From the top of the High Street I could see the old coaching inn on the left and the wooden Market House on the right. In between were dozens of centuries’ old buildings. I was following the Ledbury HeritageTrail, a half mile walk through the historic town centre, and it felt as if I had moved back in time. But it wasn’t long before I realised that the sense of timelessness was illusory. However old it appeared, the town would have looked very different in the past.
The Changing Fortunes of Ledbury
Ledbury, in the English county of Herefordshire, was built around 1125. It was an early example of a planned settlement, but the plan didn’t last for long. The town went through periods of wealth, poverty and plague, and the streets and buildings were chopped and changed to fit the shifting circumstances.
Many of the old buildings are still there but as I looked closer I could see how different the town must have been in the past. The Market House would have overlooked a noisy cattle market rather than a constant stream of cars. The narrow alleyways would have resonated to the sound of workmen’s tools, rather than the chatter of morning shoppers. And the courtyard of the Feathers Hotel would have been bustling with coaches coming and going. Of course some things never change: the inns are still full of weary travellers seeking food and accommodation for the night.
The Butcher Row House Museum is a case of things not always being as they seem. The building was once a butcher’s shop on the High Street but it was later cleaned up and moved to Church Lane, where it became a museum. Not just a change of function and location; it must also have smelt considerably different in the past!
Sixteenth Century Painted Room
Sometimes you can just see the ghost of what went before. A plaque in Tilley’s Alley commemorates an inn that disappeared in the 18th century, and street names such as Salters Yard recall long gone activities. But occasionally ghosts can come back to life. Like the Sixteenth Century Painted Room, an Elizabethan room whose wall paintings were hidden under layers of wallpaper and only rediscovered during restoration work in 1988.
I spent some time looking at the restored walls with their patterns based on Tudor knot gardens and biblical themes. Yet even here there have been subtle changes over time. In 1500 the house belonged to a merchant family who painted their walls in imitation of the wall hangings of wealthier homes; it has since been used as a poor law institution, a public library and Town Council offices. A reminder that towns and buildings have a life of their own, adapting to the changing needs of society.
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