When we were thinking up a name for the Daffodil Line someone suggested we might call our service the “Market House Express”. Not a bad idea as all three towns on the Daffodil Line: Newent, Ledbury and Ross are identified by their Market Houses, beautiful ‘statement’ buildings set right in the middle of town. They were all built around 1660, what were they for? The short answer is to show off.
Then as now people were proud of their towns and wanted something grand to grace them. The long answer (only briefly given here!) goes way further back.
All these towns arose in prehistory, as places where people came to trade. First came the trade, later, by medieval times the formal market place which was ruled and regulated and protected by the local Lord, (for which privilege traders paid of course). then as the towns grew wealthier, came the market houses.
All were built around the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy, when Charles II came back to England marking the end of the Puritan Age. Perhaps the Halls were built in a flamboyant way to reflect the relief of the people. Though built at much the same time, they are all different, reflecting the designs of local benefactors and craftsmen.
Newent marketsquare is at the junction of three roads, one from the South and the Forest of Dean, one from the South East and Gloucester and and one from the North and the Roman road that goes through Dymock and all places North. Newent is a very spiders web of roads spreading in all directions, people were coming here from everywhere to trade.
Why to Newent? Well, a number of reasons, the town is in the middle of rich agricultural land and close to the industries of the Forest of Dean, it is a above flooding ground, and the church was early, pre-Domesday (1086), and important and that in itself attracted trade.
Newent market hall is the smallest of the three. Like the others it is on stilts with an open area for traders below and an upper room for business or meeting. It has been altered over the years, the apse like shape the telephone box side was added in the 1840s. Because wood degrades over time, especially if it gets wet and cannot dry out, it needs repairs, often major, from time to time. In 2022 all the cement render from a previous repair episode, which prevents wood from ‘breathing’ was removed and replaced with lime mortar – at a significant cost to the Town Council. The upstairs room is awesome with an excellent history of Newent displayed with artefacts and panels. This is open to the public in the summer, run by volunteers, so do get to see it next year.
Ledbury is eight miles North of Newent The valley of the river Leadon provides an easy N/S route on to it on its west side but on its North and East side it backs onto steep hills, outliers of the Malvern Hills which present a barrier to traffic, even today.
A small stream has cut its way through (today the road to Malvern) and where it levels out, this is where the market was set up. Ledbury was the trading place between people from the Malverns and beyond and people from the Herefordshire plain. The magnificent wood market house, completed in 1665, about three years before Newent is larger than Newent’s, but has the same concept, a building on stilts, timber framed, with an elaborate room above for meetings and business. It too has had major repairs over the years, the most recent this year was relatively minor, but because of the height of the building and the need for scaffolding still cost the Town Council £33,000. In 2006 some truly dramatic repairs took place, when
“The town looked on in amazement as the Market House was raised off the ground a full 600mm to allow the builders to scrape out the damaged wood from the insides of the bases and the lower part of the supports. This was replaced with a mixture of lime/grout mortar, a long lasting material which will be strong enough to take the load of the building. It was then carefully lowered back onto its bases.”
Ledbury Town Council Website
Like Newent the upstairs room is a wonderful space. It is open to the public from time to time when inside markets are held and the traditional ‘Charter’ market still takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Ross is eight miles West of Newent and is an obvious place for a trading centre set above the river Wye and Wales on its West, within striking distance of the Forest of Dean on the South, and good agricultural land all around.
Like Ledbury and Newent it is a planned town with the Market Place and Market House right in the centre, though this one is stone, but the upper room is wood. This wonderful building, like the others, does come with a cost, £45,000 last year and £12,000 next year for example. But it is the centre of town and a land mark. The upstairs room is an art gallery and is open every day between 10 and 4.
All the Market Houses stil play host to regular markets featuring local produce and crafts. Market Day’s are a great time for a trip out on the Daffodil Line,to pick up a bargain and take a moment to appreciate the amazing architecture that many of us local pass by without a second glance every day.