When the Romans, under Claudius, penetrated into this district of Britain, the present county of Hereford, or the greater portion of it, formed the most eastern part of the territory inhabited by that warlike tribe the Silures, whose valour, combined with the natural obstacles of a mountainous country, formed such a powerful impediment to the Roman conquests. About 20 years after the defeat of Caractacus (which is thought to have occurred in the vicinity of an eminence called Coxwall Knoll, situated near Brampton-Bryan, and on the line of boundary between Herefordshire and Shropshire), and almost 120 years after the first Roman invasion, the county was finally subjugated by Julius Frontinus, and was subsequently included in the Roman province Britannia Secunda. For some time after the establishment of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, Herefordshire, being situated nearly on the frontier between that kingdom and the territory still possessed by the descendants of the ancient Britons, was frequently the scene of war and devastation, and appears to have been alternately in the possession of the contending parties. At length Offa, King of Mercia, having repulsed the Britons in one of their invasions, crossed the river Severn, which had previously been the boundary between the Britons and the Saxons, and formed a new line of demarcation by his famous dyke, called in the British language Clawdd Offa; by which part of the present county of Monmouth, nearly the whole of that of Hereford, and parts of Radnor and Salop, were wrested from the Britons, and annexed to Mercia.
The incorporation of the Welsh marches with the adjoining counties, by act of parliament passed in the 27th of Henry VIII., added, or rather restored, a considerable extent of territory to Herefordshire. Wigmore, Stapleton, and Lugharness, on the northern side of the county, were appointed to constitute the hundred of Wigmore; and on the western side, Ewyas-Lacy was formed into the hundred of that name; Huntington, Clifford, Winforton, Eardisley, and Whitney, into the hundred of Huntington; and Ewyas-Harold was added to that of Webtree. The whole of the county, excepting the parishes of Clodock, Dulas, Ewyas-Harrold, Llancillo, Michael-Church-Eskley, Rowlstone, St. Margaret's, and Walterstone (which are in the diocese of St. David's), is included in the diocese of Hereford; it is in the province of Canterbury, and forms an archdeaconry, comprising the deaneries of Froome, Hereford, Irchenfield, Leominster, Ross, Weobley, and Weston. For civil purposes it is divided into the hundreds of Broxash, Ewyas-Lacy, Greytree, Grimsworth, Huntington, Radlow, Stretford, Webtree, Wigmore, Wolphy, and Wormelow Lower and Upper. It contains the city of Hereford, the borough and market-town of Leominster, and the market-towns of Bromyard, Kington, Ledbury, Pembridge, Ross, and Weobley, the last of which formerly sent members to parliament, but was disfranchised by the act of the 2nd of William IV. Three knights are now returned for the shire, and two representatives each for the city of Hereford and the borough of Leominster. The county members are elected at Hereford; the polling-places are Hereford, Leominster, Bromyard, Ledbury, Peterchurch, Ross and Kington. Herefordshire is included in the Oxford circuit; and the assizes and general quarter-sessions are held at Hereford, where stands the county gaol.
The Malvern hills, which form a kind of boundary on the eastern side of the county, and the Hatterill or Black mountains, rising to an equal elevation on its western border, command over its surface a scene of beauty and richness not surpassed by any other county in England. The river Wye, in particular, enriches and adorns a tract between 40 and 50 miles in length: the general character of this river, from its entrance into the county down to Hereford, is mild and pleasing, consisting of delightful reaches, bordered by the most luxuriant landscapes; the bolder and more romantic features occur in its course below Hereford. The prevalent kind of soil is a mixture of marl and clay of great fertility, containing also a certain proportion of calcareous earth. Below the surface are strata of limestone, often beautifully intersected by red and white veins, somewhat resembling calcareous spar; near Snodhill Castle, in the hundred of Webtree, it becomes a kind of marble. Towards the western border of the county the soil is often cold and sterile, but still argillaceous, and resting on nodules of impure limestone, or on a base of soft crumbling stone, which perishes by exposure to air and frost; in many places in the eastern part it is loose and shallow, covering stone of inferior value, provincially called "Dunstone." Deep beds of fine gravel are more especially met with in the centre of the county, in the vicinity of the city of Hereford. The soil of a large portion of the hundred of Wormelow, on the south, consists of a light sand, which has been much improved by the use of lime. A clayey tract extends from Hereford towards Ledbury, producing more abundant crops of wheat than any other district in the county.
