Stratton Village Trail
What is remarkable about Stratton is the rightness of its setting. On a spur, facing south with its back to the worst of the weather, this ancient settlement is surrounded by fertile soil and a plentiful supply of water. It happens also to be sited on one of the early ridge roads into Cornwall which may be reflected in its name – ‘Straeneaton’ in King Alfred’s will, dated 880 AD, ‘Stratone’ in the Domesday record of 1087 at which time the town was by far the largest and most important place in the Hundred to which it gave its name.
It was for many centuries, as we know from the Stratton Stockwardens’ accounts dating from the early 16th century and from later parish records, a busy market town, largely self-governing and self-sufficient. The town had its full complement of traders and craftsmen who lived in the street houses with workshops and steadings behind, accessible through covered cart ways. Most of these people held land which they farmed around the town.
It was not until Bude, at the seaward end of the parish, began to develop after the middle of the 19th century as a harbour for coastal shipping and, later with the coming of the railway as a seaside resort, that Stratton began to lose status. First the craftsmen, then the traders and shopkeepers began to disappear as Bude became the centre for local government, the police, the fire service, secondary education and most of the retail trade. The future of Stratton seemed to be just a very pleasant residential backwater, which is what it is today.
The starting point for the trail described in this guide is the car park by Howells Bridge (1) where the A3072 from Holsworthy enters Stratton but, by referring to the map, any other point on the route will serve as well to begin and finish the walk.
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.
The parish church of St. Andrew (7) 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 a number of 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 was the 16th century house (8) with an arched entrance on the right . Below it was the Church House, also 16th century, now Church Cottage, and next door (No 1 and 2 Church Street) was probably a Guild House 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 Cothill (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 hoses 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 cartway 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 was also used for 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), which was converted to housing in the 1990‘s, is one such.
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.
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 a house called 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 the 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 down stream 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 the 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 form 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 (formerly Catsbridge Cottages 21) 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.
The Stamford Hill area of Stratton is famous for a Civil War Battle (The Battle of Stamford Hill). There‘s a fairly easy walk to explore this area.
A fairly long, but very interesting walk is the The Planekeepers Path. You’ll follow the route the boatmen took as they tended their cargoes from Bude to the Thurlibeer Inclined Plane.
A guided walk leaflet is available from the Bude Tourist Information Centre or to buy online.