Cleobury Mortimer is a small rural market town in Shropshire, England. The town's parish has a population of 1,962 according to the 2001 census. Although often regarded as a village, it is in fact the second smallest town in Shropshire (after Clun), having been granted a Town charter in 1253.
Several pronunciations of the town's name are in use. In Cleobury itself "Clib-bree" is commonly used, while in surrounding areas such variations as "Cleb-bree" and "Clee-bree" are not unusual.
The name is believed to derive from the contraction of the Old English clifu meaning a steep place and bury meaning fortified settlement. Mortimer comes from Roger de Mortimer of Normandy to whom the land was gifted after the Norman conquest. He founded the Mortimer dynasty of Marcher Lords who held power in the Welsh Marches throughout the Middle Ages and were closely involved with power struggles with successive English monarchs and other powerful Lords. Cleobury has a significant entry in the Domesday Book, and is the site of at least two castles.
The central section of the town was laid out in burgage plots, the lines of which are still evident. With the decline of the Marcher Lords, and peace along the Welsh border, Cleobury's importance declined during the Middle Ages, leaving it as an undistinguished market town, with a long history, a market, and a dependent hinterland. In the 16th century, exploitation of local iron ores become important, and when Elizabeth I granted the town to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, his familiarity with modern ironworking technology led to the establishment of an important iron industry, with at least two furnaces (in which iron ore was converted to pig iron) and two water-powered forges (in which pig iron was converted to wrought iron). For a while, Cleobury's iron industry was an important part of the general industrialisation in Shropshire (seat of the Industrial Revolution), and iron from Cleobury's forges was valued as a high-quality material. However, poor transport connections led to the decline of Cleobury's iron industry in the early 19th century, and soon the town reverted to being an agricultural hub, although a large water-powered paper mill survived on the Rea until a catastrophic fire towards the end of the century. By 1900, the town was an important civic centre, with a railway station, union workhouse, magistrates' court, police station, Agricultural College, Infants' School and Primary School. In the twentieth century, Cleobury has lost many of these facilities, although its population has grown. It thus exemplifies a common pattern for rural settlements, where centralisation and the rise of road transport have seen a decline in the local provision of services, despite a rising population.
Two literary figures have strong connections with Cleobury: William Langland and Simon Evans. Langland, a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, was almost certainly born in the vicinity in the 14th century, and is commemorated in the very fine and intricate (Victorian) East Window of St Mary's Church, as well as in a local road name. Simon Evans is a 20th-century writer, who fought throughout the First World War, and suffered from being gassed. He had been a postman on Merseyside before the war, and after the war sought a rural postal round, to soothe both nerves and body. Cleobury suited him well; here he blossomed, took a correspondence course in English, and became a successful writer and radio broadcaster in the 1930s. Heath Cranton published five of his books, and he married 'Auntie Doris' (Aldridge), a radio performer, but his new life was cut short in 1940, when the effects of WWI gassing finally caught up with him. His legacy is visible in the naming of a local street, a plaque on the old Post Office, and a dedicated local walk - 'The Simon Evans Way' - which the CM Footpath Association has created in recent years.
The A4117 Kidderminster to Ludlow road runs through the centre of the town. Cleobury Mortimer was formerly served by two now-defunct railways: the Tenbury & Bewdley Railway and the Cleobury Mortimer & Ditton Priors Light Railway. The opening of the latter in 1908 elevated Cleobury's station to the status of a 'Junction'.
There are a number of landmarks in the town, the most famous of which is the 12th-century St. Mary's church in the town centre, renowned for its crooked spire, the combined result of the warping of its oak timbers, and damp-induced rot where the timber spire sits on the masonry tower. Hard by the churchyard is The Wells, fed from a local spring and for centuries serving as a public water supply. To the west of the church is the recently refurbished Market Hall, which now houses a number of facilities including the Tourist Information Centre. There are 8 public houses in Cleobury Mortimer, as well as a secondary school and primary school, library, fire station, and police station.
The town featured in a series of reports by Declan Curry on BBC Breakfast in June 2006. As part of the series, Curry interviewed a number of local residents and business owners to learn more about the rural economy.