Herefordshire is border country. Part of England since the early middle ages, it was once home primarily to Welsh speakers, an identity still apparent in many of its place names. Evidence for habitation in this region stretches right back to the Old Stone Age, although permanent markers in the landscape may have had to wait until the Early Neolithic, when several long barrows were erected here as markers of the dead. Iron Age hillforts and Roman settlement followed, although the richest period for Herefordshire’s heritage is the middle ages. As wars between England the Welsh kingdoms continued, Herefordshire became range to a wealth of castles built to cement monarchical control over the king’s often rebellious subjects. In modern times, Herefordshire remained a largely agrarian county, with little industry, allowing it to retain much of the natural beauty it still boasts today.
By far the most famous prehistoric site in Herefordshire, Arthur’s Stone represents the remains of an early Neolithic chambered tomb. It is part of the Cotswolds-Severn tomb tradition spread across this part of western Britain. As its name suggests, the site has accrued associations with the legendary King Arthur since the middle ages. Local folklore holds that it was here that Arthur slew a giant who fell onto the stones, leaving the imprint of his elbows on one of them. English Heritage manage the site, which is free to visit.
In the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, a growing militarisation of society led local communities to establish fortified settlements atop highpoints in their landscapes, now commonly known as hillforts. That at Croft Ambrey is a multivallate fort consisting of several ramparts. In the Romano-British period, a temple was erected on the site, which in the middle ages was followed by a rabbit warren. Excavations took place in the 1960s. The fort stands in an area of natural beauty and is an ideal site for keen walkers to visit.
Also known as Cross Lodge Longbarrow, the earthen mound on Great Llanavon Farm is not far from the better-known Arthur’s Stone. People built this large earthen mound in the Early Neolithic period, likely to house the remains of the dead. The barrow survives in good condition and has yet to undergo full archaeological investigation, so there is still much to learn about it. The site offers pleasant views of the tranquil countryside around it. Not far is Dorstone Hill, which has provided evidence of Neolithic habitation, perhaps left by the barrow’s builders.
A limestone cave in the Wye Valley, King Arthur’s Cave has revealed evidence of human usage from the Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age. In the Upper Palaeolithic humans appear to have sheltered in the cave entrance, where they lit hearths and left tools and weapons. Excavators exploring the site in the 1870s revealed the bones of mammoth, rhinoceros, lion, elk, and bison. The cave was also used in later periods of prehistory. Like other sites in the Herefordshire landscape, the cave has become associated with the legends of King Arthur in local folklore.
The hills of Herefordshire are home to a number of hillforts that were erected in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, likely as defensive structures in a time of increasing social tensions between rival tribal communities. Although the ramparts are overgrown and less impressive than the Croft Ambrey Hillfort (also in Herefordshire), Ivington Fort still helps to give the visitor a sense of life in later prehistory. There is a public footpath through part of the site although a farm now occupies much of the fort’s interior, rendering access limited.
Running along the Herefordshire border with Worcestershire in the Malvern Hills is Midsummer Hill, home to a hillfort erected in the Late Bronze or Iron Age. A multivallate fort with a pair of ramparts around its borders, the fort houses other putatively prehistoric features, including a pillow mound, boundary dyke, and about 400 stone hut circles. Excavations revealed evidence of inhabitation on the hill from at least the Neolithic, while the fort was built in the 5th century BCE and likely remained in use for five centuries.
When the Roman Armies conquered Britain, they set about establishing forts around the island through which they could better organise their forces and prepare themselves against indigenous uprisings. Excavation of the Roman fort at Buckton revealed that it was likely built in timber circa 80 to 90 CE, before being rebuilt in stone circa 120 CE and abandoned about a decade later. It is likely that it was designed as a replacement for the nearby Jay Lane Fort. Unfortunately, little today remains of the fort barring some cropmarks.
