Monday, 6 April 2015

The Overlooked History of Clun Castle - the Third Headquarters of The Lone Pine Club

(c) Tony Gillam 2015
The little town of Clun in South Shropshire is one of my favourite places to visit.  Only seven miles from the Welsh border, it is a tranquil outpost of the border country located entirely in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The River Clun divides what little there is of the town in two, and a stone, packhorse bridge, built around 1450, connecting the Saxon part of Clun with the Norman part, now carries the A488 and B4368 routes across the river.  Looming over the town are the ruins of Clun Castle, now managed by English Heritage.  

(c) Tony Gillam 2015
As you approach the ruined keep, helpful interpretation panels tell the story of how the motte and bailey castle was originally built in about 1300 by Robert de Say, a follower of Earl Roger of Montgomery,  and that it is one of the earliest Norman border castles.  But what the English Heritage panels don't tell you is that, in 1946, a fictional group of adventurers, the Lone Pine Club, made it their third headquarters.  It was here, in Malcolm Saville's The Secret of Grey Walls, that the Shropshire Lone Piners - David Morton, the twins Dickie and Mary and their friend Petronella (Peter) Sterling -  induct Jon and Penny Warrender as official members of the Lone Pine Club.  Jon and Penny are from Rye in Sussex, and this is their first visit to Shropshire. They arrive, by bicycle, just in time to witness an 'angry, flaming sunset' over the apparently unremarkable town:

                ... Although it was nearly dark now the setting sun, at that very moment, flung out a final, fiery challenge to the dying day. Suddenly the western sky glowed red and orange and silhouetted against this strip of colour the travellers saw, for the first time, the ruins of the Castle of Clun dominated by its mighty keep...  (p. 47)

(c) Tony Gillam
Later in the adventure, just before Jon and Penny are inducted as members of the Club, Dickie declares Clun Castle should be Lone Pine HQ3:

                ... They climbed the hill until they were actually in the shadow of the mighty walls of the keep and then Dickie said: "This place is HQ Three. One is our own Lone Pine at home. Two is the barn at Seven Gates and right in this old castle is HQ Three ..."  (pp. 57-58)
(c) Tony Gillam 2015

Why such a small club should need quite so many headquarters is a bit of a mystery.  Be that as it may, while Robert de Say has doubtless earned his place in the history of Clun, I think the least English Heritage could do is also commemorate the significance of the site for a group of young people who first appeared in book form in the 1940s and whose adventures continued to be enjoyed by children throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. 

(c) Tony Gillam 2015
Malcolm Saville, author of 90 books for children, died in 1982. The Malcolm Saville Society was formed in 1994 to celebrate 50 years of the Lone Pine books. It now has over a thousand members of all ages who share an enthusiasm for Savillle's work and a love of the English countryside he used as a backdrop to his stories.  Surely, the adventures of the Lone Pine Club are as much a part of our English Heritage as the ruined castles that once guarded the borderlands in the aftermath of the Conquest? Is it asking too much for English Heritage to make a brief reference to the fact that Clun Castle is none other than Lone Pine Headquarters Number Three?

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).