"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 1 September 2014

A Visit to Some of Herefordshire's "Black and White" Villages - Part 1: Weobley

D and I had a wonderful day out in Herefordshire on Saturday. B had gone on one of his twice yearly re-unions with old school friends in Reading and E was working so I was rather pleased when D suggested we visit some of the "black and white" villages in the Borders. I used to visit this area a lot as a child as my paternal grandparents came from Herefordshire so it was a good opportunity to revisit areas linked with my childhood. In addition, of course, the "Merrily Watkins" books by Phil Rickman I am currently enjoying so much are set in this area.

There is a 40 mile "black and white" village trail that you can follow but, instead of trying to drive round the whole area, we decided we would concentrate on just four of the villages at the part of the trail nearest to home visiting Weobley, Dilwyn, Pembridge and Eardisland. The decision was helped by reading Phil Rickman and John Mason's book "Merrily's Borders" which describes places in Herefordshire and the Marches behind the Merrily novels. Ledwardine, the village where Merrily is Vicar, is according to Rickman the missing location of the Black and White Trail and contains parts of all the villages we visited.

We made Weobley our main destination as research revealed a Village Heritage Trail which has information boards with lots of information about various locations in the village.

Weobley, mentioned in the Domesday Book, takes its name from "Wibba's Ley". Wibba was probably the name of the Saxon who owned the land and Ley means a woodland glade or clearing. Origins of the village pre-date Norman Times. Remains of a late Norman castle are evidence of the strategic position of Weobley on the Welsh Border. In Medieval times it was a thriving market town with most of its wealth coming from wool but also ale, glove and nail making.

Many houses in the the village date from the middle of the 15th century and are timber-framed houses. These were made of oak wooden frames - the space inbetween being filled with Wattle panels (woven from hazel, ash or chestnut). These panels were plastered with daub (a mixture of lime, manure and straw). The largest and most expensive houses are "Hall" houses which had a central hall open to the rafters to live in and two gabled wings. The Hall was used to receive visitors, transact business and for meals. Often servants slept on hay-filled sacks on the rush-strewn floor by the fire - hence the expression "hitting the sack"! One wing of the house known as the Solar was where the family had their private quarters and the other wing was the domestic area used for cooking, laundry and brewing. The garden at the rear would have been used for growing herbs and vegetables and a few livestock would have been kept such as chickens and pigs.

Late in Medieval times the Wealden-style house appeared. The style originated in the Kentish Weald and the design meant that there was no need for gabled ends on the wings. This was cheaper and resulted in a more weather-proof dwelling.

Examples of both these styles are found in Weobley.

The Weobley Jubilee Heritage Trail, which describes Weobley as the jewel in the crown, starts in the centre of the village. This little Rose Garden was once the site of many timbered frame buildings which were either demolished in the 19th century or burnt by fire in 1943.

The magpie is a modern symbol of the county's black and white villages. This sculpture is the work of Walenty Pytel a contemporary artist living in Herefordshire and recognised as a leading metal sculpturer of birds and beasts. His work can also be found at the Houses of Parliament and Birmingham Airport.

One of the houses nearby had magpie sculptures on the walls.

Ye Olde Salutation Inn is probably fifteenth century with some later additions.

Weobley Castle was built just after the Norman Conquest by the de Lacy family. It was last used as a main residence in the late fifteenth century and now only earth-works remain.

Unicorn House - the best example of a Herefordshire Half-Wealden house in the village. The style seen here is peculiar to Herefordshire. The building was originally two half wooden houses built in 1431 and 1465 - the upper storeys protrude over lower storeys and are supported by the eaves. Next door is the 17th century Unicorn Inn. Unicorn House is now a holiday cottage - very handy for the pub :)
Sorry about the cars in the photos - not much I could do!

The two cottages in the photos below were built in the 17th century.

This interesting house is called "The Throne" and was built in the early 1600's. King Charles I slept here on the night of 5th September 1645 - the day after his army had freed Hereford from occupation by Cromwell's troops. Originally the Throne was an inn called the Unicorn - a name now adopted by the pub mentioned above. Some of the windows have been replaced by gothic style arches and walls probably during the 19th century. More recently it was a farm and as I discovered when I got home it is now a holiday cottage. D and I were that enamoured with the whole area that we are hoping we can with the rest of the family visit for a long weekend. At this point a lovely gentleman introduced himself to us as he had seen us looking at the Heritage Trail map and he had been involved in the development of the trail. He mentioned that £1 million pounds had been spent recently on "The Throne" and looking at the website advertising it as self-catering accommodation I can well believe it!

This quaint building which looks as though its come straight out of a fairy tale is the Old Grammar School built at the bequest of William Crowther around 1660. It is likely it was designed and built by John Edwards from nearby Southfield. He was the King's Carpenter for services to the Royalist cause during the Civil War. Children were taught at the school until the mid 19th century

Ella May Leather lived with her husband in Weobley in the early 20th century at Castle House.

Ella collected folk stories and songs from travelling gypsies and was a friend of the composer Ray Vaughan Williams. Phil Rickman in "Merrily's Borders" believes her book "The Folkore of Herefordshire" published in 1912 may well be the best book on local legends and traditions published in this country. Unfortunately to say it commands a rather high second-hand price is a bit of an under-statement although we did pick up the more recent "Herefordshire Folklore" by Roy Palmer in one of the shops for £12.95.

There were several rather lovely cottages for sale in the village - the first one below was called "Wit's End"!!

Weobley was our favourite of all the villages we visited and I could easily live here. Everyone we met was so friendly and the sense of community was everywhere.

The 14th century Red Lion has been a public house for many years although it looks as though its now about to become a restaurant.

