|Hereford Cathedral and Wye Bridge.
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Introduction to Hereford
Hereford is a cathedral city, civil parish and the county town of Herefordshire. It lies on the River Wye, approximately 16 miles (26 km) east of the border with Wales, 24 miles (39 km) southwest of Worcester and 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Gloucester. With a population of around 60,000, it is the largest settlement in Herefordshire.
An early town charter from 1189, granted by King Richard I of England, describes the city as “Hereford in Wales”. Hereford has been recognised as a city since time immemorial, with the status being reconfirmed as recently as October 2000. The city is now known chiefly as a trading centre for a wider agricultural and rural area. Products from Hereford include cider, beer, leather goods, nickel alloys, poultry,
chemicals and sausage rolls, and, of course, the famous Hereford breed of cattle.
Hereford claims to be the birthplace of Nell Gwyn, the 17th century actress and mistress of King Charles II of England. However, other towns and cities, notably Oxford, claim her as their own.
Hereford became the seat of Putta, Bishop of Hereford, sometime between 676 and 688 AD, after which the settlement continued to grow due to its proximity to the border between Mercia and Wales, becoming the Saxon capital of West Mercia by the beginning of the 8th century.
Hostilities between the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh came to a head with the Battle of Hereford (760 AD). Hereford was again targeted by the Welsh during their conflict with the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor in 1056 when, supported by Viking allies, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, King of Gwynedd and Powys, marched on the town and put it to the torch before returning home in triumph.
The present Hereford Cathedral dates from the early 12th century, as does the first bridge across the Wye. The Bishop’s Palace next to the Cathedral was built in 1204 and has been continuously used to the present day.
Hereford, a base for successive holders of the title Earl of Hereford, was once the site of a castle, Hereford Castle, which rivalled that of Windsor
in size and scale. The castle was used as a base for repelling Welsh attacks and a secure stronghold for English kings such as King Henry IV when campaigning in the Welsh Marches against Owain Glyndŵr. The castle was dismantled in the 18th century and landscaped into Castle Green.
During the English civil war, the city changed hands several times. On 30th September 1642, Parliamentarians occupied the city without opposition. In December 1642, they withdrew to Gloucester because of the presence in the area of a Royalist army under Lord Herbert. The city was again occupied briefly from 23rd April to 18th May 1643 by Parliamentarians commanded by Sir William Waller, but two years later, the city saw the most military action. On 31st July 1645, a Scottish army of 14,000 under Alexander Leslie, the 1st Earl of Leven, besieged the city but met stiff resistance from its garrison and inhabitants. The Scottish military withdrew on 1st September 1945 on receiving news that a force led by King Charles was approaching. The city was finally taken for the Parliament of England on 18th December 1645 by Colonel Birch and Colonel Morgan. King Charles showed his gratitude to the city of Hereford on 16th September 1645 by augmenting the city’s coat of arms with the three lions of Richard I of England, ten Scottish Saltires signifying the ten defeated Scottish regiments, a very rare lion crest on top of the coat of arms signifying “defender of the faith” and the even rarer gold-barred peer’s helm, found only on the arms of one other municipal authority in Britain: (those of the City of London).
Hereford Cathedral, a Grade I listed building, is the church of the Anglican Diocese of Hereford in Hereford, in the county of Herefordshire, England, and is known as the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Ethelbert the King. The building is constructed almost entirely of local sandstone of a mainly reddish colour. Some of the carved work in the presbytery is of Ketton stone, while the shafting in the north transept is of Purbeck marble. The roofs are covered in lead.
A place of worship has existed on the site of the present building since the 8th century or maybe even earlier. The current building was begun in 1079 AD. Substantial parts of the building date from both the Norman and the Gothic periods.
The Cathedral has the largest Library of chained books (see later in this paper) in the world – its most famous treasure is the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world created around 1300 AD by Richard of Holdingham. The map is listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
In 1976, the Diocese of Hereford celebrated its 1300th anniversary, which included a visit from HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, who distributed Royal Maundy Money.
The exterior length of the Cathedral is 342 feet (104 m), the interior length 326 feet (99 m), the nave (up to the screen) measuring 158 feet (48 m) and the choir 75 feet (23 m). The great transept is 146 feet (45 m) long, and the east transept is 110 feet (34 m). The nave and choir (including the aisles) are 73 feet (22 m) wide; the nave is 64 feet (20 m) high, and the choir 62½ feet. The lantern is 96 feet (29 m) high, the tower 140½ feet, or with the pinnacles 165 feet (50 m).
