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A NEW millennium book charting the history of the east Warwickshire village of Stretton-on-Dunsmore is launched this month. Produced by a dedicated band of villagers it's a remarkable blend of nostalgia, facts and reminiscences ranging over 1,000 years.

FOR travellers hurrying along the A45 dual carriageway, Stretton- on-Dunsmore is just another name on a huge direction sign.

But nestling among fields and woodland less than half a mile away on the Roman Fosse Way, is the village with its pleasant mixture of old cottages and modern housing, a Gothic revival-style church, primary school, shop, two pubs and a village green.

These days the retired live contentedly alongside families commuting each day to Coventry and Rugby.

But from the time northern Europeans first settled there 1,000 years ago until just after the last war, the community relied largely on farming for employment. At the time Queen Victoria came to the throne Stretton was more-or-less self sufficient with a whole multitude of traders and craftsmen.

For the millennium project, a circle of villagers came together to research and compile the publication, not only did they depend on old dusty archives, but also went out with their notebooks talking to people about their lives and the lives of their ancestors.

"We were always off rabbiting, mushrooming or nutting, and generally brought something home for the pot," said one long-standing villager, offering snippets of history. "And we knew where the wild strawberries were in Frankton Wood."

Years ago large families were normal, and another story tells of Mr Burden, one of several pig-killers, who had 15 children.

He would snare four or five rabbits each day and regularly make pigeon pie. There was little monetary wealth but no-one starved.

Potatoes were cooked in a copper and each child took a share.

A walk to market for spoiled vegetables and apples ensured the family was well fed.

Like every other village, Stretton had its characters - the gossip, the idiot, ne'er-do-well, the boaster.

Tom Grant was one. He would collect geese, duck and hens' eggs in his bowler hat which would then be returned to his head until he got home.

Old Frank was another. He would give a shilling for a dozen golden carp caught in a pond at Plott Lane and use them as bait for catching pike in Frankton Pools.

By the 1850s the community was growing in prosperity.

White's Directory of Warwickshire listed a village ironmongers, a glazier, vet, timber merchant and several carriers with carts. The post office still thrived under John Bagshaw.

By 1900 the variety of trades had become even wider with a surveyor, hurdlemaker, market gardener, two bakers and a horse clipper. Wilcox's village bakery, now part of the Brookside Stores, used an oven heated by coke for baking in those days. And employees delivered bread and cakes by horse and trap to the neighbouring villages.

One elderly resident recalled: "Us hungry lads could smell them cakes a hundred yards away. Mrs Wilcox caught some of us raiding one night and shouted: 'Come out of there - I know who you are!'

"She hesitated a moment before shouting again: 'Who are you?'"

Stretton-on-Dunsmore had its fair share of inns and ale houses offering refreshment and a focus for community life.

In the centre of the village just two survive - one is the Shoulder of Mutton, a free house with deeds going back to 1757.

A regular remembered the main bar. "It was furnished with the sort of furniture you might find in the station buffet in the film, Brief Encounter," he said. "Except there was a baby grand piano in the corner on which the landlord's widow, Emma Whitby, gave music lessons!"

The other, the Oak and Black Dog, remains a traditional pub used by farmers. A Sunday Mercury paper dated 1954 recalled Mr Dawson, a landlord in the 1930s.

He was a retired jockey who won the Two Thousand Guineas, but ended his career after breaking almost every bone in his body at Beecher's Brook in the 1926 Grand National.

For 100 years the Dun Cow on the A45 (now Crazy Daisy's nightclub) was the breakfast venue for the Wroth Silver ceremony.

It was the nearest hostelry to the Knightlow Cross where on the feast of St Martin, a quarter day at the end of the agricultural year, villages within 12 miles of the ancient stone paid their dues to the Duke of Buccleuch.

The popular ceremony still takes place each year attracting several hundred spectators.

The breakfast is now held at the Old Bull and Butcher on the Oxford Road.

As the book rightly maintains, Stretton-on-Dunsmore faces the new millennium with the knowledge that, with careful control of bricks, mortar and countryside, it will not only survive, but continue to thrive as it has for more than a thousand years.

A resident said: "Even today you can find a bag of damsons, a few tomatoes, plants or a stack of firewood left on your doorstep.

"And if you are ill, you're likely to find a cake or a box of Peggy Richardson's home-made shortbread!"

WHETHER you live in Stretton or just have a passion for village life, this substantial paperback is fully illustrated and will provide hours of fascinating armchair reading.

Stretton-on-Dunsmore: The Making of a Warwickshire Village is sponsored by the Millennium Commission Lottery Fund, Rugby Borough Council and Stretton Parish Council, and is available from Brookside Stores, Stretton, priced pounds 6.99.

All profits from the sale of the book will be ploughed back into the community.

Contact Stretton History Group on 01203 542160 if you have difficulty obtaining a copy.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Coventry Newpapers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Draper, Keith
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 10, 2000
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