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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A talk on Poyner’s of Ludlow a timewarp treasure, by Barbara Piller. June 15th 2016.

After the necessary business of the AGM, we heard from Barbara Piller about the book she ‘accidentally’ wrote after volunteering to research the history of Poyners, the well-known time-warp drapers in Broad Street, Ludlow. Although some were initially doubtful, even scathing, about the merits of such a book, it has been the Civic Society’s best seller and is on its 4th reprint.

There were five areas of research and Barbara gave an overview of each. Firstly the location, in what has been described as England’s loveliest street, but was not always so. Once it consisted of little booths until the Palmer’s Guild appointed Richard Sherman to build shops with living premises above, in the late medieval period. Poyners, No 7, was at that time a brewer’s selling ‘hott water’ i.e. beer. In later times it was owned by a Mr Jolly whose wife was Sarah Birdseye, of the American food company, and numerous others until it passed to the Poyners in 1917.

Secondly, Barbara researched the background of the drapery business, a widespread and wealthy one. Its importance and respectability shown by over a hundred members of the Drapery Association becoming Lord Mayors of London.

Researching the architecture of this unique setting, she enlisted some expert help and learned quite recently that all the buildings have cellars and that a tunnel has been discovered under the former rectory probably linking up with these buildings, with an as yet unknown exit.

Bodenhams was also included in her research, as Ernest Poyner was apprenticed there. His father Richard, son of an agricultural labourer, had a coffin making business in Raven Lane and married Elizabeth, a milliner. Ernest served his apprenticeship at Bodenhams and the two shops still have a good working relationship. Ernest’s wife Jane, a skilled milliner, was bequeathed money in 1917, which she immediately invested in the shop where she worked, precisely No 7, Broad St. When she and Ernest married in 1918 they moved into the rooms over the shop. Jane was very involved in civic affairs and was Lady Mayoress when her father-in-law was mayor. The Poyners bought £1325 worth of stock at the beginning of WW2, a very large order at the time, in anticipation of lack of supplies, not knowing it would have to last them for six years.

Their son Ernest bought No8 after WW2, which became the shop for babywear. Both shops are still owned by the Poyner family, but are now run by two sisters who are delighted that the babywear they stock includes the make worn by the two Royal babies, George and Charlotte. The shop is still internally as it was in 1917, but the wide stock is still very much kept up to date, witness the royal connection. But some very much more traditional items are to be found. The audience was intrigued to learn that liberty bodices can still be purchased, an item which aroused many reminiscences.

Altogether a very enjoyable trip down memory lane for many members.





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Brampton Bryan Hall tour 26th May 2016


Edward Harley talks to Mrs Fretton, an evacuee to Brampton Bryan Hall in WW2, during the LHS visit.

This was a visit to a stately house that felt like a proper family home. Highlights included:

Robert Harley’s, (Ist Earl of Oxford and Mortimer) jacket with a knife wound, a portrait of the Marquis de Guiscard who attempted to assassinate him with a penknife and the bent penknife.

Rare survivals of civil war armour knocked up by local blacksmiths. (Usually only the armour of the aristocracy survives).

Many fascinating documents from the archive including Brilliana’s letters and returns from the ‘South Sea Bubble’.

Some fine stained glass – (presumably from the pre-civil war church).

Admiral Rodney’s uniform and a painting of the ‘Battle of the Saints’ in which he prefigured Nelson’s tactics at Trafalgar. We were struck by the number of ships involved!

We were fortunate to hear the reminiscences of a wartime evacuee at school in the house who joined us for the tour.

We finished with a delicious tea in the old dairy. Our thanks to our generous hosts, the Harley family

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May Talk: Glyn Barratt on Iron Age Hill Forts

Glyn Barratt’s scholarly and well-illustrated talk on “Iron Age Forts” attracted an audience of around sixty people. Glyn Barratt is Chair of the Titterstone Clee Heritage Trust; originally a surveyor for the Ordnance Survey, he retrained as an archaeologist and has accrued over 40 years’ experience in the field, both in the UK and overseas. With fine archaeological detail from Titterstone Clee, and wider reference to other parts of the UK, European sites and even Australian culture, his talk focussed mainly on Shropshire.

We learned that about 3,000 hill forts have been identified in the British Isles, with particularly dense clusters of them in the Marches and in South-West England. Whilst they are primarily associated with the Iron Age, which occupied the years from around 900 BC to the advent of the Romans in Britain, perhaps this is misleading: the new technologies of first Bronze, then Iron working overlapped with the use of worked stone for tools, and it is likely there was continuity in the defensive and other uses of the hill-tops. Incidentally, during the Iron Age other new technologies were significant too, such as the invention of the potters’ wheel and the introduction of new farming techniques. Modern research suggests that rather than Britain being introduced to new ways by successive waves of invading Celtic hordes from the continent, it is more likely that changes were indigenous and spread slowly, resulting primarily from trading.

Hill forts gradually became more complex too, starting from the system of banks and ditches known as cross-dykes which probably date from the end of the Neolithic period, right through the Oppida of Roman times. The complex systems with many banks and ditches and staggered entrances, archetypally what the label “hill fort” conjures up for many of us, such as Bury Ditches, were constructed probably from about 400 BC onwards. Their earlier predecessors from nearer the beginning of the Iron Age were univallate (i.e. with just the one ditch and bank) with simple entrances. It is likely most ramparts were surmounted by wooden palisades, though there are some with the remains of dry-stone walls.

Glyn Barratt took us on a virtual tour of the major hill forts of our area, occupied during the Iron Age by a tribe named the Cornovii. Ratlinghope on the Long Mynd, the Caer Din ring in Clun Forest, the Roveries at Bishops Castle, one below Brown Clee, the huge area on Titterstone Clee, Caer Caradoc at Chapel Lawn, The Burrow at Craven Arms, Bury Ditches, Old Oswestry, the British Camp on Malvern, the Berth at Baschurch, Bury Walls at Shawbury … to see ground and aerial photography of these sites showed both how much they have in common and how much they differ. Because of the designation “hill fort” it is easy to assume their prime purpose is always defensive, but Glyn Barratt explored possible different interpretations of these features. Some, where the remains of huts have been identified in their interiors, may have been primarily settlements, with defining and possibly defensive boundaries (though it should be noted many hill forts have no immediate access to fresh water); others, a last retreat where those under attack could gather to defend themselves. Apparently siege warfare was pretty much unknown and disputes were likely to have been speedily resolved by fights between individual champions, hence the lack of water would not have signified.

If we visit a hill fort we will be well aware of how far one can see from these places and the defensive merits of their situation. Equally, though, by the same token, they are visible in the landscape. There may have been an element of show-of-strength to deter potential land-grabbers from even trying. Furthermore, many are situated on geographically distinctive features which may have functioned as navigational aids. Some of these places, including Clee Hill, are possible sites of Neolithic flint mines, so may well have lain on major trade routes since ancient times. It is even credible that such places may have had a spiritual importance for our ancestors. In a teasing link with our talk of two months ago, Glyn Barratt wondered if this might be why Clee Hill was still deemed significant enough to be referenced on the Mappa Mundi.

The audience had many questions answered and other tantalising queries were raised. Many archaeological studies of our hill forts have focussed on the obvious ramparts, with perhaps less work done on what lies within their boundaries. This was a talk to stimulate the imagination as well as assess the evidence, but above all, perhaps, to challenge the assumptions we make about our hill forts.




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