Ledbury and its people
PUBLISHED: 10:54 15 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:58 20 February 2013
Chris Poole listens to the voice of the people of Ledbury
The word on the street
Chris Poole listens to the voice of the people of Ledbury
Ledbury is a small market town, delightfully situated on the main road leading from Hereford to Tewkesbury, Great Malvern and Worcester There are two excellent hotels and posting houses (The Feathers and The Royal Oak). The Market House, in the High Street, is a quaint structure of the Elizabethan period, built on sixteen substantial pillars of Spanish or sweet chestnut
Part of the description of Ledbury in a mid-19th century gazetteer. The towns population then was a little under 3,000. Today, with around 9,000 souls, how do people in the High Street feel about it?
William Turberfield, better known affectionately up and down the High Street as Bill the Bell, is Ledburys charismatic Town Crier. Its a bustling town, he says, vibrant with personality. Visitors tell me what a delight it is to visit with so many black and white buildings, the walled garden, cobbled lanes, the church and so on. Lots of Americans come, some because of the links with the early Mormon church.
As if to prove Bills point, a party of American visitors was in Ledbury recently. Ron Hilton, leading a large family group discovering their English roots says: The Hilton family came from Lancashire but we are Mormons and weve come to visit the oldest Mormon chapel in the world which is just outside Ledbury (at Gadfield Elm). One of its early converts used to preach right here under your market house. Coming to Ledbury has been the high point of our tour. Its a beautiful, quaint town we love the alleyways and shops.
Some of Ledburys foreign visitors come to stay. Pat Harrison, from Australia, came here 28 years ago. She opened the distinctive Ceci Paolo shop on the corner of High Street and New Street. I still get a thrill, she says when driving towards Ledbury from the motorway and suddenly the whole of the landscape and the sky Marcle Ridge and beyond open up before you. Ceci Paolo has grown from a deli to embrace related kitchen equipment and stylish, niche fashions. Living and working in Ledbury is a delight. When we lived in the Cotswolds it was a bit of a fairy tale but here there are real people with real businesses, Pat adds.
In contrast, at the other end of the High Street, Tony Francis and his sisters are the familys second generation to be trading here. Tony describes the background: Dad opened here in 1951 with a stall selling everything from tin baths to bicycles. Now they specialise in shoes and accessories while brother Duncan has Isaacs Linens next door. Our trade has been consistent, says Tony we have lots of loyal customers from here and much further away. I think the key to the towns stability is the good range of individual shops. To stay successful the planners need to resist out-of-town warehouse shopping.
One of Ledbury High Streets newer arrivals has added a vibrant, youthful dimension. Juice is a small jewellery outlet specialising in work designed by Jules Schad. Most of the pieces I design are things that I like to wear myself, explains Jules. When I opened here I assumed that most of my customers would be local. But Ive been amazed to find that so many come from cities like Cheltenham, Bristol, Gloucester and Hereford to shop here in Ledbury. There is so much to explore. I know one lady who comes here from Bristol for her Christmas shopping. Imagine all those shops and she prefers to look for special things here in Ledbury.
Something that you cant help but notice along Ledbury High Street is that this small town has three family butchers. Dave Waller, one of them, has been here for more than 30 years. Renowned among their customers for the warmth of their welcome with a fair measure of good-humoured banter thrown in, Wallers is a family business. Dave says: Ledbury is such a beautiful town. Sometimes I get here early in the morning when nobody else is about and just sit to enjoy looking at the town.
Business, says Dave, has been steady. We need the big orders but Mrs Jones and her half-a-pound of mince is every bit as important to us.
There is a supportive atmosphere along the High Street. Kate Brown, senior stylist at Marshalls Hairworks, is a Herefordshire girl from Golden Valley. She explains this community spirit: Ledbury is a really friendly town. Its so nice to be part of the business community here. People support each other and theres a lot of promotion by word-of-mouth.
Jane Wyatt, at Wyatts Interiors, shares that view. She says: We all work together even if there are competition issues. But the strength of our High Street is the diversity and the individuality of the shops. Chain stores have their place in cities like Hereford or Gloucester but not here. There are some amazing small businesses tucked away in Ledburys back streets.
Heather Mika is another popular and respected figure on the High Street. Working out of Ledbury Police Station, Heather is a Police Community
Support Officer. She says: I was thrilled when I heard that Id been appointed to this job in Ledbury three years ago. Its a lovely little town in a low-crime area so the job is about working with the community. I feel very lucky to have a job working so closely with people and making a difference to the community.
Ledburys High Street is about much more than shopping. The layout of the town means that part of it can be readily closed off, with minimal disruption. And so it is for the annual carnival, the Boxing Day hunt, a street party to mark the Poetry Festival or, recently, an event to support the welfare needs of the Gurkhas.
The old Market House standing solidly on its 16 pillars has seen many changes along Ledbury High Street good times and, no doubt, some bad. But today the town thrives, celebrating and preserving its heritage while responding to its many visitors and the needs of its residents. The final word goes to Bill the Bell: Our visitors cant get enough of the history and heritage of Ledbury. And our shopkeepers are so helpful and friendly. Its an honour and a pleasure to be supporting them.