Ludlow

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Ludlow is a market town in Shropshire, England close to the Welsh border and in the Welsh Marches. Located along the A49 road about 12 miles north of Leominster, it lies within a bend of the River Teme, on its eastern bank, forming an area of 350 acres (142 ha) and centred on a small hill. Atop this hill is the site of Ludlow Castle and the market place. From there the streets of the medieval walled town slope downward to the River Teme, and northward toward the River Corve. The town is in a sheltered spot beneath the Clee Hills which are clearly visible from the town. With a population of around 10,000, Ludlow is the largest town in South Shropshire and home to the southern area committee of Shropshire Council.

Ludlow has nearly 500 listed buildings. They include some fine examples of medieval and Tudor-style half-timbered buildings including the Feathers Hotel. The parish church, St Laurence Church, is the largest in the county.

The placename “Lodelowe” (Welsh: Llwydlo) was in use for this site before 1138 and comes from the Old English “hlud-hlaw”. At the time this section of the River Teme contained rapids, and so the hlud of Ludlow came from “the loud waters”, while hlaw meant hill. Thus Ludlow meant a place on a hill by a loud river. Some time around the 12th century weirs were added along the river, taming these rapid flows. Later in the same century the larger outer bailey was added to the castle.

Though the settlement became known as Ludlow, a 13th-century source states that it was previously called Dinham.

The town is close to Wales and also very close to the county border between Shropshire and Herefordshire. It was included in the latter in the Domesday Book. This strategic location invested it with importance in medieval times and its large castle remains largely intact. Ludlow Castle was the seat of the Council of Wales and the Marches and a temporary home to several holders of the title Prince of Wales, including King Edward IV and Arthur Tudor, who died there in 1502.

The site features heavily in the folk-story of Fulk FitzWarin, outlawed Lord of Whittington, Shropshire and a possible inspiration for the Robin Hood legend. Fulk is brought up in the castle of Joce De Dynan, and fights for his master against Sir Walter de Lacy – these battles are also the source of the story of Marion de la Bruyere, the betrayed lover whose ghost is still said to be heard crying “Goodbye, Cruel World!” as she plummets from the castle’s turrets.[citation needed]

At the time of the Domesday Book survey Ludlow was the location of the unoccupied large Stanton Manor, a possession of Walter de Lacy. Walter’s son Roger de Lacy began the construction of a castle on the crest of the hill between about 1086 and 1094, forming what is now the inner bailey. Between about 1090 and 1120, the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene was built inside the walls, and by 1130 the Great Tower was added to form the gatehouse. The castle was an important border fortification along the Welsh Marches, and played a significant role in local, regional and national conflicts such as the Owain Glyndwr rebellion, the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War.

The town also provided a useful source of income for successive Marcher Lords, based on rents, fines, and tolls. They developed the town on a regular grid pattern, although this was adapted somewhat to match the local topography. The first road was probably High Street, which formed the wide market place to the east of the castle gates. The town continued to grow, joining an old north-south road, now called Corve Street to the north and Old Street to the south. Mill Street and the wide Broad Street were added later.

The town was licensed to build a defensive wall in 1233. It was constructed about the central part of the community with four main gates and three postern gates. The castle complex continued to expand (a Great Hall, kitchen and living quarters were added) and it gained a reputation as a fortified palace. In 1306 it passed through marriage to the ambitious Earl of March, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Queen Isabella and her son, the young Edward III, were entertained at the castle in 1328.

The town prospered, and sustained population of about 2,000 for several centuries. It was a market town; market day was held on every Thursday throughout the 15th century. In particular, it served as a centre for the sale of wool and cloth. It was home to various trades, and in 1372 boasted 12 trade guilds including metalworkers, shoemakers, butchers, drapers, mercers, tailors, cooks and bakers. There were also merchants of moderate wealth in the town and especially wool merchants, such as Laurence of Ludlow, who lived at nearby Stokesay Castle. The collection and sale of wool and the manufacture of cloth continued to be the primary source of wealth until the 17th century. Drovers roads from Wales led to the town.

