Down Your Way: Galloping into the History Books; Pioneering Veterinary Treatment, Local Stone Used by Sculptor Henry Moore and a 13th Century Church Can All Be Associated with the Village of Ratley, Discovers Ross Reyburn

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The Warwickshire village of Ratley picturesquely located in an undulating valley landscape below Edgehill may not seem the kind of place for a pioneering medical operation.

However Dr Chris Colles, one of the partners at Avonvale Veterinary Group at Ratley Lodge, pioneered an operation technique in the 1980s for treating horses' fractured navicular bones.

Ratley and Utrecht in the Netherlands are the only places in the world carrying out this specialist surgery.

"I spent 15 years in research at Newmarket and it is a technique I and Utrecht developed at the same time," he recalls.

"The joint is very difficult to get at. Untreated 99 per cent of horses become lame. We developed a technique of planting a drill rig on to the foot and lining it up under X-ray."

The practice treats some celebrated horses including three in the last Olympics. But no-one is naming names as values could be affected.

The group was started some 30 years ago by veterinary surgeon Peter Thorne, brother of the late National Hunt jockey John Thorne. There are 11 vets at its Ratley headquarters where some 45 horses a week are treated while its four other smaller Warwickshi re practices cover animals generally.

Ratley's other old claim to fame is the celebrated Hornton Stone quarried a couple of miles outside the village at Hornton Quarries that is found in everything from village homes to the sculptures of Sir Henry Moore.

For many years, Ratley also achieved the occasional bout of publicity for the fact that it had had so many members of the England family living there.

Inside the church is evidence of how the family dominated the village. The church wall list of villagers who served their country during the First World War contains no less than 17 members of the England family.

Four of these were among the 16 Ratley villagers killed in the Great War named on the war memorial in the village churchyard. By contrast, there are three names of villagers who did not return from the Second World War, including one England.

"My grandmother was an England," says retired engineer Dan Batchelor. "The family have been in the village since the 17th century.

"When I was a lad, there were about 11 or 12 England families in the village. Now there are still three or four. Many were stonemasons because in those days the work was either at the quarries or farming.

"When we had a football team, we were the only village which could claim an all England forward line."

Mr Batchelor vividly recalls what the terrible winter of 1947 did to the village.

"We didn't get out of the village for six days. The butcher and the baker came across the fields with a tractor after three or four days.

"In places the snow drifts were 15ft high. People couldn't get to work. The council paid us to dig the snow."

His collection of village memorabilia includes a 1859 notice produced by the Ratley & Upton Church Clothing Club with the Rev T Wilmshurst ruling "People who go to Meeting Houses cannot be members of this club" and any woman "being with child before marr iage shall be liable to be turned out of the club."

He also has a little black book in which the village vicar, the Rev A Childe, began in 1881 noting every home and every person in the village including those children bearing the stigma of illegitimacy.

Dan's grandfather is recorded there as William Batchelor, a potato dealer with a horse and cart, with his wife Ann (nee England), who worked in the fields, and their seven children. Three more, including Dan's father, were born.

At Upton House, the vicar noted the Earl of Jersey had a butler and a footman and about nine female servants.

The late 17th century house with its celebrated collection of old masters paintings was given to the National Trust by the late Lord Bearsted.

His daughter and her family, the Waley-Cohens live in an impressive new mansion near the old house and the Upton House Cricket Club ground located on the estate that has provided employment for villagers for centuries. …