About 520,000 acres of land are in cultivation. On the stiff clays, with which Herefordshire abounds, wheat is the principal crop: the greatest quantity of oats sown is in those parts approaching the Welsh border, and on portions of the eastern border of the county. Plantations of hops exist in all parts, but more especially on the Worcestershire side, occupying at present 11,010 acres. The most fertile meadow lands are on the banks of the Wye, the Frome, and the Lug, where the herbage is of the best quality: there is very little dairy-land within the county; so that a considerable quantity of butter is supplied from Wales, and of cheese from Shropshire and Gloucestershire. Plantations of fruit-trees are found in every aspect and on every soil: these orchards, which form so important a part of the produce of Herefordshire, seem to have first acquired celebrity in the reign of Charles I., and the county has long been noted for its cider, a large quantity of which is sent to London and the other principal towns in the kingdom. Of the entire area of the county only a very inconsiderable portion is waste land; the largest tract is on the east side of the Hatterill mountains, where the steepness of the hills and the sterility of the soil oppose powerful obstacles to improvement. Almost every part of Herefordshire abounds with woods and plantations, containing fine oak and elm trees; in the northern part of it, including the forests of Mocktree and Prestwood, there is a greater abundance of fine oak than in the southern, although the latter produces large and valuable supplies of timber. Some of the most extensive coppices are situated in the parishes of Fownhope, Woolhope, and Little Birch, and in the vicinity of Ledbury; they consist chiefly of oak, ash, and willow, and are generally cut down once in thirteen years: the ash is principally converted into hoops for cider casks, and the oak and the willow furnish hop-poles. The discovery of ironore is of remote antiquity in the hundred of Wormelow, where many of the hand-blomeries used by the Romans, and considerable quantities of ore imperfectly smelted, have been found on Peterstow Common; of late years, however, no iron has been manufactured in the county. Red and yellow ochre, fullers'-earth, and pipe-clay, have been found.
The principal Rivers are the Wye, the Lug, the Munnow, the Arrow, the Frome, the Teme, and the Leddon. The Wye is navigable up to Hereford for barges of from 18 to 30 tons' burthen, but the navigation is frequently interrupted by either a scarcity of water, or by the violence of the stream when swelled by the mountain torrents, which often make great alterations in the bed of the river, sometimes causing it to form new channels. In consequence of the precariousness of this navigation, an act was procured in 1791 for making a canal from the city of Hereford, by the town of Ledbury, to the Severn at Gloucester, with a lateral cut to the collieries at Newent. The expense of constructing this canal, commonly called the Hereford and Gloucester canal, was found so much to exceed the original estimate of £69,000, that in 1807, when £105,000 had been expended, the work, though completed on the Gloucestershire side, had made little progress in Herefordshire: an act, however, was lately passed to enable the proprietors to complete the line. Soon after the former of 1791, an act was obtained for constructing a canal from Kington to Leominster and Stourport: a part of the line, from Leominster to Stourport, was completed in 1796, but the cost of this undertaking, like that of the other, so much exceeded the estimate as to prevent the further progress of the work.
The only remarkable Druidical relic is Arthur's stone, in the parish of Dorstone; British intrenchments are numerous. Two Roman towns are supposed by the most respectable authorities to have been situated within the limits of modern Herefordshire, namely Ariconium and Magna. With respect to their situations, the most probable opinion is that of Horsley, that Magna was at Kenchester, where the circumvallation may still be traced, and Ariconium near Ross, in the parish of Weston-sub-Penyard, where the extent and limits are discernible by the dark appearance of the soil, which is strikingly different from all around it, and where Roman coins have been occasionally found. Of the four Roman military roads in Britain, only that called Watling-street intersects this county. It enters from Worcestershire, across the river Teme, at Leintwardine, and passing by Wigmore, Mortimer's Cross, Stretford, Kenchester, Kingstone, Dore-Abbey, and Longtown, quits for Monmouthshire at a short distance beyond the latter place; the most perfect remains are on Four-ways common, near Madley, where it crosses the turnpikeroad from Hereford. A vicinal way may also be traced in a great part of its course, entering from Worcester, and passing by Frome-hill, Stretton-Grandsome, Luggbridge, Holmer, and Stretton-Sugwas, to Kenchester. There were 21 religious houses in the county, the principal remains of which are at Dore and Wigmore. The castles were numerous: the chief remains are those of Brampton-Bryan, Clifford, Huntington, Goodrich, Kilpec, Longtown, Lyonshall, Wigmore, and Wilton Castles. Several petrifying or encrusting springs exist in such hilly parts as consist of argillaceous marl upon limestone.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.