Talk by Jane Bradney, April 19th 2017. The Knight Brothers of Downton and Landscape Design from Capability Brown to Humphrey Repton

Jane Bradney studied landscape architecture, and then achieved a Ph.D in Garden History, under Prof. Timothy Mowl at Bristol. She is, with him, the joint editor of the definitive Historic Gardens of Herefordshire. She brought to us her observations on the comparisons and contrasts between these four men. Two of them are nationally renowned landcape designers, and two well-known locally as erstwhile residents of Downton Castle,


Brown was a practical, likeable person. He was a surveyor, gardener and architect of the Palladian style. He was also an engineer, well-organised with a skilled ‘back office complete with a survey log and his own line foreman to supervise the landowners’ workers. He also provided regular after-advice to his clients, including how to establish the estate’s own plant nursery. He left little personal archive but Jane spoke of analysing his many gifts to his family which totalled £33 million in today’s’ money. Thus he was a very successful professional, and Berrington Hall is typical of his later pared down style. However he had critics including one who said “I should like to see heaven before you have ‘improved’ it!” Moreover, Goldsmith’s poem ‘The Deserted Village’ is a lament for such a bald and monotonous improvement to a village.

Repton’s career began five years after Brown’s death, but he marketed himself as Brown’s successor. His unique selling point was the Red Book, which gave an instant impression of potential transformation, and was embellished with his immaculate copperplate writing. However he never achieved the financial success of Brown, because of a cultural shift occurring, away from landscaped parks and towards a demand for gardens, which he followed and enabled.

This shift is paralleled in the Knight brothers, who in different ways influenced this change.

Richard Payne Knight inherited a fortune from forest holdings used in the production of charcoal, and hence iron. In fact a large part of the nation’s output came from his property. RPK became a collector and aesthete. He was absorbed with the 18th century ‘cult of the amateur’ which founded the British Institute to challenge the professional voice of the Royal Academy. Almost in opposition to Brown, the professional, he wrote a manifesto for the picturesque movement. The owner of Belmont, Hereford, wrote a reply defending Repton who worked on his estate, citing ‘desperate amateurs’ defiling Brown’s memory.

The Knight brothers grew up at Wormsley Grange, eight years apart, and had very different trajectories. RP in the arts, Thomas Andrew in the sciences. RP travelled widely, but TA no further than Paris and when in 1811 he became president of the Horticultural Society, it was on condition that he would never have to travel to London except for the AGM!

RP constructed the castle at Downton, and Jane Bradney considered that its early images look like a Brown design. There was a significant shift between 1780 and 1794 to the picturesque which the castle walks typify. A transformation from the original ‘tea caddy on a hill’ image. Thirty years later RP moved out of the castle and TA who had been living in Elton Hall where he created a nursery, moved in. RP retained a country abode, as well as a house in Soho Square, at Stoneybrook, on the Downton Estate which he described as a ‘little house in a dell.’ The emphasis now was on miniaturisation, a third stage in the development of aesthetic ideas.

TA had a more empirical approach to horticulture. With his scientific bent he gardened as an experimental botanist, or ‘vegetable physiologist.’ He was an early member of the Horticultural Society which was about shared interests, not competition, experimenting with plant trials. TA Knight’s experiments were with fruit varieties and he produced the Downton Pippin, the Grange Apple, the Elton Cherry amongst many others. One innovative feature was the curvilinear glasshouse, perhaps the oldest in England, built at Downton in 1820, which is very significant in garden heritage. It is indicative of the changing mood towards mid-Victorian flower gardening.

Jane concluded that all four men, Brown to Repton, RP to TA Knight, typified and were in some ways responsible for the move from landscape to garden in our heritage.




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Talk by Keith Ray March 15th 2017 Offa’s Dyke and the Western Frontier of Mercia 760-840 AD,

Keith Ray, formerly chief archaeologist for Herefordshire, gave us an overview of the researches done in previous times on Offa’s Dyke. He recalled Sir Cyril Fox who studied it between 1926 and 1931, pioneering landscape archaeology. He understood the need to excavate deep trenches, how the Dyke moves through the landscape, and to understand it in relation to other features around. He realised it was definitely post-Roman because there were remnants of a Roman villa found beneath. What he didn’t recognise was the value of aerial photographs.

