Ledbury, Herefordshire’s mediaeval market town, is a fascinating place for a relaxing break. Sitting amid restful countryside, it has more than its share of half-timbered buildings as well as associations with the Civil War.
It’s the birthplace of poets Thomas Traherne and William Langland, and the poet laureate, John Masefield, grew up here. It was also the childhood home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning before the family moved to Wimpole Street in London. William Wordsworth stayed here too with friends, the Dymock Poets. It isn’t surprising then that Ledbury hosts its own annual Poetry Festival.
Ledbury’s distinguished heritage is particularly evident in the famous Church Lane, a narrow cobbled walkway off the centre of the High Street that leads from the town to the lovely parish church.
The noteworthy Market House dominates the town centre and stands near the entrance to Church Lane. This early 17th century building, once a grain or wool store, and council chamber, is said to have been built by John Abel – the King’s Carpenter.
Ledbury Heritage Centre is a small museum on the ground floor of a 15th century building. There are displays here of local historic interest that gives an insight into the town’s past. A particularly intriguing exhibit – and a challenge for visitors – is a timber puzzle, which is a scaled replica of part of the building.
Another museum along Church Lane is the award winning folk museum, Butcher Row House. It’s housed in one of a row of 15 burgage houses and shops, many of which were butchers (hence its name), that were once situated in High Street and were re-erected here in the 19th century.
Exhibits comprise replica helmets and breastplates as worn in the Battle of Ledbury (1645) along with some unusual musical instruments including a Tibetan pipe made from a thighbone! It’s open most of the year and admission is free.
At the far end of Church Lane, you’ll find the SixteenthCentury Painted Room. This is found in one of Ledbury’s most elderly timber-framed buildings, which is now used as town council offices. Thought to date from between 1560 and 1570, the wall paintings were discovered in the 1980s during restoration work and are said to be some of the best examples of Elizabethan wall art. The floral fresco designs are based on Elizabethan knot gardens with boxes of religious text.
St. Michael & All Angels Church sits at the top end of Church Lane and it’s claimed to be the finest parish church in Herefordshire. It has a vast spire, which stretches up some 200 feet and is detached from the rest of the building. This 13th and 14th century church has a huge arcaded nave, and a chapter house of around 1330, thought to be the work of St. Guthlac’s monks from Hereford.
The superb 17th century Skynner family tomb depicts husband and wife, Edward and Elizabeth of Ledbury Park. Their infant daughter rests between them; she was killed, so it is said, by the last wolf in the district.
Should you come along to Ledbury’s Church Lane and spot a few things that look remarkably familiar, it’s because the alleyway has appeared in numerous films and TV productions.