Ludlow is a market town in Shropshire, England, located south of Shrewsbury and north of Hereford via the main A49 road, which bypasses the town. With a population of approximately 11,000 Ludlow is the largest town in south Shropshire. The town is significant in the history of the Welsh Marches and neighbouring Wales.
The town is situated at the confluence of the River Corve with the River Teme. The oldest part is the medieval walled town, founded in the late 11th century after the Norman conquest of England. It is centred on a small hill which lies on the eastern bank of a bend of the River Teme. Atop this hill is the site of Ludlow Castle and the parish church, St Laurence's, the largest in the county. From there the streets slope downward to the River Teme, and northward toward the River Corve. The town is in a sheltered spot beneath Mortimer Forest and the Clee Hills, which are clearly visible from the town.
Ludlow has nearly 500 listed buildings. They include some fine examples of medieval and Tudor-style half-timbered buildings including the Feathers Hotel. The town was described by Sir John Betjeman as "probably the loveliest town in England".
The town is located close to Wales, and lies near the midpoint of the 257 km (160 miles) long England-Wales border; it is also very close to the county border between Shropshire and Herefordshire (neighbouring Ludford remained part of Herefordshire until 1895). This strategic location invested it with national importance in medieval times, and thereafter with the town being the seat of the Council of Wales and the Marches during its existence (1472 to 1689).
At the time of the Domesday Book survey, the area was part of the large Stanton parish and manor, a possession of Walter de Lacy. Neither Ludlow nor Dinham are mentioned in the Book, compiled in 1086, although the Book recorded manors and not settlements per se. The Book does record a great number of households and taxable value for Stanton, perhaps suggesting that any early settlement by the nascent castle was being counted. Neighbouring places Ludford, the Sheet and Steventon do feature in the Book, as they were manors, proving that they were well-established places by the Norman conquest. The manor of Stanton came within the hundred of Culvestan, but during the reign of Henry I this Saxon hundred was merged into the new Munslow hundred.
Walter's son Roger de Lacy began the construction of Ludlow Castle on the crest of the hill about 1075, 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. About 1170 the larger outer bailey was added to the castle. (The town walls however were not built until the mid-13th century.) The settlement of Dinham grew up alongside the development of the early castle in the late 11th century, with the northern part of this early settlement disturbed by the building of the outer bailey. Dinham had its own place of worship, the Chapel of St Thomas the Martyr, dedicated to Thomas Becket sometime in 1177-1189 when the present chapel replaced an older (late 11th century) church building.
During the 12th century the planned town of Ludlow was formed, in stages, the town providing 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, from the late 11th century through the 12th century. The first laid street was along the ridge of the hilltop, what is now Castle Square, High Street and King Street. This formed a wide market place (later in-filled by buildings in places) running from the castle gates east across to St Laurence's and the Bull Ring, itself located on the ancient north-south road, now called Corve Street to the north and Old Street to the south. The wide Mill and Broad Streets were added later, as part of a southern grid plan of streets and burgage plots filling the area bounded by Dinham, the new High Street market, Old Street and the Teme to the south. Originally, Old Street ran down to a ford which took the ancient route south across to Ludford. A bridge was constructed (possibly by Josce de Dinan) at the foot of Broad Street, upstream of the ford, which then replaced the ford; its 15th century replacement is the present-day Ludford Bridge.
St Laurence's church, whose origins are late 11th century, was rebuilt and enlarged (with a bell tower) in 1199-1200 and became a parish church, with the separation of Ludlow from the parish of Stanton Lacy by 1200. The town notably also had two schools (a choir and a grammar) in existence circa 1200; Ludlow Grammar School remained in existence until 1977, when it became Ludlow College.
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 Josce de Dinan, and fights for his master against Sir Gilbert 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.
The first recorded royal permission to maintain defensive town walls was given to the "men of Ludlow" in the Patent Rolls of 1233. The entry is however incomplete and atypical and was not renewed in the usual way. A murage grant was next made in 1260 and renewed regularly over the next two centuries. This time the grant was made by name to Geoffrey de Genevile, Lord of Ludlow. From this and other surviving documents it seems that the town walls and gates were in place by 1270. They were constructed about the central part of the community with four main gates and three postern gates. Because the walls were constructed after the development of the town's streets, the positions and names of the four main gates are based on the streets they crossed; the postern gates on the other hand are located by and named after old outlying districts. The 7 gates are (clockwise from the castle; postern gates in italics) Linney, Corve, Galdeford, Old, Broad, Mill and Dinham. An eighth unnamed 'portal' gate (smaller than a postern gate) existed in the wall just to the northwest of the castle, now in the gardens of Castle Walk House.