Apparently the oldest permanent Roman military fort in this area, Jay Lane Fort was established circa 50 CE and dismantled circa 78 CE, when it was replaced by Buckton Fort. The rectangular structure covered approximately two hectares and was surrounded by turf ramparts with timber watch towers at crucial points along its perimeter. Archaeologists discovered the site through aerial photography in 1960 and excavated it over the following few years. The site survived comparatively well given that it had faced centuries of ploughing, although today is visible only through cropmarks.
The Romano-British town of Magnis was once one of the most important settlements in this part of Britain. Located in the Wye Valley, the town was shaped like an irregular hectagon and covered almost 9 hectares of land, with a stone wall around at least part of the perimeter. Excavation has revealed more about life for the people of Magnis, exposing human burials, paved roads, and household mosaics. As with other Roman sites in Herefordshire, nothing now remains except cropmarks, which in dry conditions reveal the location of various streets and buildings.
Dore Abbey began life in 1147. The Lord of Ewyas Harold, Robert FitzHarold, had ordered its construction as a monastic settlement for Cistercian monks. Subsequent centuries saw it expand, obtain more land, and become increasingly wealthy. Dore Abbey shut down amid King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, after which much of the building was converted into a parish church. Restoration and expansion took place in the early 18th century. The church remains under the ownership of the Church of England and is an active place of Christian worship. [Website]
Although the Domesday Book mentions a castle existing at this site, the precise origins of Brampton Bryan Castle are not known, and the present fortification existed in some form by the 13th century. During the English Civil War, Royalist besiegers attacked the castle and left it in the ruined state in which it is currently found. In the 17th century, a county house was built close to the castle. The latter remains home to the Harley family, who are also owners of the castle itself, which is open only on rare occasions.
The magnificent timber beam Lower Brockhampton Manor House dates from the late 14th century. John Dumulton, the lord of the manor of Brockhampton, likely commissioned its construction to serve as his family home, and it remained in private ownership until the 20th century. A moat surrounds the house, with a timber framed gatehouse surviving from the late 15th century. 687 hectares of land surround the picturesque manor house, which includes woodland, orchards, and grazing livestock. Since 1946, the National Trust have owned the building and the surrounding estate.
The ruins of Clifford Castle, high on a hill overlooking the surrounding landscape, stand as a testament to the important role that castles played in this contested region of Britain during the middle ages. Likely built between 1067 and 1070 by William Fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford, it was originally constructed to a classic motte-and-bailey design. In 1322, King Edward II seized control of the castle, which then experienced further expansion in the 13th century. By the end of the middle ages it had fallen into a derelict state.
Located within the bounds of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle stands the ruins of Edvin Loach Old Church. Originally devoted to St Giles, the church likely started life in the 11th century. Part of the fabric reflects an rare herringbone pattern of stonework. In the 16th century, the church underwent a remodelling and had a tower added. In the 19th century, a replacement church designed by the famed neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott was built nearby, with its medieval forerunner falling into ruin. English Heritage manage the site, which is free to visit.
One of England’s best preserved medieval castles, Goodrick looms above the River Wye on a rocky outcrop. It likely began life shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, when Godric of Mappestone probably ordered its construction. Expansion followed in the 12th century, when the castle played a role in English clashes with the Welsh. During the English Civil War, the castle shifted ownership between the parliamentarians and royalists and was besieged at various points. By the 18th century it was attracting tourists as a picturesque ruin; English Heritage manage the site.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saint Ethelbert, Hereford Cathedral began life in the early middle ages although the present building was constructed largely in the 11th and 12th centuries. Much further rebuilding followed later in the middle ages, resulting in the loss of much of the earlier Norman design. Restoration and expansion took place in the 19th and 20th centuries. The cathedral is also home to the Mappa Mundi, a rare late medieval map of the world. The Grade I-listed building remains an active site of Christian worship. [Website]
Located in the medieval church of St Beuno and St Peter at Llanveynoe are three stone crosses which survive as relics from the early middle ages. One of these stone crosses was found in 1870 not far from the church and then erected in the churchyard. It likely dates from the 10th century and contains a groove along it that might have been a channel for libations. The other two are smaller and are now embedded into the wall of the church. One features a carving of the crucifixion.
