History of Herefordshire

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Historical Setting

Anglo Saxon control

At some time in the 7th century the West Saxons pushed their way across the Severn and established themselves in the territory between Wales and Mercia, with which kingdom they soon became incorporated. The district which is now Herefordshire was occupied by a tribe the Hecanas, who congregated chiefly in the fertile area about Hereford and in the mining districts round Ross. In the 8th century Offa extended the Mercian frontier to the Wye, securing it by the earthwork known as Offas dike, portions of which are visible at Knighton and Moorhampton in this county.

Danish and Norman control

In 915 the Danes made their way up the Severn to the district of Archenfield, where they took prisoner Cyfeiliawg, Bishop of Llandaff, and in 921 they besieged Wigmore, which had been rebuilt in that year by Edward. From the time of its first settlement the district was the scene of constant border warfare with the Welsh, and Harold, whose earldom included this county, ordered that any Welshman caught trespassing over the border should lose his right hand. In the period preceding the Conquest much disturbance was caused by the outrages of the Norman colony planted in this county by Edward the Confessor. Richard's castle in the north of the county was the first Norman fortress erected on English soil, and Wigmore, Ewyas Harold, Clifford, Weobley, Hereford, Donnington and Caldicot were all the sites of Norman strongholds. The conqueror entrusted the subjugation of Herefordshire to William FitzOsbern, but Edric the Wild in conjunction with the Welsh prolonged resistance against him for two years.

Return to English control

In the wars of Stephen's reign Hereford and Weobley castles were held against the king, but were captured in 1138. Edward, afterwards Edward I, was imprisoned in Hereford Castle, and made his famous escape thence in 1265. In 1326 the parliament assembled at Hereford which deposed Edward II. In the 14th and 15th centuries the forest of Deerfold gave refuge to some of the most noted followers of Wycliffe. During the Wars of the Roses the influence of the Mortimers led the county to support the Yorkist cause, and Edward, afterwards Edward IV, raised 23,000 men in this neighborhood. The Battle of Mortimer's Cross was fought in 1461 near Wigmore. Before the outbreak of the civil war of the 17th century, complaints of illegal taxation were rife in Herefordshire, but a strong antipuritan feeling induced the county to favor the royalist cause. Hereford, Goodrich and Ledbury all endured sieges.

The earldom of Hereford was granted by William I to William FitzOsbern, about 1067, but on the outlawry of his son Roger in 1074 the title lapsed until conferred on Henry de Bohun about 1199. It remained in the possession of the Bohuns until the death of Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford in 1373; in 1397 Henry, Earl of Derby, afterwards King Henry IV, who had married Mary de Bohun, was created Duke of Hereford. Edward VI created Walter Devereux, a descendant of the Bohun family, Viscount Hereford, in 1550, and his grandson, the famous earl of Essex, was born in this county. Since this date the viscounty has been held by the Devereux family, and the holder ranks as the premier viscount of England. The families of Clifford, Giffard and Mortimer figured prominently in the warfare on the Welsh border, and the Talbots, Lacys, Crofts and Scudamores all had important seats in the county, Sir James Scudamore of Holme Lacy being the original of the Sir Scudamore of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Sir John Oldcastle, the leader of the Lollards, was sheriff of Herefordshire in 1406.

Land division

Herefordshire probably originated as a shire in the time of Aethelstan, and is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1051. In the Domesday Survey parts of Monmouthshire and Radnorshire are assessed under Herefordshire, and the western and southern borders remained debatable ground until with the incorporation of the Welsh Marches in 1535 considerable territory was annexed to Herefordshire and formed into the hundreds of Wigmore, Ewyas Lacy and Huntingdon, while Ewyas Harold was united to Webtree. At the time of the Domesday Survey the divisions of the county were very unsettled. As many as nineteen hundreds are mentioned, but these were of varying extent, some containing only one manor, some from twenty to thirty. Of the twelve modern hundreds, only Greytree, Radlow, Stretford, Wolphy and Wormelow retain Domesday names. The others being Broxash, Ewyas-Lacy, Grimsworth, Huntingdon, Webtree and Wigmore.

