THE TOWN OF LEDBURY may have derived its name from the Welsh Led, a vale side, but more probably from the River Leddon which flows near the town. Ledbury is almost equi-distant from Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester being about 16 miles from each, and 8 miles from Malvern. The first record we find of the town is that it was given to the Church of Hereford by a powerful Saxon, Edwin, son of Ederick the forester “the Clergy having made him believe that he was cured of the Palsy by the intercession of St Ethelbert.” This Ederick was contemporary with the Conqueror, and the event therefore took place in the 11th century. Ledbury is mentioned in Domesday Book and was then called ‘Leide-berge’. It was at that time a manor of the See of Hereford and was for some centuries the most valuable in the manors of the See. It was recorded that William I restored to the Bishop of Hereford “Hasles” taken by Harold. This is still known as Hazel Farm.
In the reign of Henry I, the Bishop of Hereford died here from which it may be concluded that the episcopal palace of which a vestige still exists as a cottage in Bye for Bishops Street was then here. In fact it was probably erected during the reign of the Conqueror.
The old custom of “Borough English” here holds good, if a man dies intestate his freehold property descends to the youngest son. The town formerly returned two members to Parliament but not being able to support them the privilege was surrendered in the time of Edward I. 1301, Queen Elizabeth exchanged the manor of Ledbury with the Bishop, and James I gave it to his son Charles. The latter first mortgaged it and then sold it to the Citizens of London, and they resold it in shares to the predecessors of the present proprietors.
About 1400 a College was founded in Ledbury Church for Chaplains, with clerks and servants. This was liberally endowed and existed for nearly 150 years. At its dissolution its lands were given to the Crown.
During the reign of Charles 1 Ledbury and the neighbourhood witnessed some of the smaller engagements of the Civil War, one occasion being specially memorable as The Battle of Ledbury. On April 22nd 1646 Colonel Massey’s Forces were routed by Prince Rupert, 100 men were killed, and 28 officers and 400 men were taken prisoner. Prince Rupert’s headquarters were in Lord BIDDULPH’s house where a room is called by this name.
In 1735, during the turnpike riots, a violent assault was made on the Upper Hall where the ringleaders were kept prisoners. Justice SKIPP and the townspeople defended the same and several rioters lost their lives.
The Chartist Rebellion also left traces in Ledbury. One of the last of the Chartist died in the Almshouses here, and the houses built by the Chartist Colony still exist at Staunton, a few miles away.
The Ancient Trade of Ledbury was the making of cloth which, so far back as the reign of Elizabeth and James I, was carried on to a large extent, doubtless the factories were on the Leddon.
Until recent years a Free Grammar School existed in the old house adjoining the Prince of Wales Inn, in Church Lane. This was founded in 1612 and endowed with the rents of the dissolved Chantry Lands. In 1831, we notice in an old Guide to Ledbury, the town possessed 7 other schools, one of them being what is now known as the Southend School. This originated through two ladies (Mrs. Elizabeth HALL and MILBOROUGH SKINNER), leaving a portion of land to found a school for 24 poor children. The patronage of the same is in the BIDDULPH family.
A hundred years ago no less than 5 coaches ran through Ledbury, the town being situated at a junction of cross roads. Every article, except coal, then paid a turnpike toll before it reached the town. The old Guide before mentioned also states that the disagreeable practice of slaughtering pigs in the street “had just been abolished.
The situation of Ledbury is very fine hill and valley alternating in beautiful undulation whilst the Malvern Hills and Wye Valley are within a few miles. The town is sheltered by a spur of the Malverns from which extensive views can be obtained. Malvern visitors to Eastnor Castle can easily visit the town by prolonging their drive through 2 miles of charming scenery.
It is well worth a visit, few towns having so well preserved such an ancient aspect. Picturesque, many-gabled houses abound and time-worn tenements with steep flights of stems are in between the quaint half-timbered dwellings.
