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Hereford Cathedral and Wye Bridge
Grid reference: SO515405
Location: 52°3’23"N, 2°42’58"W
Population: 55,700  (est.)
Post town: Hereford
Postcode: HR1
Dialling code: 01432
Local Government
Council: Herefordshire
and South Herefordshire

Hereford is a cathedral city and the county town of Herefordshire. It stands on the River Wye, about 16 miles east of the border with Monmouthshire. With a population of 55,700 people, it is the largest town in the county.

At the heart of the city is Hereford Cathedral, a great, Norman edifice standing by the bank of the Wye, a witness to the glory of God for fourteen centuries and ever since its foundation the dominant presence in the city. The current cathedral was built from 1079, in the time of William the Conqueror. The first cathedral was founded in the eighth century.

An early town charter from 1189 granted by Richard I of England describes it as "Hereford in Wales".[1] Hereford has been recognised as a city since time immemorial, with the status being reconfirmed as recently as October 2000.[1][2]

Hereford Cathedral west front

Hereford today is now known chiefly for the cathedral and as a trading centre for a wider agricultural and rural area. Products from Hereford include: cider, beer, leather goods, nickel alloys, poultry, chemicals and cattle, including the famous Hereford breed. The city was the home of the British Special Air Service (SAS) for many years, although the Regiment relocated to nearby Credenhill in the late 1990s.

Hereford is served by a railway station on the Welsh Marches Line which opened in 1854.

Name of the town

The name "Hereford" is one of the very few places spelled identically today as in Old English of over a thousand years ago. The Welsh name for Hereford is Henffordd, and it appears in Welsh literature, notably in parts of the Mabinogion.

The name "Hereford" is said to come from the Old English "here ford" ("army ford"), and the ford certainly refers to a crossing of the River Wye. The Welsh name Henffordd, means "old road", and may refer to the same way across the Wye, or it may be in imitation of the English name. Alternatively the English name may be in imitation of a Welsh original, the town lying at the mingling of the two cultures, though its name's fidelity to meaning and longstanding favour an English origin.

Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral nave

Hereford Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Hereford, centre of the Diocese of Hereford; one of the earliest bishoprics of the Church of England, founded at some time between 676 and 688.

The current cathedral was built from 1079, in the time of William the Conqueror. It is built in the robust Romanesque style with vast round pillars supporting its fan-vaulted ceiling. Later Gothic work shapes the west front.

The treasures of ther cathedral include the Mappa Mundi, a mediæval map of the world dating from the 13th century which was restored in the late 20th century. It also contains the world famous Chained Library.

Standing by the cathedral are other ecclesiastical buildings, including the Bishop's Palace and Hereford Cathedral School.


Hereford Cathedral, from Church Street

Hereford became the seat of Putta, Bishop of Hereford at some time between 676 and 688, after which the town continued to grow due to its proximity to the border between Mercia and the Welsh kingdoms, becoming the capital of western Mercia by the beginning of the 8th century.[3]

Hostilities between the English and the Welsh came to a head with the Battle of Hereford in 760, in which the Britons freed themselves from the influence of the English.[4]

The earls of Hereford in this time held their titles not as a mere honorific title but as a military and administrative office; theirs was the duty to defend the frontier against border raiders and the troublesome kings of the Welsh lands. Edward the Confessor brought one Ralph from Brittany to serve in the role; he is known to history as "Ralph the Timid".

The present Hereford Cathedral dates from the 12th century. Former Bishops of Hereford include Saint Thomas de Cantilupe and Lord High Treasurer of England, Thomas Charlton. The city gave its name to two suburbs of Paris, France: Maisons-Alfort and Alfortville, because of a manor built there by Peter of Aigueblanche, Bishop of Hereford, in the middle of the 13th century.

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. This was a base for repelling attacks and a secure stronghold for kings such as King Henry IV when on campaign in the west against Owain Glyndŵr. The castle was dismantled in the 18th century and landscaped into Castle Green.

After the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1461, during the Wars of the Roses, the defeated Lancastrian leader Owen Tudor (grandfather of the future Henry VII of England) was taken to Hereford by Sir Roger Vaughan and executed in High Town. A plaque now marks the spot of the execution. Vaughan was later himself executed, under a flag of truce, by Owen's son Jasper.

Civil War

During the civil war the city changed hands several times. On 30 September 1642, Parliamentarians led by Sir Robert Harley and Henry Grey, 1st Earl of Stamford occupied the city without opposition. In December 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 23 April to 18 May 1643 by Parliamentarians commanded by Sir William Waller but it was in 1645 that the city saw most action.

On 31 July 1645 a Scottish covenanter army of 14,000 under Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven besieged the city but met stiff resistance from its garrison and inhabitants. They withdrew on 1 September when they received news that a force led by King Charles was approaching. The city was finally taken for Parliament on 18 December 1645 by Colonel Birch and Colonel Morgan. King Charles showed his gratitude to the city of Hereford on 16 September 1645 by augmenting the city's coat of arms with the three lions of Richard I of England, and a bordure of ten Scottish Saltires signifying its resistance to a siege by ten Scottish regiments. He added 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: those of the City of London.

Nell Gwynne, actress and mistress of King Charles II, is said to have been born in Hereford in 1650 (although other towns and cities, notably Oxford, also claim her as their own); Gwynn Street is named after her. Another famous actor born in Hereford is David Garrick (1717–1779).

Hereford has one of the oldest buildings in Britain continuously inhabited for the same purpose: the Bishop's Palace was built in 1204 and continues as the residence of the Bishop of Hereford to the present day. Hereford Cathedral School is also one of the oldest schools in Britain.

Big Society

The market

The annual Three Choirs Festival, originating in the 18th century and one of the oldest music festivals in Europe, is held in Hereford every third year, the other venues being Gloucester and Worcester. The city's main theatre and cultural venue is the Courtyard Centre for the Arts which was opened in 1998, replacing the New Hereford Theatre. There is also a single screen Odeon cinema in Commercial Road, although the nearest multiplex facility is some distance away in Worcester.

The composer Sir Edward Elgar lived at Plas Gwyn in Hereford between 1904 and 1911, writing some of his most famous works during that time. He is commemorated with a statue on the Cathedral Close. One of his Enigma Variations was inspired by a bulldog named Dan falling into the River Wye at Hereford, and the dog is similarly honoured with a wooden statue beside the river.

H.Art, or Herefordshire Art Week, is an annual county-wide exhibition held in September, displaying the work of local artists.

The Hereford Museum and Art Gallery, housed in a Victorian Gothic building and opened in 1874, presents artefacts, fine art, and decorative art associated with the local area.

The local radio stations are Wyvern FM which broadcasts on 97.6FM, Sunshine Radio on 106.2 FM and 954 kHz Am, and BBC Hereford and Worcester which broadcasts on 94.7FM.

Sights about the town

The Old House
  • Hereford Cathedral
  • High Town: This timber-framed Jacobean building, built in 1621, is now a museum
  • The Wye

Literature and popular culture

  • In William Shakespeare's Richard II, the king's cousin, later Henry IV, first appears as Earl of Hereford, though the scansion requires that "Hereford" be pronounced with two syllables.
  • Hereford is briefly mentioned, mispronounced, in the film Ronin as a ploy by Sam (Robert De Niro) to expose Spence (Sean Bean) as a liar about having served in the SAS.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Royal Charters of the City of Hereford". Hereford City Council. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  2. Beckett, J V (2005). City status in the British Isles, 1830–2002, Historical urban studies. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  3. Sims-Williams "Putta (d. c.688)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. Annales Cambriae

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