The First Defences
Hereford emerged as a settlement due to its proximity to a ford over the River Wye. Precisely when it was founded is unclear but it may have been a Roman settlement for the military road from Gloucester ran through the site. The first confirmed settlement however was established by the Saxons and by the seventh century it was substantial enough to become the see for a Bishop. By AD 700 it was a town and the Cathedral was founded soon after. At some point during the eighth century - perhaps influenced by the Battle of Hereford (AD 760) fought between English and Welsh forces - the town was fortified. These defences consisted of a substantial ditch and gravel rampart with the latter probably topped by a timber palisade. It is unclear whether there were any defences along the river frontage. No evidence has yet been found to suggest there was but given the shallow nature of the river, the very reason why Hereford grew up at this point, it would be surprising if there had not been some form of wall along the riverbank.
The Saxon Burh
The town's defences were extended and enhanced between AD 881 and AD 914 either by Alfred the Great or his son/successor, Edward the Elder. These monarchs created a network of fortified towns, known as burhs, as a means of defeating the Danes who had overrun much of north and central England. Such defences enabled the settlements to withstand Danish attacks allowing the Royal army freedom of manoeuvre to campaign where it would be most effective rather than having to rush to the aid of every attacked settlement. At Hereford the original Ninth Century defences were enhanced with an enlarged clay covered rampart topped with a timber palisade. In front a deep ditch, flooded by the river, provided a substantial barrier. These proved effective enabling the town to successfully resist a Danish attack in AD 914 but further upgrades were made later in the tenth century when stone riveting was added to the front of the rampart.
As the threat from the Danes decreased, Hereford's defences seem to have been neglected but they were refurbished and restored by Harold Godwinson (later Harold II) following a Welsh attack on the town in 1055. It may have been Harold who established a Royal residence at the site for he also extended the defences to the south of the River Wye to enclose a garden and orchard that was conveniently located on the route to the Royal Forest of Heywood.
Hereford Castle was raised as an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification in the south-east corner of the former Saxon defences and enclosed an area of around 5.5 acres. The castle abutted the river but both the motte and its bailey were surrounded on the other sides by a flooded moat.
The precise date the castle was founded is disputed. Some authors suggest Hereford Castle was of pre-Conquest origin dating to circa-1052. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests castles did indeed exist in England before the Norman invasion and it is generally assumed that Clavering in Essex, Richard's Castle on the Shropshire border and Ewyas Harold in Herefordshire were constructed in the late 1040s/early 1050s. Hereford Castle was probably also founded at this time by a Norman called Ralph of Mantes, who had been invited to England by Edward the Confessor to help secure the Anglo-Welsh border and also to provide a political counter-weight to the powerful Earl Godwin. Ralph was created Earl of the East Midlands and allegedly he built Hereford Castle at this time. This is supported by references to an attack by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in October 1055 on the town and castle. Hereford Castle was certainly in existence by 1067 when it was attacked by Eadric the Wild.
Whatever date Hereford Castle was actually founded, it became a key outpost in the years following the Norman Conquest of England. In 1067 William FitzOsbern was created Earl of Hereford which became one of three major Earldoms along the Anglo-Welsh border (the other two were Chester and Shrewsbury). These magnates were tasked with securing the border from Welsh incursions and, in the subsequent decades, encroached into Wales embarking on a piecemeal conquest of the Principality that would take nearly two hundred years. Of note very few castles were built in Hereford's hinterland - another indication of the regional important of Hereford Castle itself.
Hereford Castle was rebuilt in stone in the latter half of the twelfth century and further major works were undertaken in 1217. Little is known for certain about the upgraded structure but, during his visit in the first half of the sixteenth century, Leland described it as being "one of the fairest, strongest and largest in England". The castle certainly remained a regional power base as Simon de Montfort briefly made it his headquarters during the Second Barons' War and Henry IV used it as marshalling yard for his campaigns into Wales against Owain Glyndŵr.
Extended Town Walls
Around the late 1070s, a new market place was established to the north of the existing Saxon-era defences. Accordingly the town defences were extended to enclose the new area. Whilst the east and west elements of the town walls remained unaltered, the northern portion of the defences were rebuilt. These new defences were in place during the Anarchy, the twelfth century civil war between Stephen and Matilda over the English succession, when the town and castle changed hands on several occasions. Initially garrisoned for Stephen, in April 1138 Hereford was captured by Geoffrey Talbot for Matilda. The town was then attacked by Royal forces and was soon retaken but in 1140 it was besieged again by Talbot. The Gesta Stephani describes a horrific account of the siege works where a graveyard external to the town wall was dug up by the attackers to form a temporary rampart revealing the "bodies of parents and relations, some half-rotten, some quite lately buried, pitilessly dragged from the depths".
