The History of Hereford
Settlements in the Hereford area date back to the time of Julius Caesar, when the Britons called the town Caerfawydd. The name was changed to Hereford, which means the ‘ford used by the army, following the Saxon settlement of the area in the early seventh century. It became the seat of a Bishop in 676 AD and the town continued to grow in importance; eventually becoming the Saxon capital of the Kingdom of West Mercia. The Welsh and English fought a battle at Hereford in 760 AD. Far from suffering due to its location on the border between England and Wales, the town thrived as a result of the wars which brought with them an abundance of trade to the town. Pilgrims visiting the shrine of St. Ethelbert, who died in 794 AD and was buried in Hereford, also helped boost local coffers.
In the late 9th century King Alfred the Great set about building a network of fortified towns, called burghs, across his kingdom to protect it from Danish attacks. Hereford became a burgh by the early 10th century and its defences withstood a Danish assault in 914 AD. The fortifications were strengthened around 1050 with the building of the first castle at Hereford. This is believed to have been a Motte and Bailey type of castle, built by the Saxon leader Ralph the Timid prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066. The castle was burnt down, along with the rest of Hereford, in 1055 by invaders from Wales. The castle was rebuilt after the Norman Conquest by William FitzOsbern, the first Norman Earl of Hereford. His son Roger inherited the castle but he later forfeited it again following his involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to depose King William . During the 12th century war of accession the castle changed hands twice before Matilda routed Stephen’s forces there. Matilda’s son Henry II later granted the castle to Roger of Gloucester, but repossessed it following a rebellion. It remained in the control of the monarchy for the rest of its history. In 1216 King John gave control of the castle to the newly appointed Sheriff of Herefordshire, Walter de Lacy; who set about strengthening it. According to the noted antiquary John Leland it was to become ‘one of the fairest and strongest in all England’; being ‘nearly as large as that of Windsor ’. Later that century it was used for a time as the headquarters for Simon de Montfort and his baronial supporters during the Second Barons’ War.
In the 13th century Bishop Thomas Cantilupe was buried in the Lady Chapel of Hereford Cathedral and later made a saint in 1320. People reported miracles after touching the shrine and the result was a rise in the number of Pilgrims visiting Hereford; helping the town’s continued growth. It is estimated that the population of Hereford in the Middle Ages was around 5000, making it a large town by the standards of the day. The castle was used by Henry IV between 1400 and 1411 as a base for launching attacks into Wales during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion. Following that the tide changed somewhat in Wales. Owain Glyndŵr was captured and later ransomed in 1412 by Dafydd Gam (known as Crooked David); a Welshman who supported King Henry. Hereford continued to benefit from the business brought in by garrisoned armies when it became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War . The castle was to change hands several times during the War, although in most cases the occupying armies left before the opposing armies arrived. This avoided siege and heavy losses and also kept the castle largely intact. Eventually, when the Royalists were losing the war in 1645, the Parliamentarians took the castle by trickery after failing to take it by force earlier in the year. A small group of soldiers dressed as workmen with picks and shovels entered through Bysters Gate, took control of the gate and then kept it open for more soldiers to follow.
In the 17th century, the wool industry in Hereford suffered due to sharp competition from the North of England. Fortunately, the leather industry remained strong and, in any case, the town was better known by then for its breweries and cider makers by this time. By the start of the 18th century, Hereford was a relatively small market town, having failed to grow significantly in terms of population after the Middle Ages. During this century improvements were made such as paving and lighting. A new hospital had also been built by the turn of the century. After the turn of the century Hereford continued to serve as a market town for the surrounding countryside, but also added brick making and boat building to its industries.
By the end of the 20th century Hereford had increased its population ten-fold in the previous two centuries. The College of Education was opened in 1904 and the town got its first cinema in 1911. Brewing and cider making continue to be important sources of employment to the local economy and Bulmers Cider , started in Hereford in 1883, is still a major employer in the town. Bulmers was independently owned until financial difficulties in 2003 forced the sale of the company to a larger brewery.