War Memorial

Ledbury war memorial commemorates the dead of two World Wars. In a central position opposite Market House, the memorial was constructed in two stages at the end of each war. It was first unveiled on Sunday 5 December 1920.

The stone is oolitic limestone with granite plaques for the names inscribed.

On the lower First World War section are mosaic pictures of an angel, a soldier and a seaman. On the Second World War upper addition is a decorated tile picture of an airman.


16-17 High Street was originally a house by the name of Kingshead, subsequently the King’s Head public house.

No. 16 High Street was bought by Luke Tilley in 1885, who gutted and extensively repaired the building. His son John opened a studio up the alley behind the shop. His other son, William, ran a motor accessories shop from No. 17.

The Tilley family business – stationer, newsagent, bookseller and printer, hiring of bicycles and motor vehicles, repair garage, poster sites, and a subscription library – was very successful.

John Tilley, a prolific publisher of postcards and photographs, is the man to whom the pictorial history of Ledbury is indebted.

Fire Brigade

At the turn of the twentieth century, Mr Hopkins, landlord of the Royal Oak Hotel, was in charge of Ledbury Fire Brigade. The brigade was summoned by ringing the bell at St Katherine’s. The Great Western Railway drays would be unhitched and taken in a mad dash to Church Street where they were harnessed to the fire engine. The next chief was Mr Gurney, a local surveyor who also owned Ledbury quarry, which supplied the lorry to tow the steamer fire engine, affectionately known as ‘Little Nell’. In 1924, George Hopkins & Sons converted a 1912 Austin into a towing vehicle. In 1932 a Bedford was specially constructed as a towing vehicle, which served for twenty-four years.

After the Fire Station in Church Street relocated to what is now known as the Old Ambulance Station in Bye Street, the building in Church Street was taken over by the Ledbury branch of the Royal British Legion.

St Katherine's Hospital

The purpose of the St Katherine’s Hospital was to remind those who visited the market opposite of the constant need to pray and carry out works of charity. The misuse of the revenue and property of the hospital that features in the history of St Katherine’s Hospital was reformed in 1819, the estates sold off after 1945. Originally probably a row of timber-framed buildings, and used as accommodation for the brethren and sisters, the Almshouses were built as two wings, the north side in 1822, the other side in 1866.

Mop fair

The October Fair has a long history in Ledbury. Originally a mop fair was for hiring workers. Mop fairs date from when Edward III wanted to regulate the labour market in 1351 at a time of shortage after the Black Death. Farm workers, labourers, servants and craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of employment they would attend the mop fair dressed in their best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A tassel worn on the lapel, the emblem of the employee’s trade, was known as a ‘mop’. The employer would give the employee a small token of money and the employee would remove the emblem and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired.

Ledbury Hunt

The Ledbury Hounds are known to have hunted the area around Ledbury for at least 300 years.

The Ledbury Hunt as currently constituted can trace its origins to 1846, when it was decided to set up a hunt on a respectable footing and form a committee. In 1868, kennels were built next to Ledbury Junction station and remained there until 1938.

The ban on hunting introduced in 2005 has led to a different form of hunting within the law. On Boxing Day, the hunt traditionally meets outside the Feathers Hotel for a stirrup cup.

Butchers Row

Where what used to be Middletown, in High Street, a row of booths stood there for around 700 years that over the centuries became timber-framed structures. Butchers Row was used as slaughterhouses. In 1830, the ‘disagreeable practice of slaughtering pigs in the street’ was abolished in Ledbury. By 1840, the booths had been removed from High Street and destroyed; all except a couple that in recent times have been restored and relocated.

One structure was re-erected in Skipp Alley (off The Homend). When the timber-framing was reassembled, a first-floor beam was put in upside down, as may be seen on the front.

Another booth was stored in a garden behind 14 High Street until it was relocated to Church Lane and renovated by the Ledbury and District Civic Society to become what is now known the Butcher Row Folk Museum

Market Theatre

In 1935, some local enthusiasts set up a film-making club. Membership grew and many films were made but lack of space led to the decision to put on a play once a year.

In 1938, Ledbury Amateur Cine & Dramatic Society was formed. During the Second World War, Italian prisoners at the camp at Mabel’s Furlong set up a theatre in a Nissen hut. After the war, LADS (the ‘cine’ had by then been dropped) took over the Camp Theatre. In the late 1950s, LADS moved into the old Market Theatre, then known as the Church Room. In 1986, the building was almost destroyed by fire. In 1999, the old building was demolished and Ledbury’s new Market Theatre opened in January 2000.

Brewery Inn

A seventeenth-century building, the Brewery Inn, originally the Boat Inn or Boatman’s Arms, probably became licensed premises after the closure of a nearby lodging house for the canal workers – that house became the Golden Crown Chinese restaurant.

To the east of the Brewery Inn, it is said there used to be a small thatched cottage. The neighbouring cottages were demolished when the ambulance and fire stations were built. The building to the left of the inn is the Youth Centre, scheduled for closure in 2013 and whose future is yet to be decided.

Bridge Street

Much of Bridge Street was developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Ledbury Benefit Building Society, and the area known as Happy Land.

Originally, the bridge was constructed for the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal. In 1881, the Gloucester to Ledbury section was closed and the whole canal became disused a year later. A stretch of canal bed was reused by Gloucester & Ledbury Railway, which opened in 1885, by which time the old canal bridge had been reduced in height.

Ledbury Halt Station

In 1885, the Ledbury & Gloucester Railway, known as the Daffodil Line, ran from Ledbury to Gloucester, via Dymock and Newent.

Much of the line was built over the route of the southern section of Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal.

The line was built by two companies, Newent Railway and Ross & Ledbury Railway, and operated by the Great Western Railway (GWR). In 1928, the GWR built Ledbury Halt in an attempt to attract more traffic to use the line. On the platform was a tin shelter to keep passengers dry, but tickets had to be bought from agents in town or at Ledbury Junction station. After the line was closed in 1964, the old railway embankment became the Town Trail and the Halt was transformed into Queen’s Walk.


For the Worcester & Hereford Railway Company in tunnelling through the Malvern Hills and the building of the viaduct, the contractors were Thomas Brassey and Stephen Ballard.

Tunnelling began in 1856 and was fairly easy until the depths of the Malvern range of syenite, a hard, tough granite, blunted the tools, whereupon almost half the tunnel had to be cut manually, taking four years to complete, in 1860.

For the viaduct, now Grade II listed, work commenced in 1854 and the viaduct opened in 1861. Thirty-one arches span the Leadon valley; the five million bricks were baked on site from local clay.

Ledbury Park

New House, a Grade I listed sixteenth-century mansion, whose name changed to Ledbury Park in 1820, is considered the most important domestic building in Ledbury, belonging to Edward Skynner, a clothier, in around 1595. Edward and his wife Elizabeth are buried in the church, with their baby daughter, who was reputedly killed by the last wolf in the district.

In 1680 the estate passed to the Biddulph family, an influence in Ledbury into the twentieth century.

