Hereford City Heritage

The Mayor’s Chain

Hereford in Norman Times

Harold Godwin, Earl of Hereford, was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey in January 1066. William, Duke of Normandy, defeated and killed him near Hastings on October 14th 1066.

Although Hereford had been partially destroyed, by the Welsh, in 1055, Harold Godwin, the second Earl of Hereford, had refortified the defenses and made good much of the damage to the city. In 1066, Harold was crowned King of England but his title was challenged by William, Duke of Normandy, who began a military campaign to oust him from the throne. In October of that year, William’s supporters engaged with the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings, the most infamous event in British history. Struck in the eye by an arrow, Harold died, and England fell under the yoke of Norman tyranny.

The conquest changed everything. William appropriated the lands belonging to Harold’s earls and gave the best of them to his trusted lieutenants. The Earldom of Hereford was granted to William FitzOsborn of Breteuil whose first task was to secure the realm against marauding Welsh. He built a chain of strategically placed castles along the border and rebuilt the existing fortifications at Hereford.

In the City of Hereford before 1066 there were 103 men dwelling inside and outside the wall. So begins the entry for Hereford in the great Domesday Book of 1086, William the Conqueror’s  inventory of his new realm. The book goes on to describe a substantial city which paid the Crown 60 of ‘blanched pence at face value’, every year.

At this time Hereford consisted of the Civitas and the Port. The Civitas consisted of the King’s and the earl’s territories, inhabited in part by the burgesses who held their properties in lieu of military service to the crown. Around the cathedral was the bishop’s port where his tenants lived and where the market was held. This area is roughly defined today by the parish of St John’s. The new Norman town planners began by changing the location of the market to where High Town is today. Lands at Eaton Bishop and Lydney were exchanged with the Bishop and the city expanded to the north. For some time, access to these parts was through the wall and ditch of the Saxon Town. The route from the cathedral to High Town along Church Street marks one of these ancient paths.

The death of Earl William was followed in due course by the rebellion of his son and his eventual loss of the city to King William.

The ongoing redevelopment of the new city was  marked by the addition of a fine new church dedicated to Saint Peter. It was built by Walter de Lacy, who was unfortunately killed while inspecting the work. Nothing remains of this early building but it was used for some time by the monks of Saint Guthlac’s Priory which stood within the walls of the new castle. The present building contains some of the stalls from the Priory which were acquired following the dissolution of the monasteries. Saint Peter’s later became the civic church and it was from there that the curfew bell was sounded.

In 1100 a stone bridge replaced the former wooden structure and as the market in High Town developed, valuable frontages were built on to it and permanent shops replaced stalls. The great open area corresponding to today’s pedestrianised High Town became crowded with buildings. By 1200, another church was being built on it. This was to be All Saints Church, which was granted to the Brethren of Saint Anthony of Vienne.

Meanwhile the outer defences of the city had been extended to the north along a line marked by today’s ring road. By 1190, six stone gatehouses guarded the roads through the walls. Here tolls were levied on goods brought to market. Tanning, milling and weaving became important industries and a thriving cloth market arose.

A rich Jewish community with stone houses and a synagogue had been established by the end of the 12th century. Although they were expelled during the reign of Edward l, in 1287, the area was known for many centuries as Jewry. It ran to the north of Bye Street, where Maylord Orchards stands today.

In 1189, the burgesses obtained a charter from Richard l which gave them certain freedoms in return for a payment of 40 and an obligation to maintain the fortifications. This important step towards civic independence was repeated in many towns and cities across the realm as Richard sought finance for the Third Crusade. Although King Richard was an infrequent visitor to Hereford, his brother John, who succeeded him, enjoyed visiting his castle overlooking the River Wye. John loved the chase and the rich game of the Royal forest of Haywood, to the south of the city, afforded him great sport.