The Old Corner House - a 15th century Hall House. The chimney was added around the 17th century and originally the stairs to the upper floor were outside the building. The house was rebuilt in the 1980's.

This small building is the only part remaining of what was once a Medieval Hall House. The hall in the centre was made largely of one large oak tree cut through the middle in what is termed a Cruck Frame. The top part of the Cruck was termed the Top Dog and the lower part the Underdog - hence the expression used today.

One dark evening in 1885 a John Hill and John Williams, having partaken rather copious amounts of ale and cider, left the Red Lion and followed a girl (Anne Dickinson) past the church and along the coach road towards Dilwyn. The poor girl was murdered but the two men were caught and hung at Hereford.

Dean House was built in 1780 as a private residence although for a while it was used as the Vicarage. Dorothy Wordsworth mentions having seen the garden of this house in her journal.

View across the Fields towards the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul

And look just before you get to the church there's a small orchard! Photo for all of you who have read "Wine of Angels"!

The church dates back to the 12th Century. The Tower and Spire were built ~1330.

The West Door is early 14th century and is surrounded by a ball flower decoration both inside and outside the church.

There is a Norman arch inside the church porch but the door itself is dated 1712.

The Preaching Cross has a 14th century base and is surrounded by a wildlife friendly area. I didn't have time to have much of a look round the churchyard which is a shame because Ella May Leather's grave is there. I did pick up a leaflet though and was really pleased to see that its another churchyard with many areas to encourage wildlife. Metal and wooden sheets have been left in some areas to provide shelter for field voles, slow worms and grass snakes and wood piles host fungi and provide a home for insects, birds, small mammals and frogs. A native hedgerow was planted in the South Churchyard in 2004 to act as a wildlife corridor for bats and small mammals. Drystone walls are covered in lichens and mosses and again provide shelter for creatures. Spring and summer meadows occur where grass is left to grow longer encouraging insects and butterflies.

This 13th century coffin lid is decorated with a foliated cross and stem, crozier and mitre and commemorates Hugh Bissop who died after 1320. He was not a bishop despite the mitre and crozier design and its believed the slab may be a rare example of a monument with a medieval pun.

Early 14th century octagonal font.

Stained Glass Windows

The pulpit was carved from roof timbers discarded in 1866.

Table Tomb with alabaster effigies believed to be of Agnes Crophull, widow of Walter Devereux, and her third husband John Marbury. Agnes died in 1433 and John in 1437 and they left instructions that they wished to be buried in the chancel at Weobley. The repainted shield is thought to be 16th century and shows the arms of the Marbury family.

Opposite is a table tomb with an effigy believed to be that of Sir Walter Devereux, Agnes first husband. She was only 11 when they married. He died fighting Owen Glyndwr at Pilleth in 1402. The repainted arms are those of the Devereux family and its believed this shield is also 16th century. A great grandson of Walter and Agnes, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, was an ancestor of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

We walked back to the village - the hanging basket was one of many outside the Post Office and the stone pig (one of a pair) was stood outside one of the village houses.

It was time for lunch and we decided to go into the Tea Rooms at The Gables - one of the largest 15th century hall houses in Weobley. The tea rooms were lovely - very genteel with starched white linen table clothes and very pretty china tea services. The food was delicious D had a Ploughman's and I had Carrot and Coriander soup with very crusty and tasty bread. We were too full up to manage any of the gorgeous home-made cakes and scones but we were given a couple of Welsh Cakes straight from the oven which were superb.

The 14th Century Manor House - another example of a Hall House.

This 15th century house is called an Axial Hall House (one without gabled wings). Next door is a 17th century Tythe Barn.

This picturesque little building in the car park is actually the Village Pumping Station - designed to fit in with its surroundings :)

We spent four hours in Weobley and left at about half two so we only had a couple of hours left to visit the other 3 villages.

Sorry for such a long post - Part 2 will be shorter!!


Weobley Village website and the Jubilee Heritage Trail

Guide Book to St Peter and St Paul and Exploring Weobley churchyard Leaflet

"Merrily's Border" by Phil Rickman and John Mason


Countryside Tales said...

I love that part of Herefordshire and haven't been for years so really enjoyed your tour and account of it. So many beautiful buildings and all the history is fascinating.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks very much - glad you enjoyed the post :) Beautiful part of the country :)

Pete Duxon said...

it's a lovely part of the country. love the magpies :D

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete :) Just beautiful there - like going back in time!! Every single church I drove past looked worth a visit!

SeagullSuzie said...

Beautiful buildings, and it would be lovely to stay at The Throne if you can. It's very tempting to look at the houses for sale and think about buying one, especially in such a lovely village, you can just imagine an idylic life there.

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie Many thanks :) Staying at The Throne would be nice but v. expensive :( Thought I'd found a great place in Eardisland but think it only has 1 bedroom and we need 3!! Yes, it would be a lovely place to live - still hope to move when my husband retires but not sure how far away as it depends if D and E are still living with us! So pleased for you about your house move news :)

Toffeeapple said...

I enjoy reading your posts so much, they are so rich in word and image. Thank you very much for letting me travel with you.

Bovey Belle said...

I can see we may have to include Weobley in our area of possible places to move to (though truthfully, Ross-on-Wye area gets poll position still). It sounds idyllic and I loved seeing all your photos and learning so much about the history of the town. Brilliant post, thank you.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thank you so very much for such a lovely and very kind comment:) I am so very glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes I feel a bit self-indulgent with the day out posts so your comment has made it all worthwhile :)

Bovey Belle - Thanks so much for your comment and I am so glad you enjoyed the post :) I was very taken with Weobley - the residents and everyone we spoke to were so friendly - it had a lovely atmosphere. I'd move into Wit's End tomorrow if I was in the position too!! :) Wishing you all the best with your house sale.