During the thirteenth century the town walls were rebuilt into a stone wall. A Royal grant was made to fund this in 1224, during the reign of Henry III, but work was slow doubtless due to a reluctance by the populace to spend on such expensive defences. A Royal decree of 1251 urged the Mayor to hasten the work but four decades later work was still ongoing by which time Edward I had finally completed the conquest of Wales. Although the circuit of stone walls was ultimately completed, the military need for the defences largely disappeared and civilian life started to encroach upon the valuable real-estate they occupied.
During the civil war between King Charles I and Parliament, Hereford was resoundingly Royalist. Nevertheless in September 1642, Parliamentary forces attempted to secure the town. However the surrounding area was predominantly Royalist and the Parliamentarians withdrew in December 1642. Hereford was seized by Parliament again in April 1643 but was soon back in Royalist hands and was not attacked again for two years. However the Royalists enhanced the town's defences with earthwork bulwarks as, although Hereford's medieval walls were intact, they were not deemed sufficient to withstand artillery. The upgrades proved effective for in July 1645 the town was besieged by Scottish forces (allied to Parliament) who were successfully held back although the castle suffered very significant damage during this time. By September 1645 it was clear the siege had failed and the Scots withdrew. In December 1645 though Parliamentary troops successfully took control of a town gate by disguising some of their soldiers as workmen and Hereford subsequently fell.
In 1660 the castle, in ruins from the bombardment it sustained during the siege of Summer 1645, was demolished. The medieval walls themselves were also increasingly being seen as superfluous and were being quarried, legally and illegally, for their stone. In 1774 the Hereford Improvement Commissioners resolved to dismantle the town gates which were increasingly bottlenecking traffic. The Friars’ Gate was demolished in 1782, the Wyebridge Gate in 1783, St Owen’s in 1786, Eign Gate in 1787, Bye Street Gate in 1798 and Widemars Gate in 1799. The defensive ditch, hereto flooded but which had become a sewage farm due to the urban spread outside the walls, was covered up. So ended over one thousand years of fortifications at Hereford.
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Hereford Castle has almost entirely been obliterated with only the remains being a small section of moat, slight earthworks and a fourteenth century doorway (embedded in a largely modern house). The City Walls are better preserved with significant portions surviving particularly on the west side. The circuit of the walls can be walked which gives a good appreciation of the original plan of the defences and can be paired with a visit to the Cathedral and the Old House Museum in the City Centre.
Castle Green. The castle was demolished in 1660 after sustaining heavy damage during the Civil War. The grounds were landscaped in 1746 into what is now known as Castle Green. Today a monument to Admiral Nelson dominates the site.
Castle Pool. A surviving portion of the moat that once surrounded the castle's bailey.
Fourteenth Century Doorway. The other surviving portion of Hereford Castle is the remains of doorway embedded within a largely modern building.
Hereford City Walls Layout. The first enclosure was built around the Cathedral and the urban settlement to the west. The Saxon burh extended this original area to the east whilst Harold Godwineson added the enclosure to the south of the River Wye. The final extension was made in the twelfth century after the Normans had moved the town's market to the north beyond the original Saxon defences.
Hereford Cathedral. Originally founded by Bishop Putta in the late seventh century, Hereford Cathedral was upgraded by Edward the Confessor but then sacked by Welsh forces in 1055. The Normans rebuilt it in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The structure was extensively restored in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Wye Bridge. A wooden bridge was built in the eleventh century and this was replaced by the current structure circa-1490. Both bridges would have had a town gate at the south end.
City Wall. The finest surviving section of City Wall is along the A49 Victoria Street.
HEREFORD CASTLE AND CITY WALLS
Hereford, the name of which means the ford used by the army, has been fortified since at least the ninth century and throughout the medieval period was at the frontline as Saxons and Normans vied with the Welsh for control of the border region. Originally dominated by Hereford Castle, the town later withstood a substantial siege launched by Scottish-Parliamentarian forces.
Hereford Castle and the City Walls are found in the city centre. Ample parking options are available with just one option shown below.
Car Park Option
Victoria Street Walls
Castle Green (Site of Castle)
Old House Museum
High Street, HR1 2AA