March 2 – Ledbury

Followed by a visit to Little Marcle, Pixley, Aylton, Putley and Woodhope

Hi from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

We visited the market town of Ledbury today to visit St Michael and All Angels Church and we were very surprised to find that there was no church micro here which is a pity as it is a great church. We parked a little way away and walked up through the town down some wonderful lanes, passed wonderful little shops and the magnificent 1617 built Market House with its half-timbered and up on stilts allowing room for the market stalls to be arranged underneath it.

Before the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, there was a church here but the current building dates from the 12th century. It was added to in the 12th and 16th centuries. The tower is not connected to the church but stands beside it and was built around 1230. The church features a lovely green marble font designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1850 and among its many monuments are two reclining figures of Sir Anthony Biddulph who died in 1718 and his wife Constance who died in 1706. The canopied monument by Westmacott to textile merchant Edward Skynner who died in 1631 and his wife Elizabeth who died in 1628, shows the couple kneeling, facing each other over a prayer desk, with their ten children beneath them, five girls and five boys. Between the couple is a baby wrapped in swaddling, to signify a child that died in infancy. The detail of the period costumes is remarkable. The capital decorations are detailed and imaginative.
The Ledbury church has many C.E. Kempe stained glass windows as well as one Christopher Whall window of St Michael from 1905. The Good Shepherd window is by William Morris and designed by Edward Burne-Jones in 1913. There is also a fantastic modern window by John Kenneth Clark in 1991 which glows red. Also, red and gold are the matching tapestry keelers with flowers and gardening themes embroidered in the centre.
Behind the altar is a wonderful 19th-century painted depiction of the Last Supper within by a wooden surround painted by a local artist. On the north side of the church is the Chapter House which was built in the 14th century possibly by the Benedictines from Hereford or as a shrine to Saint Katherine of Ledbury who was never canonised.
Both times we visited Ledbury we tried to visit the Painted Room which contains 16th-century frescoes but it had very limited opening hours so we missed out.

On our way home, we decided to find a few church micros. The first was St Michael and All Angels church at Little Marcle which was closed. The numbers were quickly collected and I walked to the final while Michael drove to it. He got there first and had the cache in his hand when I arrived.

As we drove up to Saint Andrews church in Pixley we were surprised to find ourselves in a farmyard. Another car pulled in behind us and the lady got out and quite aggressively asked us why we were taking photographs of the church. I fumbled that we are tourists and visiting lots of churches. She seemed to relax then and told us about the church which no longer has regular services but it may become a “festival” church have and have only 6 services a year but it will be still available for baptisms, marriages and funerals etc. We didn’t mention that there was a geocache nearby as we were not sure how well it would be accepted. She and her daughter laid some flowers on a grave and after they left we collected the numbers and we did our sums. We could not find the trailhead so we were not able to look for the cache. We were not comfortable walking on someone’s farm when there are no signposts marking the footpath. A quaint little church which was carefully looked after. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and restored in 1865. It was painted white inside and has an ancient 14th-century screen. The two east lancet windows contain The Annunciation in Morris/Burne-Jones style stained glass, the left is inscribed beneath the Angel.

Aylton Parish church is a tiny but lovely medieval church in a small and scattered parish (pop. 144 at the last census). Aylton is mentioned in a legal document from King Canute’s time, before the Norman Conquest, but the church of that period, which was probably wooden, has not survived. The oldest parts of the present church are 12th-century with later alterations and restored in 1928. It is set in the glorious countryside alongside the early 17th-century Court Farm and its magnificent thatched manorial barn, dated from tree-ring evidence to 1502–3 and recently restored with help from English Heritage. This grouping of the church, Court Farm and barn is believed to reflect the layout of an Anglo-Saxon estate. The cruck-framed Aylton Court barn built in 1503 and is one of the oldest and largest barns of its kind in the country. The low mound was once surrounded by a moat and was possibly chosen for defence against marauding Welshmen. An interesting feature is the 18th-century plaster sun-dial on the south wall of the church. Another striking feature of the interior is the rood screen dated to about 1400. There are two bells, the larger of which is circa 1639, and the smaller is possibly 12th century which makes it one of only two of this date in Herefordshire.  It is worth looking inside because it is so peaceful. There are often bottles of apple juice and pots of jam made from the fruit in parishioners’ gardens on sale at the back of the church.

