Clun

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:11 am

Clun Castle, Shropshire

I don’t really know why we went to Clun.  It was there, of course, which I suppose is some sort of a reason to go anywhere at least once.  Was the name vaguely familiar?  It has a ruined castle, anyway, which might have been the deciding factor and, indeed, that became our target.  Whatever the motivation to visit, I’m very glad we did.  Clun itself is a very small, and clearly very old, Shropshire town straddling the river of the same name.  This is, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Place Names, “an ancient pre-English river name of uncertain meaning”.  We took a wrong turn, got tangled up in some roadworks, crossed the river by means of a wonderful medieval-looking bridge (15th century, it turns out) and found a space in one of the world’s smallest car parks.  From there it was a short walk back over the river via a footbridge in the direction of the castle.

Clun Bridge

Clun is distinctly in two parts.  The south side of the river, where we left the car, was the older, Saxon, settlement.  I’m only guessing that the survival of the name suggests there were people in the area long before that.  The other, northern, side of the river was a planned Norman town that developed in the shelter of the castle and grew plump on wool. The medieval street grid is still there.

Clun Castle

The original castle, a wooden motte-and-bailey affair, was probably built by the Norman Picot de Say, a vassal of Roger de Montgomery, who had been granted the estate of nearby Stokesay as well as that of Clun.  The castle occupies a rocky mound in a loop of the river, a naturally good defensive position.  And it needed to be – from a Norman point of view – because this was border territory with Wales.  As the Welsh hadn’t allowed the Saxons to conquer them in five centuries or more, they would hardly roll over for a new set of boisterous invaders, however ambitious. 

Clun Castle keep

In 1155, the barony of Clun passed by marriage to the Fitzalan family, who held it for the next 400 years.  In 1292, Richard Fitzalan succeeded to the title of Earl of Arundel and inherited large estates in Sussex. Eventually, the Fitzalans made Arundel Castle their main home and by the mid-14th century Clun Castle had been downgraded to the status of a country retreat.  Over the years, it was used less and less, fell into disrepair and, by 1539 it was reported to be in a ruinous state. It continued its administrative function, however, and at some point a courthouse was built on the site.  The Fitzalans went on to become the Dukes of Norfolk.  The current, 18th Duke, Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, also holds the hereditary title of Lord Marshal, responsible for organising large state occasions – including the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on 19 September 2022 and the coronation of King Charles III. In September 2022, the 18th Duke received a driving ban and fine for using his mobile ‘phone while driving through a red light in front of a police car the previous April. This titbit has no relevance whatsoever to Clun, but the tenuous link amuses me as much as the idea that the Lord Marshal managed to coordinate the event so perfectly.

Clun Bowling Club

Clun Castle’s history has been far more predictable – though no less momentous if you were there at the time.  It was burned down by the Welsh in 1196, attacked by King John’s troops in 1215 and besieged by Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of the Welsh, in 1233.  The castle’s fate was then probably sealed in the early 15th century, when the Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr wrecked the entire Clun area.

Castle tower, Clun

Now, one of the reasons I’m so glad we paid a visit to Clun is that the ruined castle is particularly atmospheric.  It helps that it is enveloped by stunning, heart-tuggingly beautiful, countryside.  Very little, in terms of castle structures, is visible above ground, but there is more to the place than meets the eye.  The slope of the large and extensive earthworks meant that we could see nothing until, coming over the crest of a mound, the ruins of the massive, 80-foot, tower-keep loomed into view.  Unusually, this was built into the slope of the mound, rather than on top of the motte.  Experts suggest this would have made it vulnerable to undermining, but I haven’t come across any references to anyone trying that at Clun.  It is 13th or 14th century and had a communal hall on the first floor, with luxury accommodation above.  It was from here that the barony of Clun was administered.  Nor was the eventual castle at Clun a classic single motte-and-bailey layout.  The tower formed part of one walled fortification, connected to a second on an adjoining mound, which would have housed the garrison, stores, stables and the like.  Below was the walled castle farm which, from what I can make out, was where the modern bowling green is.  Across the river lay the castle pleasure gardens, which included some kind of water management and an orchard.  The whole thing is a complex site, which once had considerable time and money spent on it.  Imagine the activity there would have been all around, in peace and war. Only the ghosts remain.  Buffeted by the breeze, I soaked up the view across the Shropshire countryside in the direction of Wales, a few miles away, while overhead a red kite dipped and glided in search of prey.

Red Kite, Shropshire

Afterwards, we dropped in to the unusual and delightful Post Card Café.  There being an interesting-looking church at the edge of town, it then seemed rude not to drop by while we there.  Besides, I find it hard to pass a medieval church without going in.  The parish church of St George’s, Clun, probably built on a Saxon site, dates from the 12th century, has some impressive Norman-style arches, and a very interesting looking tower.  Some believe it had a defensive purpose.  In the churchyard is the resting place of the playwright John Osborne (1929 – 1994).  Had I read that somewhere?  It was when researching this piece that I realised that my familiarity with the name ‘Clun’ more probably came from the children’s adventure stories of author Malcolm Saville (1901-81), set in Shropshire.  I once enjoyed those so much and they would be far more at my intellectual level. Anyway, I look back in pleasure on Clun.