Ledbury has, in bygone years, been visited by many of England’s distinguished characters, among them being the ancient Bishops of Hereford (notably Bishop SWINFIELD), King John, Edward II and Edward IV. Queen Victoria visited Ledbury when a child and stayed at Ledbury Park where a tree admired by her is still called the Victoria Elm. Many remember the visit of Princess Christian, while the recent of the Duke and Duchess of Teck with Princess May, England’s future Queen, and that of Princess Henry of Battenberg are within memory of all.
A very pleasant driving tour of the vicinity can be made starting from Malvern, to the British Camp, Eastnor and Ledbury, returning via Bosbury, Coddington, Colwall and the Wyche. The many cyclists who come to the district as tourists will find the scenery will repay them for their somewhat hilly ride. The roads too, are generally in very good condition.
The principal streets are High Street, continued North and South by Homend and Southend, and crossed on the South side by Horse Lane and New Street and on the North, by Church Lane and Bye Street.
The area of Ledbury Parish is 7,706 acres, population 3,358. The town is very healthy, the death rate being extremely low. The Upper Cross, Ledbury, stands about 250 feet above sea level.
The Markets are held every Tuesday, and stock sales on alternate Tuesdays, whilst a pleasure fair is held in October. The Charter for the markets was granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1584.
There is an Urban Council numbering 15 members, and a Board of School Managers numbering six.
The district is of great interests to Geologists being particularly rich in fossils and minerals.
This is a large and striking edifice dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, the present Rector being the Rev. F.W. CARNEGY, M.A, R.D. No doubt a Church was in existence on this site in Saxon times but the present Church dates from the 11th century, with a few Saxon fragments still remaining. One authority states that bells were rare in Saxon Churches, their introduction here required an additional building which is one reason for the tower being detached.
In the year 1892 the unsightly ceiling in the Chancel was removed at the cost of the Rector, Rev. Preb. C E MADDISON GREEN and Mr W.A.H. MARTIN.
In 1894 - 95 through the efforts of the Rector, the Church was thoroughly restored under the late Mr J.I. PEARSON, R.A., at a total cost of over £6,000 all of which was collected within 5 years. During the restoration (the last of three) the floor was re-laid on a thick bed of concrete, the vaults cemented, the organ rebuilt, the stonework and tracery of the windows extensively renewed, the walls cleared of plaster and entirely re-pointed, the fabric generally repaired and the Church furnished throughout with oak seats.
The Church is so old that Domesday Book records a Priest here.
In the great North Porch (Late Early English 1270) is the ‘Consecration Cross’ carved in olden times on its ancient stonework which is pitted in numerous places with bullet marks, relics of the Civil Wars. Above which are two rooms considered by many to have been formerly for the use of the Priest in Sacristan. They contain fireplace and Holy Water scoop and are now connected with the Vestry by a small circular staircase in the wall. The Vestry door is restored Early English and the window near is a copy of the Reynold’s window in New College, Oxford, given by the SAUNDERS family. From this north aisle a large ‘dol’ gallery was removed in 1895 (the survivor of three) on condition that the BIDDULPH family pew should still be retained. A modern edition of this is in the north aisle.
To the left of the aisle is St Katherine’s Chapel, or Chantry, with its beautiful traceried windows. Probably it was neither, but was used as a Chapter House. It is a beautiful piece of work, the ball flower being much in evidence. It dates about 1315, the door being probably even older. The exterior buttresses are much confined showing the tower was already built. By the arch is an ancient figure in Ecclesiastical robes formerly no doubt, recumbent, but now placed in the wall. This may have been a coffin lid and is on black marble wonderfully preserved. In this Chapel is also an ancient Prayer Book attached to a stand used for a chained Bible.
