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.