Unusually, for a grand mansion, the building is on the corner of busy streets. During the Civil War, Prince Rupert made New House his headquarters. In 1830, Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) named an elm tree on the estate. The parkland is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In 1996, the buildings were converted into houses and apartments.

Masefield Solicitors

John Masefield, poet, was one of six children born to George Edward Masefield, a solicitor in the family firm, established c. 1836. His grandfather, also George, had moved from Shropshire and married Frances Mary Holbrook, the daughter of the local solicitor, whose practice George subsequently took over around 1930.

Adjoining Masefields' office in Worcester road, the neighbouring cottages, including a toll-house, were demolished in 1953 for the opening of the police station the following year. Opposite, the former orchard belonging to Ledbury Park was developed for housing and renamed Horse Lane Orchard. Horse Lane was widened and renamed Worcester Road.

Worcester Road

Worcester Road (A449) winds past The Lodge and the entrance to Upper Hall estate. Before Worcester Road was realigned and The Avenue widened, the old route east was along Back Lane (now Church Street), Green Lane (a track along Dog Hill Wood) and Cut Throat Lane. (‘Throat’ derives from a pre-seventh-century word ‘hraca’, meaning a narrow pass or cleft in a hillside.) A pedestrian shortcut in front of Upper Hall was curtailed when the footpath was stopped up and the estate road made private.

Upper Cross

Upper Cross (also known as Top Cross) is the junction of High Street, New Street, The Southend, and Worcester Road. In ecclesiastical towns, a cross marked the spot where a member of the clergy would say prayers to help keep the peace while market traders went about their business, also to collect dues; a cross was the forerunner of the market hall. Of the ‘House on Stilts’, c. 1600, one of the oldest timber-framed buildings in Ledbury, it is thought that the ground floor was originally exposed and used as a market hall.

National Westminster Bank

National Provincial Bank Ltd, incorporated 1 July 1880, was established as a provincial bank but with a London head office. It was structured to be a branch banking enterprise concentrating on a large number of smaller accounts rather than a small number of larger accounts. In 1835, a branch opened in Ledbury and, quickly becoming successful, relocated to Homend House where it has remained since. In 1970, National Provincial Bank merged into National Westminster Bank, part of RBS Group since 2000.

Turner Court

On the east side of The Homend, Turner Court, named after a former chairman of Ledbury Town Council and owned by Elgar Housing Association, was sheltered housing flats and home to more than twenty elderly residents until vacated and sold to a developer in 2010. The ground floor of the building has since been converted into offices, residential flats, and a tapas bar.

Cottage Hospital

Founded in 1872, the present building dates from 1891 to 1899, when it was funded by Michael Biddulph MP to mark the coming of age of his eldest son, John.

The hospital was built on the site of a cider and perry factory, whose orchard was developed for housing by Ledbury Benefit Building Society – now Belle Orchard.

After 1948, the NHS hospital took over the running until it closed in 2002. In 2009 the building was converted into apartments and workspace and renamed the Old Cottage Hospital.

Daws Court

Before 1987, when Dawes Court, a block of flats, was built, fronting The Homend and Homend Crescent was the Boys’ School, opened in 1868 and enlarged in 1894 to accommodate 230 boys.

Dawes Court is named after the Very Reverend Richard Dawes, Dean of Hereford Cathedral and Master of St Katherine’s Hospital, as this school was founded largely through his efforts. All that remains of the school is a wall in The Homend and remnants in Homend Crescent. The school bell tower was lifted off by crane and removed to Longacres where it now rests in the grounds of Ledbury Primary School.


After the David Smith Contractors saw mill was destroyed by fire on 31 August 1908, the revamped site on the corner of Orchard Lane was occupied by F. C. Swift & Co. agricultural and motor engineers. Next came Alex Cowan & Sons Ltd, an envelope-maker. In 1967, Cowan was acquired by Reed International and became part of Spicers. After Spicers relocated to a building on the bypass, where Galebreaker is now, a Tesco supermarket opened on 18 August 1997, almost two weeks short of eighty-nine years since the fire.

A rare photograph depicting the saw mill fire is to be found in the book
Ledbury Through Time.

Barrett Browning Institute

Pasted Graphic
In 1890, the idea was proposed for a clock tower in High Street as a memorial to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, one of the three famous poets associated with Ledbury. A committee was formed and in 1891 a mock-up tower was erected. Following concern that siting the tower in the middle of the street would cause congestion, an old tan yard, formerly a house belonging to the Hankins family and in medieval times a bakery, was donated for the scheme. By then, the original plan had become ambitious. Designs were invited; forty-five entries were received, and George Hill, a local builder, submitted the lowest tender. The official opening of the Memorial Clock Tower and Institute was in 1896. In 1938, the Institute took on the public library. In 1963, Pevsner described the building as ‘really terrible’.

Master's House

On 5 April 2013, it was reported in the local newspaper Ledbury Reporter that Herefordshire Council has been awarded a grant totalling £1.175M from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards completion of the restoration of the Master's House.

Once completed "as well as the library facilities, the building will become the official home of the John Masefield Archive, a collection of books, pictures, photos and artefacts related to Masefield, his poetry and his life."
The Master's House

The photograph that appeared in the Ledbury Reporter was taken by me in 2008, and the same photo appears on the Speller Metcalfe hoarding at present around the Master's House.

St Michael's and All Angels church

Church Tower

The church tower, which is detached, dates from about 1230 (the spire from 1733). The total height of the tower and spire is 202 feet. It is floodlit, and visible from a wide area of the town and beyond.

Why the church tower is detached is unknown. Suggestions include stability in being built on the course of a stream, the weight of the tower being too heavy for the church structure to support, or a watchtower for military purposes, but none of those suggestions make sense, at least not to me.

A military purpose is probably a non-starter. Ledbury is some distance from the border with Wales. As for the weight of the tower, what is so different about Ledbury that the original builders of the church were unable to construct a tower on the roof when throughout Britain most parish churches of the same period have attached towers? Another possibility is that because the church was built over or alongside the course of the stream flowing from hill-fed ponds (that are behind the building, and flowing to the river to the west of the hills, the builders were concerned about stability. But that doesn't make sense either. When there would have been plenty more better suited land elsewhere to erect a church building, why deliberately build a massive structure on unstable land?

The possibility the stone church was constructed on the site of an existing Anglo-Saxon building that had existed at around 1086 (Domesday Book) is plausible, as evidenced by the remains of foundations.

Nowadays a church is defined as a building used for public Christian worship church, but 'church' also means a gathering of people for religious purposes. For the smooth conversion of paganism (pre-Christian) to Christianity, the Church realised it made sense to latch onto what existed previously so altering an existing place of worship would have made more sense than erecting a new building from scratch somewhere more stable. Water and streams play an important role in pagan belief, so it is possible there may have been a structure of some sort where the stone church is now. However, Christianity arrived in Herefordshire in the 7th century, so whether an Anglo-Saxon building would have having lasted approximately four hundred years without dereliction is doubtful. In any event, that still does not explain the detached tower.