Located atop the site of an 11th century timber motte-and-bailey fort, Longtown Castle began life in its present form in the 12th century, when the de Lacey family was in possession of it. In the early 15th century, King Henry IV ordered its refortification for use in the English wars against the Welsh chieftain Owain Glyn Dwr. By the latter part of the middle ages, the castle had apparently fallen into a dilapidated state and may have been further slighted in the English Civil War. English Heritage manage the ruin, which is free to visit.
Stretching across the border between England and Wales, Offa’s Dyke passes through a number of different counties, but a significant stretch is in Herefordshire. Archaeologists generally believe that the structure was erected in the early middle ages as a barrier between the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh Kingdom of Powys, and it likely takes its name from the 8th century Mercian king Offa. Alternately, various arguments have been put forward suggesting it might have a prehistoric or Roman origin instead. Walkers can pursue the route via Offa’s Dyke Path.
St John Medieval Museum stands alongside the ruins of Blackfriars Monastery, once home to a Dominican community and to Crusaders belonging to the Order of St John. A 13th century chapel continues to be used as a place of worship by members of the Order. An adjacent museum explores the site’s history and its connections with the Knights Templar. The site also features a rose garden, in which is located a rare surviving Preaching Cross. The museum and runs are open two days a week during the light half of the year. [Website]
Often considered one of the most idyllic villages in England, Weobley still contains many original medieval features. Along Broad Street are an array of timber-framed buildings dating from the late 14th and 15th centuries, replete with their classic jettied overhangs. The Church of St Peter and St Paul dates largely from the late 13th and early 14th century. There are also earthworks once part of a medieval castle that was in the possession of the de Lacy family of Ludlow. Many of these buildings are Grade I listed, reflecting their architectural importance. [Website]
Commanding impressive views over the local landscape, Wigmore Castle is one of the many different fortifications built along the borders of England and Wales in the high middle ages. The Earl of Hereford William Fitz Osbern established it in 1067, just after the Norman Conquest, to defend against Welsh incursions. On his death it passed to the Mortimer family, who retained possession until the 15th century. In the English Civil War, much of the castle was damaged to prevent Royalist forces from using it. English Heritage own the ruined site, which is free to visit.
Situated within the Wye Valley, Wilton Castle began life in the 12th century. The de Longchamp family initially owned the site, although later in the middle ages it entered the hands of the de Grey family. Under their ownership, the castle underwent further expansion. In the 16th century, parts of the castle’s masonry were removed to build an adjacent manor house, while the English Civil War saw it further decimated. The castle is privately owned, although open on occasion, while a public footpath permits clear views of the ruins. [Website]
Standing on land owned by the Croft family since the 11th century, the present Croft Castle started life in the 14th century although underwent considerable alteration in ensuing centuries. The north range is largely Elizabethan in design, while the other three testify to Georgian architectural designs and much of the building reflects the Rococo-Gothic style popular in the 18th century. The Crofts sold the house in 1746 but bought it back in 1923. In 1957, the National Trust purchased the property. An Iron Age hillfort and 13th century chapel can be found in the grounds.
The Cwammau Farmhouse dates from the early 17th century and reflects many original architectural features, including a stone-tiled roof and several timber barns. It displays the famous ‘black and white’ style with blackened timbers evident on the exterior. The farmhouse also reflects several later additions, including a late 17th century single-bay wing. A peaceful meadow adjacent to the farmhouse helps contribute to the image of quaint domesticity. The National Trust own the site, which is open on select days throughout the year and sometimes rented as a holiday cottage.
