History of Ledbury – Ledbury lies at the foot of the Malvern Hills, and the Church is of vast proportions, which given that back in the 11th century Ledbury was but a small village might seem rather odd, but in fact it served a wide area. Following the market charter being granted to the Bishop of Hereford by King Stephen in 1138, Sunday became not only a day for going to Church but also one for trading and the little cobbled street (which remains mostly unchanged to this day) leading up to the Church would be full of farm animals, and numerous stalls spilled out into the village with fruit, vegetables and other produce. Eventually, trading on a Sunday became discouraged and died out – Ledbury moved it’s market day to Monday, and sheep and cattle were still herded through the expanding village…..a large water trough still stands by the High Street, although these days it is filled with flowers! Eventually Market Day moved to Tuesday, and in 1887 a Cattle Market was built just off Bye Street; this has now been demolished and a new cottage hospital and health centre has been built on the site. There used to be a railway connection to Gloucester, known as The Daffodil Line, but this is long gone.
During the Civil War, the Hoptons and the Kyrles (the families remain local to this day) favoured Parliament.
12th November 1645 – 60 of Scudamore’s Horse were chased through Ledbury by Major Hopton.
Battle of Ledbury: Prince Rupert fought and beat the Roundheads in a fierce skirmish. (Bullet holes from this battle can still be seen in the oak panelled dining room of the Talbot Hotel.)
1692 – Large fire in Ledbury.
1695 – the poor of Ledbury were provided with coal, or money, but in return were forced to wear a “bagge” (badge) which proclaimed “this signifieth that I am reduced to poverty”. Not wearing this badge meant no more money or coal!
1735 – Turnpike Riots. Several turnpikes were destroyed, there was much violence and some rioters died. Thomas Reynolds of Ledbury was executed at Tyburn, and a woman to whom he had shown kindness provided his shroud and coffin once he was cut down. Just before he was to be put in the ground, it was noticed that he was still breathing, and he was given brandy and bled by a surgeon (just what he needed after being hung!), but he died shortly after and was buried by the Oxford Road.
Cloth making was an important trade, as was tanning with the tan pits being well supplied by the large woods surrounding Ledbury. The Workhouse inmates made pins, and the women of Ledbury made gloves in their own homes.
1824 – “The Homend in Ledbury from end to end was studded with 20 to 30 dung heaps on either side, the road covered in filth and the drains running on the surface. From the month of October to January, the noise occasioned by the killing of pigs in the High Street, and the danger to passengers from the fires for singeing them deterred travellers from passing through the town”.
1831 – “the disagreeable practice of slaughtering pigs in the street” had been abolished.
During the nineteenth century there were five coopers; four tanners; six maltsters; three curriers; ten boot makers, one portrait painter and seven schools.
This lovely church perched just above the small market town of Ledbury is extremely large, and is one of the seven churches in Herefordshire to have a separate bell tower. There are two fonts – the oldest being 17th century and this was used until the end of the 18th century, and was presumed destroyed when the new larger one was made in the 19th century. In fact, the older font had been broken up into small sections, and was discovered hidden in the base of the new font. The carved oak pulpit was carved by a Rector of Ledbury, The Revd John Jackson and was completed in 1883. There are many fascinating monuments, and the Biddulph family dominate one corner of the church, with many memorials and a large family vault. The Biddulphs came to Ledbury in 1688 when Anthony Biddulph married Constance Hall, great granddaughter of Edward Skynner. The house that they lived in is now called Ledbury Park and was only fairly recently sold out of the family. There are too many monuments to list, but here are some: Anthony and Constance Biddulph who died 1718 and 1706 respectively. Michael Biddulph who died 1880. Robert Biddulph died 1814 – there is a marble carving of his widow Charlotte, along with their children. Other monuments are to William Miles who died 1803 “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it”; Captain Samuel Skynner dated 1725, “he was no mean proficient in Maritime affairs having ben conversant therein for forty years”; Mr. and Mrs. Moulton Barrett whose daughter was the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Canon Thomas Thornton, Master of St. Katherine’s hospital in Ledbury from 1612 until his death in 1629; Edward Cooper, an alabaster slab of a man who was Archdeacon of Hereford and master of St. Katherine’s Hospital in Ledbury who died in 1596; Daniel Saunders – this for me is the most moving of all the monuments in the church, it dates from around 1825 and is by Sir Richard Westmacott. It has been described as follows: “”This monument is intended to commemorate the benevolence of the deceased, and represents the repose of a poor family. The man is seated, leaning on his staff, and affectionately regarding his wife who holds their infant in her arms; at his feet is their dog, the faithful companion of their weary pilgrimage.” St. Katherine’s Chapel is an extension to the church, and the name relates to Katherine Audley who was born in 1272. Her family was wealthy and she was a cousin of King Edward 11, living in the nearby village of Much Marcle. She had a dream which told her to travel until she found a church where the bells “were ringing of their own accord”, and there she should set down her roots and help the poor and needy. She came to Ledbury with her maid Mabel, and found the bells ringing “of themselves”. She spent the rest of her life in Ledbury, and devoted herself to those in need – she never actually attained Sainthood but is referred to as St. Katherine of Ledbury. In a glass case inside the church there is a sword which is reputed to have belonged to Major Backhouse – a Roundhead who was killed in the Battle of Ledbury in 1645 during the English Civil War.
John Edward Masefield, Poet Laureate from 1930, was born in Ledbury on 1st June 1878 and his love of the area is well documented. He described Ledbury as his “paradise”, even though it was the scene of much tragedy in his early life. His mother died shortly after giving birth to his sister, when he was very young, and he was brought up by his less than sympathetic aunt and uncle after the death of his father. For more information go to Famous Herefordshire People
For information on the Ledbury Union Workhouse………Workhouses in Herefordshire