My theory is that the present tower is built on the site of an earlier tower that was constructed before any church building and perhaps pre-dating any permanent place of worship. It may have been erected as a beacon or way-mark for people travelling between nearby prehistoric hill-forts/camps. Although the word 'fort' is associated with military and defence, it may also be a homestead that is sited on a hill. It has been suggested on reasonable evidence that many so-called hill forts were used to pen in cattle, horses, or other domesticated animals. Whatever the actual use of the hill-forts/camps overlooking Ledbury, living on the upper reaches and/or on top of a hill makes sense for protection from the elements, and particularly the marshland plains of a river below.

Coat of Arms

Herefordshire County Council was granted a coat of arms on February 28, 1946. The arms became obsolete in 1974 on the abolition of the council, but were transferred to the present Herefordshire Council by Order in Council in 1997.

The arms are blazoned as follows:

Gules on a fesse wavy between in chief a lion passant guardant argent and in base a Herefordshire bull's head caboshed proper, a bar wavy azure; and for a Crest on a wreath of the colours a demi lion rampant gules holding in the sinister claw a fleece or; and for Supporters, on the dexter side a lion guardant or gorged with a wreath of hops fructed proper and on the sinister a talbot argent gorged with a collar or charged with three apples proper.

The red colouring of the shield is taken from the arms of the City of Hereford. The red colour also represents the red earth of Herefordshire. The silver and blue wave across the centre of the shield represents the River Wye. The lions that form parts of the arms, crest and supporters are also taken from Hereford's arms. The agricultural produce of Herefordshire is represented by the bull's head, fleece, hops and apples. The talbot dog comes from the heraldry of the Talbot family, Marcher Lords of Shrewsbury and also from that of Viscount Hereford.

The Latin motto is: Pulchra terra Dei donum or This fair land is the gift of God.

Mabel's Furlong

Lady Katherine Audley lived at the Manor of Much Marcle Audley (now Hellens) until pressure there became too much for her.

On 25 February 1308, the Coronation of Edward II, she went missing and ended up as a recluse in Ledbury. Immortalised in a William Wordsworth sonnet and an essay by John Masefield, it is said she would wander until she heard church bells rung without ringers – having heard that sign, she stayed with her maidservant Mabel.

In the seventeenth century, the fields were known as Mabley Furlonge.

During the Second World War, it became a prisoner of war camp. After 1945 until around 1959 the Nissen huts were used as temporary accommodation. Mabel’s Furlong was developed for housing.

Thereafter, the camp was developed for John Masefield School which opened officially on 6 October 1978.


A rentcharge was an annual sum paid by the owner of freehold land to the owner of the rentcharge. (In north-west England, they are often known as 'chief rents')

There are two categories of rentcharge: 'rentcharge' and 'estate rentcharges'.

A rentcharge is not the same as a ground rent. A ground rent is a rental payment due from the lessee to the lessor during the term of a long leasehold.

It wasn't necessary for the owner of the rentcharge to have any other legal interest in the land. Rentcharge provided a regular income for owners of land (the seller) after the land had been sold. Sometimes, the land was released without a capital sum as well. Once imposed, the rentcharge continued to bind all the land including one householder even after the land is later divided and sold off in plots.

Except for estate rentcharges, the creation of new rentcharges was abolished in 1977 and any existing rentcharges other than estate rentcharges will be extinguished on 22 August 2037. Such rent charges may also be redeemed (bought out) by the freeholder for approximately 16 times the annual amount of the charge.

Estate rentcharges serve one of two purposes. Either the rentcharge is used as a means to impose a duty on the freeholder to perform a covenant, or it is used to pay for services performed by the rentcharge owner for the provision of services, maintenance etc for the benefit of the land burdened by the rentcharge. Rentcharges will continue to exist as a means of paying for the upkeep of freehold estates.


The Latin origin of the word 'river' was riparia, meaning the banks of the water.

In Early French it became rivere, and represented both the banks and the water between them. That became the source of the modern English word, river.

The current Italian descendant of the word still refers to the shore, and the Riviera is a region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The older Latin version has not disappeared and remains mostly in legal terms related to the rights of those who control the banks of the river, called riparian rights.

Closely related is the word 'rival' - those who share a common stream. The original meaning was closer to our present word for companion.

The word 'arrive' also comes from the same root ripera. As a river bank ends when the river reaches its destination, so a journey ends when we arrive. And speaking of words that are derived from other words, derive means, literally, from the stream.


Place-name scholars describe most English river names as ‘Celtic’ or ‘pre-English’, so would appear to be suitable for interpretation in terms of Archaic Gaelic. A closer look at the current approach to English place-names shows that it is based on some rather quirky assumptions which are by no means compatible with the Archaic Gaelic hypothesis.

According to that view, English settlement names, with a few (but significant) exceptions, were created in the post-Roman period by invasive peoples coming into England from northern Germany or from Denmark. River names, however, were passed on by displaced or enslaved native peoples. A similar belief holds in Scotland, where all place-names are attributed to Irish, Welsh, Northumbrian and Norwegian settlers, with virtually no native survival, and in France, where Franks and feudal landowners are implicated. In every case the language of settlement names is taken to be the contemporary written languages of these various peoples.

When one takes a wider view it becomes evident that there is a conflict between the approaches. When current theory suggests that we should find shared features and similar names, we do not. The names attributed to Scandinavian settlers in the north and west of Scotland have little or nothing in common with the names proposed for the Solway, Cumbria, or Yorkshire, or, for that matter, those found in Iceland or Scandinavia.

Where there should be divergence, we find common features. The same basic elements occur in Scotland, England, France, Flanders and further afield in names that allegedly reflect settlement by different linguistic groups.

Settlement names share a great many elements with river names, which suggests that the two classes must be of similar age. A further discrepancy is while the English place-name lexicon may sometimes resemble Anglo-Saxon it does not do so consistently, and many of the interpretations in terms of Anglo-Saxon are, to say the least, unconvincing. All of this suggests an older common origin for British place-names and a common origin for river names and settlement names.

Place-name theory is showing its age. It is increasingly adrift from the findings of archaeology and early history. Archaeologists no longer believe in the kind of population replacement proposed for England and Scotland, and it is also declining in popularity with historians, who are waking up to the very dubious historical value of their early sources. Incomers can certainly be detected in post-Roman England, but they appear on the whole to have been humble folk and at the most optimistic calculation could not have added more than five per cent to the existing population. Whether elite or slaves, there is no evident reason why these immigrants should have altered a settlement pattern which in many places can be shown to have been in place before the Roman occupation. If the settlement pattern survived, it is a safe assumption that settlement names also survived.

We might accept a few signs of Norwegian administration in the former Norwegian colonies and a few new farms carved out of the of northern Europe but not wholesale resettlement. English settlement names certainly look ‘Anglo-Saxon’ rather than ‘Celtic’ and many of them lend themselves to interpretation in terms of Germanic personal names and Anglo-Saxon, though the results are often very unconvincing.