As mentioned above, the Cathedral is dedicated to two saints, St Mary and St Ethelbert. At Ethelbert’s tomb, miracles were claimed to have taken place, and in the next century (about 830 AD), Milfrid, a Mercian nobleman, was so moved by the tales of these marvels as to rebuild in stone the little church that stood there and to dedicate it to the sainted king. Before this, Hereford had become the seat of a Bishopric. It is said to have been the centre of a diocese as early as the 670s. In the 7th century, the Cathedral was refounded by Putta, who settled here when driven from Rochester by Æthelred of Mercia. The Cathedral of stone, which Milfrid raised, stood for some 200 years, and then, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, it was altered. The new church had only a short life, for it was plundered and burnt in 1056 by a combined force of
Welsh and Irish under Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the Welsh prince.
The Norman Period
Hereford Cathedral remained in a state of ruin until Robert of Lorraine was consecrated to the see (made a bishop) in 1079 and undertook its reconstruction. His work was carried on, or, more probably, redone, by Reynelm, who reorganised the college of secular canons attached to the Cathedral. Reynelm died in 1115, and it was only under his third successor, Robert de Betun (Bishop from 1131 to 1148 AD), that the church was brought to completion.
Of this Norman church, the surviving parts are the nave arcade, the choir up to the spring of the clerestory, the choir aisle, the south transept, and the crossing arches. Scarcely 50 years after its completion William de Vere, who occupied the see from 1186 to 1199, altered the east end by constructing a retro-choir or processional path and a Lady Chapel.
The 13th Century
Between 1226 and 1246 AD, the Lady Chapel was rebuilt in the Early English style—with a crypt beneath. Around the middle of the 13th century, the clerestory, and probably the vaulting of the choir, were rebuilt, having been damaged by the settling of the central tower. Under Peter of Aigueblanche (Bishop 1240–68), one of Henry III‘s foreign favourites, the rebuilding of the north transept was begun, being completed later in the same century by Bishop Swinefield (aka Richard Swinefield or Richard de Swinfield), who also built the aisles of the nave and eastern transept.
14th to 16th Century: Completion of the Fabric
In the first half of the 14th century, the rebuilding of the central tower, which is embellished with ball-flower ornaments was carried out. At about the same time, the chapter house and its vestibule were built, and then Thomas Trevenant (Bishop from 1389 to 1404) rebuilt the south end and groining of the great transept. Around the middle of the 15th century, a tower was added to the western end of the nave, and in the second half of this century, Bishops John Stanberry and Edmund Audley built three chantries, the former on the north side of the presbytery, the latter on the south side of the Lady Chapel. Later, Bishops Richard Mayew and Booth, who ruled the diocese from 1504 to 1535, made the last additions to the Cathedral by erecting the north porch, forming the principal northern entrance. The building of the present edifice, therefore, spanned a period of 440 years.
16th to 18th Century
In the war between King and Parliament (the English Civil War), the city of Hereford fell into the hands first of one party, then of the other. The city endured a siege, and when it was taken, the conquerors ran riot in the Cathedral and, in their frenzied fury, caused great damage which could never be repaired.
In the early years of the 18th century, Philip Bisse (Bishop, 1712–21) devised a scheme to support the central tower. He also installed an enormous altar-piece and an oak screen, and instead of restoring the Chapter House, he allowed its stones to be used for alterations to the Bishop’s Palace. It was during this period that his brother, the Reverend Dr Thomas Bisse, was chancellor of the Cathedral. In 1724, Dr Bisse organised a “Music Meeting”, which later became, with the Cathedrals at Worcester and Gloucester, the Three Choirs Festival.
On Easter Monday, 1786, the greatest disaster in the history of the Cathedral took place. The west tower fell, creating a ruin of the whole of the west front and at least one part of the nave. Architect, James Wyatt,
was called in to repair the damage. As he did at Durham, instead of just repairing, he made alterations that were not universally popular.