This prosperity is expressed in stone and stained-glass as St. Laurence’s parish church. It is a wool church and the largest in Shropshire. Despite the presence of some Decorated work it is largely Perpendicular in style.

The town also contained several coaching inns such as the Old Angel on Broad Street, public houses and ale houses, leading to court records of some alcohol-induced violence and a certain reputation for excess. Several coaching inns were constructed to accommodate travellers by stagecoach and mail coach. The oldest surviving inn today is the 15th century Bull Hotel on the Bull Ring.

During the Wars of the Roses, Richard, Duke of York, seized the castle and turned it into one of his main strongholds. The Lancastrian forces captured Ludlow in 1459, but at the end of the conflict in 1461 the castle became property of the Crown and passed to Richard’s son, Edward IV. The town was then incorporated as a borough. Edward set up the Council of Wales and the Marches in 1473 and sent his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there, as nominal head of the Council. It was at Ludlow that the prince heard the news of his father’s death and was himself proclaimed King Edward V of England.

Under Henry VII the castle continued as the headquarters of the Council of Wales and served as the administration centre for Wales and the counties along the border, the Welsh Marches. During this period, when the town served as the effective capital of Wales, it was home to many messengers of the king, various clerks and lawyers for settling legal disputes. The town also provided a winter home for local gentry, during which time they attended the Council court sessions. Henry VII also sent his heir Prince Arthur to Ludlow, where he was joined briefly by his wife Catherine of Aragon later to become wife to Henry VIII, who was living in Castle Lodge, Ludlow at the time. Ludlow Castle was therefore the site of perhaps the most controversial wedding night in English history, when Catherine’s claim that the marriage was never consummated became central to the dispute concerning Henry VIII and Catherine’s annulment in 1531.

After 1610, the cloth industry declined but the wealth of the town was little affected until about 1640, when the activities of the Council were suspended and the town’s population promptly fell by 20%.

Eventually, the Council resumed and except for brief interludes, Ludlow continued to host the Council until 1689, when it was abolished by William and Mary. The castle then fell into decay. The structure was poorly maintained and stone was pillaged. In 1772 demolition was mooted, but it was instead decided to lease the buildings. Later still it was purchased by the Earl of Powis, and together, he and his wife directed the transformation of the castle grounds.

From 1760, the population began to undergo a significant expansion. New structures were built along the outskirts that would become slums in the 19th century and later, torn down.

In 1832 a doctor and amateur geologist, from Ludlowbegan studying the rock deposits to the southwest of the town, along the River Teme and on Whitcliffe and in Ludford. The bottom layer of the rocks forming the four divisions of the Silurian period became identified as the Ludlow Group Bone Bed to the world of geology. This was a thin layer of dark sand containing numerous remains of early fish, especially their scales, along with plant debris, spores and microscopic mites laid down as sediments in a shallow tropical sea some 400 million years ago. Whitcliffian is a term used worldwide for rocks of this age in modern geology to this day. The site is now an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

By the late 20th century, the town had seen a growth in tourism, leading to the appearance of many antique dealers, as well as art dealers and independent bookshops (now mostly gone). A long battle of words between local activists and local companies and Tesco was eventually solved when the mega retailer obtained planning permission to build a supermarket on Corve Street, but only after agreeing to conform to the architectural demands of the local council. The building is designed in order to follow the shape of the old town plans with a curving roof. Bodenham’s, a clothing retailer, has been trading from a 600-year-old timbered building since 1860 and is one of the oldest stores in Britain.

In 2004 the council was granted funding from Advantage West Midlands to build a new Eco-Park on the outskirts of the town on the other side of the A49, with space for new “environmentally friendly” office buildings and a park & ride facility.

