Ledbury (St. Michael)

LEDBURY (St. Michael), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Radlow, county of Hereford; containing, with the township of Parkhold, 4591 inhabitants, of whom 4549 are in the town, 15 miles (E. by S.) from Hereford, and 120 (W. N. W.) from London. This place derives its name from the river Leden, which intersects the parish from north to south. The manor at the time of the Conquest belonged to the bishops of Hereford, to whom it had been given by Edwin the Saxon, and who had a park called Dingwood and a palace, of which there are now no remains. Queen Elizabeth gave other lands to the bishops in exchange for the manor, which was bestowed by James I. upon his son Charles I., who sold it to the citizens of London, from whom it was purchased by the predecessors of the present proprietors. Edward II., when made prisoner by the Earl of Leicester in the castle of Lanstephen, was conveyed to this town, and lodged for some time in the bishop's palace previously to his confinement in Berkeley Castle. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., the Earl of Leven besieged and took a small garrison of royalists at Canon-Froome, in the neighbourhood; and on the 22nd of April, 1646, the parliamentary forces, under Col. Massey, were attacked and routed at Ledbury by Prince Rupert, who had fixed his head-quarters here: on this occasion 100 of the enemy were killed, and 27 officers and 400 others made prisoners.

The Town, which stands at the eastern angle of the county, and at the southern extremity of the Malvern hills, is situated on a declivity, and consists of three continuous streets; the central of these is the principal, and is detached at each end from the northern and southern portions of the line by smaller streets crossing at right angles. The streets are macadamized; the footway in the high-street is paved with flags, and the inhabitants are indifferently supplied with water brought from reservoirs in Coninger wood. In the more ancient parts, the houses are composed of timber and brick, with projecting stories; but those of more modern erection are handsomely built of brick. A subscription reading and news room is supported; there is also a circulating library with an extensive collection of volumes, and assemblies are held during the season in the ball-room of the Feathers' inn. Races take place in August; and a temporary theatre is opened by an itinerant company. The manufacture of silk and broadcloth was carried on to a considerable extent during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., but it has declined. There are some malting establishments, and some tanneries: the chief trade, however, is in cider, of which very great quantities are made in the parish and vicinity; and in cheese, for which the town is the best mart in the county. The canal from Gloucester to Hereford materially benefits the district. The market is on Tuesday, for poultry, butter, and pedlery; and fairs are held on the Monday after Feb. 1st, Monday before Easter, May 12th, June 22nd, Oct. 2nd, and the Monday before Dec. 21st, for cattle, pigs, &c. The market-house is an ancient edifice of timber and brick, supported on 16 strong oak pillars; the lower part is used as a butter and poultry market, and the upper part as a store-room, and also as a national school. The parish is divided into five parts, the Borough, Wall Hills, Ledon and Haffield, Wellington, and Mitchell and Netherton: the four last form the Foreign of the manor, for which courts leet and baron are held annually, when the constables for the town are chosen; the borough is called the Denizen, and has likewise a court leet and baron. Petty-sessions for the hundred are held every Wednesday. The powers of the county debt-court of Ledbury, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Ledbury. The town sent members to two parliaments in the reign of Edward I., but surrendered the elective franchise subsequently, on the plea of poverty.

The parish comprises, according to survey, 8324 acres, in the highest state of cultivation; much of the land is laid out in orchards and market-gardens, and great quantities of fruit and vegetables are raised. There are some quarries of excellent limestone, which is used for building, and also for burning into lime; and a grey marble is quarried extensively. The Living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £14. 12. 6.; the rectory is divided into the two portions of Overhall and Netherhall: the Bishop of Hereford appoints to the vicarage. The tithes have been commuted for £250 each to the portions of Netherhall and Overhall, £52. 10. to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford, and £400 to the vicar. The church is a spacious and handsome structure, exhibiting some fine specimens of Norman architecture, particularly the door in the centre of the west front, and the chancel, on the north side of which is a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine, of decorated character; the north porch is in the early English style, as is also the tower, which is detached from the church, and surmounted by a well-proportioned spire about 60 feet in height. Over the altar is a painting of the Lord's Supper, copied from an original by Leonardo da Vinci, by T. Ballard, Esq., a native of the town, and student of the Royal Academy; and at the east end of the south aisle, is a new window ornamented with the figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity, in stained glass. There are also numerous ancient and highly interesting monuments, some antique sculptures, and much carving in good preservation. A district church has been erected at Wellington Heath, by private munificence: the living is a perpetual curacy in the gift of the Bishop, with an income of £100. Here are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Plymouth Brethren, and Wesleyans.

The hospital of St. Catherine was established in the thirteenth century, by Hugh Foliot, Bishop of Hereford, and endowed originally for six widowers and four widows: the revenue of it was valued at the Dissolution at £32. 7. 11. It was refounded by Elizabeth, in 1580, for a master, seven widowers, and three widows. The increase of funds enabled the trustees to erect a new hospital in 1822, from a design by Mr. Smirke, intended to comprise twenty-four dwellings for as many brethren, twelve of which have been completed, at an expense of £5888; the building is of handsome design, and erected with grey marble raised in the parish. Morning service is performed in a chapel adjoining the hospital, twice in the week, by a chaplain. There are several almshouses for poor persons; and a dispensary established in 1824. The union of Ledbury comprises 22 parishes or places, of which 21 are in the county of Hereford, and one in that of Worcester; the whole containing a population of 12,899. At Wall Hills, about a mile from the town, is a camp, supposed to have been originally British and subsequently occupied as a Roman station, containing an area of about 30 acres; a smaller camp at Haffield was probably used as a temporary position. Within the parish is also part of the famous Beacon camp, considered by some antiquaries as one of the fortresses constructed by Caractacus, when this part of Britain was invaded by the Romans under Ostorius Scapula. At Ledbury died Jacob Tonson, the eminent bookseller, whose epitaph was closely copied by Dr. Franklin for his own tombstone, and has been often recorded in print.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.