The merry lives of Leominster

PUBLISHED: 14:26 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013

The merry lives of Leominster

The merry lives of Leominster

Photographer and writer Chris Poole gets a snapshot of the place and its people

The merry lives of Leominster

Photographer and writer Chris Poole gets a snapshot of the place and its people

The Dancers

Records suggest that The Leominster Morris was performing at the time of the First World War. The group that now delights and entertains audiences was formed in 1983 and demonstrates mostly the local Welsh Border dances with some Cotswold dance thrown in. John Gaynor, Leominster Morris bagman, says: The Wassail is one of the traditional high points of our calendar and the cider year. Well be coming to an orchard near Leominster again in January.

Morris dancing, never short of references, can include this, from 1609, as among the best:
.but Herefordshire for a morris dance puts down not only all of Kent but verie neare (if one had line enough to measure it) three quarters of Christendome

The Organ

The priory church in Leominster is the site of an early Christian settlement. Edfrith, a wandering monk, came here in 660AD, meeting a lion along the way. Or so legend has it. Edfrith and the Lion, a new play, is being performed in the priory church on October 23. Fortunately, lions no longer roam about north Herefordshire so travelers heading for Leominster and the church of St Peter and St Paul today need not entertain fears of an Edfrith-style encounter.

Once there, they will find a remarkable Nicholson organ. Organist Vernon Thurgood says: Its a very fine organ, now in need of some refurbishment and repair. We have a fund-raising programme and welcome all support

The Ballroom

Lions recur and persist throughout Leominsters history. Hidden away in the centre of Leominster is a sumptuous Victorian ballroom called The Lion Ballroom. It was built in the early 1840s as part of a coaching inn The Red Lion. This later became the Lion Hotel and although pub and hotel have disappeared the magnificent ballroom has kept the name ever since.

At a recent ceremony to mark the latest phase in the conservation of the ballroom, Mayor Roger Hunt said: Im always excited about developments in our town.

But this building, above all, has such an important role in our heritage, in our present and in our future

The Grange

You cant visit Leominster and ignore Grange Court. Built in 1633 when it was located in the town centre, it has many distinctions including its mobility and the controversy surrounding its future. Perceived as a threat to traffic it was dismantled and stored for a while. Threatened with exile to the United States it was saved that ignominy when the Council stepped in, preventing its sale to an American buyer in 1939. For now, barring any further transportations, it is an elegant feature on the western edge of Leominsters open parkland known as The Grange.

The Pavilion

The Grange has another structure of distinction. The Pavilion Caf has been created from the restored cricket pavilion. With its splendid views out across The Grange (once the towns cricket ground) the caf is an award-winning market town project serving the community not just with refreshments and an inviting terrace but with employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

The Museum

Leominster Folk Museum, in Etnam Street, has a wealth of exhibits connected with the town and its hinterland. These range from Bronze Age remains to 20th century artifacts. But among them is a treat for lovers of fine art. John Scarlett Davis was born in Leominster in 1804 but educated at the Royal Academy of Art in London. His work now hangs in the Tate Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and the Metropolitan in New York. Leominster Museum has one piece somewhat hidden away on a staircase a view down Church Street showing Grange Court as the Town Hall and Market House in its original location.

Currently, the museum is supporting a fascinating book by Malcolm Mason. Entitled Leominster in Living Memory, it brings together a collection of stories and reminiscences from townspeople.

The Market

Corn Square is filled, every Friday, with market stalls under the watchful eye of the towns Millennium Clock. There has been a market here since medieval times. In the past, no doubt, the wool of Ryeland sheep (for which Leominster gained particular fame when Queen Elizabeth 1 insisted on stockings made from soft Lemster wool) would have been traded here. Indeed, the success of Leominsters wool trade in the 15th century so inflamed the markets of Hereford and Worcester that those cities conspired to have Leominsters market day changed. Notwithstanding mischievous interventions from Hereford and Worcester, Leominsters market thrives 500 years later. Once a month Corn Square plays host to a farmers market.

The Library

The corner of South Street and Corn Street is a prime retail site. Set in the wall, below elegant curved windows, are heraldic symbols and the inscription Circulating Library. Now, given Leominsters penchant for moving its buildings around, one might be forgiven for thinking that this building once moved among the populace distributing books and dispensing knowledge. Such fanciful notions would be unfounded. Circulating libraries were early lending libraries the books themselves doing the circulating, not the buildings. This was, no doubt, the site of an early public library in Leominster and still houses a bookshop and newsagent. The town has a modern (and static) library a short distance away.

The Antiques

One of the unusual features of Leominster is the way in which trade in antiques and associated businesses has flourished. There are something like 30 shops and establishments connected with the trade in antiques here. Some are specialists such as Teagowns and Textiles in Broad Street while others, like the Minister House Antique Centre, have a more varied offering.

Whatever your tastes, Leominsters shops have much to interest those who enjoy browsing through time.

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