The gate had been driven into and broken off its hinges and was laying on the ground so we stepped over it to enter the church. We collected the numbers for the geocache from a very small churchyard and after some quick sums, we soon found the cache. It was cold today though dry and my fingers had a bit of trouble getting the cache open but it was a nice easy find.

At Putley Green we quickly found A Fine Pair with a good hint. Strangely though the telephone box was missing which makes it a nearly fine pair.

Oh my goodness! What a fantastic find in the small settlement of Putley. Putley church had an awesome stone and mosaic reredos which was a real pleasure to see with such wonderful workmanship. There was also a carved stone altar frontal. There were four gilded saints on the reredos and the pew ends were carved beautifully with brightly coloured tapestry kneelers adding colour to the initial view.

Putley is a small scattered village, rich in history. The little Putley church was largely rebuilt in 1875 by John Riley, the then squire but still contains important vestiges of the original Norman church built by William De’Evreux, one of William the Conqueror’s knights including the charming Norman piscina at the East end. The 14th-century churchyard cross with its magnificent carvings is one of the finest in the county.

The Roman artefacts uncovered during the church hark back to the early importance of agriculture as well as Putley’s strategic position close to the Roman road, now the A1472. The Hereford Domesday Book corrects in the margin the spelling of Putley from Poteslepa to an almost modern Putterlee. A “lee” is a wooded glade. A “Putta” who lived in the 7th century is said by Anglo Saxon historian The Venerable Bede to have re-established Hereford Cathedral.

Unusually the North doorway, now blocked, appears to have been the original entrance to the Church. You can see several Romanesque carved stones, including a carving of a human head and several more pieces with traditional Norman chevrons. A Roman villa stood near this spot, and fragments of Roman brick are also reused in the north doorway blocking material. The present porch over the South door is a modern replica of the Elizabethan original.

The Victorian restoration reused pieces of the medieval Putley Court squire’s pew to create the screen and pulpit. The highlight of the Victorian work, however, is the ornate high altar, made of alabaster, and incorporating the earlier wooden altar within it. The 19th-century alabaster high altar with Venetian mosaics and altar table with the Entombment was created by Farmer and Brindley.

The other highlight for us was the stained glass much of which was by Clayton and Bell. The wonderful bench ends were carved by John Riley and his children in 1908 and represent plants, beasts, and birds appropriate to the country life in a fruit-growing parish. The last pew was completed in 1918 and its pew end carving, the dove, was to commemorate the return of peace. We collected the numbers for the geocache, worked out the coordinates and walked past the lovely pond to find the cache. We gave a  favourite point for a wonderful church dating from 1100.

St Georges church in Woolhope was the biggest church we had seen today. It had a Kempe window and great variety of tapestry kneelers including a lovely long farmyard scene. The first rector dates from 1381. We collected the numbers and did our sums and drove the 700 metres to the GZ but when we got there we realised that I must have made a mistake. So I redid the sums and we drove all the way back the way we came. Finally, we found the cache not far from the church after a few minutes of looking and we found a travel bug too. The owner of the Travel bug has been trying to locate it but now I can say it is safe and sound and can now continue on its travels. The “Soldier of the Line” travel bug’s mission is to travel the world visiting war memorials, battlefields and military-related places. I am sure it will find lots of great places to visit.

The village of Woolhope lies 8 miles to the east of Hereford at the heart of the beautiful Woolhope Dome, a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The natural history and geology of Woolhope go back over 400 million years – the “Dome” refers to the underlying geology around Woolhope – and has attracted many famous geologists and naturalists to study and write about the area.

The village itself has a long history, it’s origins possibly linked to a pagan shrine on the ley line and pre-historic trackway that links the site of Woolhope Church and All Saints Hereford. St. George’s church was built in 1157 and remains at the heart of the village today. Its structure is largely Norman. The 13th-century tower commands the valley named after Wulviva who, with her more famous sister Godiva, gave the land to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford. The sisters are commemorated in a striking window in the North aisle.

The church is approached from the south by a long path from the timbered ‘Skallenge’, the Anglo-Saxon word for a lych gate, dating from 1581. A preaching cross with a medieval base adjoins the path, and this older section of the churchyard contains some notable ‘tea caddy’ tombs as well as others from the Georgian and early Victorian periods.