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The History of Ludlow

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Ludlow is a historic market town situated in Shropshire, close to the border between England and Wales. It is positioned close to two rivers, the River Teme and the River Corve. Sheltered beneath the Clee Hills , Ludlow is currently the largest town in Southern Shropshire, albeit with a modest population of just over 10000.
Prior to the invasion by the Normans in 1066, there seem to have been no settlements to speak of at the modern site of Ludlow. The town was established following the building of Ludlow Castle between 1086 and 1094; which was built by the Lacy family of Stanton Lacy. The original castle was much smaller than it is today and the town of Ludlow grew up around its gates shortly after it was built. The town was a planned town, like many in medieval times. It was designed as a basic grid pattern, although this had to be adjusted to take account of the local topography. The High Street was likely to have been the first street built, housing the market upon which the town was centred. Towns like Ludlow provided a useful source of income for local lords, who raised money through rents, fines and tolls.

In the early part of the thirteenth century, Ludlow was granted licence to build a defensive wall around the town. The castle expanded over the next century or so with the addition of further living quarters, a kitchen and Great Hall. Ludlow’s reputation as a fortified stronghold grew rapidly at this time.

The market at Ludlow continued to thrive and was held regularly on Thursday’s throughout the Middle Ages. The town increased in size to about 2000 and continued at this size for the next few centuries, being a major settlement in the area. The success of Ludlow during these centuries has left an enduring mark on the architecture in the town. As a result there are many fine examples of medieval and tudor buildings left in the town today, including the beautiful half timbered ‘olde worlde’ Feathers Hotel .

The church of St Laurence was built in the fifteenth century and its
135 foot tower continues to dominate the local skyline today. The church possesses many fine stained glass examples and wonderfully carved misericords, which serve as a record of the town’s prosperity during the wool trade boom of the Middle Ages.

Ludlow Castle saw plenty of historic action during these centuries. During the Wars of the Roses , Richard of York captured the castle and turned it into one of his main strongholds. Although it was eventually captured by the Lancastrian forces the conflict ended two years later, resulting in the castle being taken back by Richard who then gave it to his son Edward IV . Edward had his son (also Edward) take up seat there as Prince of Wales some years later. It was at Ludlow Castle that the prince heard the news of his father’s death and proclaimed himself King Edward V .

The castle lay mostly uninhabited for two decades at the end of the fifteenth century; but in 1502, Prince Arthur moved in with his wife Catherine of Aragon . The couple were not to enjoy their life at the castle for long, however, as Prince Arthur became ill and died within a few months of their arrival. Arthur’s father Henry VII , then tried to negotiate Catherine’s marriage to his other son Henry . The marriage had important strategic implications in respect of relations with Spain, as well as carrying a sizeable dowry. Catherine eventually married Henry, but as is well documented, the marriage was eventually to end badly.

Ludlow was of considerable administrative importance during this era, with the Council of Wales being housed at the castle until it was disbanded near to the end of the 17th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries glove making became the dominant trade in Ludlow. The town itself became a fashionable social centre in the 18th and 19th centuries and a number of fine buildings were erected during this era,
adding to the many medieval buildings which survived. The preservation of many of these fine buildings, and there are at least 500 listed buildings in Ludlow, makes a stroll through the town centre into a highly pleasurable and aesthetic experience.

Modern day Ludlow relies on a variety of industries, with precision engineering, cabinet making, manufacturing of agricultural machinery and tourism amongst the most important. The early growth of tourism in the town led to a growth in shops such as antique traders and independent art and booksellers. Unfortunately, most of these have now gone as the centre has been filled with more modern and well known retail chains. Bodenham ’s, a clothing retailer on Corve Street still survives, however. It is one of the oldest surviving shops in Britain, being some 600 years old.

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