  • St George's, Clun
  • St George's, Clun
  • John Osborne's grave

Finally, the poet and scholar A E Houseman (1859-1936) had a thing to say about Clun too:

“Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.”

PS I should add that Clun hosts an annual Green Man Festival on or around 1 May.

64 thoughts on “Clun”

  1. Clun is only a short drive over the board from here. The churchyard has some interesting gravestones in it, and my 4 x grandparents are buried there (beneath a Celtic cross).

  2. I have been to Clun many times and have also had lunch in the Post Card Café but I have never been in the church.

    I must make that a priority on my next visit 🙂

  3. Fabulous pics – it’s always amazing to me to see things that are so old! Since we don’t have anything near that old in the US! (other than natural landscapes of course)

  4. How delightful. Such a pleasant part of the country especially when the sun is shining. And as the Welsh would say Penblwydd hapus me ol’ mate!

      1. Don’t you just love Google translate – years ago we’d have had to ask a welsh speaker . . . Er, excuse me your Royal Highness, alias Bluebottle, but how do you say . . . . etc

  5. Hi Mike,
    Superb post as usual. I have never been there just zoomed past going south many times. I shall have to take a break there in a journey sometime. However, I have a connection to the area because I once managed a fine flock of the very classic and elegant looking black faced sheep of the breed named Clun Forest.
    Best wishes
    Keith

  6. I am in the fortunate position that the castle and grounds are in my back garden, with no more than a garden gate at one end and a five bar gate at the other between us. It was Hilary who alerted me, she once visited here.

  7. Mike,
    I moved to a small village close to Clun in 2017. I would love to tell everyone how wonderful it is here, but like everyone else locally we like to keep the South Shropshire Hills a secret!
    Seriously, the area is a forgotten gorgeous little gem to enjoy.

  8. Clun is a new name to me and I found this very interesting. Fabulous photos and I’m glad you could see the “Osbornes” (or what’s left of them. He was a pretty remarkable playwright of his time and that would be a surprise for me. It looks like beautiful territory, too. Loved the anecdote about the Duke of Norfolk! Nice to know the constables didn’t let that slide!

  9. I have vague memories of visiting Clun as a child, when my grandmother lived in nearby Shrewsbury, but I could have told you nothing about the place other than the name! Now I’m inspired to visit if ever we’re in the area again, it looks well worth it. I know the Houseman quote but didn’t know John Osborne was buried there and had forgotten the links to Malcom Saville’s books.

  10. Great stuff Mike. I always enjoy reading your posts as they’re so well written, and this one is no exception, with some great pictures too. I love this part of the country but have never been to Clun, so it was another good reason to sit back on a Sunday morning and find out more from your excellent website. Fabulous.

      1. You’re too kind Mike. As far as I’m concerned you’re the real champion of everything British – and belated birthday wishes are in order I believe

  11. I’ve been there a few times, but not for some years. I’ve also spent a couple of nights in the youth hostel.

    It is a lovely place, although I think I’ve mostly seen it in the rain.

  12. Hi Mike – I visited some years ago … but didn’t have much time to find out about the castle and I wasn’t staying in the village – it has always enticed and you’ve enhanced that for me. It’s a gorgeous part of the world … the Duke of Norfolk did a magnificent overview job for the Queen, silly misdemeanour re the phone – I’m glad he didn’t escape retribution. But Clun is just brilliant – as your photos show … and the Houseman ‘clip’ is fun – thank you – Hilary

      1. Hi Mike – it did … and I sent it through to the person who lives there – she was delighted to look at it – and pleased with your experience of the village … cheers Hilary

  13. artandarchitecturemainly

    It took hundreds of years for the family to rise up the ranks of the nobility from barons to earls to dukes, so they had to make the best of their economic and building opportunities and move counties as required. Still, life was tough for everyone, I suppose.

  14. I started my writing journey there! Osbourne’s house is now a writers retreat run by Arvon . Lovely week I had too

  15. I stayed there once. A long time ago. For one night on a short cycling holiday. It felt like I’d gone through a time warp! But a lovely place.

  16. Thank you for a lovely visit to Clun. Look how thick those castle walls were!!!! Astounding to begin to imagine who built them, who quarried the stone, who loaded it into wagons and drove it there, etc. etc. etc.

  17. Thanks for taking me also on this virtual journey, Mike! There are so many castle in the UK i think if they all were rebuilt everyone would have an own home. Can “Clun” somehow be connected with the French “Cluny”? Only a thought. Best wishes, Michael

    1. Thanks, Michael! Interesting question about Cluny. I don’t know – but, before the Romans, the people in that part of France would possibly have spoken a similar language to that spoken in parts of Britain, so maybe you’re right!

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