Behind the Organ is a very ancient figure resting on a decorated tomb. The figure is reputed to be ‘Sainte Kateryne’ , the Patron Saint of Ledbury, of whom the following legend is told : In the reign of Edward II, a certain Catherine AUDLEY, a religious woman, had a revelation that she should only dwell in a town where the bells should ring of themselves. She and her maid, Mabel, coming to Ledbury found the bells ringing without ringers, so here she built a hermitage and dwelt. Two portions of land near the town are called St. Catherine’s Acre and Mabel’s Furlong, and are doubtless connected with this legend. The Altar tomb of perpendicular Gothic work, is supposed to belong a member of the Royal Family of that date. Here too, is a Tablet erected by Elizabeth BARRETT BROWNING, England’s greatest poetess, who dwelt at Hope End, to the memory of her parents, and from behind the organ is obtained the best view of the Hagioscope or Leper’s Hole which was discovered in 1875. The organ itself was formerly in the West Gallery. It was removed to its present position in 1881, and enlarged and rebuilt in 1895.
The beautiful Pulpit (to the memory of the late Rector’s only son and child), the Altar Rails, the Reading Desks in St Anne’s Chapel were all carved by the late Rector, Rev. J. JACKSON, and given by him to the Church.
The Brass Lectern is a memorial from the MILES family.
The handsomely carved Screens were the gift of an anonymous donor in the Jubilee year.
The large arch is Transitional and the shape very unusual. It bears traces of a Rood Screen.
The Choir Stalls form part of the restoration and are modern but are handsomely carved by LUSCOMBE, of Exeter. Nine of the Elbow Stalls behind are formed of the old miserere seats formerly used by the nine priests appointed before the Reformation to serve the Church. Here too, is the MARTIN monument which was exhibited at the Great Expedition of 1851, and is by Mrs THORNEYCROFT. The SKINNER tomb is very quaint and was erected about 1630.
The oldest complete portions in the Church are the Norman arches in the Chancel with round pillars and heavy square piers. The latter are very unusual and quite inexplicable by Archaeologists. They date about 1060. At the back of the Pulpit and by the West Door are Norman responds showing that formerly the Norman arches continued down each side of the Nave, also that a column which shows a low arch. Spanned the old Norman aisle which, with its lean-to roof, was more narrower than the present aisles. The clerestory windows also probably continued the whole length of the Nave and most likely were never glazed but gave light to the interior in their present condition, the two aisles not then existing.
Some of the Chancel windows are still Norman with traces of others which have been filled in and there were three Norman windows originally in place of the East window. The latter is a memorial of the MARTIN family.
Over the Altar is a fine painting of ‘The Last Supper’ after Leonard Da Vinci, by Mr Thomas BALLARD of Ledbury, 1824.
The Norman Piscina with four fine Aumbries show that the Church was then rich in plate. South of the Chancel there is a Curvilinear window,1340, and a perpendicular window about 1400.
The opening for the Easter Sepulclure is in the North wall but the arch is of later date. Also in the north wall is a solid mass of masonry which probably once carried the masonry of the Sanctus.
The fine Cradle Roof in the Chancel was exposed in 1892.
The window in St Anne’s Chapel is very fine and is a memorial to the late Mr RUSSELL of Woodlands. This is one of the windows recently filled with stained glass, the others being in memory of Queen Victoria, of various members of the MARTIN family, Rev. Canon MUSGRAVE, Dr and Mrs HENRY, Mr and Mrs GORDON, Mr E. MADDISON, Mr E.J. WEBB and Mrs PALLAIRET, a Subscription Window commemorating the completion of the restoration of the Church (all by C.E. KEMPE), also one placed in the south aisle by Lord BIDDULPH (by WARD & HUGHES). In St Anne’s Chapel too, is the handsome SAUNDERS Tablet (by WESTMACOTT) and below is one to the memory of William MILES esq (by FLAMMON). The Cooper monuments bears the following :-
“Edward Cooper grave, learned and wise,
Archdeacon of Hereford and Canon erst here lies.
Of Ledbury Hospital, Master in his life:
The poor did p’tect, their land rid from strife.
The time will come, when you will be here as I am now.”
