Author Archives: derekmartin219

A History of Water Meadows in Herefordshire Talk given by David Lovelace on October 18th 2017

David Lovelace gave a fascinating talk on Water Meadows, which he is studying as part of an on-going project by Historic England. He explained that little evidence exists of their origins: controlled flooding of pasture to provide water for livestock and boost the growth of grass for both pasture and hay may be centuries old, their siting and the necessary maintenance skills passed down the generations orally.

However, one important local document, an analysis of land-use on the Roger Mortimer estates in 1325 (just before the Black Death), gives an insight into the importance of water meadows to medieval farming. The value of meadow-land exceeded that of any other land use (it was worth 11d an acre, compared with 5½d for pasture and 3d for arable). 15.6% of Mortimer’s land was given over to meadows. The management of water meadows is much less documented than, say, woodland management. There is reference in a document of 1582 to the process (at Somergilles). The first book on the creation and management of water meadows dates to 1610, though there is evidence to suggest the author, Robert Vaughan, may well have been writing from hearsay and imagination rather than actual practice! A court case of 1847 against negligent land-owners, reported at length in the Hereford Times, gives proof of how they operated and of the need for collaboration between adjacent land-owners. Their use declined in the late Victorian era (though some systems did survive well into the twentieth century) and the orally transmitted knowledge died too. There have been none in Herefordshire for a hundred years.

David Lovelace described the different types of water meadow: “Floating Up” means control of natural flood-water, “Catch Works” are artificial gaps made in the banks of a water course, but most of the talk focussed on the method known as “Bed Works”, a system of linear channels and gullies incorporating an exit system. Bed works often worked in tandem with water mills, and the medieval ridge and furrow system may have been adapted for irrigation.

Today, evidence of former bed work systems exists in various forms. Despite erosion of unmaintained ridges, these features may still be seen in places. Sluice gates have survived, some adapted for other use, some merely remnants to be seen in hedges. Field names on the tithe maps of 1840 give a guide to where meadows were situated, and some of their features appear on large scale OS maps. A man named Captain King-King, ordered to destroy his water meadows at Staunton Under Arrow for arable use in WW2, drew a detailed map of his bed work system. The RAF flew photographic sorties over North Herefordshire in 1945 and their aerial photography shows evidence of water meadows, and a Luftwaffe photo of 1940 failed to show the Rotherwas factory as it was shrouded in cloud, but did provide evidence of irrigation systems! More recently, Lidar showed the channels of a long-defunct water meadow system on a Leintwardine farm.

Changes in technology and a government-driven focus on arable farming in war time resulted in the loss of these ancient systems. However, the war-time initiatives for arable rather than livestock farming to predominate were not altogether successful – farmers lacked the necessary machinery, labourers and expertise. Furthermore, the old methods of irrigation arguably allowed better control of natural flooding. It would be difficult now to reconstruct systems; we lack the detailed knowledge of how individual systems worked and tenant farmers have to make a living. At least the research of David Lovelace and his colleagues gives us an insight into this fascinating aspect of the history of agriculture: I look at the land between my home and the Clun with a fresh eye now!

The talk concluded with a range of questions showing the interest and engagement of the audience.






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The Templars in Herefordshire & Shropshire. A talk by Professor Helen Nicholson. 20th September 2017.

About 50 LHS members and visitors were present for the talk by Professor Helen Nicholson, [University of Cardiff] on The Templars in Herefordshire & Shropshire.

Professor Nicholson’s talk focussed on the Templars in Herefordshire & Shropshire but she firstly set the scene by describing the origins of the Templar knights. She noted that they were founded in about 1120 at the time of the first crusade by a small group of knights who banded together with a mission to protect pilgrims visiting the holy places; in particular the church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. Their early headquarters was the Dome of the Rock at the centre of the Temple Mound. They were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes and recognised as a military/religious order by the Pope in 1139. The Templars vowed to live a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and piety. Subsequently, their influence spread throughout Western Europe where they acquired property and land.

In England they had close ties with Henry II and Richard I [Lionheart]. In Herefordshire and Shropshire they held 4 or more properties and associated land eg at Cardington [Shropshire] & Garway [Herefordshire]. The Templars’ church at Garway still remains. The Templars were buried in their own chapels. Prof. Nicholson noted that Templar dwellings were generally relatively modest. She gave an indication of the items held in the dwellings and these ranged from everyday objects such as cooking pots through to suits of armour. She implied that the latter were probably items of prestige. The associated farms were often large. At Garway Henry II allowed the Templars to clear woodland to increase their land ownership. The Templars’ tenants had plots of about 20-40 acres. Their rental was used to fund Crusades but the Templars also rewarded the tenants for their work with payment either in money or produce. There are records of tenants in Shropshire & Herefordshire being provided with 180kg of wheat every 10 weeks. It was estimated that this quantity would feed a family for a year so the surplus was probably sold by the tenants.

