Landmarks of Ledbury
PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:31 20 February 2013
Chris Poole on the institutions that give the town its character
Ledbury has been fortunate that for the past nine months or so Paul Winter has cared for the town and its people in his role as mayor. With Tina, his consort, this handsome couple have graced countless civic occasions and worked to promote not just Ledbury but their chosen charity Noahs Ark Trust.
Putting on the chain of office has been a real privilege. It has been a fantastic period for both Tina and me, with some surprises along the way. Ledbury is such a picturesque town and it has a vibrant community working away, unsung for the most part, in all sorts of areas, he says.
It would be hard to do justice, pictorially, to this quintessential English market town in a short feature. But here are some of its highlights.
While over-sight of the towns civic needs falls to the Mayor, spiritual guidance issues from Ledburys churches. Of them, St Michael and All Angels takes a central place as the parish church.
Much of the fabric of St Michaels dates from the 12th to 14th century although there was an earlier, Norman, church on this site. The unusual detached bell tower is 13th century. The spire came much later. St Michaels contains relics and artefacts from the Civil War, during which was fought the battle of Ledbury.
It might be hard to imagine armed troops rampaging about the streets of peaceful Ledbury but so it was on 22 April 1645. The battle of Ledbury was not a major military engagement, decisive to the outcome of the Civil War, but gunfire resounded through the town and lives were lost in the skirmish. Some of the fighting took place at the Talbot Hotel in New Street.
This fine, gabled, black and white building, now an excellent restaurant and small hotel, can boast that Royalist forces clashed with Roundheads nearby. The Talbots elegant dining room once bore witness to the battle in the form of bullet holes in its panelled walls. Legend has it that a serving wench at The Talbot was one of the victims killed by the accidental discharge of a firearm. She still makes her presence felt, says landlord Andy Ward knowingly.
The Civil War is recalled, too, in the Folk Museum at the Butcher RowHouse in Church Lane. This building was one of several that once formed Butcher Row, now Ledbury High Street. Dating from the middle of the 15th century it was dismantled in 1830 and eventually re-assembled on its present site.
As a small folk museum, it houses artefacts from the Civil War, marking the battle of Ledbury, and exhibits as diverse as period costumes and
musical instruments, all relating to Ledburys past.
The Painted Room
Close by the museum, at No 1 Church Lane, is one of Ledburys treasures. The building itself is shrouded in mysteries but it dates probably from the 16th century. Twenty years ago, as construction work was progressing, startling wall paintings gradually emerged.
Some believe that this was once a courtroom. Known as the Court of Pie Powder (a corruption of a French reference to travellers deemed to be of dubious character pieds poudres), these courts dispensed rough and ready justice at fairs and markets. Today, however, visitors (with dusty feet or not) will find expert guides, sometimes in period costume, ready to explain and enliven Ledburys Painted Room. The Room is open from April to October.
The Market House
Church Lane and the Market House are among the most photographed features in our region. As it has for centuries, Ledburys Market House dominates the town centre and remains its focal point. It works too, being not just an attractive, static feature of the town, but still home to working markets among its 16 massive wooden pillars at ground level and a meeting place for the town council in the former grain store on the first floor.
The Railway Station
Many would argue that one of the clear advantages enjoyed by Ledbury is its railway station. Linking the town with Hereford to the west, Malvern, Worcester and beyond to the north
The character and importance of the railway to Ledbury is reflected in the town centre signage. Not for Ledbury Station a simple, official sign but a handcrafted symbol created by Andrew Findlay the Eastnor blacksmith. This was one of Andrews first pieces when he came to the area more than a decade ago. Now his work is commissioned worldwide. With other Ledbury blacksmiths, he is currently working on the biggest decorative ironwork contract the UK has ever seen to be installed in Dubai.
No record of Ledbury could be complete without mention of The Feathers. Along with Ledbury Park it dominates the area where roads linking Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester meet (known as Top Cross) and has done so for more than 400 years.
Once a coaching inn this was only one of many roles during its long history. Others have been a corn exchange, an excise office and a snooker hall. Today it is a welcoming family hotel with many awards to its name. An entry in the current Good Hotel Guide and in the Michelin Guide, three AA stars for the hotel with its fine restaurant and small spa and five AA stars for its new self-catering apartments. All of these accolades earned on merit.
Ledbury thrives on its selection of quality individual shops. One that could hardly be more unusual is The Cartoonery. Here cartoonist Simon Cooke produces artwork on commission. But he has a range of alternatives and if a unique cartoon isnt your thing, there are airbrushed T-shirts and greetings cards.
There is very much more to see and enjoy in Ledbury. As we cast off winter and march into the spring and summer the town will have an enviable range of events, attractions and festivals to complement the superb shopping. Truly a Herefordshire town with a life and soul to suit all and, as Mayor Winter says, a lively and imaginative community spirit.