The explanation lies in the history of literacy in England. Those who first transcribed English settlement names and who perpetuated these early written forms through the following centuries were not natives but foreigners whose native language might have been Frankish, Danish or French and who were literate in Anglo-Saxon, French or Latin. They were detached but not neutral. Like the nineteenth-century surveyors who first transcribed many Gaelic place-names in Scotland, they were influenced and restricted by their native languages in their choice of forms and they often ‘recognised’ personal names and other elements of their current vocabulary which did not exist in fact. A Scottish example is Cyderhall (Sutherland), which has recently reverted to an earlier spelling Sythera, suggesting an original outlook post or sith rather than an English apple orchard. However this place in the thirteenth century was ‘Siwardhoch’ or Sigurdhaug ‘the burial place of Sigurd’. A more recent example is the name Thomasgreen, found in the township of Braeleny near Callander, Perthshire. Thomasgreen was once the site of the school was and can be reconstructed as tom a’ sgriobhan, ‘the knoll of the scribbling’.

A further source of bias is that English clerks have always been familiar with the Anglo-Saxon foundation fable. It was created in the ninth century by foreign clerks who used as evidence an excessively naïve interpretation of a handful of English place-names in terms of Germanic personal names. Naïve or not, since then everyone concerned has continued to interpret English settlement names in terms of Germanic personal names or in terms of the obscure written ‘Anglo-Saxon’ used in religious texts and a few secular documents from the eighth century onwards.

However, the use of personal names to identify local farms and hamlets is not very common in the English-speaking world. Those who came to England in the post-Roman period were illiterate and pagan. One might wonder how such transient personal names were perpetuated? And we might also wonder if these illiterate settlers, whose origins are diffuse and obscure, spoke a language which is known only several centuries later in a literate, elite, Christian context? Such questions are not asked. The place-name creed assumes settlement by Saxon invaders and explanation is a secondary matter. There are certainly links between place-names and personal names, but they arise from the fact that European personal names were very often derived from the names of places, as is still often the case, at least in Scotland. But the landscape was named first.

A striking example of the ability of imported clergy to influence or reinterpret local place-names in terms of personal names is found not in Anglo-Saxon England but in the Celtic south-west, where Breton clergy, in a frenzy of pious creativity, converted dozens of place names into those of parish saints, most of whom are known nowhere else in Christendom. They found Sulyen at Luxulyan, Mabat Lavabe, Mawgan at Mawgan, Melanus at Mullion and a great many more. It appears that the Christian forms were largely confined to literary use, kept alive in documents maintained by the Church while the natives continued to use the original names on which such speculation was based. These vernacular names have persisted in many cases. Towednach is now believed to be a broken-down version of the correct form, ‘Saint To-Winnoc, ’ which it barely resembles but is readily explained as ‘gathering fire’, a very common type of settlement name. Towinnoc is also ‘gathering fire’ but with Archaic Gaelic, fionn ‘fire’ instead of aodh ‘fire’. The parish names of Cornwall and Devon show that the influence of literacy on the form and apparent meaning of a place-name can be very powerful. Finally, current studies cannot explain how it is that many settlement names recorded by the Romans and other early writers remain in use. Even York, in its Latin form Eboracum or its Danish form Euruic, remains recognisable. It is surely curious that the settlement names recorded in the Roman period are the only settlement names which are allowed to have survived from before the advent of the Saxons. It is entirely improbable that in order to have remained in use, a pre-English settlement name must have been written down in the Roman period.

When we use Gaelic and Archaic Gaelic to explain English river-names, a very different picture emerges. The names make consistent sense as early names coined by hunters. The key elements are tribal deer forests and fire, either cooking fires indicating settlement or, more probably, beacons used to define territory and organise hunting. Explanations currently offered for English river names include many ‘water’ words such as ‘fresh’, ‘clean’, ‘bright’, ‘running’, ‘dirty’, ‘pure’ and ‘smooth’, but such words, which define transitory states, are without value as placenames. The alternative explanations offered here are of course tentative but make consistent sense within the parameters of a hunting population and relying on what is known of Archaic Gaelic in other contexts.

With the exception of names such as Avon, Don or Esk which mean simply ‘water’ and which are very early indeed, river-names are not a class apart but part and parcel of the basic naming pattern. Almost every river name listed below is matched by a number of settlement names. Kenn is the name of two rivers but is also found in more than thirty settlement names listed by Mills. Laver is the name of a river in Yorkshire but occurs also in Laver (Essex), Laverstock (Wiltshire), Laverstoke (Hampshire), and Laverton (Gloucestershire, North Yorkshire, Somerset). Sid is a river in Devon but also occurs in Sidbury (Shropshire), Sidcup (London), Siddington (Cheshire, Gloucestershire, and Sidestrand (Norfolk). It thus follows that many settlement names are as old as river names and can also be interpreted in terms of Archaic Gaelic. The occurrence of similar names in Scotland show that this language was once common to Britain as a whole.

The interpretations proposed are in many cases only the most probable among several options. The reason for this is the notable overlap between ‘river’ words and ‘fire’ words in Gaelic. This may reflect the fact that early settlement occupied river valleys or it may reflect some deeper association of ideas.

Gaelic has àin ‘heat, light’ and àine ‘fire’ as well as ain ‘water’, an ‘water’, èan ‘water’ and aon ‘country’ (aon ‘one’ is a single defined unit). It also has éibh ‘fire’ and ab or àbh ‘river’. The compound word àbhainn ‘river’ (Avon) appears to mean ‘fire-river’. A similar overlap occurs between G. bior ‘water’ and AG. bior ‘fire’ (found in bior-fuinn ‘landmark, beacon’). The generic river name Amber might be thought to make better sense as ‘fire river’ or ‘settlement river’ than as ‘river-river’. It is possible that the fires in so many river names were not the domestic fires of hunting camps but beacons lit to organise hunts or to define territories. This ambiguity is brought out by G. dobhair which can mean ‘territory’, ‘boundary’ or ‘water’ and which is found in river names and settlement names in both England and Scotland. The first element is cognate with AG. dubh ‘deer’ and the most appropriate sense is ‘tribal hunting lands defined by water’.

The general rule is that most place-names are as old as the named elements. The assumption is that, once named, a feature or locality very seldom changes its name. The whole point of naming a place is to create a permanent identify for it. If the names of most features are as old as the features themselves, most river names must be as old as the Mesolithic. Naming a new country has always been a priority with new settlers, since names serve as a way of finding one’s way around. Elements added since the Mesolithic will obviously have later name but the landscape seems to have been densely named at an early period.

In hilly country rivers are central to settlement and in flat country they are still often used as boundaries and in both cases would be among the earliest features to be named. However, given the power of clerks to influence place-names, it is quite probable that many smaller rivers were renamed at a later date in Anglo-Saxon or even modern English – Winterbourne is one such name. A few English rivers are known to have changed their names or go today by two different names. The Asker in Dorset was once the Loders, the Swift in Leicestershire was probably once the Lutter, and the river Limen in Kent is now known as the East Rother. The Thames is also the Isis and the Granta is also the Cam. Since the new names are as obscure as the old names in most of these cases, it is possible that these rivers once had different names at different places.