19th Century Restoration and the 1904 Reopening
In 1841 the restoration work was begun, instigated by Dean Merewether, and was carried out by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham and his son, Nockalls. Bisse’s masonry, which by this time was considered to be useless, was swept away from the central tower, the lantern was strengthened and exposed to view, and much work was done in the nave and to the exterior of the Lady Chapel. When Nockalls Cottingham drowned on a voyage to New York in September 1854, Sir George Gilbert Scott, the prolific English Gothic Revival architect, was called in. From then, the work of restoring the choir was performed continuously until 1863, when (on 30th June) the Cathedral was reopened with solemn services. Renn Hampden, Bishop of Hereford, preached in the morning, and Samuel Wilberforce preached in the evening. In his diary, Wilberforce characterises his right reverend brother’s sermon as “dull, but thoroughly orthodox”, but of his own service, he remarks (not without complacency), “I preached evening; great congregation and much interested.”
A new library building was constructed in the early 1990s and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. In 1967, with the new liturgical fashion, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s iron choir screen was removed in pieces and discarded. It has since been restored and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
21st Century Changes
Work on a new Cathedral Green, with pathways, seating and a gated entrance to the Cathedral, was undertaken in 2010 and 2011. In 2015, landscaping and restoration efforts began at the Cathedral, financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund. These efforts involved reburying thousands of corpses, some from the 12th century to the 14th century stone-lined graves, from the cathedral burial plot. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, anyone who died on church grounds had to be buried within the precinct. Notable among those reburied during the restoration was a knight who may have participated in tourney jousting, a man with leprosy (it was unusual for lepers to be buried anywhere near a cathedral due to the stigma associated with the disease), and a woman with a severed hand (a typical punishment for a thief, who would normally be unlikely to receive cathedral burial).
Among eminent men who have been associated with the Cathedral, besides those who have already been mentioned, are:
- Robert of Gloucester, the chronicler, prebendary in 1291
- Nicholas of Hereford, chancellor in 1377, a remarkable man and leader of the Lollards at Oxford
- John Carpenter, town clerk of London who was baptised there on 18 December 1378
- Polydore Vergil, prebendary in 1507, a celebrated literary man
- Miles Smith, the prebendary in 1580, promoted to the See of Gloucester, who was one of the translators of the Authorised King James Version of the Bible.
The Lady Chapel
Across from the retro-choir or ambulatory is the spacious and beautiful Early English Lady Chapel, which is built over the crypt and approached by an ascent of five steps.
Of the five beautiful lancet windows at the east end, each with a quatrefoil opening in the wall above it, Fergusson remarked that “nowhere on the Continent is such a combination to be found“, and he brackets them with the Five Sisters at York Cathedral and the east end of Ely Cathedral. They are filled with glass by the architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham in memory of Dean Merewether, who is buried in the crypt below and is further commemorated by a black marble slab with a brass ornament (by John Hardman & Co.), recording Mereweather’s unwearied interest in the restoration of the Cathedral.
In the Lady Chapel are church monuments of Joanna de Kilpec and Humphrey de Bohun:
- Joanna was a 14th century benefactress of the Cathedral who gave to the Dean and Chapter an acre (4,000 m2) of land in Lugwardine (a village to the east of Hereford) and the advowson of the church, with several chapels pertaining to it.
- Humphrey de Bohun was the 4th Earl of Hereford and a member of a powerful Anglo-Norman family of the Welsh Marches and was one of the Ordainers who opposed the excesses of Edward II’s excesses.
On the south side of the Lady Chapel, separated from it by a screen of a curious design, is the chantry erected at the end of the 15th century by Edmund Audley, who, being transferred to Salisbury, built another there, where he is buried. His chantry here, pentagonal in shape, has two storeys, with two windows on the lower level and five on the higher.
Organ and Organists
Hereford Cathedral is home to three organs: the world-famous ‘Father’ Willis organ, the movable festival organ, and a single-manual chamber organ. On the south side of the choir is the “Father” Henry Willis organ, built in 1892 – considered one of the finest examples of his work in Britain.
William Wood was the organist at Hereford Cathedral in 1515. Notable organists include the 16th century composers John Bull and John Farrant, the conductor and advocate of British composers Meredith Davies, the friend of Edward Elgar George Robertson Sinclair, and the editor of
Allegri’s Miserere, Ivor Atkins.
Hereford Cathedral houses ten bells 140 ft (43 m) high in the tower. The tenor bell weighs 34 cwt (1.7 tonnes). The oldest bell in the Cathedral is the sixth, which dates back to the 13th century. The bells are sometimes known as the “Grand Old Lady” as they are a unique ring of bells. The Cathedral is the main tower of the Hereford Diocesan Guild.
