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Many years ago a guide book crowned the village of Longnor “Capital of the moorlands”, lying as it does midway between the Dove and Manifold rivers south of Axe Edge Moor.

The village, just inside Staffordshire, straddles the favourite routes of campers, walkers and hikers who come to explore the lovely valleys through which the River Dove forms the county boundaries of Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Geologists are attracted to the region to search for fossils found in abundance in the surrounding limestone hills, formed from the ancient seas of countless millions of years ago. Naturalists come to locate and record the flora which, due to the changing geological features between the moorland and the limestone area, provide a wide diversity of interesting specimens.

Archaeologists too have been rewarded. In the late 1950s four Neolithic skeletons were discovered in a fissure cave near Longnor during excavations. These were identified as the remains of two young adult females, one adolescent and one infant, buried at around the same time as a dog! The same work revealed the bones of cat, red deer and an early breed of sheep, all however, of a later date. Ancient man also lived in rock shelters leaving many tumuli (burial mounds) as evidence of his presence; the two closest to Longnor are near “The Low” just over a mile south of the village.

A hamlet existed at Longnor at the time of the 1086 Domesday Survey and, located at the heart of farming country, naturally fell into the role of a market town where sales of sheep and cattle were long the chief business of the day. The positions of much of the boundary stone walls in the surrounding fields follow the pattern of the medieval strip farming system.

The 1873 Market Hall stands by the square together with sturdy neat stone houses, some reached through narrow ‘gennels’ as though space was once short here.

Longnor church was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, its roughly-hewn stone font is about eight hundred years old and is all that remains of a much earlier church on the site. Many tourists pause to read a famous gravestone in the churchyard. William Billinge was born in a cornfield in the parish in 1679 and died within a stone’s throw of the spot in 1791 at an astonishing age of 112 years.

Since his life story as a soldier is recounted in some detail – he fought at Gibraltar in 1704, was wounded by a musket at the Battle of Ramillies in 1706 and defended his King against the Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745 – his claim of longevity is reasonably sound. When the original epitaph became illegible it was replaced by a slightly different stone but the final line still reads – “and when the trumpet sounds I’ll march again.”

A plaque inside the church gives insight into both the educational and road system towards the end of the eighteenth century; two me left legacies towards the schooling of poor local children and the larger charity of £196.9s 6d. was profity from management of the Leek turnpike road.

Julie Bunting

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