Leominster (St. Peter and St. Paul)

LEOMINSTER (St. Peter and St. Paul), a parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Wolphy, county of Hereford; comprising the borough of Leominster, which has separate jurisdiction, and the townships of Brierley, Broadward, Cholstrey, Eaton, Hide with Wintercott, Ivington, Newtown, Stagbatch, Stretford with Hennor, and Wharton; the whole containing 4916 inhabitants, of whom 3892 are in the ancient borough, 13½ miles (N.) from Hereford, and 137 (W. N. W.) from London. This place, according to Leland, partly derives its name from a minster or monastery, founded here about 660 by Merwald, King of West Mercia, who is also said to have had a castle or palace about half a mile eastward of the town. A fortress was standing in 1055, when it was seized by the Welsh chieftains, and fortified. At the time of the Norman survey, the manor, with its appurtenances, was assigned by Edward the Confessor to his queen, Editha; and in the reign of William Rufus, the fortifications were strengthened to secure the place against the incursions of the Welsh. In the reign of John the town, priory, and church, were plundered and burned by William de Breos, Lord of Brecknock; in the time of Henry IV. the town was in the possession of Owain Glyndwr, after he had defeated the Earl of March. In the sixteenth century, the inhabitants took a decisive part in the establishment of Mary on the throne, for which service she granted them a charter of incorporation, in the year 1554. The monastery founded by Merwald having been destroyed by the Danes, a college of prebendaries, and, subsequently, an abbey of nuns, were established; but these institutions were destroyed previously to the time of Edward I., who endowed the abbey of Reading with the monastery of Leominster, which afterwards became a cell: the revenue, at the Dissolution, was £660. 16. 8.

The town is situated in a rich and fertile valley, on the banks of the river Lugg, which bounds it on the north and east; the Kenwater and Pinsley, two smaller streams, pass through the town itself, and three other rivulets within half a mile. The streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water from springs; several of the houses are in the ancient style of timber and brick, the beams being painted black, and ornamented with grotesque carvings. There are a public reading-room, or subscription library, and a theatre. Near the town is a good race-course, where races take place about the end of August; and an agricultural society holds its meetings here. The wool produced in the neighbourhood is excellent, and the cider and hops are in high estimation. An act was passed in 1846 for a railway from Hereford, by Leominster, to Shrewsbury. The market is on Friday. Fairs are held on Feb. 13th, the Tuesday after Mid-Lent Sunday, May 2nd, July 10th, Sept. 4th, and Nov. 8th; and two new fairs have been established, one on June 29th, for wool, the other on Oct. 17th, for cattle and hops; besides which, there is a great market on the Friday after Dec. 11th. A neat market-house, for the sale of grain, was erected in 1803.

The charter of incorporation granted by Queen Mary was confirmed and extended by several subsequent sovereigns, who vested the government in a bailiff, chief steward, recorder, and 24 capital burgesses, with a chamberlain, town-clerk, two serjeants-at-mace, and other officers. The borough is now under the control of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, elected agreeably to the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; and the number of magistrates is six. The town has sent two members to parliament since the 23rd of Edward I.: the right of election was formerly vested in the bailiff, capital burgesses, and other inhabitants paying scot and lot, in number about 734; but, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 64, the limits of the ancient borough were enlarged, so as to include, for elective purposes, the £10 householders of the entire parish. A court of record is held for the trial of causes every Monday, the proceedings in which have been assimilated to those of the superior courts at Westminster. The powers of the county debt-court of Leominster, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Leominster, and five adjacent parishes. Petty-sessions for the Lower division of the hundred of Wolphy take place here; and there is a court leet annually. The town hall, or butter-cross, was built in 1633, and is a singular edifice of timber and brick, supported by curiously carved pillars of oak. A gaol was erected in 1750.

The parish extends over 7284 acres, of which 784 are in the ancient borough: John Arkwright, Esq., of Hampton Court, is lord of the manor. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 3. 8., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £200. The church is a spacious and irregular structure, exhibiting specimens of every period of Norman and English architecture. The tower, at the northwest angle, is of Norman character at the base, and of a later style in the upper stages; the western doorway, which is extremely beautiful, is ornamented with pillars and receding arch mouldings. The windows are in the decorated and later English styles; the massive pillars in the north aisle, supporting round arches surmounted by Norman arcades, are particularly curious: the south side, which is modern, is appropriated to the performance of divine service; the altar-piece is a painting of the Last Supper. At Ivington, about a mile and a half from the town, is a district church. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Moravians, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. A free grammar school, founded by Queen Mary, is partly supported by an endowment of £20 per annum. An almshouse for four widows was founded and endowed by Hester Clark, in 1735. The poor-law union of Leominster comprises 25 parishes or places, and contains a population of 14,393. The place confers the title of Baron upon the Earl of Pomfret, who is styled Baron Lempster, that having been the ancient name of the town.

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