"LEOMINSTER, a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, exercising separate jurisdiction, but locally in the hundred of Wolphy, N. division of county Hereford, 12½ miles N. of Hereford, 11 from Ludlow, and 157 W.N.W. of London. It is a first-class station on the Shrewsbury and Hereford line, and the junction station of the Leominster and Kington railway. The parish, which is over 7 miles in length, is situated in the midst of a most luxuriant and fertile district, abounding with orchards, hop-grounds, gardens, and fruitful valleys. It is watered by the three rivers Lugg, Pinsley, and Kenwater, which flow through the town, besides the river Arrow, and several other streams, which traverse the "out-parish".
Besides the borough of Leominster, the parish includes the townships of Brierley, Broadward, Chorlstrey, Eaton, Hennot, Hyde Ash, Ivington, Newtown, Stagbatch, Wharton, and Wintercott, with the new ecclesiastical district of St. John's, Ivington. It was anciently a place of great strength, bordering on the Welsh marches, and is said by Leland to have derived its name Leofminstre from a minster or monastery founded here about 658 by Merewald, the Saxon king of West Mercia, who had a castle or palace about half a mile to the E. of the town. In 777 it was taken by the Danes, assisted by the Welsh, who burnt the nunnery, and again in 1055 by the Welsh chieftains, who refortified the castle; but it was shortly after reduced by Harold, who stationed a garrison here.
At the time of the Domesday Survey the manor, with its appurtenances, belonged to Editha, queen of Edward the Confessor; and in the reign of William II. the fortifications were strengthened, to secure it against the incursions of the Welsh. In the reign of John the town, priory, and church were plundered and burnt by William de Braose, Lord of Brecknock. In 1187 Archbishop Baldwin and Giraldus the historian preached the crusade here in Merewald's nunnery, which had then become a college or priory, attached to Shaston and Reading abbeys.
In the reign of Henry IV. the town was in possession of Owain Glyndwr, after his victory over Mortimer, Earl of March, whom he took prisoner, and confined in a house in Church-street, now a stable. Upon the defeat of Glyndwr at Ivington Camp in 1404, it submitted to Prince Henry, afterwards Henry V.
In the next century the inhabitants took an active part in the establishment of Mary on the throne, defeating Lady Jane Grey's partisans at Cursneh Hill, for which service she granted them their first charter of incorporation, dated 28th March, 1553. By this charter the Court of Record, for recovery of debts under £100, which has been only recently discontinued, was constituted; power given to have a separate court of quarter sessions, a gaol, coroner, certain markets, annual fairs, and many other privileges, and lands. In the civil war of Charles I. the town was taken by Waller in 1643, but was retaken by Charles in 1645.
It has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I.; and under the Reform Act its boundaries were enlarged, so as to include the whole of the parish. The population of the borough in 1851 was 5,214, and in 1861, 5,660. Under the Municipal Reform Act the town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 common councilmen, with the style of "bailiffs and burgesses of the borough of Leominster". The acreage of the town is 1,150, but of the borough 9,290, with an income of £671. The town business is managed by commissioners for paving, lighting, and improving, who meet quarterly, and were appointed under the recent Act of Parliament, by which many important privileges were conferred.
The borough magistrates, who exercise separate jurisdiction, meet at the townhall every Thursday; and the county justices for the lower division of the hundred of Wolphy hold petty sessions at the county police station every Friday. The new county court meets monthly, and has superseded the ancient Court of Record. It is a polling place for the election of knights for the shire, and the mayor is the returning officer for the borough.
The town consists of several spacious and well-paved streets, which are kept remarkably clean, and are lighted with gas. The shops are large and well supplied; and many of the private houses are handsome, some even fine specimens of Elizabethan domestic architecture, with their projecting fronts, supported by grotesquely carved brackets, heads, gable boards, &c. The new buildings are in general of a superior class, suited to the growing prosperity of the town, which has a thriving general trade, chiefly in agricultural produce, as corn, timber, wood, bark, cider, cattle, and sheep.
