Kington town centre
Kington lies close to the border with Radnorshire and lies in the part of Herefordshire to the west of Offa's Dyke. It lies on the River Arrow in the shadow of Hergest Ridge, where it is crossed by the A44 road. Nearby to the west is Presteigne. There are panoramic views all round the town of the open countryside and surrounding hills.
Offa's Dyke was driven through the land to the east in the eighth century to mark a border between the Mercians and the Welsh kingdoms, though by the Norman Conquest it was English land. After the Conquest the manor was held by Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford, but at his fall from grace in 1075 it fell to the Crown and so it is recorded, as Chingtune in the Domesday Book of 1086. The original town stood high on the hill above the town where St Mary's Church now stands
At some time before 1108, the King granted Kington to Henry Port, who founded a new Marcher barony in this part of the early Welsh Marches. In 1172, Adam Port rebelled against King Henry II and fled the country. He returned to England within the army of the King of Scots, an invasion culminating in the Battle of Alnwick in 1174 and the consequent forfeiture of his lands to the Crown. The barony of Kington became an appurtenance of the office of Sheriff of Hereford, finally being granted to William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber in 1203 for £100.
The castle then saw action in the Braose Wars against King John and was probably destroyed by royal forces in August 1216. Within a few years a new fortress was commenced at nearby Huntington Castle and Kington Castle was abandoned. All that remains of Kington Castle today is a great outcrop of rock topped by a few fragmentary earthworks. The old town clustered around the castle and Norman church on top of a defensive hill above the River Arrow.
The town came down from the hill in the twelfth century. A new Kington, called Kyneton in the Fields, was laid out between 1175 and 1230 on land bordering the River Arrow.
Standing on the road the drovers took from Hergest Ridge and with eight annual fairs, Kington grew in importance as a market town and there is still a thriving livestock market on Thursdays. The town retains the mediæval grid pattern of streets and back lanes, which are a delight to explore.
In the chapel of St Mary's Church, there is the alabaster tomb of Sir Thomas Vaughan of nearby Hergest Court, slain at the Battle of Banbury 1469, and his wife, Ellen the Terrible. A local legend has it that the Black Dog of Hergest haunts the area around Hergest Ridge and his sighting presages death. This legend is also rumoured to have been an inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles as Arthur Conan Doyle is known to have stayed at nearby Hergest Hall before he wrote the novel.
In the 13th century the new mediæval town was formed at the foot of the hill and became primarily a wool-trading market town on an important drovers' road, and still thrives today. It is the reason why so many waymarked long-distance footpaths pass through Kington today, including: the Mortimer Trail, the Herefordshire Trail and Offa's Dyke Path. The Black and White Village Trail follows the half-timbered cottages and houses in local Herefordshire villages.
In the mid 1800s, an assessment was thus:
|“||The trade of the town is chiefly with the agriculturists of the adjoining county of Radnor. There are two banking establishments, viz., the head offices of the Kington and Radnorshire bank (Messrs. Davies, Banks, & Davies), established in 1808, and a branch of the Midland Banking Company, Limited. There is an extensive iron foundry, nail, and agricultural implement manufactory carried on by Messrs. James. Meredith & Co., and the building and tanning trades are well represented. There are also some extensive corn mills and malt-houses. About four miles west of the town are the Old Radnor lime rocks, which are celebrated for their superior quality for building and for agricultural purposes. The market day is Tuesday, considerable business being transacted on that day in eggs, butter, poultry, &c., and is the mart to which the Welsh send their produce, to meet dealers who frequent this town from all quarters.||”|
During the Second World War, the large Kington Camp was built close to the town by the War Office. It was first used by the British forces as a re-grouping point after Dunkirk, housing returned soldiers in often poor conditions. In 1943-4, Wimpeys built two US General Hospitals to cater for predicted wounded from the European campaigns. Each employed 500 US military and administrative personnel and 50 local people. There were administrative buildings, labs, operating theatres and dental clinics as well as personnel quarters, chapels, rehabilitation wards, cinemas, mess halls, warehouses, and laboratories: between 1944 and 1945 there were 13,000 patients. After the war buildings were used by the Polish Resettlement Corps, for those Polish servicemen understandably reluctant to return to a homeland in the clutches of Stalin.
Many of the buildings at the Camp remain standing, although two thirds have disappeared since the Second World War. Some are used by local businesses.
The Kington economy has suffered along with the fortunes of the farming industry. Its rural location and lack of good transport connections means local unemployment has been high for many decades, with low pay rates and many part-time occupations in small businesses including farming and the retail and service sectors. There is a small tourist industry, concentrated in the summer months.
Kington Connected Community Company (KC3). KC3 was begun in 1993, when BT, Apple, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Rural Development Commission chose Kington to host a pilot study into the effect that IT and sophisticated telecommunications might have on small communities. 15 ISDN lines were installed for digital data transmission and KC3 became a remote office and payroll service for companies including ICI and banks, with remote "teleworking". There was also significant support to local businesses and schools. In 2006 Kc3 had a buyout. In 2009 there was a further management buyout by V8 media which signalled the end of KC3. V8 Media moved operations to Hereford.
Lady Hawkins School
In her will, Lady Hawkins (wife of Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake's cousin) left £800 to the town to establish a school. The school is unique in having special permission from the Royal Navy to fly the Red Ensign on its foundress day.
Kington Golf Club at 1,100 feet above sea level on Bradnor Hill is the highest golf club in England. It provides wooden shelters on the course for golfers caught out by the weather.
Kington has also been the host town for the Marin Rough (cycle) Ride since 2003.
Sights about the town
- Extract from Littlebury's Directory and Gazetteer of Herefordshire, 1876-7
- Kington Camp
- Handley F., C. Fforde, J. Gardner & M. Fforde (eds) 2008. The Story of Kington Camp. Hereford: Logaston Press.
- A breath of fresh air - TES Magazine, 18 August 1995
- "Kington Golf Club". http://www.kingtongolf.co.uk/. Retrieved 2008-02-07.