A Guide to Ledbury, Herefordshire

by E. Freeman (1892)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2003


Ledon, which her way doth through the desert make
Tho, neare to Deane ally'd, determined to forsake.
Drayton's Polyolbion.

DR. HUGHSON, in his “Etymological Prospectus of Herefordshire”, tells us that the name of Ledbury is derived from the Welsh Led, a vale side, and Berg or Bury an habitation; but it is more probable that it owes its name to the River Ledden, which is about one mile west of the town.

Ledbury is delightfully situated on the main road leading from Hereford to Tewkesbury, Great Malvern and Worcester, in the eastern angle of the County of Hereford, on the western flank, and near the southern extremity of the Malvern Hills, and on a declivity within a small valley formed by the Dog Hill and other eminences. It is distant 14½ miles E. of Hereford, 16 S.W. of Worcester, 16 N.N.W. of Gloucester, 13 N.E. of Ross, 8 S.W. of Malvern, and 120 N.W. by W. of London.

The Town or Borough of Ledbury lies in Lat. 53°5' North, longitude 2°20' West, so that the clock at Ledbury ought to be 9'20' slower than London.

The town consists of three lines of streets, crossing each other at right angles forming as it were a double cross; the principal

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street running North and South is called the High Street, in which stands the Market House. Near this there was formerly a middle row of houses, called the “Butcher Row” which was removed some time before the year 1840, the funds being raised by means of subscriptions, donations, and rates, the latter being made compulsory by an Act of Parliament.[1]

On the south-west of High Street is New Street, opposite to which is the Horse Lane, and to the south of these is the Southend; the Homend extends from the north of the Market House; on the East of the same building is the Back Lane, formerly called the Hall-end, and on the west Bye Street; Church Street is a narrow avenue, parallel with the Back Lane.

Throughout the town are points of interest to the artist and antiquarian. Many of the houses are of the Tudor period with projecting stories, and there are some even more ancient. Ledbury House, or Ledbury Park, at the Upper Cross (the residence of Mr. Michael Biddulph, M.P.) was built in 1595. At the time of the Battle of Ledbury, A.D. 1645, it was the headquarters of Prince Rupert, and then belonged to a family named Skynner. Opposite is a curious old house projecting over the pavement on wooden pillars, and in the New Street is the old Talbot Inn which has a large oak panelled room with date 1596 A.N. The Feathers Hotel is another good specimen of old gabled house. The Reading Room and other houses in the Church Lane are interesting and picturesque. Near the corner of Bye Street, over the door of the hairdresser's shop, is the date “1695, W.H.M.”

In Domesday, this town was called Liedeberge, and the Bishops of Hereford had a Palace and Vineyard here and a Park at

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Dingwood. A fragment of the old Palace, some carved timber work, may yet be seen in the wall of a cottage in Bye Street, formerly Bishop's Street. Here Robert de Bethune died in 1148. King John was frequently at Ledbury, and in 1211, on the 16th and 17th of March, he stayed at Ledbury, probably being the guest of the Bishop. Edward II., on his death march to Berkley Castle, was lodged herein; the Bishop was the personal enemy of the King. In Edward the First's time the Vineyard is said to have yielded annually seven pipes of white wine and nearly one of verjuice.

In this Palace Bishop Swinfield, in 1287, signed a deed which runs: “Coram nobis Richardo, Dei Gratia Herefordensi Episcopo in aula nostra de Lodebury”. It must have been tedious travelling in those days, for in 1290 it took Bishop Swinfield a whole day to get to Much Marcle, a distance of six miles, where there was no Rector and no hospitality.

Edward IV. marched through Ledbury on his road to Malvern and Worcester, with his victorious troops, after the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, which led to the crown of England.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria also visited Ledbury, when a girl, staying at Mr. Biddulph's house; in the Park is an elm tree, which the Queen admired for its size and beauty, which has ever since been been called the Victoria Elm.

The Manor of Ledbury belonged to the See of Hereford before the Norman Conquest. The generally received statement, that Ledbury in Herefordshire was given to the Church by Edwin the Saxon, is erroneous. The gift he made was Lidbury, or Ledbury North, in Shropshire - Ledbury borealis - and it was not given until after the compilation of Domesday,

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whereas at that time Ledbury in Herefordshire already belonged to the Bishops of Hereford; the best proof whereof is, that it is clearly stated in Domesday, Harold, Earl of Herefordshire, in the time of Edward the Confessor, had taken away part of the manor from the Church, and Godric held it under Harold. William the Conqueror restored to the Church the stolen portion, then called the “Hasles”, and known to this day as the Hazel Farm.