There are also a few trades carried on, as tanning, leather-dressing, wool-stapling, malting, flannel-weaving, brick-making, leather glove making, and coarse cloth manufacture, but these two last have declined. In the vicinity are several corn-mills, an oil-mill, and a printing-ink manufactory.
The public buildings are - the townhall, an Italian structure, just completed at the cost of £3,000. It has a frontage of nearly 60 feet, and is 160 feet in length, surmounted by a cupola and clock tower rising to the height of 70 feet from the pavement. It contains a council chamber 45 feet by 30 feet, session-rooms, retiring-rooms, &c. Adjoining the townhall, and forming, as it were, a portion of it, is the new market-house, 125 feet long by 40 feet wide, and upwards of 22 feet high, fitted up with stalls, packing-rooms, &c., and covered with a roof of corrugated galvanised iron, supported on two rows of iron pillars.
The Butter Cross, a beautiful example of Elizabethan timber work, was erected in 1633 by John Abel, the "king's carpenter", consisting of a series of spacious rooms, supported by twelve Ionic pillars of oak, with arches, spandrils, and other ornamental carved work, described by Clayton, in his "Ancient Timber Edifices", as "the most interesting building of the kind in the kingdom". It was taken down on the building of the new townhall, which it adjoins, but is re-erected on the Grange, a large open space in the centre of the town.
The gaol, a neat brick edifice, erected in 1750, stands in New-street. The county police station is a modern building, erected on the site of the theatre, which last, while it stood, was an object of great interest, having been built in the 13th century. The union poorhouse, with which was incorporated the remaining portion of the old priory in 1836; the excise-office, in South-street; the post-office, in Drapers' lane; the stamp-office, in Broad-street; and the savings-bank, in Burgess-street, which last is a new building of brick, with Bath stone dressings.
There are besides two branch banks, several reading-rooms and book societies, subscription and circulating libraries, insurance offices, young men's mutual improvement society; two bridges over the Kenwater, one of stone, and the other of iron; several clubs and associations, including the agricultural and horticultural, which hold several shows during the season, cricket club, angling association, philharmonic society, &c.
It is the head of a Poor-law Union embracing 24 parishes, also the seat of new County Court and superintendent registry districts. One newspaper, the Leominster Gazette, is published in the town. Near the town was a good racecourse, where races were held in August; but since this was cut through by the Shrewsbury and Hereford railway, the races have been discontinued. The harriers and other hounds are kennelled in the neighbourhood. On Shrove Tuesday, when the bell rings at noon, the good people of the town still keep up the old custom of frying their pancakes.
This place gives the title of Baron "Lempster" to Earl Pomfret, though the manor is held by John Arkwright, Esq., of Hampton Court, in this parish, who inherits it from the Villiers family, through the Coningsbys and H. Martin the regicide. Leominster gives name to a deanery in the archdeaconry and diocese of Hereford. The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Hereford, value £230 with augmentation from Queen Anne's bounty, in the patronage of the lord chancellor.
The church, dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, was partly burnt in 1700, but has been restored. It is an irregular and massive structure, exhibiting specimens of every style of Norman and English architecture, and has been recently described by an eminent architect as "one of the noblest examples of this variety of Gothic architecture in existence". The tower at the N.W. angle is of Norman character at the base, but of later styles in the upper stages, surmounted by an embattled parapet and pinnacles, and containing a peal of eight bells, and a clock that chimes. The western doorway is ornamented with pillars and receded arched mouldings. The southern part of the edifice is modern, and is appropriated to the performance of Divine service.
It contains the communion-table supported by two full-length figures of Moses and Aaron, and the altar-piece, a painting of the Last Supper, after Rubens. The old Norman nave, which formed a part of the original monastic structure, and is far-famed for its Norman architecture, and which for centuries past has been disused, except as a place of interment, has, within the last year, been restored, with a painted ceiling, at a cost exceeding £2,000. There are also several monuments, tombs of the Hackluyts of Eyton Hall, and of J. and S. Ward, grandparents of Mr. Kemble and Mrs. Siddons; a carved font, recently presented by the rural dean, the Rev. W. E. Evans; three decorated sedilia, a piscina, and richly chased antique communion service.
