What’s Not To Love About Ledbury’s Market House?

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We English do well with our market towns, at least ones where developers were not let loose during the 1960s-70s era of replacement brutalist shop fronts. Ledbury in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire, and the town closest to our Eastnor cottage break at the end of March, is pretty nigh perfect. It has a long, long High Street composed of many 18th century and earlier facades, and in the centre is the Market House that began its civic life as piece of determined urban refurbishment 400 years ago.

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Town records show that the site where it stands had been a market place since 1122, but by the end of the 1500s the space had been encroached on by rows of tatty shops which greatly offended local trader, John Phillips. He set about raising funds through public subscription, and for the sum of £40 bought Shoppe Row and had it demolished. Work began on the Market House in 1617. The original plan included the building  small shops between the oak pillars while the upper storeys were to serve mainly for the storage of goods – corn, wool, hops for brewing and acorns used in the leather tanning trade.

However, all did not proceed as expected. In 1655 when John Phillips died the building work was still not completed, and there was no money left to finish the job. In fact it wasn’t until 1668 that local worthies came up with a cunning plan to raise the necessary funds. They helped themselves to £40 from two legacies that were meant to provide clothing for the town’s poor, but then drafted a new instruction: each year 12 poor citizens would have clothing paid for from the profits of the Market House. So it seems the civic misappropriation may be forgiven.

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The Market House had a fresh lease of life in the Victorian era when the present windows and staircase were installed. The upper floors then served as the town hall and meeting room. Further restoration work was carried out in 1939 and during the 1970s and 80s. But the most dramatic resuscitation project took place in 2006 when it was discovered that the oak stilts were under threat from ‘foot rot’ and boring wasps. Repairs involved raising the entire structure  2 feet (600mm) off the ground so  the builders could scrape out the damaged bases, and infill with a natural lime-grout mortar which is structurally strong, but does not seal in damp as modern cement does.

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And so the Market House survives well and into its 5th century, and is now used for meetings and exhibitions, its ‘downstairs’ still hosting weekly markets while at other times impressing all with its well-worn and pleasing venerability.

But as I said earlier, there is much more to look at up and down the town – intriguing alley ways with unusual shops, lots of cafes and restaurants, and a potential for a darn good hike up and down the High Street. There are some literary connections too – Poet Laureate John Masefield  (1878-1967) was born and lived here.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) also lived here during her formative years. In 1809 when she was three, her father Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, the owner of slave plantations in Jamaica, bought Hope End estate near the town. Elizabeth lived here until 1833 when family litigation and the abolition of the slave trade caused her father great financial losses, and thus the sale of Hope End and a move to Sidmouth in Devon.

Masefield is also well loved (and especially by me) for his children’s book ‘A Box of Delights’. I especially treasure his word ‘scrobbled’ meaning to be nabbed by the baddies. But now for some Ledbury views, including a glimpse of the writer himself, discovered in a quirky alley leading to the town Printers, who advertise themselves around the place with amusing posters. A town of delights then – old and new:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

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35 thoughts on “What’s Not To Love About Ledbury’s Market House?

  1. Oh, what a lovely informative post, Tish! I have never strolled around Ledbury, more’s the pity as I used to drive past Ledbury and Leominster on my way to visit my parents at Church Stretton nearly three decades ago……

  2. I love the story and photos of the market house. So wonderful to know how they helped the poor. And, raising the entire structure 2 feet above the ground is such a very different and clever idea.

  3. Ledbury is a lovely town for a wander. I recall buying some very nice Herefordshire asparagus there on our last visit and eating gooseberry ice-cream!

    1. We Brits do have our moments when preserving stuff overcomes the yen to modernise. And on the whole, all buildings of historic architectural importance are listed which means they are unlikely to be altered in an unsympathetic manner. But then this can be quite tough if you happen to live in one and want to make it comfortable – e.g. problems over insulating same, installing double glazing etc.

  4. What a beautiful building, Tish! We’ve been watching lots of episodes of “Midsomer Murders” so we’ve been seeing many beautiful English buildings. I’m just glad there aren’t really that many murders. 🙂

    janet

    1. Am with you on the lack of murders, Janet! And we’re lucky with our old buildings. Just a pity there is so much traffic in our old towns. The French seem to be rather good at diverting around theirs.

  5. Like so many WordPress sites these days, I have to re-sign in to leave a comment, and a ‘like’ doesn’t show in the list, even after a page refresh. Regardless, I LIKE YOUR POST.

  6. Thank you for this leisurely and colorful stroll through Ledbury. When traveling the southwest coast of England, I was often impressed with how well the High Streets were preserved and how even new builds reflected traditional styles thanks to good city planning (I managed not to see much blight from poor planning run a muck in the 60s and 70s).

    I must go down to the sea again….

    1. I thought of you when I posted that Masefield line. As to our least blighted towns, the oldest with their long High Streets were usually laid out in the early Middle Ages – 12th -13th centuries, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

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