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, with a population of about 1,725 by 1377, and sustained a population of about 2,000 for several centuries thereafter. 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, bakers and probably the most notable in the town, the Palmer's Guild. 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 masonry, wood carvings and stained-glass at St. Laurence's parish church; effectively a wool church, it is the largest in Shropshire and a member of the Greater Churches Group. Despite the presence of some Decorated work it is largely Perpendicular in style. Its size and grandeur has given it the nickname "the cathedral of the Marches", and since 1981 there has been a Bishop of Ludlow, a suffragan bishop.
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, at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, but the Yorkists won control of England in 1461. The castle became property of the Crown, passing to Richard's son, Edward IV. The town rose in prominence under Edward's reign and was incorporated as a borough, and began sending representatives to Parliament. Edward set up the Council of Wales and the Marches in 1472, headquartering it at Ludlow, and sent his son Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there, as nominal (being only a young boy) head of the Council. It was at Ludlow that the young prince heard the news of his father's death in 1483 and was himself proclaimed King Edward V of England.
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 as part of the Glorious Revolution. 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.
The Royal Welch Fusiliers were formed by Lord Henry Herbert at Ludlow in March 1689 to oppose James II and to take part in the imminent war with France. The regiment continued to have ties with the town of Ludlow, and its successor battalion in The Royal Welsh regiment was granted the freedom of the town in 2014.
18th and 19th centuries
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.
The town contained several coaching inns, 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 Angel on Broad Street was one such notable coaching inn, where several passenger and mail coaches departed and arrived on a regular basis every week, including the Aurora coach which departed for London (taking 27 hours in 1822). The Angel was the last coaching inn in Ludlow to have such coach traffic, following the arrival of the railways in 1852. The Angel ceased trading in the early 1990s. A surviving medieval coaching inn today is the 15th century Bull Hotel on the Bull Ring. Several other pubs and hotels in the town have historic pedigree, including the Rose and Crown where allegedly a pub has existed since 1102.
In 1802, Horatio Nelson was awarded the freedom of the borough and stayed at The Angel coaching inn on Broad Street, together with his mistress Emma and her husband Sir William Hamilton. The honour was presented to him in a room at the inn, later to be known as the Nelson Room, and he addressed the crowds from one of the bay windows on the first floor. Also during the Napoleonic Wars, Lucien Bonaparte, younger brother of the French Emperor, and his family were imprisoned at Dinham House in 1811.
In 1832 Dr Thomas Lloyd, the Ludlow doctor and amateur geologist, met Roderick Murchison at Ludford Corner to study the rocks exposed along the River Teme and on Whitcliffe, advancing Murchison's theory for a Silurian System that he was to publish in 1839. Immediately above the topmost layer of the marine rock sequence forming Murchison's Silurian System was a thin layer of dark sand containing numerous remains of early fish, especially their scales, along with plant debris, spores and microscopic mites. In contrast to the underlying sediments of the Ludlow Series which were deposited in a shallow warm sea some 400 million years ago, the Ludlow Bone Bed represents terrestrial (land) conditions and thus a fundamental change in the landscape. At the time, this was believed to be the earliest occurrence of life on land. Murchison thus took the Ludlow Bone Bed as the base of his Devonian System, although over a century later this boundary was to be moved a little higher, the overlying rocks being ascribed to the Pridoli. The science of geology has taken a number of local names from these studies and now applies them worldwide, in recognition of the importance of this area to scientific understanding, for example Ludlow Series. The site is now an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and still attracts international studies. The geological interval of time, the Ludlow epoch, is named after the town.
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 (the latter now mostly gone). A long battle of words between local activists (including many of the town's independent businesses) and Tesco was eventually solved when the mega retailer obtained planning permission to build a supermarket on Corve Street, on the northern edge of the town centre, but only after agreeing to conform to the architectural demands of the local council. The building is designed to follow the shape of the old town plans with a curving roof. Bodenhams, 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 bypass, at the Sheet, 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 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" to 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."