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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Monday 25 July 2016

Much Marcling in Leominster and Ludlow

Time for a jaunt. The Northerner had arranged to meet up with an long-time friend from college now running a pub in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, so it was a question of filling the rest of the day in the Marches. I'd fallen in love with the area from an old-fashioned train compartment when I was 19 and a diversion sent the train I was on from Crewe to Bristol via Newport in Wales instead of Birmingham. This involved a slow ride through Shrewsbury and the Shropshire Hills, followed by Ludlow, Leominster, Hereford and Abergavenny, all set in beautiful countryside that stole my heart away. I hadn't forgotten it in 35 years, so I was delighted at the chance of exploring just a little of it. 

First stop Leominster in Herefordshire, in time for breakfast in a cafe in Corn Square, followed by a little wander about.  Leominster - or at least the old centre of it - is full of interesting slantwise buildings, alleyways and quirk, but rather down-at-heel. It felt like a somewhat uneasy mix of tourist honeypot and working town.  



On, then, to Ludlow, over the border in Shropshire, which is similar in size but rather more prosperous.  

I loved the carved detail on these shops located on the old north- south road, which offers views out over the surrounding countryside in both directions. 

The most spectacular building on this street, however, is the much older Feathers Hotel, built in 1619.
There was time for a quick look around the 12th century Church of St Laurence - the 'Cathedral of the Marches'.  As there was a choir rehearsal in progress, I didn't get to wander around the chancel, which was a shame as it's supposed to be the most magnificent part of the building and I would have liked to have seen the misericords in particular. On the plus side, the singing was beautiful. 
The font was rescued from a farmyard where it was being used as a water butt. It's over 1,000 years old, and possibly Saxon. 
St Laurence still has a fair bit of its mediaeval glass.  This is the Golden Window in St John's Chapel.  
On the whole, though, I was a bit disappointed by the windows, which are so restored as to look a lot more modern than they are. I liked this one in the south transept best, made up of lots of bits of old mediaeval glass put together all higgledy-piggledy.  It reminded me of the window in St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, made up of fragments of glass saved from windows that were smashed during the Reformation - or so the story goes. 
Also in the south transept is this tomb  with its effigy of Dame Mary Eure, who died in 1612 aged 55. The inscription tells us that she 'lyeth expecting a ioyfull resvrrection'. I bet her elbow's gone to sleep by now. 
Another, finely-carved, tomb is that of the lawyer, Sir John Brydgeman, who died in 1637, and his wife, Lady Frances.  I wonder if they lost their hands, and he the tip of his nose, not long afterwards, during the Civil War and its aftermath.   

All that remains of this memorial is its message of love. 

Outside, the Northerner and our canine dark poet, Ted, had found a memorial to A E Housman, famous Shropshire poet. 

We moseyed on to the Castle and contented ourselves with peering through the gates. 
One of the first stone-built castles in the country, amongst its claims to fame are being held for over a century by the Mortimer family, and being the site of the death in 1502 of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother, whose 'heart' (or rather, innards) are said to be buried in the chancel of St Laurence's Church. I wonder how different our subsequent history might have been if we'd had a second King Arthur? 

Our next stop was Tenbury Wells, and a fine pint of Robinsons cider I had there too.   
By the time we emerged, it was a bit rainy so we postponed plans for a walk at Richard's Castle and headed south to Much Marcle instead, mainly because I wanted to see its famous 1,500 year old yew tree. 
It has a girth of nigh on 31 feet and is well worth visiting. 

I was surprised - and happy - to find the church open so late in the afternoon. 
Inside there was another Mortimer - Lady Blanche, whose father was complicit in the murder at Berkeley Castle of King Edward II. He was eventually hanged at Tyburn in 1330 by Edward III, when Blanche, the youngest of his 11 children, was about 14.  
Blanche herself died in 1349, while the Black Death was rampaging through the country, though whether it was plague that killed her is not known. Curiously, when her tomb was opened for restoration in 2014, her remains were found in a lead coffin above ground - ie in the chest - rather than buried beneath it, as was customary. Maybe, in that terrible year, there weren't enough men in the village to dig a burying hole.

My church guidebook identifies these effigies as a second member of the Mortimer family, Isolde, with her husband Hugh, Lord Audley, but the information card on the tomb itself overrides this with the supposition that it is Thomas Walwyn, who died almost a century later, with his wife, Isabella Hathaway. 

And this is Thomas Walwyn's maternal grandfather, Walter de Helyon, who died c1360 and who is depicted in painted oak.

Finally, the Kyrles, Sir John and Lady Sybil, who died in 1660 and 1637 respectively.  

What I like best about this tomb is that Sir John's feet rest on the Kyrle family crest - a hedgehog. Ouch. 

St Bartholomew's also has some fine glass by Charles Kempe (1837-1907). The guide leaflet quotes Owen Chadwick who claims it's better than work by Kempe's contemporaries, Morris and Burne Jones, though I wouldn't go that far. 

Oh and the green men. Don't forget the green men - and other figures - carved around the pillars.  

Easy to be prescient after the fact, but all the while we were at Much Marcle, I was aware of the shade of Fred West, who was born and grew up here - indeed, the bodies of two of his victims were found buried in nearby fields. I'd be astonished if he never sat inside the yew, and he must have been in the church many times, but I'll remember Much Marcle for its effigies and carvings and its remarkable tree from now on.

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