Another tomb bears an inscription to James BAILEY, a Conisor (shoemaker), aged 100 years, died 1674. There are many other curious inscriptions in the Church. The following brasses are on the pillars near the organ:-
“ Say Paternoster for Sir W. CALLOW
Who loved God well, and All Hallows “
“ Dead, yes, and worm’d, admit he be, what then ?
He lives enclos’d within ye hearts of men,
Earth must be earth, and here the part’s confined
His purer part by Angels is enshrined. “
And on the floor of St Anne’s Chapel is :
“The worlds fashion defied
Our Lord’s Passion applied.
His bliss only in this descried
Ould Richard HAYWARD died.”
An. Dom. 1618
Beneath the South West window are many monuments to the BIDDULPH family (one by WESTMACOTT). In one of the South windows was a glass sundial, it is now preserved in St Anne’s Chapel. In 1882 the West window was restored and filled with coloured glass representing the 1st and 2nd Advent, in memory of the late Mr and Mrs. WEBB of Ledbury, of whom the latter died at the age of 102.
The West door has a fine Norman arch surrounded with rich moulding and is a good specimen of the late Norman style, the exterior being the most ancient. Just above, originally, there were three Norman windows, and there is a small Norman door near by which access can be gained to the roof. Over this door was a Campanile, as the rope hole still existing indicates. The pinnacles outside the West front are very rare The bases of the Nave pillars are very curious and are considered by many to be Saxon. The two sets of pillars vary, one being octagonal, the other having eight inequal sides.
A brass plate near the Vestry records that the bells were repaired, rehung etc by the WOOD family in memory of their Uncle in 1897, whist another brass announces that the same family gave the Carillon in the Tower, which plays tunes on the bells every three hours, in memory of their father who died in 1898.
The seats in the Church are now all free.
The TOWER is quite separate from the Church. This is more usual in Herefordshire than any other part of the Kingdom. The reason may have been to prevent damage should the spire fall, or some think the towers were used for defence. The base of the Tower is Norman, and the Steeple is 202 feet high. The Tower contains a peal of 8 bells which chime by machinery. Ledbury was one of few places where the old custom of ringing the curfew continued until quite recently.
In the CHURCHYARD are many quaint inscriptions. One bearing the date 1825 and 1838 in memory of Thomas RUSSELL, has the well-known lines of a Blacksmith. Another also near the South door has a curious epitaph to John HEATH, a Cooper. Within the Churchyard gates is the Old RECTORY, a partially-timbered building.
Close by are the UPPER and LOWER HALLS, Ledbury, formerly the residence of the two Portitioners of Ledbury Church, the former existing in 1542.
To the South of the Church is the entrance of Cabbage (Capuchin) Lane, but the way used by most people is the Old Church Lane. This is a narrow road with old posts preventing vehicular traffic bearing traces of great antiquity.
The CHURCH HOUSE, by the Churchyard gates, has lately been completely restored by the Rector and is now a perfect specimen of half-timbered architecture. The houses in Church Lane consist almost entirely of 16th and 17th century half-timbered buildings. The OFFICES at the West end were formerly used as a Magistrate’s Room. In the cellar is a small arched recess, with a cavity in the wall, which is believed to have been used as a place of secret worship, and we have already alluded to the old King Edward VI school.
The MARKET HOUSE:- This stands at the lower end of High Street and is a half-timbered building, tempo Charles II, standing on 16 pillars of Spanish Chestnut acquired from the old ‘Malvern Chase’. It was erected towards the end of the 17th century, supposedly by John ABELL, the rent to be used in charity. This was formerly called the Corn Market House, being built for housing corn at a time when the farmers brought it to the market in bulk. It was afterwards used to warehouse wool, hops etc, and then let for meetings, the profits from the same being given to the removal of the ‘Butchers Row’. This was a row of unsightly houses that formerly stood in the centre of High Street near the present fountain. It was a public nuisance and was gradually removed early in the last century. In by-gone years the practice of bull baiting was carried on in the bull ring near the Market House and until 1617 a row of shops stood on its site. The Market House was restored about 1860 and the interior is now used for meeting, and a butter and poultry market is held in the lower part.