The custom of giving a river the same name throughout its length may be modern. River names are among the oldest and simplest names in Britain. The first settlements in Britain were on the banks of rivers, which were easy of access by land and by water and provided drinking water and, in times of emergency, fish to eat. The word ‘river’ is also cognate with E. tribe, another pointer to the link between tribal settlement and river catchment areas.

Sutton Walls

Sutton Walls hillfort is an elongated ovoid Iron Age Hill fort located 4 miles north of Hereford.

The hillfort dates back to the Iron Age. By 100 BC defences began to be constructed in the form of a v-shaped ditch and an internal bank, to accommodate a larger community. The people in the settlement lived in wood and stone huts

Archaeological digs have revealed that in around 48 AD, Sutton Walls was attacked by the Romans under the leadership of Ostorius Scapula and 24 of its inhabitants were slain and their bodies were thrown into the ditch.

After the fort was conquered and its people either banished or put to the sword, the Romans themselves occupied it and did so until about 3c. In this time the Romans greatly strengthened the forts

The fort is also regarded by many as being the location of the palace of Offa of Mercia. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it was at Sutton Walls where Offa arranged Æthelberht II (
St Ethelbert) of East Anglia to be murdered in 794. Mediaeval sources tell how he was taken captive whilst visiting his future Mercian bride Ælfthyth and was then murdered and buried. In Richard of Cirencester's account of the murder, which cannot be substantiated, Offa's evil queen Cynethryth poisoned her husband's mind until he agreed to have his guest killed. Æthelberht was then bound and beheaded by a certain Grimbert and his body was unceremoniously disposed of. The medieval historian John Brompton's Chronicon describes how the king's detached head fell off a cart into a ditch where it was found, before it restored a blind man's sight. Posthumously Æthelberht was canonised and became the focus of cults in East Anglia and at Hereford, where the shrine of the saintly king once existed.

St Ethelbert

Æthelberht, also called St Ethelbert the King, (died 20 May 794 at Sutton Walls, Herefordshire) was an 8c saint and a king of East Anglia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom which today includes the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Little is known of his reign, which may have begun in 779, according to later sources, and very few of the coins issued during his reign have been discovered. It is known from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that he was killed on the orders of Offa of Mercia in 794. He was subsequently canonised and became the focus of cults in East Anglia and at Hereford, where the shrine of the saintly king once existed. His feast day is May 20. Several Norfolk, Suffolk and West Country parish churches are dedicated to the saint.

Little is known of Æthelberht's life or reign, as very few East Anglian records have survived from this period. Mediaeval chroniclers have provided dubious accounts of his life, in the absence of any real details. According to Richard of Cirencester, writing in the fifteenth century, Æthelberht's parents were Æthelred I of East Anglia and Leofrana of Mercia.

River Leadon

The River Leadon is a tributary of the River Severn. It rises just south of the village of Acton Beauchamp, and flows south past Bosbury to the town of Ledbury. It then flows south and east past Dymock, Upleadon and Highleadon to join the Severn at Over, just west of Gloucester.

In the Middle Ages the Leadon flowed in two branches for the last two miles. The main stream, known as the New Leadon, flowed south of Over to join the river south of Over Bridge.

The river was prone to flooding, and to alleviate the problem the river was diverted in 1867 to flow along the branch previously known as the Old Leadon, and now the only course of the river, flowing into the Severn north of Over.

The name 'Leadon' or 'Leddon' is of Celtic origin, and means "broad stream". - but please note the
river-name derivations.

" Ledon, which her way doth through the desart make,
Though near to Dene ally'd, determined to forsake Her course,
and her clear lims among the bushes hide,
Lest by Sylvans, (should she chance to be espide)
She might unmaiden'd go unto the soveraign flood!
So many were the rapes done on the watery brood,
That Sabrine to her sire great Neptune forc'd to sue,
The ryots to represse of this outrageous crue."

The river Leadon as described by Michaell Drayton Esqr. [Part I] in the seventh song of his Poly-Olbion

The first instalment of Michael Drayton's long topographical and antiquarian poem, written in weighty alexandrines, appeared in 1612. The topographical structure is organised around rivers, the river passages variously recalling Spenser's poetry.


From the County of Hereford Quarter Sessions Order Books, Petitions, &c.
[Q/SR/28 - bundle of Petitions &c for Trinity 1740]
To the Justices of the peas at the Quarter Sessions held in Hereford the fifteenth day of July 1740 for the County of Hereford greeting

We whose names are herein under subscribed on behalf of our selves and the Rest of our friends caled Quakers in the County of Hereford do hereby certifie you that we have taken a barn in Ledbury of Charles Borrow(?) of the same to Hould Religious Meetings in for the Worship of God, and Desire that the said Barne may be Recorded & Lisensed for that purpose, as the Law requireth in that Case.
    (?) Perkins  [his first name was written with such a flourish that it's unclear - other than it was an abbreviation ending in "m"]
    Gabriel Smith
    Samuel Southall
    Peter Young
    Caleb Baker
    John Pitt
    Simon Price
    Wm Perkins jun'r    

Burgage Plots

Ledbury is a planned town, as distinct from having evolved around a topographical feature, such as a river.

Unplanned towns are often steeped in history, but there is much to be said for a planned town: the original planner(s) can plan the development of a previously undeveloped area from inception, and land use conflicts are uncommon. Many 20C new towns in England, for example, Basildon, Bracknell, Corby, Crawley, Cwmbran, Hatfield, Harlow, Hemel Hempstead, Letchworth, Newton Aycliffe, Petrerlee, Reddith, Runcorn, Skelmersdale, Stevenage, Telford, Washington, Welwyn Garden City, Milton Keynes, are planned towns.

During the Middle Ages, especially between the 12th and 14th centuries AD, many ‘new towns’ were established on previously unsettled land. The towns were intended to become centres of commerce and locations for markets and fairs. Many towns achieved the status of ‘borough’ and were often created by lords of the manor and local bishops hoping to increase their revenue through expanding populations and the development of trade; no different to property developers.

In general, ancient town-planning used a combination of the straight line and the right angle. The shape of a town was typically laid out as a single central thoroughfare, widening in the middle or at one end to form a green or market place, with long narrow strips, known as ‘burgage plots’ extending at right-angles. Each plot had its frontage to the main street so that the potential inhabitant (merchants and traders) of each building, in those days, called a ‘house’ had access to the main street where business could be carried out, with the strip of land that could be used for a variety of purposes, including stores, workshops, kitchen gardens and land for grazing livestock.
(A house is a building or structure that has the ability to be occupied for habitation by humans or other creatures. To distinguish between a house for residential accommodation and a commercial occupancy, the technical term ‘dwelling house’ or the more popular ‘home’ is commonly used.)

