A Guide to Ledbury, Herefordshire

by E. Freeman (1892)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2003


“On Friday last Sir R. Hopton who had promised the Earl of Stamford that he had 1,000 Dragoniers at four days' warning to be ready for his service, came into Ledbury and brought with him his colours and his drum, and there in a commanding manner, called all the countrymen in order to bring in all their dragonness.[Ed: sic]

The first man answered him, “that he had received His Majestie's book to the contrary, and that he durst not lest he should be held a traitor”. The others did answer alike, so he went out of Ledbury, and his colours and his drum were taken from him. It is said that Hopton has since come to Worcester and turned to the King's part.”[1]

In 1644, Castleditch was taken by a small body of Roundheads under a younger son of Sir Richard Hopton, after some firing and a brief show of resistance by Mr. Thomas Cocks. Many leaden bullets were found imbedded in the old oak doors of the ancient mansion, which was taken down when Eastnor Castle was built. Hopton's triumph over his neighbour was of very short duration, but after a few days' possession, a party from Hereford invested the house, to whom in less than four and

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twenty hours, he was obliged to surrender, and with 40 foot and 20 horse was carried prisoner to that City, before Massey could send aid from Gloucester.

Prior to the reign of Her present Majesty, might be seen in some of the cottages, in the neighbourhood of Eastnor small cannon balls which had been picked up by the country people, and which they called “Oliver's Pills”, probably fired from field pieces used at this siege or that of Bronsil Castle. Richard Reed, with Robert Higgins of Eastnor, and Ambrose Elton of the Hazel, Francis Hall of Ledbury, and Sir Richard Hopton of Canon Frome, associated with the Rebels, and were named amongst the Commissioners appointed for levying monthly exactions in the county, for sequestrating the estates of the Royalists and other parliamentary affairs.

On the 30th of July, 1645, the Earl of Leven took by storm a small garrison from the King at Canon Frome; the old moated house, the seat of the Hoptons, was taken and re-taken during the war.

In a MS. account of the proceedings of Colonel Birch in Herefordshire by his secretary Rowe, there is a detail of his marches and counter-marches at Ledbury. At the same period occurred the Clubmen's Insurrection, dispersed near Ledbury by Prince Rupert on his march to Hereford.


Prince Rupert, on his way from Hereford to Shrewsbury, had reached Leominster with his army, when he heard that Colonel Massey, the Governor of Gloucester, had advanced to Ledbury with a considerable body of horse and foot. The Prince determined to surprise him there, and, having marched all night, reached Ledbury on the morning of Wednesday,

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22nd April, 1645. Massey had barely time to raise a barricade of carts, &c., in Homend Street to check the advance of his impetuous adversary. (Massey, in his account, wrote that eight of his scouts were intercepted by the Royalists). Here the attack was made by Lord Astely's and Colonel Washington's foot, and after desperate fighting the barricade was opened, and Lord Loughborough, at the head of the cavaliers, charged down the street and encountered the roundhead cavalry, led by Massey in person. Meanwhile another body of cavaliers passed along the back Homend, and after an encounter in the church-yard - attested by bullet marks still visible on the church walls and the presence of slugs and bullets lately extracted from the north door of that edifice - pushed forward across the grounds now forming Mr. Biddulph's park, to cut off the enemy's retreat towards Gloucester. In the streets the combat raged fiercely; Prince Rupert and Colonel Massey, both of them conspicuous for unflinching courage, took part in the fray as though they were as irresponsible as their troopers, and each had his horse killed under him. But Massey knew his men were beaten, and in his account of the battle, he says, “We made it good against them (the enemy) so long till my foot might retreat a secure way to Gloucester.” Massey was driven out of the town and his army broken up; some retreated through Dymock, others by Redmarley, and Massey himself with eighty horse got away to Tewkesbury. The pursuit was entrusted to Colonel Thomas Sandys. In Prince Rupert's account of the battle, he says, “Massey was soundly beaten yesterday, his foot quite lost, and his horse beaten and pursued within. six miles of Gloucester”, and generously adds that he himself and some of his officers made a handsome retreat. Of the rebels, 120 were killed, amongst them Major Backhouse and Captain Kyrle, of Much Marcle. Very many were wounded,

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and near 400 taken prisoners, including 27 roundhead officers. Massey alleged Prince Rupert's army to be 6,000 or 7,000 horse and foot, and that his own force was about 5,000 foot and 350 horse; but it is believed these numbers are over-stated. Prince Rupert allowed his weary soldiers to rest at Ledbury on the night following the battle, and then resumed his march to Ludlow.[2] On November 12th, 1645, about 60 of Scudamore's Horse (from Hereford) pushed out to Ledbury to prepare for a larger force, and were charged through the streets in gallant style by a quarter of their number under Major Hopton, who was returning from Leominster, and who subsequently dispersed a party of 30 Royalists in charge of about 100 head of cattle, of which the drovers had been plundered.