At the corner of the Lower Cross formerly stood an old Tannery and some ancient half-timbered houses. These were pulled down in 1892 to make room for the ‘BARRETT BROWNING MEMORIAL, WHICH CONSISTS OF A Clock Tower and Institute, containing the Library and Reading Room etc. This is an imposing structure and is well in character with its older surroundings. Visitors are admitted to the Reading Room on payment of One Penny. The Poetess spent her girlhood within the Parish of Ledbury, and this monument to her genius was raised chiefly by the efforts of Mr C.W. STEPHENS, of Ledbury.
In passing we may mention that the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning abound in poetic descriptions of the neighbourhood, such as :-
‘Hills, Vales, Woods netted in a silver mist,
Farms, Granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales
And Cottage chimneys smoking from the woods,
And Cottage Gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with the smell of orchards. ‘
ST KATHARINE’S HOSPITAL :- This is a quaint Almshouse opposite the Market House. Unfortunately the northern modern part does not correspond with the older wing. This Almshouse was founded by Bishop Elliot/Falliot about 1232, re-established in 1580 under Queen Elizabeth, and re-regulated by Act of Parliament in 1819. The Dean and Chapter of Hereford are Trustees. One wing was erected in 1822, the other in 1866. The back view of the whole is most picturesque and may be approached through the central tower. The Chapel is a specimen of the early English style and part of it was used as a stable by Cromwell’s soldiers. It is the only portion remaining of the original building. The old Clock (1642) faces the High Street and the bell is used as an alarm of fires. Ancient rumour has it that this bell was dug up in the ruins of the earthquake at Marcle Hill but there is no record of the same.
In the BYE STREET are many ancient houses, one, with carved lintels, is supposed to have been part of the ‘Bishop’s Palace.’ Formerly an open sewer or brook ran down the street being the overflow from the waterfall in the Churchyard.
The CATTLE MARKET lies between Bye Street and New Street.
In The Homend, ABBEY HOUSE and the building opposite are half-timbered residences in splendid preservation, while the new COTTAGE HOSPITAL is in harmony with the more antique neighbours. It was presented to the town in December 1891 by Lord BIDDULPH, to commemorate the coming of age of his eldest son in November 1891. It is entirely dependent on donations and subscriptions and does much good work for the neighbourhood.
In High Street, THE FEATHERS HOTEL is a good specimen of an old gabled house, and many other houses are of Tudor origin, with overhanging storeys.
LEDBURY PARK, formerly called the New House, is the residence of Lord BIDDULPH. It stands at the Upper Cross and was built in 1590. As previously mentioned, Prince Rupert is believed to have taken up his quarters here when he occupied the town, which he evacuated on the raising of the siege of Gloucester, He retreated north but fell back upon the town on the morning of Wednesday the 22nd April 1645 and surprised the Parliamentarians under Col. MASSEY who reacted with great slaughter at the Battle of Ledbury. He pursued them for four miles on the road to Gloucester. Slugs and bullets have been extracted from the north door of the Church and cannon balls at Wall Hill’s Camp. The house had originally had two exits into the street – one on the north and the other on the west side. These are seen in an old picture of the house, dated 1733. It was covered with rough coat which so effectively protected it that when at length it was stripped off in 1897, the timbers were found in such an excellent state of preservation that the present owner determined on having the house restored as it was originally built. It is hoped that it will remain in this state for many years to come. It is now a perfect model of Tudor black and white architecture. Opposite is one of the quaintest bits of Old Ledbury, the old gabled house on its wooden pillars, and below, in the New Street, (near the Post Office) is the Old Talbot Inn which has an oak panelled room, dated 1596.
THE STEPPES, almost opposite, is also a fine half-timbered residence, recently restored.
The CONGREGATIONAL CHAPEL, High Street, is the oldest established chapel in the town and was rebuilt in 1852. The original Chapel existed on this site early in the 17th century.
