Herefordshire People: An everyday story of country folk

PUBLISHED: 15:49 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013

One of the disappointments of living in Herefordshire has been my keen awareness of living in an area of England endowed with a rich past but with so little of it put into print.

The Victoria County History's England's Past for Everyone is therefore a more than welcome initiative by an organisation begun in 1899 which, at times, seemed to have run into the ground. Based in the locality and making use of voluntary researchers the aim is to produce welldocumented histories of a particular area in a format of appeal to everyman. The result in the case of Ledbury is a book which is unlikely to be superseded in this century and which should be on the

shelves of any educated Ledburian. It is indispensable. This is the story of one of Herefordshire's 17 market towns now reduced to only five. It covers its history from the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 down to what are the last years of the present Queen's reign. This is a modest town which had its glory period in the late 16th and early 17th centuries represented today in the handsome black and white town houses. Its second renaissance came in our own age when, after 1980, it doubled in size in the succeeding decades. Ledbury produced no figures of national standing, nor did it play any significant part in the national story. It is in fact its rural ordinariness which is so compelling. For five centuries, give or take a blip or two, Ledbury has continued to go on its timeless way as an agricultural market town. That is what it was in 1558 and still is in 2009. This is a town strategically placed in terms of communications linking Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester. Its market day was and still is Tuesday. Its manufacturing history is a minimal one of glove, brick and jam-making, all founded on locally sourced materials. But its economic viability continues to depend, as it always has done, on the surrounding countryside with its cattle, sheep and crops such as apples and hops. The shops and amenities depend for their continued existence, as they did in 1558, on those who live and work in the locality and who converge on the town for shopping and entertainment. This is not a history fraught with dramas beyond the cut and thrust of local families but instead the unfolding chronicle of ordinary citizens and how they responded and adapted to the ebb and flow of social change over these centuries. Ledbury's population was astonishingly static, just around the three thousand mark until after 1918. By 2009 that figure has more than doubled. Turnpike roads arrived in the 18th century, then the canal, followed in the next century by the railway and in the years just before 1914, the arrival of the motor-car. All tell a tale of an increasing ease, speed and comfort in communications. In the Georgian age proper shops with shop fronts changed the face of the High Street and private banks facilitated financial transactions. The Victorian age saw gas, piped water and finally electricity come. And to this must be added a myriad of other changes like the multiplication of places of worship to accommodate the dissenting and Roman Catholic communities or the building of almshouses, a market house or a cottage hospital. A book such as this will give the citizens of Ledbury a real sense of where they came from and where they are today. History is a dynamic and never a dead discipline. You have to go back in order to go forward. This publication will endow this delightful town with a deeply informed and well-documented account of its own past and hence will be of incalculable value in planning its future.

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