Hereford City Heritage

The Mayor’s Chain

High Town

The presentHigh Town area marks the ‘new’ market developed by William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, who laid it out - the central part of the market was a large triangle bounded by Commercial Street (formerly Bye Street) on the north, Union Street on the east, and St Peter’s Street on the south-west.The approach roads were designed to widen out as they approached the central triangle. The road from the west, Eign Gate, originally probably encompassed the whole area between that street and Bewell Street.

The High Town area, which used to be the Bull Ring, with a cross in the midst without which no medieval town was complete; Here also was the old town hall or tolsey, on oaken pillars - three sides of them, nine on each side; The Black & White house at the junction of three streets is not as old as the tolsey when it was pulled down; It was part of Butcher’s Row and was built in 1621.The site of the demolished tolsey  may be revered as the birthplace of municipal government which soon became so admirable that under Henry ll’s own mandate it served as a model to other boroughs in the West.

High Town has seen bull baitings and dancings round the borough maypole;  In 1241 a tournament was supposed to have been held here, in which the Earl of Pembroke was killed. A grim spectacle too, was the hanging, probably on this same site, of Edward ll’s favourite, the younger de Spenser, upon a gallows fifty feet high. The bringing of the victim into the city was accompanied with wild excitement of the period- “ there met themsuch a great nu,mber of persons from every side that men wondered at the sight and all who were able to blow with a horn or utter a cry of hue, or produce any mark of contempt according to their ability showed it against Hugh with abuse and insult, so that never before was so horrid a noise heard against any great person.”. He was crowned with a wreath of nettles and so hung as a warning to all royal minnions of the future. A similar tragedy of the market place was the beheading of Owen Tudor after the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. U[ to the last Owen beleived that he would be reprieved, but the handsome head which had lain in the lap of Henry V’s widow was duly claimed by the axe and afterwards lay on the highest step of the market cross, where, the legend runs, a mad woman combed its hair, washed its face, and “lit a hundred candles around it”. To the north-east the approach road is still reflected in the wide Commercial Road. To the south-east St Owen’s Street has a similar aspect. The only formal means of access from the old town to this ‘new’ market place was through North Street in the old defences at the top of Broad Street. The main triangle is now filled with buildings as is the area between Eign Gate and Bewell Street. The High Town area was similarly filled with buildings until they were gradually demolished during the early years of the nineteenth century.

The old Odeon cinema in High Town.

The old Odeon Cinema, High Town

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