Herefordshire has been included in the diocese of Hereford since its foundation in 676. In 1291 it comprised the deaneries of Hereford, Weston, Leominster, Weobley, Frome, Archenfield and Ross in the archdeaconry of Hereford, and the deaneries of Burford, Stottesdon, Ludlow, Pontesbury, Clun and Wenlock, in the archdeaconry of Shropshire. In 1877 the name of the archdeaconry of Shropshire was changed to Ludlow, and in 1899 the deaneries of Abbey Dore, Bromyard, Kingsland, Kington and Ledbury were created in the archdeaconry of Hereford.


Herefordshire was governed by a sheriff as early as the reign of Edward the Confessor, the shire-court meeting at Hereford where later the assizes and quarter sessions were also held. In 1606 an act was passed declaring Hereford free from the jurisdiction of the council of Wales, but the county was not finally relieved from the interference of the Marcher Lords until the reign of William and Mary.

Herefordshire was first represented in parliament in 1295, when it returned two members, the boroughs of Ledbury, Hereford, Leominster and Weobley being also represented. Hereford was again represented in 1299, and Bromyard and Ross in 1304, but the boroughs made very irregular returns, and from 1306 until Weobley regained representation in 1627, only Hereford and Leominster were represented. Under the act of 1832 the county returned three members and Weobley was disfranchised. The act of 1868 deprived Leominster of one member, and under the act of 1885 Leominster was disfranchised, and Hereford lost one member.


Herefordshire has always been esteemed an exceptionally rich agricultural area, the manufactures being unimportant, with the sole exception of the woollen and the cloth trade which flourished soon after the Conquest. Iron was worked in Wormelow hundred in Roman times, and the Domesday Survey mentions iron workers in Marcle. At the time of Henry VIII the towns had become much impoverished, and Elizabeth in order to encourage local industries, insisted on her subjects wearing English-made caps from the factory of Hereford. Hops were grown in the county soon after their introduction into England in 1524. In 1580 and again in 1637 the county was severely visited by the plague, but in the 17th century it had a flourishing timber trade. and was noted for its orchards and cider.


There are remains of several of the strongholds which Herefordshire possessed as a march county, some of which were maintained and enlarged, after the settlement of the border, to serve in later wars. To the south of Ross are those of Wilton and Goodrich, commanding the Wye on the right bank. Of the several castles in the valleys of the boundary-River Monnow and its tributaries, those in this county include Pembridge, Kilpeck and Longtown; of which the last shows extensive remains of the strong keep, and thick walls. In the north the finest example is Wigmore, consisting of a keep on an artificial mound within outer walls, the seat of the powerful family of Mortimer.

Beside the cathedral of Hereford, and the fine churches of Ledbury, Leominster and Ross, the county contains some churches of almost unique interest. In that of Kilpeck, Norman work is seen. It consists of the three divisions of nave, choir and chancel, divided by ornate arches, the chancel ending in an apse, with a beautiful and elaborate west end and south doorway. The columns of the choir arch are composed of figures. A similar plan is seen in Peterchurch in the Golden Valley, and in Moccas church, on the Wye above Hereford. Among the large number of churches exhibiting Norman details that at Bromyard is noteworthy. At Abbey Dore, the Cistercian abbey church, still in use, is a large and beautiful specimen of Early English work, and there are slight remains of the monastic buildings. At Madley, south of the Wye and west of Hereford, is a fine Decorated church (with earlier portions), with the rare feature of a Decorated apsidal chancel over an octagonal crypt. Of the churches in mixed styles those in the larger towns are the most noteworthy, together with that of Weobley.

The half-timbered style of domestic architecture, common in the west and midlands of England in the 16th and 17th centuries, beautifies many of the towns and villages. Among country houses, that of Treago, west of Ross, is a remarkable example of a fortified mansion of the 13th century, in a condition little altered. Rudhall and Sufton Court, between Ross and Hereford, are good specimens of 15th century work, and portions of Hampton Court, north of Hereford, are of the same period, built by Sir Rowland Lenthall, a favorite of Henry IV. Holme Lacy, south east of Hereford, is a fine mansion of the latter part of the 17th century, with picturesque Dutch gardens, and much wood-carving by Griniing Gibbons within. This was formerly the seat of the Scudamores, from whom it was inherited by the Stanhopes, earls of Chesterfield, the 9th earl of Chesterfield taking the name of Scudamore-Stanhope. His son, the 10th earl, in 1909, sold Holme Lacy to Sir Robert... (end of text)

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