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Ledbury Town Walk

Ledbury is a market town in east Herefordshire. It is named after the river Leadon, which runs through the area. In the Domesday Survey of 1086 it is recorded as 'Liedeberge' (Domesday Book, Herefordshire, eds. Frank and Caroline Thorn, 2,26, Phillimore, 1983). In the 12th century Ledbury had a Bishop's Palace and the Bishop of Hereford was formally lord of the manor of Ledbury. For some time Ledbury was the most valuable of all the manors held by the Bishop.

One important trade carried on in Ledbury in the 16th and 17th centuries was cloth-making, which had been profitable here since the reign of Elizabeth I. Tanning was also a significant trade and there were numerous tanning pits in the town. Glove making was carried out by the women of Ledbury, who worked on machines in their own homes and sold their products at Worcester. Unfortunately this industry went into decline and had more or less ceased by the end of the 19th century.

In the post-medieval period the principal trade of Ledbury was dependent on the produce of the surrounding orchards and hop fields.

It was hoped that trade and commerce in the town would be improved by the opening of the Hereford and Gloucester Canal, which it was also hoped would lower coal prices. The section of the canal from Over in Gloucestershire to Ledbury opened in 1798 but it was not completed to Hereford until 1845. The canal no doubt increased the movement of goods in and out of Ledbury but unfortunately it was never the commercial success that was hoped. The first railway to stop in Ledbury town was the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway, which opened in 1885. This would have opened up Ledbury to the world outside and would have increased goods and tourist traffic both in and out of the town.

Start your walk at John Masefield High School and head into town along Southend. Along here on your left you will find:

The Old Girls' School (HER 19892)

Old Girls' School, Southend, Ledbury 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

From here carry on into town and at the junction with Upper Cross on your right you will see:

Ledbury Park or Southend (HER 3779)

Ledbury Park, Southend, Ledbury This building was once known as 'New House' but the name was changed in 1820. The house dates to 1590 and was built by the Biddulph family. The close-set timbers of the building are a sign of wealth as wood was expensive. During the English Civil War Prince Rupert had his headquarters at the house, and Queen Victoria is also said to have stayed here.

Cross the road into High Street and on your right you will find No.17 High Street. This has interesting sidelights for the first floor window which are not normally found in Herefordshire but are frequently found in Ledbury.

Continue along the High Street until you come to:

The Market House (HER 3219)

Ledbury Market Hall This building is said to have been constructed in 1653 by John Abel, the King's Carpenter. It is of two storeys, with the lower storey open to the public. The posts are either Spanish Chestnut or English Oak, and legend has it that the posts were once part of the Spanish Armada. As the Armada did not set sail until 1588, this appears unlikely. Originally the upper part of the building was used as a grain store and the ground level area for public markets. It was modelled on the impressive Market Hall which once stood in Hereford's High Town. There was also provision made for one or two shops underneath, and it was hoped that the rent from these would pay for any maintenance.

From the Market House, take Church Lane on the right. Almost immediately on your left is:

No. 1 Church Lane (no HER entry)

No. 1 Church Lane, Ledbury Today this building is used as Ledbury Registry Office. During construction work carried out in 1988 in one of the upstairs rooms, a beautiful 16th century painted room was uncovered. The images painted on the walls show Tudor knot gardens, fruit (possibly strawberries) and Biblical texts from Psalms 15 and 111 and Proverbs 15. All the colours used in the room would have been created from natural pigments. It is thought that the painted room was once used as a courtroom and was particularly used for the punishment of wayfarers, vagrants and those who had come to the fairs and markets. This was known as the court of 'Pye Powder' from the French term 'Pied Poudre' ('dusty feet'), as those who appeared here often had dirty feet from travelling. Guided tours of the room are available, but it is best to phone ahead to determine group sizes and timings

From No.1 Church Lane, continue towards the church. Nearly every house along here is Tudor in date, and one excellent example of this is:

Ledbury Heritage Centre (HER 315)

Ledbury Heritage Centre, Church Lane, Ledbury This building dates to the late 15th century (probably c.1500). It is a nice example of Tudor building with the projecting first floor (jetty) overhanging the town drains - useful for emptying chamber pots! The building was originally a school of chantry foundation (meaning that it was a place for prayers to be said and masses sung, especially for the benefit of the donor). It was re-founded in the 16th century. Later, the building became the King Edward VI Grammar School. The school ceased to function in 1862, but by 1857 it had moved premises to Oakland House in the Homend. Inside the Heritage Centre are exhibits on timber framing, schooling, railways and canals, the town gaol and shops. The Centre is open from Easter to October, 10.30am-4.30pm. Telephone: 01531 636147.

From the Heritage Centre continue on to:

The Church of St Michael and All Angels (HER 5704)

St Michael and All Angels' Church, Ledbury In a document of 1354 the church is referred to as St Peter's; it still had this dedication in 1830. A church was in existence on this site from Saxon times, but the present building dates to 1140, with Norman portions and Saxon fragments. The Norman church was built around 1042 and existed until it was replaced in 1140. The chancel arcade, round pillars, the old door south of the chancel, the round clerestory (upper level of the nave) and the west doors all belong to the Norman period. The tower of the church is detached and the base dates to 1300. (There are eight detached bell towers in Herefordshire, and only 40 in the whole of England and Wales). The spire of the tower has twice been struck by lightning. The church was formerly collegiate; the college was founded in 1400 by Bishop Trevenant. In the north porch is the "Consecration Cross". It was carved c.1270 and is pitted with numerous bullet marks made during the English Civil War of the 1640s.

