An Interesting History of Stoke St Milborough, Shropshire

Stoke St Milborough, situated in the picturesque Shropshire Hills, is an old English village with roots stretching back to the medieval period. It’s a charming village, boasting a rich past with many historical buildings and places. It gives us a glimpse of life in rural England throughout the centuries.

We know that there have been settlers in the area since pre-historic times thanks to archaeological evidence and the findings of a few flint tools in the surrounding countryside. However, the most prominent evidence of early settlers, are the remains of Nordy Bank Iron Age hill fort situated on the hills above the village. The iron-age is a period in history from 1200 BC to 600BC. Just a short walk from St Milburga Chapel, Nordy bank is the last surviving of what would have been 3 iron-age hill forts on the slopes of the Brown Clee Hill. It’s defensive banks and ditches are well-preserved, clearly visible and the panoramic views across towards the Clee Hills make the short climb up to it highly worthwhile.


After the iron-age fort was abandoned (for reasons lost to history), it would be not until the Anglo-Saxon period from around 410 AD onwards before settlers really moved into the area again. This is the period in history lessons that teachers called “The Dark Ages” although most historians refer to it as the early medieval period.  From the late 600s, the parish of Stoke St Milborough was owned by Milburga the abbess of Wenlock Priory about whom we have written a whole other article. Click here for further information. Obviously, at the time she owned the land she was not a saint (that title was not bestowed on her until after her death in 716AD) and so Stoke St Milborough was originally called “Godstoke” (or Godestoch in Old English). This was the name was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  It was shortened later to just “Stoke”. The word “stoke” is a common name in English topography, derived from an Old English word ‘stoc’, meaning a place or settlement. Just when the St Milborough (a corruption of St Milburga) was added to the name I have no idea – there seems to be no information about the name change. We do know that St Milburga’s well, situated just down the road from St Milburga’s Chapel, was first mentioned in 1321 and this would be around the time that pilgrims were flocking to sites associated with the saint so perhaps it is not such a conjecture to think the village adopted its full name around this time!

The parish of Stoke St Milborough covered an area comprising not just the village of Stoke but also the villages of Clee Stanton and Clee Downton and the surrounding area up to the Clee Hills. Stoke lay in the Northwest of the parish, with Clee Stanton and Titterstone Clee Hill to the South, Clee Downton roughly in the middle and the Brown Clee hills forming the Northeast boundary. These parish lines remain largely unchanged to this day.

As was typical of rural areas at that time, the villages or small settlements (as they would have been no more than a collection of a few dwellings) were surrounded by farms and farmland. This was very much an agricultural area. There is evidence of early churches dotted across the area – not surprising given that the parish was owned by Milburga and her priory and that the population of England at the time were devout Christians on the whole.

After Milburga’s death, Wenlock Priory continued to own the lands until 1540.  However, after the dissolution of the monasteries, the lands was seized by the Crown and divided up amongst the nobility of the day. However, there were certainly manor houses across the parish from much earlier than this time though as Stoke Court and Stanton Manor were both mentioned in the Domesday book. There would have been a mix of tenanted farmers and private landowners across the parish depending on a family’s wealth and situation and indeed there were a number of fine houses and large farms that still exist to this day.

Interestingly, there was a small parcel of land just above the village of Stoke St Milborough that was not classed as being in any parish. Known as “The Scirmidge”, there was a cottage here that during the late 1700s reputably housed a midwife where “women were sent to be delivered of illegitimate children”. I don’t like to imagine what might have happened to these babies afterwards!

The Economy of Stoke St Milborough and Surrounding Parish

Stoke St Miborough and the surrounding area was and still is very much an agricultural area. The Domesday Book shows that the immediate lands around the village back then, were arable lands used for the growing of crops. Areas to the North of the village, which were once ancient woodlands, were being cleared and farmed around this time. Over the next couple of centuries, there was a gradual move away from solely arable crops and livestock farming became more prominent. Although, most farms would have kept some cows and pigs for dairy products and meat for the household, their major income was from sheep farming. During the 1300s, wool and woven cloth were important commodities and the production of these in the area would have formed a substantial revenue stream for the settlers across the parish. Throughout the 1500’s more and more arable lands were enclosed and converted to pasture for livestock with large areas of the parish classed as common ground used for the summer grazing of sheep. The percentage of land used for sheep farming has remained largely the same from that time right up until the present day with less and less land devoted to arable farming. The exception being during the Second World War when large amounts of pasture were ploughed and planted with crops to feed the nation at that time.

There was a water mill in Stoke St Milborough since 1334. This was fed by a leat (water trench) from Bockleton brook and by water from the moat surrounding Stoke Court. It carried on working, grinding corn up until 1953!