Subsequently, there were two major studies. Noble established the Offa’s Dyke Association and gave more description. Hill and Worthington suggested that Wat’s Dyke (an earthwork to the north and roughly parallel to Offa’s) extended further south than had been thought and that the dykes were connected with blocking the Kingdom of Powys. New technologies now date Wat’s Dyke as early 9th century so later than Offa’s. Keith Ray, who has spent a decade studying the Dyke, said it was important not to conflate it with a frontier, but a ‘device of hegemony.’

He pointed out that Bishop Asser in his ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’ spoke of Offa and a ditch in Alfred’s time, as did Gerald of Wales confirming its historicity.

His own researches have shown that Offa’s Dyke gives visibility towards the west whilst keeping a constant distance from the river Severn. It maintains a specific alignment which is not always on the hilltops but is constructed by expert Anglo-Saxon fort engineers in individual lengths which adjust direction to always maintain a view of the valley, and so that it looks larger when seen from the valley. Where there are apparent errors this is actually a gap which is a sophisticated control, a customs point.

A ‘march’ is an area of ill-defined control, so The Marches were a buffer zone between Mercia and Wales. The Dyke enabled Mercian armies to go in and out of Wales, and The Marches an area where trade could occur. An approaching trader would be warned by a sentry on the dyke not to evade the customs point. It is likely that Offa was inspired by Hadrian’s Wall as it uses the same features.

The movement of goods was taxed between England and Wales and there would have been a customs point in Knighton, one of nineteen different toll locations. Leintwardine is significant as it is at the crossroads of the Teme and the main highway from Wales. It wasn’t cattle that were taxed, as has been assumed, but minerals such as gold and lead. The Domesday Hundreds say that the Leintwardine road was a key boundary, and that the Sheriff had to provide twenty-four horses for the king to visit Shrewsbury. This might be a responsibility established in the Roman period, and was perhaps a mounted bodyguard. Keith was convinced that the circular lines around the village, especially visible in aerial photographs, are significant. This is underscored by the name – Leintwardine – in which the ‘wardine’ part is the same as in ‘warden’ (The Wardens, Middle Wardens etc) meaning ‘enclosure’. The church is at the centre of this enclosure.

In response to questions, we learned that the Teme may have been crossed by a causeway across the flood plain, that the dyke often would have had surfaces of freshly quarried limestone, which would have whitened the bank and enhanced its visibility and dominance. Also very few coins have been found here because it was not at the time of building a monetary economy. He also proposed that Wat’s Dyke might be where the two Watling Streets (our own and that traversing the country from SE to NW) meet. The meeting concluded with an opportunity to buy Keith Ray’s book, ‘Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eight Century Britain.’



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The Archaeology and Artefacts of Ludlow a talk by Leon Bracelin

7.30pm Wednesday 15 February 2017

About 70 people attended the meeting, which was introduced by Jonathon Hopkinson.

Leon Bracelin has been working on the archaeology of Ludlow for several years and has been involved in a number of projects, one of the latest being the foundations of the mediaeval drawbridge at the site of a gatehouse in the town walls and he is involved in a number of projects as part of his PhD research.

Leon gave us a general introduction describing the role of archaeology and the archaeological process. Many disciplines may be involved e.g. geology, geophysics, anthropology, historical documentation etc to understand what has happened in the past. Generally the final stage in the process is field excavation. The stratigraphic concept is important i.e. oldest at the bottom; most recent at the top.

Archaeologists examine & interpret through the artefacts that they discover the culture at some period in the past. This ‘material culture’ may include buildings, personal items, tools, discarded rubbish etc. It is then important to set local findings into a wider regional/landscape context.

The speaker is a custodian at Ludlow castle and described some of its interesting features. It was built in 1082 – 92 as a Norman military stronghold close to the English/Welsh border and was important in the subsequent development of the town. He noted that the pathway to the NW of the castle was a giant midden, likely to contain many artefacts from the 11th century to the present. However, he thought it would be difficult/impossible to carry out detailed excavations of this, because of its position and the regular operation of castle visits by the public.

He went on to describe the ‘Ludlow Artefacts and Test Pit Study’. There are many listed buildings in Ludlow ( over 400 it turns out) so the research focus to date has been on architectural studies. Archaeology has been limited so he considered there was a knowledge gap. A first step in closing this is through a test pit surveys. The first test pit has been made in a back garden near the bottom of Corve St., selected for its proximity to a significant part of the old town.

