Aston on Clun, Shropshire
PUBLISHED: 20:17 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013
Recorded as Esten in the Domesday Book, Aston on Clun is surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire hills at the centre of the area that poet A E Housman was to eulogise as '... one of the quietest places under the sun'. Jan Johnstone explores. Photog...
Recorded as Esten in the Domesday Book, Aston on Clun is surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire hills at the centre of the area that poet A E Housman was to eulogise as '... one of the quietest places under the sun'. Jan Johnstone explores. Photography by Adrian Jones
Anyone visiting Aston on Clun all these years after Housman's declaration will be struck by its accuracy - even in the hurly burly of the 21st Century.
It is thought that people have lived in this area since the Bronze Age making it one of the most ancient settlements in the county. This was confirmed just a few years ago when ancient earthen house platforms were discovered to the rear of the community hall.
Take a look along the B4368 which runs through the village and in less than a mile you will see many buildings of interest including the Old Courthouse and right on the outskirts the Malthouse, a fine example of a black and white timber-framed structure. The village also houses a flourishing community served by a meeting hall, a shop with post office and a public house intriguingly known as The Kangaroo.
The imposing Georgian faade of the Grade II listed Aston Hall built in 1837 includes five bays and a classic Greek Doric porch. Originally it was part of the historic Oaker Estate which at one time owned most of the village and the surrounding countryside. The Hall together with other properties was sold off in 1949 and if you are interested in the area's history the deeds of the Estate, including original maps and auction documents can be seen in The Kangaroo Inn. The Hall has recently been sympathetically developed with many of its original features preserved and is now divided into seven apartments.
At the heart of the village adjacent to a small stone bridge spanning the River Clun is a black poplar tree, a protected tree in Britain. Around this tree and its forerunners the ceremony known as Arbor Day takes place and with the exception of just one short break has continued to do so for well in excess of four hundred years.
Arbor Day is an ancient custom which most probably dates back to when tree dressing was widely carried out as a heathen fertility rite. Choosing a tree to worship inhabitants from a wide area would hang on it women's clothing believing that by doing so agricultural fertility was ensured for the coming season. The practice also honored the Celtic fertility goddess Brigit who as Christianity took over from the old religion, was sanctified as St Bride or St Brigit.
In 1660 on his return to the throne, King Charles II announced that 29th May would not only be known as Oak Apple Day, perhaps a reference to when he avoided capture by Roundhead soldiers by concealing himself in an oak tree at nearby Boscobel during the Civil War, but also a public holiday. It was at this time that the ceremony of tree decorating was revived throughout Britain with celebrations taking place on an annual basis.
It wasn't until the mid 1800's that the holiday was eventually abolished except for in Aston on Clun which continued decorating their tree with flags and bunting nailed to larch poles and leaving them in place throughout the coming year. The practice continues to this day and it is widely believed that here in Shropshire is the last village in Britain to celebrate the custom.
In September 1995 a disaster overcame the three hundred year old black poplar tree when it was felled by a storm. Nothing daunted the inhabitants of Aston on Clun replaced it with a young tree which had been grown from a cutting taken from the original some twenty years previously.
The tradition was saved and today the larch poles holding the flags are attached to four stout posts surrounding the tree rather than nailed directly onto the trunk. Although at one time Commonwealth flags took precedence today all manner of bunting adorns the tree as can be seen from the road by anyone passing by.
Decorating the tree is also associated with the marriage in 1786 of John Marston of Oaker, a local landowner, to Mary Carter of nearby Sibdon Castle. At that time Aston on Clun was part of the Oaker estate and so pleased were the happy couple by the efforts the villagers had gone to on their wedding day that they distributed sovereigns to those who had organised the event. Unfortunately, sovereigns are not handed out today!
Arbor Day takes place on the last Sunday in May each year the festivities now organized by a hard-working committee who ensure it is a day to remember. All types of entertainments are offered including a pageant and procession through the village by the local children who dress in costume and re-enact the marriage with a bride, bridegroom, bridesmaids and of course, a vicar. The events also include Morris dancing, horse shoe pitching, displays, stalls and all manner of other delights which act as a popular draw to both locals and visitors from far and wide.
Aston on Clun is also known for its two unusual Grade II Listed stone 'roundhouse' cottages believed to have been built by an eccentric during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Adjacent to one of the houses is the late 18th century coaching inn, the Kangaroo Inn. One of only three hostelries to hold the name in Britain it is interesting to speculate why it bears the name, could the discovery of Australia around the time the Inn was founded in 1770 have anything to do with it?
The village has recently added a green situated next to the community hall to its amenities. Funding was obtained from various sources to create it and due to a lot of hard work by local people it now offers a haven not only for the villagers but also for wildlife.
Visitors pass through an arched entrance made from two impressive halves of an oak tree trunk. Ahead lies a reed bed surrounded by newly planted crab apple, black poplar and rowan trees and indigenous hedging of hazel, dog-rose and holly. Wonderful views of the surrounding countryside are afforded from the green and as it is surrounded by well-maintained paths, it is easily accessible. It is a wonderful example of what can be created by determination and of course, imagination and those involved are to be congratulated.
So why not make a note of this year's Arbor Day in your diaries - 25th May 2008 - and see for yourself what the charming little village of Aston on Clun has to offer.