One of the Cathedral’s treasures is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, dating from the later years of the 13th century. It is the work of an ecclesiastic who is supposed to be represented in the right-hand corner on horseback, attended by his page and greyhounds. He commemorated himself as Richard de Haldingham and Lafford in Lincolnshire, but his real name was Richard de la Battayle or de Bello. He held a prebendal stall in Lincoln Cathedral and was promoted to a stall in Hereford in 1305. During the troubled times of Cromwell, the map was secreted beneath the floor of Edmund Audley‘s Chantry, beside the Lady Chapel, where it remained hidden for some time.
In 1855, the map was cleaned and repaired at the British Museum. It is one of the most remarkable monuments of its kind in existence, being nearly the largest of all the old maps, drawn on a single sheet of vellum. The world is represented as round, surrounded by the ocean. At the top of the map (the east) is represented Paradise, with its river and tree, and also the eating of the forbidden fruit and the expulsion of Adam and Eve. There is a remarkable representation of the Day of Judgment, with the
Virgin Mary interceding for the faithful, who are seen rising from their graves and being led within the walls of heaven. Numerous figures of towns, animals, birds, and fish with grotesque creatures are featured; the four great cities, Jerusalem, Babylon, Rome, and Troy, are made very prominent. In Britain, most cathedrals are mentioned.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi hung, with little regard, for many years on a wall of a choir aisle in the Cathedral. It is the largest medieval map still known to exist. It was created with the intent of it being appreciated as an intricate work of art rather than as a navigational tool. A larger Mappa Mundi, the Ebstorf map, was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943 during World War II, although photographs of it survive.
In the 1980s, a financial crisis in the diocese caused the Cathedral Dean and Chapter to consider selling the Mappa Mundi. After much controversy, large donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Paul Getty and members of the public, enabled the map to remain in Hereford and allowed the construction of a new library to house it and the chained libraries from the Cathedral and All Saints’ Church. The centre was opened on 3rd May 1996.
On his accession in 1199, King John inherited enormous wealth and a huge kingdom covering England, Ireland, parts of Scotland and lands in France stretching from the channel to the Pyrenees. He squandered this inheritance by mismanagement, expensive wars, heavy taxation and his harsh treatment of opponents and supporters alike. He alienated the church and his leading and most powerful subjects, who withdrew their support, thus provoking civil war.
The Great Charter of Liberties, or Magna Carta, was agreed between King John and his barons at Runnymede, a water-meadow on the south bank of the River Thames, on 10 June 1215. It is one of the most famous documents in history and is considered the foundation of English common law, and much of its worldwide importance lies in the interpretation of the clauses from which grew the right of the freedom of the individual or habeas corpus. First drafted by Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton, to make peace between the unpopular king and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons’ War.
After John’s death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in 1217, it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name “Magna Carta” to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest, which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes. His son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law. The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling Parliament of England passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance.
The Magna Carta is considered the foundation of English common law, containing a famous clause that helped to establish the right of the freedom of the individual or habeas corpus:
“No free man shall be arrested, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or in any way victimised, or attacked except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”
The Hereford Magna Carta, the finest surviving 1217 charter, represents the most significant revision of the original 1215 document issued by King John’s son Henry III. The Hereford Cathedral Library also holds the only surviving copy of ‘King John’s Writ,’ a letter issued to royal officials across England, from his meeting with the barons at Runnymede.
A chained library is a library where the books are attached to the
bookcase by a chain, which is sufficiently long enough to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read but not removed from the Library itself. The practice was usual for reference libraries (that is, the vast majority of libraries) from the Middle Ages to around the 18th century. The purpose of the chains is to prevent theft of the Library’s materials. As the chaining process was expensive, it was not used on all books – only the more valuable books such as reference works or large books in a collection.
It is standard for chained libraries to have the chain fitted to the corner or cover of a book rather than placed on the spine, as the book would suffer greater wear from the stress of moving it on and off the shelf. Because of the chain’s location attached to the book (via a ringlet), the books are housed with their spine facing away from the reader, with only the pages’ fore-edges visible (that is, the ‘wrong’ way round to people accustomed to contemporary libraries). This is so that each book can be removed and opened without needing to be turned around and avoids tangling its chain. To remove a book from the chain, the librarian would use a special key.
Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral
Hereford Cathedral has one of two chained libraries that still have chained books on its shelves. The Chained Library is a unique and fascinating treasure in Britain’s rich heritage of library history; there were books at Hereford Cathedral long before there was a ‘library’ as we know it today. The Cathedral’s 17th century Chained Library is the largest to survive, with all its chains, rods and locks intact. There has been a working theological library at the Cathedral since the 12th century, and the whole Library continues to serve the Cathedral’s work and witness both as a research centre and as a tourist attraction.
Built over 900 years ago, the Hereford Cathedral Chained Library fell into disrepair and faced destruction before donations saved it. The oldest chained book found in the Library is the 8th century Hereford Gospels.
The Library contains about 1,500 books housed in a specially built, temperature-controlled room dating from around the year 800 to the early 19th century, including 227 medieval manuscript books. The books are still examined and read today by scholars from all over the world to study them.
The Hereford Cathedral Mappa Mundi website records that:
“The Chained Library dates from the early 17th century, but Hereford Cathedral has had an important library since at least the 12th century when it was renowned as a centre of learning. Today the Chained Library still includes over 80 books dating from the 12th century, and about half of these bear evidence of having been at Hereford since they were made. Some appear to have been made locally, although the Cathedral, being a secular foundation, did not have a community of monks associated with it, and so it is unlikely to have had a scriptorium. Today very few books of this age are still to be found in the places for which they were originally made.”
With the development of the printing press, which reduced cost and increased production speed, chained libraries became obsolete. Today, only a handful of such libraries survive across the world. In England, there are about twelve extant examples of chained libraries tucked away in schools, universities, and churches, one of which is at Hereford Cathedral, the largest surviving chained library in the world.
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Sources and Further Reading
- YouTube Video: Chained Library, at: https://youtu.be/KWvHT8K0bRo
- YouTube Video: Hereford Cathedral Chained Library, at https://youtu.be/2jZgOkdMxS4
- YouTube Video: The Hereford World Map: Mappa Mundi, A limited edition from The Folio Society, at https://www.bing.com/videos/search?&q=YouTube+Mappa+Mundi&form=VDMHRS
 Sources: https://citypopulation.de/en/uk/westmidlands/admin/county_of_herefordshire/E04000921__hereford/ and “Hereford”. City Population.
 Source: Sims-Williams, Patrick (2004). “Putta (died c.688)”.Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press.doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22912. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
 Source and Explanation: Annales Cambriae (Latin for Annals of Wales). It is the title given to a complex of Latin chronicles compiled or derived from diverse sources at St David’s in Dyfed, Wales. The earliest is a 12th century presumed copy of a mid-10th century original; later editions were compiled in the 13th century. Despite its name, the Annales Cambriae record not only events in Wales, but also events in Ireland, Cornwall, England, Scotland and sometimes further afield, although the focus of the events recorded, especially in the later two-thirds of the text, is Wales.
 Source: J. Hillaby, Bishop Richard de Capella and the foundation of Herefordshire’s market towns, in Woolhope Naturalists Field Club, Essays in honour of Jim and Muriel Tonkin, 2011, authors of The Book of Hereford, 1975.
 Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereford_Cathedral, https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereford_Cathedral, https://www.culturecalling.com/hereford/museums-and-galleries/features/hereford-cathedral-a-hotbed-of-medieval-history and https://www.herefordcathedral.org/our-history
 Source: Geggel, Laura (14th April 2015). “Battered Remains of Medieval Knight Discovered in UK Cathedral”. MSN News. Archived from the original on 16th April 2015, and https://www.archaeology.org/news/3035-150224-england-hereford-knight Archived 10th October 2018 at the Wayback Machine
or collegiate church, and who is entitled to a prebend (the portion of the revenues of a cathedral or collegiate church formerly granted to a canon or member of the chapter as his stipend) for special services at a cathedral or collegiate church. When attending services, prebendaries sit in particular seats, usually at the back of the choir stalls, known as prebendal stalls.
 Explanation: A quatrefoil (anciently caterfoil) is a decorative element consisting of a symmetrical shape which forms the overall outline of four partially overlapping circles of the same diameter. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quatrefoil
ordinary if not the same person) a nominee for appointment to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living, a process known as a presentation (jus praesentandi, Latin: “the right of presenting”). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advowson
 Source: Dove, Ronald H. (1982). A Bellringer’s Guide to the Church Bells of Britain and Ringing Peals of the World (6th ed.). Guildford: Viggers.
 Source and Acknowledgement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereford, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereford_Mappa_Mundi
 Source: Allison. “Reading in Restraint: The Last Chained Libraries”. Atlas Obscura. 9.