The pit was 1x1m2 square and 1.2m deep. Finds were collected over at 10cm depth intervals, separated into pottery, bone or glass and bagged. They were then cleaned and identified where possible and dated in the Ludlow Museum. On completion the test pit was filled in. The target was to recover pieces of ceramic or pottery. These items are durable and to the expert identifiable and a date range can be given. Pottery form, decoration and glazing from the Neolithic, Bronze, Roman, mediaeval, Victorian ages are quite distinctive. Fragments of clay pipes from the 17th – 19th centuries have local characteristics and can also be dated fairly precisely. There were many ceramic pottery and other finds in the test pit from a Neolithic scraper [base of trench] through mediaeval pottery to a Nazi coin. The finds appeared to be mixed,  probably because soil from different locations had been brought into the area, and turned over. This is work in progress, with other test pits planned.

The speaker then described the area at the bottom of Corve St., close to the test pit, and currently the site of St Leonards Press. Excavations in 1984 – 86 had revealed a large Carmelite monastic building, also shown in some old maps. There are several fragments of stone carvings, possibly 12th C, presumably from this building, which have been incorporated in existing buildings in the area.

Leon completed his talk by briefly describing his survey of the cellar below the Wheatsheaf public house. The building is on the line of the town wall and adjacent to one of the old town gateways. Its cellar would have been part of the town ditch surrounding the walls and would have been water- filled. He has identified the foundation of the old drawbridge, and the remains of the mechanism.

Following questions from the audience , some of whom welcomed the idea of hearing about work in progress as the project continues the meeting closed.



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A Talk by Duncan James on Timber Framed buildings – Recent discoveries around Herefordshire and Leintwardine 16th November 2016


On Wednesday 16 November 2016 an audience of about 80 LHS members & visitors were present at the 7.30pm lecture by Duncan James on Timber – framed Buildings –Recent Discoveries in & Around Herefordshire & Leintwardine. The LHS chair, Derek Martin, introduced the speaker noting that he had 20-yrs experience in dating buildings from mediaeval times through to the present. The audience was promised an informative & entertaining lecture & were not disappointed. The presentation was first class & the illustrations exceptionally good.

Mr James focussed on describing some of the timber-framed buildings he had examined recently to determine their age, original & subsequent uses & building modifications over time. He showed, with many examples , some of the indicators used in his detective work to establish a building’s history. These included:

– the profile & character of the external & internal timber work mouldings;

-the inclination of saw marks on timbers from which it is possible to date the building to before or after the 1530s;

– the nature of the individual bricks [coal & wood-fired kiln bricks vary in their hardness] & the nature of the brickwork;

– smoke blackening of roof timbers, possibly indicating an early smoke bay [pre-chimneys];

– the re-use of timbers from older buildings, etc.

In some cases the front facades of old buildings had been so altered, sometimes adding a shop frontage, that the historic importance of the building was not immediately evident. However, an inspection of the building’s other elevations & internally often revealed its origins & many historic treasures. Two examples were offered from Presteigne: one at the cross roads which may have been a courthouse & another [now Bennets] which was probably a prestigious mansion house , had been ‘jetted’ & possibly had an open balcony facing on to a courtyard.

Ludlow is particularly rich in old buildings & there is often documentary evidence of their former use. Mr James described the Readers House which faces St Lawrence’s churchyard, as a fine example of a 17th century prestigious building. It has a 1616 date on its front elevation. It appears that there has been some deterioration/collapse of part of the front of the building which has been restored but probably resulted in the loss of one of the matching gables. There is wonderful moulding on some of the windows.

Mr James also described his explorations of a 17th century farmhouse in Abberley, the development stages of the high status Worsley House from the 15th century [with evidence of a smoke bay] through to the 18th century, the 16th century Hanley Hall & several other historically important buildings.

And so to Leintwardine – an examination of Church House showed that it had been subject to major alterations in the past. There appeared to be 3 parts to the structure. The central section of the roof was considered intact & was probably the central bay of a 14th or early 15th century ‘Hall House’. Because of the nature of the structure, which used timber beams directly on to the soil for foundations, very few buildings of this type have survived. If it is 14th century it is one of the earliest domestic buildings in the county. A tree ring survey of the timbers would be informative.