The WESLEYAN CHAPEL is a brick edifice in Homend, built in 1849 and recently restored.
The BAPTIST CHAPEL in Homend was built in 1831 and has since been enlarged.
A CEMETERY, about half a mile from the town was opened in 1861. The same is well laid out and well kept. In 1907 it was much enlarged.
In addition to the SOUTHEND SCHOOL, already mentioned (the girls of which wore, until very recently, quaint red cloaks), there is a Council School for boys in the Homend, and for girls and infants in the Back Lane.
Great improvements have been effected in the town by the LEDBURY BUILDING SOCIETY established in 1885, and the LEDBURY MARKETS AND FAIRS COMPANY formed in 1887.
Near the STATION are the Kennels of the LEDBURY HUNT, the hounds meet in the neighbourhood three times weekly throughout the season. On one side of the station is a long TUNNEL, on the other, a VIADUCT of considerable height.
The neighbourhood is well known for its fine cider and perry, and also for its extensive growth of hops – both important industries.
HOP-PICKING commences early in September and finishes early in October. Thousands of pickers arrive from Birmingham and Cheltenham districts. Many visitors arrive during this period and stay at the various farm houses, thoroughly enjoying the novel experience of hop-picking.
About half a mile from Ledbury Station there are the remains of a very considerable camp at Wall Hills. The general opinion is that it was once a British town. It is said to have had three entrances, one of them called the King’s Gate. The area is spacious, and in ploughing it human bones and spear and arrow heads have been found.
Traces of another camp, situated very picturesquely near Mitchell are to be seen at Kilbury Camp about a mile distant, and at Midsummer Hill (3 miles) there is an earth-dwellers village.
The HEREFORDSHIRE BEACON (4 ½ miles). This beautiful prospect almost passes description. From the top of the hill can be seen the Radnorshire Hills, the Clee Hills and the Wrekin, (Shropshire), the Black Mountain (Brecon), the Sugar Loaf (Monmouth), Hereford, May Hill (Glos) and the Bristol Channel on the one side, whilst the reverse of the picture has Worcester, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Broadway Hills, the Cotswolds etc. The earthwork crowning its summit is known as the British Camp. It is one of the strongest hill fortresses in the Island. The vast labour employed in its construction, the extent of its ramparts and trenches, its well chosen situation, its singular form, so different to anything of the ? Saxons and Romans all combine to credit its origins to the Britons. It was evidently for a place of permanent security where an entire district might seek refuge with all their possessions.
Formerly rumour had it that vast treasures were hidden in the Malvern Hills. The only valuable ever recovered was found in 1650 about a stone’s throw from the Camp. This was a bracelet of gold and precious stones dug up by a cottager and sold for £37. The stones were ultimately sold for £1500, though one would think the ancient ornament would have been more valuable intact.
The GIANTS CAVE on the slope of the Herefordshire Beacon towards Eastnor, is a small cave rudely cut in the rock. Locally it bears the above name but its origin is unknown. It is not improbable it may have been a retreat for some recluse, especially as it is close to ‘Walms Well’, a fine spring.
The RUSSELL ENDOWED SCHOOL, in the Southend, is subsidised by the interest of £5000, left by the late Mrs Emma RUSSELL, of Woodlands, and from which 20 or 25 boys of the middle class have their fees wholly or partially paid. The Head Master is Mr F.W. WADE, M.A.
ENQUIRY OFFICE - Visitors wishing to make enquiries concerning the town or neighbourhood can gain further information at Tilley & Son’s Library, opposite the Feathers Hotel.
1897 - 1980 A Retrospect Tilleys Almanacks - Herefordshire History
Photographs are credited to the owners where possible
Edited Comments in italics are from the Old Ledbury Facebook Group
Cuttings are from Old Ledbury Reporter Newspapers
History of Ledbury in the 19th Century
Herefordshire Archive Records Centre HARC
1920 The Visitors - Transcribed by Janet MEREDITH ( Hobby )