In the 200 yrs after their founding the Templars developed into a progressively strong military order, became bankers and very wealthy. The king of France and the Pope saw the Order as a military threat but also as a potential source of wealth. The Templars were accused of denying Christ, spitting on the Cross, sodomy, acquiring land illegally etc. In 1307 the Pope instructed that the Templars should be tried for their anti-Christian activities. In France, following torture, many Templars were executed. The Templar Order was disbanded but in England there was much less persecution. In 1308 there were only about 2 to 3 Templars in each of their Herefordshire/Shropshire dwellings. Prof. Nicholson estimated that there were only about 145 in total in Britain & Ireland at that time.

Following the dissolution some in Templars in Britain were allowed to join the Order of Hospitallers, some went to other church orders, others returned to their original homes. There lands were transferred to the Order of Hospitallers but most of their substantial wealth appears to have been acquired by the monarchies.

The Templars were in Malta until 1798 and still have a presence in Rome. The Order of Hospitallers was disbanded by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. Prof. Nicholson noted that the Hospitallers were re-instated by protestants and are now the Order of St John [St John’s Ambulance].

There was a lively series of questions after the talk responded to in detail by the speaker.

WBW   21.09.2017

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Leintwardine School and The Romans

The Leintwardine Primary School had a project on the Romans as part of their curriculum, and the History Society assisted with samples of Roman items in their archive, and also showing them where the Roman parts of the village can still be seen – particularly the stockade and wall.  Edward Pease Watkins also showed them what Roman soldiers attire was like, and how they marched.  All were very involved and the school has produced this little video of what they learned.


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The Battle of Pilleth: a talk by Anthony Rich. May 15th 2017.

Anthony Rich, secretary of the Battlefields Trust Shropshire division, gave us a lively talk on the Battle of Pilleth which took place on 22nd June 1402. He claimed that on this one day a few thousand Welshmen and a few thousand Herefordshire men changed the way we see Britain and the concept of Welsh identity. And that it was the start of the Wars of the Roses. (The real end of that War, Anthony claimed, was the Armada in which Philip of Spain was the last Lancastrian, White Rose and Elizabeth I the last Yorkist, Red Rose.) Without Pilleth there would have been no Tudors, no Henry VIII and all that followed.

The basis of kingship in the Middle Ages was unclear; it needed royal blood but also the support of nobility and church, of trade for finance and of military service. Edward III, modelling himself on Arthur, held the throne against all-comers, until old age and senility took him.  He left a family tree of warring contenders. To begin with Richard II succeeded him, but was deposed and killed by John of Gaunt’s son Henry Bolingbroke, who took the throne, as Henry IV,  with support from the Percy and Mortimer families, who were allied through Harry Hotspur’s marriage to Elizabeth Mortimer.

Anthony then considered the armour of the period which consisted of chain mail and plate mail, with weapons of swords and poles. These however were no defence against arrows which could reach 250 yds, and be fired at the rate of 12 per minute. Arrow heads and chain mail were handed round to demonstrate this point. Battles were fought on foot, with horses often put aside, since their principal purpose was to carry the armoured Lord to the battle site.  Archers were a major force, and were particularly significant in this battle.  Some of them appeared to have been recruited by the English army on the way, as a local mercenary force to add to the numbers.  Not a particularly good idea, since the forces on the flanks of the English army changed sides during the battle and added to the firepower of Glyndwr.

Glyndwr was of the ancient Welsh aristocracy, married to the daughter of an English judge and he had served as a soldier in the English army. His battles began with a land dispute with the Lord of Ruthin, which he won, but the decision was overturned when Henry became king. He then proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and started fighting for the liberty of his people. He successfully attacked the castles in North Wales which were occupied by the English using tactics of ambush, raid and surprise. The Welsh were encouraged by his successes and flocked to him. His Tudor cousins, by a ruse, captured Conway Castle, embarrassing King Henry who then raised levies of Herefordshire men who assembled in Wigmore to march to central Wales to subdue Glyndwr.

The battle at Pilleth, or Bryn Glas, was a catastrophe for Henry’s side. The site is still much as it was for the battle.  The Welsh were on top of the hill, with more soldiers hidden in a dip behind them. They lured the English up the steep hillside but it was impossible to progress with their heavy armour or to shoot their arrows upwards. The archers Mortimer had recruited in Welshpool changed sides and yet more Welsh spearmen appeared from the dip behind the hill. The army was routed and Mortimer captured. He was taken to Harlech where the King refused to pay his ransom, so in a not untypical deal he married Glyndwr’s daughter and changed sides. Percy too revolted and the Battle of Shrewsbury 1403 ensued, in which finally Henry succeeded, although there was confusion about whether he had been killed or not.  A not unusual messy, brutal battle, in which the principal protagonists, left alive, subsequently agreed to a power sharing arrangement.

Antony made the point that basic military tactics, still part of training today, were both used and ignored (also he thought true today), so what seemed a foolhardy attack by the English forces, on unforgiving ground, has been repeated many time over the centuries.  Underestimating the enemy and overconfidence in your own forces once again proved a disaster.  He did mention in questions that Custer’s Last Stand was quite similar to what happened at Pilleth.



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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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