The basic unit of measurement was the perch which was 5.5 yards (5m) and the plots can be identified nowadays because they are in multiples of perches. As populations grew, ‘burgage plots’ could be split into smaller plots or extended to incorporate neighbouring plots.

Rental payment ("tenure") was usually in the form of money, but each ‘burgage tenure’ arrangement was unique, and could include services. In town, the burgesses had to be freemen: persons that were entitled to practise a trade within the town and to participate in electing members of the town’s ruling council.

In the very earliest chartered foundations, predating the Norman Conquest in 1066, the burgage plots were simply the plough-land strips of pre-existing agrarian settlements. In medieval England and Scotland, and some parts of the Welsh Marches, burgage plots or burgage tenements were inclosed fields extending the confines of a medieval town, established by the lord of the manor, as divisions of the 'open' manorial fields. The burgesses (equivalents of "burghers") to whom these tracts were allotted, as tenants of the enclosed lands, paid a cash rent instead of, as previously, occupying land by virtue of having given feudal service.

The way from the street to the back of the burgage plot without going through the building was the alley. An alley is a narrow strip of undeveloped land between each plot. In Ledbury, many of the alleys are closed to the public and with no public right of way, but for some, such as Tilley’s Alley (off High Street close to junction with Worcester Road) one can walk alongside and see for yourself the depth and shape of the plot.

The importance in ownership of a burgage plot was not limited to use of the land in that particular town. Burgage was also used as the basis of the franchise in many boroughs sending members to the House of Commons before 1832. A ‘borough’ was a town that possessed a Royal charter giving it the right to elect two members (known as burgesses) to the House of Commons. In boroughs the right to vote was attached to the occupation of particular burgage tenements. Since tenements could be freely bought and sold, and since the owner of the tenement was entitled to convey it for the election period to a reliable nominee, who could then vote, it was possible to buy the majority of the burgages and with it the power to nominate the members of Parliament.

For centuries, constituencies electing members to the House of Commons did not change to reflect population shifts, and in some places the number of electors became so few that they could be bribed. The boundaries of a borough rarely changed as the town or city expanded, so that in time the borough and the town were no longer identical in area. Because the borough was probably owned by one landowner, and there was no secret ballot for voting, the landowner could evict residents that did not vote for the person whom the landowner wanted as a member of the Commons. Boroughs that were effectively controlled by a single person became known as ‘rotten’ or ‘pocket’ boroughs. At the 1831 general election, out of 406 elected members, 152 were chosen by fewer than 100 voters, and 88 by fewer than 50 voters each.

Typically, rotten boroughs had gained representation in parliament when they were flourishing centres with a substantial population, but had become depopulated or even deserted over the centuries. Some had once been important places or had played a major role in England's history, but had fallen into insignificance.

In the early 19th century there were moves towards reform, culminating in the Great Reform Act 1832 and Reform Act 1867 which disenfranchised the 57 rotten boroughs and applied a uniform franchise to all boroughs. The principle was established that each parliamentary constituency should hold approximately the same number of electors. In 1872, the Ballot Act introduced the secret ballot, paying or entertaining voters was outlawed, and election expenses fell dramatically.

Ledbury is by no means unique in having burgage plots. The list of places is extensive, including for example, Birmingham, Burford, Bolton, Chipping Camden, Bromyard, Cricklade, Leeds, Monmouth, Stratford-upon-Avon, South Zeal in Devon (where plots were known as ‘borough acres’), Thame, Wells.

Ledbury and District Sports Federation

From Ledbury Reporter, 24/07/2012:
"John Masefield High School pupils have responded to the challenge to provide the new Ledbury and District Sports Federation with an eye-catching logo. Year 11 student Paige Stevens, aged 15, won the first prize in a competition for her dramatic design, which the federation will now use.

Ian Beer, president of the federation, said: “A long time ago your school created the design on the town’s War Memorial to commemorate the members of the RAF who gave their lives in war, and now you have created the logo for the Sports Federation to use as it tries to acquire new playing fields for future generations. At present Ledbury has only one-third of the acreage deemed appropriate for a town of our size and we have to improve this situation."

In 1961, then age 29, Ian Beer CBE was a very young Headmaster at Ellesmere College, Shropshire. In 1969 he went on to Lancing College and then to be Headmaster at Harrow 1981-1991.

Mr Beer, having played rugby for Cambridge University and internationally for England, has remained passionate about the game - Mr Beer was RFU president in 1993 and was tipped become chairman of the Sports Council in the same decade. On the occasion of his 80th Birthday earlier this year, Ellesmere College launched the Ian Beer Rugby Scholarship as gift from the staff and ‘old boys’ of the school.

Model of national excellence

In 2012, in a Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) report on the social and economic contribution made by local food, Ledbury’s economy is held as a model of national excellence.

edbury town centre has also been voted and ranked in the top four by a BBC Radio 4 listeners poll as one of Britain’s favourites.

John Masefield High School

John Masefield High School ('JMS') came into existence in 1978, on the amalgamation of Ledbury's Grammar and Secondary Schools and Canon Frome School.

An all ability 11-18 school, in September 1999 JMS became an Arts College, specialising in the Performing Arts of Dance Drama and Music.


Cinema, the Homend, Ledbury
In The Homend, at the corner of Bank Crescent, this old photo taken on Carnival Day during the 1940s shows the cinema. The building is now occupied by a greengrocer and other shops.

Eleanor Farjeon

Eleanor Farjeon
Farjeon Close, on the New Mills Estate, is named after Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), an English author of children’s stories and plays, poetry, biography and satire.

The prestigious Eleanor Farjeon Award for children's literature is presented annually in her memory by the Children's Book Circle, a society of publishers.

Her most widely known work is the children’s hymn: "Morning has Broken”* written in 1931 to an old Gaelic tune associated with the Scottish village Bunessan. It was later popularised by the folk singer Cat Stevens.

"Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word
Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day"

Click here for Youtube video of Cat Stevens singing

Her other popular hymn is the Advent carol "People, Look East!" usually sung to an old French melody, and a favourite with children's choirs.

Cattle Market

Ledbury Cattle Market postcard LHS Cattle Market
Market Street was opened in 1887 by the Ledbury Markets and Fairs Company. It served the new, purpose-built cattle market and was accessed from both New Street and Bye Street, Market Street s still a private, unadopted road.

The Cattle Market closed in 1999, the market site was sold and later redeveloped for a new health centre and doctor's surgery.

During the redevelopment, evaluation trenches were dug to investigate the possible presence of medieval deposits in the area currently occupied by the Cattle Market. Medieval features were seen in both the backland trenches and on the Bye Street frontage.

The central area of the site produced what appeared to be a medieval agricultural soil layer. Only the trench on the New Street frontage failed to produce medieval finds but the area here had been cleaned down for the construction of Market Street.

Another report from Marches Archaeology in 2002 recorded archaeological features were almost exclusively found on the Bye Street frontage and the associated backlands.
Pottery from the site suggests that late prehistoric and Roman activity took place somewhere within the vicinity of the site, but no prehistoric or Roman features were found, the earliest dating to the 12th and 13th centuries.

