders and craftsmen. The Old Ship (15), was converted to housing in the 1990‘s.
Built in the 17th century or earlier, it was occupied by a cordwainer and innkeeper, then by a joiner and cabinet maker, followed by a baker. Next door to the Ship is the Tree Inn (16) which has been the town’s main hostelry for more than a century. It dates from the 16th century and has undergone many alterations since then. It has become well known for its association with the Cornish giant, Anthony Payne, who was 7ft 4in tall.
Anthony Payne was the devoted retainer of Sir Bevil Grenville, lord of the Manor of Stratton, whose seat was at Stowe in the neighbouring parish of Kilkhampton. Sir Bevil Grenville and Payne were together at the Battle of Stamford Hill, just north of Stratton, on 16th May, 1643, where it is recorded ‘In this place the army of the Rebels, under the command of the Earl of Stamford, received a signal overthrown by the valour of Sir Bevil Grenville and the Cornish Army.’ Cornwall remained loyal to the king during the Civil War. Anthony Payne died at the Tree in 1691 when it was necessary to make a hole in the floor of his bedroom in order to extricate his coffin.
At the age of 21, Payne was taken from his home at the manor house and taken into the establishment at Stowe, the historic home of Sir Beville Grenville and Lady Grace to be nurtured amongst the gentry with Sir Beville’s own children. There, he excelled both intellectually and physically (at seven feet, two inches tall he was able to carry two of his stoutest companions under each arm, climb the cliffs). He fulfilled his various duties as Sir Beville’s chief retainer at Stowe for many years.
Across the road, at the top of Old Post Office Hill, notice the well designed, early 19th century shop window (17), a remnant of the previous importance of retail in this area. On the right, below the Tree, is Rattenbury House built of brick in a Flemish bond. The bricks are said to have come from the Grenville mansion at Stowe after it was demolished in 1739.
Continue down Fore Street to the Town Bridge (18) which crosses the River Neet. In earlier days the lower part of Stratton was frequently flooded after heavy rain, partly because there was a weir just downstream from the bridge and partly because the former bridge had very small arches. Severe floods finally swept away the old bridge after which the bed of the river was widened and deepened, and a new bridge built in 1959.
A few yards around the corner to the right the Stratton Hospital (19), supported by a Medical Centre, is in view. The original Cottage Hospital was erected in 1866 and was one of the very first to be built in England.
It had five beds, supported by voluntary contributions, often in kind and was intended for the poor of the parish. The brick building on the corner, dated 1863, was the second Court House and Police Station until 1954.
Another public building a few yards along the left-hand road leading to Union Hill is the Community Hall (20) built by Clement Kingdom about 1870. It was originally known as the Lecture Hall and is still in constant use.
As you turn back towards the bridge there is a pleasing view of Stratton to remember; a pattern of houses and roof tops rising from the river to the church; the continuing feature of this town through the changing centuries.
Bearing right at the Kings Arms, the 16th century Bridge Cottages (21), formerly Catsbridge Cottages are ahead. Right again is ‘Down leat’ and West Cottage (22), a white plastered cob dwelling on a stone plinth built in the 16th century. The roof, once thatched, has probably been raised at some time, but its plan of two rooms, divided by a through passage, with a lateral chimney stack is very typical of early Stratton houses.
Past the Old Primary School (23), built in 1848 and re-located to its present site in the early 1990s, brings you back to the car park at Howells Bridge where the trail started.