The Parish of Acton Scott consists of approximately 4.5 square miles in a long, roughly rectangular tract of countryside that runs below and to the south of Ragleth Hill, across the Ape Dale, rising to the escarpment of Wenlock Edge. There are four settlements: Acton Scott, Alcaston, Henley and Oakwood.
Acton Scott has a fascinating history and has been inhabited for over 2000 years. Enclosures and artefacts discovered to the west of the Parish indicate settlement and cultivation long before the Roman conquest. Whilst aerial photography of the site of Acton Scott's Roman Villa revealed that it sits within an early Iron Age enclosure. Field names and earthworks point to another possible Iron Age site at the centre of the Parish, at High Trees.
Eadric, known as Edric the Wild, is the earliest known holder of Acton, later Acton Scott, in 1066. Eadric may have fortified the manor for his rebellious attack on the King at Shrewsbury, although he was soon reconciled. 'Acton' means oak wood, whilst 'Scott' is derived from the medieval family holding a share in the manor, whose name, 'le Scot', was dropped in the fourteen century, in favour of 'Acton'. It is from Eadric, that Reynold le Scot - who was Lord of part of the manor in 1255 - and the current Actons - of Acton Scott - can trace their ancestry.
Thomas Acton's, (died 1537) main residence at Acton Scott is probably represented by the foundations of a medieval tower adjacent to the Church - discovered in the mid 19th century. This structure would have been the predecessor of Acton Scott Hall built by Richard Acton in 1580. An Elizabethan mansion, it's an early double pile house and one of the first in the country to be built without a great hall and one of the earliest houses in Shropshire constructed in red brick, which would have been very expensive to produce at that time. Similarly, the moated Manor house at Alcaston, to the south of the Parish, was superseded by the current timber framed structure, a short distance away.
The Parish Church of St Margaret occupies an ancient site, surrounded by yew trees, dating back over 800 years. The 12th century tower houses a peal of three bells, thought to be one of the earliest in the country. A chapel at Alcaston, of possible Saxon origins, is recorded in early charters, but no trace of it can now be found.
During the English Civil War (1642-1651), South Shropshire saw much activity with many skirmishes and sieges. Prince Rupert, nephew of Charles I, is believed to have stayed at Acton Scott Hall during this period. The legend of a skirmish in the south of the Parish, at Henley, seems to be borne out by field names in this area, such as Ambuscade and Banner Wood, and a recently discovered canon ball.
In the first part of the seventeenth century, Frances Acton, an Acton Scott heiress, married Walter Acton, heir to the Aldenham estate, also in Shropshire. Their son, Sir Edward Acton, grandson, Sir Walter Acton, and great grandson, Sir Edward Acton, owned both Shropshire estates - until Acton Scott was settled on a great, great, grandson, Edward Acton of Acton Scott, in 1710.
During the 18th century, significant investment was undertaken Edward Acton of Acton Scott, including the rebuilding of the Home Farm Buildings, the farmyard at Henley in local stone and the construction of Oakwood Farm. Limestone was increasingly quarried for building stone in the 18th century, and bricks were burnt in the parish in 1758. A Smithy and Forge was operating by 1766.
The medieval open field system was still partly in existence in the late 18th century, and the enclosure of common land at Acton Scott was not completed until the early 19th century. The common at Henley was never fully enclosed and is a rare survivor.
Most of the woodland that we see today, owes its origins to three significant periods of planting: that of Edward Acton, in the mid 18th century; T.P. Stackhouse Acton's plantations of the early to mid 19th century; and Thomas Stackhouse Acton's planting of the late 20th century. The woodlands that could be described as ancient are Hatton Wood and Alcaston coppice on Wenlock Edge.
Between 1807 and 1820, new gardens were laid out around Acton Scott Hall and the grounds were planted with thousands of evergreens by Thomas Pendarves Stackhouse Acton. This was followed by the creation of a Secret Garden in an old quarry, where Frances Stackhouse Acton also reconstructed part of the hypocaust system from the site of Acton Scott's Roman Villa, which she had excavated in 1844.
Other significant improvements to the estate took place at this time. These included the rebuilding or re-facing of many dilapidated timber framed cottages and farmhouses, the planting of woodland and hedges, and the building of roads and boundary walls. It is to this period, the early - mid 19th century, that the landscape of the Parish owes its origins and appearance today.
In 1793, children went to school in nearby villages, but by 1819 Acton Scott was supporting 25-30 pupils in a stone school house near Acton Scott Farm. In 1866, Mrs Stackhouse Acton, built an ornate timber framed school and teacher's house, which was funded until 1949. It accommodated around 50-60 children.
The Craven Arms to Much Wenlock railway line was built in 1867 crossing the Parish, north of Henley. HM The Queen Elizabeth II spent one night on the Royal Train which was stationed on the railway line at Henley, during a visit to Shropshire, shortly following her coronation, and a little before the railway track was removed altogether at its closure.
The later 20th century saw the amalgamation of farms due to the rapid improvement in agricultural technology. Thomas Stackhouse Acton wished to preserve the 19th century ways of farming, together with the knowledge that was fast disappearing at this time of rapid improvement, and therefore opened the Home Farm to the public as a Museum, demonstrating the farming practices of 1900. It is managed day to day by Shropshire County Council's Museum Service.