views updated Jun 11 2018

Herefordshire is a small border county, full of castles, running from the Black Mountains in the west to the Malverns in the east. Hereford itself was for centuries a stronghold against the Welsh, holding the crossing of the Wye, not far from its junction with the Frome and the Lugg. The name denotes an army-ford. Almost all the towns were on the east side, out of reach of the Welsh—Hereford, Leominster, Bromyard, Ross, Ledbury: in the western part is only Kington, 4 miles from the Radnorshire border, and with a population of no more than 2,000.

In the pre-Roman period, Herefordshire was part of the territory of the Silures, to whom Caratacus appealed in his fight against the Romans. In the mid-7th cent., it fell to Penda, pagan king of the Mercians. Soon after his death in battle, Hereford was founded as a diocese (676). A hundred years later Offa's Dike marked the limit of Mercian expansion, running through the west of the county from Kington, through Hay, to White Castle.

In the reign of Athelstan Welsh princes did homage at Hereford, but the next 500 years were turbulent. Hereford itself was sacked by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1055 and the new cathedral destroyed. The next bishop of Hereford was a fighting man, Leofgar, who, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘after his consecration, forsook his chrism and his cross, his spiritual weapons, and seized his spear and his sword, and thus armed joined the levies against Gruffydd, the Welsh king’. But Leofgar lasted a mere eleven weeks before he was slain. The Normans took the border in hand. William Fitzosbern was given palatine status as earl of Hereford and began the building of a formidable castle there—‘one of the fairest, largest and strongest in all England’, according to Leland. Even so, the county remained vulnerable. It was only just held against Llywelyn the Great in the early 13th cent. and threatened again by Glyndŵr in the early 15th.

Tudor rule brought peace to the county. Camden's Britannia in 1586 described Herefordshire as ‘of an excellent soil, both for feeding cattle and produce of corn’. His account of the Golden Valley in the west was idyllic: ‘the hills that encompass it on both sides are clothed with woods, under the woods lie corn-fields on each hand, and under those fields, lovely and gallant meadows. In the middle, between them, glides a clear and crystal river.’ Edmund Gibson, editing Camden in 1695, drew attention to the ‘vast quantities of cider, as not only serve their own families, for 'tis their general drink, but also to furnish London and other parts of England; their Red Streak, (from a sort of apple they call so), being extremely valued.’

The county saw yet more fighting during the Civil War. The line of communication was important since the king drew heavily upon Wales for recruitment. The shire was royalist in sympathy but harassed in the south by parliamentary troops from Gloucester, and in the north by forays from Bryan Brampton, the Harley estate. Hereford changed hands several times, stood a siege from the Scots in 1645, and was a centre of club-men activity.

The industrial revolution touched Herefordshire lightly and it remains a quiet rural county. In the local government reorganization of 1972, Herefordshire, the fourth smallest county in population, was merged, despite much protest, with its larger eastern neighbour, Worcestershire. But the forced union was abandoned on 1 April 1998 and Herefordshire reconstituted as a unitary authority.

J. A. Cannon


views updated Jun 27 2018

Herefordshire Unitary authority in w England, bounded w by the Principality of Wales and e by Worcestershire; the county town is Hereford. Other towns include Ross-on-Wye, Hay-on-Wye, Bromyard, Leominster, and Ledbury. Herefordshire was created in 1998 from the w part of the former county of Hereford and Worcester. The River Wye crosses the county from se to w and the River Munmow forms Herefordshire's s border withMonmouthshire. Offa's Dyke follows the border with Powys. The Malvern Hills lie on its e border with Worcestershire. Industries: tourism, agriculture, cider making, agricultural machinery. Area: 2288sq km (844sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.) 166,100.