The Black and White Villages of Herefordshire

PUBLISHED: 16:51 16 July 2010 | UPDATED: 04:23 06 February 2013

Weobley High Street

Weobley High Street

Chris Poole goes on a trail of discovery through the county's most popular tourist attraction

Surprises in black and white

Chris Poole goes on a trail of discovery through the countys most popular tourist attraction

Wherever you look in Herefordshire one feature stands out. A type of building construction that is known simply as Black and White. And although such a style can be seen all over the county, it is the group of villages in the northern part of Herefordshire that is best known as making up the Black and White Village Trail.

Lisa Richardson at Visit Herefordshire explains: The Black and White Village Trail is the most popular of our tourism attractions. We receive more enquiries about this than anything else. Our visitors are fascinated and enchanted by these unique collections of buildings homes, shops, pubs, galleries and restaurants.

Admiring the picturesque villages is one way of enjoying the area. Shopping and sampling some of the best food and drink while touring is appealing too. But some might choose to seek out the areas less
obvious attractions oddities and curiosities that you find everywhere but sometimes need a little effort to uncover.

It comes as a surprise to many that the black and white style is actually a relatively recent development. These buildings were constructed of unseasoned oak in-filled with lath and plaster. Many date from the 16th and 17th centuries and were left with plain, natural timbers. It wasnt until Victorian times that it became fashionable to show off the intricate construction by painting the exposed timbers black and putting a white lime wash on the plaster.


Eardisley

Visitors following the Black and White Village Trail can pick it up at any point but once at Eardisley at the western edge of the trail they will find, at present, an example of the traditional building method. Exposed and on show for the time being, the building is in the High Street a little to the west of Tram Square. It shows the green unseasoned oak timbers and the interwoven wood in-fills not yet plastered.

A little research will also reveal that Eardisley has one of the most remarkable trees in the country; just outside the village is the Great Oak. Estimated at some 900 years old the tree, now hollow, is a massive object. Standing beneath it, looking up into the maze of branches, it isnt at all difficult to imagine it inhabited by fairy-tale creatures and to wonder what stories its long history might reveal.


Leominster

At the eastern edge of the Trail, Leominster itself has a curious building. Near the Priory Church, Grange Court is an attractive black and white building looking out over the towns green spaces in what appears to be a timeless vision of rural England. But it hasnt always been there.

Grange Court was once the towns Market House and stood in Broad Street. The construction method means that such a building can be fairly easily dismantled. And so it was. Deemed an obstacle to traffic in the mid-19th century its timbers rested in a builders yard for some years until they found a benefactor who had them reassembled in the place where they rest today.


Weobley

Probably one of the smallest black and white structures is at Weobley. If you use the villages car park you cant fail to notice a little building raised on a grassy mound at one side of the parking area. It isnt a tiny dwelling. There is no signage to reveal its nature or purpose. In fact, the walls conceal machinery connected with our modern lives for pumping water.

Weobley continues the black and white theme, of which many of its buildings are fine examples, in the empty space at the heart of the village. There were houses here once, now lost to fire but in their place is a metal sculpture by Walenty Pytel. Fashioned into the shape and distinctive colours of a magpie it is affectionately known as Magnus. At the far end of the street a carved red lion on the walls of the pub appears to be keeping a watchful eye on the antics of the magpie.


Eardisland

Not all of the areas curiosities have a black and white connection. On a fine summer day it is hard to beat the beauty and tranquillity of
Eardisland. It, too, has many fine examples of traditional buildings but it also has a flash of distinctive yellow. A classic AA box has been painstakingly restored and preserved in a tiny garden where it serves as a colourful reminder of how motoring in the English countryside once was. The famous dovecote, across the road, has a display containing many artefacts telling the history of the AA, including a sign for Eardisland Bridge at one end of which the dovecote stands.


Pembridge and Kinnersley

Visiting rural Herefordshire cant really be complete without taking in some of the churches. The county is blessed with many that are listed buildings, some Grade II. Among those along the Black and White Trail, Pembridge and Kinnersley have something unusual.

The parish church at Kinnersley contains a striking memorial to the Smallman family. Dating from the early 17th century it depicts the family in Stuart costume complete with trumpeting cherubs. Rector Marcus Small says: This church is home to many important architectural features. The Smallman memorial is a rare example of the colourful work that dominated early churches before the austerity of the Reformation.

Glimpsed from the churchyard is the upper part of Kinnersley Castle. From here, with an upper window boarded and surrounded by high walls and hedges, it carries an air of mystery. With Norman origins this was once home to the Smallmans. Today, the Elizabethan manor house is the home of the Garratt-Adams family. It is used for private functions and is open to the public at certain times. Details are available at www.kinnersleycastle.co.uk

At Pembridge the huge church has an extraordinary detached bell tower. Built in the 14th century its shape is reminiscent of a temple or pagoda from a far-off land rather than part of an English rural church.
Whatever your motivation for visiting this part of Herefordshire you will find black and white buildings galore. But the area is also rich with curiosities, oddities and the unexpected, waiting to be unearthed and discovered as you follow the trail.

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