With the onset of the industrial revolution in the 1700s, huge changes were inflicted on the British countryside. You have only to look at Ironbridge, only a short distance away to see that area could quickly change from quiet, picturesque scenery to blackened industrial landscapes almost overnight. However, this fate to not come to pass in Stoke St Milborough. There were coal mines in the far north of the parish and it is recorded in census records that inhabitants of Stoke St Milborough were working in them but this was mining on a small scale and by the late 1800s the mine shafts had been abandoned and the mines closed down.

There is evidence of quarrying across the parish for both limestone to make into lime and sandstone for building purposes. Land has been quarried on a small scale for centuries. However, there is plenty of archaeological evidence of quarries and limekilns for the commercial production of lime from the 1600s onwards situated near the Brown Clee and Titterstone Clee hills.

The Church

Records show that there was definitely a church at Stoke St Milborough since around 1200 AD but there is evidence to show that that church incorporated an even older church. The current St Milburga Church shows signs of many rebuildings over the centuries. The very earliest parts suggest that originally the nave was much narrower and that this was widened in the 1300s. The tower is one of the oldest surviving parts of the church and was likely to have been built in the early 1200s – part of the early church. The architecture suggests it was much lower back then and may have originally had a pyramidal roof. The height was increased in the 1400’s and a new window added. The north wall of the chancel and the chancel arch are likely to have been part of the older church but most of the chancel and the nave were rebuilt in the 1600s and 1700s. However, traces of medieval painting survive over the arch. There are records showing another round of restoration in the 1850s with the old gallery, pews and tables removed and replaced with new choir stalls, pews and a communion rail. The churchyard was extended in 1898 and again in 1962.

The original rectory or vicarage next to the church was a much more modest affair than what exists today. Records in the 1600s show it to be a 3 roomed house and a barn surrounding a yard and pond. The current vicarage stems from the 1760s when the much older and simpler rectory was rebuilt and much altered with a new staircase added and the rooms extended and added to. Further alterations took place throughout 1800s when the house was further increased in size, extensively remodelled and outside stuccoed to produce the beautiful villa that we see today.

Church worship continues to this day in St Milburga Church but this was not the only place in the village that people attended worship. By the 1800s there were a number of breakaway denominations of the Church of England and the Primitive Methodists had a strong presence in the village of Stoke St Milbourough so much so that St Milburga Chapel was built in 1842. We have written a separate article on the history of St Milburga Chapel and you can read more by clicking here.


In around 1760 a schoolhouse was built in Stoke St Milborough through donations from local villagers and contributions by the church. However, the school closed in 1820 as there were only 6 pupils. It was reopened again 15 years later when numbers of schoolchildren in the area increased again and a new schoolhouse was built in 1856. This was very much in the Victorian style of the day being built out of stone with gothic detailing. Children travelled from all over the parish to attend and it continued until the 1960s when falling numbers meant that once again a school was not viable.

Modern Day Stoke St Milborough

Modern day Stoke St Milborough remains a small, rural village to this day. Obviously, the village has grown from the small settlement nestled around St Milburga Church to the much bigger village that it is today. However, there haven’t been that many major changes and many of the old buildings still remain. There are around 20 buildings with significant historical significance and therefore “listed” including the frontage of St Milburga Chapel! St Milburga Church is a short walk down the road and albeit small, is well worth a visit. You can glimpse the grandeur of the vicarage, also listed, from the churchyard, being respectful that this is a private dwelling. Stoke Court, as mentioned in the Domesday Book remains. This complex of buildings including the manor house and surrounding farm building and barns is situated on the right-hand side of the road leading up to the modern-day community hall. Bockleton Court, across the fields as the crow files from the front of the chapel, was built in the late 1500s. The main house and some of its barns are also listed.  The village smithy and cornmill still exist, now as private dwellings. Take a walk up the lane in front of the chapel and turn left at the fork. This is Scirmidge Lane and if you follow it to the T-junction you arrive at the area known still as Scirmidge. Could one of the cottages that remain there be the same cottage hiding its unsavoury past?

If you are staying at St Milburga Chapel we have an ordinance survey map that we commissioned with St Milburga Chapel at its centre so easy to catch your bearings. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you have an interest in history, as it shows the names and locations of many of the historic buildings and places mentioned in this article. There are many footpaths criss-crossing the area to take in the interesting landscape or jump in the car to explore further afield and seek out some of the other pretty and well-preserved settlements across the parish of Stoke St Milborough.

If you want to know even more about Stoke St Milborough village and parish, check out this article that I found online and formed the basis behind this article: It’s extremely detailed and whoever wrote it (not me) has obviously done a tonne of research.  You’ll be able to be a contestant on Mastermind with Stoke St Milborough as your specialist subject after reading it!