The meaning of Hereford is believed to come from the Anglo Saxon word ‘here’ which is an army or formation of solders, and ‘ford’ which is a place for crossing a river. It suggests that Hereford was a place where a body of armed men forded the River Wye.
In the 7th Century the Saxons arrived and settled at the ford and by 700 AD Hereford had grown into a busy market town. Warfare began between the English and Welsh late in the 9th Century, Alfred the Great created fortified settlements across the country, Hereford being included, in case of Danish attack. Hereford resisted a Danish attack in 914 and about 100 years later a castle was built. The Welsh burnt it down in 1055!
During the civil war in 1642 between king and parliament, Hereford supported the king. Between 1642 and 1645 rule was split between royalists and parliament forces until the royalists were finally defeated.
Many Frenchmen came to settle in the town after the Norman Conquest and the town grew, with the market being moved to a new position in the north.
Also joining the French at this time was a Jewish community. They lived in the area of Maylord Street until 1290 – until all Jews were expelled from England.
The poor and the sick were looked after by the church. They ran the only hospitals those being the Hospital of St John in the 12th Century and St Ethelbert in the 13th Century. The lepers were kept in a hostel outside of the town.
To further the rise of Hereford, Bishop Thomas Cantilupe died and was buried in 1282 and 40 years later he was canonised bringing pilgrims to the town.
As around the country, the town suffered from outbreaks of plague four times from 1566 until 1610 but each time recovered.
1801 saw the first census and Hereford had a population of 6,828. It was a fair sized market town then but by the end of the century the population had reached 21,000.
Hereford in the 20th Century saw the population rise from 24,000 in 1931 to 47,000 by the early 1970s
It is believed that the castle of Hereford was rebuilt as in 1055 it was used to repel and attack the Welsh until most of it was destroyed. In the 1650s the stone was used for other buildings within the City. The castle was written to be ‘nearly as large as that of Windsor and one of the strongest in England’. The area that the castle stood is now today Castle Green.
The stone bridge was built across the Wye in 1100 to replace the wooden one and at the end of the 12th Century stone walls were built around the town.
Hereford Cathedral was built as a small church as early as the 670s where it stood for some 200 years until in the reign of Edward the Confessor it was altered. It was burnt in 1056 by a force of Welsh and Irish. The current Cathedral dates from 1079 when the Normans began rebuilding from the ruins. At about the same time a new bishop’s palace was built.
Coningsby hospital was built in 1614 followed by The Old House in 1621 and Aubrey’s almshouses nine years later showing the prosperity of Hereford was still growing.
In 1710 a blue coat school opened and in 1783 Hereford hospital was built. Towards the end of the 1700s, the streets were paved and lit by oil lamps.
On Easter Monday 1786, the west tower of the Cathedral collapsed ruining the whole part of the west front and part of the nave. In 1841 the restoration work began and continued continuously until 1863.
Because the gates around Hereford were impeding traffic it was decided to demolish them. This happened from 1782 when Friars Gate and Wye Bridge Gate went and by 1798 St Owens Gate, Eign Gate, Bysters Gate and Widemarsh Gate had all gone.
The 19th Century was fast moving and there were many improvements. Gas street lighting was provided and, mid-century, Hereford had a fire brigade. Following the Hereford Improvement Act in 1854 a waterworks and a network of sewers were built. From the end of the 19th Century, Hereford had an electricity supply.
In 1845 a canal was dug from Gloucester to Hereford but closed in 1880 due to the railway reaching Hereford in 1854. It was the last major town in Britain to be connected by rail.
Building continued with several new churches as the town continued to expand. These being, St Paul’s at Tupsley and St James’ in Green Street. In 1873 a museum and library opened followed twenty odd years later by the Victoria suspension bridge.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Hereford gained a new Town Hall. In the same year of 1904 came a College of Education with a cinema by 1911. The War Memorial in St Peter’s Square was erected in 1922 to remember the fallen from the First World War.
Hereford Cathedral is now famous for the Mappa Mundi. The Hereford Cathedral Chained Library is the largest surviving chained library in the world. In the early 17th Century, chained libraries could be found in universities and cathedrals, but this is the only one still to be chained. It contains about 1,500 books, dating from around 800AD to the early 19th Century, including 227 medieval manuscript books.
Because of its position near the Welsh border and warfare between the two countries, a great deal of business came to Hereford. The fact that St Ethelbert was buried in the town also brought prosperity to the town as people travelled long distances to visit shrines of saints and they spent money.
At the beginning of the 12th Century, Hereford gained a fair (market) held annually for a few days in June. People would come from all around to buy and sell their wares. 100 years later a second fair was given, this being held in October.
The main industry during this time was making wool but leather working was another important industry.
The wool industry was declining by the end of the 17th Century due to competition from the north of the country. Hereford became known for cider making and brewing and the leather industry continued to grow.
Although industry continued to grow – brewing and cider making, leather working, boat building, furniture making and a brick and tile industry – Hereford was a market town for the surrounding countryside.
Hereford is mainly known now as a trading centre for a wider agricultural and rural area. Industry still includes the brewing of beer and cider, leather goods, nickel alloys, poultry, chemicals and of course cattle.
Hereford has a fascinating history, far more than can be written here. The City is well worth a visit whether you are local or visiting from further afield.