In the 14th and 15th centuries both sides of Bye Street were built up; the backlands on the S. side of Bye Street being used for domestic or commercial use.

In the 17th century the backlands were no longer being used for the same purpose; by this time the land was being used for horticulture, possibly as orchards as the land was later used in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A brook recorded on a map of 1788 shown running along the middle of Bye Street was culverted in the early 19th century.

Market Street opened

Market Street was opened in 1887 by the Ledbury Markets and Fairs Company. It served the new, purpose-built cattle market and was accessed from both New Street and Bye Street. it is still a private, unadopted road.

Wordsworth - St Katherine of Ledbury

Wordsworth - Sonnet - St Katherine of Ledbury

WHEN human touch (as monkish books attest) 
Nor was applied nor could be,
Ledbury bells Broke forth in concert flung adown the dells, 
And upward, high as Malvern’s cloudy crest; 
Sweet tones, and caught by a noble Lady blest 
To rapture! Mabel listened at the side 
Of her loved mistress: soon the music died, 

And Catherine said, “Here I set up my rest.” 
Warned in a dream, the Wanderer long had sought 
A home that by such miracle of sound
Must be revealed: --she heard it now, or felt 
The deep, deep joy of a confiding thought; 
And there, a saintly Anchoress, she dwelt 
Till she exchanged for heaven that happy ground.

Elizabeth Hall

Elizabeth Hall
This school was founded by Elizabeth Hall in 1708. It was intended to teach domestic crafts such as sewing, knitting, washing and cooking, as well as the basics of reading, writing and numbers.

When Miss Hall died she left enough money to provide for a school mistress and twenty-four children, and for a schoolmaster to teach eight of those to write.

In the 19th century for half a penny pupils could receive school dinners. On Mondays this was pea soup, Tuesdays rice pudding, Wednesdays Irish Stew, Thursdays boiled beef and suet pudding and Fridays pea soup again. The School was rebuilt in 1910 and was now known as the 'New School of Domestic'.

During the 1990s, the ground floor was occupied by The Collection Gallery. The building is now used as offices and owned by a firm of solicitors Daniels Ferraby, DF Legal.

Civil War

Situated at strategic cross-roads, Ledbury saw action in the Civil War in 1645. The Parliamentary intention to fortify the town in 1644 was never implemented, so the encounter between Prince Rupert and Colonel Masey, the Parliamentary governor of Gloucester on 22 April 1645 was brief and less destructive.

Prince Maurice rested with his troops in April 1643 and on 12 February 1645, 60 of Scudamore’s royalists charged through the streets.


First English Civil War (1642–1646) began the series of three wars known as the English Civil War (or "Wars").

"The English Civil War" was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations that took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651, and includes the Second English Civil War (1648–1649) and the Third English Civil War (1649–1651).

Market House

Market House, Ledbury
In 1617 a group of local citizens bought some property ‘at or near a place called the Corner End’ and here John Abel built the new Market Hall, also known as Lower or Wheat Market, nowadays Market House.

Upon 16 oak pillars, The Market House has a room above. An old deed directs "that the rent of the Market House shall be expended in providing yearly twelve coats or gowns for twelve poor persons of Ledbury, to be delivered every year at Christmas at the direction and appointment of the Rector and Churchwardens".

When the Market House was built, a shop was made under the staircase leading to the upper part of the building and which was let at about £2 a year. However “ in consequence of its situation rendering it a public nuisance, and that by serving as a wall for the playing at fives", it encouraged the resort of idle and disorderly persons, particularly on Sundays so it was removed by order of the Vestry, August 16th, 1818.

A long running dispute as to whether the stilts were constructed of Oak or Spanish Chestnut was decided in the 1980s when one of the supports had to be partially replaced. Analysis of the removed timber proved that they are made of Oak. Earlier major work was carried out in the Victorian times when a change of use to a town hall and meeting room was proposed. Much of what you can see today dates from that time, when the present windows, staircase, floor and staging were put in. Other restoration works were carried out in 1939, the 1970s and 1980s, but the most recent were in 2006, when it was discovered there was something seriously wrong with the stilts. Wood had become infested with insects, notably boring wasps, with further decay from rot. Building technology made it possible to strengthen the stilts while maintaining the 17th Century structural framework: the Market House was raised off the ground a full 600 mm to allow the builders to scrape out the damaged wood from the insides of the bases and the lower part of the supports, and replace with a mixture of lime/grout mortar, strong enough to take the load of the building, which was then lowered back onto its base.

When the Market House was built, a shop was made under the staircase leading to the upper part of the building and which was let at about £2 a year.

However “ in consequence of its situation rendering it a public nuisance, and that by serving as a wall for the playing at fives", it encouraged the resort of idle and disorderly persons, particularly on Sundays so it was removed by order of the Vestry, August 16th, 1818

Biddulph Family

1584 - Anthony Biddulph was born in 1584. He was the son of Simon Biddulph and Joyce Floyer and he married Elizabeth Palmer, the daughter of Robert Palmer.

1666 - Anthony Biddulph was born around 1666 and died in 1718. He was the son of Robert Biddulph and Mary Cullen. He married Constance Hall, daughter of Francis Hall (of Ledbury). He held the office of High Sheriff of Herefordshire in 1694 and had two sons, Robert and Michael.

1682 - Robert Biddulph was born in October 1682 and died in 1772 He married Anne Joliffe, daughter of Benjamin Joliffe and had two sons, the Reverend Benjamin Biddulph and Francis Biddulph.

1725 - Michael Biddulph was born on 21 January 1725 and died on 6 December 1800 at age 75. He married Penelope Dandridge, daughter of John Dandridge, on 14 September 1757. He lived at Cofton Hall and was father to Thomas Biddulph, Robert Myddelton Biddulph, Michael Frances Biddulph, John Biddulph, Penelope Biddulph, Mary Ann Biddulph, and Anne Biddulph.

1834 - Michael Biddulph, 1st Baron Biddulph was born on 17 February 1834. He was the son of Robert Biddulph and Elizabeth Palmer. He married, firstly, Adelaide Georgiana Peel, daughter of General Rt. Hon. Jonathan Peel and Lady Alicia Jane Kennedy, on 9 August 1864 in St. James's, Piccadilly, London. He married, secondly, Lady Elizabeth Philippa Yorke, daughter of Charles Philip Yorke, 4th Earl of Hardwicke and Hon. Susan Liddell, on 16 July 1877. He died on 6 April 1923 at age 89 in Ledbury and was buried on 10 April 1923 in Donnington.

Michael Biddulph was educated in Harrow School. He was a partner in the London banking firm of Cocks, Biddulph and Co. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D. L.) of Herefordshire. He was also a Member of Parliament (Liberal) for Hereford between 1865 and 1885 and a Member of Parliament (Liberal) for South Herefordshire between 1885 and 1886. He was also a Justice of the Peace (J. P.) for Herefordshire and Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire. He gained the title of 1st Baron Biddulph, of Ledbury in 1903.