Nothing of much interest has since occurred at Ledbury, if we except the very serious riots which took place in the year 1735, when 200 persons and upwards assembled and destroyed several turnpike gates, and threatened to set fire to the Upper Hall, then the residence of Mr. Justice Skip, who had committed two of the rioters on the previous day. Guns loaded with ball were fired at the windows, which was returned from the house; three men were killed and several wounded. Two of the rioters were afterwards executed at Worcester, and one in London, who revived after the attempted execution, but died shortly afterwards.

The clothing trade, which in the time of James I. and Queen Elizabeth was very flourishing, has long been discontinued, and at present there is no manufactory carried on here. The grandfather of Phillips, the poet, was an eminent clothier at Ledbury. The inmates of the parish workhouse were employed at pin making at the commencement of this century.

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Until a few years ago the principal industry was the tanning of leather. There was also a vinegar brewery in Bye Street, which has been transferred to Colwall. The principal trade of the town depends upon the surrounding hopyards and orchards, the hops from the adjacent district being of excellent quality. The celebrated Barland, Oldfield, and Huffcap perry, made in Ledbury and the surrounding parishes, is highly esteemed. Brewing and malting are carried on, and steam saw mills have recently been erected, at which a large quantity of packing cases are made for the tin-plate trade. Ledbury is also a glove-making district. There are extensive limestone quarries near the town.

Ledbury is the centre of an important hunting district. There is a pack of fox-hounds, with kennels near the railway station; also Mr. Bell's Harriers at Bronsil.

During the last few years many improvements have taken place in Ledbury. The Rural Sanitary Authority have supplied many of the houses with a service of water of the highest degree of purity from a spring in the Conygree Wood;[3] they have also laid down an effective system of drainage, and about seven years ago, having obtained urban powers from the Local Government Board, they caused nearly the whole of the town to be paved in a very efficient manner, and also put into force bye-laws, dealing with the removal of nuisances, the cleansing and obstruction of footways, the firing of chimneys, &c. Until recently the cattle and sheep markets were held in. the streets,

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but by the energy of the townspeople a Market Company was formed, who purchased a convenient site between Bye Street and New Street, and the change has been a very successful one in every respect. The Ledbury Building Society purchased a few years ago the Newbury Park estate, on which several desirable residences have been erected, and last year the same society obtained the Belle Orchard estate, which has been laid out in building sites, and two or three houses are in course of erection.

The town of Ledbury is very healthy, and is remarkably free from epidemics. It is one of the most salubrious districts in Herefordshire, the death-rate of which is exceedingly low, being, according to the Registrar-General's Report, only 18.4 per 1,000 from the years 1871 to 1880, while the mortality from all causes in the whole of England was 21.3 during the same period. It is worthy of note that there is no record of any single case of Asiatic cholera ever having occurred in the county.

There are two excellent hotels and posting-houses - the Feathers in High Street (proprietor, Mr. Hodgkyns), and the Royal Oak in Southend Street (proprietor, Mr. E. Hopkins). There is also a coffee-house in Homend Street, and several boarding-houses - Rose Mount, near the railway station, and Beulah Villas, top of Newbury Park, can be recommended.

The neighbourhood of Ledbury abounds in a variety of delightful walks and drives. The visitor would be amply repaid by a week's stay or even longer, spent in visiting the many places of interest, within easy distance of the town, among which may be mentioned Eastnor Castle (the residence of Lady Henry Somerset), the three ancient Camps, one at Wall Hills, the two others at the Hollybush and the Hereford-

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shire Beacon; the Churches of Bosbury, Kempley, Much Marcle, Dymock, and Bromesberrow, and the old moated manor house at Birtsmorton. Dog Hill, about eight minutes walk from the Market House, may be approached from the Back Lane; from the summit of this hill may be seen the town. In a southernly direction - May Hill, Dean Forest; on the west, the Marcle Hills, and to the north-west, Wall Hills. Just beyond the top of Dog Hill is a lane leading to Broadlow or Gallow Hill, from which a very extensive view may be obtained, including the Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Black Mountains in Monmouthshire, the whole of the Malvern range, Tewkesbury Abbey, &c.

The geology of the district is most interesting; near the railway station are the celebrated Passage beds, which have been most carefully examined, measured and mapped out by G. H. Piper, Esq., of the Court House.

[1] From Manuscript in possession of the Duke of Sutherland.
[2] Jakeman and Carver's “Directory of Herefordshire”.
[3] This spring appears to have supplied part of the town with water for several centuries, for an entry in the parish records states that - “1595. - This year in September and October, by an order therefore taken (by Sir Roger Manwood Knt., Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer and others) the whole water was conveyed in new leade from the Coninger unto the High Cross, and thense to the Hospital Gate or Conduit there, at the cost and charge of the inhabitants both of the town and parish of Ledbury. Thomas Hall the plomer had for the leade and workmanship £40 0s. 0d. paid him by William Davis, Clark, and Edward Skynner, clothier; being collectors and overseers of the work.”

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in September 2003.

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