From the church, head down either Church Street or Church lane and turn right at the Market House and into the Homend. Along here on your right you will find:

Abbey House (HER 41925)

Abbey House, Homend, Ledbury This black and white building is the most prominent building in the street. It appears to date to c.1600, and originally had a porch. Abbey House used to be a girls' school and was run by a Miss Ballard. The school continued up to the beginning of World War II.

Continue along the Homend and on your right is the:

Methodist Chapel (HER 19847)

Methodist Chapel, Homend, Ledbury This chapel was built c.1849 and re-fronted in 1884. At some time in the 20th century the porch enclosing the area between the two towers was added. It is shown as a Methodist Chapel on the 1887 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map.

On the opposite side of the road is the:

Baptist Chapel (HER 19890)

Baptist Chapel, Homend, Ledbury This chapel was built in the 1830s for a newly-formed church in the area. It is a three-bay brick-fronted chapel with two tall windows in arched recesses and was designed to seat 300 worshippers. Inside the chapel is a lead-lined baptismal tank for full immersion adult baptisms. The chapel is marked on the 1887 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map.

Carry on until you come to the pedestrian crossing near the Tesco supermarket. Cross over and walk down Orchard Lane. Opposite the turning for Belle Orchard you will find:

Ledbury Union Workhouse (HER 19848)

Union Workhouse, Ledbury The workhouse was built in 1836 on what was then called Union Lane. The architect was George Wilkinson, who also designed Leominster and Weobley workhouses. It was built to the standard cross shape popular with workhouses as it enabled the segregation of the different classes of inmate. The Ledbury workhouse was designed to house 150 people, and included innovations such as water closets. It opened in 1837.

Workhouses were created to provide relief to those who were too poor to provide for themselves. They were not designed to be a permanent form of handout but a way of helping in desperate times. To gain entry to the workhouse you would have to have an interview to establish that you were in need of state help.

Once you entered the workhouse you were stripped, bathed and handed a uniform. Inmates were housed in the workhouse in four different sections: the Elderly or Infirm, Males, Females and Children. You would sleep in huge dormitories and eat your meals in one large dining room. During the day there were work tasks to ensure that nobody learnt laziness and there were strict rules to instill discipline.

The diet in the workhouse was poor and the portions often on the small side, although children appeared to have eaten better than the adults. You could leave the workhouse when you felt able to look after yourself and it was hoped that the conditions within would encourage people to make better provisions for themselves and their families.

Walk on from the Workhouse and soon the road will cross the disused railway track:

The Ledbury and Gloucester Railway (HER 16608)

Ledbury and Gloucester Railway, Ledbury Town Trail This railway was originally designed to run from Ledbury to Ross and then on to Gloucester. By the 1920s there were five trains each way on weekdays. In 1959 the line closed between Ledbury and Dymock in Gloucestershire. The route is now used as a cycle path.

From here turn into Belle Orchard and continue until you come into The Homend. Turn right and immediately on your right is:

Ledbury Cottage Hospital (HER 35707)

The former Cottage Hospital, Homend, Ledbury This purpose-built hospital was opened on 29th December 1891, although it did not accept patients until June 1892. The hospital was funded by Mr Biddulph of Ledbury Park, to mark his eldest son's 21st birthday. It was built opposite an earlier hospital situated in a three-storey house. The new hospital had three wards, rooms for the matron, an operating theatre, bedrooms, a mortuary, laundry and a separate apartment for a parish nurse. In the 1920s and 1930s the hospital complex was extended, and in 2002 it was replaced by a new NHS facility.

From the hospital, walk up the Homend until you come to:

Ledbury Library (no HER entry)

Ledbury Library This was built in 1895 as the Barrett-Browning Institute, at the suggestion of Mr William Russell. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning was a famous poet who lived at Hope End, Eastnor, near Ledbury between 1809 and 1832. One of her most famous poems is Sonnet 43, which begins 'How do I love thee, let me count the ways...' The building was erected on the former site of the town's tanning pits for the treatment of leather. It cost £3,000 to build, which was raised by public subscription, and it included reading rooms, a library and meeting rooms. The architect, Brightwen Binyon, chose a Tudor revival style to complement the Market House opposite. It was Mr Russell's idea to include a clock tower in the design, but unfortunately he died before it was finished, so his widow donated £150 for a four-dial striking clock. The Institute was opened on 16th January 1896 by Mr Henry Rider Haggard, the famous novelist - his books include Allan Quartermain and King Solomon's Mines. In 1938 the Barrett-Browning Institute also became home to the public library. John Masefield, another famous Ledbury poet, performed the opening ceremony.

Next to the library is:

St Katherine's Hospital or Almshouses (HER 11322 and HER 19891)

St Katherine's Hospital, Ledbury There are two wings to the Almshouses - the right hand side was built in 1822 by the architect Robert Smirke and the left hand side in 1866. The first hospital on this site was founded by Bishop Hugh Foliot in 1232; it was then re-built in the 14th century. The purpose of Hugh Foliot's hospital was to remind those who visited the market opposite of the constant need to pray and carry out works of charity. In the 16th century buildings were erected which provided individual accommodation for the brethren and sisters. In 1821 the old buildings were demolished and the buildings on the right hand side erected in their place.

Next to St Katherine's Almshouses is:

St Katherine's Chapel and Hall (HER 11322)

St Katherine's Chapel, Ledbury This chapel was founded in 1232 by Bishop Hugh Foliot, at the same time as St Katherine's Hospital. It appears to have been re-built c.1330. Within the chapel is a beautiful tiled original floor and some impressive stained glass windows.

End of Walk

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]

Last Updated: 29/09/2008 10:26:39