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.