The Borough is a manor of itself, called Ledbury Denizen, and extends much beyond the limits of the town; the remainder of the manor is co-extensive with the parish under the denomination of the “Manor of Ledbury Foreign”, and a few years ago “Courts Leet” were held annually, at which a mayor and other officers were appointed.

The holders of demesne lands owed service to the Courts of Hereford and Ledbury; some of the free tenants paid certain rent on St. Andrew's Tide, pro done et melle, and the Annunciation pro presis; some of the customary tenants paid rent, others paid by working two days in every week from Michaelmas to the Gule of August; but Aluardus de la Frith, for the twelve acres which he held, was, besides doing such work, bound to look after the lord's corn in the autumn - et custodire latrones infra curiam de Ledbury et si evaserit debit inde responde, et debet defere literas domini episcopi infra episcopatum et mandatum domini episcopi vel ejus ballivi.

There is a large wood north of the town called the Frith wood.

Queen Elizabeth exchanged this manor with the Bishop of Hereford, and King James the First gave it to his son Charles, together with East Greenwich in the county of Kent; King Charles the First mortgaged it to the citizens of London, and

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afterwards sold it to them, and they re-sold it in shares to the predecessors of the present proprietors. It was conveyed on the 28th June, 1630, to Ambrose Elton, Thomas Skynner, Thomas Hooper, and Stephen Skynner.

The area of Ledbury parish is 7,706 acres, and the rateable value £24,100. The population of the town is about 3,000. Property in this borough is subject to the custom of “Borough English”, i.e., in cases of intestacy the freehold property descends to the youngest son, to the exclusion of the elder and other sons.

Ledbury is an ancient borough, and returned two members to the parliament summoned in 1265. The members for Ledbury in 1295 were Rogerus Caperun and Johannes Basevylle. The next and last members of Parliament (who met at Westminster, February 16th, 1305) were Willielmus Esegare and Rogerus Fotherick. The privilege of sending members to Parliament was surrendered on the plea of inability to support them, their wages being two shillings a day while on duty in Parliament.

About the year 1135 Robert de Bethune, Bishop of Hereford procured for this manor the Charter of a Market from King Stephen to be holden on Saturdays, but falling into disuse, Queen Elizabeth in the year 1584, granted a new Charter for a Market on Tuesdays, and two annual Fairs; the tolls to be given to the poor of Ledbury for ever, as appears by the following entry made in the parish register in the year 1585:-

“About Easter, 1582, the Market in Ledbury (which for long time had not been kepte) was again begun to be kepte anew on the Munday, without any warrant at all; and the said year at the cost and charge of the Town and parish, sute was made to the Queen's Majestie, who granted Her two letters patent

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bearing date. She granted a weekly Market to be kepte upon the Tuesday, and two Fairs for ever; and gave all the profits for the Poor of Ledbury for ever.”

Queen Elizabeth's Charter is in the custody of the Dean and Chapter of Hereford, as Patrons of the Hospital; the Master being trustee with the Rector for the Tolls.

About the year 1401 Bishop Treffnant founded here in the parish Church, a College[2] for nine Chaplains, one of which to be Master or Custos, and liberally endowed the same. Henry the IV. incorporated them, and they were dissolved and the lands given to the Crown in the first year of the reign of Edward VI., and the fact of the existence of this College formed an important feature in a legal dispute (about thirty-six years ago) between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the then Vicar, as to the title to the Nether Hall estate; but the dispute was settled by the annexation of a considerable portion of the property to the living, and the conversion of the living from a vicarage to a rectory.

In this parish is a place called Chapel Park ........ where was formerly a Chapel dedicated to Saint James the Apostle, which was endowed with certain tithes great and small, and was granted by King Edward VI. to Thomas Rose and others.

[1] The Cathol was a narrow thoroughfare between the Hospital and the back of the Butcher Row.
[2] NOTE.- The existence of this College has been the subject of legal investigation a[t] various periods within the last 400 years.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in September 2003.

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