One of the best-known country houses in Herefordshire, Hellens has existed in some form since at least the 12th century. The present building is largely early modern in origin, reflecting Tudor and Jacobean architectural styles. The grounds feature 16th century barns, a 17th century dovecote, and a Georgian stable. The interior of the house boasts a wide range of historic items, including artefacts associated with prominent early modern figures like Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Charles I. The house remains in private ownership, with guided tours providing access several times a week. [Website]
A water mill has probably stood on the site of Mortimer’s Cross since the 15th century, although the present building dates from around 1760. Once part of the Croft Castle Estate, it was run by the Kevill-Davies family between 1785 and 1923. Initially it took part in paper production, although by 1870 had switched focus to grinding grain, producing animal feed into the 1940s, at which point it fell out of active use. The water mill is now in the care of English Heritage although not yet open to the public.
One of the most impressive buildings in Hereford, the Black and White House – also known as the Old House – is a rare survival from the 17th century. Named for its distinctive black timber exterior, the building has undergone various uses throughout the years. Once occupied by a butcher’s shop, it served as a commercial premises for much of its history, including as a branch of Lloyds Bank. In the 1920s it was converted into a museum devoted to everyday life in the 17th century, displaying a rare collection of original furniture. [Website]
The medieval chapel at Rotherwas underwent considerable alteration in the late 16th century, when the owner of the estate, Sir Roger Bodenham, commissioned its construction. Bodenham subsequently converted to Roman Catholicism, after which the chapel became a Catholic place of worship. In the 19th century, the family commissioned Edward Welby Pugin – the son of the more famous Augustus Pugin – to redesign the interior, giving it a fresh neo-gothic image. English Heritage now manage the chapel with the assistance of a local charity. A traditional Mass for the Assumption is held in the building every August.
The architect Henry Holland designed the neoclassical Berrington Hall as a country house for the politician Thomas Harley, a former Lord Mayor of London. Constructed in the 1770s and 1780s, it replaced an older building that had stood on the site. The gardens were landscaped by famed landscape designer Culpability Brown. The building is Grade I listed, while part of the grounds are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. After passing through a range of private owners, in 1957 the National Trust took ownership of the property.
The origins of Burton Hall are 14th century, and some original medieval features are still visible, particularly in its great hall. However, the fabric of the building has been much altered since that date, and in its present form the house reflects a considerable remodelling in the early 19th century, while several Tudor Revivalist elements were added in the 1910s. The interior furnishings are also largely Victorian, and include a working model railway. The Grade II* listed house remains in private ownership and is open via guided tours throughout the year. [Website]
Built in 1786 for Richard Cope Hopton, Canon Frome Court was the design of the architect Anthony Keck. In the 1870s, the architect John Middleton was brought in to oversee a remodelling of the house. In 1957 the local council bought the building and used it as a secondary school until 1978. Canon Frome Court is now home to an intentional community who share the house and farm the groups collectively. The nearby Church of St James has medieval origins although underwent 19th century remodelling under the architect George Bodley. [Website]
The politician John Cocks, the First Earl Somers, came from a wealthy family who had owned the land around Eastnor since the late 16th century. In the 1810s he ordered construction of Eastnor Castle, built to the designs of the architect Robert Smirke. A ‘revival castle’, it reflected the 19th century preoccupation with medieval aesthetics. Further interior alterations were made by the prominent neo-gothic architect Augustus Pugin in 1849–50 and then by George Fox in the 1860s. Eastnor Castle remains publicly owned and is open on select days throughout the year. [Website]
Not to be confused with Hampton Court Palace in southwest London, Hampton Court Castle today survives in largely 19th century form. The country house was first built in the 15th century for Sir Rowland Lenthall, and went through a range of owners through the centuries. After being purchased by John Arkwright in the early 19th century, it was remodelled in the 1830s and 1840s. The house boasts an impressive set of gardens, which include a maze, Dutch garden, kitchen garden, and a secret tunnel. The house is privately owned although open to visitors. [Website]