Kinton Farm, Leintwardine had also been investigated by Mr James. This long building is made up of 7 bays. An examination of the roof timbers in the 3 early bays, probably 1450 – 1500, suggested that the roof had been originally half-hipped. There was no smoke blackening of the roof timbers which implied that it was not the main part of a mediaeval hall [now lost] but a cross-wing. Later phases in the development included chimney stacks & finally, 18th century re-fronting.

Mr Jones ended his excellent talk by expressing concern over several older buildings containing features of architecturally historic importance that may be lost through dereliction or unsympathetic development.

Altogether a fascinating insight into what is often hidden behind a façade, and how much buildings change over the years, but do not always disappear.



GW   WBW        18.11.2016

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Thomas Nicholson and the Victorian Restoration of Leintwardine Church: A talk by David Whitehead 19th October 2016

Vandal with imagination and competence??

Ecclesiastical architecture has, since the first building was ever erected for Christian purposes, been moulded and shaped into the style that most closely answered the interpretation of the current belief. Thus by the time that Thomas Nicholson was called upon to restore St Mary Magdalene in the early 1860s, he was compelled to work towards a scheme that reflected the new-found robust confidence of the Victorian religious hierarchy and to draw in wider congregations by waking up a sad and increasingly neglected church.

Leintwardine Church was not particularly exceptional with its needs although it was unusually large for a village church. As the waves of change washed over these historical buildings down the centuries, severely interrupted and reshaped by the Reformation and later Civil War, the fate of churches nationwide was affected by theft (some within the clergy and laity), vandalism and ultimately decay (even part of Hereford Cathedral fell down due to neglect). The Victorians thus felt there was a great need to impose the healing hand on crumbling structures, to re-embellish them as in Medieval times, to ‘put something back’ to quote David Whitehead. Some were pulled down and completely replaced. However, unlike Shobden church for example, the original Norman building being replaced with a wedding cake style Strawberry Gothic structure, St Mary Magdalene was spared such a fate though it is not without controversy that the restoration work may have over exceeded its brief and too much change was made that has not always been either acceptable, necessary or appreciated.

Thomas Nicholson (1823-95) may have been the best choice for this job, however, as he was known for never doing unnecessary work. He was Diocesan architect for Herefordshire and was extremely prolific within the county even though Herefordshire spent less than any other diocese at the time on church building and restoration being both the poorest and endowed with the greatest number of buildings to care for.

With St Mary Magdalene, Nicholson attended to the stonework where necessary but left the Norman decoration around the West Door untouched. The box pews were banished, replaced by the pews we now know – this was viewed as a useful way to introduce greater equality across the social spectrum.   The 13thC Arcade was left untouched but David Whitehead described the Chancel as being more-or-less closed off accessed only by a small entrance. This, he said, was due to ‘the mystery of the Sacrament having gone’ therefore causing the High Altar to be unnecessary. A point on this matter was raised after the talk; it appeared to be a contentious idea as in fact the Chancel was far more easily accessed than was suggested by the speaker but there was no doubt that the Chancel restoration could then accommodate the Anglican practice of choir in the Choir stalls leading the congregational singing thus involving everybody.

Victorian taste also embraced glass and was far less in favour of tombs and funeral monuments which tended to turn churches into burial places and took up far too much space. Glass was encouraged both for private family memorials and for window embellishment and restoration.

Nicholson liked church roofs and deemed that of St Mary Magdalene good after it was exposed by his work in 1864. The encaustic floor tiles, made by Messrs. Godwin & Co of Lugwardine became an essential part of the refurbishment to allow for the newly installed heating system to belch forth piped warmth through the new iron gratings (in those days of coal fired boilers and endless supply!) to provide comfort for the congregation particularly during long sermons. The tower was restored in 1865 with the addition to funds of a very generous donation of £400 from John Colvin of Leintwardine House.

Nicholson applied his skills to many other projects including The Hall at Brampton Bryan (a new porch and re-fenestration to the sash windows), a school in Mansel Lacy and Hampton Court chapel parapet. David Whitehead considers Nicholson’s greater strength lay with smaller churches which he obviously enjoyed.

His final point was to ask us to consider Nicholson’s competence but nevertheless, perhaps he was an architect without verve?

This very enlightening talk threw new understanding behind the motivation and drive of Anglican belief during 19th century ecclesiastical restoration. Whether or not Nicholson was an imaginative and competent vandal and an architect with no verve has to rest with the listener.