1869 - John Michael Gordon Biddulph, 2nd Baron Biddulph was born on 19 November 1869 in London and died on 17 December 1949. He married Marjorie Caroline Susan Mure, daughter of Lt.-Col. William Mure and Hon. Constance Elizabeth Wyndham, on 10 November 1896 in Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford University with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and held the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Herefordshire. He was a director of Martin's Bank and held the office of Justice of the Peace for Herefordshire.


The Biddulph family vault, Ledbury cemetery
Inscribed: "This vault was built by Michael Biddulph (Dsa?) in the year 1861 as a burial place for his family; the family vault in the church of this parish having been closed by the council."

Tomb of King's Carpenter

John Abel (1578/9 - 1675) was an English carpenter and mason, granted the title of 'King's Carpenter', who was responsible for several notable structures in the ornamented Half-timbered construction typical of the West Midlands.

John Abel was born in Sarnesfield, Herefordshire. He was a Catholic recusant, along with his wife Johanna. (A 'recusant' is a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation; historically a Roman Catholic in England who refused to attend services of the Church of England.) In 1618 he was brought before a church court to answer for his recusancy and also for his secret marriage to Johanna. The case against him was eventually dismissed, but his name can be found on a list of Catholic recusants from 1640

One of his first commissions was to provide a new roof for Vowchurch Church in 1613. He built the Town Hall at Brecon in 1624 and 10 years later the Market Hall at Leominster. On 20 August 1625 Abel signed a contract to build Lady Hawkins' Grammar School at Kington, for which he was to receive £240. All that survives today are some ceiling beams and a window. His fame was taken a stage further in 1633, when he signed a contract for the rebuilding and repair of Dore Abbey. A century of indifference over the fate of this Cistercian monastery had left it in a sorry state, but Abel was more than up to the challenge - finding, felling and using the timber all in five months.

In 1634 he built the splendid Leominster Town Hall, which stood as a testament to Abel's expertise for 222 years. In 1855 the town council took it down and offered it for sale. It aroused little interest and was sold for £95. Then the MP for Leominster, John Arkwright, bought it for the same sum and offered it back to the council if it would agree to re-erect it. They refused, however, and it was eventually re-built as a private house, known as The Grange, on a site near the Priory Church. It remained privately owned until the 1930s, when a more caring council, alert to the possibility of it being sold to America, bought it for £3,000 and today remains a source of civic pride in Leominster.

Other notable buildings constructed by Abel included the timber-framed market hall in Kington, which was taken down in 1820 and replaced. Then came Monnington Court, which still stands today, and the rebuilding of Brampton Bryan church in 1656.

The honour of King's Carpenter was bestowed on Abel for his efforts in 1645 when the Scots laid siege to the city of Hereford, which was defended by Barnabas Scudamore? The Scots had succeeded in destroying the powder mill on which the garrison depended for ammunition. But Abel's ingenuity in making hand mills saved the day - Hereford was able to hold out and the King himself raised the siege by riding into the city.

Abel married twice, but there is no record of his second wife except on his table tomb in Sarnesfield. He had one son, named John, who later became churchwarden of Sarnesfield

Abel died in January 1675 and was buried at Sanesfield on 31 January. He was 97 years old. He wrote his own epitaph and built his own tomb. His tombstone read:

"This craggy Stone covering is for an Architector's Bed
That lofty Buildings raised high, yet now lyes low His Head
His line and Rule, So Death concludes, are locked up in Store
Build they that [who] list, or they that wist, for He can Build no More
His House of Clay could Hold no Longer
May Heavens joy frame (build) Him a Stronger
Vive ut vivas in vitam aeternam."
—John Abel

Booth Hall

The "Booth Hall" according to Ledbury Parish Church Archives, we learn from 'The Parish of Ledbury in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth l' by the late Miss S.F Robinson, there may have been built here a Booth Hall to replace the original early 15th century one sited where the Feathers Hotel now is.

Such a use for this building - with its concern for the proper conduct of Ledbury's markets and fairs; market toll gathering; the Court of Piepowder*; control of vagrants and the distribution of poor law monies - might well account for the very particular choice of texts used in the Painted Room, with their emphasis on the good citizen, duty and love.

* The Court of Piepowder - The ancient court of rough and ready justice for all-comers to fairs and markets, particularly vagrants, wayfarers and itinerants - those with 'dusty feet' (from the Old French, 'Pied poudre.')' (Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, New Ed. 1988)

Black Death plague

The full impact of the Black Death plague in 1348 was not felt in Herefordshire until 1349

Upper Hall

Upper Hall, Ledbury
Upper Hall is sited on elevated position well above the flood plain of the Leadon, close to centre of Ledbury Town, yet well established woodland landscaping ensures that it remains apart from it. The origins of Upper Hall can be traced back to the year 1201 and for more than 800 years the residents of the buildings on the site - during that time it had been known variously as Aula Superior, Over Court, Over Hall, Upper Hall - have played an integral and prominent part in the history of Ledbury and the surrounding district.

An important consideration of the location of Upper Hall is its proximity to the Church. The original buildings have been added to and extended over history. A most attractive part of Upper Hall is a fine Jacobean Wing constructed around 1670. In the 1730s a Georgian Wing was added, the central feature of which is a delightful oak parlour,. In 1766 the Jacobean and Georgian Wings were joined by a three storey house constructed to a mid-Georgian style. From around 1850 a large number of alterations were carried out to Upper Hall to give it a predominately Victorian theme.

Upper Hall belonged to Skyppe family until 1812 and their successors Martin, a banking family (Martins Bank later amalgamated with Barclays). During his ownership, John Martin transformed the external setting and approaches to Upper Hall surrounding it with parkland. Trees from home and abroad, including conifer, cedar and willow to name but a few, were imported and together with imaginative landscaping he created lovely surroundings for the main buildings. Although some of these features have now disappeared, many of them still remain in place, particularly the park and woodland. The original driveway, which extends to approximately 450 yards, leads from the main Worcester Road and was created to enable visitors to appreciate at first hand the superbly laid out grounds and the collection of trees, following as it does, a picturesque route towards the main house.

During World War I, the building was used as a hospital, and later augmented by the construction of further buildings. By 1920, “Upper Hall comprised a commodious family mansion, picturesquely situated and containing a suite of well proportioned reception rooms and 27 bedrooms" . That year Upper Hall was sold to Herefordshire County Council, who converted it into a Secondary School which soon became known as Ledbury Grammar School initially providing accommodation for 150 boys and girls aged 10 to 15 years. By 1970 there were 317 pupils on the roll. In 1978 through re-organisation of the secondary education system in the Ledbury area the buildings became part of the John Masefield High School with the Upper Hall site retained for pupils between 11 to 13 in their first two years of secondary education.

In about 1997, after a period of disuse and neglect, the building was sold by Herefordshire County Council to a London-based solicitor who converted the Hall and outbuildings into private apartments that were then sold off individually, thereby ending, as is the wont of property developers, the benefit of single ownership.