There is also a district church at Ivington, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, value £100, in the patronage of the vicar. The church of St. John's, Ivington, situate 3 miles W. of the town, was erected in 1841. There are places of worship for Baptists, Wesleyans, Moravians, Society of Friends, Unitarians, Llewellynites, Plymouth Brethren, Primitive Brethren, and local missionaries, which last have a new chapel in Etnam-street, called the Town and County Mission, first opened in 1855.
The charities produce about £155 per annum, including £25, the endowment of Clarke's almshouses for four widows, founded in 17 35, and £20, the income of Queen Mary's grammar school, situated in Church-street. Archbishop Peckham's "Chapelle in the Fourbury", a very ancient edifice of the 13th century, is now converted into a lawyer's office. Gothic schools, comprising a boys' and girls', National, and infant schools, with a master's residence, have been recently erected at a cost of nearly £3,000. There are besides British and Foreign schools, Society of Friends' girls' school, St. John's schools at Ivington, and Sunday-schools in connection with the several denominations. "Almory Close" was the site of the Almonry or Almsbury.
Within the parish are several ancient earthworks, as Ivington Camp and Cursneh Hill Camp, from which is a fine view, as also from Eyton and Croft-Ambrey hills. Price, the local historian, and the two monks William and John of Leominster, were natives of the town. Friday is market day, the chief markets being on the first Friday in every month, and the Friday before the 11th December, called "the great market before Christmas"; also a small butter and poultry market on Tuesdays. Fairs are held on the 13th February, Tuesday after Mid-Lent Sunday, 2nd May, 29th June, 10th July, 4th September, 17th October, 8th November, and the Friday after 11th December."
"BRIERLEY, a township in the parish and borough of Leominster, hundred of Wolphy, in the county of Hereford, 1 mile from Leominster."
"BROAD WARD, a township in the parish and borough of Leominster, hundred of Wolphy, in the county of Hereford, 1 mile to the S. of Leominster."
"CHOLSTREY, a township in the parish of Leominster, in the county of Hereford, 2 miles W. of Leominster."
"EATON, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 1 mile S.E. of Leominster. A tributary of the river Wye passes through the place. The residence of Hackluyt, who collected and published the voyages of several of the early navigators, is near the village."
"GRAFTON, a village in the vicinity of Leominster, county Hereford."
"HENNOR, a township in the parish of Leominster, hundred of Wolphy, county Hereford, 3 miles E. of Leominster. It is united with Stretford."
"HIDE, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 3 miles S.W. of Leominster. It is joined to Wintercott."
"IVINGTON, a township in the parish of Leominster, hundred of Wolphy, county Hereford, 2 miles S.W. of Leominster, its post town. It is situated on the river Lug. On Brierley hills are remains of a camp, which was once occupied by Owain Glyndwr. The village is small and wholly agricultural. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Hereford, value £100, in the patronage of the Vicar of Leominster. The church, dedicated to St. John, was erected in 1841. A stained window has recently been inserted over the altar. There is a National school for both sexes."
"NEWTOWN, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 1 mile S.W. of Leominster."
"RYELANDS, a hamlet in the parish of Leominster, hundred of Wolphy, county Hereford, 1 mile S.W. of Leominster. It is situated in a valley on the river Lug."
"STAGBATCH, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 2 miles S.W. of Leominster."
"STRETFORD WITH HENNOR, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 2 miles S.E. of Leominster, on a branch of the river Lug."
"WHARTON, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 2 miles S.E. of Leominster on the river Lugg."
"WINTERCOTT, a township in the parish of Leominster, county Hereford, 3 miles S.W. of Leominster. It is joined to Hide."