History

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Ludlow is now a vibrant market town near the borders of Wales and Herefordshire. In mediaevel times it was strategically placed to be an important town, as the seat of the Council of Wales and the Marches Ludlow was home to several Princes of Wales. The castle was an important border fortification along the Marches of Wales, and played a significant role in local, regional and national conflicts such as the Owain Glyndwr rebellion, the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War.

When the Domesday book was compiled Ludlow was the center of the unoccupied large Stanton Manor, a possession of Walter de Lacy. Walter’s son Roger began the construction of Ludlow castle between approximately 1086 and 1094, 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.

The town also provided 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. The first road was probably High Street, which formed the wide market place to the east of the castle gates. The town continued to grow, joining an old north-south road, now called Corve Street to the north and Old Street to the south. Mill Street and wide Broad Street were added later.

The town was licensed to build a defensive wall in 1233. It was constructed about the central part of the community with four main gates and three postern gates. 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 Baron Wigmore. Queen Isabella and her son, the young Edward III, were entertained at the castle in 1328.

The town prospered, and sustained population of about 2,000 for several centuries. 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 metal workers, shoemakers, butchers, drapers, mercers, tailors, cooks, and bakers. 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 and stained-glass as St. Laurence’s parish church. It is a wool church and the largest in Shropshire. Despite the presence of some Decorated work it is largely Perpendicular in style.

The town also contained several coaching inns such as the old Angel on Broad Street, 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 oldest surviving inn today is the 15th century Bull Hotel on the Bull Ring.

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, but at the end of the conflict in 1461 the castle became property of the Crown and passed to Richard’s son, Edward IV. The town was then incorporated as a borough. Edward set up the Council of Wales and the Marches in 1473 and sent his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there, as nominal head of the Council. It was at Ludlow that the prince heard the news of his father’s death and was himself proclaimed King Edward V of England.

Under Henry VII the castle continued as the headquarters of the Council of Wales and served as the administration centre for Wales and the counties along the border, the Welsh Marches. During this period, when the town served as the effective capital of Wales, it was home to many messengers of the king, various clerks, and lawyers for settling legal disputes. The town also provided a winter home for local gentry, during which time they attended the Council court sessions. Henry also sent his sickly heir Prince Arthur to Ludlow, where he was joined briefly by Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon. Ludlow Castle was the site of the controversial wedding night, when the question of marriage consummation became the crux of Catherine and Henry VIII’s annulment.

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. 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.

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.

In 1832 a doctor and amateur geologist, began studying the rock deposits to the south-west of the town, along the River Teme and on Whitcliffe and in Ludford. The bottom layer of the rocks forming the four divisions of the Silurian period became identified as the Ludlow Group Bone Bed to the world of geology. This was a thin layer of dark sand containing numerous remains of early fish, especially their scales, along with plant debris, spores and microscopic mites laid down as sediments in a shallow tropical sea some 400 Million years ago. Whitcliffian is a term used worldwide for rocks of this age in modern geology to this day. The site is now an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

By the 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. Many of the traditional shops were acquired by retail chains, and a long battle of words between local activists and local companies and Tesco was eventually won by the mega retailer when it obtained planning permission to build a supermarket on Corve Street, but Bodenham’s, a clothing retailer, survives and is one of the oldest shops in the country – it celebrated its 600th anniversary in 2005.

Ludlow was described by Country Life as: “the most vibrant small town in England”

Many thanks to Wikipedia for providing the bulk of the information in this article.