 Bridget Sudworth

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Talk: David Vaughan and a Brief History of North Herefordshire 21st September

David Vaughan is the author of the Herefordshire edition of the History Press Series, ‘A little Book of.. .’ and he brought us an overview of our county’s life and times. Although there is much members know about their own area, he was still able to bring us snippets of new information.

The book may be ‘little’ but his talk was wide-ranging, beginning with the county’s post-Ice Age state as a large lake with hyena, woolly rhino and internationally renowned fossil evidence. Much of the Neolithic age, but for a plethora of axe heads, has been destroyed by farming. One significant and unusual relic is a mortuary house at Dorstone (meaning Halls of the Dead) which appears to have been a wooden structure which was burnt to the ground before a long barrow was built for the bodies, or skeletal remains.

Croft Ambrey, we learned, inhabited between 6BC and AD48, puzzlingly had up to 20 gates, and Romano-British shrines.

Our own Bravinium settlement is of course a good example of Roman settlement, apparently in a typical ‘playing card’ shape, built around AD47 and covering 10 acres.

In the Middle Ages taxes in the area were paid in honey, a Welsh custom. In 1138 Stephen crowned himself king in Hereford, the oldest cathedral city in Western Europe.

Saxon times were volatile with the necessity of building Offa’s Dyke, 2m high and 18m wide, after an earlier version trashed by the Welsh. The Christianisation of the area is seen in the change of grave positions from N-S, to E-W, in the late 900s. The 6ft thick walls of our own village church reflect these turbulent times, and Hereford too was built with colossal defences. Post-mediaeval lands were razed which led to agriculture and the cultivation of apples, wool, potatoes for which the county is still famed. (In 17th century local good quality woll was termed ‘Leominster Ore’)

The proliferation of castles was ordered by William the Conqueror. Ewyas Harold built in 1050 was the first of its type in England, and Wigmore although small is the place from where Mortimer’s dominance changed the course of the country. There are 2000 listed buildings including 270 lime kilns, Forge Bridge, and dovecotes.

We learned of famous people, like Nell Gwyn whose establishment of Chelsea pensioners with their notable red coats was based on Hereford’s Coningsby Hospital.

Henry ll’s Fair Rosamund who was so popular (like Princes Diana?) that her grave became a shrine and had to be removed.

There were Herefordshire artists, among them, Brian Hatton, John Scarlett Davies, David Cox; actors such as David Garrick and Sarah Siddons; Alfred Watkins, famed for his book on ley lines but also inventor of the ‘bee’ meter for photographic exposure.

And much more, which you will find in the book, which costs £9.99 and which would make a good Christmas present.

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L.H.S. Trip to the Snailbeach Mine. 13 June 2016


Monday dawned, wet, miserable and with poor visibility. But never mind, we’re off down a mine. 11 intrepid members met up at Snailbeach Village Hall car park suitably kitted out in wellies and heavy weather gear. Here we were greeted by Peter Sheldrake, our guide for the visit. Peter has been involved with the mine and it’s preservation for over 20 years and was both entertaining and informative as he painted a picture of life at Snailbeach over the past 2000 years.

We began with a tour of the surface works, climbing up past the stabilised and landscaped spoil tips till we reached the restored Loco Shed. The landscaping is obviously succeeding as Joy, who knows about these things, identified a Spotted Orchid. Onwards and upwards then, past the Blacksmith’s (complete with working forge) and our first Pumping engine house. This dated from 1790 and served ‘George’s Shaft’ that reached a depth of 750 ft. Or 250 yards as for some arcane reason Snailbeach worked in yards!

At the visitors’ centre we collected our helmets and lamps and, Heigh Ho, it’s off to the mine we go.

After a climbing a track, passing the old reservoir, we reached ‘Perkins Level’. With a rattle of security keys Peter checked us into the Adit. A narrow, low and damp passage led us into the darkness where a series of high caverns had been carved out as the miners followed the seams of Barite, hard and often dangerous work. On Peter’s word we dowsed our lights to get a taste of the darkness they worked in. As they had to buy their own candles then, they used them very sparingly.

Returning back to the visitors’ centre the scale of the operation became evident as we passed powder stores, crushing and compressor houses, carpenters shops and offices. After handing back our helmets at the visitors’ centre a short film detailed some of the mine’s history. A lot to take in and for many of us a return trip is on the cards. We live in a beautifully green and peaceful area of the country. It is visits to such sites that remind us of how industrialised the landscape once was.

Steve Sherring













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