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Agriculture and industry overview

The open field system of agriculture was widely evident throughout England from the Norman Conquest to the end of the 18th century. However in the Welsh borderland and Herefordshire it had a relatively short life.

Earthworks of ridge and furrow and documentary evidence shows that this system was prevalent in the Marches by about 1300 but it formed only part of the agricultural system, alongside pastoral farming.

Records for fruit production in Herefordshire date from the 14th century, and Beale in his book Herefordshire Orchard: A Pattern for All England describes the county as the "Orchard of England". Indeed, by the late 18th century fifteen varieties of cider apple and six of pear were being grown in the county. Later, more than 27,000 acres of the county would be taken up by fruit production. Today the county is the fourth largest fruit producer in England, and Bulmers produces 65% of the cider in the UK each year.

Unfortunately, Herefordshire failed to establish itself as a major industrial centre because of its poor communication and transport systems. The River Wye proved to be unreliable for navigation and transportation in and out of Hereford and the county. Most transportation of goods was done by packhorse or cart along the bumpy and often boggy tracks of the county.

Due to the poor transportation network Hereford failed to make a name for itself on the national market, and as other county towns were progressing and expanding Hereford remained a mainly local market town. As a county town Hereford lacked any major industry of its own. In 1700 the main manufacturing industry of the town was glove-making, but even this was in decline by the end of the 18th century.

With the completion of the Leominster & Stourport and the Hereford & Gloucestershire canals, and the coming of the railway in the first half of the 19th century, the fortunes of the city improved slightly. In 1757 the population of the city was 5,595 (3,878 within the city walls and 1,714 outside) but less than 10 years later it was over double this number. The 1851 census puts the population of Hereford at 12,000. The introduction of gas and local public transport towards the end of the 19th century caused Hereford to expand rapidly outside of its medieval walls, and it began to swallow up the smaller settlements that had grown up around it.

The first railways had arrived in England in the 1830s. However, they did not reach Herefordshire until January 1853, making Hereford the last of the cathedral cities in the country to gain a railway service.

Elsewhere in the county, the fortunes of the other market towns were following a similar line to that of the county town. Leominster, once famous for its wool (once compared in fineness to the silk of a silkworm by the poet Michael Drayton), was now finding that this industry had tailed off. Leominster and its high quality wool had had the potential to become one of the major woollen centres in the country, but unfortunately the River Lugg and the Pinsley Brook which run through the area did not flow fast enough to drive the large waterwheels needed in a textile mill. Like Hereford, Leominster had a glove industry but this was not highly prosperous. In the 1830 Pigot's Directory Leominster is described as being "more in a state of decay than improvement".

Ross-on-Wye, a market town in the south of the county, also failed to make an impact on national industry. The Market Hall of the town was built in 1660-1674, and continued to be the focus of the town's trade well into the 19th century. As well as the Market Hall, in the 19th century Ross could also boast 17 inns and shops, all purveying a range of crafts from baskets and ropes to weaving and braziers. Later, the manufacture focused on agricultural implements but this still remained on a local level.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]