More construction work began in 2006 on the same section of by-pass by Bennett’s development company on a much-debated piece of land on the town’s fringe known as The Foldgate. The land has now been drawn up for commercial use with a petrol filling station, Travelodge hotel and pub chain pub/restaurant, opened in late 2008. The previous plans to include a number of “high-street” stores was thrown out when an independent official branded it “damaging” and “out-of-place” with the character of the old town.

Ludlow was described by Country Life as “the most vibrant small town in England.”

R. G. Conzen remarked of Ludlow “Its composite medieval town plan and a history of eight and a half centuries with several periods of considerable importance have endowed its Old Town with an historically well-stratified and richly textured landscape.”

On 4 February 1980, the £4.7m single carriage way bypass road was opened by Kenneth Clarke, which had been built to the east of the town, diverting the A49. This allowed heavy lorry traffic to avoid the town centre, significantly reducing noise levels and delays. The town centre was built for the era of the horse & cart and there are long running problems with motor traffic and car parking. A number of proposals have been offered to remedy these problems.

The new Ludlow Eco-Park situated on the outskirts of the town, along the A49, includes a new Park & Ride facility, with a frequent bus service to and from the town centre.

On 26 June 2007, rising flood water caused Burway Bridge in Ludlow to collapse, severing a gas main and causing 20 homes in nearby Corve Street to be evacuated. The bridge is now replaced with a new construction.

Ludlow railway station is located about five minutes walk from the town centre. Arriva Trains Wales provide regular services to Shrewsbury, Hereford, Newport, Cardiff and Manchester.

The 2001 UK census recorded 9,548 people living in Ludlow parish. A further 395 live in the neighbouring Ludford parish. In 1377, poll tax was levied against 1,172 of the parish’s residents. By this measure, Ludlow was the 35th most populous town in England.

  • 1971 – 7,470
  • 1987 – 7,450
Population growth in Ludlow since 1801
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1881 1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1951 1961 2001
Population 3,897 4,150 4,820 5,253 5,064 4,691 5,035 4,460 4,552 5,926 5,674 5,642 6,456 6,796 9,548

The Ludlow Festival has been held annually since 1960, during the end of June and the start of July each year.[19] An open area within the castle serves as the stage and backdrop for various Shakespearean plays, while a number of supporting events at various venues include classical and pop/rock concerts, varied musicians, lecture talks from public figures, and entertainers.

The annual Ludlow Marches Festival of Food & Drink is a food festival that takes place in and around Ludlow in September. Centred on Ludlow Castle, where over 150 local, small food producers showcase and sell their wares, the three-day event involves the town centre in food and drink trails including the famous “Sausage Trail”.

The Medieval Christmas Fayre is another annual event in Ludlow taking place during late November, again centred on Ludlow Castle and the market square.

Ludlow has become a gastronomic centre and at one point was the only town in England with three Michelin-starred restaurants (a distinction lost to Bray-on-Thames in Berkshire), but Ludlow still holds two Michelin starred establishments, and eight AA Rosette starred restaurants. The town hosts the prestigious annual Ludlow food festival. Ludlow is the first UK member of Cittaslow or “slow food” movement, and is at the forefront of the UK’s Cittaslow slow movement network. It supports three traditional butchers, four bakers, a regular farmers market and a range of specialist food shops. The town has its own brewery, the Ludlow Brewing Company, which has been producing real ale (using local hops) since 2006.

The town is also home to an arts and cinema centre, The Ludlow Assembly Rooms, that hosts live music, theatre, stand up comedy and talks. It also acts as an arts community centre, has a visual arts gallery, and on most evenings, shows a film, from a wide variety of genres (including classic, arthouse, and blockbuster). Ludlow has featured in films and TV programmes including Tom Sharpe’s Blott on the Landscape and 90s TV adaptations of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling and Moll Flanders.

Ludlow Racecourse and golf club are situated just off the A49 road a mile north of the town.

Ludlow is twinned with La Ferté-Macé, France; and San Pietro in Cariano, Italy.

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